Smagnis Says; The attached article by Conrad Black is a prelude to a path we are headed down without a change in our collective mindset. The other article attached is a perception about the dismantling of the Indian Act and revision to our treaties. I prefer us to be in the driver`s seat rather than the Conrad Black`s of the world so I offer this commentary.
The Path Toward Reconciliation – “Return our Land”
Capitalism has infiltrated our communities to the extent that spirituality, culture and our values which identity us as Indigineous Peoples has taken a back seat! Those who try to hold on to our identity are pushed aside by the elite in power married to colonial ways and, as such,whose measurement of success rests in material gain.
I always pose a question in response to the implementation of Government policies or programs impacting on us. Whose voice is being heard? Is it the urban member who is assimilated and comfortable in the proceeds accruing from being a convenient Indian, the city based Aboriginal groups and organizations supposedly lobbying on our behalf with their own funding interests in mind or the leadership with a selfish mandate and removed from the people they represent? Russ Diabo commented about the AFN General Assembly in Niagara Falls, “At the AFN assembly I observed how the Trudeau government is rolling out its interpretation of the Nation-to-Nation and Reconciliation promises with Indigenous Peoples by using AFN as a partner to help the federal government control and manage the messaging and Federal-First Nation “co-development” policy processes”. Indeed, whose voice is being heard!
We will not achieve reconciliation without a return of our land. There is no doubt that colonialism in Canada was about land. As the great leader Tecumseh said in addressing his people, “The Great Spirit in his wisdom placed you here and gave it [this land] to you and your children to defend. But ä-te-wä! [alas!] the incoming race, like a huge serpent is coiling closer and closer about you.” A recent Article in the Toronto Star, Indigenous reconciliation proposals need to be enormous, stated that “Canada is a wealthy country because of the land and resources it took from indigenous people, and few if any of those transactions were fair. If the Canadian government genuinely wishes to work toward reconciliation, then its proposals are going to have to be enormous. They’re going to have to involve land, and they’re going to cost Canada a fortune — the kind of fortune indigenous people would have had if their land hadn’t been taken from them”. Yes, Canada’s capitalist economy has relied on the theft of Indigenous land and the extraction of natural resources since it began. In Atlantic Canada and British Columbia,land was literally stolen from First Nations because treaties were never signed. Where treaties did exist in Canada, they were usually misleading and unfair. The loss of our land was just the starting point as the government also tried to force us to give up our cultures and languages by stealing our children and putting them in residential schools.
The Colonial view of land is that of a commodity that is bought, sold and used to generate material wealth. There are some exceptions. I recall a conversation that I had with a farmer on the outskirts of Calgary in 1975. The farm was fairly large and a real estate developer offered a sum of 4 million dollars for his land. With interest rates around 10% at the time he could invest the proceeds and generate an income of $400,000 a year from interest which was more than double he was now making working the land. He refused on the basis that farming was his way of life and the land provided for him and his family. Our view differs in that we view the land as a communal resource that is to be used by all unlike the Settlers (and unfortunately as many of our leaders and people see it now) who see it as a resource that could and should be owned by individuals who could keep it as their own and exclude others from using it. In my travels to meet Indigenous Peoples in various continents I have seen this common communal perception they hold of the land. In the documentary, ‘When Two Worlds Collide’, about a Peruvian tragedy involving a tribe here in the amazon, we see that greed is global. In this compelling documentary about a tribe`s fight against exploitation of their land by Government and corporations the indigenous Shawi people are represented by Alberto Pizango whose father instilled in him the understanding that the Earth is borrowed by its inhabitants. “For us, our land can never be sold,” he passionately argues. On all continents Indigenous Peoples viewed land as something that was to be used communally by all the members of a tribe. There was no idea that land was something to be divided up, sold, and owned by individuals
We are continually being pressured to give up our Aboriginal Title to our unsurrendered land and allow resource development. Many of our communities that are considered to be poor have decided not to take hush money offered by corporations or Government in exchange for tearing up the land. Many of our communities sitting on resource rich land have unemployment rates as high as 80% and still refuse the monies that exploiting their natural resources would bring In reality they have a profound understanding of economics. They understand that money is rapidly spent, is worth less through inflation, and at the very best is worth no more than the number printed on it. However, we know that there is only so much land and it becomes more valuable with each passing day. As one economist stated, “the notion of trading one thing, money that has inherently limited value, for another thing that inherently produces more value is just bad economics”. Sadly, some of our communities opt for the short term gains that monies bring and choose capitalism that is short lived for them at the expense of culture and life.
So…what is the path forward?
That is a challenge for each community to solve but there are some basic elements that must be in place for success to be achieved.
It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand
We must assume our true identity if we are to avoid the pit of assimilation into which some of our brothers and sisters have already fallen. We cannot talk about what it means to be Indigenous People, we must wear it. Otherwise, the emperor has no clothes. We will be seen as no different and contribute further to the views expressed by Conrad Black in his attached commentary and fall victim to the path that leads us. For too long we have waited for Government to identify self government for us and for other solutions in defining our future.
We must take the lead. Our first step should be to ensure a number of structures are in place and then issue a declaration of title and rights over our traditional territories. This must be done with community wide consultation and sign on! We must exercise our responsibility as Stewards for Mother Earth by exercising control over fishing, timber harvesting, mineral resources; an integrated resource management policy with a bottom line of sustainable and responsible development. In practice it means the issuance of licenses to hunt, fish, etc based on criteria discussed and approved at the community level.
We must have strong governance in our communities. Much has been written about the lack of accountability, corruption, nepotism and weak governance in our communities. These are exceptions but they do point to the need for a universal approach to strong governance and accountability which include transparency, community engagement and consultation.
Programs of culture, language and spirituality led by responsible Elders must be a priority in every community. A focus must be on the future generation and hence our youth. Our youth must reconnect to the land. There are already a number of successful community run programs for youth like the one the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella have be running for numerous years and as described in this article http://www.macleans.ca/news/bella-bella-the-town-that-solved-suicide/
Let us embark on the journey toward reconciliation with willing partners to realize the promise of a more just and equitable future. Some of the recent Supreme Court decisions and the Government commitment toward reconciliation indicate that we have gusts of wind at our backs. Some may argue that they are not gale force winds, but they are noticeable nonetheless! At the same time, we must refuse modern treaties that affirm Canadian rights and sovereignty above those of our own. Where necessary, we must fight for what is rightfully ours. We must be prepared to fight in the courts and in our territories when necessary.
Leadership must realize that they can only be successful if the power of the people in our communities is behind them and they are truly accountable to them. There is much to be done on our part if we are to move forward on reconciliation. As stated above, we must identify and implement a structure to exercise sovereignty and self-government and define what they mean in most cases. Most important, the voices of the people in our communities must be heard and not others supposedly speaking on our behalf. Whose voice is being heard?
“Often worlds collide, it’s always the same two: The one we’re given, and the one we leave behind”.
Declaration of title and rights over traditional territories
To be Culturally strong
Solid Governance and organizational structures
Strategic Plan to attain vision
National Post – Conrad Black
As last week’s fiasco showed, Ottawa has done a lot to make negotiations with Canada’s Indigenous people practically imposible
Last week’s walkout by native leaders from extensive discussions with Ottawa about new rules for the assessment of natural resources and pipeline projects perfectly illustrated the vapidity of the present federal government’s policy of pretending that it meets on an equal footing with these native organizations on a “nation to nation” basis. This is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the United Nations last month as he converted the annual general assembly meeting of that rag-tag of largely irresponsible and uncivilized countries into a confessional where Trudeau not only conceded that this country has pursued a colonial relationship with our native people for over a century (which is untrue), but also pledged to that raddled gallery, including an inordinate number of hypocrites and scoundrels, that Canada would pursue a policy based altogether on false premises.
I suspect, but I am not a mind-reader and don’t know, that the political strategists of the government think that Canada has an endless capacity for guilt and shame over the conditions of the native people. There is no doubt that most Canadians are concerned and distressed at the poor circumstances that afflict a great many native people, but their capacity to hold themselves responsible for it has been significantly mitigated by the scores of billions of dollars that have been directed at these problems without, apparently, making much progress to help the native people better their lot. All Canadians, and not just the natives, are frustrated and disappointed by this and are anxious to do better.
Government policy is based on the concept that the native groups are sovereign in their spheres
Government policy is based on the concept that the native groups are sovereign in their spheres, in an identical jurisdictional condition to the Canadian government; that the natives have been shamefully mistreated from the moment of the first European settlements right to the present time, more than 400 years. There is implicitly a cloud or question over our moral right to be here at all. Centuries of Anglo-French and Canadian official policy toward the natives were, it is implied, culturally, if not physically, genocidally motivated; and the only answer to the material and sociological problems of the natives and the moral and psychological problems of guilt and shame that the Liberal party has generated and imputes to the entire population of Canada is to allow the native spokespeople to push endlessly on an open door, demanding more money and more jurisdiction from the country and from a position of righteous superiority.
Every individual and all recognized organizations have rights in Canada. There is only one sovereign government in this country and it does not have to negotiate on a basis of entire equality with lesser jurisdictions in matters of inter-provincial and inter-regional interest, a field that certainly includes natural resources and pipelines and other sophisticated means of surface transport. This government has conferred on the native people the unfettered right to pose as the principal defenders of the environment and to claim that practically any modification of the virgin state of the land Leif Ericson and Jacques Cartier discovered (more than 500 years apart) constitutes a desecration of the environment that can only be palliated and expiated by herniating payments of taxpayers’ money to the natives. This makes negotiations practically impossible, as last week’s fiasco demonstrated. The native people are not the only conscientious guardians of the environment and the federal government is the only entity whose right and purpose is to advance the national interest in all respects, balancing questions of environment, prosperity, justice and national security.
This government has conferred on the native people the unfettered right to pose as the principal defenders of the environment
The implicit admission on behalf of Canada that the natives were victims of some sort of attempt at quasi-genocide, and their elevation to the status of chief protectors of original and natural Canada, and the entrenchment of their right to comprehensive negotiation about anything they claim affects their lives as natives, has placed the whole country in the absurd position of being held to blackmail by this nebulous community. I have commented before on the Ktunaxa affair, which the Supreme Court has been deliberating on for 11 months. In it, natives claim that 25 years was insufficient time to consult fully on the proposed development of a ski area on part of a mountain that natives assert would banish the spirit of the grizzly bear, the basis of the religion of a band of 900 people, according to a divine revelation made to a deceased elder who did not mention this apparition for years. I respect religion and imaginative improvisation, but the combination of the two in this case has reduced this country to a laughing stock.
Every sensible and decent Canadian wishes to help the natives and assist them in being happier and more prosperous. But Canada has never had genocidal ambitions toward them or anyone else, including the preposterous concept of cultural genocide. And by a policy of exaggerating their authority, vesting the natives with the right to extort treasure, retard reasonable development and tar the 95 per cent majority of Canadians of other descent as trespassers, interlopers, and usurpers, we have created a monster that will demand more and more until we either return to other continents that our ancestors departed, submit meekly to native dominance (colonialism reversed, consistent with Justin Trudeau’s parlance at the United Nations), or come to our senses and devise a policy that is fair, but not based on unjustified moral self-flagellation, national self-impoverishment and incitement to profligate autocracy in the native communities.
What is needed is a federal government course correction
The more intelligent native leaders (and there are many of them) know that this nonsense has to end, and a number of prominent figures in the native organizations declined to sign the letter to Trudeau withdrawing from the talks. What is needed is a federal government course correction that asserts that Canada is legitimate and sovereign, and recognizes that many past treaties with natives could be fairly seen as uneven and in need of updating at least to reflect monetary inflation. But native organizations must have standards of leadership accountability consistent with the rest of the country, and all those who would rather abandon lonely and desolate habitats that have no possibility of being economically and socially sustaining should be enabled and assisted to do so and relocate. The United States treated the natives harshly, frequently engaged in wars with them, and never really conferred any special status on them. Today, they are all Americans, and some tribes are very prosperous because of oil and other resources on their lands. As the United States was never afflicted with the well-intentioned or guilt-riddled nostalgia that we were, their native policies and communities have latterly been much more successful than ours.
We should humanely scrap unviable communities, ensure that all native people have adequate basic services, provide generous means to ease them into a new life or help them live traditionally in sustainable conditions, and have a system of eminent domain, ecological safeguards, and reasonable compensation where the national interest requires a highway or pipeline or other imposition on nature. Everyone has an equal interest in the environment, and no one group should be able to exercise such an interest as a weapon of mass destruction or hobbling of the public interest. What the country needs, we must have.
Members of the League of Nations were amused between the World Wars by the annual “Canada speech” in which our delegate celebrated Canadian virtue and its distance from any world trouble spot. Those soporific addresses were rivetingly piercing treatises on contemporary political science compared to Justin Trudeau’s recent national self-humbling over mistreatment of our natives to an assembly many of whose member nationalities would consider the lot of the Canadian natives a foretaste of Paradise.
As the Indian Act comes under scrutiny, treaties could serve as a reminder of what we could achieve—or a mark of our collective failure
Ross Holden has worked with Indigenous communities and organizations for close to 20 years, as a policy advisor for the Government of Canada, an independent consultant, and for the last four years as an Aboriginal Engagement Advisor for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. The views expressed herein are his own.
Concern about the continued existence of the 141-year-old Indian Act, and the dysfunctional reserve system it spawned well over a century ago, is not merely a legal or policy abstraction. The imposition of inappropriate systems of governance and the ghettoizing of hundreds of thousands of First Nations people on “reserves,” many of them distant from markets for goods and services, have resulted in widespread social and economic dysfunction. It’s nothing less than a national disgrace.
In a recent opinion piece in these pages, Jean Teillet—an accomplished litigator who has argued numerous important questions of Indigenous law before the Supreme Court of Canada—presented a frank, if pessimistic, assessment of Canada’s prospects for eliminating this last major vestige of colonialism in Canada. Despite her skepticism, Teillet’s intention in writing the piece is to spark a dialogue on this most egregious failing of the Canadian polity, so kudos to her for doing so. Unfortunately, it may serve only to further entrench the long-standing case—or excuse—for inaction, clung to for decades by federal policymakers and First Nations leaders alike.
COUNTERPOINT: Why dismantling the Indian Act will be nearly impossible
So in the interest of sustaining the hope that change is possible, I wish to offer an alternative perspective on the dilemma.
Plans to escape the made-in-Canada colonialism quagmire typically fall within one of two camps. The first, originally proposed in the infamous “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969″ (aka the “White Paper”), is the unilateral elimination of the Indian Act and the reserve system, as well as assimilation into the Canadian mainstream. This option was soundly repudiated by First Nations leaders at the time, and though thinly veiled variants are still occasionally floated, it is neither a morally nor A likely legally viable option. The other scheme, favoured by many, would see the Indian Act replaced holus bolus with some form of self-government—maintaining the reserve system in its present form—with ever-increasing funding to prop up those (mostly remote) communities mired in poverty and hopelessness. It is the likelihood of success of the latter approach upon which Teillet has poured cold water.
To be honest, I can’t blame her for being pessimistic. After decades of policy papers, legislative initiatives and self-government negotiations, little, if anything has changed. Indeed, after all these years, and all this sadness, there remain a number of questions about transitioning to self-government that continue to bedevil federal and First Nations leaders: Who determines community membership, and who controls the list? What about non-status Indians—would they receive benefits too? What will it cost to maintain remote reserves, and is that justified? What about the underlying title of reserve land? And what about the resources on traditional lands? Who makes decisions about, and benefits from, resource development?
These are all legitimate, but difficult, questions, and I am by no means suggesting that there are easy answers to them. But in trying to envision a healthy, just and sustainable future for Indigenous peoples in Canada, it may be worthwhile to look to the past, to imagine how things could have turned out had Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867—the “head of power” which assigned the federal Crown jurisdiction over “Indians, and lands reserved for Indians” and under which the Indian Act was promulgated—been used, not to assimilate Indigenous peoples into “mainstream” society, but to implement historic treaties in a manner consistent with their spirit and (professed) intent.
Yes, treaties. Though not discussed in Teillet’s piece, treaties are critically important when considering the direction in which we as a society wish to go. The treaties entered into between Indigenous peoples and the Crown between the 18th century and the early 20th century, collectively referred to as the “historic treaties,” cover approximately half of Canada’s land mass. Though not as detailed and explicit as the subsequent modern treaties Canada would enter into in the second half of the 20th century, they nonetheless provided a legitimate basis for moving forward with parallel systems of governance, a shared desire that resource development not happen at the expense of traditional pursuits, and protection from encroachment by settlers. Unfortunately, instead of using the powers granted it under 91(24) in a manner consistent with the spirit of the historic treaties, the newly formed Canada used them to both segregate and assimilate Indigenous peoples—an attempt at cultural genocide, some would argue.
How would things have turned out had 91(24) been employed in an honourable, altruistic manner? To start with, 91(24) could have been used by the federal Crown to enact legislation for each treaty group providing for a system of governance chosen by that group. Prior to 1876, “Grand Chiefs” were rare in most of Canada, where governance structures could be fluid and temporary depending on the circumstances. But there is no reason why the many Mi’kmaw, Anishnaabe, Cree, Dene and other nations that entered into historic treaties could not have appointed from among their leaders a Grand Chief to represent them in dealings with the Crown, even if only on an ad hoc basis. Rather than having over 600 individual Chiefs and their bands dealing directly with the federal Crown, as is the case today, Indigenous peoples could have been left to govern themselves as they wished, relying on their Ogichidaa to represent their interests to the outside world, and mediate a consensus-driven decision-making process within.
Reserves were promised by, and sometimes enumerated in, the historic treaties, but they were given legal effect and standing under the Indian Act. However, as it stands, the underlying title of “lands reserved for Indians” remains with the federal Crown. There has been a great deal of debate in recent decades as to the merits of this arrangement: on the one hand, retaining title collectively in the hands of the Crown provides some assurance that the land base will not erode; on the other hand, not owning the property on which people build their houses carries risk and acts as a disincentive to improve those dwellings. It is doubtful that Indigenous signatories to historic treaties would have opted for a “fee simple” system of private landholdings, but surely a traditionally-based landholding system that protected the interests of both the individuals and the collective could have been codified in the legislation applicable to each treaty group?
Thus established, those communities and their populations would have adapted to the climate and economy, as they always had. All First Nation communities, even the most remote and distant from markets, were at one time “sustainable,” in that their population levels and infrastructure were consistent with the ability of people to live off the land, and later the costs associated with importing supplementary foodstuffs and other materials. In a free market for goods and services, the gap between costs vs. benefit would discourage many (but not all) people from living there, allowing the community to settle in at a sustainable population level consistent with its location. This would likely have been the case had the federal Crown not intervened in the economies of individual communities and instead allowed the broader treaty group to develop its collective economy in a manner consistent with its values, and within the limits of socioeconomic and environmental conditions.
And yet the treaty groups and reserve communities would not have been completely on their own: Treaty payments, which are paid to individual “status” Indians as a result of the Indian Act and the system of registration it spawned, could have been paid instead to the collective treaty group, or at least to individual bands, to support collective endeavours and social security. With the advent of the welfare state after the Second World War funding would similarly have been provided to support the unemployed, universal health care, housing subsidies, etc. but in the form of block funding to the Treaty group, rather than individual bands, as is the case today. One would have hoped as well that the federal and provincial governments could have devised a resource co-management and revenue-sharing arrangement with Indigenous peoples to provide for “own source” revenues, but given the colonialist mindset prevalent at the time, it’s no surprise they did not.
Clearly the tools, and opportunity, existed, 140 years ago to implement the treaties in a manner that would have allowed First Nations to succeed in the modern world just around the corner. Instead, those tools were used in the decades that followed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into mainstream Canada. While that attempt ultimately failed, it left First Nations isolated, and devastated.
Is it possible to turn back the clock, and rebuild the Crown-Indigenous relationship as it should have been, updated for the 21st century? Many would argue no: that we—federal, provincial and Indigenous governments, and Canadian citizens—are too far entrenched in our vested interests and parochial viewpoints to even think about doing things differently. That we’re too stuck in our ways to think outside the collective box that has held back progress for 150 years to devise innovative solutions, to make difficult decisions, and to work hard to see them through. But is it not incumbent on all of us to make a sincere and meaningful effort to think and act outside that box, if only to save the lives of children whose suicide or murder would otherwise continue to mount as regrettable statistics? The answer can only be yes.
Eliminating colonialism and its continued harm to Indigenous peoples can be achieved by realizing what we as a society could have become had the historic treaties been implemented in an honourable and equitable manner. It starts with undertaking an assessment of the sustainability of all First Nation communities through comprehensive and holistic community planning, putting all options and scenarios on the table—including access to markets for goods and services, self-government, climate change, treaty and tribal council governance, and the option of shared urban reserves—in a realistic manner. It would mean the federal and provincial governments engaging with treaty groups and tribal councils in discussions around strategic planning in the context of self-government, and involvement in resource co-management and resource revenue sharing. Above all, it would mean shifting the Crown-Indigenous relationship away from government-to-First Nation, to government-to-treaty group.
Granted some Chiefs might fear the loss of influence under such a scenario and balk at this process, but there is no reason their communities’ interests, uniqueness and local sovereignty cannot be protected in the process. Similarly, the federal and some provincial governments may have concerns about how this may impact their bottom-line, not to mention their monopoly over resource management and associated revenues. Yet both levels of government are already moving in the direction of greater involvement of Indigenous peoples in resource management and revenue sharing. When viewed as an investment in sustainability and stability, not to mention basic human rights within their borders, I’m confident all those with a vested interest can be brought around. Early gains can be achieved by encouraging treaty and tribal groupings to come forward with sustainability and self-government proposals, but it will be decades before Canada can say that all its Indigenous communities are on a sustainable footing.
Treaties were intended to be the foundation upon which the Crown-Indigenous relationship would be built; the rights they provide for are legally binding, so they’ll always be with us in one form or another ─ a constant reminder of the promise of two nations living side-by-side in peace and prosperity, first envisioned in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Canada’s success at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples will ultimately be judged by our collective ability to realize that promise, and the potential it holds. By all means let the dialogue continue, but we as treaty peoples have an obligation to act immediately, wherever and whenever we can, before more harm is done. As I have argued above, the first step is understanding where we’ve come from (or could have come from), so that we may fully grasp the possibilities that lay ahead. Failing that, the treaties will instead remain a constant reminder of our collective failure.