April 25, 1997
Our people were seen as equals before the Indian Act. My people fought hard with the crown of Great Britain. When the British victory over France was declared, a Royal Proclamation was issued to all British colonies, including Canada. It instructed colonial officials that indian nations were not to be molested in their possession or enjoyment of their unceded traditional terriories. The proclamation recognized that the first Nations were the rightful occupants of the territory now called Canada. Respect the rights of the people to govern themselves without interference. This respect was not charity. Proclamation of 1763 did not create aboriginal land rights. It acknowledged them as pre-existing. This is told by our elders. Our people were put here to protect our sacred Mother, the land. We were placed on this land by the Creator, with a responsibility to care for her creation. By living this way, we cared for the Earth. For our brothers and sisters in the animal world and for each other. Fulfilling these responsibilities meant we governed ourselves.
Canada can only be complete through respect for our rights. Our identities and rights as distinct peoples flow from our relationship with the land and aboriginal title. And this flows before pre-Confederation period to present. our relationship with the Crown is one of allies and of equals. Despite this reality, our relationship as equals is not respected and the promises made in the treaties have been consistently breached by the Canadian Governments.
Each nation had its own defined territory, language, spiritual practices, economic institutions. It was not vacant or empty. It was not new.
It was ancient.
We have always been here on this land we call Turtle Island, on our homelands given to us by the Creator, and we have a responsibility to care for and live in harmony with all of her creations. We believe that the responsibility to care for this land was given to us by our Creator, the Great Spirit. It is a sacred obligation, which means the first people must care for all of her creation in fulfilling this responsibility. We have carried this responsibility since long before the immigrants came to our homeland.
Each of the seasons brought with it celebrations and reflections through ceremonies and social events. Especially in the summer when the weather was good. Extended families gather together to honour those who had passed on the year before, and participated in ceremonies like the Sundance and the Ghostdance, potlatches. We practised our spirituality or religion, which is in fact very simple: honour all living creation and maintain our balance of nature. This is told by our elders. Since the arrival of newcomers we faced a holocaust. We struggled to maintain our cultures and distinct societies. We have to hold on to wht our destiny is. Our ancestors roamed the plains, the mountains, woodlands. They hunted the woods, fished the fresh and salt waters that are now Canada. The spirits of our people are written on the land. Our land. Their blood stained the sand fighting oppression. We cannot tell a story of somewhere else, we are this place. Our struggle is not about power or greed, it is about understanding and taking responsibility for the land. We see what is being done. A stop has to be done. Violating our sacred mother and the children has been done. The white man calls destruction "progress".
More profoundly, we have suffered because of policies geared towards assimilating us and making us conform to the expectations of the growing dominant society that has been built around us. At the time of confederation more than 125 years ago, we had been so weakened and isolated as people that we had very little economic or military strength to ward off what was to come, namely the further dispossession of our sacred mother. Our land and resources.
Canada has been built on this history and it has not yet faced its legacy. We have never surrenderd our right to be ourselves. We have never abandoned our right to live on our land. Our responsibility for Mother Earth continues.
We have been reduced spiritually, culturally and politically. This has been unjust - we have done nothing wrong, except to be who we are, drawing upon our ancient history. This dominance in Canada continues to be the reality of our lives. Too often we define ourselves in relation to this dominance. Our oppression by Canada has taken over our lives and now we must find ways to resist.
The descendants of the people who arrived here five hundred years ago took it upon themselves to forge a constitution without us. It became the BNA Act. The federal government gave itself the power over Indians and lands reserved for the Indians wilfully blinding themselves to pre-existing laws that protect us. They did not ask us if we agreed. It just assumed power over our peoples. We must ask ourselves, By what right did they get that power and how have they used it. Canada used its physical power over us, illegally, unconstitutionally, in its own selfish interest. The consequences of that kind of power are oppression and disregard to the first nations peoples' interests.
Parliament decided it was to them to decide who is and who is not an Indian. The Indian Act still makes distinctions between Indians and persons. we are in a struggle internally to decolonize ourselves. For many generations our voices were taken away from us and we were told we were unchristian, savages and godless heathens. Our ceremonies and beliefs have been attacked. We know that the Indian Act was passed to control our rights to mobility, particularly in western Canada. It was to break up our traditions and families. Why should we uphold that false law and accept the right of other people to maintain a system of dominance over us. We remember this treatment. Our elders have endured this unfair treatment.
We have never relinquished our rights and family values. The Indian Act attempted to destroy many of the basic beliefs of our societies. In beautiful B.C the potlatch, like the sweatlodge was banned. These ceremonies are a very sophisticated and complex system. The potlatch was hosted by a chief's family. It forged alliances. Clan blankets were worn and songs sung. It is highly symbolic in sharing identity. It was about extending the circle of friendship and gratefulness.
Why was the potlatch banned? Was it because the potlatch was seen as pagan, ungodly. The Canadian state authorized the missionaries to stop the potlatch and seized sacred objects and sold them to museums of the world to be displayed as part of the "lost" cultures of North America.
What happened to the Proclamation that is still the law of Canada? The Indian Act made our sacred Sundance illegal. It also made the longhouse governments of our Iroquois relatives illegal, stopped the feast for the dead of my people the Ottawa. Many of these ceremonies went underground for many generations. If oppression is our inheritance from Canada, what did we do to deserve this? How did we treat the newcomers from the beginning? When the Europeans arrived they had no land, no shelter, they were barely alive after their long voyages. Since early contact the newcomers relied heavily on our goodwill and protection for their survival in an alien land with a harsh climate. We as first nations have always wanted friendship.
Policies devised by the federal and Provincial governments. Policies made it difficult for us to live our lives with dignity and respect in our own homelands. Policies killed, and continue to kill us, or drive us mad or into despair from the injustice. No oppressive regime continues forever, and we wil struggle to end it in this country. Although we have had to endure these injustices, we are still here. Because we believe in who we are. The international community is watching Canada, and would applaud an end to Canada's dominant control over the lives of First Nations. Our elders remember agreements with the people of the colonial era. The flag of BC is one of them.
The two-row wampum of Iroquois Cofederacy committed us to a relationship of peaceful co-existence where the First Nations and Europeans would travel in parallel paths down the symbolic river in their own vessels which signifies "one river, two vessels", committed the newcomers to travel in their vessel and not attempt to interfere with our voyage. The two vessels would travel down the river of life in parallel courses and would never interfere with each other. It was a co-living agreement. The two-row wampum captures the original values that governed our relationship - equality, respect and a sharing of the river we travel on.
We must steer our own vessels. This is our sacred responsibility given to us by the Creator when we were put here on Turtle Island. As peoples with distinct cultures, languages, traditional governments, territories and populations in Canada, our homeland. I have a spiritual authority to speak for us. Deal with First Nations as equals and end the legacy of dominance that is as outdated as slavery.
My hope is that if we can draw upon the wisdom of the old ways and our traditional values, we will have the strength we need. The old ways are the ways of our elders, their wisdom, knowledge and kindness. The elders teach us that these are most important. That their are the ways of the warrior, and lead to good relations.
We, as people should relate to each other in the spirit of harmony. We must stay true to the traditional teachings. And restore the respect to women in their rightful position of honour in our Nations.
If we embrace our traditional values of respect, compassion, under standing and sharing, and if we apply these values in our relations with each other, they will keep us united and wil strengthen our warriors wherever they are. Our Ways of the Warriors, we will approach other people in Canada in the way our ancestors did, with generosity. But we will also resist continued exploitation and dominance.
We are frustrated by the injustices done to our people. The imbalance in our relationship between Canadian governments and First Nations. I live with what I saw in the show of force against my people. The governments brought into play a new level of racial contempt and raised the level of racial intolerance and mistrust in this country. We as Native people should be able to celebrate success, victories and progress. We should not be placed in a position where we are grieving all the time due to one injustice after another. Gustafsen symbolizes a continuation of a classic historical dominance called genocide.
Our spiritual Elders across Turtle Island teach us that love and compassion are the substance of human respect and understanding. Resistance can be passive. I reject the path of violence. But our collective actions were self-defence. Our Elders remind us that we have a rich heritage and tradition of peaceful co-existence.
It is my duty to our ancestors to maintain our stolen lands and keep these traditions for the benefit of present and future generations. The British Crown made alliances wth my people. The First Nations were not "conquered". We still have our sovereign nations. The Warrior's sense is not of confrontation, it offers dignity and does not dishonour anyone. The Warrior's sense is about protecting our children from abuse. Stop tyranny. And about mending broken promises.
Traditional society was based upon the principle of consensus. The First Nations do not want the DIA to have control over us any more. We are talking about sovereignty for our people and lands.
There is something fundamentally wrong with this country if it cannot recognize the pre-existing rights of the people who were here before Newcomers. Part of our struggle is to deny the Indian Act. But Parliament is not the only problem for us; another is the courts.
During this occupation at Gustafsen the Canadian government acted as lawyer, Judge and Jury over our claims. The government has yet to adequately address its own conflict of interests to our claims.
The government is, after all, supposed to be trustee for the best interests of the First Nations. The Crown took a hostile position towards these first Nation people in this courtroom. All evidence indicates this. Particularly to the warriors of this family for their acts of defiance. Asking for a peaceful resolution process that is independent from the government. The government has refused to make a commitment to an independent third party resolution process. They violated the concept of equality guaranteed in the Royal Proclamation. A serious breach of obligation to First Nations. Our Elders and leaders want to do something for our children. I think it's important to pour out my feelings so people will have an idea what I think, who I am. And how I believe we can work together to heal our people. I know we have problems, serious social problems like family violence, abuse and suicide, residue from long term plans, residential schools. The mistreatment of first Nations peoples in the Canadian criminal justice system is overwhelming. The statistics speak for themselves. The injustices experienced lost the respect and support by the public and first Nations. For example the problems related to poverty and racism, low self-esteem and suicide are related to the fact that first Nations are not treated fairly by Canadian society. There is absolutely no justification - none whatsoever in a wealthy country like Canada.
Our poverty is the most extreme in Canada. A result of the Indian Act. The Elders help me stay strong. It is even more less easy to be a First Nations child in Canada because that almost guarantees that you are living in poverty. The enormous pain, despair felt by these children is beyond description. Suicides, attempted suicides and alcohol and solvent abuse are rampant in Native communities across the country. Canadian government has known about our poverty and problems for many years but has done little to address it.
For one hundred years they have been told they have no land rights, no resources. The Indian Act made it illegal for our people to hire lawyers to protect our land rights or treaty rights. Until recently, we could not challenge the injustices done to our people in the courts. The Act has undermined the practices of all first nations. This faceless beast has caused great grief and injustices throughout its history. Fundamental principles must be adopted, and respect for our inherent aboriginal title and treaty rights. I want all of our children to have dreams - not bad dreams, but good dreams. Dreams about what they want to become in the future. Their dreams are my dreams. A Quest for freedom. A commitment to ending colonialism. So we all share a struggle for self-determination.
We have all been exposed to the Beast that is distorted and unbalanced. It has a history that is premised upon the denial of our human dignity. The price for us has been enormous. We had to endure the silence and not speak of the beast called Genocide, Oppression, the banning of traditions and customs, wars, government policies, disease. The faceless beast has many faces. The most dangerous face is the one that comes with a smile. I have a destiny to pick up my arrows and plunge them into the mouth of the beast that devours our children. A stance had to be made. I had to draw strength from our pride and spirit, to ensure our existence.
We have our ancestors to thank because they kept alive our religion and cultures even when these were deemed uncivilized. Most of our people here are involved in movements: they seek freedom. The right to maintain their identity and live on their land and to break free from the chains of colonialism. We know that our future survival depends on our present abilities to secure not only our lands, but also the recognition of our inherent right of self-rule.
The world is nearing the brink of destruction, propelled by the same materialistic forces that allowed the colonial powers to view the indigenous people and their lands as objects for exploitation. Some native tribes of Eastern Canada became victims of European contact. They suffered a genocide and will never walk this Earth again. Native nations who have been victims of genocide, condemn the government of acts of genocide but their ears go deaf. We know campaigns of genocide are waged today. Look and listen! Native nations here in B.C are determined to draw attention to governments that have carried out and continue to carry out campaigns of brutality and violence against them for protecting burial sites and peoples.
Think about what we are doing to this planet. The people who can help us are the native people regarding their relationship with the land. We do not exploit natural resources. We preserve them. Exploitation! That endangers our common survival and the survival of future generations who are relying on us to preserve mother Earth for them. We called upon the Prime Minister to help us? What happens, he signs an order to send in the bisons then says the deficit. We believe people have forgotten the importance of protecting the environment for future generations.
We need access to our land and resources, given that the majority of our people still earn their lining by hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering. The idea that North America was vacant and thus settlers could come and take all they wanted is obviously untrue.
Some of our treaties date from an era when provinces were not powerful forces. Not all treaties deal with lands. In some cases the provinces did not even exist. Like B.C: most of B.C is still unceded Native territory. My elders teach us that the treaties and agreements did not extinguish Indian title. The british crown's goal was to gain friendship and alliance with the first nations. Today the Crown has acted in a seemingly willful manner to undermine agreements and Laws and treaties that protect the first nations from oppressive forces. Those wounds cannot be healed until we do something. All we were doing was exercising our right under International Law, that right was: when disputes arise, submit any disputes to international bodies and/or to Queene Anne's privy council or Queen Anne's court.
The quest for resources by the provincial government stonewalled our demands. Mass suicides in native communities and armed confrontations are the only time when they open their eyes. The illusion of reality is all in Canadian minds. Business as usual. Progress. Their objective is to defang any resistance and steal all what's ours. The reason why the white man went to the moon is because he heard we had land up there.
Our societies and culture are older than Canada. Our Elders want an end to assimilation and the misery of poverty. This is the only real opportunity for first nations peoples to start on the road to recovery is to persuade the Canadian public and governments to respect us and our lands not just as individuals but as distinct peoples with traditional territories that is still rich with natural resources. Who are part of the family of the human race. As Chief Seattle told us many years ago, "the Earth does not belong to man, Man belongs to the Earth. This we know: all things are connected. Like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it".
I have children. I see the sparkles in their eyes. I remember that once I had sparkles in my eyes. Those sparkles died because there was no hope for change, poverty crushes the spirit. I don't want my kids' dreams shattered.
So I have to listen to the Elders of my generation, and I take their advice very seriously. I want to heal my people and my country, restoring balance and harmony. This is my role as a warrior.
The Canadian legal system, it does not work for us, all my people seek is Freedom, the opportunity and capacity to exercise our inherent jurisdiction and self-governing and Justice within our traditional territories. For us that is Justice, this is a reality. We must resist to ensure future generations survive.
For the most of five hundred years, Natives have been fighting defensively for their right to exist - for their freedom, their lands, their means of livelihood, their organization and societies, their beliefs, their ways of life, their personal security, their very lives.
Those who stil remain after so many generations of physical and cultural genocide continue to be oppressed by problems, most of them are created to deny and continue to deny Indians their rights, desires and the ability to build better societies for themselves. This ain't a new fighting spirit, it's been with us. It comes out after mass injustices done to our ancestors who are sleeping. Our existence is here because of resistance.
Ever since the white man reached the new world, he has seen or recognized Indian problems, not recognizing that he created them himself.
Twenty-five thousand years of Native history cultures cannot and could not be shed at the white man's command. Land, dignity and the means of existence were all robbed by governments. The Whites, with few exceptions, never listen. In their minds the Indians were stereotypes savages, uncivilized. So they tried forcing them into the mainstream of the dominant culture's way of life. Intent on ridding the native nations of the native way of life.
My people the Ottawa Midewin lodge people have thrown out the electoral system under the Indian Act. We all have the jurisdiction to protect our people from genocide.
Sovereignty is the issue, Canada's the problem. Honour the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Ceremonies like the Sundance need to be protected from cultural genocide. This is the basis of my resistance. We are not militants or terrorists. We are warriors to our people. Our families. Our generations yet to come. If I was asked "if it was worth it" I would answer "I know how my ancestors felt, YES" It was worth it. I thank the Great Spirit. All my relations. We all must relate to Mother Earth to heal what's being done. I believe this then and I believe this now.
As of July 1997, OJ is in prison awaiting sentence at the Surrey pre-trial centre. He was convicted of mischief causing actual danger to life and possession of fire arms and explosive devices in connection with the standoff at Gustafsen Lake.