The following is an address by Dr. Ronald E. Ignace, PhD, to last year’s New Bright Day 2 workshop held in Lytton. Printed with permission. Thanks Marj for bringing this to our attention.
Why are we here today? What has brought us to this point? What has brought to our state of misery and the necessity for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission? What is it that we Indigenous nations want? These are questions I have asked myself and have been asked by many. I was awakened very early one morning by an onslaught of ideas that came to mind to those questions i.e., questions of Man's inhumanity to Man and a longing to end this insanity. That 's what we must stand for and desire.
The Honorable Mr. Frank Iacobucci stands for that from what I gather from his statement to the First Public Policy Forum of the G.F. Osbaldeston Lecture (Nov., 15/06) The Honorable Iacobucci quotes Mahar Arar who wrote, “…accountability is not about seeking revenge,” he wrote in the Ottawa Citizen recently. “It is about making our institutions better and a model for the rest of the world. Accountability goes to the heart of our democracy. It is a fundamental pillar that distinguishes our society from police states.” Then he went on to state “We ought to remember that every breach of the Values and Ethics code, every departure from ethical practice requires a proportional response. That’s how a value-driven system works, that’s what makes it so powerful and, as you will have gathered by now, that’s why I believe that articulating and clarifying core values and ethics and holding people accountable for adhering to them is not just a fundamental, but perhaps the most fundamental responsibility of public service leaders today and in the future. ”
That's what our Indigenous leaders of the Interior of B.C. in 1910 stood and called for when they made their presentation to Sir Wilfred Laurier in Kamloops and for which we still fight for to this day.
Now the question is how did this "inhumanity to man" become institutionalized in Canada? Where did it come from:-The Residential Schools, destruction of our languages, theft of our Homelands? In short, it was invented in Europe and transported and imposed on our Native soil as evidenced in the words of John Ralston Saul in Reflections of a Siamese Twin:
“They [Canada's mother countries] invented and sent us organized philosophies, which summarized their own internal battles and prejudices. These quickly took on lives of their own here and became the clear expression of the forces eager to destroy…" -
And destroy it did, for it wreaked havoc on us. As evidence to this, by a BC chief, in the early 1900s, who is quoted as saying:
[We feel] "Like men trampled on, and commencing to believe that the aim of the white man is to exterminate us as soon as they can" (Fisher 1977: 184)
A king of finance, Cecil Rhodes who in 1895 wrote and best represents the organized philosophies invented and sent to us stated:
"I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listed to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for bread, bread, bread… I pondered over the scene and I became more than convinced of the importance of imperialism…My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e. in order to save the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population…The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become an imperialist statesman. As a result of the export of Europe's surplus population to North America, in the words of a renowned historian, [Europeans] were spared from disease and death…Every year it redeems thousands of men who for want of sufficient work in the mother country…from sinking deeper into poverty and death by famine - i.e. Ireland and the Potato Famine etc., - the result of the invented philosophy was the rise of an ideology that became embedded in the political economy of this country, and was championed by succeeding governments of Canada and especially in British Columbia. This ideology concluded that "as an inferior race…we believe, [the Indian] must give way in order to make room for a race more enlightened, and by nature and habits better fitted to perform the task of converting what is a wilderness into productive fields and happy homes (BC Colonist 1861).
To put it into the words of a Canadian scholar and poet laureate, Stephen Leacock, who wrote:
"The continent remained, as it had been for uncounted centuries, empty. We think of prehistoric North America as inhabited by the Indians, and have based on this a sort of recognition of ownership on their part. But this attitude is hardly warranted. The Indians were too few to count. Their use of the continent was scarcely more than that by crows and wolves, their development of it nothing."
This invention of, on the one hand, of racial superiority, and on the other hand, the dehumanization of us took on a life of its own and became a clear expression of the forces eager to dispossess us of our land and eagerly willing to destroy us. Racism thus became embedded as an ideology in the political economy of this country as a means of maintaining the privileged position of the settler population over us as native nations. In essence an idea became a material force for our destruction.
Witness the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Judgment of Canada in the year 2000. - Canadian quality of life is the #1 in the world, while aboriginal peoples’ quality of life, in the same country, and at the same table, is #47, rife with ill health, poor education, poverty, short life expectancy, misery and degradation. As we can see, poverty is a destructive force and is a condition that has been imposed on us as though it were a pox-infected blanket.
This is not new. Our chiefs in 1910 stated that as a result of BC government's policy towards us is driving us to begging and wage slavery in our homeland. In the words of my chief in 1910, Chief Joe Tomma, who stated that, "the white man has spoiled us and locked us in on reserves. The white men have taken all the land and claim everything in it." The chiefs of 1910 further pointed out that "these guests" of ours in our homeland turned on us, and “imposed your laws on us without regard to any of our laws; tore down our posts - the boundaries of our homeland, long recognized and respected by neighboring nations, and imposed your boundaries on us; refusing to treat our peoples' leaders as men” - what great humiliation to be experienced by men who were once great leaders and statesmen with 'supreme authority'. Yet the power and the wealth of this country comes from stolen lands defended by racial superiority. Our chiefs were led to believe these guests were only going to borrow our land and give it back in an improved state. In spite of all this our chiefs, in the Laurier Memorial, urged not to do anything against the Whiteman for our Chiefs believed ‘that something at this time retards them from doing the right thing, they will in the end do the square thing by us’. It is our Sewepemc law that when someone enters our house as guests we must treat them with respect and be hospitable. Our chiefs struggled to maintain their sense of humanity in spite of the decimation of our population between 1811 and 1910 by 75%, the loss of 99% of our homeland; one of our late elders, Dr. Mary Thomas, used to always reminds us by saying, whatever happens, "don't forget, we are human beings. " Think about it, we still have to defend our sense of humanity.
In spite of the inhumanity that our people faced, our leaders, our statesmen, put out a hand of friendship. They said these people who intruded into our house are now our guests so we must be like brothers to them. In this spirit, they offered up half of our homeland to you-Canada.
They went on to say that what is ours will be yours and what is yours will be ours, and we will help each other to be great and good, - which non-aboriginal nation has made such a generous offer?
I ask you, do you have the courage to dream such dreams and then see them into fruition -to end man's inhumanity to man and to measure up to the true beauty of section 35 of your ultimate law, the Constitution, to Delgamuukw, to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, to Canadian common law, to the international human rights instruments on indigenous rights, and the general rule of law?
We invite you today to stand with us to cast the first stone against the system of Imperialist Colonialism which perpetuates man's inhumanity to man. Break this Colonial chain and recognize our Rights as called for in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in spirit and intent. Remember, a slave owner is as equally enslaved to the system of slavery as is the slave; likewise, you and I are equally enslaved by organized philosophies which perpetuate man's inhumanity to man born out of the system of imperial colonialism.
We invite you, ordinary Canadians, to join with us to have the courage to end the government's policy to us, which has been dehumanizing and shameful in every way. We invite you to join with us to have the courage of the people who rose up from the ashes of Nazism to tear down the Berlin Wall, like Mandela and Botha who put an end to Apartheid which Cecil Rhodes had a hand in building.
Let us stand up and take the first step into the new millennium on the path of brotherhood - we invite you who are self-imposed guests in our house. We invite you to be brothers with us to walk shoulder to shoulder with us, to build an even greater nation for our, yours and my, children, and their children's children. Let us have the courage and the vision to begin laying down the foundation of such a legacy.
Let us be brave and save the honor of The Crown, the Queen’s law and spare it from further shame and let us hold the banner of humanity and brotherhood high as we march into the next millennium. Let us have the courage to see this Truth and Reconciliation Commission be the first moment of the "crossing over moon": like the Winter Solstice signaling the ending of long dark nights of colonialism and the beginning of long days of sunlight of a fair and cooperative and just society.
For was it not your government in their apology to us who stated that never more will they subject aboriginal peoples to such inhumanity as was brought upon us from the time of the Beothuks to the present!
A great statesman who our chiefs called a "real white" -Laurier, said in a speech, “When we find a governments ill-treating a poor people, simply because they are poor and ignorant, we ourselves feel that injury and injustice…it is the duty of all citizens to resist this violation and to fight freely with all the means that the constitution places in our hands.”
Sir Wilfred Laurier went on to say,
"Loyalty must be reciprocal. It is not enough for the subject to be loyal to the Crown. The Crown must, also, be loyal to the subjects.”
We pray to the Creator for a loaf and not a stone. But remember, as long as we-Indigenous Nations feel injustice in our hearts there will always be disaffection and rebellion.
Remembering the words of Laurier:
“Rebellion is always an evil, it is always an offence against the positive law of a nation; it is not always a moral crime.
What is hateful is not rebellion but the despotism, which induces rebellion. What is hateful is not rebels but the men who, having the enjoyment of power, do not discharge the duties of power. They are the men who, having the power to redress wrongs, refuse to listen to the petitions [to Laurier 1910 and Hon. Frank Oliver 1911] that are sent to them; they are men who, when they are asked for a loaf, give a stone."
We wish no more, forever, to be rebels; we wish no more, forever, to be thrown stones. To this end and as is always been the case, "we always trusted the Government, as representing the Queen, to do the right thing by us…. We wish to press on you the desirability (for the good of all concerned) of having -our Title and Rights and our languages recognized and respected -for the sake of humanity at as early a date as possible. We wish that you would listen to our earnest appeal to end man's inhumanity to man and do the right thing by us so that we may rebuild Canada as a great and good Country.
I pray that we can rise up to the challenge and to the name, that I have given to this Time and to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Pellteteq'em -Winter Solstice, a time when our people celebrated the end of long cold nights and the beginning of long warmer days of sunlight.
Let us cross over from long dark and cold nights of colonialism to long warm days of justice; to a day when we can hear the praises of Native children in their Indigenous languages of their countries leaders; leaders who had the courage to change and its (Canadian) people who lived up to their duty to see that we, Indians, got a square deal. Finally, we were once proud and powerful Indigenous Nations but now we are poor and downtrodden and all we have to put beneath your feet-Canada is our dreams and it is our dreams you are treading on so we ask that you tread softly.
It is Time to change our way of Thinking and Behaving
To you my Indigenous brothers and sisters, I say by way of an abridged story-
Long time ago there was a man by the name of Tlli7sa who lived in Kamloops with his Grandmother and his 4 brothers and a nephew. His Grandmother told how we were suffering great sorrow because of the Cannibals who ate our people and that she had the Knowledge on how to defeat them and said to Tlli7sa that you have the strength to carry it out. With the knowledge of his grandmother and his strength he went about and defeated all the cannibals and transformed them into useful helpers of the people after which the Secwepemc prospered and grew numerous.
mistrust, divisiveness(political), sexual abuse, etc plague us. On the one hand , We need to rid our communities of these modern cannibals through forgiveness of all past deeds and move onto healing ourselves, our communities and our Nations . On the other hand, society at large has a duty to see that their government does the right thing by us.
In the words of Nancy Williams from Lake Babine who stated and I paraphrase her:
‘Money and apology won’t stop abuse.
The cycle of abuse-(these modern cannibals) won’t stop unless we take the bull by the horns and say no more-(abuse!)
That is something that you and I can do! That is something that is within our power to do.’
I agree with Nancy and we cannot continue blaming the residential schools. We all have a duty to say enough already. It is time for us to move onto Reconciliation and Healing and rebuilding of our lives, our families, our communities and our Nations so that we may build a life that is great and good.
Dr. RONALD E. IGNACE PhD
Dr. Ronald E. Ignace is a member of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation. He was the elected Chief of the Skeetchestn Band from 1982 to 2003 and between 2007 and 2009, also serving as Chairman of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and president of the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society for several years. After heading up the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs� Committee on Aboriginal Languages from 1997 to 2003, he became the Chair of the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures from 2003 to 2005, overseeing the production of Towards a New Beginning: A Foundational Report for A Strategy to Revitalize First Nation, Inuit and M�tis Languages and Cultures. From 1989 to 2002 he was the co-chair of the Aboriginal university partnership between the Secwepemc and Simon Fraser University in Kamloops, B. C., where he continues to teach courses in Secwepemc Language and First Nations Studies. He holds B.A. and M.A. Degrees in Sociology from the University of British Columbia, and completed his PhD in Anthropology at Simon Fraser University in 2008 with a dissertation titled Our Oral Histories are Our Iron Posts: Secwepemc Stories and Historical Consciousness. He was appointed Adjunct Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 2009 at Simon Fraser University.
He is presently a political coordinator for the Sexq�ltkemc (Shuswap Lakes Secwepemc communities) in their quest to seek resolution of Secwepemc land title.