Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Champ Is Here

I wasn't always known as Dubya. Once upon a time I was known as "The Champ." Even though I was a mediocre soccer player, my Dad was always a fixture on the sidelines cheering as me and my teammates buzzed around the ball like a swarm of bees. Over the years I have also been known as Cliffy, Jiggs, Jiggsbert, Junior, J.R. and Reddog, but there is a new Champ in town. I became an uncle for the first time, last Thursday, August 25th just before 10 pm when my sister gave birth to Kashus Cedar. Two days after he was born I overheard my Dad say he was going to see the Champ. I smiled as I had realized that I was no longer the Champ and that it was indeed time to pass the torch. I have happily relinquished one title in favour of another: Nuhyiiksuu (Uncle).

I have been thinking about the importance and role of family in the resurgence of our Indigenous communities for some time but I think I needed the recent addition of Kashus to our family to provide more clarity. All of a sudden I have another very compelling reason to take care of myself; physically, mentally, culturally and spiritually. Kashus will grow up in the world we leave behind, and more specifically with the opportunities and challenges we leave for him as a family and community. I am not a parent yet myself but being a new uncle brings me another step closer to appreciating the extent of my responsibilities as an Indigenous man.

I held Kashus in my arms when he was about 11 hours old. He's so tiny and having never held such a young baby before I handled him with a mixture of fear, gentleness and wonder. The day after he was born I went to the hospital to visit along with my paternal grandmother. When my sister, brother-in-law and baby returned home on Monday, great-grandpa Allan came to visit. Seeing both great-grandparents hold my new nephew was truly a moving experience. I began to appreciate the importance of a strong connection between the generations and I realized that the revolution we seek will take much longer than anticipated. I was not discouraged by this realization, instead I was encouraged by the fact that we will go on, each of us playing our small part in the revitalization of our selves, families, houses and nations.

I still have a lot more thinking to do and family to raise but I know that in fulfilling my responsibility as a leader in my community, my work starts at home, building a healthy home and remaining connected to the generations past, present and future.

Viva la revolucion! Viva Kashus!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Authoritarian Democracy and Elected Dictators, Oh My!

American televangelist, Pat Robertson (whose right-wing Christian followers overwhelmingly supported George Bush in the last two elections) recently advocated for the assassination of Venezeulan President, Hugo Chavez. While the Bush administration has distanced themselves from his comments, they certainly have not condemed them. None of this is suprising. The US Central Intelligence Agency has declared Venezuela a "top potentially unstable country" and its leader an "elected dictator." It is obvious that they are struggling with how to deal with Chavez, whom journalist Greg Palast referred to as, "round and brown" like the legions poor African and Indigenous people who elected him.

Chavez is a former paratrooper who led a failed-coup in the early 90's. He spent two years in jail before being pardoned. Incidentally, Fidel Castro was also jailed following a failed first attempt to overthrow American-backed dictator Batista in Cuba in the 1950's. Upon release Chavez turned political and was democratically elected only to survive a US-backed coup in 2002 and a recall referendum in 2004 (which his government made a constitutional amendment to allow). The CIA and US State Deparment have further labeled Chavez a "negative force in the region" and a "threat to democracy." It is clear that Chavez, also a friend of long-time thorn in the side Fidel Castro, is an enemy of the United States.

Chavez made headlines last October when he stated, "We Venezuelans, we Latin Americans, have no reason to honor Columbus. Christopher Columbus was the spearhead of the biggest invasion and genocide ever seen in the history of humanity." Chavez encouraged his citizens not to celebrate Columbus Day, but instead remember October 12th as a "Day of Indian Resistance." To be fair, Chavez has also had his problems in dealing with Indigenous issues, particularly as it relates to resource and mining operations. He has endured numerous Indigenous-led protests demanding that he respect their rights. While he should be applauded for his words of support of Indigenous issues I agree that he should be held accountable for his actions.

I encourage you to make up your own mind. Balanced coverage can be hard to come by, but if you dig deep enough, you will find enough news and opinions to begin shaping your own views. Chavez has been an outspoken critic of US imperial policy and for this he has attracted a lot of negative attention. Both he and Castro have offered poor Americans cheap gas, free education and free health care. He has introduced social reforms, land reform and suggested a rethinking of their energy policy. The latter may ultimately lead to his downfall. Venezuela is the 5th largest oil producing country in the world and supplier of 8% of the United States' annual consumption.

Keep your eyes and your mind open. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions. An excellent place to start is with Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America, a chronicle of imperialism from 1492 to just prior to Pinochet's reign of terror in Chile. Further, think how southern issues relate to Indigenous people here in North America. I believe the eagle and condor share a common fate.

W (the nice one)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Warriors No More?

What follows is the final communique of the West Coast Warrior Society and some of my thoughts and reflections below:


The West Coast Warrior Society has disbanded.

As a result of the unlawful and unethical activities of Canadian police agencies in targeting our members and our organization, and the unfair branding of Indigenous activists as terrorists, we have concluded that it is no longer possible for us to be effective in carrying out our responsibility to defend Indigenous lands, communities, and rights as we have been doing. The police have used lies, misinformation, threats and intimidation by law and force to create a climate of fear surrounding our organization and have undermined our support.

It must be understood that we are first and foremost men who are committed to our families and communities. This commitment is stronger than our adherence to an ideology or allegiance to an organization. We have talked with and listened to our elders, our women, and our children, and it is out of love and respect for them and concern for their well-being and security that we have decided to end our association and operations.

We have never advocated the use of violence to advance our cause. We reiterate that our actions in Burnt Church, Cheam, Esowista and Saanich, and in all of our other involvements, were acts of self-defense. They were legitimate and justified responses to the direct threat posed to Indigenous peoples by racist policies and overzealous law enforcement agencies. We restate our disavowal of the use of violent means to achieve the goal of Indigenous self-determination. However, the police killings of Dudley George, J.J. Harper, Neil Stonechild, Anthany Dawson and thousands more of our people confirm the need for us to maintain the right to defend ourselves and protect our families from physical harm.

We restate our dedication to fight for the survival of our people and to protect our way of life. Our communities, cultures, and lands must be defended. We are disbanding as an organization dedicated to the physical defense of Indigenous communities and we are embarking on the path of strictly nonviolent political and social struggle. We are rededicating ourselves today as warriors and we are committing to advance Indigenous people’s cultural and political and social resurgence.

Coast Salish Territory
August 2, 2005

"We have always been wit woq (warriors) and always will be. They can never take that away from us. We were always wiiuk (brave, courageous) and we need to be that again." - Quote from a respected Nuu-chah-nulth elder

I was involved with the West Coast Warrior Society for a little more than a year, and while I saw a limited amount of "action" I have always appreciated the original intent - to defend the people and the land. The role of various warrior societies was never more prevalent than when the Canadian government deployed its military or paramilitary forces in places like Kanehsatake, Esgenoopetitj, Gustafson Lake or Cheam. While embracing non-violent resistance, I will always advocate for the right for Indigenous people to defend themselves.

In a post-9/11 world the military power of the state and the freedom to abuse its power can be overwhelming. After a few weeks of armed struggle the world witnessed the Zapatistas begin a campaign of non-violent resistance. This year also marked the laying down of arms by the Irish Republican Army. We are in a new era of resistance to imperialism/neo-liberalism/globalization and Indigenous resurgence. In resisting and resurging it is imperative that we not become like our oppressors. We must also realize the futility of attempting to meet the imperial powers on their own terms and on their terrain. If we are to not only survive, but thrive as Indigenous people, our resistance must come from the embracing of our ways, our livlihoods, language and culture.

I believe we will be warriors always, however we will begin to choose the time and place of communal resurgence and no longer react to government and corporate infringement. As Indigenous warriors it is not only our duty to preserve life, but to preserve our way and quality of life. Like the tide, we will rise, unstoppable, strong and fluid - by the best means possible - realizing and being who we are.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Why Wal-Mart Is Bad For You

I can remember joking that one of the best places to run into other Nuu-chah-nulth people was at the Wal-Mart in Nanaimo. Quu’as came from far and wide to take advantage of the “everyday low prices.” Earlier this year, with much fan-fare, Port Alberni was graced with its very own Wal-Mart. I must admit to having shopped at the store in Nanaimo numerous times and in Port Alberni exactly three times. While I had a basic idea of the size and conduct of the company before this year, perhaps it was the first invasion by the big-box retailer into Nuu-chah-nulth territory that prompted me to do some investigating and ultimately swear to never shop there again.

The first time I aimlessly wandered around the Port Alberni Wal-Mart I was struck by how bright and clean the place was. It almost had an antiseptic–institutional feel about it. The shampoo bottles and deodorant sticks looked like little soldiers, all lined up neatly in unbroken rows as if I was the first hapless consumer ever to venture down that particular aisle. The store seemed to have everything a small-town family could want from DVDs to clothes to hardware to pet food, even groceries. Indeed, the suburban retailing behemoth had come to Hupacasath and Tseshaht territory with its seemingly bullet-proof formula for success.

According to the Fast Company, “The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know” article, published December 2003, “Wal-Mart is not just the world’s largest retailer. It’s the world’s largest company – bigger than ExxonMobile, General Motors and General Electric. The scale can be hard to absorb. Wal-Mart sold $244.5 billion worth of goods last year.” In 2004 Wal-Mart profited over $10 billion and Sam Walton’s family heirs have a net worth of over $90 billon notes Fortune and Forbes magazines respectively. According to the 2005 Annual Report issued by Wal-Mart Watch, President and CEO, H. Lee Scott reported $17,543,739 in income last year – 871 times more than the average US Wal-Mart employee. Good for them you say? A closer look reveals many disturbing facts.

“We want clean air, clean water, good living conditions, the best healthcare in the world – yet we aren’t willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions,” Steve Dobbins states in the same Fast Company article. Because of Wal-Mart’s commitment (and our addiction) to lower prices year after year, suppliers are under increasing pressure to reduce their costs, which often translates into abominable working conditions and below-poverty wages for Indigenous people all over the world. In countries like Nicaragua, Honduras China and Taiwan, workers earn as little as 3 cents an hour, working 14-hour shifts, 7 days a week, 30 days a month. According to a National Labour Committee report, 46% of workers in China earned nothing at all and were actually in debt to the company.

A large percentage of people in Central and South American countries are Indigenous or Mestizo (mixed ancestry) and an even larger percentage of those countries’ poor people are of Indigenous ancestry. The question you have to ask yourself: Do I want to support a company that exploits people just like me? Wal-Mart fails on numerous indicators of corporate citizenship (see www.walmartwatch.com), but I want to keep the focus on its negative impact on Indigenous communities, here at home and around the world.

Wal-Mart wields an enormous, almost unprecedented amount of purchasing power when dealing with suppliers. It has driven many North American suppliers to close local factories and move operations to third world countries where, labour costs are lower and health and environmental regulations are negligible. By shopping at Wal-Mart (and numerous other retailers, such as dollar stores) Indigenous consumers here in North America are directly supporting the relentless exploitation of our brothers and sisters in other countries.

On top of poor labour practices in other countries, Wal-Mart and other mega-corporations like McDonald’s have the unique distinction of virtually no unionization in North America. Both companies have elaborate systems in place to respond to any employee rabble-rousing at a moment’s notice. Workers at a Wal-Mart in Quebec attempted to organize and the store was promptly shut down, citing a lack of profitability. Wal-Mart is also known for using its power to obtain tax breaks and subsidies which, according to Good Jobs First, totalled more than $1 billion in the US alone.

The Wal-Mart Watch Report states, “Market analysts estimate that for every Wal-Mart opened, at least two local supermarkets will close.” The effect of a Wal-Mart on small, locally-owned businesses can be devastating. In Port Alberni, we have already seen one of the first casualties: Foto Source closed shop shortly after Wal-Mart opened, unable to compete with the giants’ super fast, super cheap photo developing services. I suspect that Foto Source was the first of many local businesses to be driven out of by our new blue smock-wearing neighbours.

I believe that our decisions as consumers and choices as Nuu-chah-nulth citizens can make a difference. Unless we make a conscious effort to support locally owned, ideally Indigenous businesses, we become nothing more than willing participants in the devastation of Indigenous economies and communities here and abroad. I encourage you to find out more about globalization, fair trade and truly sustainable Indigenous economies. More than that, I encourage you to put down that Starbucks mocha frappuccino (don’t get me started on them) and go fishing. We do not have to submit and become mindless drones in the dominant consumer culture. We can take back what is ours and show others a good way to live with the earth; a true part of the Ha’hoolthee of our Ha’wiih.

The Big Lie

In 2001 Supreme Court Justice Binnie in Mitchell v. M.N.R. stated, “Grand Chief Michael Mitchell also known as Kanentakeron…is also part of modern Canada who watches television from time to time and went to high school in Cornwall. As much as anyone else in this country, he is a part of our collective sovereignty.” Mitchell lost his case which argued that he had an Aboriginal right to trade across the border duty-free. There are other notable “losses” such NTC Smokehouse, Van der Peet, Cheslatta Carrier Nation and others, but I contend that all the Aboriginal rights cases that have been brought before Canadian courts have been losses for Indigenous rights.

For a long time Indigenous people were prohibited from bringing rights cases before the courts. In 1973 Calder marked the entrance of Indigenous peoples into the previously exclusive litigation club as Karilyn Toovey points out in her MA thesis in Indigenous Governance: “Decolonizing or Recolonizing: Indigenous Peoples and the Law in Canada.” Toovey presents a thoroughly researched and well documented case against legal cases as a means to achieve any form of restitution let alone reconciliation for Indigenous people in Canada.

This week, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against several Mi’kmaq loggers in two separate cases in a decision praised by non-Indigenous logging companies, government officials and our Métis friend at the Canadian Tax Payers Federation. Aboriginal leaders across the country have been quick to dismiss the ruling as having little to no impact on their legal aspirations. I have not heard the latest from Guujaaw, president of the Council of the Haida Nation on this issue but I do remember him saying once upon a time, “when one tribe wins a case, it only applies to that one tribe, but when one tribe loses a case it applies to everybody.”

I believe there can be no justice for Indigenous people in the colonial courts. I do not believe this because of the recent “losses” or any other loss. I believe that the whole process of appealing to the Canadian Courts is replete with inherent flaws, the first of which is the fact that they have no legitimate jurisdiction over our sovereign Indigenous rights. Prolonged attempts to gather just the right evidence, with just the right group of highly-paid lawyers in front of the right sympathetic judge create a false sense of hope and merely add legitimacy to an otherwise corrupt system.

Perhaps we can best understand and illustrate the profound absurdity of these flaws by actually examining the political “gains” and “winning” cases. In her paper, Toovey states,
“In 1982, section 35 was added to the newly patriated Constitution of Canada. For many this signalled the beginning of a new relationship (sound familiar?) between the government and Indigenous people. Section 35 essentially ushered in a new rights focused discourse in Canada, and paved the way for a new era of lawyers bent on emancipating Indigenous peoples.”

Many Aboriginal leaders fought for the inclusion of section 35 however the landscape changed such that Indigenous people had “to take any and all claims to court, further legitimizing the institutions of the Canadian state, and removing Indigenous issues from the political sphere,” states Toovey. Not to mention the millions upon millions of dollars paid to mostly non-Indigenous lawyers, while our people remain in abysmal living conditions.

Now let us address the “wins.” R. v. Sparrow is hailed by leaders and lawyers far and wide as a victory. It basically confirmed that Indigenous people had the right to fish for food. We needed a bunch of stuffy neo-colonials in wigs and robes to tell us that? The ruling stated that the government could infringe upon that right, as long as it did so justifiably.

Patricia Monture-Angus points out another problem, “In Sparrow, the delineation of rights is consistently narrowed in such a fashion that valuable Aboriginal time and energy must be repeatedly expended to secure narrow victory upon victory with the great consequence of failure looming around every judicial corner.” Essentially it set out the requirement that Indigenous people would be required to legally fight, right-by-right, case-by-case.

While not a victory, R. v. Van der Peet added to the increasingly narrow legal landscape. Toovey points out that, “The court in Van der Peet determined that it is not only appropriate, but also necessary for the judiciary to determine what is authentically Indigenous and that this can be done through a series of tests…” The increasing number of firms practicing Aboriginal Law exclusively is evidence of the growing complexity and number of hoops that Indigenous people continue to subject themselves to.

R. v. Gladstone, another victory, confirmed the Heiltsuk right to sell herring spawn, or in the view of the court, granted the commercial sale of herring spawn in so far as earning a “moderate livelihood.” It is worth mentioning R. v. Marshall here, which stated that while they may also earn a “moderate livelihood” the Mi’kmaq were prevented from an “open-ended accumulation of wealth.” The courts confirmed the government’s right to regulate and curtail the rights of the Heiltsuk and the Mi’kmaq. In fact, the public outcry was so strong after the first Marshall ruling, not to mention the $30 million DFO and the RCMP spent battling the community of Esgenoopetitj, the Supreme Court issued Marshall 2 further enhancing the government’s regulatory powers.

Are you feeling righteously indignant yet? Are you itching to go fishing? It gets better. The big daddy of them all has to be Delgamuukw v. British Columbia. At the trial level, the Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en spent almost two years, 374 days and millions of dollars in court. The sheer size and scope of the case had pundits and legal scholars holding their collective breath in anticipation of the appeal ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada. Crown sovereignty was asserted stronger than ever referring to Aboriginal Title as merely a “burden on the Crown.”

Justice Lamer stated, “In my opinion, the development of agriculture, forestry, mining and hydroelectric power, the general economic development of the interior of British Columbia, protection of the environment or endangered species, the building of infrastructure and the settlement of foreign populations to support those aims, are the kinds of objectives that are consistent with this purpose and, in principle, can justify the infringement of aboriginal title.” Excuse me? What’s the point? How then after something so fully demeaning and exemplary of the colonial’s attitude were we ever duped into thinking this was a good thing? The depth of our masochistic desires seems, as yet, to know no bounds.

Still, lawyers like Louise Mandell, QC, speak of “planning for the big win,” that ever elusive pie in the sky that is just around the next corner. Well, I haven’t even really talked about the “losses.” The Canadian Courts have failed to act with any modicum of decency that would suggest they are prepared or even able to deal with Indigenous people justly. Every year that passes grants the governments and their courts greater legitimacy. Every case we bring before them puffs up their neo-colonial chests and still our rights are denied, our people suffer, our territories are depleted and the lawyers cry all the way to the bank. When will we get off our knees, brush off the dust and take back our sacred rights and responsibilities?

[Special thanks to IGOV graduate, Karilyn Toovey for an MA thesis, “Decolonizing or Recolonizing: Indigenous Peoples and the Law in Canada” that was enlightening and inspirational. You can download it in .pdf format here.]

The Wretched of the Earth

I have just finished reading The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. I agree that it is an important and influential book. It has inspired many African and Indigenous thinkers and revolutionaries, most notably perhaps Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. It was first published in 1961 when Fanon was 36. Incidentally, that was the same year Fanon, who was a psychiatrist, died of cancer.

Fanon largely draws upon the Algerian war for independence (with France) for this book and while there are some slow parts (chapters on National Consciousness and National Culture) he offers a brilliant description and analysis of the colonial relationship that will have you thinking he is talking about your own band council and Indian leadership. It is here that I wish to refer to some of my favourite quotes. I will follow each quote with some brief commentary.

"For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity."

You always hear Indigenous people speak of the land and its importance. I believe this is an issue that we should not lose focus on and we ought to go back to how our elders spoke of our relations to the lands and waters of our peoples. From the beginning of colonial-Indigenous relations there has been a fundamental chasm on our respective relations and connections with the land. You will often hear old school Indians say that we do not own the land, that we belong to it, that we are a part of it. I fear that our current leadership has gradually, out of practicality many say, moved over toward a colonial relating to the land and her resources.

"Truth is that which hurries on the break-up of the colonialist regime; it is that which promotes the emergence of the nation; it is that which protects the natives, and ruins the foreigners."

Of all the things one can think of doing when feeling overwhelmed by the weight of colonization and our desire to decolonize, the truth is where we must start. Alone we may have great difficulty changing the world, but alone and slowly with others, we can tell the truth and live the truth more and more. It is a simple, if difficult thing that with its absence, all other efforts are in vain.

"And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization a simply a question of relative strength."

The gaps among our people is becoming more and more evident: on reserve and off reserve; bush Indians and urban Indians; middle income Indians and no income Indians. I agree in principle that those with nothing to lose and everything to gain make appropriate revolutionaries and we had hoped to see this in BC but it has not yet happened. When the BC Liberal Government made changes to the welfare program, many feared (some anxiously awaited) the rush "home," a flooding of people from the cities to the reserves in search of services and basic human needs (shelter, food). The anticipated effect has not really occured. I believe that we also need leadership with "something to lose" to actively decide to sacrifice and lead the fight (like Fidel the lawyer, Che the doctor and Marcos the professor).

"We have seen that inside the nationalist parties, the will to break colonialism is linked with another quite different will: that of coming to a friendly agreement with it."

This phenomenon is rampant, not that hard to understand and seemingly difficult to challenge. In our case the "nationalist parties" can be likened to the AFN, Summit, UBCIC or your Tribal Council or Band Council. Despite the good hearts and intentions of many of the people involved (I used to be one), you cannot ignore the most influential factor: government funding. Until we break this cycle of dependence (without selling our souls to the corporate interests), we will always have relatively weak political institutions.

"They are so used to the settler's scorn and his declared intention to maintain his oppression at whatever cost that the slightest suggestion of any generous gesture or of any good will is hailed with astonishment and delight, and the native bursts into a hymn of praise."

This issues creates the most ire and cynicism among young people when watching their elder leaders kiss the white man's ass and sing their sacred songs for him time after time. I once referred to this practice as "pimping our culture" and it has to stop. We must keep our songs and dances sacred by sharing them only with those whom we have respectful and honourable relationships proven over time. This does not preclude sharing in the future with our white neighbours, only for the time being while they continue to rape, steal and pillage.

"The native must realize that colonialism never gives anything away for nothing...moreover, the native ought to realize that it is not colonialism that grants such consessions, but he himself that extorts them....if need be the native can accept a compromise with colonialism, but never a surrender of principle."

If ever there were a tao of W, this would come close. My obersevation of the way the world works always tells me that the only way we will get what we want; assume our sacred responsibilities; and truly come to the table as men and woman, strong and principled is if we take it. I know there is a lot of room for debate on this issue, particularly as it relates to violence and lesser forms of conflict, but I believe the fundamental formula is true: If we want it, we must be prepared to take back what is ours and defend it.

Canada Day Reflections

Recently, many of our neighbours (Indigenous and settler alike) celebrated the 138th birthday of Canada. I didn't notice too much, not out of righteous indignation, rather I was much more interested in the long-awaited arrival of a good friend from many miles on the road. Needless to say, as a self-styled pundit, I should say a few words to mark the occasion.

Recent (meaning the last 40 years or so) Aboriginal political thought has long embraced the idea of being both Indian and Canadian. Much of the struggle for rights focused on issues of parity and equality: the right to vote, the right to drink, the right to wander freely, the right to an education, very much similar to the civil rights struggle in the US. Current political initiatives also find their roots in Canadian political and legal soil. Aboriginal politicians speak of constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights and title and achieving our place within Canada.

Before I go any further I must confess to not always aspiring to be Indigenous, and must admit to cheering for Team Canada at various Olympics and World Hockey Championships in the past. I read My Heart Soars and hoped to one day master the seemingly easy task of walking with a foot in both worlds. Well, the older I get the less I seem to be able to tolerate this schizophrenic vision of hybrid-aboriginal-ness. As each day passes, the urgency to uncover, rediscover, revitalize and breathe life into my own Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian ways increases.

Two months before my father endured a heart attack last December, he began to teach me and a few brothers and sisters how to Tsiik-tsiik'a (to speak Nuu-chah-nulth). Like other educational endeavours, the more we learn the more we realize how little we know and hence, the sense of urgency increases. It's hard enough to be who you are. Why for the life of me do we try to be more than that or less than that? My uncle Sennen told me at one of our language sessions, that we don't have to be equal or better to the white man. We merely need to be who we are: Quu'as, real human beings.

I liked the way a friend of mine, Lahalawuts'aat explained it, "Having the state claim you as a citizen is not your choice. Whether you willfully participate in its political processes is." I may not be able to do anything about the state of Canada asserting is sovereignty over our lands at this time, but I can decide what kind of man I want to be. I'm only 32 but already the years are starting to crunch together and accelerate. Time is finite, at least my time here is. I have decided to devote more and more of it to being a better Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian man. That leaves me little room for being a good or willing Canadian.

There is no question where my loyalties lie. The more I realize what is truly important in my life the less time I have to 'celebrate' the birth of a country that has done nothing but attempt to destroy everything I love and cherish. The time of acting like a hapless, unwitting victim in love with his tormentor has come to an end.

Now, many of our more "progressive and positive" brothers and sisters will accuse me of being bitter or angry or negative. There are times when I do choose to be bitter or angry or negative about the ongoing destruction of my peoples' way of life and lives but I also choose to breathe life and energy and vibrancy into my peoples' ways and principles and beliefs. These ways and principles and beliefs just might save the world yet and you can't get much more positive than that. ; )

Why I Don't Vote

I originally wrote this during the last federal election. I am republishing it now because I believe my arguements apply to all settler elections.

I will not be participating in today's election and I think it is important to explain why. To be clear I respect everyone's right to an opinion. My views are mine alone and I wish only to share them so that you understand where I am coming from.

As an Indigenous person descendent from Nuu-chah-nulth and Tsimshian peoples, I truly believe that our territories are wrongfully occupied. Although many of our people have come to accept themselves as British Columbians or Canadians, we are a displaced and marginalized people under colonial control. I expect the newcomers to forget their imperial legacy for it is not truthfully taught in the schools, but I would hope our own people would not forget. Because I believe that the lands and waters of our Ha'wiih have been wrongfully usurped I cannot in good conscience lend further legitimacy to the present neo-colonial governments by voting.

Life is full of contradictions and many of us have accepted, both wittingly and unwittingly, the entrapments of colonialism and assimilation. I drive a car, I have to eat, I even have a passport that swears I am Canadian, but in my heart I am Nuu-chah-nulth, son of Wickaninnish, nephew of Umeek and 1st cousin (brother) of A-in-chut, of the house of Tlakishpilth of Ahousaht. I also descend from the house of Nishaywas, of the Kitselas with relations amongst many of the Tsimshian nations. I believe these are real. I believe they are as real as we make them. In my mind I cannot be true to both (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) at the same time. I cannot actively legitimize the colonial government by such a fundamental, democratic act as voting in their elections, when our own governments are ignored.

The collective legacies of Canada and BC, vis-à-vis Indigenous people, exemplify nothing but dishonour and disrespect. Early on, the oppression was fairly direct. Over time their methods became more refined and “civilized” but no less deadly. Many of our parents' generation were openly ashamed of being Indian. I have heard the stories of my aunts and uncles, their experiences in school and such. Despite all that, we have not disappeared nor forgotten who we are. Some of our people still remember. While that flicker of knowledge exists, I will do all I can to stoke it, to encourage it and defend it from those who would rather we just disappear.

We have been forced and later accepted many aspects of the settler society, but it does not always have to be this way. The younger generation while somewhat removed from our teachings is also a generation removed from the residential school experience. Many of us do not want to assimilate, or fit in, or be equal. We merely want to be who we are. We recognize the damage it is causing to take on too much of the settler's ways. We do not need to catch up, or compete or be equal. We need only to stand up and take our place of leadership and show the rest of the world how to live right with the earth and the animals.

I do not vote because no non-Indigenous system or politician can do any of those things for me. I do not vote because that neo-colonial system still fights and resists our way of life. I do not vote because I would rather accept my responsibilities as a Nuu-chah-nulth/Tsimshian man than continue to perpetuate the myth that I am Canadian.

Provincially the Socreds denied our rights, the NDP denied our rights and the Liberals have denied our rights. It has made little difference which party was in power. All governments have been beholden to the corporations and the people who work for them. Their mandate has always been to generate wealth from our lands. In fact, I often think that the NDP have been the most dangerous of all, for they led many of our people to believe that they were our friends. Many of our people and leaders bought the line that the NDP cared about Indigenous people enough to deal with us honourably. Under the BC Treaty Process, the NDP were never prepared to acknowledge more than 4-8% of our lands as ours. When push came to shove, the right thing to do was displaced by the practical thing to do.

At least with a neo-conservative government, you have a little better idea of where they stand and what their priorities are. To the Liberals, Indigenous rights and issues are merely an annoyance, in the way, and in some cases, the "cost of doing business." I am by no means a supporter of the Liberals; I just feel they are more honest about their greed than the NDP.

Either way, I feel it makes little difference. If we truly appreciate where it is that we want to go as Indigenous people, we will realize that what matters more is the time, energy and brainpower we pour into revitalizing our own independent communities. What little if any difference that could be made "from inside the system" pales in comparison to the strides we could make if we focused all of our energies into rebuilding our communities free of government funding and dependence.

I appreciate the time to share some of my thoughts. I felt it was important for you to hear my rationale and not to mistake my refusal to participate as simply matters of negativism or apathy. Power to our people!