Source of Resistance #3: Lavina White, Haida Elder


Summer 1997



The following are exerpts from Lavina White, a Haida Gwaii Elder, speaking at the Voices of Indigenous Sovereignty Forum, in Victoria, June 4, 1994.

My English name is Lavina White, my Haida name is Thow-Hagweth. It means the sound of many copper shields. It means that I have a great many responsibilities in my lineage. And I take those responsibilities very seriously.

I am not in agreement with the kind of treatying that's going on with our Nation right now. And it's difficult, for I love my people. I feel responsible because the ones that I asked to join in the land issue are still there, and they've lost their way. Because we've always known that we are sovereign people. And that we must regain control of ALL of our lands, our resources, and our lives.

And I want to tell the people that are non-native here, that you have nothing to fear from us. Because in spite of everything that's happened to us, our strongest philosophy still remains with us, which is of sharing. And that philosophy was what lost our lands, our resources and our lives. We found no honour in the people that we have to make agreements with . They never honor their treaties. So I'm not in favour of a treaty. Until I see the time that the people that came here to our lands- and you can ask anyone how they got our lands, and I'd like to know the answers they give- you can ask them how they got to hold title to our land. Because we haven't lost our title, and we still retain our sovereignty. And by your own laws, you weren't supposed to come on to our lands without our consent. And we haven't given that consent.

As you've heard this evening, the highest laws of most Native people are respect and consent. And we have bent over backwards to fit into the system. But there are two paradigms here. The native paradigm, and the invaders' paradigm. And they're in DIRECT conflict with each other. I don't know of any two different paradigms that could be so opposite from each other. It's been a difficult 90 years that we've lived in this province to see the destruction that goes on while our people still live in poverty... ...And that's because we're being denied even what the whole country takes for granted. Things for our children. They don't have anything. We need many things and resources that are going off our island. The resources of the sea are being depleted. The forest is being depleted. They intend to give us back empty lands...

...I gave up my Canadian citizenship because it was an imposed citizenship that I didn't want. And they told me that they would have to find a country that would take me. And I said, I have a country. I'm a citizen of the Haida country. And I will always be a citizen of the Haida country.

For "Canada" is made up of many Nations of Native people. And they can't seem to get their minds around that. They lump us all together, and they think that we should all think alike and agree to whatever they impose on us...

...We ARE different Nations, much as Europe is different nations. The Italians don't make decisions for the Greeks or any other European nation. So they can't expect to make decisions for the other Nations- 26 Nations of "British Columbia." We all have to make our own decisions as to what kind of government we intend to have for ourselves.

We have a bigger problem- of how we're going to co-exist. Not co-manage, because I know if we co-manage, the dependency that we have been conditioned to will continue. And that non-Native people will still govern us- and they'll make the decisions for us.

But we must work out how we co-exist. Because you are here. And we don't have enough timber left to make boats to send you all back.

So, we're going to have to talk about things like this, and I really expect.. some support from you. We never have the dollars, the Hereditary people never get the dollars to go around and speak to people. Because only the elected, through the DIA system, receive the dollars to go to meetings. Yes, there are some hereditary people who have run for office, and they're amongst the Chiefs. I ran for office one time, under the white man's rules and the election rules. And I became the head of our Nation. The first woman in "Canada," of any First Nation, to become head of our Nation...

... The original order of our country was beautiful. Now they talk about a New Order, which is scary. We don't want it.. We don't want the global economy. We don't want the free trade. And we don't want the kind of justice system that's been imposed on us. We've felt what its like to have no money, and sit in your justice courts. For only those with money can buy their way out. And that's not the kind of system that we're used to, nor do we want it.

Our spirituality, or our religion, is the only one I know that is totally free from controls. We've been forced to look at many things throughout the world, such as religion, and most of the religions we see are for controls. I don't know of any other race that has the kind of philosophy that we have, because we have total freedom.. and that's why I fight so hard...

...I said we were very different Nations. All of us within "Canada" we're different Nations. But we have a lot of commonalties. And that commonality of sharing was on this side of the world. All of the Nations had that same philosophy. And that's how we were able to lose control on this side of the world.

But I believe very strongly that the same philosophy will win for us on this side of the world for it must, if we're to save mother earth. The exploitation that goes on 24 hours a day in our forest, for instance - and the kind of policies that Fisheries have in regards to our sea -we're not going to have anything left.

And we won't be the only ones that suffer. For all people will suffer... I know that the Native people will survive. But I don't know about the rest of the world, and that worries us.

We've been here since the beginning of time. We have our stories that tell of the creation of the world. Raven was the symbol of the creator, and I belong to the Raven clan. And I'm very proud to belong to the Raven clan, because the Raven IS the symbol to the Creator.

When Raven finished creating the world, he wandered out on one part of our land- Rose Spot, as it is called now - and we have a different name for it- and enticed mankind out of a clam shell. And that was the beginning of mankind.

We don't take that literally. It only means that the sea is our lifeline. Where I live is an island, 80 miles offshore. And it is our responsibility to see that the sea remains as it should.

But the things that have happened to it recently... because there are people here who don't feel the roots that we have. And the destruction that goes on must come to an end at some point. If you care about your grandchildren, you will pass on that message from us. I know you care about your future generation and I know we all do.

You care about your children- we care about our children. But in caring, we must also care about the earth, which nurtures us. And I think those two messages that we've given you this evening- in regard to the environment, and then the other message of support for our cause and our sovereignty - I hope that you will pass it on to other people, and pass it on to the elected, and pass it around the world. For we do need your support. For we can all live on earth, in a very good way. And we can all live in this country, in a very good way...

...We knew everything about nature, as it should be understood. And yet we've been shunted aside in our own country, and we're invisible. Everything goes on AROUND us. They like our art form, they like our philosophy, they like our lands and resources, but not us. That has to change.

The Indigenous people of this world must make the decisions on economics and environment, otherwise there's no turnaround...

...The distribution of the wealth of this world and I mean of the resources, not only the money that's our value system. But the world's value system is money. The distribution of the resources, so that there are no children that go hungry in this world, must come about. And it's a good place to start, right here in "British Columbia." We cannot destroy all of the forests. We can't destroy all of the sea's resources...

...We'll always be here. Our roots are here. And we'll always be here. And we'll always care what happens to mother earth. Sovereignty in our way is not for power, it's not for prestige and it's not for controls. Sovereignty is for responsibility, and that's the message we want to give you this evening- and I want to thank you for listening.

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