Yesterday brought us two news story of note. One involved the recruitment of Shawn Atleo and Ovide Mercredi by the oil industry. Their recruitment follows a tired old pattern. It’s the age-old tactic of divide and conquer used by the Coloniszer since the time of first contact—not surprising and nothing new.
What’s interesting is the industry’s choice given each man’s track record as national mayor: Mr. Atleo was forced to resign for siding with Canada in pushing through is education legislation. Mr. Mercredi ran afoul of band mayors and the people during the Charlottetown Accord fiasco. Both are following in the footsteps of Phil Fontaine, who sided with Canada and the churches in negotiating the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement in 2005.
The other news is that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) elected a new national mayor yesterday: Perry Bellegarde. As a communications consultant, I did some work for him, by remote, over the last few years. I also tried working with him directly at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) last year. That was an eye-opener for me.
As a consultant, it’s been getting increasingly difficult to separate myself from my work. I believe in reclaiming and restoring the organic institutions that have sustained us for thousands of years, and I’ve been trying to work towards that since the “Oka crisis” of 1990. In my opinion, Mr. Bellegarde is cut from similar cloth as Mr. Atleo and Mr. Mercredi. The other problem is that I’m a bad consultant because I’m nobody’s yes man. That affected my ability to work as an effective part of his team and we have since parted ways.
On March 26 and 27, 2013, the AFN held a treaty conference at the Dakota Dunes Casino. The day began with a pipe ceremony. Perry Bellegarde then opened the meeting by sharing the elder’s teachings from the Sweat they had the night before. The elder had talked about how the wood for the fire, the hot rocks, the willow boughs that make up the frame of the lodge, the buffalo hides that cover it, the fire and the water all work together in a good way. They remind us of our sacred responsibility towards Creation. He connected that to FSIN’s Treaty Principles. He then talked about how Treaty is also a solemn pact with Creator.
When he was done, I asked his Intergovernmental Affairs person, “Would you bring a chainsaw into the sweat lodge? What about a tree shear or an oil derrick, would you bring those into the lodge”? “Of course not,” she responded.” I then asked, “So why is he trying to do just that?” “What do you mean,” she asked and I answered, “Isn’t that what resource revenue-sharing is all about? Isn’t it about participating in Canada’s economy, which is based on the destruction of Creation for profit?” I got no response to that one.
I caught part of Mr. Bellegarde’s speech on APTN last night. He said the AFN isn’t divided. What about the National Treaty Alliance (NTA)? Derek Nepinak was quite clear, the night before the AFN election, when he said that many member mayors of the NTA wouldn’t be participating in that process. Members of the NTA were once part of AFN but disassociated themselves as a result of the First Nations Summit fiasco that ultimately led to Mr. Atleo’s resignation.
One thing that’s interesting to me is the similarities in the goals of the “leaders” who have gained prominence over the last few years. I’ve heard all of their speeches. In my opinion, they all want the same thing, and they’re just fighting over who will steer the bus as it heads towards the precipice.
They’ve said that resource revenue-sharing is implementing Treaty. I disagree. Resource revenue-sharing is economic assimilation, and that means participating in the destruction of Creation. They all try to legitimize their assimilationist agenda by cloaking themselves in Indigenous regalia—with the exception of Mr. Fontaine, whose regalia of choice has always been the three-piece suit.
National Mayor Bellegarde thinks he can influence the way Canada and the multi-national corporations do business. I don’t think he’ll succeed, however, because traditional Indigenous and Canadian economies exist in mutually-exclusive paradigms. One works in harmony with and preserves Creation and the other manipulates and destroys it.
The traditional economy of my people is based on the principles of the Dish with One Spoon—that the land belongs to no one; that we’re to live lightly on the land, taking only what we need and using all we take. That’s how we safeguard the birthright of the next seven generations. The Coloniszer’s economy is based on continued growth; maximizing profit and an instant turn-around.
Another similarity with all the people I’ve mentioned is that they all talk a good game but they’re stuck on transmit: they espouse unity, transparency and accountability but they don’t really listen to anyone who doesn’t share their views. It’s too bad because they have their good qualities. They’re smart people. Among them, they carry traditional teachings. But they also carry Coloniszer teachings in the form of B.A.’s; BAdmin’s; LLB’s; LLM’s; Masters; MEd’s, etc. They’re adept at holding up legitimate Indigenous concepts on the one hand and undermining them with the other. They do so by allowing Coloniszer teachings to trump traditional knowledge.
One example of such undermining is the tobacco trade that has created controversy over the past four decades or so. Proponents of the First Nation tobacco industry often say tobacco is a sacred gift from the Creator. How, then, do you justify desecrating that gift by commodifying it? We can’t rebuild healthy communities and nations by exploiting the addictions of, not only our neighbours, but of our own people.
I believe that the solutions for my people’s future—the Kanienkehaka, often referred to (incorrectly) as Mohawks—lay in our past: in the teachings articulated in the Ohentonkariwatehkwen (the Words Before All Others, which is our Thanksgiving Address), the Dish with One Spoon, the Kaswentah (Two Row Wampum), the Circle Covenant Wampum and the Covenant Chain to list but a few. I will expand on this in my next blog entry.
I also believe that solutions for other Indigenous nations lay in the reclamation and restoration of their cultures and organic institutions.
I know there are those who are working towards this too but it seems our numbers are small and there’s little apparent unity across the land. That’s partly because Indigenous peoples are not one homogenous group, as the term First Nations would imply, and partly because Indigenous people have little or no opportunity to get together and have the full, free and frank dialogue that’s needed for us to come to one mind.
So, what’s left of the AFN may be somewhat united but it has always been disconnected from the people it claims to represent, its structure is more reflective of Canada than Indigenous nations, and it has become useless as an institution.
Despite the challenges we face, I believe that Indigenous people, at the grassroots, will win out in the end. We have right on our side and we have our spirituality. The Coloniszer and the multi-nationals have no spirit and that will be their downfall.
We are at a critical juncture in our history and that of Creation. Drawing on The Lord of the Rings as allegory, the battle for Middle Earth is upon us. Unfortunately, those who have managed to elbow their way to the front of the cameras and microphones have chosen the wrong side. We are in for interesting times…
 My misspelling of the word, Coloniszer, is deliberate. I use it to include Canada and the United States, as well as, the nations that gave rise to their existence in its definition.
For me, the movie, Labyrinth (starring Jennifer Connelly as Sarah and David Bowie as the Goblin King) provides a good allegory and powerful symbolism that applies to our situation. To summarize the plot, the Goblin King steals Sarah’s infant brother. As she sets out to find the Goblin King’s castle and bring her brother back home, the Goblin King forces her to navigate the labyrinth that surrounds his castle. The labyrinth is always changing and is full of obstacles designed to block her progress. In the final confrontation, Sarah stands her ground and tells the Goblin King:
“Give me the child. Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great […] For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great… Damn. [pulls the Labyrinth book out of her pocket]…I can never remember that line…[reads]…You have no power over me.”
As soon as she says that last line, the Goblin King’s power is broken and the way to his castle is revealed.
To me, the child in the film symbolizes our future, which we’ve been trying to reclaim and recover.
Canada has tried to destroy us through colonization, colonialism and, more directly, through legislation and its residential school system.
Canada keeps encouraging us to forget the past, look forward and move on, as if our past is disconnected from our present and future.
As an Indigenous person, I’ve come to realize that there’s huge difference between “status” in Canada and citizenship of my Nation.
Status is given by Canada and can therefore be taken away.
Status provides access to program funding as long as we bow down to the criteria attached to it.
It’s through status that Canada has been able to keep us subservient to its paternalism.
Status, and Canadian law from which it arises, is a trap—a labyrinth—designed to keep us lost and distracted.
In my case, my birthright as Kanienkehaka is rooted in the citizenship of our Nation.
I believe that Canada has no power over us if my people get back in our canoe as referenced in the Kaswentah (Two Row Wampum).
Citizenship makes the path to decolonization clearer.
I encourage all Indigenous peoples to find and rebuild their canoes. Each nation has its own distinct style of canoe, and they’re all beautiful. Even the peoples of the plains had canoes: commonly referred to as travois.
I believe we stand a better chance of winning if we reclaim and uphold our traditional laws in our homelands.
And so it is, that as I prepare to begin this new day, I take a few moments to centre myself and reflect on who I am. I reflect on my place within the circle of Creation. I reflect on my responsibilities as a person. I understand that life, in all its fragility, exists by pure chance. I celebrate the fact that I am here. I give thanks for this new day. I give thanks that I’m here to enjoy it. I begin by acknowledging you, Ietinistenhen Ohontsa, our sacred Mother Earth. We were born of you in the early days of our time on Turtle Island. You provide all we need to survive on a daily basis. All you ask is that we give thanks for all we receive. All you ask is that we take only what we need to survive. All you ask is that we waste none of what we take. All you ask is that we share in order to live well. When we die, we return to the warmth and safety of your womb. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, Ietinistenhen Ohontsa. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. For this I am grateful. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I understand that I share my time here with many different nations of Creation. I turn my mind to the different forms of life that exist here with me: the no-legged, the two-legged, the four-legged and the more-legged. I acknowledge the smallest micro-organisms and insects that live in the body of our Mother Earth. It is your responsibility to keep our Mother healthy and strong. I know your task is great at this time because of the demands we the two-legged place upon you. Despite this, you continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the nations living within the body of Ietinistenhen Ohontsa. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I acknowledge you Okwaho, (wolf), Okwari, (bear) and Anowarah (turtle). You represent the clans, the families, of my nation. There are those of you who provide us with shelter, tools, clothing and food. We call you Skanionsa (moose) and Oskenonton (deer). You give of yourselves so that I may survive. You provide me with food, shelter and tools. I acknowledge the insect nations. I may not fully understand you but I know you serve a purpose or you wouldn’t be here. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the animal and insect nations. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I turn my mind to the nations that live with the bodies of water. There are the Turtles and other amphibians that live in and around the waters, the Beavers, Otters, Muskrats and other animals that live in and around the waters, the Sharks, Salmon and other fish that live in the waters, the Whales, Dolphins and other animals that live in the waters. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the nations living with the waters. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I turn my mind to the rooted nations of Creation. I acknowledge the grasses. There is no such thing as a weed, only a plant whose purpose we don’t yet know. I acknowledge the medicine plants. I acknowledge you, Wahtha (the maple). Some of you provide us with wood for heat, tools and shelter. Some of you provide us your life’s blood so that we may have Wahtha osis (maple syrup)—the first medicine of spring. It is indeed a happy time when you give us this gift, for we know that Creation is awakening and the cycle of life continues. I acknowledge the trees in general. You are the lungs of our Mother Earth. There is a relationship between us that must not be broken. We each provide what the other needs to breathe and survive. I greet you, Niiohontesha (Strawberries), medicine of the heart. You are the first medicine to show itself in the early summer. It is a happy time when you return to us for you signal the promise of another good harvest. I acknowledge you, Oienkwen:onwe (Sacred Tobacco), medicine of the mind. I greet you, the Three Sisters—Onenste (corn), Osaheta (beans) and Onononsera (squash). You are the staple of my people. I know that, when we plant you together, you will protect one another from harm. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the rooted nations. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I turn my mind to you, Ohnekonos—the waters. You come to us in different forms: rivers, lakes, oceans, springs. The Thunderers bring you in clouds that bring rain to quench Creation’s thirst. You play a vital role in the cycle of life. You are the most powerful medicine there is. You have the ability to give and to sustain life. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, Ohnekonos. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I look now to all the winged nations that are around us. In the beginning, the males among you were given feathers the colours of the rainbow. This is so you can ensure your survival of your nation. Each of you was given a beautiful and distinctive song to identify you. Each morning, you bring your beautiful and distinctive voices together to greet the day. Your beautiful chorus reminds of the importance of diversity and harmony. From among the birds the Creator chose you, Akweks, our brother the Eagle. You are the strongest, are able to fly the highest and have the keenest eyesight. This allows you to see the Creation. Upon your shoulders, the Creator placed the added burden of being his messenger. As such, you carry our thoughts to the Creator and warn the people of any danger that may be approaching. I’ve been taught that, should you appear and speak to me in a dream, that you are bringing a message directly from Creation and that I should pay particular attention to your words. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the winged nations. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. As I look around me this morning, I see, Karahkwa, our elder brother the sun, that you have chosen to grace us with your presence once more. You bring the warmth of a new day. You bring light so that I may see the beauty of Creation that surrounds me. You have great power but you use it in a gently way, working with the other life-giving forces of Creation to keep the cycle of life going. I know that your time with us will be short this day and that you will soon disappear where the earth and sky come together in the west. I know that, as the darkness of night falls around us that you, Ahsontenka Karahkwa (Grandmother Moon), will take Karahkwa’s place above us. You watch over us this night. You work with all female life in Creation. You work with the life-giving forces of the waters. You decide when new life will come to us. I take comfort in knowing that you, Ahsontenka Karahkwa and Karahkwa, continue to dance across the sky with each daily cycle. Your dance reminds me of a teaching: that of the importance in maintaining balance between the roles of the female and of the male in all Creation. I am reminded of the equal importance of both. I am reminded that without the one there is no other. As I look up to the night sky this evening, I may see you Tsiiotsistokwaronion (the Stars). I’ve been taught that you represent the spirits of our ancestors: those who have gone on before us. You represent our past—our history—and yet your teachings are here in the present. Your teachings are as old as Creation and yet they remain unchanged by the passage of time. I know that you can show me the way if I look to you for guidance. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the sky beings. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. Once again, I feel the presence of unseen forces that are around me. The winds remind me of the presence of air. Coming from the four directions, you bring the changing seasons. You help to keep the air I breathe clean and pure. The air represents the breath of all Creation. All life is tied by your unbreakable bond. Even though I cannot see you, I know that survival is impossible without you. I understand that I must respect your gift. I know that if I ever succeed in destroying you, I will have succeeded in destroying all life. I will have brought the cycle of life to a halt. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, the unseen forces. You continue to carry out your duties and fulfill your responsibilities. Because of this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to be here. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. And so, I once again acknowledge all the nations of Creation. Even if I have not called you by name, I acknowledge you. I know that you are struggling at this time because of the disrespect we, the two-legged, show you. We pollute your world and treat you as “resources” and products”. We kill off many of you so that we may sell few of you to market. To our Mother Earth, I know that you are sick and you are dying at this time because of the way we disrespect and abuse of your gifts. And yet, despite this, your love for your children is such that you continue to provide all I need to survive on a daily basis. And so it is, I turn my mind to you, nations of Creation. You continue to fulfill your responsibilities and carry out your duties as you were asked to in the beginning of time. Because you do this, the cycle of life continues and I am able to enjoy this day. For this I am grateful. I acknowledge you and I give thanks. So be it in my mind. I now turn my thoughts to the people, the two-legged. I acknowledge you. I give greetings and thanks that we have this opportunity to spend some time together. The issues we are struggling with are great and we carry a heavy load. There are others who are not with us in this Circle. I turn my thoughts to those who are stuck in bad places due to physical, mental or spiritual challenges. I hope they can be freed. I turn my mind to our families, our friends and our loved ones. I hope they are well. I ask that Creation watch over all of us and keep us well. We two-legged are frail. We are the only nations not able to survive naked in Creation. We are often afraid. We build many things to help us survive—but we end up using them to control Creation. The Ohentonkariwatehkwen helps to remind me of my duties and responsibilities—not only to myself but to my children and the future generations. Hopefully, one day, we will all begin to see the wonders of your Creation. Perhaps we will learn to live in harmony with it, rather than try to control it. Perhaps we will see that all things, and all people, have their rightful place in the Circle. I know the day will come when I will be called away from this place. I know this because others have gone on before me. Those have been sad times and I have grieved. I understand, however, that this is the greatest honour one can achieve. I have tried to not let my grief hold them back from the journey they have had to make. And for those who believe, we now we come to you, Sonkwaiatison, our Creator—now part of Creation. I see how many nations of Creation struggle to find or keep their place. Many struggle to continue fulfilling their responsibilities and carrying out their duties. It seems that we, the two-legged, have face the greatest struggle in finding our place in the Circle. We seem blind and deaf to the teachings placed all around us. I invite you to spend some time with us this day. You know our hearts and our minds. You know the burdens we carry in our lives. Using the Ohentonkariwatehkwen, I remember my place within the Circle of Life. These words remind me that, as I walk the path that is my life, I should walk softly, for I walk on the faces of the unborn: the future generations that have yet to rise from Mother Earth to take up the challenges of life that we will pass on to them. I know that the time for giving thanks is not the time to be asking for anything for myself. I do ask one thing, however. I ask that Creation give me the courage, the strength and the wisdom to use the power of a good mind and a good heart in all I do. That I may speak clearly and honestly so that all may understand the how I feel and why. That I may listen carefully to what others have to say. That I may avoid reacting in anger if negative things are said about me. That I may understand that even harsh words contain teachings. That I may understand that I must sometimes look and listen hard to find them. That I may be good medicine today. That I may be a better person today than I was yesterday. That I may live in peace and balance. With that, I am now ready to experience my day in a way that honours Creation. Nia:wen…
There’s a protest being organized by In Support of All Defenders of the Land for next Wednesday in Vancouver.
I was going to go until I saw that Bill C-10 is being lumped in. The issue of the tobacco trade and other “economic activities” has divided my community and nation since some of our people took to that in the late 70’s/early 80s.
I’m from Kanesatake and I can tell you that the occupation in the Pines started as a defense of our land, period. As time progressed and more people got involved, however, that agenda went off track and became muddy.
It soon became apparent to me that, for many, it was about cigarettes, high-stakes gambling, drugs, etc. The Pines has become Ashtray Alley. Most of the smoke shops fly the warrior and Hiawatha flag.
The Hiawatha flag has come to be a symbol for the Rotinonsionni Confederacy (the Longhouse) but most of the people who own those shops used to spit on me when I was kid because I was Longhouse, because I was one of “those feather dancers”.
Makes me sick to see that.
The former mayor of the village once warned that our people would destroy the land if we got it back. Turns out he was right.
There are those in my community (relatives) who have actively destroyed parts of our territory. A once productive farm is gone (the building destroyed) and the top soil scraped up and sold off. Sand pits have been excavated and trees cut down where that didn’t happen before.
There are two main schools of thought dividing us today: one that uses traditional concepts to justify “the new economy” and the one that I subscribe to: that you don’t rebuild a healthy nation by exploiting the addictions of not only our neighbours but our own people.
I see the dysfunction that has resulted from the destruction of our cultures in residential school. I also see how nobody wants to deal with that legacy.
I see the resulting cultural confusion reflected in the environmental destruction of Kanesatake.
I see it in news stories about hundreds of Eagles being killed to supply the Pow Wow industry.
I see it in those who seek to join Canada in exploiting our territories through resource revenue sharing.
There are many other examples but I’ll stop here before my blood boils any further.
As I said at the top, I was going to go to this event but won’t now because I don’t support the “new economy”.
I’ll stand with Creation instead.
Indigenous unity is an illusion today. We should just call it what it is and be done with it…
When I submitted this memo, it was quickly classified as an unsolicited brief…
I attended the very first National Aboriginal Solidarity rally, held in Ottawa, in the early 80’s. The issues are still the same…