By Smagnis

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 the Conrad Black`s of this world  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

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”.

We need:

Declaration of title and rights over traditional territoty

To be Culturally strong

Solid Governance and organizational structures

Vision Statement

Strategic Plan to attain vision

Consultation protocol

Communication Strategy