As Long As the Grass Grows And The Sun Shines

FTLComm - Tisdale
June 17, 1999

By: Timothy W. Shire

Making a deal with someone is an important thing. There needs to be agreement, that the parties making the agreement, will live up to the expectations of the terms and that the spirit and intent of the agreement is more important then the specifics.

When the Europeans made their way onto the North American continent they realised immediately that they had not discovered an empty land but a bountiful place filled with resources and more then capable of
sustaining life for the aboriginal inhabitants, but there was enough for them and as many Europeans or immigrants from where ever who wanted to come to this vast land. The various First Nations saw the coming of the immigrants as both an opportunity and a threat. Some people like the Cree were able to adapt quickly to the changes that were occurring and find a role for themselves alongside the newcomer. Others like the Iroquois, Dakota and Black Feet decided that violent resistance would be a better and a more appropriate response.

Faced with the dilemma of military conflict, or reaching some sort of compromise, the newcomers who were lead by merchants and business people, decided that the best thing was to make a deal. Since it was clear to them that the people they were dealing with were diverse and already had clearly definable territories, they decided to set up treaties. Agreements, that would provide the First Nations with compensation for the losses they might incur as the newcomers came in increasing numbers.

There were problems right from the start with the treaties because those who made them had drastically differing points of view as to what they meant by the
terms and in the United States there was almost immediate military conflict and it was decided that extermination was the cheapest and most expedient method to deal with the First Nations. It is amazing and difficult to accept the concept of genocide being one of the founding principles of the United States, but alas reality is sometimes a bit surprising.

In Canada, the British were in control and the Treaties were conducted and established with some pretty high minded ideals and many of those doing the negotiating were rather impractical upper-class folks who left a lot of things to be decided in the future. However, there was a deliberate decision not to exterminate what were now subjects of the Crown and this summer there is the commemoration of the imposition of direct law and authority on the West, with the establishment of Fort Walsh near the Cypress Hills in South Western Saskatchewan. There was considerably nobility of thought behind this venture and a remarkable level of distrust toward the Southern neighbours.

But here we are, at the end of the twentieth century and the situation with the First Nations is unchanged from the beginning of this century. Some minor things have happened, in 1959 people of the first nations could vote in elections, and at some time in the sixties they were allowed into bars. But for the most part, they were and are, treated as non-humans. Noble savages, but not exactly equal.

The problems however, are mounting, as mentioned earlier this week and there is an absolute and vital need to bring some planning and resolution to making things better, to benefit everyone. In discussing this with those who have struggled with the
problem all of their lives, most First Nations people are convince that the Indian Act must be abolished. But they are also just as determined to see that the Treaties, whatever they mean, be the cornerstone of the society that evolves. As I talked with a hard working aboriginal leader this week, he pointed out that with in a short while, here in many parts of the West, the people who are referred to as Indians, will soon be the majority and those in power will be reluctant to relinquish power to them.

As he talked of this coming event, I was shuddering to think how much it sounded like South Africa and how we know that ultimately the direction of things in that country, are sliding quickly into chaos. As promised earlier this week I have a suggestion or two that might avoid the need for a descent into a heart of darkness.

The first action that absolutely must take place is localisation. Deferring to Ottawa must end, even though the Treaties were signed nation to nation, it is for us provincially and municipally, to accept the responsibility of living up to the Treaties and resolve all outstanding issues here at home.

1. The provincial government must strike a task force to identify, establish a deadline and resolve all outstanding land claims. No matter what the cost, without land and resources, the first nations have no choice but to be militant. For the people of the provinces, nothing but positive results, can come from living up to treaty obligations

2. With a land settlement in place, the provinces and First Nations can form a cooperative alliance, to bring to the reserves and First Nations land, the same services and standards as are found throughout the province. This will establish a sense of equally between all peoples. Band education councils would become school boards and schools would become provincially funded and monitored.

3. The provisions of the treaties must be spelled out, not for the aboriginal people, but for everyone so that there is awareness as to what the original deals meant and how those things should be implemented in this time.

4. The concept of equally must become a reality. Everyone in a society must accept their responsibility to pay for the services in the society through fair and equitable taxation. All First Nations people must accept this responsibility and in turn, those with statu,s will see Ottawa and the province reimburse the bands for the moneys spent by their people in taxation. Everyone pays, those covered under the treaties are refunded as is their right and our collective obligations to the original treaties are adhered to.

5. The close association with the land and its sustaining nature shall become the responsibility of the First Nations, so that provincial and federal government will turn to the people of the First Nations for guidance and their corporations to manage and foster sustained development of all of this land. Silvo-culture and mineral extraction must be in the hands of the First Nations, both as a means of revenue, but also as a matter of trust.

Ultimately, the recognition must occur that we the people of Northern North America struck an agreement with each other to share this wonderful land. So far, the sharing has been unfair and we the generation of this time, must correct the situation and bring about harmony. Aboriginal people must accept responsibility with the newcomers to make this place what it can become. Social, economic and cultural change must also follow. The newcomers must learn to appreciate and accept the ancient culture of the First Nations and the people of the first nations must learn to forgive and move forward with a new beginning from where we are now.

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