Gathering Theme: The Justice System

GATHERING THEME

The Justice System

Kate Kehler
Maraleigh Short

Opening common to all gatherings

The criminal justice system in Canada and Manitoba is primarily based on the European adversarial model. The crown attorney seeks to prosecute on behalf of the government while the defense attorney works to discredit the Crown’s arguments. The Crown’s role is to do what is best for society as a whole, not seek revenge for an individual. However, day to day reality is such that many Crown attorneys seek the strictest punishment they think they can get, and the defense lawyers just try to mitigate that. Often this results in a plea bargain – a joint submission that the judge then accepts. In Manitoba, courts today are so backlogged with procedural matters that resolving cases has seemingly become more important than resolving them well. It is often so rushed that the accused can be asked to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives in cramped little rooms, just minutes before going into court.

The Crown does not lay charges. The police do that. However it is up to the Crown to decide which charges to pursue. The Crown is not supposed to pursue a charge they are not convinced they can prove beyond doubt. However, Crown attorneys routinely pursue charges that are only ‘triable’. The fear here is that someone who has spent months incarcerated prior to trial, if promised immediate release given time served, will just plead guilty and no real resolution will have been achieved.

Remand and bail

Manitoba continues to be the province that holds the most people for the longest period of time on pre-sentenced (or remand) status. On any given day, about 70% of the people we have in custody are awaiting trial or sentencing.

The wealthier amongst us can pretty well count on getting bail because we are viewed as low risk and can afford a lawyer or afford to borrow to hire one. People in poverty may or may not have a stable home or job and have to rely on the chronically underfunded legal aid system. The perceived risks in both this instability and lack of advocacy mean they are more often than not denied bail.

To the average person it must seem that we have jails and prisons overflowing with very dangerous individuals. This is not the case. Most people in our provincial jails are there for breaches of bail or probation conditions, and not for committing a new crime. Most front line workers and even some judges complain about the number of conditions recommended and imposed on people as simply setting them up to fail.

Here are just some of what we know about who we currently have incarcerated in Canada with some Manitoba specific statistics:

  • The adult non-Indigenous population in jail has been decreasing steadily, while the Indigenous (a younger demographic) population has increased dramatically. Indigenous peoples represent about 4% of the total population, but about 25% of those we incarcerate.

  • There has been an increase of 112% in the incarceration of Indigenous women in recent years. In the prison for women in Headingly, 8 out of 10 inmates are Indigenous.

  • In Canada, you are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point in your life if you are Indigenous.

  • 90% of the 11,000 children in care in Manitoba are Indigenous,

  • 65% of the men in Stony Mountain Penitentiary were children in care.

  • 80% of those we incarcerate grew up in poverty and lack a grade 12 education.

Being Indigenous and poor is the most direct path to prison. Canadians worry about a two-tier health system? We have long had a two-tier justice system.

Poverty and Crime

Let’s look more closely at the link between poverty and crime. Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal said, given that 80% statistic above “if crime abatement is the goal then it is time that all Canadians and their governments got tough on poverty.” Many will say that they know lots of people who have grown up in and/or continue to struggle in poverty but have never committed a crime. Of course the majority don’t commit crime. They are in fact more likely to be the victims of crime given that they are forced to live in high crime areas due to the lack of truly affordable housing elsewhere. Furthermore, that is their community so they may not want to leave.

In Manitoba, one in three children live in poverty. Winnipeg Harvest shares food with nearly 62,000 Manitobans a month, through emergency food programs across the province. Of these, more than 26,000 are children and more than 4,000 of them are under the age of 2.

Harvest also reports that those growing up in poverty were far more likely to be in ill health and die before the age of 65, than those who do not.

When we allow people to be raised in desperate situations, we should not be surprised if some become desperate. Children know when they are being left behind or left out. The effects of that knowledge has lasting impact. Crisis thinking and impulse decision making becomes all too easily entrenched.

Our current justice system relies on incarceration to rehabilitate individuals who commit crime.

What is actually happening in our jails is another matter .The vast majority of resources simply go to keeping staff and inmates alike physically safe. Rehabilitative programing resources are scarce. Headingly’s workshop rooms were converted to provide more beds. The use of solitary confinement as a security measure remains a huge issue. The Government of Manitoba and Justice Department recently changed terminology. They stopped calling the provincial institutions “jails” and renamed them “correctional centres”. It was meant to highlight the importance of rehabilitation. However, the reality is that people come out not corrected, but institutionalized.

Institutionalization creates its own consequences. Taking decision making out of people’s hands creates dependency. People lose the ability to stay on a schedule and manage what little money they may have properly. This culture of dependency, added to a criminal record, keeps people from establishing stable living conditions and employment.

When we incarcerate people we stop any progress they may have made. If they had a job or place to live, that is gone. If they are a woman with kids, those kids usually end up in government care. The disruption and cost to us all is massive.

It costs three times as much to incarcerate a person than it does to keep them supported in the community. These costs do not even include police, court and Child and Family Services’ costs.

The TRC highlights the need for child and family service, education and justice reform.

Restorative justice

Restorative Justice is the traditional justice system for many Indigenous peoples. It also has the added benefit of being the form of justice for many of our newcomer communities who are also becoming one of the fastest rising populations caught up in our justice system for much the same reasons; trauma, poverty, colonization through violence and war.

Restorative Justice approaches crime and harm as an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

It ensures that the person who committed the harm is accountable, takes responsibility for and works to repair the harm.

When possible, it allows for direct restitution to the person harmed, but also provides more peace to these victims as they get a better understanding of the whys of what was done to them. Victims of crime who engage in restorative justice processes report much higher levels of satisfaction than those who go through our current system.

Restorative Justice can also come into play at various stages in the system. It can divert one out of the system before all of the ill effects of incarceration makes matters worse. But it has also been used after a sentence has been served. Some family members of murder victims have received peace of mind when meeting with those who have served their sentence and have ‘owned’ what they have done.

Contrary to the popular perception that restorative justice is easier than incarceration and tantamount to ‘thug hugging’, most perpetrators who go through the process say it is much harder to ‘own-up’ to their failings and face the ones they harmed than it is to sit in a jail cell and focus on their own suffering, rather than what they caused.

Most importantly, by a careful examination of the incident, the context of the crime is better understood by the community and the community gains a better understanding of how it can address the root cause of the imbalance.

Discussion; passing the talking stick

Closing common to all gatherings

Gathering Theme: Métis Struggles for Land

GATHERING THEME

Métis Struggles for Land

Author: Dr. Fiola

Red River Resistance: Provisional Government & Manitoba Act (1870)

Métis families were established in the region where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge (“The Forks,” Winnipeg), by the time the Selkirk Settlers arrived in 1812. French and Métis voyageurs retired there with their families when their fur trade contracts expired. Here, the Métis Nation would emerge shortly.

In 1670, King Charles II of England gave the HBC an exclusive trade monopoly over Rupert’s Land (Hudson’s Bay drainage). In 1869, the HBC transferred Rupert’s Land to Canada. Surveyors arrived in Red River ‒ where the Métis formed a majority ‒ to divide the land without consultation. Fearing an influx of settlers, Louis Riel and others stopped surveyors in October 1869; so began the Red River Resistance.

Métis, and others, politically organized to protect their land. The Comité National des Métis was formed in December 1869 with John Bruce as president and Riel as secretary. In March 1870, Bruce would become president of the provisional government; Riel would eventually become president. The provisional government issued a “Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the North-West,” rejecting Canada’s authority over the North-West, asserting the legitimacy of their provisional government, and inviting Canada to negotiate the region into confederation. Since Canada had yet to establish formal government in Red River, the provisional government became the legal government in the area. Ottawa begrudgingly recognized this and began negotiations.

The provisional government drew up a bill of rights ‒ terms by which they would agree to confederation ‒ and sent three representatives to Ottawa to negotiate. The bill of rights would become the List of Rights which secured the confederation of Manitoba as the fifth province of Canada via the Manitoba Act (1870). The list aimed to secure Métis land use, rights, and customs. Section 31 of the Act reserved 1.4 million acres of land for Métis families in the new province; Section 32 secured land rights for already established inhabitants (including white farmers).

Only the British Parliament could legally amend the Manitoba Act; however, the Canadian government ignored this and passed amendments limiting eligibility for sections 31 and 32. These included Eurocentric ideas of a “proper” home, garden size, and fence; many Métis lived in shacks without fences and were sometimes bison hunting during harvest time. Métis faced backlash from English Canada for confederating a province, and because a Métis tribunal condemned Orangeman Thomas Scott to death by firing squad in March of 1870.

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald sent Colonel Wolseley and the Red River Expeditionary Forces to ensure the transition from a provisional to a provincial government. For two years, they beat Métis men, raped Métis women, established saloons which increased alcohol-related violence, and prevented Métis from voting. Scrip, a federal land grant system, also cheated many Métis from their land (more below). Métis began to flee from Manitoba.

North-West Resistance (1885) and The Forgotten Years

Métis established themselves in communities further west (St. Laurent, Batoche, SK). Settlers followed and again Métis feared they would lose their land. They formed a second provisional government with local Métis leader, Gabriel Dumont, assuming the role of Adjutant General. Petitions sent to Ottawa were ignored. Instead, Macdonald used the new railway to send militia to suppress the Métis. The series of battles that ensued became known as the North-West Resistance (1885). After their defeat, the Métis scattered again. Some stayed and faced oppression on the prairies, others moved to British Columbia, to the Northwest Territories, and into the northern United States ‒ these were roughly the boundaries of the historic Métis Nation; many had trade and kinship relationships therein.

After 1885, the Métis entered a period of repression known as “The Forgotten Years.” Riel was executed and the Métis experienced severe poverty, unemployment, and racism; many become known as “Road Allowance People.” The only places left for Métis to live were along road allowances set aside for future buildings, roads, railway. Families moved every time construction crews arrived; community cohesion suffered. Many Métis denied their Indigenous identity. Survival trumped passing on cultural knowledge. Repression began to lift only after WWI.

Historic Treaties and Scrip

Meanwhile, the Canadian government was extinguishing Aboriginal title (rights) to land via treaties and scrip. One year after the Manitoba Act, the government began signing the Numbered Treaties. Treaty 3 is the only historic treaty that Métis were permitted to enter as a collective. Otherwise, only individual Métis were accepted. Initially, one could choose treaty or scrip; however, Métis faced increasing pressure to take the one-time scrip as it let the government off the hook for annuities. Many First Nations chiefs, like Shingwauk, requested that Métis enter treaty. Treaty commissioners were instructed to say no – the government denied Métis indigeneity to reduce the number of people entering treaty.

In Manitoba, scrip was supposed to distribute the 1.4 million acres promised to the Métis. This lottery system of land allotment issued coupons to individuals for 160 or 240 acres or dollars. Eurocentric amendments by the federal government regarding what constituted a “proper” house, fence, garden size drastically reduced those who were eligible. The system was slow (scrip wasn’t issued until 1876), disorganized, confusing (many Métis were illiterate and spoke Indigenous languages but instructions were in English/French), and fraud was rampant. Residence patterns were ignored and split up families. Many sold their scrip for a pittance; most did not receive their entitled land ‒ many left Manitoba.

Phases two and three of Métis scrip occurred in the North-West (Saskatchewan and Alberta) and during the signing of Treaties 8 and 10 (Alberta, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan), respectively. Scrip coupons did not specify that they were meant to permanently extinguish Aboriginal title.

Métis Settlements & Modern Treaties

Métis lobbying in Alberta led to the Métis Population Betterment Act (1939) which created 12 Métis colonies (four dissolved in the 1950s). This is the only constitutionally-protected Métis land base in Canada. Métis own their land in fee simple (strongest land right) and have a measure of self-government.

Since 1975, Indigenous peoples have been signing modern treaties (comprehensive land claims) with Canada. There are currently 100 treaty negotiation tables across Canada with dozens of treaties in various stages of negotiation; on average it takes 15 years to finalize a treaty. Some of these treaties include a self-government clause. Self-government agreements are slowly gaining traction. A few of these agreements have fee simple ownership. With exceptions in the north, the government refuses to negotiate treaties and self-government agreements with the Métis.

Courts & Legislation

In 1982, Canada patriated its constitution and included section 35 which identifies the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit), and states that Aboriginal/treaty rights must be honoured. The terms Métis and Aboriginal rights were not defined; the courts are defining these. Government refuses to negotiate unless they are forced to in court.

In 2013, the Supreme Court declared that the Crown failed when distributing the 1.4 million acres promised in the Manitoba Act (MMF v Canada). In May 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between President David Chartrand of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, to advance reconciliation. The MMF’s goal is to sign a modern treaty with Canada including a trust fund, lands for collective use, and programs, supports and initiatives to benefit Manitoba Métis.

In July 2016, Thomas Issac, Ministerial Special Representative for Métis rights, issued his final report and recommendations regarding section 35 Métis rights, and implementation of the MMF v Canada land claim. Isaac asserted that rights-bearing Métis communities have outstanding land claims from Ontario westward that must be negotiated; that First Nations treaty rights should not trump Métis rights; and that Canada should accept unique forms of Métis self-government. He urged the government to develop a Framework Agreement with the MMF to settle the 1870 land claim. Formal negotiations have not begun.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis (and non-status Indians) are “Indians” in section 91(24) of the Constitution Act (1867) which states that the federal government has jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians” (Daniels v Canada). Like in MMF v Canada, remediation/compensation was not awarded; however, it opens the doors to federal assistance for Métis like that enjoyed by First Nations.

In Powley v Canada (2003), the Supreme Court recognized that Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is a historic Métis community with section 35 Métis rights. This case devised the “Powley Test” to define what constitutes Métis rights and who is entitled to them. Courts are taking a case-by-case approach; a ruling in one case does not necessarily apply to other Métis communities.

Nonetheless, Métis people are maintaining relationships with their home territories. Many Indigenous peoples are moving from rural to urban locations, yet remaining connected to their communities/land through celebrating culture days, pursuing subsistence activities, and reconnecting with land through ceremonies. Métis are not waiting for government/court assistance; we push forward and continue nurturing our relationships with land.

References – Métis Struggles for Land

Adams, Howard. 1989. Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View. Calgary: Fifth House Publishers.

Augustus, Camie. 2008. “Métis Scrip.” Our Legacy. University of Saskatchewan Archives. Accessed February 13, 2017. http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip.

Barkwell, Lawrence, ed. 2002. Métis Rights and Land Claims: An Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg: Louis Riel Institute.

Chartrand, Paul, and John Giokas. 2002. Who Are the Métis? A Review of the Law and Policy. In Who Are Canadas Aboriginal Peoples? Recognition, Definition, and Jurisdiction, edited by Paul Chartrand, 268-304. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing.

Daniels v. Canada. 2016. Judgements of the Supreme Court of Canada. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/15858/index.do

Fillmore, W. P. 1978. “Half-Breed Scrip.” In The Other Natives: The-Les Métis, edited by Antoine Lussier, and D. Bruce Sealey, 31-36. Vol. 2. Winnipeg: Manitoba Métis Federation Press.

Fiola, Chantal. 2015. “Re-Kindling the Sacred Fire: Métis Identity, Anishinaabe Spirituality and Identity.” Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. 2008. Treaty 3 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Saulteaux Tribe of the Ojibbeway [sic] Indians at the Northwest Angle on the Lake of the Woods with Adhesions (1875). Accessed February 13, 2017. http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028675.

Milne, Brad. 1995. “The Historiography of Métis Land Dispersal, 1870-1890.” Manitoba History, no. 30: 30-41.

MMF (Manitoba Métis Federation) v Canada (Attorney General). 2013. Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada. Accessed February 13, 2017. http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/12888/index.do.

Murray, Jeffrey S. 1993. Métis Scrip Records – Foundation for a New Beginning. The Archivist 20(1): 12-14.

Peterson, Jacqueline, and Jennifer S. H. Brown, eds. 1985. The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

R. v. Powley. 2003. Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada. Accessed February 13, 2017. https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/

Gathering Theme: Métis Identity and Nationhood

GATHERING THEME

Métis Identity and Nationhood

Author: Chuck Bourgeois

Métis identity and Nationhood are often discussed together, but are best understood as two closely related, yet separate and distinct concepts. Métis identity refers to the ways in which a person identifies as Métis, and the practices, beliefs, and history that make up this identity. Métis identity is an intensely personal experience, and as such, the way it is understood can vary greatly from one person to the next. Métis Nationhood, on the other hand, is the result of very specific historical events, and in modern times, is the basis for the political relationship certain Métis organizations share with the federal and provincial governments in Canada. While there are differing views on the subject, this discussion will focus on the Red River Métis who have continuously occupied their traditional territory on the prairies, and who developed a distinct language, culture, and political structure which rose to prominence during the 19th century.

Métis Nationhood

The story of the Métis Nation predates the confederation of Canada by at least a century. Throughout what are now known as the Prairie Provinces, early European settlers intermarried with women from primarily Cree, Ojibway, and Nakota groups as the fur trade spread throughout the continent. Many of the children from these unions learned the cultures of both parents, and as a result, they became very active in the fur trade as interpreters, voyageurs, buffalo hunters, and trading post factors. A number of significant historical events led Métis people to develop a robust political awareness, and to understand themselves as a Nation rather than simply as a ‘cultural group’. During the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816, Métis fighters were the first to fly the infinity flag that is still used as a national symbol today. The Métis were also members of an all-Indigenous political alliance known as the Iron Confederacy which was active in the mid to late 1800s on the central plains. The Iron Confederacy included Cree, Nakota, Assiniboine and other Indigenous groups who negotiated treaties among themselves, and fought together to defend their land and resources which were increasingly threatened by European settlement. The Métis, however, are best known for the events which led to the Red River Resistance in 1869 and the Battle of Batoche in 1885. During these conflicts, the Métis established a provisional government, elected Louis Riel as their representative into the House of Commons, negotiated Manitoba into Confederation, and consistently refused to be governed by the new Canadian Federal Government and its laws.

The history of the Métis Nation, and all its conflicts, victories and adventures spans centuries, and is the subject of much debate and study. It cannot be denied, however, that Métis people organized themselves politically long before Canada became a country. Their governance style and political structure evolved during the great buffalo hunts of the nineteenth century. At their peak, these hunts consisted of over a thousand Red River carts, included hunters and families from several different Indigenous groups, and were strictly regulated by distinct laws. At the time, there was no other political organization that even came close to bringing together such a large and diverse group in such a cohesive way. Before each hunt, the hunters elected a chief, several captains, and discussed their travel route until a consensus was reached. Upon their return, the chief and captains would step down from their positions, and the whole process would begin anew at the outset of each hunt. This allowed for a very fluid, and democratic approach to leadership and governance. Indeed, political organizing was an integral part of Métis culture long before confederation.

During the Red River Resistance, the Métis negotiated with the federal government – not as a special interest group, or a as Canadian citizens – but as a distinct Nation, with its own representative body, political structure, and territory. Today, the Métis continue to hold a unique space in Canadian politics, and have been successful in having their rights recognized through a number of landmark court cases.

There are currently five provincial, and one national political organization which represent the interests of Métis people. They are; the Métis Nation of Ontario, the Manitoba Métis Federation, the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan, the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Métis Nation British Columbia. Each of these is represented at the national level by the Métis National Council. Membership requirements are determined by each organization, but generally follow similar protocols. The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), for example, requires individuals to self-identify as Métis, to show an ancestral connection to an historic Métis community, and to be accepted by the contemporary Manitoba Métis Community. Citizens of the Manitoba Métis Federation benefit from training and employment programs, harvesting rights, funding for education and small businesses, and other services managed by the MMF.

One of main differences between historic and contemporary expressions of

Métis Nationhood is that while Métis people historically fought for independence from the Canadian state, today, the Métis Nation exists as a part of Canada, and many Métis people consider themselves to be Canadian citizens.

Métis Identity

Contemporary Métis identity isn’t so easily defined, or understood. Seeking membership in one of the provincial representative organizations is an easy first step for many individuals, but while this provides a political identity, it does little for those of us who seek a deeper understanding of what it means to be a proud Métis person in today’s world.

Our ancestors benefitted from a vibrant and intensely unique culture. Among other characteristics, their clothes, their skill at buffalo hunting, their beading patterns, and the languages they spoke, gave early Métis people a deep sense of pride, and a distinct identity. However, the Métis experienced severe hardships and discrimination during the colonization of Canada and well into the twentieth century. Generations grew up either ashamed of being Métis, or completely unaware of their cultural heritage. Some would argue that Métis still have not fully recovered from the many injustices they endured. In 1885, Louis Riel prophesized that his people would sleep for a hundred years, but would then be reawakened by our artists, and begin to feel pride again. In many ways, his prophecy has come to pass. But our journey has not been easy.

Many people understand the term Métis as a racial characteristic; a way of describing people of mixed ancestry. Unfortunately, however, contemporary Métis people in Canada often have difficulty getting out from under this outdated racial stereotype. This is due, in part, to longstanding federal policies which have sought to discourage the Métis from asserting rights, or defending land claims as Indigenous peoples. A Métis person is often asked; “which one of your parents is Indigenous”, or “how much Indian are you? half?, a quarter?, an eighth?” Questions like these set up two points of reference: white or European on one end; and Indigenous on the other. Métis identity becomes an awkward space that is stuck somewhere in between these two points. This obsession with race – and the associated stigmas of skin color and racial ‘purity’ – is a pathology we have inherited from our colonial past. It was not that long ago that the Métis were simply known as Half-Breeds. The mixed race stereotype automatically suggests that someone is ‘less than’, not fully one or the other. What many Métis people today are now realizing, is that their racial make-up doesn’t tell them much about who they are. Métis identity simply cannot be measured through blood quantum, or by counting how many Indigenous relatives we have in our family trees. These issues lead to some very complex questions. If we no longer live in the cultural environment our ancestors lived in, and if our distinct histories and political affiliations are only small parts of what makes us who we are; then what, exactly, makes a person Métis?

To some, a Métis person is someone who displays certain cultural traits – they wear sashes, dance the Red River Jig, play the fiddle, and participate in events like the Festival du Voyageur. But these are only external symbols representative of much deeper experiences. An Elder once said that trying to understand Métis identity is like trying to catch a moving train. Métis people in Canada today are constantly recreating their identities in new and powerful ways.

Many of us are rebuilding relationships with our First Nations relatives, and acknowledging the destructive impact colonization has had on our families. Others are building vibrant connections to their ancestry by learning an Indigenous language, or by participating in traditional ceremonies. Genealogical research also serves as a strong foundation for building Métis identity. It is not uncommon to discover that one or several of our direct ancestors participated in the great buffalo hunts, fought with Louis Riel, or founded one of the many Métis communities still in existence today. The challenge is to find creative ways to express our traditional understandings and worldviews in modern contexts. As contemporary Métis people, we must do more than inherit the legacy of our diverse and complex history; we must also contribute to this legacy by constantly renewing and re-visioning our identities.

In this sense, it is best not to think of Métis identity as a fixed set of characteristics as laid out by political or legal definitions. Métis people are here today because of the strength, and resolve of our ancestors who fought to protect their way of life for their grandchildren, and great grandchildren. In many ways, we too are now engaged in a struggle. Métis identity must be defined by the people who live by it, not by the organizations who represent us, or the colonies that have sprung up around us. This is what we, in turn, will pass on to our children, to ensure that they too will be proud to call themselves Métis for generations to come.

 

References

Adams, H. (1999). Tortured people: the politics of colonization. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books Ltd.

 

Andersen, C. (2015). “Métis”: race, recognition, and the struggle for indigenous peoplehood. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Ens, G. J., & Sawchuk, J. (2016). From new peoples to new nations aspects of Métis history and identity from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

 

Fiola, C. (2015). Rekindling the sacred fire: Métis ancestry and Anishinaabe spirituality. Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press.

Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: a guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. Winnipeg: HighWater Press.

 

  • Manitoba Métis Federation:

http://www.mmf.mb.ca/

  • Métis National Council :

http://www.metisnation.ca/

 

Gathering Theme: New Canadians and Indigenous Peoples

GATHERING THEME
New Canadians and Indigenous Peoples

  1. Opening common to all gatherings
  1. Presentation of the theme
  1. The future of Winnipeg rests on our ability to build authentic and informed relationships between two key communities: newcomers to Canada and Indigenous community members. We all have the responsibility to nurture the relationships between Indigenous, settlers and newcomers in the spirit and intent of the treaties. A lasting impact of colonization is the creation of a stratified society that pits those most marginalized against one another, forcing them to compete for place, belonging and resources. We need to look for ways to come together and build bridges.

In research conducted by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg (IPW) in 2014, 88 Indigenous and newcomer participants were asked ‘What are the possibilities of establishing community interactions and relationships that promote harmonious coexistence between the diverse newcomers and Aboriginal peoples?”

  • Young people noted a passive, but occasionally aggressive relationships between both communities. They would co-exist in a school environment, but tended to exclude each other from peer groups. They admitted to having pre-existing opinions of each other, but that these were largely what they heard from their parents and on social media.
  • Adult participants reflected many similar perceptions of each other. However, they had fewer opportunities to meet and work with individuals from the other community. Some of the respondents expressed strong views on why there was distance between the communities – competition for housing, jobs and services.
  • Elders and community leaders were the most understanding of the social situation being experienced by both communities and were thus more prone to suggesting how the different communities could be encouraged to engage and get to know each other.

A consistent theme running through the discussions was how both groups held negative perceptions of the other that they acknowledged were not accurate. Within the stereotypes each group held were also some sympathy for each other, as they acknowledged the struggles and difficulties they were experiencing coming to Winnipeg. This led to observations that as minorities, the two communities actually had a lot in common and shared experiences.

Through its experiences doing cross-cultural work the team at the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba – IRCOM pulled together some important information below on the commonalities & differences between newcomer and Indigenous communities and also on the TRC recommendations related to newcomers.

One key difference we need to emphasize at the outset is that Indigenous peoples are the only group originating on this continent and the rest of us are settlers.

On the other hand, we identified four themes of common ground between the Indigenous and immigrant/refugee population.

These include:

  1. Common cultural traditions & rituals

    1. Naming self in relation to family, ancestors, place (Sudanese tradition; Ojibwe tradition)

    2. Babywearing

    3. Drumming and dance

    4. Celebration of seasons & relationship to land and loss of that relationship to the land (forced migration/colonization)

    5. Celebration of coming of age

    6. Fasting, piercing, tattooing

    7. Hair

    8. Identity as tribal, Indigenous

    9. Beading/sewing/weaving baskets/ etc.

    10. Food/feasting

    11. Gift giving cultures (give-away; gift-giving as a tradition)

    12. Storytelling and emphasis on oral culture/tradition

    13. Sometimes a lack of interest in culture among younger generations

    14. Strong and abiding belief in many cultures in the spiritual / unseen

    15. Sense of time

  1. Common colonization and systemic oppression

    1. Christian missionaries/schools/residential schools. While we need to acknowledge the damage done by the religious institution who ran the Indian Residential Schools in Canada, we need not be critical when Indigenous parents in Canada decide to send their kids to “Christian Schools” today. The big difference these days, from the IRS era, is that Indigenous parents and students have a choice as to where they want to go to school.

    2. Police, racial profiling and oppression

    3. Similar types of stigma – ‘don’t pay taxes’ and ‘bogus refugee/queue jumper/handouts’

    4. Child & Family Services and relationship to systems and institutions in general- learned to fear

    5. Colonization of names of places and languages- e.g., Mantou-ahbee becomes Manitoba. Mumbai becomes Bombay (and a reclaiming of these names)

    6. Having cultural names and ‘Christian names” or westernized names

  1. Common family breakdown/disruption/migration

    1. Separation of children from parents/families (due to war/Lost Boys/Girls of Sudan; residential schools)

    2. Newcomers to the country/ Indigenous newcomers to the city. Culture shock, displacement from community, language, suddenly being a minority group, racism, etc.

  1. Common family & community pratices

    1. Role of elders more formalized and respected

    2. Extended family / kinship networks / adoption across extended family as a norm

    3. Various challenges to preserving culture and language (and differences too – many newcomer communities strong in language and cultural preservation- but 2nd generation often lose their language) (Indigenous people faced purposive eradication)

    4. Gender roles; including the extent of equality of genders in various societies

TRC Recommendations related to Newcomers:

Recommendation 93: We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and history of residential schools.

Commentary: What the Canadian Citizenship guide currently says about Indigenous peoples is very limited and provides singular and militaristic view of Canada. One option of what the guide could say instead taken from http://peoplescitguide.ca/wp-content/uploads/guide_en.pdf:

Aboriginal Peoples “For many First Nations, the nation-state of Canada is an imposition, and often an unwelcome one. Indigenous people have lived in the territories now called Canada for tens of thousands of years. Since the Canadian state has existed, it has been at best ambivalent and at worst explicitly hostile to First Nations, determined to challenge Indigenous peoples and their claims to the land and its resources. Canada is built on First Nations land and its wealth is derived from the resources contained within it. First Nations never surrendered these lands or these resources. In fact they do not feel they own the land to surrender it. Through treaties they agreed to share the land. The reserves that were laid out to keep First Nations contained so that they would not disrupt this exploitation are hopelessly small, fragments of those traditional territories that sustained the people. The Canadian state defined them as “Indians” and enacted laws that governed choices of marriage, where they could live, prohibiting from them the right to own land, to vote and to enter the professions.

Recommendation 94: We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen

Commentary: There is controversy regarding the oath as it is as it hearkens to our colonial roots which are not relevant to today’s Canada for many. This change would ensure that Treaty Rights area included in the Citizenship Oath.

Possible discussion questions or topics for consideration:

  • What are some of the common strengths/values/practices that Indigenous peoples and new Canadians share?
  • What are some of the common obstacles/barriers/struggles that Indigenous peoples and new Canadians share?
  • How do we build awareness of Indigenous and newcomer realities and make sure we learn from the past?
  • How can Indigenous peoples and new Canadians be allies and support one another?
  • How do we move beyond the ‘one off’ events and meetings (short term activities) toward the development of long-term, sustainable and meaningful relationships between Indigenous peoples and new Canadians?
  • Who should take the lead?
  • What is the balance between promoting multiculturalism and nationalism (e.g., pride in being Canadian) with the parallel acknowledgement of the oppression of First Nations, the diminishing of their unique and special status under rubric of “multiculturalism.”?

  • How do we reconcile our vision of Canada – as progressive, safe, etc. while many of our Indigenous communities are struggling with poverty, lack of access to clean water, displacement due to development and a legacy of colonization (ie: over-represented in the child welfare and justice systems)?

  1. Sharing Circle.
  1. Determination of the theme for the next meeting and the reader.
  1. Resources:

7. Closing common to all gatherings

Gathering Theme: Entrepreneurship Among Indigenous Peoples

GATHERING THEME
Entrepreneurship Among Indigenous Peoples

Opening common to all gatherings

Presentation of the theme

This theme is based entirely on excerpts from a powerful and very informative book by Shaun Loney with Will Braun, entitled: An Army of Problem Solvers, Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy.  (2016). These quotes are with the permission of the authors.

My introduction to the solutions economy came through my work with several social enterprises. This book arises very directly from those experiences.

I am currently at Aki Energy, which I co-founded, along with Darcy Wood, Kate Taylor and Sam Murdock, in 2013. Based in Winnipeg, Aki serves as something of a social enterprise incubator, offering various supports and services for First Nations wanting to start their own social enterprises. We help with ideas, training, and the various steps required for setting up and operating a social enterprise. In most cases, we do not own the businesses – we just support and facilitate them. Our chief executive officer is Darcy Wood, the former chief of the Garden Hill First Nation.

In our first three years, Aki and our partners have installed $6 million of energy efficient geothermal energy systems in 350 homes on four First Nations in Manitoba. Each venture is a non-profit social enterprise with local employees doing the actual work. Eight crews of trained workers have already installed 213 kilometres of piping loop for geothermal systems that will cut utility bills by $15 million over the next 20 years. Peguis First Nation and the Fisher River Cree Nation have their own geothermal installation operations – the two largest in western Canada. Not only is this work paid for out of the utility bill reductions, it also creates sustainable, local employment. We intend to install $100 million worth of geothermal energy in the next decade in Manitoba alone.

Prior to Aki, in 2006, I was on the team that co-founded BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Employment), a Winnipeg social enterprise that trains mostly people who have been in prison to do energy-saving and water-saving retrofits where low-income families live.

It was my introduction into the world of social enterprise, and I am very proud to say that we were awarded Scotia Bank’s EcoLiving Green Business of the Year in 2011, Manitoba Apprenticeship’s Employer of the Year in 2013, and recipient of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s Spirit Award in 2016.

 

MEECHIM

In 2014 my co-workers and I at Aki Energy began discussions with the Garden Hill First Nation about setting up a community-based healthy food venture. Out of our talks, Meechim Inc. arose. Meechim is an Oji-Cree word for food. Meechim now runs both a healthy food market and a commercial-sized farm. Meechim is a registered non-profit corporation with a board selected by the community in addition to one member appointed by Chief and Council.

We had asked the First Nation to clear some land thinking a few acres would suffice to get us going. We were amazed to see that they cleared 5.3 hectares (13 acres), similar in size to a large urban shopping mall. It will take some time for the  venture to be profitable and to plant the whole area but in year one a fruit orchard was planted, a range of vegetables were  grown (potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, and squash), and fencing was erected for 1,000 broiler chickens, laying hens,  and turkeys. In 2015, Meechim’s first year of operation, ten people were employed for the growing season.

The Meechim healthy food market – another branch of the venture – sells fruit, veggies, meat, healthy cooked meals, and locally caught fish. The market is held at the local TV station with live Oji Cree language broadcast of what is available.  It may be the world’s only healthy food shopping channel. Some of the healthy food sold is from the Meechim farm while some is shipped in and sold at rates lower than the Northern Store.

Meechim is also selling healthy food out of the canteen at the arena. It offers fruit, veggies, and Garden Hill chicken soup in place of standard canteen fare. With the help of an innovative foundation called Canadian Feed the Children, we are also working with five classes from the local school. As part of the curriculum, students are gardening and taking the produce home to their families.

I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that all this is easy. Changing the status quo can offer its challenges, and we are all learning along the way. But we began to see the benefits immediately.

‘The goals of Meechim are to improve health in the community,   provide employment, and displace many flown-in foods that can be farmed locally. Of course it is also increases overall community capacity to start other economic ventures.

Again, this is not a government program or a charitable endeavour. It is a business. But it is related to government policy, and governments can create conditions that facilitate the re-emergence of the local economy. This is key. A good idea is not enough if government policies get in the way. The problem solvers and the problems must be connected.

What factors influence diet in a place like Garden Hill? Country foods – a common term for foods hunted, fished, or gathered in the wild – were of course the basis of Indigenous diets not that long ago. They still form a small part of the diet in many places, such as Garden Hill, but have largely been replaced by modern grocery store offerings. How has this happened? How did the traditional food system and economy give way to modern dependence on grocery supply? The answer is not simple, but let’s start by going back to the question of why there are no gardens in a place called Garden Hill (and before long we will return to the economics of diabetes).

Like the Indigenous population in general, Garden Hill has been beat up by a string of government policies and practices.  Treaty 5, which Indigenous signatories understood to be a commitment to live together in a good way, was treated by the Crown as a way to get Indigenous people out of the way of white colonial expansion. The Indian Act placed restrictions on cultural practices and commerce, treating Indigenous people in a highly paternalistic fashion.

According to article 32 (1) of the Indian act:

A transaction of any kind whereby a band, or a member thereof’ purports to sell, barter, exchange, give or otherwise dispose of cattle, or other animals, grain or hay, where wild or cultivate, or root crops or plants or their products from a reserve.., to a person other than a member of that band, is void unless the superintendent approves the transaction in writing.

Stan McKay told me that his parents sold one of their five cows so Stan would have some pocket money when he was away. But this was done only with permission of the Indian Agent and at a cut-rate price. They had to go through him because it was illegal for Indigenous people to sell anything off-reserve without the permission of the Great White  Mother’s agent. While not enforced in recent years, this restriction was only repealed in 2014.

The Indian Act is only one example of a government policy that inhibits Indigenous people from solving economic problems. There are many others. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) funds new-home construction on First Nations. Their policy is generally to keep the upfront costs to a minimum, and extras are not usually allowed. For example a new home can be hooked up to geothermal technology for an additional $5,000 (installation in a new home is cheaper than retrofitting an existing home), a move that would cut energy bills by about $1,800 a year. But CMHC won’t allow it because they see the $5,000 as a cost rather than an investment. They can’t afford to save money.

There is a way forward. The term “solutions economy’ or “solutions sector” as it is sometimes called, is somewhat general and flexible. Different people define it in different ways. My own definition will come most clearly through the numerous concrete examples I provide in this book, but I’ll offer a more concise definition here as well. The solutions economy is essentially about solving social and environmental problems by using market forces.

Within the solutions economy, challenges like climate change, high incarceration and re-incarceration rates, persistent poverty, and ballooning healthcare costs are addressed not by demanding more government spending, offering charity, or expecting free enterprise to solve all ills. It seeks out transformative, common-sense, real-world solutions from outside the box – or, as the Elders tell me, “from inside the circle.”

The solutions economy criss-crosses the ideological spectrum, at times confounding both sides, more often winning them both over. It seeks collaboration, not polarization of sides. It is not an ideology, which is to say it is not about arguing that one economic school of thought is superior or that one political philosophy is the answer. It is not about being right in some abstract, theoretical way. It is about innovative, on-the-ground solutions.

——

First Nations reconciliation has to include rebuilding local economies. In this excerpt we have included only a few examples. Shaun Loney”s book  describes many more of these successes.

Discussion: Passing of the talking stick

Closing common to all gatherings

 

Gathering Theme: Métis People of Canada

Author: Dr. Chantal Fiola

GATHERING THEME

Métis People of Canada

Introduction common to all gatherings

Métis Origins

The Métis are a post-contact Indigenous people whose birth is tied to the fur trade. Despite the French term, Métis which means “mixed,” being Métis is more than biology and ancestry. Being Métis means sharing a specific geography, history, culture, and nationhood.

European explorers traded metal pots, tools, weapons, and beads for furs with Indigenous peoples who had been living on Turtle Island (North America) since time immemorial. As the fur trade expanded, the settlers moved further inland and intermarriages became common particularly among French settlers who were officially encouraged by the North West Company (NWC) to marry Indigenous women and foster relationships with Indigenous communities (especially Anishinaabe/Ojibwe and Nêhiyaw/Cree). (British settlers also intermarried but the Hudson’s Bay Company officially discouraged this; their children were encouraged to assimilate into British culture.) Children from such intermarriages grew in numbers in the Great Lakes region; some scholars call them “proto-metis” to distinguish from the Métis who would emerge as a distinct people further inland.

Métis Culture and Nationhood

Nêhiyaw, Nakota (Assiniboine), and Anishinaabe (Saulteaux) lived in what would become Manitoba long before communities formed from intermarriages (above) arose there ‒ especially where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge (now called “The Forks” in Winnipeg). Later, in 1812, the first group of settlers arrived to establish the Red River Colony ‒ a colonizing project initiated by Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk.

These communities had begun to think of themselves as a distinct people – different from their Indigenous and European parent cultures but Indigenous nonetheless.  Blending aspects from their parent cultures and expressing them in unique ways, they birthed a distinct culture. The Métis were a Plains bison culture with bison hunt governance like the Nêhiyaw. They spoke Michif (Cree/Ojibwe verbs, French nouns) and Bungi (Cree/Ojibwe, Gaelic English). They became known for Red River carts, floral beadwork, their combination of Indigenous and European style clothing (including the sash/ceinture fléchée), fiddle and jig music, and their entrepreneurial spirit.

The Métis helped the Selkirk Settlers survive their first winters and avoid starvation by gifting them bison meat. Despite this, their governor, Miles Macdonell, issued the Pemmican Proclamation (1814) forbidding export of bison products (including pemmican/bison jerky, a key food source that Métis became known for producing) from the colony for a year. The Métis disregarded this foreign attempt to interfere with their livelihood and tensions between the two groups continued until they erupted into the Battle of Seven Oaks (1816) – a decisive Métis victory. The Métis carried their infinity flag into this battle and their victory song would become their national anthem. Others began recognizing the Métis as a distinct people.

The Métis were establishing their nation: they had a distinct land base, languages, attire, flag, national anthem, food, victory in battle, and were resisting foreign threats to their self-determination.

Confederation of Manitoba

Another step in solidifying Métis nationhood was the political organizing triggered by the HBC’s sale of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada in 1869. Canada sent surveyors to divide the Red River region into plots to be sold to white farmers. Fearing this influx of white settlers and the theft of their land, the Métis (who had not been consulted) created political organizations seeking protection for their lands and rights. This resistance came to be known as the Red River Resistance. Louis Riel Jr. became president of the Provisional Government which drafted a Bill of Rights and successfully negotiated with Ottawa for the confederation of the Province of Manitoba. Sections 31 and 32 of the Manitoba Act (1870) safeguarded Métis land (and protected established white farmers in the region); the former reserved 1.4 million acres for the Métis in the province. The Métis had legally secured rights to a land base, the homeland of the Métis Nation, and protected the future of their people.

However, after the Act was passed, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald sent the Red River Expeditionary Forces, a military group led by Colonel Wolseley, to Red River to ensure a peaceful transition from the Provisional Government to a Provincial Government. Instead, they beat Métis men, raped Métis women, prevented participation in our first election, and murdered a few Métis people. This continued with Colonel Wolseley’s and Macdonald’s knowledge for two years before they were stopped. By this time, the damage was done and many Métis had fled the province.

Dispossession and Resistance

Many Métis also left Manitoba due to the corruption of the scrip system – the lottery system that was supposed to distribute the 1.4 million acres promised to the Métis. Significant delays, mismanagement, and fraud meant that most Métis lost their land; many sold for a fraction of its worth because they saw the corruption of the system and the settlers being given land reserved for the Métis. White land speculators and bankers became known as “scrip millionaires,” while Métis became landless and increasingly destitute with few options given the dwindling bison.

Macdonald bribed Riel to leave Canada under voluntary exile after the Manitoba Act was passed. English Canada hated Riel for allowing the execution of one of their own, Thomas Scott, during the Red River Resistance. Hoping to avoid persecution for his people, Riel accepted the money and shared it with his family.

Many dispossessed Métis moved to places like St. Laurent and Batoche (in what would become Saskatchewan) hoping to re-establish a Métis homeland and continue their way of life. With increasing numbers of white settlers arriving in the region, the Métis would again politically organize themselves in the hopes of negotiating with the government of Canada and securing their rights. Local Métis leader, Gabriel Dumont, persuaded Riel to return to Canada to help. The railroad had been built up to this region and soldiers were sent to prevent the Métis from confederating another province. The series of battles that ensued came to be known as the Northwest Resistance (1885). The only decisive victory for Canada was the final battle, the Battle of Batoche. The fallout would nearly destroy the Métis Nation.

Forgotten Years, Forgotten People

Again, the Métis were punished for trying to secure their rights; the dark period of oppression that followed came to be known as the “Forgotten Years.” Riel was hung, as were eight Nêhiyaw warriors, and influential Plains Chiefs Big Bear and Poundmaker were imprisoned and died as a result. The Métis were leaderless, landless, and destitute and the bison had nearly become extinct. There was an increase in racism and it became dangerous to be Métis; many Métis fled the region and hid their Indigenous identity, trying to pass as white to escape oppression. Métis became known as the Road Allowance People because the only place left for us to live was on Crown land designated for future roads, the railway, buildings. Every time the construction crew came, the Métis had to move their tents; cohesion as a community became nearly impossible. Many Métis were just trying to survive; during this time, Métis identity went underground and it was difficult to pass on language, culture, and traditions.

Ottawa also punished any First Nations they suspected had helped the Métis during the resistance by cutting their rations even though many were already starving due to broken treaty promises. There was an increase in North-West Mounted Police and Indian Agents enforcing amendments to the Indian Act which banned ceremonies and restricted status Indians to their reserves via the pass system. It was also in the years after 1885 that the residential and day school system would indoctrinate thousands of Indigenous children further separating us from our cultures.

Re-Birth, Rights, and Self-Determination

With the efforts of Indigenous veterans demanding better treatment, First Nations in BC demanding treaties, and the American Indian Movement highlighting these and other issues, the re-birth of Indigenous political organizing and cultural pride was in full swing by the 1960s. Métis provincial and national organizations arose demanding Canada recognize the Métis as Indigenous people with rights. With the help of Harry Daniels and others, this happened in 1982 when the Constitution was repatriated and section 35 identified the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit with Aboriginal and treaty rights that must be honoured.

Recent court victories are bringing hope to the Métis Nation. In 2003, in Powley v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized section 35 hunting rights in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. In MMF v. Canada (2013), the Supreme Court of Canada declared that the federal government failed in its constitutional duty when distributing the 1.4 million acres promised to the Métis in the Manitoba Act. In Daniels v. Canada (2016), the Supreme Court of Canada declared that Métis (and non-status Indians) must be considered “Indians” in section 91(24) of the Constitution and thereby fall under federal jurisdiction. These cases did not include remedial action but they open the doors for Métis rights and land claims.

Today, the Métis Nation is strong and working tirelessly toward self-determination to ensure a good future for our people.

Métis People of Canada – References

Augustus, Camie. 2008. “Métis Scrip.” Our Legacy. University of Saskatchewan Archives. Accessed April 4, 2012.
http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/exhibit_scrip.

Barkwell, Lawrence, Leah Dorion, and Darren Prefontaine, eds. 2001. Métis Legacy: A Métis Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications.

Barkwell, Lawrence, Leah Dorion, and Audreen Hourie, eds. 2006. Métis Legacy II: Michif Culture, Heritage and Folkways. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications.

Chartrand, Paul, and John Giokas. 2002. Who Are the Métis? A Review of the Law and Policy. In Who Are Canadas Aboriginal Peoples? Recognition, Definition, and Jurisdiction, edited by Paul Chartrand, 268-304. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing.

Daniels v. Canada. 2013. Federal Court (decision). January 8. Accessed April 9, 2013. http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/Daniels-Decision-January-2013.pdf

Fiola, Chantal. 2015. Métis Ancestry and Anishinaabe Spirituality. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Milne, Brad. 1995. “The Historiography of Métis Land Dispersal, 1870-1890.” Manitoba History, no. 30: 30-41.

MMF (Manitoba Métis Federation) v Canada (Attorney General). 2013. Judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada. Accessed April 18, 2013. http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/12888/index.do.

Murray, Jeffrey S. 1993. Métis Scrip Records – Foundation for a New Beginning. The Archivist 20(1): 12-14.

Peterson, Jacqueline, and Jennifer S. H. Brown, eds. 1985. The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Discussion; passing the talking stick

Closing common to all gatherings

Gathering Theme: Indigenous Spiritualities

GATHERING THEME

Indigenous Spiritualities

capture

1. Opening for all gatherings

2. Introduction of the theme by Facilitator

Indigenous Spiritualities

The Circle of Life

“You have noticed that everything an Indigenous person does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.”

Today we will focus on Indigenous Spiritualities, which includes both sacred ceremonies and sacred items. It should be noted that the various spiritual beliefs and sacred items and ceremonies vary according to different tribal groups across Canada. We have selectively chosen some to reflect the depth of indigenous spiritualities.

“The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our Teepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation ‘s hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children. “

Traditions

Native spiritual life is founded on a belief in the fundamental inter-connectedness of all natural things, all forms of life with primary importance being attached to Mother Earth.

Ceremonies

Ceremonies are the primary vehicles of religious expression. A ceremonial leader or Elder assures authenticity and integrity of religious observances. Elders may be either men or women. Their most distinguishing characteristic is wisdom which relates directly to experience and age. There are exceptions. Elders need not be “old”. Sometimes the spirit of the Great Creator chooses to imbue a young native.

Pipes

Pipes are used during both private and group ceremonies, the prayer itself being wafted through the smoke of the burning plant material. Pipes are of no set length. Some stems may or may not be decorated with beads or leather. Bowls may be of wood, soapstone, inlaid or carved in the form of various totemic power animals (an eagle with folded wings) or another sacred animal.

The pipe is never a “personal possession”. It belongs to the community. While every native has the right to hold the pipe, in practice, the privilege must be earned in some religious way.

Pipe Ceremony

Pipe ceremonies constitute the primary group gatherings over which Elders preside. Participants gather in a circle. A braid of sweetgrass (one of four sacred plants) is lit and burnt as an incense to purify worshippers, before the pipe is lit. Burning sweetgrass also symbolizes unity, the coming together of many hearts and minds as one person.

The Elder strikes a match, puts it to the end of the sweetgrass braid and fans the smouldering grass with an eagle’s feather. The Elder then goes from person to person in the circle where the smoke is drawn four times by hand gestures toward the head and down the body.

The Elder then places tobacco in the pipe and offers it in the four sacred directions of the compass. Spirits will be asked for assistance in the main prayer, which may be specifically for one individual, a participant in the circle or for someone far away or someone who has passed over. The pipe, passed from person to person in the circle, might be offered to all creation, to those invisible spirit helpers who are always there to guide humanity.

Sweat Lodges

Used mainly for communal prayer purposes, the Sweat Lodge may also provide necessary ceremonial settings for spiritual healing, purification, as well as fasting. Most fasts require a sweat ceremony before and after the event.

Lodge construction varies from tribe to tribe. Generally, it is an igloo-shaped structure about five feet high, built from bent willow branches tied together with twine. The structure is then encased in blankets to preclude all light. A maximum of eight participants gather in the dark.

In the centre, there is a holy, consecrated virginal section of ground (untrampled by feet and untouched by waste material) blessed by an Elder with tobacco and sweetgrass. There, red hot stones heated in a fire outside the lodge are brought in and doused with water. A doorkeeper on the outside opens the lodge door four times, contributing four additional hot rocks (representing the four sacred directions) to the centre. A prepared pipe is also brought in.

Drums

Drums represent the heartbeat of the nation, the pulse of the universe. Different sizes are used depending on ceremonial purposes. Drums are sacred objects. Each drum has a keeper to ensure no-one approaches it under the influence of alcohol or drugs. During ceremonies, no one may reach across it or place extraneous objects on it.

Herbs / Incense

Sweetgrass, sage, cedar and tobacco encompass the four sacred plants. Burning these is a sign of deep spirituality in Native practices. Cedar and sage are burned to drive out negative forces when prayer is offered. Sweetgrass, which signifies kindness, is burned to invite good spirits to enter. Participants also use these purification rituals to smudge regalia, drums and other articles before taking part in a pow-wow.

Medicine Pouches

Prescribed by an Elder, plant material can also be worn in a medicine pouch by a person seeking the mercy and protection of the spirits of the Four Directions. Elders caution Natives not to conceal any other substances in their pouches. To do so would make a mockery of their beliefs.

Once the Medicine Bundle has been touched by someone other than its designated guardian, it can no longer be used in its uncleansed condition. The custodian must again perform purification rites to restore the Bundle’s sacredness. Male law enforcement officers may conduct a search of someone wearing these without incident if they ask the wearer to open the bundle. If the person is genuine, then the request will be granted. The spirituality of the bundle is only violated if it is touched or opened without the carrier’s permission

Ceremonial Rituals

Pow-wow

Some say the name is derived from the Algonkian word meaning “to dream”. Pow-wow an ancient tradition among aboriginal peoples, is a time for celebrating and socializing after religious ceremonies. In some cultures, the pow-wow itself was a religious event, when families held naming and honouring ceremonies.

Giveaway

For instance, a family celebrating a member’s formal entry into the dance circle, or wishing to commemorate the death of a loved one, often hosts a giveaway during a pow-wow. This tradition embodies the value of sharing with others.

Today’s pow-wow is more of a social event, although honour ceremonies and other religious observances remain important parts of the celebration. Elders say that coming together in dancing, feasting and having fun is an important unifying and healing experience which brings together many nations in a celebration of life.

Eagle Staff

The Eagle Staff is an important symbol to many North American tribes. The eagle represents the Thunderbird spirits of the supernatural world who care for the inhabitants of our physical world. Qualities such as farsightedness, strength, speed, beauty and kindness are attributed to the eagle, which never kills wantonly, only to feed itself and its family. The Eagle Staff symbolizes reverence for the Creator and all of life

Invocation

Any significant event is initiated with words of prayer by a respected Elder. Traditionally, First Nations never had “priests” as such but rather spiritual leaders. They are often offered tobacco with a request for prayer indicating respect and honour for that person and the higher power.

These are just a few of the sacred rituals and objects which we hope will inspire respect for Indigenous spirituality.

3.    Talking Circle

4.    Determination of theme for next meeting and reader

5.    Closing for all gatherings

Gathering Theme: The Psychological and Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential School

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.


GATHERING THEME

The Psychological and Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential School

(This theme is derived and adapted from the article “the Soul Wounds of the Anishinabek People,” Written by Dr. Brenda M. Restoule, C.Psych (Waub-Zhe-Kwens, Migizi dodem), Dokis First Nation, Anishinabek Nation)

(Facilitator reads)
I am going to introduce our theme in the Psychological and Intergenerational Impacts of the Indian Residential Schools, and then I am going to ask each of you to read a short section about these effects. By all means if you are not comfortable or shy reading aloud, please feel free to pass. There is no obligation to read. If you don’t have your reading glasses, just pass, not a problem. So let’s begin.

At the heart of the Indian Residential School system was the intent to “kill the Indian in the child” (Campbell Scott, 1920) by attacking Anishinabek culture, language and practices and replacing it with Euro-Canadian languages and practices. It is known that First Nation children were forcibly removed from their parents, families and communities and placed in schools thousands of miles away from all that was familiar to them. During their stays at the schools many suffered neglect and physical, sexual and psychological abuse while enduring harsh living conditions under the pretence of gaining an education. As a result many children experienced personal and cultural degradation that lasted a lifetime for many of them.

The survivors often believed these experiences to be traumatic and resulted in long-term negative impacts across many areas of their lives such as relationships, parenting, health, mental health, beliefs and coping. Many of the survivors were left without any supports or help to heal from the traumas they experienced in the Indian Residential School (IRS) system. In some cases, the survivors didn’t recognize some of their problems as being connected to the Indian Residential School experience. As the survivors had families of their own they unintentionally placed their children at risk of being exposed to these same long-term negative impacts. In doing so, they transmitted their trauma and its effects to their children who were often unaware of their parents’ experiences in the Indian Residential School system. This transmission of trauma is known as intergenerational trauma transmission and it has negative long-term impacts across the generations.

Today there is more awareness of the serious negative experiences that the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools were exposed to, trauma and its impacts, and the ability to transmit trauma across generations. As survivors and their families speak out about the trauma there are opportunities available using cultural and counselling supports to heal from their soul wounds.

 

(Participant 1 reads)
Residential schools were established in 1892. Most closed in the 1970’s but the last closed in 1996. There were about 80 schools in total.

About 150 thousand children attended these schools.

Some parents voluntarily sent their children to these schools believing they would provide their children with an education. However, many children were forcibly removed from their parents, homes and communities and placed in these schools often thousands of miles away. If parents objected there was a risk that they would be placed in jail. In 1933 residential school principals were made legal guardians, causing parents to forcibly give up legal custody of their children.

 

What happened to the children while at the school?

  • Forcible removal of their cultural identity such as cutting of hair, stripped of traditional clothing and possessions
  • Renamed with ‘Christian’ names or known only by a number
  • Unsanitary and overcrowded conditions
  • Exposure to illnesses such as tuberculosis with lack of effective and immediate health care
  • Inadequate food and clothing
  • Physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse
  • Forced replacement of spiritual beliefs by religious teaching
  • Physical and emotional separation from parents, grandparents, extended family, siblings and the opposite sex
  • Death due to violence, suicide, malnourishment, disease, exposure to extreme weather conditions
  • Loss of language
  • Loss of cultural practices and customs

 

(Participant 2 reads)
What are the long-term impacts to survivors of the Indian Residential School system?

  • Inability to express feelings about the abuse they suffered in the schools
  • Internalized feelings of anger, fear, grief, shame and guilt ·
  • Substance abuse, addictions ·
  • Self-sabotaging behaviours
  • Violence directed toward others or self (i.e., suicide, self-harm)
  • Risk taking behaviours
  • Avoidance
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Cultural alienation
  • Poor or no interpersonal and relationship skills ·
  • Lack of trust or belief in others or of a safe and predictable world
  • Lack of loving and effective parenting skills ·
  • Inability to effectively handle conflict in healthy ways
  • Continuation of abuse others
  • Anger

 

(Participant 3 reads)
What is trauma?

There are different types of trauma. Physical trauma is the result of a physical wound or injury. Psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that break a person’s sense of security and predictability, leaving one feeling helpless and vulnerable. It does not require a physical injury to be considered traumatic.

What are some causes of psychological trauma?

  • It happens unexpectedly
  • The person is unprepared for it
  • The person feels powerless to prevent it
  • It happens repeatedly
  • Someone was intentionally cruel
  • It happened in childhood

 

How does trauma happen?

  • A single, one-time event (i.e., car accident, unexpected loss, assault)
  • A prolonged or repeat experience (i.e., apprehension, abuse)
  • A cumulative effect (i.e., violence + abuse +racism/discrimination)
  • A historical event with prolonged impact (i.e., relocation)
  • It can take weeks, months or years before the impacts of trauma are noticeable.

 

(Participant 4 reads)
We are going to reflect on the spiritual, emotional, mental, social and physical impacts of trauma.

Spiritual impacts of trauma

  • Persons may describe a lack of belief or faith in others, including a higher power.

Emotional impacts of trauma

  • Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad
  • Feeling shocked, numb and not able to feel love or joy
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Avoiding people, places and things related to the event
  • Being irritable or having outbursts of anger and aggressive behaviour
  • Becoming easily upset or agitated
  • Being withdrawn, feeling rejected or abandoned
  • Loss of intimacy or feeling detached
  • Feeling detached or unconcerned about others
  • Confusion
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviours

 

What are the mental impacts to trauma?

  • Blaming yourself or having negative views of yourself or the world
  • Distrust of others, getting into conflicts, being over controlling
  • Having trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling on guard and constantly alert
  • Having disturbing dreams, memories or flashbacks
  • Having work or school problems
  • Short term memory loss
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Decreased performance levels
  • Increased difficulty in relating to others
  • Sadness or depression
  • Anxiety Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

 

(Participant 5 reads)
What are the social impacts to trauma?

  • Inability to relate to others
  • Distrust in others
  • Problems with parenting and intimacy

What are the physical effects of trauma?

  • Headaches, aches and pains – including chronic pain
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Bowel problems
  • Skin problems
  • Pounding heart, rapid breathing, feeling edgy
  • Vomiting
  • Ongoing medical problems getting worse
  • Sleep problems such as nightmares, sleeping too much or not being able to fall or stay asleep
  • Addictions such as alcohol or drug abuse including prescription drug abuse

(Participant 6 reads)
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

  • An anxiety disorder that involves reliving psychologically traumatic situations long after the physical danger involved has passed, through flashbacks, nightmares and other physical responses (i.e., poor eating and sleep)

Can trauma be transmitted to others?

  • Yes, impacts or reactions may be transmitted to the offspring (and subsequent generations) of victims of collective emotional or psychological trauma. This is known as intergenerational, historical or multigenerational trauma.

Why does intergenerational trauma happen?

Victims of trauma such as survivors of the Indian Residential School system display various behaviours and (negative) coping strategies that increase the likelihood of trauma transmission.

  • Troubled with traumatic memories, behaviours and negative coping strategies they pass on to their children through modeling
  • Limited ability and/or lack of knowledge and skills to assist their children in coping with difficult situations.
  • Limited ability and/or lack of knowledge and skills to support their children in dealing with developmental transitions and milestones (i.e., moving from childhood to adolescence).
  • Overprotective or neglectful of children and their needs

(Participant 7 reads)
What are the impacts of intergenerational trauma?

  • Addictions, alcohol or drug abuse
  • Abuses: physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, mental, spiritual
  • Low self-esteem
  • Dysfunctional families and interpersonal relationships
  • Poor parenting such as rigidity, neglect, abandonment, emotional coldness
  • Suicide acts, thoughts and behaviours
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Depression, particularly chronic to individuals and widespread across the community
  • Chronic and widespread anger and rage
  • Eating and sleeping problems that are significant and chronic
  • Chronic physical illness
  • Chronic unresolved grief and loss
  • Fear of personal growth, transformation and healing
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effect (FAE)
  • Unconscious internalization of residential school behaviours such as false politeness, not speaking out, passive compliance, excessive neatness, obedience without thought
  • School based learning problems like fear of failure, avoiding learning that seems ‘too much like school’, learning disabilities with a psychological basis
  • Spiritual confusion and alienation that doesn’t allow for growth
  • Internalized sense of inferiority or avoidance of non-First Nation people
  • Becoming abusers and oppressors of others
  • Denial or refusal of cultural background, cultural identity confusion, fear of learning or practicing culture
  • Disconnection from the natural world as an important part of daily life and spiritual beliefs
  • Passiveness or having no voice
  • High risk behaviours (i.e., sexual promiscuity)
  • Early death
  • Poor attachment to caregivers

 

(Participant 8 reads)
Is it possible to see intergenerational trauma transmitted at the community level?

Yes, many of the social, economic and political challenges in First Nation communities are directly or indirectly related to the residential school experience and other colonial factors. These may include:

  • Paternalistic authority
  • Passive dependency
  • Patterns of misuse of power to control others
  • Community social patterns that foster gossip and rumours but failure to support and stand with those who speak out or challenge the status quo
  • Breakdown of ‘social glue’ that binds families and communities together such as trust, common ground, shared purpose and direction, a strong community life of giving and sharing, lack of volunteerism, co-operative groups/neighbourhoods working together for the benefit of all
  • Conflict and lack of unity between individuals and families including factions within the community
  • Conflicts and confusion over religious and spiritual based practices
  • Toxic communication: gossip, criticism, personal attacks, sarcasm, secrets, put downs, etc.
  • Destruction of social support network
  • Passive acceptance of powerlessness with community life and/or governance
  • Loss of traditional governance processes that gave people a sense of influence in shaping the community
  • Joblessness and poverty
  • Family violence
  • Family breakdown
  • Homelessness
  • High rates of imprisonment

 

(Participant 9 reads)
Healing

Healing can occur at an individual level and requires the survivor to learn strategies to cope with the anxiety and negative emotions or behavioural reactions to the trauma. Seeking counselling from a counsellor trained in trauma therapy or a cultural support person/elder is often recommended. Some helpful coping skills are: ·

  • Muscle relaxation and deep breathing
  • Thought stopping
  • Pleasant imagery
  • Positive self-talk
  • Recognizing triggers and reminders
  • Family and social support
  • Creating a story that empowers one to survive and see strengths

As trauma and intergenerational trauma was the result of attacks to the culture and spirit of the children, addressing these soul wounds often requires cultural interventions and supports. Cultural ceremonies and practice allow one to reclaim their cultural identity and pride while learning strategies to cope with the impacts of the trauma. Healing from intergenerational trauma has 4 critical components:

1. Confront our trauma and embrace our history by learning Anishinabek history and what happened. Knowledge is power!

2. Understand the trauma by learning about trauma reactions and cultural practices to address grief and loss.

3. Release the pain; usually through cultural ceremonies/practices that creates a sense of belonging and connection to land, culture and others with a shared history.

4. Transcend the trauma by moving to healing that allows us to define ourselves in ways that move beyond the trauma.

The Elders have shared that we have all the teachings within us to be well and live a good life – (‘mno-biimaadzawin”). Reclaiming culture and language have the ability to set us free from the soul wounds inflicted on our people and community. We are thankful to all those survivors who spoke out and demanded healing and brought about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

 

Gathering Theme: Residential Schools

GATHERING THEME

Residential Schools

“My father was raised by people who didn’t love him…” Wab Kinew, “The Reason you Walk”  

1. Opening for all gatherings.

2. Introduction of the theme by Facilitator

There is a separate volume published by the TRC, entitled “The Survivors Speak.” We encourage you to read it. Thirty different dimensions of school life are addressed. The full publication is available online here.

(What follows is an edited excerpt from Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future, “The History,” pages 36-43)

It can start with a knock on the door one morning. It is the local Indian agent, or the parish priest, or, perhaps, a Mounted Police officer. The bus for residential school leaves that morning. It is a day the parents have long been dreading. Even if the children have been warned in advance, the morning’s events are still a shock. The officials have arrived and the children must go.

For tens of thousands of Aboriginal children for over a century, this was the beginning of their residential schooling. They were torn from their parents, who often surrendered them only under threat of prosecution. Then, they were hurled into a strange and frightening place, one in which their parents and culture would be demeaned and oppressed.

For Frederick Ernest Koe,  “And I didn’t get to say goodbye to my dad or my brother Allan, didn’t get to pet my dogs or nothing.” (1) Larry Beardy travelled by train from Churchill, Manitoba, to the Anglican residential school in Dauphin, Manitoba—a journey of 1,200 kilometres. As soon as they realized that they were leaving their parents behind, the younger children started crying.

At every stop the train took on more children and they would start to cry as well. “That train I want to call that train of tears.” Florence Horassi was taken to the Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, school in a small airplane. “When the plane took off, there’s about six or five older ones, didn’t cry, but I saw tears come right out of their eyes. Everybody else was crying. There’s a whole plane crying. I wanted to cry, too, ’cause my brother was crying, but I held my tears back and held him.”

The arrival at school was often even more traumatizing than the departure from home or the journey.

Nellie Ningewance went to the Sioux Lookout, Ontario, school in the 1950s and 1960s. “When we arrived we had to register that we had arrived, then they took us to cut our hair.” Bernice Jacks became very frightened when her hair was cut on her arrival. “I could see my hair falling. And I couldn’t do nothing. And I was so afraid my mom … I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about Mom. I say, ‘Mom’s gonna be really mad. And June is gonna be angry. And it’s gonna be my fault.’”

Campbell Papequash (says) “And after I was taken there they took off my clothes and then they deloused me. I didn’t know what was happening but I learned about it later, that they were delousing me; ‘the dirty, no-good-for-nothing savages, lousy.’”

Archie Hyacinthe compared the experience (of going to the school) to that of being captured and taken into captivity. “That’s when the trauma started for me, being separated from my sister, from my parents, and from our, our home. We were no longer free. It was like being, you know, taken to a strange land, even though it was our, our, our land, as I understood later on.” When she first went to the Amos, Québec, school, Margo Wylde could not speak any French. “I said to myself, ‘How am I going to express myself? How will I make people understand what I’m saying?’ And I wanted to find my sisters to ask them to come and get me. You know it’s sad to say, but I felt I was a captive.”

On their arrival at residential school, students often were required to exchange the clothes they were wearing for school-supplied clothing. This could mean the loss of homemade clothing that was of particular value and meaning to them. When Wilbur Abrahams’ mother sent him to the Alert Bay school in British Columbia, she outfitted him in brand-new clothes. When he arrived at the school, he was told to hand in this outfit in exchange for school clothing. “That was the last time I saw my new clothes. Dare not ask questions.” Martin Nicholas went to the Pine Creek, Manitoba school. “My mom had prepared me in Native clothing. She had made me a buckskin jacket, beaded with fringes.… And my mom did beautiful work, and I was really proud of my clothes. And when I got to residential school, that first day I remember, they stripped us of our clothes.”   On her arrival at the Presbyterian school in Kenora, Ontario, Lorna Morgan was wearing “these nice little beaded moccasins that my grandma had made me to wear for school, and I was very proud of them.” She said they were taken from her and thrown in the garbage.

Gilles Petiquay was shocked by the fact that each student was assigned a number. “I remember that the first number that I had at the residential school was 95. I had that number—95—for a year. The second number was number 4. I had it for a longer period of time. The third number was 56. I also kept it for a long time. We walked with the numbers on us.”

Older brothers were separated from younger brothers, older sisters were separated from younger sisters, and brothers and sisters were separated from each other. Wilbur Abrahams climbed up the steps to the Alert Bay school behind his sisters and started following them to the girls’ side of the school. Then, he felt a staff member pulling him by the ear, telling him to turn the other way. “I have always believed that, I think at that particular moment, my spirit left.”

When Peter Ross was enrolled at the Immaculate Conception school in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, it was the first time he had ever been parted from his sisters. He said that in all the time he was at the school, he was able to speak with them only at Christmas and on Catholic feast days. Daniel Nanooch recalled that he talked with his sister only four times a year at the Wabasca, Alberta, school. “They had a fence in the playground. Nobody was allowed near the fence.

The only reason Bernice Jacks had wanted to go to residential school was to be with her older sister. But once she was there, she discovered they were to sleep in separate dormitories. On the occasions when she slipped into the older girls’ dormitory and crawled into her sister’s bed, her sister scolded her and sent her away: “My sister never talked to me like that before.” Bernard Catcheway said that even though he and his sister were both attending the Pine Creek school, they could not communicate with each other.

“I couldn’t talk to her, I couldn’t wave at her. On her second day at the Kamloops school in British Columbia, Julianna Alexander went to speak to her brother. “Did I ever get a good pounding and licking, get over there, you can’t go over there, you can’t talk to him, you know. I said, ‘Yeah, but he’s my brother.’”

Taken from their homes, stripped of their belongings, and separated from their siblings, residential school children lived in a world dominated by fear, loneliness, and lack of affection.

William Herney, who attended the Shubenacadie school in Nova Scotia, recalled the first few days in the school as being frightening and bewildering. “Within those few days, you had to learn, because otherwise you’re gonna get your head knocked off. Raymond Cutknife recalled that when he attended the Hobbema school in Alberta, he “lived with fear.”  Of his years in two different Manitoba schools, Timothy Henderson said, “Every day was, you were in constant fear that, your hope was that it wasn’t you today that we’re going to, that was going to be the target, the victim. You know, you weren’t going to have to suffer any form of humiliation.”  Shirley Waskewitch said that in Kindergarten at the Catholic school in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, “I learned the fear, how to be so fearful at six years old. It was instilled in me.”

At the Fort Alexander, Manitoba, school, Patrick Bruyere used to cry himself to sleep. “There was, you know, a few nights I remember that I just, you know, cried myself to sleep, I guess, because of, you know, wanting to see my mom and dad.”

Students’ hearts were hardened. Rick Gilbert remembered the Williams Lake, British Columbia, school as a loveless place. “That was one thing about this school was that when you got hurt or got beat up or something, and you started crying, nobody comforted you. You just sat in the corner and cried and cried till you got tired of crying then you got up and carried on with life.”  Nick Sibbeston, who was placed in the Fort Providence school in the Northwest Territories at the age of five, recalled it as a place where children hid their emotions. “In residential school you quickly learn that you should not cry. If you cry you’re teased, you’re shamed out, you’re even punished.”  One former student said that during her time at the Sturgeon Landing school in Saskatchewan, she could not recall a staff member ever smiling at a child. (38)

Stephen Kakfwi  said this lack of compassion affected the way students treated one another. “No hugs, nothing, no comfort. Everything that, I think, happened in the residential schools, we picked it up: we didn’t get any hugs; you ain’t going to get one out of me I’ll tell you that.” (41) Victoria McIntosh said that life at the Fort Alexander, Manitoba, school taught her not to trust anyone. “You learn not to cry anymore. You just get harder. And yeah, you learn to shut down.”

These accounts all come from statements made by former residential school students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These events all took place in Canada within the realm of living memory.

Like previous generations of residential school children, these children were sent to what were, in most cases, badly constructed, poorly maintained, overcrowded, unsanitary fire traps. Many children were fed a substandard diet and given a substandard education, and worked too hard. For far too long, they died in tragically high numbers. Discipline was harsh and unregulated; abuse was rife and unreported. It was, at best, institutionalized child neglect.

5. Talking Circle

Option: Facilitator: “I want you to imagine you are a nine year old girl (or boy). How do you think you would feel  arriving at the school the first time?”

6. Determination of theme for next meeting.

“Intergenerational trauma” would be the logical theme to follow at the next gathering.

7.  Closing common to all gatherings.

Meaning of Land for Indigenous Peoples

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.


GATHERING THEME

Meaning of Land for Indigenous peoples

Author: Raymond F. Currie

(Facilitator reads)
Why do Indigenous people stay on reserves when there is often water that has to be boiled, mold in the houses, few educational opportunities and no jobs? For the sake of the children, why don’t they leave and come to the city?  This is a real question that was posed by a non-Indigenous person. The answers are somewhat complex. The answer provided to this person constitutes the text of our theme today. It is prepared by a non-Indigenous person.

 

(Participant 1 reads)
First, reserves are home for many First Nations people. Home is a very important reality for most people. Most refugees, given a choice would not want to come to Canada. It is so far from their beloved homes. In Canada, at the holiday seasons people get in their cars, buses, or planes to go back home, to the farm, to the reserves, to their home cities.

The reserve communities provide a constant experience of belonging. That is why those who come to the city often experience loneliness and a real sense of loss. Those who come to universities or colleges take longer to complete their studies as family responsibilities and financial issues often draw them back to their home communities during their studies.  Universities recognize that Indigenous students often endure these additional difficulties and try to ensure student success with special programming and academic assistance, and physical meeting places such as Indigenous learning centres on campuses. In spite of these difficulties, many Indigenous parents and young people embrace higher education because they see it as “the new buffalo,” with its promise of economic benefits. Just like the buffalo provided for so many needs of the community, so also higher education will play the same role.

We cannot discount the significant role that racism plays in making those who come to the city feel lonely, unhappy and unwelcome. No matter how many troubles there might be on some reserves, they are, because of this sense of belonging, still perceived as a more comfortable place than the cities. Finally, in addition to the individual prejudice and racism Indigenous people often experience in the city, there is the systemic racism that takes away some of the housing benefits of Indigenous people who leave a reserve and come to the city. These are reasons why some of the Indigenous people want to stay on reserves.

 

(Participant 2 reads)
There are more important reasons. Indigenous people see the land itself in ways non-Indigenous people often do not understand:  An Indigenous person’s sense of self is not separate from the land. The interconnectedness with the land and the natural world is a lived experience. Indigenous persons have a hard time knowing themselves and being themselves without this relationship to their homeland. The vital knowledge of generations has taught them how to live with nature and be in balance and harmony with the natural world. It is compelling to see how often Indigenous art shows an interconnectedness between animals and people and the land. Just one example: many Indigenous masks are created in the likeness of an animal. Some believe that each clan is descended from a different animal.

So coming to the city can be disorienting, although the intensity of this obviously varies between individuals. The land is sacred. When several Indigenous groups in B.C. were offered over a billion dollars for permission to develop oil projects, they turned it down –because they judged the project would destroy Mother Earth, and they could not allow that to happen. There is a relationship to Mother Earth that is sacred, nourishing and that carries responsibilities. “We do not own Mother Earth to give it away; we must respect it. We are part of it, it is part of us,” they would say.

Related to this is the fact that not all people want to live a Western, urban, life style.  For many Indigenous peoples, there is no ‘good life’ that does not include a daily, intimate relationship with land and nature.  Of course Indigenous people want access to some of the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle such as education, health care, housing and quality of life which are the most important drivers of migration, even from small town and villages. But it would be a mistake to go from there to the conclusion that we all want these things in the same way.


(Participant 3 reads)
Land is of course a key factor in the making of treaties. Winnipeg is on Treaty # 1 land, signed in 1871 at Lower Fort Garry. It is located on the original lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. We are all treaty people and it is up to both parties to live by the responsibilities agreed to in the Treaties. In fact, as Jamie Wilson, former Treaty Commissioner for Manitoba pointed out, even the right of non-Indigenous peoples in Manitoba to own land and buy a house in Winnipeg is possible because of Treaty 1. Aimée Craft’s book, “Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One” brings a unique approach to the history of this treaty.  

Reserves were established by the treaties, and in principle the treaties were supposed to allow Indigenous people to select the areas of land they wanted. They looked for land linked to their traditional fishing, burial and ceremonial customs at the same time ensuring they had steady access to wood, water, shelter and existing transport routes. However, their reserve lands were often badly or not at all surveyed and the federal government in some cases removed people from their original reserve in order to make way for land speculation. That is the story of Peguis Reserve in Manitoba. This gave rise to the current issues of treaty land entitlement and land claims. In brief, after treaties were negotiated, the Crown became the only significant interpreter of their terms. Then, the Indian Act was passed in 1876. It should be noted that it was never part of any treaty and Indigenous people were not asked for their consent. By that date, the Crown had already launched a century or more of assimilation. However, as Aimée Craft has pointed out: “Aboriginal people in Canada did not view the land and its resources as something they owned, so they did not see the treaties as a transfer of ownership. Rather, they saw the treaties as providing a basis upon which the use of the land and its resources could be shared.”

 

(Participant 4 reads)
Land is important in two respects. First, as has been pointed out, traditional lands are the ‘place’ of the nation and are inseparable from the people, their culture, and their identity as a nation. Second however, land and resources, as well as traditional knowledge, are the foundations upon which Indigenous people intend to rebuild the economies of their nations and so improve the socio-economic circumstance of their people – individuals, families, communities and nations. Capturing this, Fergus MacKay says the following when discussing the World Bank’s approach to Indigenous people: “For Indigenous peoples, secure and effective collective property rights are fundamental to their economic and social development, to their physical and cultural integrity, and to their livelihoods and sustenance.” (MacKay 2004, 16).

Twenty-nine comprehensive land claim and/or self-government agreements, covering over 40 percent of Canada’s land mass, have been ratified and brought into effect since the announcement of the Government of Canada’s Comprehensive Land claims Policy in 1973 and the establishment of the British Columbia Treaty Process (1992). These agreements change the relationship between Aboriginal signatories, the federal government and the provincial / territorial governments concerned. According to Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements and Self-Government Agreements, Aboriginal signatories constitute governments in their own right and, as a result, the Parties to the agreements form ground breaking government-to-government relationships that transform how they relate to and collaborate with one another. Most non-Indigenous people do not realize that these are existing government to government agreements.


(Participant 5 reads)
The reserve system was not created by Indigenous peoples, it was never intended to provide an equal quality of life. Forced relocation has not been uncommon. In 2016 the Canadian government apologized and will provide millions in compensation for the forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene First Nation 60 years ago in northern Manitoba. “Without proper consultation, without explanation and without adequate planning, the federal government took your people from the land and the waters that sustained you,” Carolyn Bennett, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister said in prepared remarks delivered in Tadoule Lake. The Indian Act continues to make Indigenous people wards of the state which affects many aspect of peoples’ lives.

Attachment to home and reserve community has been central to Indigenous life in Canada. It has had a great deal to do not only with family but with resilience and resistance to the attempts, both direct and indirect, to destroy so many aspects of Indigenous life


(Facilitator reads)
For a simple, straight-forward grasp of the history of Indigenous people and their relationship to land, we encourage you to take part in what is called a “Blanket Exercise.” These are one hour stories on the history of Indigenous peoples since the arrival of settlers. These Blanket Ceremonies are offered by KAIROS right across Canada and you can probably easily organize one in your area.

 

References

Craft, A. (2013). Breathing Life Into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishinabe Understanding of Treaty One. Puruch Publishing Ltd. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

MacKay, F. (2004). Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent and the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Review. Sustainable Development Law & Policy, the journal of the American University’s Washington College of Law (WCL) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), 4 (2). Pp. 1-42.

Retrieved from: http://pdf.wri.org/ref/mackay_04_indigenous_ppl.pdf

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