first nations

Bringing People and Land Together, Picturing Transformation

Picturing Transformation, Nexw-áyantsut Cover

by Jarrah Hodge

“When the Witness project came, it made my heart wake up. To be able to take care of the spirit of the land, we have to take care of the spirit within so that we can venture and bring it out into the world. To care for the feelings, care for the spirit: spirit of the trees; spirit of the animal; spirit of the water; spirit of the unknown creatures in our forest.” – Eugene Harry/Haykwílem, quoted in Picturing Transformation.

Between 1997 and 2007 the Utsám Witness project engaged 10,000 people in witnessing and ultimately, peacefully protecting a 50,000-hectare area of the Squamish Nation from logging. It started from a fortuitous collaboration between Squamish hereditary Chief Bill Williams, telálsemkin siyám, award-winning photographer Nancy Bleck, and the late mountaineer John Clarke. Clarke and Bleck had realized that protecting the area would require leadership from First Nations, and Williams realized the benefit of reconnecting people to the land – even people outside the Squamish Nation – to build a sense of collective responsibility.

According to the Squamish Nation Assertion of Aboriginal Title, “Being called to ‘witness’ in the Coast Salish tradition is a sacred honour.” “Witnesses” are meant to listen and watch and take the message back to their home communities. They also bear responsibility to recount the events if, at any time in their lives, there is concern over what took place.

The new book Picturing Transformation, Nexw-áyantsut helps those of us who were not involved in the original project nonetheless share in it, and Bleck’s photographs of the land, the water, the logging, and the people, are the most significant part of that. I found I couldn’t help feeling drawn in , spoken to, and asked to share in the responsibility to repair our broken relationships with land and First Nations communities. Read more

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#IdleNoMore: Indigenous Women Spark a Movement

indigenousrightsrevolution by Jarrah Hodge

When four women from Saskatchewan – Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean – came together to oppose Bill C-45 in early October, I’m not sure they predicted how their group would spark a national movement spread through the Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore. Leading up to December 10, the women organized rallies and teach-ins about C-45, the Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill, which makes significant changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act without First Nations consultation.

“Bill C 45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water we all share from across this country,” says Sylvia McAdam, pointing out the reduction of environmental proections, and also that the bill decreases the consent required for the government to make changes to reserve lands.

In Alberta, Tanya Kappo organized an Idle No More event at the Louis Bull Cree Nation. Promoting the event through social media, Kappo drew 150 people to hear her and other organizers speak about the budget bill. Here is Kappo’s introduction from that night:

If you’ve been paying attention to Twitter recently, or if you read independent media like Rabble , you’ll know these gatherings were only the beginning. The hashtag went viral and started being used more broadly on Indigenous rights issues. On Tuesday, December 4 discussion of the hashtag came up at an Ottawa meeting of the Assembly of First Nations and soon National Chief Shawn Atleo called for a march to Parliament, which was voting on the bill. Read more

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Nobel Women’s Initiative on Women, Oil and Climate Change

Nobel Women's Initiative Melina

Image & quote from Breaking Ground talks

by Jarrah Hodge

A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing honour, along with other members of the City of Vancouver’s Women’s Advisory Committee, to get to meet with the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s Breaking Ground delegation. Breaking Ground was an eight-day mission led by Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, who won the Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines, designed to “hear firsthand the growing concerns of women living in communities impacted by oil sands development and along the proposed Gateway pipeline route.” The delegation also included climate scientist Marianne Douglas, singer Sarah Harmer, Chris Page of the Center for Environmental Health in San Francisco, and North Dakota Native leader Kandi Mossett.

On Day 1 they went up in a small plane to look at the tar sands from above:

As they traveled along the pipeline route they spoke with leaders of the Nadleh Wu’ten and Saik’uz Nations and a number of Indigenous women whose communities will be most directly impacted. As Kandi Mossett stated after the trip:

“We heard in Fort McKay, Alberta, that the community had to live for five months on bottled water because they couldn’t drink the water out of the taps. Children in that community are also experiencing breathing problems because of the pollution coming out of the stacks. What compounds this reality is that the harsh impacts—including contaminated water and air—will only become worse and spread as the oil sands development worsens climate change.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics, Racism 1 Comment

The Dreams of First Nations Children Matter Too

Our Dreams Matter Tooby Jarrah Hodge

On June 11, students from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and the Schools of Social Work at Ryerson University and York University will be holding a walk for First Nation children’s cultural equity, on behalf of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

As the walk’s media release points out:

Aboriginal children lag behind their non-Aboriginal peers in academic performance and health status, and they are overrepresented in the child welfare system – there are approximately eight times more Aboriginal children in government care than other children. Aboriginal child welfare programs are chronically underfunded, preventing First Nations children from having the same chance to succeed.  Some research indicates that Aboriginal child welfare receives 22% less funding than non-Aboriginal child welfare services.

Erinn Michèle Treff, the U of T organizer (and a former classmate of mine), said:

We are passionate about helping First Nations children because they are at a clear disadvantage. Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal children is shameful and well-documented. Society needs to tell the Government of Canada that enough is enough.

Participants will walk together to Queen’s Park where they will submit letters to the Prime Minister and/or MP in support of First Nations children. A mail box designed by children will be at the finish line for participants to post their letters.

If you’re in or around Toronto that week, consider taking part. Registration is free. Just email with your name and/or team members’ names, your organization (optional), and contact information. You can also check out the Facebook event page for more information. Their goal is to have over 500 people participate and to send over 1000 letters to the Prime Minister/Members of Parliament on this issue.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Racism 1 Comment

A Tribe Called Red: Powwow Step and Social Commentary for the Masses

by Adrienne K. It was originally posted at her blog, Native Appropriations.

Something super exciting happened at midnight last night. So exciting, in fact, that I just had to share it with all of you. I don’t know about you, but my weekdays pretty much start out this way: Get up, head to my office, sit down at my computer, open A Tribe Called Red’s soundcloud page, and then proceed with my day. Just me?

Well now you can have A Tribe Called Red on your very own computer–because last night at midnight they dropped their debut album, which is available for download here, FOR FREE. How awesome is that?

For those of you new to A Tribe Called Red, they describe themselves on their blog as creating “a never before heard sound made up of a wide variety of musical styles ranging from Hip-Hop, Dance Hall, Electronic, and their own mash-up of club and Pow Wow music, known as Pow Wow Step, that is quickly gaining respect from all kinds of communities from all around the world.”

I’ve loved them since I read an interview back in Jan 2011 where they rail against hipster headdresses and mainstream representations of Natives. Some of my favorite quotes are below (both from DJ Bear Witness, though the other guys have great insights as well. I definitely recommend a read of the whole interview): Read more

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Review: We Shall Remain

We Shall Remain PBSIf you’re looking to fill in some of your high school history curriculum’s blanks and learnabout Native American history, you could do worse than watching We Shall Remain, a 5-part series from PBS’ American Experience.

Though it originally aired in 2009, you can now watch full episodes online or download the episode transcripts on the PBS site, or download the series from iTunes.

Given the lack of accessible documentaries on Indigenous history, We Shall Remain is important. And on many levels it does a good job.

Each episode takes a crucial historical moment, starting with the first post-Mayflower conflict between the settlers and the Wampanoag, going through the struggles of Tecumseh and the Trail of Tears, and ending with the 1970s standoff at Wounded Knee. The history is given through narration (by Benjamin Bratt), reenactments, and interviews with academics specializing in Native American history and linguistics. More impressive were the many interviews with Native Americans themselves sharing oral histories, and in the case of Wounded Knee, first-hand experiences. Read more

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Stanley Park: What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

-Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

How little the Bard could’ve predicted the ado around the idea of changing the name of Stanley Park. Earlier this month, the Squamish First Nation and Tourism Vancouver proposed changing the name of Stanley Park to Xwayxway, the name of a Squamish village which was once located there.

After a few days of outcry from those opposed the Harper government stepped in and killed the idea, but it hasn’t stopped the debate.

I don’t really care much about place names. Stanley Park or Xwayxway? As long as I can still walk the seawall, it doesn’t make a lot of difference to me. My initial reaction was if the Squamish Nation thinks it’s important, I’d go for it. Symbolic change can be meaningful, so it might be worth doing as a sort of olive branch. Renaming could be a step in the right direction to combating internalized racism. But the danger would be if re-naming things became the be-all and end-all of Aboriginal policy.

That’s why I agree with Bill Tieleman’s take on the issue: “Let’s do something truly significant, as opposed to paying lip service by a name change that won’t change reality for First Nations students or people but will make lots of people angry.”

He’s right: if the only point is for the government to make a gesture that pretty much says: “I can’t possibly be racist: some of my best friends are Aboriginal,” it’s not going to do much to address the real material inequalities facing First Nations people.

That said, I did take a bit of issue with Tieleman’s assertion that the naming debate is all about “feeling guilty for bygone colonialism that none of us were remotely involved in.” I might not have personally dispossessed First Nations people from their land but I live comfortably in a social order that validates my history and culture, teaches my language as the standard, and where most of the schools, monuments, streets, and parks ARE named after Europeans. There is reason, if not to feel guilty (which tends to impede taking action), then to reflect and act on our privilege.

But obviously Tieleman isn’t suggesting we just sit back: his argument is that we need concrete action to resolve land claims and dealing with the drop-out rate among First Nations high schoolers.

In other words, a far more rational and less offensive position than the editorial in the Vancouver Sun from Wednesday, which basically argued that we’re all immigrants with equal right to enjoy Stanley Park, and so politicians should stop pandering to First Nations and trying to “obliterate the heritage of others”.

That’s pretty rich given all the times Europeans actually did try to obliterate Aboriginal heritage, through residential schools and other assimilationist policies (If you want to see evidence of racism still alive and well, check out the comments on this story at the Province website). It hardly compares to potentially re-naming a park.

Lord Stanley: The guy who gave us the Stanley Cup. Also a GG and avid fisherman.

And what exactly is this “heritage” they’d be “obliterating”? I just looked up Lord Stanley because I didn’t know much other than that he gave us the Stanley Cup. A quick and totally unscientific survey of white friends and acquaintances revealed no one who knew much more than I did. Turns out he was a Governor General, an avid fisherman, close friends with Sir John A. Macdonald, and had a wife who founded Ottawa’s first nursing school. My point is that it’s not like Canadian children of European descent sit around the fireplace learning the great tales of Lord Stanley of Preston. I’m sure he was a great guy, but you can hardly make the case that dropping his name from the park would leave some unfathomable hole in our culture. Anyway, we’d still have the Stanley Cup.

So a nice gesture? Sure. Worth the hassle/expense? The jury’s still out, in my view. At the very least, it shouldn’t just be used as a token gesture to disguise a lack of real commitment to rectifying material inequalities.


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