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The Nisga'a Experiment
By Richard Wright
Bonnie Stanley, a member of the Nisga’a First Nation in northern British Columbia, is a certified hairdresser. She also runs a catering business, a convenience store and a successful takeout food service from the front porch of that store. Stanley boasts that her halibut fish and chips are known literally around the world, thanks to the trickle of tourists who make their way to her shop. She calls her burgeoning food empire “U” Seefood, “U” Eat It.
Last year, Stanley decided to add to her empire by building a sit-down restaurant. By early November, the foundation was in, the roof was up, the walls were framed, but the cash had run out. Where to go for the $25,000 Stanley thinks she’ll need to finish the job?
Faced with a similar situation, many Canadian entrepreneurs would raise the cash by upping the mortgage on their homes. But while Stanley owns her house, she doesn’t own the land it stands on. Under the Indian Act, no Canadian First Nations person living on a reserve or designated territory does. No property, no mortgage. No mortgage, no restaurant. No restaurant, no additional income.
Help may be just around the corner. Late last year, the Nisga’a government passed the last piece of legislation to give property rights to individual Nisga’a citizens, completing a process begun more than a century ago. No other First Nation in Canada has ever enabled its people to own land privately.
The Nisga’a believe it’s a small step toward a future of greater prosperity and self-sufficiency for people like Bonnie Stanley. But critics argue that by privatizing land, the Nisga’a have started down the slippery slope to assimilation, setting a dangerous precedent for all First Nations.
That’s what Pamela Palmater fears. A Mi’kmaq lawyer from Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, Palmater has recently been heard speaking for the Idle No More movement. Palmater is a respected figure in the Canadian First Nations community. She spent 10 years working in the federal government’s Indian Affairs and Justice departments, and last year ran for the post of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, coming second to Shawn Atleo. In addition to her recent leadership role in Idle No More, Palmater has, throughout her several careers, been an outspoken defender of the collective ownership and stewardship of First Nations land. “Some people might call the Nisga’a plan pioneering, but this is not a solution to any of the issues First Nations are facing,” she charges. Palmater says private ownership of land could lead to the eventual disintegration of Aboriginal culture in Canada. “It’s the kind of deal First Nations don’t want or need.”
That private property ownership should be controversial may come as something of a surprise to readers. Most Canadians assume that ownership of land is a right enjoyed by any individual citizen who can scrape together a down payment and rustle up a mortgage. But not so for First Nations people living on reserves or designated territories. Before contact with Europeans, First Nations land was collectively, not individually, owned. In 1876, the Indian Act preserved the collective part but not the ownership one. Natives could collectively use and, to an extent, manage certain lands reserved for them, but legal ownership of those lands actually resided with the Crown.
This arrangement was originally struck with the best of intentions, says Joseph Quesnel, an Alberta-based policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy who specializes in First Nations issues (his background is Métis). In the beginning, he says, “Natives were losing tribal lands to squatters, and the wisdom of the government of the day was to prevent white scoundrels from taking Native lands by making a pre-emptive strike.” Thus Native-occupied territories were declared to be Crown lands “reserved” for the use of Native people under certain defined conditions. These conditions included strict rules to prevent Native lands from falling into non-Native hands.
It’s fair to say, nearly two centuries later, that this arrangement has in fact preserved vast tracts of Canada for Native use, Quesnel says. But there has also been a downside: “First Nations people can’t use their land in the way everyone else can in the mainstream economy.” Most importantly, reserve law affects their ability to mortgage their homes. The land beneath their houses belongs to the Crown, and the Indian Act prevents the alienation of the land to non-Natives. Without the land, banks and other lenders see no significant collateral to secure mortgage loans, so with very few exceptions, First Nations people can’t borrow to put a child through college, pay for a home improvement or, like Bonnie Stanley, finance a business. This has had a crippling effect on the ability of First Nations people to get ahead, according to Quesnel.
For Scotty Stanley, Bonnie Stanley’s nephew, the restrictions on ownership are just wrong. “Other people have private property rights,” he says. “Everybody right across the country. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have the same rights.” The 25-year-old Nisga’a man lives in Gingolx (population 341), one of four villages that comprise the Nisga’a Nation. “It’s the Indian Act. It’s kept us on a short leash,” he says. “Always somebody else managing our business.” Stanley sees no good reason why land ownership should be denied him or any other Nisga’a citizen.
The Nisga’a today number about 6,000 people. Of these, 4,000 live outside Nisga’a territory, most of them in Terrace, Prince Rupert or Prince George, B.C., or in Vancouver, 1,400 kilometres to the south. The rest live in traditional Nisga’a territory, just over 2,000 square kilometres along the lower end of the Nass River. The Nass flows 380 kilometres from the Coast Mountains southwest to Portland Inlet, which connects to the Pacific Ocean at the southernmost tip of the Alaska Panhandle. Four Nisga’a villages are strung along its banks: Gingolx, Laxgalts’ap, Gitwinksihlkw and Gitlaxt’aamiks, also the seat of the tribal government, or Nisga’a Lisims, which holds dominion over the whole territory.
The villages are connected by a curvaceous highway that follows the river through a spectacularly scenic valley flanked by permanently snow-capped mountains. To drive this highway, as I did last fall, makes it easy to see why owning the land it traverses would be a vital preoccupation of the Nisga’a people.
The valley represents potential wealth. The beauty of the landscape attracts tourists with money to spend. The wooded mountains surrounding the valley are a source of lumber. The forests also provide pine mushrooms, harvested and sold as matsutake to Japanese gastronomes who pay $250 a serving in restaurants in Japan. The streams cascading down the slopes are a potential source of marketable hydroelectric power. The river and the ocean afford salmon, halibut, crab, sea lion (a Nisga’a delicacy) and oolichan, tiny fish about the size of smelts, which have for centuries been rendered for their nutritious oil and traded to other First Nations up and down the coast.
Despite these rich resources, the Nisga’a Nation is far from wealthy. Tourism, fishing and mushroom picking are low-paid, seasonal occupations. The big resource-extraction industries require more capital and expertise than the Nisga’a possess, even collectively. When outside companies do the work under licence, the high-paying professional jobs tend to go to non-Native employees, while Nisga’a get the short-term labourers’ work. The unemployment rate in the valley runs around 60 percent, which explains why two-thirds of the Nisga’a population lives outside the territory.
Scotty Stanley considers himself lucky to be able to support himself without moving away. Leaving school after Grade 11, he went to work at rough jobs, including a stint in the oil patch. Now he’s grateful to be working from Gingolx as a busher, cutting a path through the Nass Valley’s forests for the new Northwest Transmission Line. He’s making a pretty good living for now, but knows the project can’t last forever.
Even with cash in his pocket, there’s not much for Scotty Stanley to spend it on in the valley. The only real amenities are the community centres; the Laxgalts’ap one is well equipped with basketball courts and fitness, yoga and aerobics rooms. There is, as yet, no sit-down restaurant to speak of. His aunt Bonnie’s would be the first. There’s no hardware store, no grocery store, no bookstore, theatre or bowling alley.
Nisga’a consumers from the Nass have become accustomed to driving almost 100 kilometres to Terrace (population 11,000) for most goods and services, says Esther Adams, owner of NassCo Business Services and Quick Copy Centre in Gitlaxt’aamiks. NassCo stays afloat by selling a range of business-to-business and business-to-consumer office services and supplies, but just barely. It’s hard to compete with Terrace retailers, with their smaller shipping costs and their economies of scale. “Small businesses do not thrive here,” Adams says.
Nisga’a Lisims President Mitch Stevens aims to change that, and thinks private property ownership could be an answer. Stevens presided over the passage of the last bit of legislation enabling land ownership for Nisga’a citizens. He echoes Scotty Stanley when he declares that the right to own property should be a no-brainer. And yet it has been a long, arduous struggle to get it. “It’s ironic,” Stevens says. “We’re the first Canadians, but we’ve had to negotiate our way back into full membership in the country, instead of being wards of the state.”
Stevens’s colleague, Bert Mercer, is the economic development officer for the Nisga’a Lisims government. His duty is to help other Nisga’a entrepreneurs realize business ideas, of which, he says, there are many. Mercer rhymes them off: a bed and breakfast in Gitwinksihlkw, a carver who needs a larger studio to enable him to teach, a dressmaker who could hire and train seamstresses, and of course, would-be restaurateur Bonnie Stanley.
The craggily handsome 53-year-old has a fat file of economic development ideas of his own: a consulting company in First Nations governance, a contracting business, and a real-estate investment plan renovating fixer-uppers in Terrace. His favourite is a fishing charter company. “My dream is to buy a boat big enough to go out on the saltchuk,” says Mercer (helpfully explaining to a landlocked easterner that “saltchuk” is a West Coast name for the Pacific Ocean). “There’s a big market for fishing tours, and if you had a boat big enough, there’s a huge market,” he enthuses. “Guys will pay $500 a day!”
But to get money, you often have to spend money. An ocean-going fishing boat would set Mercer back about $40,000. Even with a secure government job and a house almost fully paid for, Mercer couldn’t get a mortgage. He tried. His banker in Terrace turned him down.
Esther Adams had a similar experience in 1995 when she started NassCo from her home basement. “When I was hitting the pavement trying to get the business started, applying for business start-up funds at funding agencies and banks, I was quite surprised that I could not use the house as collateral,” she says.
Having the right to use land for credit is one motivation behind the Nisga’a Nation’s long march to private property ownership, says Mitch Stevens. The other is a burning desire for first-class citizenship and full participation in society at large. Instead of simply asking government for more money to improve their conditions, Stevens’s Nisga’a constituents demanded more freedom to do it themselves. “Mr. Citizen asked us to push for the opportunity to make choices for ourselves and, yes, the opportunity to make mistakes, just like everyone else,” Stevens says. “Our position is that Canada has to stop babysitting First Nations.”
This has been the Nisga’a position for a very long time. In 1890, just after the Indian Act was passed into law, the Nisga’a created a land committee to press for title to their traditional territory. It wasn’t until 1998 that they succeeded in hammering out a treaty with the province and the federal government. In the Final Agreement, as it was eerily called, the Nisga’a gave up all but eight percent of their original land claim. In exchange, they are no longer covered by the Indian Act and enjoy untrammelled dominion over the remaining 2,019 square kilometres of land.
Control over their land, coupled with freedom from the restrictive conditions of the Indian Act, would eventually result in the opportunity to own their residential properties in “fee simple,” the legal term for the kind of arrangement most Canadian property owners have. Nisga’a citizens who obtained fee simple title to their residential property would have full use of it. They would be able to mortgage their property as security for a loan, or to transfer, bequeath, lease or sell their property to anybody, Nisga’a or not.
For Pamela Palmater, this is anathema. Palmater feels passionately that the Nisga’a initiative is dangerously misguided. For her, collective land management is one of the essential characteristics of First Nations culture in North America. Collective ownership of land, even the diluted kind of “ownership” proffered by the Indian Act, is preferable to private ownership, she says, and the two are mutually exclusive. “Either the community is going to protect its collective land holding as a collective, or it will break everything up. There’s not a lot of in-between. Once you start parcelling out First Nations land, people will sell it for as much as they can, and everyone will go their own way. Then there goes the reserve; there goes the territory.”
Palmater points to the Dawes Act in the United States. Adopted by Congress in 1887, the act authorized the U.S. federal government to survey Indian tribal lands and divide them into allotments for private ownership by individual Indians. Notoriously, the act resulted in a checkerboarding of Aboriginal lands — the interspersing of Native and non-Native property owners — effectively diluting historical tribal power and control. First Nations governments collapsed. “It devastated tribal landholdings,” says Palmater. “American First Nations lost the majority of their land.”
Former Native territories were in such disarray by 1934 that then president Franklin Roosevelt killed the act and tried, unsuccessfully, to repair the damage. “Even when the government tried to reverse the Dawes Act to undo what they had done, once land goes to third parties, you’ll never ever get it back,” Palmater warns. “First Nations in the U.S. are the first to tell First Nations in Canada not to go down the privatization road.” The explicit objective of the Dawes Act was to assimilate Aboriginals into American society, and individual ownership of land was seen as an essential step in that direction. That’s where Palmater fears the Nisga’a are headed. And not just the Nisga’a.
In 2011, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for a study “to examine the concept of a First Nations Property Ownership Act.” The Nisga’a concept was the inspiration for the government initiative, though the goals of the two governments may not be the same. Says Palmater, “Harper’s goal is to integrate Indians into Canadian society. He doesn’t use the word ‘assimilate,’ but it’s the same thing. He wants this for the benefit of Canadians. The focus is not on First Nations wealth, prosperity, communal rights, recognition of treaty rights, any of that.”
Harper’s initiative was hotly debated on the national stage. Meanwhile, the Nisga’a moved quietly ahead with their own plans. Last October, the final enabling legislation was passed. The Nisga’a Land Title Office was open to applications from citizens wishing fee simple ownership of the land they live on, a historic moment in Canadian society, widely ignored.
The registrar of land titles for the Nisga’a government is Diane Cragg. Though not Nisga’a herself, she was adopted into the Nisga’a Nation and has lived and worked in the Nass Valley for more than 13 years. Cragg was instrumental in the push for fee simple property ownership and scoffs at the objections of critics like Palmater. “If people say the Nisga’a are giving away Nisga’a land, they’re talking through their hats,” she says. Cragg points out that land available for fee simple ownership comprises fewer than 750 residential lots of half an acre or less. That amounts to .05 percent of the whole Nisga’a territory. “We’re not creating a land rush. There’s no stampede of people waiting at the door to get their hands on Nisga’a land,” she says. “There is nothing assimilationist about this. It is very carefully structured to maintain jurisdiction over the land for the Nisga’a, and to ensure that the primary beneficiaries are Nisga’a citizens.”
Mitch Stevens agrees. “A lot of my colleagues [other chiefs] have said they disagree with what we’re doing, but we tell them that what we’ve done is for our citizens and nobody else,” he says.
Although a handful of Nisga’a citizens at first opposed the concept, support now seems widespread. Also ubiquitous, even as the first winter snow starts to filter down on the valley, is a kind of springtime of enthusiasm, energy and hope.
If the economy picks up, Scotty Stanley may not have to migrate to the oil patch to find work. Bert Mercer can practically smell the saltchuck and feel the roll of the ocean swells beneath his fishing boat. Esther Adams says fee simple ownership came too late for NassCo: she had to shut the company down over Christmas. But the entrepreneurial spirit still burns in her. She’s thinking about applying for ownership of her land and using the extra borrowing power to buy a house in Terrace to rent out.
And Bonnie Stanley can finish constructing her restaurant. In a town of 341, it could be difficult to sell enough spicy crab legs, deep-fried halibut collars and half-smoked salmon to pay the mortgage, but nothing ventured, as they say. And that’s what it really all comes down to, Stevens says: First Nations people making their own decisions, according to their lights.
Are Nisga’a leaders right? Does a little capitalism go a long way toward fixing seemingly intractable problems? Or is Palmater right to be fearful that assimilation lies ahead? When the federal government first proposed the First Nations Property Ownership Act that would give all First Nations what the Nisga’a have, there was immediate and vocal opposition to the concept from the Assembly of First Nations. The idea seemed to move to the back burner. When the prime minister met with First Nations leaders in January in response to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, the First Nations Property Ownership Act was not on the agenda. But, as Palmater observes, neither is it officially dead.
Masks, mysteries and mountain passes: through the lens of Gary Fiegehen
Published: March 20, 2013 1:00 PM
Updated: March 20, 2013 1:59 PM
By Alex Rose
Photographers sometimes say that if they could write they would not take pictures. The same goes for certain writers: if they could take pictures, they wouldn't write poems or stories.
Others, like Gary Fiegehen have little time for such philosophical meanderings. He is too busy telling powerful stories with his Nikon. And, for the past 25 years, the Vancouver-based photographer has travelled nearly every river and mountain pass in Western Canada, documenting the geography and the people who live there. Especially, but not exclusively, the aboriginal peoples.
Fiegehen’s documentary realism balances art and humanity and is rightly described as exotic, mysterious and irresistible.
His work appears to be under appreciated by the photo artiste crowd, with their art school jargon, post-Marxist commentary and roots in photo conceptualism. Works by the likes of Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas have made Vancouver a hot spot for contemporary visual arts with some of these light-box installations selling for millions in New York, Berlin and Los Angeles.
In contrast, Fiegehen’s work, self described as “commercial and blue-collar” has been hard-won, without the big money. As a young man he moved to the margins of society and stayed there. With an outsider’s sense of dislocation – of being at odds with society – Fiegehen is most comfortable when he’s in the role of observer. It is this rare inner "stillness" – sense of being on the outside looking in – that allows him to see the beauty where others might not.
It seems he is always getting ready to leave the city, to pack up his camera kit, for another journey "in country" for weeks at a time, taking photographs in every corner of this province: the mountain pass, the mint-green estuary, the braided valley, the lava fields with their spooky, unreal luminescence. At peace in this ragged landscape, he takes pictures of the people who call it home.
People like the Nisga’a of northwestern British Columbia. His thousands of photos of them, taken over the decades, represent a definitive documentary of a people who, refusing to assimilate, fought a controversial 23-year battle to successfully bring home a treaty – against the longest of odds.
He made friends with the likes of Rod Robinson and Nelson Leeson, both brilliant communicators who helped tell the Nisga’a story to a skeptical Canadian public. Fiegehen took portraits of both and documented the people and places of the Nass River in a dazzling hardcover book. Along the way, he learned a new perspective beyond a Nikon lens: He framed the Nisga’a quest as one of basic human rights. He grew to understand what was at stake was a real community with a real history of suffering, struggle and persistence.
Fiegehen’s photographs of Nisga’a art are featured in a permanent exhibit at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria as well as the new Nisga'a Museum and Cultural Centre in the Nass Valley, a 90-minute drive north of Terrace.
The images evoke a time long before Christianity, when, according to legend, the world was inhabited with spirits, some benevolent, some bent on unspeakable evil. Others were tricksters, sexual opportunists, gender benders and troublemakers supreme.
Little wonder that Northwest Coast aboriginal peoples danced through long winter nights wearing masks carved of red cedar and adorned with ivory, mountain goat bone, or animal teeth.
The dancers knelt or stood, their feet quite still, their upper bodies twisting, arms arcing in the air. They were celebrating salmon and oolichan runs while expressing hope for the future. As they danced, they morphed into the creatures depicted on their masks: ravens screeching, wolves baying at the moon and wind wailing.
Of all Nisga'a creations, masks offered the greatest sculptural variety and were worn at feasts, initiation ceremonies and at curing rituals.
Fiegehen’s photographs capture the spirit of dynamism that pervades so much of this art, from the shaman's smallest charm, spoon and miniature mask to the largest totem pole.
The unifying symbol of the box as container of souls and wealth provides a surface on which Nisga'a artists create complex and subtle designs. It is also a visual record, telling the stories of powerful families and clans.
According to legend, spirits were thought to have held sway over the world before the advent of human beings. The most powerful were the spirits of the sky, mountains and glaciers and of such animals as the bear. These spirits were later called upon to lend assistance to shamans who relied upon their alliances with the spirit world to foresee the future, heal the sick, exorcise evil spirits, bring success in fishing and hunting and control the weather.
A shaman might fast and spend long days in solitary vigil until a spirit finally revealed itself, sometimes when the shaman was in a trance. Because they were said to be in close contact with the supernatural world, shamans were sometimes feared by others; they often lived alone in the forest, away from the villages they served. The charms and medicinal tools used by shamans formed an important category of aboriginal art.
The Nisga’a had been essentially animist in their beliefs; every living thing and natural element had a soul and a purpose and deserved respect. Some of the images in their traditional art acknowledged the power of the natural world of which the Nisga'a were only a part and represented their understanding of the world.
Fiegehen’s photographs are a guide and a treasure. They help us understand another culture – and better understand ourselves.
Alex Rose has written several books on aboriginal issues. His upcoming book,The New Power Brokers: Negotiating the High-Stakes Future of Aboriginal Lands and Resources, will be published this fall.
For more of Gary Fiegehen's photos, see the Wallachin Press blog.
All about Treaties in Gatineau this Week
APTN National News
The architects responsible for crafting modern day treaties are gathering this week in Gatineau.
They’re coming together to not only celebrate their accomplishments of the past 40 years but also plan to chart a path forward for full treaty implementation.
APTN National News reporter Nancy Pince has the STORY.
All Canadians Benefit When Modern Treaties Are Fully Implemented
(February 28, 2013, Ottawa) Convening on the 40th anniversary of the historic Calder judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada, political leaders at the Land Claims Agreements Coalition national conference today called upon the Government of Canada to fully and fairly implement modern treaties. Mr. Justice Thomas Berger, the lawyer who argued the Calder case, encouraged the Coalition to hold the Government of Canada accountable for modern treaty implementation.
Cathy Towtongie, President of Nunavut Tunngavik, and Mitchell Stevens, President of the Nisga’a Nation and co-chairs of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, confirmed their willingness to work co-operatively with Bernard Valcourt, the recently appointed Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
“The lack of implementation represents a missed opportunity for all Canadians,” said President Stevens. “A recent study showed that the cost of non-implementation is hundreds of millions of dollars per year. This is not acceptable to the modern treaty holders and it should not be acceptable to Canadians.” He said that implementing treaties allows Aboriginal people to become more self-reliant and self-sufficient, a goal shared by all Canadians.
Speakers and panelists at the “Keeping the Promise: The Path Ahead to Full Modern Treaty Implementation” conference echoed these sentiments and reminded delegates that much has been accomplished in the past 40 years since the first modern treaty was signed in Quebec, but remains much work to be done.
Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said “the promise of the Treaty Relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal People has been badly eroded,” pointing to the lack of implementation of policies in key areas such as health, education, housing and food security.
Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees said “Modern treaties are an essential part of the foundation of this country. The legitimacy of Canada’s claim to these lands, and to the resources they hold is entirely dependent on these treaties. If the solemn promises contained in modern treaties are not implemented according to their full spirit and intent, there remains a fundamental defect in Canada’s very foundation.”
Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations pledged AFN’s support to the land claims coalition. The Land Claims Coalition, whose membership consists of all modern treaty organizations in Canada, announced its intent to develop a Report Card on Modern Treaty Implementation. All modern treaty holders agree that the Government of Canada is failing in its obligation to uphold the spirit and intent of modern treaties and to develop policies and work effectively with treaty holders to implement them.
“In relation to Aboriginal issues, the media focuses on community accountability said Ruth Massie, Grand Chief of the Council for Yukon First Nations. “We insist that the Government of Canada be accountable for its part of the treaty relationship. This is why we will develop the Implementation Report Card, in co-operation with third party organizations and academics.”
Formed in 2003, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition brings together all Canadian modern treaty organizations in Canada. The Coalition’s mandate is to press the Government of Canada to respect, honour and fully implement comprehensive land claims and associated self-government agreements in order to achieve their objectives. Taken collectively, modern treaties affect nearly half of Canada’s lands, waters and resources.
For more information, please contact:
Patti Black, Coordinator
Land Claims Agreements Coalition
Assembly of First Nations National Chief to Address Delegation at National Land Claims Agreements Coalition Conference
February 27, 2013
Ottawa, ON) – As part of a panel of Indigenous leaders, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo will discuss the importance and mutual benefits for all parties to Treaty and agreements to commit to implementation at the fourth annual National Land Claims Agreements Coalition Conference taking place this week at the Hilton Lac Leamy in Gatineau.
“Now is an exceptionally critical time for First Nations as we drive forward for fundamental change in the relationship between First Nations, the Crown and all Canadians. Our continued work is about nation building and relationship building in ways that respect our rights and responsibilities and implements the solutions we have for the challenges we face,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo. “We stand firmly with all First Nations in their pursuit of reconciliation, justice and meaningful implementation of Treaty and all agreements.”
National Chief Atleo will join Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Terry Audla and Grand Council of the Crees Grand Chief, and former AFN National Chief Matthew Coon Come Thursday February 28 at 9:00 a.m. to discuss trends shaping current government policy, the implications for modern treaty implementation and how governments can and must be held accountable while moving forward.
“I commend the leadership of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition for showcasing successful agreements and their future implications on all our Nations and the country as a whole,” said National Chief Atleo. “This is our work going forward – coming together recognizing our diversity and united by our common objectives for respect for our lands and the success and prosperity for our peoples and Nations. Together we will drive tangible and concrete outcomes based on our respectful roles and responsibilities and commitment for honourable implementation, respect and accountability from all governments.”
The National Land Claims Agreements Coalition Conference ‘Keeping the Promise: The Path Ahead to Full Modern Treaty Implementation’ celebrates the successes of modern treaties, discusses the context and foundation for political, legal, economic and social landscapes within Canada and internationally and aims to set the path ahead toward a future of increasing self-reliance and self-sufficiency. As part of the conference, the 40th anniversary of the land-breaking Supreme Court decision in the Calder case will be recognized. The AFN extends our recognition in celebration of the Nisga’a leadership in this case and in their tireless efforts to achieve justice and co-existence to the mutual benefit of the Nisga’a and all Canadians. For more information on the conference visit www.landclaimscoaltion.ca
The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow us on Twitter @AFN_Updates, @AFN_Comms
For more information please contact:
Jenna Young AFN Communications Officer
613-241-6789, ext 401; 613-314-8157 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Alain Garon AFN Bilingual Communications Officer
613-241-6789, ext 382; 613-292-0857 or email@example.com
At least 3,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools, research shows
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, Feb. 18 2013, 10:42 AM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 18 2013, 1:52 PM EST
At least 3,000 children, including four under the age of 10 found huddled together in frozen embrace, are now known to have died during attendance at Canada’s Indian residential schools, according to new unpublished research.
While deaths have long been documented as part of the disgraced residential school system, the findings are the result of the first systematic search of government, school and other records.
“These are actual confirmed numbers,” Alex Maass, research manager with the Missing Children Project, told The Canadian Press from Vancouver.
“All of them have primary documentation that indicates that there’s been a death, when it occurred, what the circumstances were.”
The number could rise further as more documents – especially from government archives – come to light.
The largest single killer, by far, was disease.
For decades starting in about 1910, tuberculosis was a consistent killer – in part because of widespread ignorance over how diseases were spread.
“The schools were a particular breeding ground for (TB),” Maass said. “Dormitories were incubation wards.”
The Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 also took a devastating toll on students – and in some cases staff. For example, in one grim three-month period, the disease killed 20 children at a residential school in Spanish, Ont., the records show.
While a statistical analysis has yet to be done, the records examined over the past few years also show children also died of malnutrition or accidents. Schools consistently burned down, killing students and staff. Drownings or exposure were another cause.
In all, about 150,000 first nations children went through the church-run residential school system, which ran from the 1870s until the 1990s. In many cases, native kids were forced to attend under a deliberate federal policy of “civilizing” Aboriginal Peoples.
Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide. Some died fleeing their schools.
One heart-breaking incident that drew rare media attention at the time involved the deaths of four boys – two aged 8 and two aged 9 – in early January 1937.
A Canadian Press report from Vanderhoof, B.C., describes how the four bodies were found frozen together in slush ice on Fraser Lake, barely a kilometre from home.
The “capless and lightly clad” boys had left an Indian school on the south end of the lake “apparently intent on trekking home to the Nautley Reserve,” the article states.
A coroner’s inquest later recommended “excessive corporal discipline” of students be “limited.”
The records reveal the number of deaths only fell off dramatically after the 1950s, although some fatalities occurred into the 1970s.
“The question I ask myself is: Would I send my child to a private school where there were even a couple of deaths the previous year without looking at it a little bit more closely?” Maass said.
“One wouldn’t expect any death rates in private residential schools.”
In fact, Maass said, student deaths were so much part of the system, architectural plans for many schools included cemeteries that were laid out in advance of the building.
Maass, who has a background in archeology, said researchers had identified 50 burial sites as part of the project.
About 500 of the victims remain nameless. Documentation of their deaths was contained in Department of Indian Affairs year-end reports based on information from school principals.
The annual death reports were consistently done until 1917, when they abruptly stopped.
“It was obviously a policy not to report them,” Maass said.
In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the churches that ran the 140 schools and the Canadian government. A $1.9-billion settlement of the lawsuit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The research – carried out under the auspices of the commission – has involved combing through more than one million government and other records, including nuns’ journal entries.
The longer-term goal is to make the information available at national research centre.
Domestic Violence - It's a Crime!
The Lisims RCMP Detachment, SGT. Donovan Tait and NLG take it very seriously. Below is an excerpt of the policy the RCMP must follow in every instance of a report of possible domestic violence.
"The RCMP has a very detailed policy guiding the actions and responses of RCMP members dealing with a reported incident of domestic violence.
When a complaint of violence in a relationship is received, our investigators must conduct a complete and thorough investigation even if the victim does not agree to cooperate. A Report to Crown Counsel recommending charges will be completed regardless of the level of cooperation from the victim if there is evidence of physical injury, admission by the accused, independent witnesses to the abuse or a written statement by the victim.
As per RCMP policy, Detachment Commanders are obliged to participate directly in any multi-agency coordinated community based efforts to reduce instances of violence in relationships and to improve public awareness.
These investigations are complex, often emotionally charged and very high risk. Domestic violence and violence against women is an area where we working closely with the Nisga'a leadership and the Health Authority to raise awareness and develop strategies. People are talking about it more and speaking out - cooperation, support and education are key component to prevent these situations from repeating themselves. We are fortunate in the Nass Valley to have enhanced services steeped in the Nisga'a culture for both offenders and victims caught in the circle of such violence. I feel this is a fair sentence for this offender and hope that he seeks out the help he needs while in custody."
National Aboriginal Leaders to Speak at “Keeping the Promise” Land Claims Conference
(February 11, 2013, Ottawa) Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Inuit Leader Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees Matthew Coon Come are three of a number of prominent Aboriginal leaders who will be speaking at the national land claims conference "Keeping the Promise: The Path Ahead to Full Modern Treaty Implementation", on February 26-March 1 in Gatineau, Quebec.
"We're very excited to have this high calibre of speakers and presenters at our conference," said James Eetoolook, acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik and co-chair of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition. "It demonstrates that treaty implementation is a critical issue, and one that Canadians are only beginning to understand."
Shawn Atleo has been the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations since 2009. He is the hereditary chief of Ahousaht First Nation, part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation in British Columbia. In his role as National Chief, Shawn Atleo supports and advocates for the advancement of First Nation priorities as directed by Chiefs-in-Assembly, including efforts to reform Canada’s Comprehensive Land Claims Policy. “The Assembly of First Nations continues to advance plans and approaches to achieve fundamental and transformative change driven by First Nations for First Nations. This includes work toward the fair and expeditious resolution of land claims by reforming the Comprehensive Land Claims Policy based on the recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal rights and title, rather than the current process of denial and extinguishment. In order for First Nations to be fully recognized and participate in driving our own economies, we must settle land claims. The land is the heart of our nationhood,” said AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo.
National Inuit leader Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is also no stranger to comprehensive land claims. Audla has worked with regional Inuit organizations since Nunavut became a territory and Canada`s largest land claim was signed in 1999. He has worked as an Implementation Coordinator and knows firsthand the challenges of working towards full implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees has been at the forefront of Aboriginal self-government negotiations and protecting Cree territory in northern Quebec for more than 40 years. He has been involved in politics since he was a teenager and was a community and regional chief as well as a previous National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Since the signing of the 1976 James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern treaty in Canada, Coon Come has garnered international awards for his work to protect, acknowledge and assert Cree rights. The Grand Council of the Crees is one of the founding members of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition.
Other speakers at the ``Keeping the Promise conference include:
• Justice Thomas Berger, perhaps best known as the Royal Commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in the 1970s
• Emil Notti, first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives
• Sven Roald Nysto, past president of the Norwegian Saami parliament
• Joe Linklater, Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation
• Kevin McKay, Chairperson of the Nisga’a Nation
• Cathy Towtongie, President of Nunavut Tunngavik
• Toby Anderson, Deputy Minister-Nunatsiavut Affairs, Nunatsiavut government
The conference will bring together First Nations and Inuit leaders, government representatives, academics, industry and others working over three days to lay the foundations of a modern treaty implementation policy for public release and presentation to the federal government. The conference will also establish and publish a federal Implementation Report Card for annual release to measure and report on the federal government’s implementation of treaty agreements. (www.landclaimscoalition.ca/conference)
Formed in 2003, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition has membership from all modern treaty organizations in Canada. Its mandate is to ensure that comprehensive land claims agreements and associated self-government agreements are respected, honoured and fully implemented in order to achieve their objectives. Taken collectively, modern treaties affect nearly half of Canada’s land, waters and resources.
Globe and Mail: Cyberbullying can be more harmful than the physical kind, research suggests
If there’s anyone left in the world who thinks online bullying isn’t as harmful as the physical kind that happens live and in person, a new Michigan State University study says that it’s not just as bad – it’s worse.
See the full online Globe and Mail story HERE
Land Claims Leaders Call on Ottawa to “Keep the Promises”
(February 4, 2013, Ottawa) The Land Claims Agreements Coalition, whose membership includes all modern treaty organizations in Canada, today commended the “Idle No More” movement for the attention it has brought to Aboriginal issues, and announced that the Coalition will step up calls for the federal government to fully implement modern treaty agreements.
“The Idle No More movement is shining a spotlight on the huge and persistent gaps between Aboriginal and other Canadians. We applaud and support the tremendous efforts and courage of everyone involved,” said James Eetoolook, acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik and co-chair of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition. “Our modern treaties give us the tools we need to close those gaps; it’s time for the government to honour them and to implement them.”
“This is a wake up call for Canada. It’s time to address Aboriginal treaty issues,” said Mitchell Stevens, president of the Nisga’a Nation and co-chair of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition. “We’re very hopeful that recent political efforts taken by Aboriginal peoples will force the government to take a long hard look at their approach to treaty implementation. The Crown must commit to keeping its treaty promises to all modern treaty holders in Canada.”
The Land Claims Agreements Coalition will host “Keeping the Promise: The Path Ahead to Full Modern Treaty Implementation”, its 4th national conference on February 26-March 1 (www.landclaimscoalition.ca/conference) . The conference will bring together First Nations and Inuit leaders, government representatives, academics, industry and others working over three days to lay the foundations of a modern treaty implementation policy for public release and presentation to the federal government. The conference will also establish and publish a federal Implementation Report Card for annual release to measure and report on the federal government’s implementation of treaty agreements.
“Canadians are more aware than ever before of the problems we face in our communities - but there are workable solutions. We’re looking for sincere commitment from the federal government for concrete action to move us toward those solutions,” said President Stevens.
Formed in 2003, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition has membership from all modern treaty organizations in Canada. Its mandate is to ensure that comprehensive land claims agreements and associated self-government agreements are respected, honoured and fully implemented in order to achieve their objectives. Taken collectively, modern treaties affect nearly half of Canada’s land, waters and resources.