Mu WÎyan Î’uch (Thunder woman speaks)
Long, long ago in our camps or lodges the people lived each day with a spiritual and community connection. The closeness of our people with the land and their environment meant our traditional people or medicine people knew when a visitor or special child was coming. Children were nurtured from birth to follow the ways that would help the people. A child that showed early hunting skills became the hunt headman, a child that tanned or smoked meat or fish was called upon in feasts, and yet other children learned the songs of ceremony or healing lifestyles.
The closeness of the community with their spiritual existence and the shared connectivity with each other meant that children were nurtured and raised to be thankful and appreciative of the special existence Creator provided. In this very sacred existence, natural leaders, medicine people, warriors and hunters were born and reborn. Each generation ensured the continuation of the ways of the original people back to our Creation stories.
Different nations chose their leadership. Some traditional people foretold of the coming of a leader or matriarchal societies recognized and affirmed leadership. Youth were then raised to fulfill their sacred obligations to the people. The role of the leader was to ensure the whole community continued a harmonious way of life respecting the Creator’s laws, the laws of kinship and all the laws that respected Creation.
Leaders were born or raised into their position for the good of the people. They were chosen in ancient ways and were servants to the people. If we contrast this traditional governance with today’s “leadership” we have to realize there is a huge disconnect.
Mainstream and the colonizing settlers have brought leadership rules that place the individual over the community. Mainstream has replaced our headman and ways of governing with processes that mimic oppressor societies. As colonization happened on Turtle Island, hereditary and carefully nurtured leaders were replaced with “elected” leaders chosen with mainstream ideas of democracy.
Think about this. On reserve we have a fixed membership. So we have certain people voting over and over. It is not the same as voting in municipalities, provinces or at the national level. In municipalities or provinces, membership can change. People can move in and out of cities or vote based on party platforms. In our communities, once you use “voting” then the largest family or the biggest number of votes will determine the chief and council. Every time.
These are the people that currently “argue” or “advocate” for the rights of indigenous people. Is it any wonder that there are blockades, sit-ins and protests happening across Turtle Island?
Weekly, mainstream media reports focus on alleged corruption in First Nation communities. What is more frightening is that our own people recognize that respect for leadership is an entrenched cultural value; however they fail to recognize that “leadership” in our communities is not happening the way it used to for our people.
Now different societies may say that they have always had some time of “voting” system for selection. If hierarchical notions existed pre-contact then some nations (tribes) might say voting is a continuation of their traditional practices.
Deskaheh, who was a Haudenosaunee hereditary leader, went to the League of Nations to speak about the concerns of his people. Meanwhile the Canadian government reacted by replacing the original Haudenosaunee governance structure with an “elected” model. This interference reflects a shift in “governance”.
Now, today’s First Nation or original nation “leaders” argue that they are still aware of their responsibilities to their electorate. This may be true for some leaders. But we must also be aware that there are daily reports of favoritism, nepotism, and corruption at the community level.
If “voting” on reserve is the means of selecting First Nation leadership and there is one clan or group of clans repeatedly selecting leadership, then where is the accountability that was built into original systems?
Application of our original indigenous laws meant that the people raised or acknowledged specific leadership traits through observation, ceremonies and with spiritual connection. How are our original ways of leadership selection being carried forward today?
There are complaints, court actions and media attention being directed at unfair or outdated election processes, allegations of vote buying, bribery and coercion, tainted or powerless appeals processes and overall discontent with elections across Turtle Island. This is the result of the application of mainstream laws and practices conflicting with original governance processes.
There is no complaint or grievance process either. If a concerned group of nation members take their action to court then mainstream laws of “fairness” are applied. Again, this is a disconnect between what is “fair” to our people and original ways of governing versus the oppressor’s system. Can oppressor courts “judge” what is fair for our communities?
If concerns are directed to the department of Indian (Indigenous) Affairs (INAC), there can be no action. At this point the federal department can choose “not” to interfere in “governing issues”. This is actionable because INAC has created the interference into our original governance systems through instruments such as the Indian Act. INAC refuses to correct the process that they have in fact, have legislated.
What is the solution for our original people?
Decolonization is more than calling for a “ban” to the Indian Act. Decolonization is more than a new piece of legislation. Decolonization will take several generations for reparation.
The first step to decolonization requires that we, the original people, know and assert our original ways of governing. A forward thinking “council” elected under the Indian Act process can begin this governance reclamation.
Some Chiefs now acknowledge that their power is from the Indian Act. They recognize that their role is administrative and may not be an original governance structure. They take active steps to engage their people with consultation, transparency and accountability. However, many more “leaders” cite the failure of the Indian Act while still failing to acknowledge their power base.
Power and governance are vested in the people. It is what makes the original peoples distinct and unique. Until our “leaders” acknowledge that they are servants to the people then we will continue to have hopelessness, suicide, social problems, poverty, membership, housing, health and education issues because honestly, we have Indian agents arguing at the fort tables.