Speakers offer viewpoints on ‘Idle No More’
Protection of natural resources and a need for new leaders are just two reasons Priscilla Simard supports the “Idle No More” movement.
Simard, along with Sara Mainville, Judy Morrison, and Robert Animikii Horton, came together Sunday at the Sunset Country Métis Hall here for the first of a series of “Idle No More” teach-ins.
“He taught me that I had to look after it,” she stressed. “I had to make sure that what went on in life didn’t really pollute the Earth and really didn’t destroy the Earth.
“He gave me that teaching—if anything was important, it was the land.
“We had to look after Mother Earth,” she reiterated.
Simard noted we all the need the land, the animals, the trees, water, and clean air to exist. And while sometimes money causes these things to be overlooked, industries must be held accountable and must replant the trees they cut down.
Simard said she and her siblings were told the prophecies when they were children about the big snake that one day would cross the earth. Little did she realize this might one day mean a string of pipelines across the land.
“I, as a grandmother, have a responsibility,” she remarked. “That responsibility is to inform as many people as I can that this is not just about Indians; this is about every single human being that lives on this Earth.”
Simard said the Harper government is trying to put through Bill C-45, which will let the government take away First Nations’ land and force the integration of First Nations’ people if everybody doesn’t stand up and do anything about it.
“How do we do something about it? We complain,” she said. “We let government know we’re not happy with this bill.
“Who can decide what is right for our people but our own people?” Simard added.
“Should we allow government to make those decisions on our behalf?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.”
With its proposed legislation, the Harper government is trying to violate treaty rights—in this case, Treaty #3.
“The treaty is a relationship between the government and the Indian people,” she explained. “It’s that relationship that recognizes us as a group of people; a distinct culture with languages, traditions, values, the whole bit.”
In addition to $5 a year, the treaty said the people were supposed to get rations, farming implements, wheat, barley, oats, twine, nets, and ammunition while the chief and his councillors were supposed to get coats.
But the treaty also entitled Indians with the right to hunt and fish, and a right to a share of resources found on their land.
“And if, by any chance, we found those resources, we had to develop them ourselves as First Nations’ people,” Simard noted.
“It says so in our treaty.”
Simard said Treaty #3 is supposed to “last as long as the sun will shine and the rivers will run through it, which essentially is forever.”
“So the treaty becomes very important, and lately there is a lot of distrust among First Nation people across Canada because the numbered treaties and the modern treaties that are being signed today are being eroded,” she remarked.
Simard noted that under the British North American Act, which was patriated into Canada’s Constitution Act in 1982 as Section 35, aboriginal rights and treaty rights are guaranteed.
But these rights have never been defined.
She said since the Assembly of First Nations was first created 37 years ago, there have been seven leaders—and none of them has done anything to define what these rights are, nor get them enshrined or entrenched.
Because of this, Simard said the federal government has, over the years, made moves to assimilate First Nations under the guise of self-governance. For example, a provision in the 1992 Charlottetown Accord would have seen First Nations become like municipalities, not the separate nations they are.
“There has been 37 years of injustice, and we as grassroots people have to wake up and say ‘Enough is enough. When are you going to protect our rights?’
“To date, seven AFN leaders over a period of 37 years have failed miserably to gain any momentum with any government to get our treaty rights enshrined or entrenched,” Simard charged.
She said she believes the federal government has diverted media attention to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and the “Idle No More” movement, and this has taken away from the real issue: Bill C-45.
“They don’t want you to do anything about Bill C-45 because they want job creation, they want money, they want people working at the expense of the environment, at the expense of your fresh water, and at the expense of aboriginal people becoming assimilated into the white man’s society,” she argued.
“That is why I object and I urge you to do what you can . . . you have power.
“As a community, [the] ‘Idle No More’ movement has been very powerful across the nation simply because people like you have stood up and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” added Simard.
“We have leaders who are not talking for us any more,” she stressed. “We have leaders that are more concerned the dollars and doing their little backyard deals than protecting our rights.”
Treaty #3 impact
Sara Mainville, a lawyer on Couchiching First Nation and another of the local “Idle No More” organizers, explained what a treaty is and the history of Treaty #3.
She said the rights provided by Treaty #3 are not an itemized list of annuities, fishing nets, and farming instruments, or “a bill of sale” for a surrender of lands, but “a sacred bundle of rights,” whereby chiefs could offer to “lend” such things as land and water.
But more importantly, the treaty is a promise of peace and friendship to protect the interests of Canada and those of the First Nations’ people.
She also noted the treaty is not a single written document you can read, and it can be interpreted by each individual differently.
Rather, it is “a spirit crucial to Anishinaabe in this area;” a living thing.
“The treaty to me, Treaty #3, may be something different than a treaty to you, and that’s the wonderful thing about treaty-making—it’s inter-societal, it brings peace, it brings unity,” Mainville reasoned.
“And in this area, hopefully it will bring prosperity.”
Mainville said that it is time to be “Idle No More” and steer away from the Indian Act road and towards Treaty #3 governance.
This would mean:
•moving away from social welfare-based programming to funding based on reconciliation of the aforementioned bundle of rights;
•moving away from “third party” contributions to single communities to a nation-to-nation transfer agreement;
•moving away from needs not being dealt with in a comprehensive way and instead leave it up to the discretion of the individual nation to deal with emergencies holistically;
•eliminating any alien form of governance and moving forward with “the governance embedded in us all”;
•moving away from despair and the inability to take action, and towards real change and positive partnerships between nations; and
•no longer leaving it to the courts to make single determinations, and instead have a commission-based inquiry.
Under this inquiry, Treaty #3 peoples need to decide together what is in the bundle of rights, including land rights, access authority, education, and assistance.
The federal government must listen to Anishinaabe about their governance system, and all Canadians must be educated on what Treaty #3 means.
The “Idle No Movement” has made it clear that more Canadians—aboriginal and non-aboriginal—need to understand history and each other in order to work towards a better future, said Judy Morrison of Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation.
“We should be proud that, in Treaty #3, we have maintained our culture, and many of the people have maintained our language,” she noted.
“Lots of people may not know our history but they have our culture and traditions.”
Morrison explained that when settlers came to Canada from Europe, the people here greeted them and learned new ways of learning, but they were talking at two different levels.
“When we talked about sharing, we meant sharing and helping one another,” she remarked. “We didn’t talk in the language that they used over there.
“We knew this was the Creator’s land and we needed to take care [of it].
“We did accept our responsibilities as the stewards, except somewhere down the road, the federal and provincial government started to take away a lot of that,” Morrison added.
She said we need to understand what living in co-existence meant—with the land and the water, with the animals, with the people and the skies.
“We need to understand the four colours of man and how we came to be here, because each of those colours of man have gifts to share with one another,” stressed Morrison.
“And we also need to learn how to work with one another, with the governments that are created, with the nation-to-nation that we speak.
“We need to understand that our chiefs were not the only leaders,” she continued. “We had the women, the grandmothers, that were there; they kept a lot of social order in those communities.
“The men were our protectors and our providers.”
Morrison said that we need to understand each other as even today, “we don’t all the talk the same language, we don’t all walk the same language, and we need to understand how to respect each other, how to care for each other, how to share the knowledge and experience that we have.”
Sunday’s teach-in opened and closed with drumming by James Henderson of Mitaanjigaming First Nation.