Here in Canada we have a tendency to focus on the positive aspects of things, and in general we are a fairly polite society. Days like today, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, are no exception.
Reconciliation. What a good word that one. We often forget or maybe overlook the first part of the conversation. Truth.
Reconciliation can only come after we learn of the wrongs that were committed and when the continued hurts are rectified. While there are acts of true reconciliation happening on Turtle Island – I’ve witnessed them in changes of behaviour at the personal level – on a public institutional level, the pace has been staggeringly slow. Even a minister admitted that bureaucratic resistance is a major roadblock in making progress.
While I don’t want to discount the progress that’s been made, and the hard work of my Indigenous brethren to bring it about, we do need to know the truth of the realities facing Indigenous communities across the country.
Today on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I want to focus on acts of Indigenous resistance and sovereignty across the country. The wins, the struggles, and the things in between.
Indigenous resistance and rights-affirming activities are alive and well on the West Coast. I find myself often incredibly impressed with the fights – and victories – that take place in the province of British Columbia.
The struggles in B.C. currently surround the inherent rights of the Indigenous nations, continuing fights against the Trans Mountain Pipeline (which for some reason keeps getting rerouted through Indigenous land), fights to protect their old-growth forests, and continuing fights against economic apartheid.
The wins in that province often come through the judicial system, rather than the provincial government acting for the benefit of all peoples. There has been some movement with the fight for proper fishing rights for the coastal peoples in B.C., as well as some wins against coal mining companies that want to destroy mountains on Indigenous land. Most recently, the provincial government was given 18 months by a judge to fix their broken mineral tenure system, which has been automatically granting mineral rights to corporations without a duty to consult Indigenous Nations. All of this is happening on the backdrop of the province’s commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Indigeneity has constantly been under threat in the Prairies, whether due to the genocidal treaty process we were coerced into or the ongoing imprisonment of Indigenous peoples. The relative rate of incarceration of Indigenous individuals is highest in Saskatchewan of all the provinces – Indigenous individuals are incarcerated at a rate 17 times higher than non-Indigenous people. And that’s just for adults in prison – the stats on child incarceration are even more horrifying. “90.3 percent of total admissions for the years 2016/2017 were Indigenous youth.” It’s almost as if being Indigenous in the prairies is the crime, but I digress.
While continuing to fight for the Treaty rights we were promised, my home communities continue to support other struggles and fight for the betterment of all peoples in Canada as recently demonstrated in the Homeland of the Metis Nation, aka Winnipeg. Very proud of the folks there. They shine a good light on our communities while they struggle so hard in the search for their loved ones, keep up the good fight my friends. #BuffaloWoman
In Alberta, Indigenous Nations have come to realize that if they want to protect their way of life and not have impoverished communities they really need to utilize the court system. Premier Danielle Smith’s government was recently told to “lawyer up” by Chief Allen Adams after a report came out about Imperial Oil leaking over 5 million litres of toxic wastewater into the community’s only source of water, the Athabasca Basin. The Alberta Energy Regulator didn’t follow its own procedures that could’ve and should’ve protected the community, instead they covered it up.
The Indigenous folks out this way have been fighting for all to have clean water, cleaner air, and recognition of the fact that there has been an economic aparthied in this country for way too long. There have also been Indigenous battles under way that protect the greenbelt, in addition to the ongoing struggle against the poisoning of Indigenous peoples’ home communities, which happens with way too much frequency.
The Indigenous peoples in the National Capital Region continue to impress me with their kindness and willingness to help with struggles across the country as this territory often hosts visitors from all across the country and Indigenous peoples and allies the world over. And this is while they continue their own struggles against colonization, nuclear waste dumps along the Kichi Sibi (a.k.a. Ottawa river), and try to fight to protect the declining moose population.
In New Brunswick there is currently a big legal battle going on over title of large swaths of the land and the Premier of the province continues to push misinformation on the general public. This land claim by the Wolastoqey nation is the same as many others that have gone on across the country and was on track to go through with no unusual statements made by the provincial government until the claim changed one article where it will now “demand compensation from corporations that operate on about 20 per cent of the land it claims, and from the (provincial) Crown for allowing the development.” One can only assume the backroom conversations the Irving’s and Premier Higgs had regarding this.
In Mi’kma’ki, the defeat of Alton Gas continues to be a huge win, and is growing into new forms of resistance, treaty assertion, and land defense across the nation. In the Eskikewe’kik district of Mi’kma’ki, on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq water protectors and settler allies prevented the sale of public park lands at Owl’s Head and secured protection for these lands as a park in perpetuity.
Mi’kmaq-led and supported resistance to liquefied natural gas plants (LNG) has resulted in the stoppage and delay of multiple LNG export facilities on the east coast (In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland).
Mi’kmaq are fighting to defend their Supreme Court-affirmed rights to fish for a moderate livelihood. This struggle continues to be heated as it has been for more than 20 years – violent clashes between Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers continue to crop up as lobster season approaches. Amidst this struggle, Mi’kmaq fishers continue to fight for their rights in court on and on the water.
A lot of my northern brethren have had a very hard summer. With wildfires affecting their communities, water shut downs and boil water advisories affecting whole cities, and fraudulent claims to identity it hasn’t been the easiest summer.
One thing many folks don’t realize is that wildfires across this country affect Indigenous Communities at an excessively disproportionate rate than other communities. And as our climate continues to warm these impacts will only worsen threatening the local wildlife, important biodiversity, infrastructure that these communities rely on and the Indigenous way of life for these communities. People in the north still have trap lines and hunting cabins and this is how they feed their families and pass on their culture. When I was growing up this is how my father raised and feed my family, and I have hopes that one day this will be common in our communities again, but we have to protect the environment to be able to protect our way of life.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation isn’t a day of celebration to our nations. For many Indigenous peoples, it isn’t even for us, strange as that sounds. It a day of reckoning. Reckoning with our collective pasts. Reckoning with ongoing injustices. But it is also a day of hope for Indigenous peoples across the country.
Hope that we can achieve reconciliation. But that will take a lot of work. We have to right the wrongs of the past, reconcile with each other, and reconcile with the land. It won’t be the easiest path, my friends, but I have faith that together our collective nations can do great things.
It gives us hope that these issues which affect our collective nations can be worked on and eventually solved. It gives us hope that our communities can heal and move forward on distinct paths but still together, as the two-row wampum represents. In my culture, when we pray I was taught we don’t pray for answers or for things, we pray to ask for the wisdom to make good decisions and on this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation I will pray for you too to make good decisions.
Hiy hiy, my friends. Be well.