lettre en francais à Première Ministre, Pauline Marois et la loi 101

20 février 2013

 

Madame la Première Ministre Marois;

Cette lettre fait suite à une lettre datée du 22 octobre dernier, laquelle demandait une rencontre avec vous et vos ministres relativement à l’impact de la loi 101 sur les langues autochtones.   J’ai appelé votre bureau à plusieurs reprises et ai été informée de la réception de ma lettre.  Néanmoins, je n’ai toujours pas reçu de réponse à ma demande de rencontre.

En conséquence, je réitère ma demande de rencontre afin de discuter de l’impact de la loi 101 sur les langues autochtones. Je vous demande également respectueusement d’inviter lors de cette réunion, plusieurs de vos ministres dont les dossiers sont en lien avec la langue et l’éducation.

Notre préoccupation majeure concerne votre déclaration suite à votre élection en septembre lors de laquelle vous avez annoncé vouloir modifier la loi 101 de manière à renforcer l’usage de la langue française dans la province. Bien que nous comprenions la nécessité de protéger la langue française, il est nécessaire de rappeler au gouvernement du Québec que les Peuples autochtones ont, eux aussi, le droit d’assurer l’éducation de leurs enfants et des jeunes dans leurs propres langues.

 Ce droit comprend également l’enseignement de notre histoire et de nos cultures; droit qui est renforcé par la Déclaration des Nations Unies sur les droits des peuples autochtones. Le Parti Québécois a d’ailleurs appuyé cette déclaration des Nations Unies lors d’une conférence de presse en 2010 au cours de laquelle j’étais moi-même présente à l’époque en tant que Présidente de Femmes autochtones du Québec et ainsi que Ghislain Picard, Chef de l’Assemblée des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador.

L’éducation, la langue et la culture font partie des articles de la Déclaration des Nations Unies qui promeuvent et protègent les droits à l’autodétermination des Peuples autochtones et qui constituent les normes minimales en matière de droits humains pour les peuples autochtones. L’appui manifesté par le Parti Québécois à la Déclaration des Nations Unies est très apprécié, cependant la prochaine étape est sa mise en œuvre, ce qui exige que tous les acteurs étatiques, y compris les gouvernements provinciaux et territoriaux, participent à sa réalisation. La mise en œuvre de la Déclaration exige un dialogue et une volonté politique fondée sur la confiance et l’équité. La Déclaration des Nations Unies s’inscrit dans le cadre d’une réconciliation fondée sur un partenariat égalitaire pour la paix et le progrès de la société.

Il est important de souligner que les peuples autochtones ne sont pas des minorités dans la mesure où nous ne partageons pas la même histoire du système des pensionnats indiens, ni de la colonisation, que celle des minorités. Les peuples autochtones ont le droit à l’autodétermination telle que le stipule l’article 13 de la Déclaration des Nations Unies sur les droits des Peuples autochtones:

 

“1. Les peuples autochtones ont le droit de revivifier, d’utiliser, de développer et de transmettre aux générations futures leur histoire, leur langue, leurs traditions orales, leur philosophie, leur système d’écriture et leur littérature, ainsi que de choisir et de conserver leurs propres noms pour les communautés, les lieux et les personnes.”

L’UNESCO a déclaré que les langues autochtones au Canada sont les plus menacées au monde. En tant que premiers peuples de cette terre, nos langues ont toujours été marginalisées dans les programmes éducatifs et ont été mises de côté pour forcer les membres de notre communauté à travailler au sein de la société canadienne et québécois.

Comme M. Koïchiro Matsuura, Directeur général de l’UNESCO, a déclaré : “… les langues sont essentielles à l’identité culturelle. La diversité linguistique est étroitement liée à la diversité culturelle et les langues jouent un rôle important dans la lutte contre la pauvreté, la faim et la maladie.” Les langues autochtones en particulier, dit-il, sont indispensables pour préserver les savoirs autochtones.

Je crois que nous partageons une passion commune pour nos langues respectives. Il est donc temps de changer le statu quo du colonialisme ayant attaqué l’identité des Peuples autochtones depuis des siècles et, à la place, de travailler ensemble pour le bien commun. Droits des Peuples autochtones et liberté sont des éléments fondamentaux pour notre survie, notre dignité et notre bien-être. J’espère que cette vision de la justice sera partagée par le gouvernement du Québec et que nous pourrons discuter de cette importante question dans un avenir proche.

Je demeure dans l’attente de votre réponse et garde confiance qu’une réunion puisse être organisée le mois prochain dans votre bureau à Montréal.

 

Avec sincérité et respect,

 

Ellen Gabriel

 

vice-president

Kontinonhstats – Mohawk Language Custodians Association

 

 

 

 cc.  Minister Élizabeth Larouche, Secrétariat des Affaires Autochtones

       Minister Maka Kotto,  Ministère de la Culture et des Communications

       Minister Marie Malavoy, Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport

The Significance and Importance of Idle No More

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Over the past few decades, I have witnessed several kinds of activist’ movements that inspired me to become the advocate I am today.  As a child I watched in awe Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights movement in the US and then as a youth, the American Indian Movement.  When I came to understand what these meant, I took an interest in educating myself of the many efforts of our Onkwehón:we ancestors whose strength and perseverance, inspires our resistance today.

Why do we have to continue to resist?  Why do we have to continue to endure the institutionalized racism that plagued our ancestors?  The issue is complex but at the heart of the issues are the archaic Papal Bulls and Doctrine of Discovery that gave European explorers the “rights” to claim lands that were not occupied by Christians: it meant that no one lived there because non-Christians were not human beings according to the Church at that time.

These legal fictions are what Canada and the USA base their sovereignty on and is the foundation of the chaos we as Indigenous peoples are experiencing today.   Private property law is based upon the Doctrine of Discovery!

The “Oka Crisis of 1990” which is really the Siege of Kanehsatà:ke 1990, is rooted in archaic colonial laws, the Indian Act.  22 and half years later, we find ourselves in the same situation as we witness more and more of our traditional lands being appropriated for condo developments and see our traditional settlement, being taken over by Oka Park and its beach.

the Longhouse is not allowed to participate in any decision making process pertaining to our lands and resources.  We are invited as individuals only.  Our community’s divisions perpetuate the situation that created the “Crisis of 1990” and allows the government of Canada to steal more lands and resources because we focus on ourselves, not the real enemy.

Idle No More, organized by Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, inspired by a small humble Cree woman Chief Theresa Spence; it has motivated Onkwehónwe/First Nations/Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples around Mother Earth to say “No More” to the oppressive relationship we have with Colonizing governments.

the Fact that the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper has ignored requests by Chief Spence to meet or even to commit to a meeting, is disturbing and bordering on the sadistic.  The feigned concern by PM Harper and Minister Duncan about “setting a precedent” by “giving in” to this type of advocacy is selfish, sadistic and sickening.  As Elijah Harper mentioned during the “Oka Crisis 1990″,  it is We (Onkwehón:we peoples) who have been accommodating Canada for over 100 years”.

It is Onkwehón:we who have been inconvenienced for centuries.  it is Onkwehón:we who have had our leaders treated like common criminals when they were only honouring their  customary laws in defending the peoples’ rights to our lands and territories.

CHIEF SPENCE is not asking for much in my opinion, she is only asking to be heard on terms that restore a balanced relationship of nation to nation that has been scorned, undermined and attacked since the creation of the Indian Act.  When I hear her speak, I do not hear any disrespect, nor anger, only hope that someone in Government will do their job and duty for their people in respecting the treaties and Honouring the Crown as required by their laws.  As the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has stated in numerous decisions; that in its (Canada) dealings with Aboriginal peoples, the Honour of the Crown is always at stake.

If Mr Harper is unfamiliar with this or unwilling to uphold the Honour of the Crown, then I agree with Chief Spence that he should step aside and let someone else who is willing, to take his place.

I have been impressed by the Idle No More movement and the peaceful “Flash Mob round dances”.  It is one of the most non-offensive and gentle ways to educate Canadians who absolutely need a lesson in history and what the Laws really state about our Relationship with them.

the issues that IDLE NO MORE touch are complex and require education and time.  They also require openness, honesty, fairness and a deep understanding of what is needed to go forward.  The challenge we have as Onkwehón:we is to demonstrate that sincere Reconciliation is an investment in Peace & Hope that ALL our children’s futures will be better than what past and present generations have experienced.

Bill C-45 is only one example of many in the myriad of legislation that has eroded Indigenous peoples’ rights for over a century.  Bill C-45 is built upon arrogant lies that gives the Government of Canada assumed sovereignty over our peoples, lands and resources.  It is an example that not only are Indigenous peoples in Canada in jeopardy, but all of Canada is because it protects only 1% of rivers and lakes from development; caters to corporations profits; cuts veterans benefits; employment insurance time; fast tracks environmental assessments amongst many other issues. It is in essence the Harper Government’s statement to the world “come invest in Canada’s resources”, Bill C-45 allows the “exploitation of Indigenous peoples lands and resources; Canada has the policing authorities, military, human and financial resources to try and squash any resistance”

Canada under Harper has deteriorated through; trade agreements with countries who are know human rights abusers; it allows for the importation of foreign workers to replace the many Canadians who need jobs; Mr. Harper has gotten very good at ignoring the rule of Law both domestically and internationally, through his Spin Doctors, but I think most people can see through the lies.

To activists of Idle No More, take a lesson from  Kanehsatà:ke (OKA) as back in 1990, Mulroney criminalized those of us who stood up for the protection of our lands and called us terrorists, he stated many times “I want to talk with the moderates”.  His government came in and paid our own people to work against us.  22 and half years later, we have more challenges in protecting our lands that are presently being gobbled up by development facilitated by Bill S-24-The “Kanesatake Land Management Act” that passed by 2 votes, excluding the protests and opposition by the numerous Longhouse people.

It will be a challenge to maintain this movement of IDLE NO MORE as the institutionalized racism and barriers that have dispossessed Indigenous peoples’ from their lands and territories for over a 100 yrs, will not go away over night.  IDLE NO MORE will require patience, an investment of time and energy to achieve the respect and protection of our collective inherent rights. Justice for our peoples who have been waiting for hundreds of years, will not happen over night, but we must be certain to maintain peaceful protests and the Flash Mobs round dances.

In the mean time, Please do the following:  Urge your local MP to call upon PM Harper to meet with Chief Spence, and or: write Queen Elizabeth II to call upon her Crown Representative to meet with Chief Theresa Spence, or as she could do, replace her representative with one who will uphold her Crown’s honour and end Theresa Spence’s Hunger Strike.

I am honoured and proud to support and to know Chief Theresa Spence, my thoughts and prayers go out to her and her team, each passing day.  May the wisdom and love of our ancestors be with her and all those of Idle No More.

Skén:nen – in peace

Peanuts and the “NAWS” ruse

I think Onkwehon:we/ Indigenous/Aboriginal/Native peoples have been too patient with Canada and their provinces and territories.

Sometimes we’re like the Charlie Brown’s of the world who have Lucy holding the football then, just as we get ready to kick the football, Lucy pulls it out from under us.

That’s what all these meetings feel like for genuine Indigenous advocates;

the First Ministers, Harper and his cronies keep us hopeful by throwing an occasional morsel our way, implying through their press releases and talk that something is going to change for the better.

Instead we get a bunch of bureaucrats who ignore all the progress that has been accomplished in human rights like the UNDRIP,  EMRIP (Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), UNPFII,  the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report 1995, NAHO’s Longitudinal Health Survey 2006 (I think), Amnesty International’s “Stolen Sisters Report” (2006) and its update in 2010 and more.

We’re stuck in the mud while Harper and the Premiers, RCMP and all the institutions designed to keep us down but who pretend  that they are “trying to help” us, pour their sanctimonious “intentions” upon us which is more like a boot squashing our heads while they spend our money from our trust fund created in 1886 – to prop us Canada’s Aboriginal Industry that employs thousands, if not millions, to continue colonialism; then next election they can claim they have kept Canada’s employment rate at a healthy level.

NAWS was not about finding solutions to the serious violation of Aboriginal women’s rights.  It wasn’t even about open, honest dialogue with Aboriginal women and their families who were invited as pawns in this devious plan by Government to give the illusion of “seriousness” and attentiveness to this problem

It was about keeping up appearances, about once again giving hope to Indigenous peoples who have for far too long been attacked to our very core, it was about dangling hope only to claim that they, the Premiers, need to look at this problem more closely!

As Bugs Bunny would say “what an ultra Maroon!”  There are Indigenous women experts on this issue who could provide the solutions.  But solutions not only require funding resources, it requires political will to create educated and compassionate human resources.

Perhaps the Premiers and the bureaucrats don’t want to spoil a colonial formula that’s been working for centuries!!!  First they disrupt the family unit by kidnapping Onkwehon:we children from their families and sending them to state Residential Schools to “Beat the Indian Out of the Indian!”

They – the state of Canada, take control of our trust fund created by royalties from our lands and resources, then enhance colonial laws by creating a policy of Economic Terrorism so that they can further divide and conqouer

Then  create such a state of apathy in society through the brainwashing of the century + old Indian Act that the human rights of Aboriginal women, children and girls can be violated with impunity [AI Stolen Sister, 2006] because it costs too much for society to defend. that the security of families is not a human right- witness the human rights complaint of the First Nations Child Caring Society and Cindy Blackstock.

Had the bureaucrats and Mr Harper’s cabinet been listening to some of the great women leaders who have worked on this issue longer than he’s been in office: plus had they invited more of these Aboriginal women experts, then maybe the NAWS conference would have been productive rather than an expense.  But it would have had to have a mechanism that would oblige Government to seriously consider and implement their recommendations.

Here’s a few solutions to inform the premiers and their bureaucrats:

Education:  make it mandatory to change the curriculum in all the schools that teach All children, especially Onkwehon:we youth and children, that Violence is not part of our culture but a residual of Colonization – teach about the Indian Act and why it was created

Mandatory cultural sensitivity workshops for every level of politician, especially within the Government of Canada, its Ministers, institutions, policing authorities, schools etc.

– Teach the true history of Colonization in Canada and why it continues today – the Indian Residential School system and its negative effects on our identity, family unit, language and culture, our traditional forms of governance;   the theft of our lands and resources

Policing – once and for all create a PROTOCOL for police (as per Chiefs of Police Resolution 2006) to deal respectfully with Murdered and Missing Aboriginal women and to take families seriously when an Aboriginal girl or women goes missing.

Research – continue the research that was stolen by the Status of Women – [sent to the RCMP] and put it in the hands of an Aboriginal women expert panel/committee.

Restore traditional puberty ceremonies for youth so they can be taught their roles and respect each other’s gender.

Restore ceremonies for our people and our lands that strengthen our knowledge and respect for one another.

Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and our inherent and treaty rights by beginning discussions with Canadians since their government doesn’t seem to be interested.

Teach bureaucrats about Human Rights law, inherent and treaty rights so that our rights are not further weakened by bureaucrats and politicians who habitually make unilateral and arbitrary decisions causing further dispossession of our families and nations’ lands and resources.

For Onkwehon:we men to take a leadership role along side Onkwehon:we women to stop the violence in our communities to be role models for young men and women.

there are more, but this is just a start of what needs to be done to help families and our nations to restore and rebuild our nations.

Communities need to take action as that’s where the solutions will be implemented.  Changing the attitude towards Onkwehon:we women and peoples begins with openness, education and political will, as like always, our rights are always politicized.  Hope is still needed; but let’s put our hope in those who are honest, open and sincere.

*cartoon comparisons done with due respect to all – shows my age but appropriate considering the lack of respect toward Indigenous peoples’ rights by the current government and its premiers through their conclusions

“Indian Control of Indian Education” – the battle cry of the 70’s

In 1972 the National Indian Brotherhood issued a declaration to the Government of Canada as a response to PM Trudeau’s White Paper Policy.  The declaration was titled “Indian Control of Indian Education”, and was an attempt by the Brotherhood to stop the wheels of assimilation and the elimination of “Indian” peoples rights by Trudeau and his cabinet.  Here is an excerpt from the NIB declaration:

“The time has come for a radical change in Indian education. Our aim is to
make education relevant to the philosophy and needs of the Indian people. We
want education to give our children a strong sense of identity, with confidence
in their personal worth and ability. We believe in education:
– as a preparation for total living,
– as a means of free choice of where to live and work,
– as a means of enabling us to participate fully in our own social,
economic, political and educational advancement.”
1 (AFN Education conference web site)

October 1st – 3rd, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) will be hosting a conference on Education in Gatineau at the Palais des Congres.  Cost for registering for “First Nations”, a $300, plus travel plus meals plus plus.

There is a wide array of topics that will be discussed during this conference including legislating “First Nations” education.  A contentious topic at best and one which is seemingly promoted by the AFN elite, although I believe there is a resolution to the contrary,

While it is too soon to comment on the conference, there are a few issues I would like to address that are key in Onkwehon:we democracy.  First is the accessibility issue:  the cost to register for Onkwehon:we peoples is $300, free for elders and more if the participant is not Onkwehon:we.  The issue of cost is one that seems to be continually ignored by the upper echelon of the AFN and evidence of it occurred this past July during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Toronto.  Six Nations Chief Bill Montour raised the high cost of registration for community members to the chair Mr. Harold Tarbell before the agenda was approved.  Mr. Chair mentioned that this had been previously discussed and that they would take note.

The high cost to attend any AFN meeting or conference signifies that these meetings are for the elite of Onkwehon:we peoples.  The cost of travel is high especially for those from remote communities and for small communities who have small budgets.

My sense is that “Indian country” through some of the NAO’s, has evolved into a small group of elite, who have at their head, some CEOs, who do not want to see the grass roots participating in decision making processes.  Many grassroot activists often criticize the elite as they feel left out of decisions and see certain actions taken by the leadership as eroding our rights.  It’s important for those unfamiliar with this colonized arena that the AFN is composed of band councils and is a system that is administrative at best without any real authority unless the Minister of “Aboriginal and Northern Affairs” rubber stamps any initiative.  It is not a reflection of the sincerity of efforts to make change by the majority of chiefs, it is the reality of the Indian Act.

If we are to truly decolonize our relationship with Canada, then we must start amongst ourselves.  Eliminate the high costs of registration which by the way, only provides us with a name tag, the agenda, a pen, a bag and some reading materials, and permission to enter the conference.  While I agree that there does need to be some sense of “control” on who has access at a conference, it should not be at the cost of our democracy.

Education is an important topic.  On one hand it was used against us during the Indian Residential School system, and in many ways, is still a major tool of assimilation.  But it can be used to improve our situation, but only if we actually have a curriculum that reflects and implements, who we are as Indigenous peoples.  Imagine that in 1972 our leaders fought to promote our language, our culture, promote our identity protect our rights and they did so with sincerity and anxiety about the fate of our peoples.  Yet here we are in 2012 excluding participants because of the cost of attending, using the very same system that has oppressed Indigenous peoples for over a century.   If we are to Control education then we need as many good minds to guide the way in overcoming the vestiges of Colonization.  I don’t equate a webcast with that of actually participating.  The question to ask ourselves then is this: is legislation really the answer?  Will it be another stab at our rights by PM Harper whereby his definition of “control” leaves us without the resources to actually improve the quality of Onkwehon:we education systems – we need to remember that legislation is never accompanied by funding.

Whatever happened to the endorsement of the UNDRIP by the AFN and indeed by Canada?  What does its implementation mean to a special interest group like the AFN and to the Government of Canada?

Over several decades we have had costly conferences, discussions on how to get out of the oppression that has inflicted its destructive tools against our children, youth, peoples and lands.  Colonization has cost Onkwehon:we peoples dearly and still does:  Onkwehon:we women are 5 times more likely to experience violence, we have a high number of murdered and missing “Aboriginal” women.  So how do these facts affect the children in our communities?!  I have heard the Buffalo speeches by leaders who talk about how important language and culture are to Indigenous peoples, that we need to do something to protect Aboriginal women…and then we wait for the funding to come in to address these issues.  Funding that the Government of Canada controls and uses to their benefit as a tool to continue colonization and to maintain our communities’ social problems.  Canada controlling our funding is like Economic Terrorism:  a tool used the world over not just by governments, but by government supported corporations to exploit resources and undermine the human rights of peoples.

Today we have more Indigenous academics than ever; Indigenous women being the highest in number. Yet our education system is still in the control of government bureaucrats and an “Aboriginal” industry of government departments whose greedy hand stretches far and wide while our communities struggle just to get the bare necessities.

It is a fact that the dollars that flow to our communities belong to our peoples.  It comes from an 1880 trust fund from the royalties of our lands and resources, whereby in the same year, Canada gave itself the fiduciary responsibility of controlling since they relegated “Indians” as “wards of the state” under the Indian Act .  It is not tax payers’ dollars and it does not belong to PM Harper or Minister Duncan to decide how it should be spent.  The game of economic terrorism has gone on for over a century, for the benefit of achieving the goal of colonial assimilation.

Education should be based upon our languages, our values, our customs and our traditional governing systems.  As more thefts of our lands and resources continues through land claims and the Indian Act, there may be very little left by the time we actually achieve our goals of “Indian Control of Indian Education”.  If people believe that their Indigenous identity is linked to the land and all our relations, then significant progress needs to happen.

We must implement reform ourselves while informing Canada and its provinces that our Indigenous academics along with our language teachers and activists will be controlling our communities’ education. We will create our own curriculum using our traditional knowledge and people through funds that legally belong to us.  We will be regenerating our languages and customs in our education system, according to our standards.  We cannot accept any more legislation whereby English and French threaten our Onkwehon:we languages. Even if these languages are essential to learn, our languages will be the priority in our control of our education.

To conclude, we don’t need any more Buffalo speeches that state our “sovereignty” or “jurisdiction” over our lands and resources.  What we need is action, courage, strength and a good understanding and knowledge of the teachings of our ancestors.  Education is the key, but according to our standards, and yes including math,science, and all the other subjects to help our children and youth survive in a global society.  These have always been part of Onkwehon:we peoples’ education systems, how else would Europeans have survived these lands without the traditional knowledge of our ancestors?!

When Onkwehon:we peoples take back control of our education, let’s include the arts like painting, music, drawing, theater, etc – these utilize the same side of the brain that math and sciences do; and yet are the first to get funding cuts in our schools.  Bring back the richness and gifts of our identity to the education of our children and youth.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, regarding education and languages

Article 14
Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems
and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to
their cultural methods of teaching and learning
Article 15
Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures,
traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education
and public information

Sken:nen – in peace

Language Laws and the Threat to Onkwehon:we – Indigenous languages: Quebec Election issues

On September 4th Quebecers will be heading to the polls to elect a government and premier.  I have been listening occasionally to the news pock marked with the mud slinging that usually goes on in any and all elections.  However, this year, I am amazed by the purposeful lack of awareness and education of most of the political leaders on issues regarding Onkwehón:we/Indigenous peoples.  I am Amazed because there has been so much accomplished over the past few years regarding Indigenous peoples human rights and yet, there is never, if any mention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the main political parties.  No political party has a significant platform on Onkwehón:we peoples that will help create a better relationship between Canadian/Quebecois society and Indigenous peoples.  No mention of reconciliation or how they see their involvement in this process…nothing.

The only party who tries to address Aboriginal issues is Quebec Solidaire and I applaud their efforts.  And no I do not consider the “Plan Nord” a platform, it is about economic security for the state, exploitation of Indigenous lands and resources and not a way to improve our relationship or to begin a process of reconciliation between our peoples.

Like most provinces and territories, Quebec has gone the way of the Ostrich when it comes to an honest and just process of reconciliation or acknowledging the legitimate rights of Onkwehon:we peoples in this region.  Especially when it comes to languages:  it’s like the War of 1812 all over again – use the Indigenous peoples to protect the colonizers, their languages, their values.   Since most premiers and heads of political parties are educated people, I always marvel at the fact that they know very little about the rights of Indigenous peoples, or at least they seem to be blissfully ignorant of them.  Part of Canadian law requires that all Crown actors – even the provinces and territories, must uphold the Honour of the Crown in their consultations with Indigenous peoples.  Included in the process is accommodation, but furthermore the UN Declaration requires the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of any Indigenous peoples, especially if it seriously impacts their rights.

It is an interesting fact that much of Quebec’s cultural identity originates from Indigenous peoples’ culture:  the various festivals like maple syrup, strawberry, corn – “Festival du blé d’Inde”, all taken from Iroquois culture.  I am proud of this fact as these are precious food sources that our ancestors cultivated and shared with the first Europeans who arrived on our lands a few hundred years ago.  Unfortunately, not everyone readily accepts this fact as it has been my experience that there remains an unhealthy resistance to this fact by some too blinded by racism and hatred to welcome Indigenous peoples contribution to this sociey.

Education is a powerful tool in eliminating racist ideologies but all the lobbying efforts by Onkwehón:we peoples with government and the Ministers of Education has been unsuccessful, although I know there are exceptions.  But generally, history curriculum keeps teaching the same old way it has since schools in Canada began:  the “Indians” were savages because they burned missionaries and the Iroquois were “war mongers”! to name a few racist depictions.

Educating young minds to the true history of Canada would resolve so many issues, especially long standing historical grievances that no political party or government has been willing to so far to deal with.   It seems that all Governments are satisfied to keep spinning their propaganda about Indigenous peoples so called “dysfunction” relegating us to mere “wards of the state” who need government’s help to function in today’s society.  It is reminiscent of the attitude of hundreds of years ago whereby the oppression of Indigenous peoples was nourished by Government propaganda to its citizens portraying “Indians” as children, uncivilized, incapable of making decisions for themselves – but yet, most necessary in the fight to maintain Crown Sovereignty.  It is this promotion of fear and hatred which has kept Canadian history stagnant and ignorant in order to justify the thefts of Indigenous children, lands and our resources.

Like many Indigenous activists and leaders and when the opportunity has arisen, I have tried to make attempts to persuade various government Ministers to change the curriculum in Canadian schools, in particular how history is taught, and the importance to sufficiently support Indigenous languages in our schools and communities.  I was met with a resistant and paternalistic response by government who state that they will “take care of it” through their academics.  Given the fact there are many Indigenous academics perfectly capable of working on historically accurate curriculum, I attribute government resistance to their mis-guided ideology by their insistence in maintaining the status quo which perpetuates the Doctrines of Superiority, like the Doctrine of Discovery and the Papal Bulls, to deny Indigenous peoples access to their lands and territories which is the heart of the conflict between our peoples.  These 500 + year old racist Doctrines declared by the Vatican, that representatives of European monarchs could claim new lands on behalf of their monarchs if they were not inhabited, that is, inhabited by Christians.  Since Indigenous peoples were not Christian and hence were not considered human beings, it justified the implementation of Terra Nullius – no human occupation, in the Americas.  Indigenous peoples were issued a decree in a language they did not understand and told to convert or die – the rest as they say, “is history”.

In forging a new relationship, Quebec political leaders like Pauline Marois and Jean Charest should take note of history and try not to repeat its mistakes.  The Indian Act implemented a policy of genocide through its forcible removal of Indigenous children from their homes and communities.  There at these Residential Schools and at community Day Schools, Onkwehón:we children were forced to learn English and French.  They were severely punished if caught speaking their languages of which punishment included whacking children’s knuckles with a yardstick or strap, piercing needles through children’s tongues, shaving children’s heads and other heinous acts which no child or adult should have to endure.

In this Quebec election, I ask for a positive change in attitude instead of the status quo which I keep hearing from the mouths of political party leaders who insist that everyone is the same in this province and that cultural differences are acceptable.  But everyone is not the same.  Onkwehón:we are their own nation’s citizens, we are not Quebecois as we have never surrendered our citizenship to our nations nor surrendered our lands, at least most Indigenous peoples haven’t.  But this is not meant as an insult to Quebec or Canada, but a reminder that Indigenous peoples have self-determining rights, we have our own languages, our own lands and territories, we have our own customary laws.  The only difference is that we live under colonial laws and policies that maintain their oppression through laws, policies and ignorance;   threatening our very identity as Indigenous peoples.  These colonial vestiges oblige us to be educated in colonial languages in order for us to “fit in” and are reminiscent of the motto for the Indian Residential School; to “beat the Indian out of the Indian”!

UNESCO has stated “…that in Indigenous languages are most threatened in Canada.”  UNESCO has compared the loss of Indigenous languages having a negative impact on biodiversity conservation.  Indigenous languages are embedded with traditional knowledge that promotes and protects biodiversity.  But try telling that to the governments in Canada with its $1 billion “Linguistic Duality” program or provinces like Quebec with Bill 101 without any thought to how their language laws negatively impact Onkwehon:we languages.

All premiers and the Prime Minister of Canada must educated to the fact that language is more than just a form of expression for Indigenous peoples:  for Indigenous peoples it is our link to our ancestors and their teachings, it is embedded with our traditional knowledge – a form of knowledge by the way, that has been used and exploited by government, pharmaceutical companies and  cosmetic companies without the benefits to Indigenous peoples.

If we are ever to make significant changes to our relationship, then respect for our rights to our Indigenous languages, customs and traditions which include our traditional forms of governance must be given the nourishment and opportunity that ALL colonial languages, cultures and governance has been provided.  To those Quebecois voting on September 4th, call upon your local politicians and their party leaders to respect, promote and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Remind Mme Marois of the press conference she organized with the AFNQL and Quebec Native Women a few years ago where the Parti Quebecois called upon the Quebec Government of Jean Charest to endorsed the UN Declaration.  Ask her how she sees Quebec’s language law in the context of the UN Declaration.

As we closely approach the 5th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on September 13th remind all polictical party leaders of how this is the most comprehensive UN human rights instrument for Indigenous peoples and must be implemented in domestic law to become a norm.  Much like the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It will help strenthen our efforts to regenerate Indigenous languages in our schools and daily lives. It will promote and protect the collective rights of Indigenous peoples from oppressive colonial laws that threaten Indigenous peoples rights, identity and customary laws.  Isn’t it time for change?  Isn’t it time for peace?

Skén:nen – in peace

Rethinking Capitalism: using Economic Duress against Indigenous communities

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?!