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?