It’s near the start of a new year, and I’ve been looking back to see what has changed in the relationship between the Indigenous community and the Anglican churches in the in the past year. I started my job as Indigenous Justice Coordinator for the Diocese on Ash Wednesday, 2018, which was the same day as the ‘Women’s Memorial March’ in the Downtown Eastside community to remember the missing and murdered Indigenous women. Many things have happened, and I am fortunate to have participated in the past year. I have written some blogs that informed our Diocesan community about how pains in life still exist for Indigenous people in our community. I have also watched successes in our community.
I have witnessed some wonderful shared gatherings of people from the Anglican Church community and our Indigenous community. We had the summer Gathering at the Synod office in July, and Talking Circles in October, and I have watching the relationship build between the churches and our people. It was wonderful to see the re-opening of St. Hilda's By the Sea, Sechelt and the inclusion of the local First Nations People. Many other churches are making efforts to be sensitive to our current issues that will impact the future of the next generations. Many congregations in our Diocese are making efforts to work with local Indigenous communities.
In contrast with this new spirit of learning and sharing, and like many of you, I have been watching the less-than-successful attempts of the government to work with Indigenous communities around the issue of the pipeline across Wet’suwet’en territory. We have all grown up with our modern way of understanding how government and electoral systems and business work. But if we are to resolve environmental issues, we may have to open our minds to the possibility that there could be other systems in place for governance in Aboriginal communities which traditionally worked for them. And these are coming into conflict with the governance systems that were imposed upon them.
I do not profess to be an expert on this issue, but I can say what comes from my heart and personal experiences. As a young fella growing up in old Aiyansh, I remember Elders coming to our house and discussing important historical information. One Elder in particular was always welcome into our house and I am assuming from the way he was treated that he was important to my grandfather and grandmother. He was not a well-dressed man, but he was an important man to my family. The importance in this story is that he was rich in traditions, and that information was important to our family and community. Later on in my life I met another Elder in our Eagle House and he was also a man of distinction and admiration in our House. He was what the current society would call a Hereditary Chief. Again he was not a man of monetary wealth, but was a very important man with his knowledge of our family history, and knowledge about the land – which families had the right to hunt and fish on which parts of the Nisga’a ancestral territory; how to use the land in a way that would continue to sustain us; where our sacred sites were located; and what historical events happened and where. All this information was very important to the survival of our way of life, our knowledge of our family origins, and our language.
Only now as an adult do I truly understand the meaning and the vital roles of Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs, and the impact of how we are damaged by the rules and legislation that were imposed on our people. The federal government was effective in destroying our system and imposing a foreign governance model that we could not understand. It had everything to do with how our reserves were fiscally managed, and nothing to do with respecting the hereditary chiefs who taught us how to live in harmony with the land.
We as churches need to support our Indigenous brothers and sisters by writing letters to both levels of government, and also to the Hereditary Chiefs and Matriarchs to support them in preserving their knowledge of the country of Canada.
One article on this issue that I suggest you read can be found here.
It comes to the following conclusion:
“Until this country is willing to listen to their own Supreme Court and recognize hereditary rights and title, these unresolved issues will continue to end in confrontation. The only way forward is for government and industry to follow the principles of UNDRIP [the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] and to work with both hereditary and elected leadership. But as long as they are willing to resort to force instead of diplomacy, we haven’t even begun to engage in meaningful reconciliation.”
(Bob Joseph, Jr. has a training site that has a lot of information about the Indian Act, and about training programs to help people learn about working with Indigenous People. Please check this site out because it has so much useful information and it lists books that you can buy as well.