Tuesday, 18 September 2007

NO to the current treaty process!

The treaty process in its current form legitimates a theft of land and violation of our basic human rights. What will our children say when they realize how we have sold out for a paltry $10,000, which is what is currently being discussed as an incentive to vote for the treaty? Why would we negotiate the limitations of our basic human rights to food, identity and the safety and viability of our future generations? The individualization of 'Namgis rights takes away from our inherent collective cultural traditions. We are first and foremost family members, clan members, tribe members and then individuals with rights. Our cultural practices revolve around collective leadership and cooperation. So the legal cementing of rights at an individual level infringes on our sovereignty and our way of thinking and being that is unique in Canada. This is yet another way the Government is trying to divide and separate us into the smallest unit so as to have maximum control with the least amount of resources expended in achieving this end.

We must ensure that any treaty encompasses our right to determine our own destiny. We should be discussing a common legal strategy in defense of treaty rights, but the current treaty speaks to the complete withdrawal of challenges to the processes between us and the government. This is like volunteering to tie our hands behind our backs, much like when we were prohibited by law to raise funds for legal challenges. The individuals that have been wronged in a meaningful way should be supported by our people, again, collective responsibilities that are integral to the strength of our way.

The fact that most non-‘Namgis economic development activities can be justified in taking from Aboriginal rights means that the First Nations have to fight for participation or control over industry within their territories. This should be done through political organizing. The fisheries are part of our right as First Nations belonging to this land. The fact that sports fisheries were allowed to continue operating this summer while the 'Namgis were waiting for their small share of a declining fishery is appalling. The management of the white 'authorities' has so far been proven to be a complete and utter failure. We can and must do better.

The proposed privatization of our communal lands on reserve territory would only serve to send us further into poverty. Sure the rich would get richer, but those who can barely afford rent payments under our current system would be forced into bankruptcy with the purposed changes in treaty, which include property taxes on our own land that would go to the Provincial government. So only the well off would benefit from such a system while the majority of less well off would be forced to pay the consequences. Do we really want to copy this aspect of Western land governance?

Current treaty negotiation documents speak of a 'special tax agreement' which boils down to us paying for the very land we own outright. The money would go to what I consider a foreign government that will run it through a system of bureaucracy before supposedly giving it back. But these services are already guaranteed currently. I say we keep money in our pockets because we know how to spend it better than any foreign government can. The answer lies not in the magic treaty process that will miraculously make us more proactive towards meeting stated economic goals or create jobs out of thin air. How these goals can become reality need not wait for the signing of a bunk treaty agreement that only serves to limit our lives and severely hinge upon our cultural freedoms as a people. Even the trumpeted Nisga'a citizens have largely viewed their signing as a mistake. They are soon going to be paying taxes on their own land! Not only are they taxed, but the money goes to the government not the First Nation, further taking away what little we are already owed through the Federal government's current fiduciary duty to us.

We have to keep in mind that a signed treaty under its current form will not guarantee that the federal or provincial government will not still be able to 'justifiably" infringe on our negotiated treaty rights. There is no sovereignty or permanence of our rights under the current Treaty process. Not only are we negotiating 85%+ of our territories away, after ceding this incredible amount through treaty, the federal government can later take even more away through any economic activity it sees fit and this is supported by the Canadian court system!

Why are we fast tracking through a process without proper consultation of community members? Just because there is low participation at meetings does not mean the members are at fault. Part of the consultation duty on the council is to ensure the proper information is given to the community. I have heard of stories of the avoidance of certain questioners, having members shot down because 'they are misinformed,' and where a lawyer glosses over the facts with legal jargon that no one else understands precisely because they want to maintain the elitist, backdoor negotiating policy that the BC Government is trying to facilitate with willing bands.

The money we get as settlement may seem big, but it is only a temporary influx of cash aimed at buying the surrender of our lands, the territories given to us by the Creator for our children and our children's children…till the end of time. They say it will help with economic development and we will be set after this because we will have 'certainty'. Well if we are tossed a bunch of money and not properly on our way to sustainable economic initiatives before we get this money it will go to waste anyway. It can be likened to not learning how to fish, but waiting for the government to hand us our catch, but instead of the usual one salmon we are being 'given' a one time bonus of a halibut, but then that’s it. Looking at it this way lets you realize that the resources, no matter how big, will mean nothing if we do not first stop depending on the government to hand us our destiny and learn economic development now before we agree to a treaty. We are in control, we can learn to come together and actively pursue a direction that lessens our dependence on the government. We can start community initiatives aimed at a more sustainable approach to our economic futures now. As can be seen through our cultural foundations as Kwakwaka'wakw, there is much power in community. When we come together we have resisted unjust laws such as the Potlatch Ban which was geared to take away our very identity and threatened our survival as Kwakwaka’wakw. This is one example of what we can accomplish if we come together and put our minds to it. Just look at our new big house, look at our religious soccer community, or the irresistible resurgence of families re-entering the potlatch system of governance. Why then would we settle for anything but the best in negotiations? Why would we sign a shoddy deal now at the expense of our children? We can do better and I say we engage the community actively and truly learn what the members feel about the process before rushing to sign a settlement temporary in benefit - even if it means knocking on every ‘Namgis door to find the truth!

And why are we getting propaganda in the mail for pro treaty news? We are paying for the 'yes' side of the equation, but I would argue that we are not being properly educated about the negative consequences of the current agreement. If we are exposed to the 'yes' side of the treaty process at our expense, doesn't the very democratic process demand that resources are allocated towards those who believe the current process needs major overhaul? An unfair one-sided representation of an agreement that has serious consequences for our future generations should be well balanced at the very least.

Let me speak to the 'anti-progress' comments that someone always responds to anyone against treaty. Not only do I view our nation as one of the most progressive culturally and economically, through my studies of our history as a people I know we can do so much better than what we are bargaining for currently. We are talking about the rights to our own resources and lands that the Creator gave US at the beginning of time, NOT the colonial government. The government would not spend $1 Billion on negotiations if they thought the land was theirs. Others say that I must be 'pro-Indian Act,' which of course is ridiculous, but I will respond anyway. As it stands currently, we are receiving monies as part of the Government's legal fiduciary responsibility, which means it is obligated to provide us with these services because of the infringement upon our lands and the decimation of our resources, namely the salmon and eulachon fishery which is part of the very foundation which our identity rests upon. I am not in favour of the status quo and continuing the dependence we have on the government. In fact, I am very much of the opposite opinion. I think we should show the world what we are made of by resisting the government’s economic power over us by controlling our affairs through a more sustainably oriented approach to living.

The recent visit from the Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was a show that the government wants to fast track our treaty. Out of all the First Nations in Canada he chose to come to us. This is because the government is watching our gung-ho leadership and is salivating. It has seen our current leadership being so pro-treaty that even when the majority of BC First Nations were questioning the legitimacy of the recent Tsawwassen Band's acceptance of the preliminary treaty vote, our leadership was one of very few coming out in full support. If you follow these events you will know the surprise that the other First Nations felt in response. One step further and I find the very coverage of this support in news articles at my doorstep as an advertisement from the ‘Namgis First Nation! I found an article in the Globe and Mail (which was not in the mailing), that is better balanced (Below). I feel these statements take the power out of our bargaining position. At another angle, think of the billion dollar surpluses the Federal government has been awash in for the past decade. It becomes obvious that they are trying to buy the surrender of our lands through short term payments so that they can start privatizing our lands, selling it off and start the taxation of First Nations. Things need to change fundamentally with the current process and until then, I proudly say no to treaty.

(Globe and Mail article)

New treaties raise hope but process still has harsh critics


August 2, 2007

VANCOUVER -- The family of Chief Bill Cranmer and members of the Namgis First Nation know first hand the damage done by the way things were.

In the days when British Columbia's indigenous people were considered fit only for assimilation, governments stripped away their land, virtually wiped out their language by shunting them to hated residential schools, and devastated their long, rich culture by outlawing the potlatch and carting off their treasured masks and artifacts to far-away museums and private collectors.

In 1926, to avoid being sent to prison for ignoring the potlatch ban, Mr. Cranmer's father, also a chief, was forced to renounce the ceremony, promising never to hold one again.

That long-ago humiliation still festers, and the Namgis continue to seek compensation for a loss that the younger Mr. Cranmer says "disrupted the whole economic structure of our people."

But now, according to the veteran native leader, it's a new era. It's time for the Namgis to stand up. And the way to do that is through a negotiated treaty.

"After all these years, a treaty will allow us to be a distinct people again within our traditional territory," Mr. Cranmer said. "No longer will we be under the Indian Act."

In fact, few seemed more enthusiastic at the historic urban treaty ratified last week by the Tsawwassen First Nation than the 68-year old chief of a people hundreds of kilometres away on the remote northwest shores of Vancouver Island.

"Their courage and vision is an inspiration to other first nations all across British Columbia," Mr. Cranmer declared.

Yet, for all his zeal, the chief remains a minority among B.C. native leaders.

Despite the mini-momentum of successful treaty ratifications by the Tsawwassen and Huu-ay-aht First Nations within days of each other, a large number of native bands in the province remain soured over the 14-year, billion-dollar process.

In addition to 45 aboriginal groups that have boycotted treaty talks from the beginning, 60 other bands still at the table have signed a sweeping "unity protocol" that there will be no deals unless governments change their negotiating tune.

Specifically, they want governments to end their insistence that all treaties must include the ceding of further aboriginal rights and land claims, an agreement to pay government taxes and a switch of native land ownership to the provincial system of fee simple.

For a growing number of native bands, these factors are non-starters, says Robert Morales, lead organizer of the unity protocol and chief negotiator for the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group on Vancouver Island.

"The Crown still wants to control the agenda, while our resources disappear," Mr. Morales said. "They continue to deny that aboriginal title and rights exist."

These pivotal issues need to be hammered out at a huge policy forum, attended by both government and native leaders, he said.

"So many of us have the same concerns that it's time for the key players to discuss whether there is any way to move forward. There needs to be a breath of life to the process."

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, meanwhile, has spurned the treaty process since it was launched, arguing that treaties cut into aboriginal title already recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Nonetheless, UBCIC president Stewart Phillip has thrown his weight behind the unity protocol.

"The governments are seeking extinguishment of our rights. ...They're saying: 'Here's a bag of cash and a bit of land. Now get lost,' " he said. "The entire process is fundamentally flawed."

So far, the provincial and federal governments have rejected all calls for common negotiations at a big table, and Mr. Phillip predicts no more than a handful of treaties - if that - will be reached in the next year or so.

But that kind of talk doesn't deter Mr. Cranmer and the 1,800-member Namgis band. They are determined to reach an agreement-in-principle within the next few months. The longer it takes, the more resources disappear from their traditional territory, he said.

"You've got to be realistic in this day and age. Non-natives are here to stay and they're going to increase. If we wait and wait and wait, it's going to be even harder to negotiate a treaty," he said. "I don't think there's any other time in recent history when both governments have agreed to negotiate our land claims."

Governments can only hope that Mr. Cranmer's treaty enthusiasm is catching. As one federal negotiator put it: "Having spent all that money, with these first two treaties, are governments finally starting to collect the fruit, or are they flukes?"

At the moment, a process that caught the country's imagination early on for its bold goal to negotiate treaties in a modern age has precious little to show.

Pasted from <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070802.BCTREATY02/TPStory/National>

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Book Review: Smoke from their Fires: the life of a Kwakiutl chief by Clellan S. Ford.

It is important to describe my familial connection to Charles James Nowell, a point that brought me to read this book and no doubt influenced my understanding of it. My Great Great Grandfather was Owadi (Thomas Nowell) and was born in 1840 and died in 1921. Owadi was Charles’ older brother who took the role of raising him because their father, Malitsas, went blind. The name Nowell came from an Englishman who wanted a godson in Canada. After being baptized the name Nowell was born. Owadi was the head chief of the first clan of the Kwixa tribe. Owadi’s grandfather (mother’s father) was the younger brother of Tlakodlas (Tlakwudlas), the head chief of the second clan of the ‘Namgis (41). My grandfather, Joseph Lewis Isaac, was the son of Dorothy Isaac (nee Nowell) and Benedict Isaac.

Image: Great Great Grandfather O'wadalagalis (Thomas Nowell).

Smoke from their Fires offers a very brief introduction to the Kwakwaka’wakw culture followed by a first-hand account by Charles of his life. Clellan Ford successfully showed the life of a Kwagu’ł man through the narration of Charles James Nowell with minimal anthropological ‘analysis.’ Charles tells his story after a lifetime of learning the English language and experience studying through the lens of an ethnographer. This undoubtedly influences his mostly objective, detached delivery, instead of a personal accounting that would have provided more emotion and connection to his life. I found Ford’s footnotes and introduction to be very Eurocentric in nature, which was typical of anthropologists at the time where the conjured threat of extinction of a dying race was consistently put forth to fuel interest in a superfluous research field. Although one must consider the popular theories of the time, the book is filled with references to the ‘primitive, inferior ways’ of the Kwagu’ł. In fairness, Ford’s work could be considered on the progressive side of a flawed argument based upon the hierarchy of man and the perceived eventuality of Kwagu’ł assimilation. This challenges the reader to find meaning within today’s more progressive thought on Indigenous peoples, while not eliminating the underlying importance of Charles’ experiences.

Smoke from their Fires provides a valuable accounting of the responsibilities and system of governance of a Kwagu’ł tribe through the perspective of a noble family during a difficult period of Western assimilative attempts. Despite these pressures, Charles James Nowell skillfully masters elements of Western culture, especially those of speaking and writing English, that benefit him and his people most. He finds himself a leader in the fight against the potlatch ban (along side William Roberts and Moses Alfred). Charles was a skillful advocate and traditionalist for the cultural integrity of his people, all the while maintaining European allies whose mandate was to eliminate the practices considered backward at the time. I encourage those interested in the personal accounts of the Kwakwaka’wakw to find (it is out of print) and read this book.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Statement against the Cultural Appropriation of the Kwakwaka'wakw

A solid friend with several familial links has written the following statement to which I have received permission to post on this blog. Cultural appropriators beware!


Gilakas’la Nał’namwiyut / Welcome Friends

I have been asked to write a statement on behalf of my fellow artists and Kwakwaka’wakw “Kwakwala Speaking People” relations. Our nation would like to share our feelings about people who imitate our traditional art forms and label their work as coming from our respected tribes.

Kwakwaka’wakw artwork, which includes carving, painting, designing, weaving, singing, dancing and story telling, are traditions that have been passed on amongst our nations from generation to generation from the beginning of our existence. The teaching of these “talents” or “skills” or as we call them “gifts”, are through mentorship and only select people are chosen to apprentice. Young people, who are recognized as carrying “natural talent” or gifts, are often selected or taken to a master in the specific art form and groomed to fulfill that role. Only chosen students, especially in earlier times, are allowed to learn these skills that we as Kwakwaka’wakw consider sacred.

As with many of our sacred teachings, artwork was done in secrecy. Only members chosen to learn these skills were allowed to witness their teachers at work. To the Kwakwaka’wakw, especially the artwork of creating masks, regalia and designs for ceremonial use are sacred and only brought out during the appropriate ceremonies.

We as Kwakwaka’wakw honour our neighbouring villages and tribes and do not duplicate or create artwork that does not belong to us or have not received proper permission from the rightful owners to do so. All Kwakwaka’wakw artwork represent crests and designs that belong to specific families who have inherited the right to create and wear these ancient symbols.

Our beginnings predate the Great Flood when we first transformed from our supernatural forms to our human state as we are today. We are taught that before the deluge, it was the mythical Raven named “Umeł”, that was the first supernatural creature to give us our first ceremony; and taught us how to make the regalia that is necessary for us to carry out this scared dance. We are still carrying on this tradition and our neighbouring tribes do not imitate or copy the rights and artwork that accompanies the dance. This is out of utmost respect for traditions that are scared to us, and were given exclusively to our forebears by the Creator.

Our ancestors were blessed with a beautiful art form that was bestowed upon us by the Creator. We find it necessary to inform people that there are other people not from our nations that imitate and duplicate our artwork especially for the commercial market. We want to encourage these people to search into their own traditions, as we would not disrespect them by copying their artwork and cultures. All people on this earth were given teachings and traditions that make us all individual and unique. When we are able to fully understand our roots and our own history, we are able to find “oness” within our spirits and souls; it is only then that we will be able to find balance and live in harmony with all things in this great universe.

We are respectfully informing people that there are traditional Kwakwaka’wakw artists that have been groomed and have the inherent right to carry on the legacy of creating authentic Kwakwaka’wakw artwork. We must protect these gifts and gifted people that we now call “artists”. Our art was given to our ancestors for us to express ourselves and identify who we are as Kwakwaka’wakw. Only we can truly continue this tradition, as we are the Kwakwaka’wakw.

He’am / That is all.

Chief Waxawidi - ‘Namgis Artist, Singer, Composer and Story Teller.

The U’mista Cultural Centre encourages all Collectors and Gallery Owners to refer to the following list of artists as those we verify as authentic Kwakwaka’wakw artists.

U’mista – the return of something valuable to the rightful owner.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Summer Internship Project

Community Internship:

I have decided that to start assisting the Victoria Kwagiulth Urban Society (VKUS) during my academic studies will be a challenging, but rewarding experience. My original intention was to work on a semi-annual newsletter to improve communications between members. Upon closer examination, this project would not only surpass the internships hour maximum, but the continual demands of this project would amount to more than a full time student should realistically devote to extra-curricular community volunteering. I will defer this important project to the future when I can properly devote my time to it. In place of this project I have proposed two shorter term projects that will fall nicely between breaks in my academic schedule: the graduation honouring dinner in June and an August decolonizing project – the latter of which I will explain in further detail.

Decolonization project:

The annual trip home will tour several Kwakwaka’wakw territories each year for 8-12 days. This will be at the completion of the week long Kwak’wala seminar language class held in Victoria in August. The focus of this trip will be to reinvigorate both language usage and cultural meanings behind these studies and separate this knowledge from Western philosophies to gain respect for the value of Kwakwaka’wakw traditional knowledge. Also, the trip would serve to connect people with their traditional territories and the land that nourishes our cultural knowledge. Each destination will be organized well in advance and transportation will be arranged. Participants would bring camping gear and appropriate dress, but it is my hope that the costs of the trip will be covered by donations, fundraising and band sponsorships. Applications would include reasons why they should be part of this annual event and geared toward how the applicant can assist their home communities in the future.

The internship would be spent planning and setting up a structure to allow the following year to flow as seamlessly as possible. The first year would be a pilot travelled by myself and/or one other person while setting up contacts and soliciting the idea to bands and contacts. Itineraries for three trips will be planned to allow for cancellations and other unforeseen circumstances. The participants will contribute something to each community they are welcomed into by requesting to help through traditional protocols. Elders will be invited to provide teachings to participants about their traditional territories and storytellers will share creation stories. A handbook of each territories history will be provided by Band website introductions and provided documentation that will be requested. The instruction will be traditionally passed on but will provide for the history of each place visited, the protocols in place that should be respected and traditional foods eaten, prepared and if possible harvested. A major component will be to build upon the Kwak’wala learned in the week long language course. There will be a recreational activity daily that will utilize local events, fields, community recreation centres or trails to hike, etc. Participants will be encouraged to keep a journal of daily events as well as provide a reflection paper at the end of the tour that will serve to measure the success of the program.

Later tours will include themes that are currently plaguing the communities. A march will be organized through communities in the name of a chronic disease or other health and social problems. Hopefully this will turn into a youth movement that will have great force within the communities and serve to act as a powerful lesson about what our young people can accomplish.

I understand there may be similar initiatives out there and I do not want to duplicate anyone's hard work. If you are interesting in helping to move this project forward or know of anybody that might be interesting in contributing, please contact me: josephisaac01@hotmail.com

Friday, 8 June 2007

BC Treaty Process - present

I have spent many hours studying legal texts, academic papers and opinion pieces on the BC Treaty Process. Throughout this research my ideas have evolved considerably. I have come to the conclusion that unless the structure itself is altered significantly, there can be no just negotiations between the Governments of Canada and First Nations. The only agreements that can come out of the current process will be skewed unjustifiably in favour of Canadian business interests aimed at further degrading the Earth, our mother. And for our people, a temporary cash flow and a mere fraction (less than 7%) of our land that cannot even guarantee us one generation of 'prosperity,' the very reason we are negotiation in the first place. Let me explain.

Although extinguishment is no longer official policy of the Crown in treaty-making, the BC Treaty Commission (BCTC) explains its new policy as “a modification model. Under this model, aboriginal rights are not extinguished but are modified into those rights that are defined in the treaty.”[i] It is difficult to see modification as anything else but a surrender of rights (extinguishment) in the name of economic ‘certainty.’ This is important to know because the extinguishment of our rights means that our traditional ways of being in this world are limited and sometimes rejected outright. This directly counters the recognized human right of self-determination. Rights practiced by our people since time immemorial.

The BCTC states “the Government of Canada recognizes that aboriginal people have an inherent, constitutionally-protected right to self government—a right to manage their own affairs.[ii] Self government will be negotiated on its own unique terms. Self government is important, but current models are nothing more than delegated authority from the Crown. According to the BCTC, administration of the governments will include “education, language and culture, police services, health care and social services, housing, property rights, child welfare and other provisions agreed to by the three parties.”[iii] The problem is that legally, justifiable infringements are currently allowed on First Nations’ treaty rights and title and there is little guarantee the current levels of exploitation will abate even with a constitutionally protected agreement. This one-sided power equation reads to First Nations: join the BCTC process and get a piece of the economic development while it lasts.

First Nation self government has legal support among experts and through political acknowledgment. Many First Nations believe that their laws supersede federal/provincial laws because they existed before the imposition of Canadian laws. The Nisga’a’s modern day treaty is an example of the First Nation right to self government, although this agreement is widely seen as nothing more than a municipal, delegated authority. A number of legal experts believe that S.35(1) includes a right to self-government.[iv] In 1985, Quebec National Assembly passed a resolution for self-government within Quebec and as of 1991 Ontario recognized the inherent right to self-government.[v] Even the Charlottetown Accord had agreement from all parties for First Nation self-government. The real question should be not what level of autonomy the Crown is willing to release, but how to restructure the negotiation process to produce more equitable and just treaties, leaving governance up to the nation in question.

Unless things are fundamentally altered, the BC treaty process will not achieve its primary goal of certainty for the BC economy. As Richard Day points out, “policy statements from the federal government are clear: self-government will be exercised within the existing Canadian Constitution.”[vi] This overriding authority of the Constitution means that treaties will be subject to the same mediocre protections of their lands and rights as older treaties. The difference is that First Nations in BC are drowning themselves in millions of dollars in debt only later to be susceptible to infringements on those very negotiated agreements. This creates certainty for BC business in exchange for the continued uncertainty in First Nations communities. The controversial policy of excluding the province’s history in treaty negotiations is answered by “the Province’s resources are not usefully spent in a lengthy exploration of historical and archaeological evidence…The Province is not interested in recreating the past.”[vii] Yet the treaties are obligations on the Crown which are based on historical injustices. Taiaiake Alfred argues “there is no concept of redress, responsibility, reform or even true reconciliation in the BCTC process because there is no questioning of the assumptions about the justice of the past and the present.”[viii] Avoiding First Nations’ history also means the Crown does not have to divulge how it initially obtained title to claimed lands and therefore, conveniently bypassing the question of sovereignty altogether.

Although the BC treaty process is built on a colonial foundation made to perpetuate the status quo and domesticate Indigenous nations, a treaty is still the best instrument to negotiate coexistence between two peoples. Suggestions of improvements to the BCTP only serve to make a faulty system slightly more palatable, while falling short of addressing the very structures of domination built into the negotiation process itself. I believe that only after a cultural renewal based in Indigenous spirituality can nations legitimately negotiate the lands of their ancestors for future generations. But Ill save that for later.

[i] Can be found at: http://www.bctreaty.net/files_3/faqs.html.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Imai, Shin. Aboriginal Law handbook, page 315.

[v] Ibid., 315-16.

[vi] Day, Richard. The BC land question, liberal multiculturalism, and the spectre of Aboriginal nationhood, page 13.

[vii] Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, 1995.

[viii] Alfred, Taiaiake. Deconstructing the British Columbia Treaty Process, page 4.

Uqalurait - An oral history of Nunavut

I found the reading to be extremely interesting. This is the first time I have read about the Inuit as an oral accounting. As this is how it should be, I felt honoured to learn some history. I found the culture difference between the Inuit and the “Indians” they encountered to be especially important. I feel it further supports our rights as the First Nations of Turtle Island. The customs for the far north are different from the Kwakwaka'wakw and of course they would be. The dramatic differences in geography and spiritual beliefs warrants such variance. I found the spouse swapping of particular interest, simply because it was an aspect so far from current accepted Westernized culture that I actually re-read the section because I was so surprised.

We have always acted in our own interests, had protocols and made love and war with the tribes around us. The romanticized Indian story is getting tired. We are nations coming together through much suffering, yet so far from the pan-Indigenous 'Aboriginalism' that government policies thrust upon us. Much like Western nations who came to the aid of Europe during the World Wars, we too are banding together for survival against tyrannical rule that seeks to destroy our way of life.

Source: Uqalurait - An oral history of Nunavut. Compiled and edited by John Bennet and Susan Rowley. McGill-Queen's University Press.

BC Treaty Process - past

Reflection: BC Treaty Process

I wanted to reflect upon a question regarding the BC treaty negotiations.

"The new tone of the BC Government regarding treaty obligations is a good chance for renewal, but should the Indigenous nations be bargaining for the scraps left after decades upon decades of exploitation of our lands for colonial interests? If not, what can be done or should be done that will satisfy a divided Indigenous populace?"

I thought that with so much of our lands gone and the unequal negotiations that is Canada’s treaty making process, why do First Nations bother making treaties at all? Especially considering there are a number of cases in which the treaties the Canadian government signed, but did not honour. I know it brings finality and secures at least a small percentage of traditional lands, but that to me is an acceptance of colonial conquest. I am not on the opposite side of the argument either. I do not think that First Nations should get all of the lands back. It is unfeasible and I believe naïve of current realities. Canadians are here to stay, but they are visitors. I believe self-government should be the norm among our Nations. Our people have the right to self-determination, to control our own destinies. I guess the rate of progression with treaties these days is at such an agonizingly slow process and it is based upon unequal power relations. Having First Nations bear such a large portion of legal costs and fees within the negotiation process also unfairly puts pressure on the First Nation to settle under high debt loads, or to shortchange themselves within the treaty framework.

I know that it is different in each region depending on resources, settlement and various other reasons. For the Namgis First Nation we are currently in the fourth stage – Negotiation of the Agreement in Principal. We are having consultations and informational meetings within our Nation to finalize the details of the treaty. I find myself torn between supporting a treaty and following an alternative route. We have already spent a lot of money on the process up to this point, so pulling out would seemingly be a waste of time and money. I guess the common response is we have little to lose and the possibility of gaining something. I am extremely interested in the possibilities of self-governance. The possibilities to live under our own governance system, based on traditions and past ways of governing on our lands. Since we are one tribal group among the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation, the system of governance would only be reflective of a part of our grouping, but it is a start. I hope for a resemblance of how things were governed in the past, to be implemented with a modern day sense. Our tribal group is based on a historical hierarchy, which although can be accepted traditionally, would be a hard sell to modern day citizens among important issues. It has been about five years since the Nisga’a signed their treaty and many are judging it to be a failure. Government negotiation officials have been quoted to say that Nisga’a is as good as it will get for the First Nations of BC. From what I have read, even its citizens are divided as to the success of the agreement. Again, is this a sign of things to come, another way of appeasing the ‘Aboriginals’ of Canada with no intention of real negotiation?