We’re all Treaty People

Two eagles circled in a cold, sunny, winter-solstice sky, high above the Idle No More rally at Spirit Garden, Thunder Bay. This is true. At the same time a young Aboriginal speaker was telling us that, “We’re all treaty people”. I had never considered it. Yet, if you reason that the treaties were signed between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples – indeed, we are all treaty people. Accordingly, should we not accept that together we’re all responsible to maintain the spirit and intent of the treaties?

She also told us that although section 35 of the Canadian Constitution gives legal protection to aboriginal treaty rights, certain provisions of Stephen Harper’s recent omnibus bill C-45 were passed without meaningful consultations with First Nations people. Particularly, she referred to the increasing degradation of the environment, represented in C-45 by a federal retreat from the protection of navigable waters.

This struck another chord with me. Wasn’t it industrial mercury that poisoned the English River system for the Aboriginal people of Grassy Narrows? Wasn’t it mined uranium tailings that poisoned the river for the Aboriginal people of Serpent River? And, even now, isn’t the availability of potable drinking water a long-standing ugly reality in First Nations communities all across the North?

In this regard the Ring of Fire mining development is situated in the James Bay Lowlands — the largest collection of intact wetlands in the world, including 4 major rivers and over 100 bodies of water. To date over a dozen First Nation communities and environmental and social justice groups have requested full environmental hearings (a Joint Panel Review) of the federal government before any mining should take place in the area. A major concern is that Cliffs Natural Resources (a repeat environmental offender in both Quebec and Minnesota) is seeking to mine chromite (a known carcinogen) in their midst. Yet Mr. Harper’s government has not heard or responded to these requests.

Meanwhile, just north of Marathon’s airport a local citizens’ group has succeeded in having Stillwater Mining Company undergo a Joint Panel Review prior to starting up their proposed copper and palladium mine. Now, ask yourself: how is it that a single group of largely non-Aboriginal townspeople (much closer to the trans-Canada highway and ‘civilization’) should succeed in their request for a JPR, when numbers of Aboriginal communities in the remote north have failed?

I think the simple answer is as former Prime Minister Paul Martin said very recently, “We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power.”

From what I’ve seen, the Idle No More campaign will no longer allow Aboriginals to be the canary in the cage. And until non-Aboriginal peoples also see themselves as treaty people, we will continue to be seen by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters as the colonizers. Isn’t it time to change that?

Thanks, Idle No More, for a wonderful winter solstice. May we go forward together under two eagles.

Peter Lang

Published in tbnewswatch, Dec 23, 2012, as well as The Chronicle-Journal, Dec 29.