In all the colonial talk, we keep hearing the same rhetoric for solutions to the “Indian problem”. Recently released Federal principles are so principled that they did not involve the indigenous voices – I should think this would be the first principle to follow.
The processes of the mainstream thinkers apply one size fits all solutions to our original people. This supposedly passes for equality. It is however, highly disrespectful of the sovereign and distinct ways of each of our nations.
Many First Nations welcomed the settlers because they understood that the land, rivers and animals were gifts for all people. We would naturally share with our new white brothers and sisters. This value was quickly mistaken for weakness or ignorance. Is it not a higher value to extend help then it is to hoard possessions like some miser intent on taking worldly items no further than a grave?
Time after time, the indigenous stand up to try to explain their positions. What do the white agencies hear? They hear our truths in terms of their understanding. That is they take our indigenous, spiritual ways of thinking and put them into white speak and whitesplain them back to us. This is settler dissonance.
For example, the missing and murdered inquiry for woman and girls (MMIWG) is crumbling. Why? Because the federal government conducted pre-inquiry meetings then passed off this baton without information or follow-up. They hired “aboriginal” commissioners or commissioners with aboriginal “experience”, who supposedly would understand the families and victims’ expectations without the pre-inquiry proceedings. Therefore, this is further miscommunication about what the expectations of the federal government are, versus the families of victims versus the commissioner’s mandates. In short, it is a collision of different worldviews.
Mainstream approaches MMIWG with a focus on the marginalization of women based on gender, with lip service to systemic racism and “giving a voice to families”. This is wrong. Indigenous women are the heart of our nations. They are the first educators, who embody the relationship of land and nurturing within our communities. These women become our matriarchs. They are to pass on our ways, traditions, ceremonies, and inherent knowledge to future generations. They perform a communal role that began in our Creation stories and will continue with ancestral specificity into the future. They are not individual women but are mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, and wives who are part of a family, clan and community.
This first principle is misunderstood. The role of First Nation women has communal impact. Each time the inquiry ventures out, they apply mainstream thinking to a uniquely indigenous “problem”. It is not working. Mainstream divides their thinking into compartments and sees only the branches on the tree. Indigenous thinking people see the tree as a whole, and that the tree is part of the forest, which is part of Creation and the cosmos.
Government drove First Nation people onto reserves. Governments issued passes so that the original people became prisoners of the reserve system and to the Indian agent who permitted passage outside the reserve. Government stripped the people on reserves of food rations, hunting areas and their way of life. They have tried to break the spirit and foundations of indigenous peoples. Have they succeeded in breaking the original people? Have the original people become assimilated “Aboriginal Canadians”? No.
The original people are going back to the paths of their ancestors. The paths of the newcomers are hard places where you cannot feel the earth. The paths of the newcomers do not lead anywhere but to a value system that does not work even for the newcomers, themselves.
The paths of the original people are diverse and beautiful. They teem with life, vibrancy and the peace of a thousand generations. These paths respect women, their roles and their power. While some paths may have grown over from disuse, they are not gone. They are the roads that our ancestors walked with dignity and spiritual strength. It is only the return to these paths that will help our communities.
This indigenous thinking has to lead any undertaking that purports to help the original people today. If the undertaking is genuinely trying to assist the original people then the solutions are in our own inherent knowledge systems. The original people are not reconciling themselves to a system that is broken and works for the individual while harming the whole. The non-indigenous should be reconciling their tainted values with these higher values held by the first peoples of this land.
The original people welcomed the settlers. They believed that the settlers walked a path similar to their own. This thought has continued throughout the history of settler-First Nation relations. Treaties like the two row wampum speak of a co-existence in separate but forward moving vessels. As the first peoples respected the presence of settlers, they believed that their own lifestyles would be acknowledged and allowed to continue.
With the many challenges facing the original people that include poverty, unemployment, incarceration, and high rates of suicide, come the solutions that are community driven approaches. The answers for many indigenous hardships are found in our original systems. These systems protect all life, including the land, waters, plants and animals. As we move forward as a race of human beings, is it not better to ensure that all life also goes forward? Is it not better for settlers to reconcile themselves with our centuries old systems unique to this island? This is what reconciliation really should be.