Who speaks for the Indigenous First Nation peoples on reserve?

As the Covid19 lockdown took effect in March and April, activists were reporting pipeline construction activity continuing in BC. The BC government did nothing to stop this, despite objections and open letters from groups like the Union of BC Indian Chiefs who called upon the provincial government to honour Wet’suwet’en Title and Rights. Instead, the BC government classified pipeline construction an “essential service.”

In the opening months of 2020, the nation was gripped by ongoing, prolonged protests, blockades and civil actions by activists and First Nations across the country in support of Wet’suwet’en sovereignty for its Hereditary Chiefs. The conflict around this particular pipeline was 10 years in the making, but with millions locked inside their homes for fear of a worsening pandemic, by the end of May the Alberta government gleefully touted that this was “a great time” for building pipelines.

Who does this “great time” benefit? Is it a “great time” for CEO’s, shareholders and foreign lending institutions that profit from resource extraction off of stolen Indian lands? Is this a “great time” for industries that have systemically monopolized resource extraction, raped and pillaged sacred lands, and made a mockery of consultative practices with First Nations traditional resource owners?

Canada, under Trudeau, desperately wants to avoid this question.

They allowed the industry unprecedented freedom to continue operations even though there were ongoing risks. Then they defended the pipeline industry by providing a bailout to all oil and gas that was widely panned by conservatives and industry insiders. And for what? They’ve only shown who they really are: shills for corporate interests.

Now as we reach the end of the first wave of this pandemic, and brace for the second, they’ve stoked the fire for ‘profit at all costs’ and thrown Indigenous interests under the bus yet again.

Carolyn Bennett has been heading the Indian Affairs “Indigenous Relations” office for five years. Let that sink in a moment. What has she accomplished? How have the lives of Indigenous people been improved? How has your land suffered?

The Trudeau-Bennett traveling shit show is failing the people, the land and more importantly the climate. Climate change is real and is happening at an alarming pace. We do not need bogus carbon tax summits or carbon credits to know that industries are killing off natural cycles, whole species and finally, all life.

Indigenous people have been stewarding this land for thousands of years. Pockets of Indigenous people are trying to fight the rape and plunder of land, water and natural resources by the very interests that the Trudeau government is propping up with bailouts and bridges. And the Indigenous people who remember their stewarding roles and ancestral obligations are becoming fewer and fewer.

For the Wet’suwet’en, the hereditary chiefs voiced their opposition to pipeline development in 2010. After nationwide support opened the door to negotiation for a better alternative for Mother Earth and their sacred lands, but as the story unfolded, the hereditary chiefs sadly succumbed to working with the federal government by signing an MOU that essentially gave the power to the federal government to continue working on their pipeline. Nothing was accomplished.

The federal government recognized that they have to speak to the First Nations Hereditary Chiefs, not just elected chiefs that follow an Indian Affairs process. This means that there the systems of governance in place prior to settlement continued to exist despite colonization, confederation and the Canadian legal system. Unfortunately, even if the Indigenous First Nations have their original systems in place they are forced to deal with colonial thinking governments, whose main role is to impose the myths of jurisdiction and authority.

This continues to be the problem facing the Indigenous First Nations in Canada. They have signed agreements to share the land and resources yet they are the most impoverished people on their own lands.

During the Covid19 pandemic, Indigenous First Nations cordoned off reserve boundaries in an act of sovereignty. This assertion of jurisdiction was met with anger and push back from provincial and federal colonial powers.

In northern Manitoba, protests erupted to stop possibly infected hydro workers from travelling by a number of reserves. In this instance, Indigenous peoples’ safety is paramount. However, because colonization process a caveat is that it is difficult to assert whether this is an act of sovereignty or an act to modify existing access agreements.

This is the difficulty that bands are facing internally. Who speaks for the Indigenous First Nation peoples on reserve? Again, this is not a simple analysis. There are reserves that are situated with difficult or seasonal access routes. There are reserves that are beside municipal or rural counties that are unable to completely regulate their own boundaries.

In addition to land, the mindset of Nation members is a factor. Some reserves have more than half their population leaving because of inadequate housing, limited jobs or no new opportunities. Thus, Nation members may not have ties or reasons to defend the last spaces held in trust for future generations.

Case law made in the whiteman’s court room mislabeled as “aboriginal law” made the decision for off reserve band members to have full voting rights. What is the right path?

If Indigenous First Nations have band members who hold ancestral values and teachings, they are receptive to eternal land protection. But if Indigenous First Nations have alienated band members by nepotism or favoritism in housing and jobs, then band members owe their nation, nothing. Or if Indigenous First Nations are individualistic thinkers believing Trudeau’s myth of indigenous Canadian-hood, they will sell the land.

There are many complexities challenging Indigenous First Nation land, governance and resource issues. This complex analysis must include residential and intergenerational traumas, the resultant dysfunction, addictions, and poverty. Poorly devised Indian Affairs programs brought initial harms but now they are saviors with repackaged programs or policies?

What then is the solution?

The truths of the First Nation Indigenous people are written in the sacred places, in the early morning birdsongs, in the seasons, ceremonies and songs of the land. They have not diminished. These truths are salvation for all people and all Creation. It is time for Indigenous First Nations to remember their teachings and purpose and to begin affirming this position across this land. We do not need Indian Affairs or the Federal government or Canadians to tell us what the future will hold, we need to start shaping the future for all things, including those that would destroy themselves.

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