The recent agreements by some nations accepting resource development on their lands is very worrisome. I often wonder if decisions were made under economic duress or whether or not the standards of free, prior and informed consent were respected, were there environment impact studies and by whom? I fear the end results of resource development will be devastating to all since mining companies have demonstrated a poor track record of restoring the land to useable areas once they are finished extracting all they can from the Earth .
Over the years, I’ve attended numerous chiefs’ meetings and have observed how contentious issues are often dealt with which is not to rock the boat or criticize. Issues such as the McIvor decision on “Indian” status or membership codes based upon blood quantum [- a criteria created by the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs] are at the best of times rarely debated in depth. Chiefs who recognize injustice state that they do not “interfere” with decisions of individual band councils. So my question is where do we draw the line when an injustice which violates our Indigenous customary laws is committed. What do we stand united on?
It is safe to assume that the common thread in traditional Indigenous peoples’ teachings is the protection and respect of the people, the land, our resources and all life forms who we call “All our relations”.
It is no secret that the economic realities in the majority of Onkwehon:we communities is not the healthiest because of key socio-economic issues: violence that is rooted in the negative effects of colonialism and the fact that the practice of colonialism continues today. For over a century, Canada has maintained tight control over Onkwehon:we/Indigenous nations’ Trust Fund which was created in the 1880’s, through royalties from our lands and resources. Canada entrusted itself with the Trust Fund and hence, assumed “fiduciary” responsibilities over Onkwehon:we peoples. But it is Canada’s abusive control over our trust funds that must be exposed to the general population as funding cuts to Indigenous communities is frequently used as a form of economic terrorism in order to coerce band councils to implement colonial assimilation policies.
Indigenous communities in Canada face major challenges to survive in a globalized socio-economy. Without the sufficient support for infrastructure and human resource capacity building Indigenous nations are doomed to fail leaving our communities’ resources and lands vulnerable to a globalized society hungry for resources and economic security at any price. Hence, Indigenous peoples are forced to make tough decisions to accept resource development in order to gain economic security for their communities. These agreements not only polarize Indigenous peoples values with that of mainstream society but enhances the divisions within our communities as members become tired of resisting and scraping by. But as well, “leaders” are pressured by certain community members whose degree of colonization causes them to disregard those traditional teachings which tell us to protect our lands and peoples from exploitation.
Indigenous peoples face an enormous challenge to decolonize not only our relationship with Canada, but more importantly, amongst ourselves. While our nations try to deal with socio-economic problems created and rooted in colonialism they face an equally challenging dilemma of sustaining the pillars of Indigenous identity; our languages, customs, traditions and our lands . Government’s tried and true formula of divide and conquer creates the kind of fodder ripe for Government and Corporations’ to exploit the lands and resources of Indigenous peoples. To continue to accept working in a system that everyone knows is broken is morally irresponsible and further marginalizes Indigenous customary laws, authority and traditions. Indigenous peoples are forced into maintaining the western model of “modern day treaties” which creates the semblance of “partnership”, yet marginalizes our Indigenous customary laws and traditions.
We even bite our tongues when we hear the legal jargon which professes that we are “partners” with Government or corporations because we know in reality that we are far from being partners. Most agreements contain “dispute resolutions” which are always based upon the criteria of government or corporations, created by lawyers, not by our elders and do not reflect our Indigenous customary laws. If modern day treaties removed “extinguishment of our rights to lands and resources” or eliminated “non-assertion” models then we would have treaties that reflect Indigenous customary laws.
An Indigenous environmental assessment would ask some of the following questions: how does it impact the people, the land, our spirituality, present and future generations, all our relations, the waters? can the land be used once the development is finished? will it contaminate our environment and the health and well-being of our people?
While I believe those that have signed these agreements sincerely believe that they are acting on behalf of the best interest of their peoples, upon closer examination the impacts can and are devastating. Quebec’s Northern Plan is to create jobs, satisfy the voting constituents, exploit the land and resources. But what will happen to those creatures who have no say or who do not benefit, whose habitat is changed forever. What happens to the health and well-being of the environment that Indigenous peoples depend upon to survive. These are important factors to consider regarding major development projects. When we add to the situation a gender perspective, what is revealed is that the majority of jobs are male oriented and leave little room for women to benefit from.
Water is used for all development, in millions if not billions of gallons/litres a day in order to extract minerals and resources from Mother Earth. One need only look at mining operations, or factories to see how much water is used in all the products we consume. The most notorious example of water exploitation is the Alberta tar sands where the water used for extracting oil, cannot be used for approximately a thousand years. This is the estimate for how long it will take for the small clay particles in the water to settle . The five First Nations communities living near the Tar Sands know that nothing is sacred as their pleas to stop the devastation caused by this project has fallen on deaf ears – “Energy and Economic Security” seems to be the motto of Government of Canada. By ignoring the health and human rights of the people affected by the Tar Sands, Canada is sending a clear message that Indigenous peoples and the environment are disposable. The Athabasca – Peace – MacKenzie Delta area has been declared a World Heritage site, yet it remains the main source of water for the tar sands.
Money is important in today’s society but we should all be asking: at what cost to the environment. The fast tracking of environmental assessments by the Government of Canada this past March through their huge omnibus bill ensures that the environment will remain vulnerable to exploitation. Global society is dependency upon the perpetuation of capitalism is killing and destroying the health and well-being of the environment, people and all creatures that depend upon it. A true and just society would enforce a mechanism to oblige governments like Canada and corporations more accountability. The present Government of Canada’s arbitrary interpretation of the rule of law has allowed the theft, and exploitation of Indigenous peoples’ lands and resources, but with a willing patriate Indigenous peoples themselves, albeit under duress and through coercion.
It’s time to rethink capitalism and its impacts on the present and future generations. For many years I have listened to the rhetoric of dissatisfaction of chiefs frustrated with the lack of will by government to their communities’ needs and declarations of “sovereignty” over their lands.
The awful truth is, that we have lost time and energy listening to rhetoric, accepting the lack of political will to our self-determining rights because our community leaders always work in “crisis” mode. Educating chiefs and councils to what a “rights based approach” really means, will provide tools to fight all levels of government whose insidious apathetic attitude to the collective rights of Indigenous peoples keeps us in “crisis” mode. Indigenous communities often worry about the health and well-being of their community if they reject Government’s agenda. Government is like a spoiled child having a tantrum and nobody does anything to correct their behavior.
Being self-determining peoples means we have the right to say “NO”, we have a right to have an accounting of the money that Canada spends taken from our Trust Fund. Indigenous peoples are on the front-line of defending our lands and resources because we are self-determining. but it is hard to do if your communities are faced with threats to their economic and social well-being if it rejects government’s agenda. What is most insidious, is when a band is forced to accept development because of economic duress despite knowing the risk to the health and well-being of the environment and the people.
Revoking the Doctrines of Superiority like the Doctrine of Discovery, Doctrine of Conquer, and the Papal Bulls is a start. Educating Indigenous peoples in Canada about using international human rights instruments in conjunction with their customary laws is another step.
Consumers should be demanding corporate responsibility for the products they create, at all stages of development along with their waste afterwards; this is what should be included in environmental impact studies. Technology requires resource extraction to satisfy consumer demand for their products. As consumers we should demand that all corporations recycle their waste. The out of sight out of mind syndrome that plagues society’s apathetic attitude is part of the sinister character of resource exploitation. What we don’t see and know, will and is hurting us.
Western society always lays claim that this is the most sophisticated civilization in the history of the world because of the level of science and technology. Upon closer examination, how society treats and respects the environment, people, all life forms as well as, how it treats its waste might be a strong argument for the opposite. After all, whose interpretation and norms of “civilized” are we using?!