For generations, Coast Salish and First Nations artists developed visual language made up of colors, lines, shapes and space. These centuries-old designs can be recognized on cultural objects including basketry, carving, blankets and jewelry. When Coast Salish artists began printmaking in the 1960s, they translated their graphic languages onto a flat surface. The reproducible print medium raised visibility for Indigenous arts in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
The Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) is currently showcasing the vast styles of printmaking by tribal artists in its Cultural imPrint: Northwest Coast Prints exhibit. Reminding us of the local talent and cultural beauty inherent in works by artists from various First Nations and Native tribes along the Pacific Coast, you can take advantage of this special exhibition by visiting TAM now through August 20.
Faith Brower, TAM’s Curator of Western American Art, has partnered with co-curator India Young from Victoria, B.C. to bring together a selection of approximately 46 prints by 30 Coast Salish and Fist Nations artists.
“This exhibition is really about how artists create community through their work,” said co-curator India Young. “Artists visualize their nationhood and territory. Cultural knowledge and design are passed from print to print and generation to generation. Prints circulate a sense of belonging.”
Providing a survey of Indigenous artists who have defined six-decades of printmaking in the Pacific Northwest, this exhibition proudly boasts a cultural narrative. Through their prints, these artists share knowledge about the diverse cultures in the region, while sustaining their art and history. Some of this artwork focuses on culturally specific design motifs that can identify a nation or tribe within the region. Others affirm how artists have used the print medium to reexamine the role of women’s histories with Northwest Coast communities. Still other works illuminate the passion of knowledge between generations.
“What’s fascinating about this exhibition is the various interpretations of cultural symbols,” states co-curator Faith Brower. “These print works connect people in new ways to vibrant Northwest communities.”
Much of the printmaking from the Northwest Coast can be immediately recognized by the high contrast, black and red graphics. Indigenous printmaking in the region continues to be exploratory and innovative while adhering to traditional teachings. Through the print medium artists expand on their visual languages to create works that broaden the scope of Northwest Coast art.
Damen Bell-Holter is used to making headlines, as the first member of the Haida Nation to ever step on an NBA floor.
Now the 25-year-old, 6’9″ gentle giant, a former member of the Boston Celtics, is making headlines of a different kind. Bell-Holter, now playing professionally overseas in Finland, is speaking out about the issue of youth suicides, which have plagued First Nations communities.
I sat down with him to find out why the issue touches home for him — and how he is taking action.
CT: Why has youth suicide become a signature issue for you?
DBH: Growing up in Hydaburg, Alaska, it was a big problem. My home life wasn’t ideal, with alcoholism and abuse and all those things. I had cousins who committed suicide. When you’re in a town that small, with only around 300 people, almost everyone’s family has been through it. It seemed like there was a suicide every year.
CT: What’s going on, and why is this happening?
DBH: When you’re stuck in small communities, that’s all you can see. You don’t really have big hopes for the future. I was extremely fortunate because I had basketball as an outlet, which was huge for me. But if you don’t have an outlet like that, there’s a lot of negativity in these small towns. And all it takes is one moment of weakness and struggle.
CT: What have you decided to do about it?
DBH: Since my sophomore year in college, I’ve been holding basketball camps for kids every single year. My goal was to give back and work with kids, and since I started doing that, I discovered what a big issue youth suicide is in so many communities. It’s a real pattern.
As a result, about 60-70 per cent of the time in my camps doesn’t even involve basketball. I talk to kids about domestic violence, about alcohol abuse, about drugs. I’ve done over 40 of these camps over the last few years, all the way from Alaska, to Haida Gwaii, to mainland B.C., to reservations in lower 48 states like Washington, Oregon and Utah.
CT: Why is it so important for First Nations kids to hear from you?
DBH: Kids in these small communities are really stubborn. If someone from the lower 48 states is talking to them, they just think, ‘You don’t know what we go through.’ But when I come and talk to them about my home-life growing up, then they realize, ‘Hey, that’s my story too.’
CT: Losing young people in this way is particularly heartbreaking. What would you say to communities going through this?
DBH: The biggest thing is to keep kids involved. Demonstrate a lot of positivity, make sure kids are coming to the gym, keep them active, and show them that you care. Some communities, like Skidegate on Haida Gwaii, are really great at that.
CT: To kids who are in a dark place right now, what would you say to them?
DBH: Your home-life doesn’t have to dictate your future and how you feel about yourself. Suicide doesn’t have to be an option. Everyone has struggles: I had thoughts of suicide when I was a kid, too. I thought there was nothing better for me out there. But if I had taken my own life, I would have affected my family and my community for generations to come. I wouldn’t be here sharing my story right now.
CT: How has the response been to your youth camps?
DBH: The great thing about native communities is that when someone does something special, everyone really comes together to support them. I’ve had so much support from Haida Gwaii, and towns like Skidegate and Masset, with people telling me they’re proud of me. Hopefully I’ll have an effect on these kids, even just a few of them, because here I am — Haida from a small Alaska town of 300 — and I’ve seen the highest levels of basketball in the world, doing things I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do.
Idle No More encourages all Native and Indigenous peoples to stand in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters and allies for Treaty Rights, water and land rights, and environmental protection on the sacred land of our ancestors. Decolonization is a vital part of Idle No More, as it is necessary to decolonize ourselves and our way of thinking to keep our Native culture going strong. As our elders have taught us, “what we do today is not for us, but for our children and our children’s children.”
Last month, members of the Idle No More movement held a “Native Women Rising” rally at the Don Armeni Park in West Seattle. Activists joined in a circle for drumming and singing, and reminded those listening about the importance of the Alaskan wilderness soon to be drilled by Shell Oil’s drilling rig, called the Polar Pioneer. The hashtag #ShellNO was born as the Native led protests garnered local and national news attention.
But who was responsible for coordinating the rally and bringing together activists, both Native and non-Native, to stand together in protest of Shell Oil Company? That would be Sweetwater Nannauck, Director of Idle No More Washington. Sweetwater was kind enough to be interviewed by Tulalip News in order to help spread the message of being Idle No More to the Tulalip community.
“I am Sweetwater Nannauck from the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes of southeast Alaska. I am the Director of Idle No More Washington and I’m here in Seattle standing up for our people in Alaska. I’m here today joined by Native and Indigenous peoples from all different tribal nations, who came to stand united in a spiritual and cultural way. We are bringing our prayers and calling our ancestors for help as we try to bring a peaceful resolution to stopping the arctic oil drilling.”
What is the impact when the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Alaska, and the Coast Salish peoples collaborate together?
“Well, I’d say it speaks to all of our ancestors, as our people have traveled down here from Alaska and mixed cross-culturally. I have stories of our people coming down here for trade, so really we’re following in the footsteps of our ancestors by coming together and showing we can stand united for our people and our future generations.”
What is the meaning behind having an Idle No More rally titled Native Women Rising?
“I was raised traditionally in Alaska, my grandparents had an arranged marriage, and we only ate our traditional foods. We had a matriarchal society which made my grandmothers strong women, so what I find in doing this work is we come along a lot of patriarchy. In western society, the way protests and activist movements are coordinated and received is usually male dominated. I want people to know, especially our Native and Indigenous peoples that for us our women have power, our women are the life givers, our women were out there on the water singing our songs of strength and healing, and we have that ability in us. What many Indigenous cultures have said and prophesized is when the world gets out of balance our women will step up and bring back that balance. That’s what all the women who take part in Idle No More are here to do, bring balance to our world.”
What advice do you have for any Native person who wants to become involved with Idle No More?
“I advise that they find other likeminded people and become active. What I’ve found since Idle No More started in 2012, we here in Washington have become much more active. I’ve organized over fifty events since 2012, and I’ll be focused on working with our Native youth in Washington throughout the summer. There are many ways to be active, such as sharing our voice and our message through music, through spoken word, through our culture, and through our ceremonies and prayers.”
How do you plan to get Native youth to become active participants in Idle No More?
“I’ll be working with Nataanii Means (Lakota), son of Russell Means, who is an amazing hip-hop artist and we’ll be teaching workshops with Native youth that include video making, spoken work, and how to be active in a cultural and spiritual way. We realize because of colonization and historical trauma that we can’t realistically expect the youth to step up and do this kind of work without addressing their concerns that we face and teach them how to heal from our historical trauma.”
What are your thoughts as they relate to oil drilling in the arctic and how that impacts our culture?
“My first thoughts are directed at its name, the Polar Pioneer, and to the other two arctic oil drillers who have similar names, the Noble Discoverer and the Arctic Challenger. To me these represent the colonization that is coming back to our shores again and it’s really time for our people to unite because this impacts all of us. The climate change effects, we’re in a draught presently, our waters are being contaminated, the air is dirty, our animals on land and in the sea are dying. This really is important for every single person who is walking on this planet. We feel Mother Earth’s pain.”
Some argue that oil drilling is a necessary evil to sustain the modern day way of living. What is your response to that kind of thinking?
“It’s not a perfect system, it never will be, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt. We need to stand together and fight for our lands, otherwise they are going to take everything away from us because of that greed. Fifty years from now, we want our children and their children to say that their ancestors stepped up and fought for what they believed in, just as today we can say about our ancestors.”
There are many tribes and tribal members in the U.S. and Canada who yield great monetary profits from following in western type thinking. They’ve built tribal enterprises that are based on their casinos and because of this they refuse to take an active role in anything that could tarnish their image or result in lost profits. What is your message to them?
“It’s hard because I understand the root cause of it is colonization. An elder once told me that the colonized have become colonizers, we are part of that system, but we can easily remove ourselves from it. The western term is ‘decolonization’, but it’s really reclaiming ourselves, reclaiming who we are, our culture, reclaiming our ways of doing things, going out on the water, being proud and knowing who we are. That’s where our strength lies, our culture is our medicine and it is healing for us. I invite any and all Native peoples to join us and sing our songs and say our people’s prayers, so that we are standing together because when we stand together, united, we have real power.”
For more information on how to join the Idle No More movement and to follow their events, please LIKE their Facebook page ‘Idle No More Washington’ or visit www.idlenoremore.ca
Can a First Nations-led, people-driven movement really have the power to stop Big Oil?
The folks behind the Pull Together campaign think so. The Pull Together initiative supports First Nations in B.C. who are taking to the courts to stop Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.
Led by the Gitxaala, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’azdli and Haida — nations united in their fierce opposition to tar sands oil endangering their traditional territories — Pull Together’s involvement synchronized with a very active movement against tar sands pipelines in B.C. and community-based opposition Enbridge in particular. The campaign is using a new model of online fundraising that, combined with real-world, grassroots organizing, is delivering solid results.
It’s a model where Indigenous leadership combines with cutting-edge organizing strategies — online, on the land and on the streets. Through a unique blend of real-world events and online fundraising, Pull Together has raised an astonishing $250,000, and is looking forward to realizing a goal of $300,000 by the end of 2014.
B.C.’s opposition to Enbridge is strong and growing. While the company is delaying the project, and investors are growing uneasy, according to RAVEN’s Susan Smitten, “Stopping the project will take a court-ordered resolution, because Enbridge has no intention of giving up on the project.”
While First Nation’s constitutional rights can be a powerful tool to ensure affected communities have a stake in projects in their traditional territories, Smitten points out, “First Nations stand as a last and inviolable line of defense against environmental destruction — if and only if the nations can afford to uphold those rights in court.”
“I know First Nations have an incredible amount of power on that legal side of things,” says Jess Housty, of the Heilsuk First Nation council. “But… I know what tribal government’s resources are and I know what our responsibilities are. And they are really broad! We’re responsible for virtually every aspect of the welfare and the development of our community.”
“The thought of a lawsuit added on top of that is such a huge capacity strain. I have a huge amount of admiration for my community, and for many other communities, that never hesitated to take on court challenges. But I wondered where and how and when the support would come.”
The support Housty and other First Nations leaders are enjoying has been building, with involvement by many people and groups over many years.
Pull Together has tapped into a powerful anti-tankers and pipelines movement that represents the majority of British Columbians who don’t want the Enbridge project to proceed. The campaign has motivated organizers, businesses, and community groups who understand the power, and principle, of standing with First Nations opposed to oil and gas development on our west coast.
“The Pull Together campaign is driven by people who care and are politically astute,” said kil tlaats ‘gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation. “They can see how the future of the country is shaping up and want to be part of it.”
From Haida Gwaii to Nelson, Kitsilano to Kitgaatla, B.C’s creative, tough, and committed culture is coming out in full force to fight Enbridge. Alliance building between NGOs — Sierra Club B.C. and RAVEN have joined forces on the campaign– offers a way forward for an environmental movement that has suffered from fragmentation in the past.
Who knew stopping a pipeline could be so much fun?
While the goal of stopping a pipeline is deadly serious, the means to that end are less of a struggle, and more of a celebration.
With over 40 events, 100 online fundraisers and 30 businesses involved, Pull Together is lighting up B.C. The campaign got its start with a spaghetti dinner hosted by Friends of Morice-Bulkley Valley in Smithers.
From that original $2,000 fundraiser, the campaign gained steam with an Island All-Stars gala on Pender Island, featuring Daniel Lapp, Mae Moore and Lester Quitzau that brought in $8,000. Salt Spring Island’s “Only Planet Cabaret” brought in $5,000 over three sold-out shows in Victoria and on the islands, while tickets to the Pull Together show at St. Barnabas in Victoria, featuring headliners Compassion Gorilla and Art Napoleon, sold fast.
Says Sierra Club B.C. campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon, “It’s incredible to think that Pull Together began in the summer with a community group in Terrace raising $2,000, and now we have raised a hundred times that!”
The campaign has inspired artists, from Kitgaatla nurse and photographer Paulina Otylia, who donated family portrait sessions for the campaign, to Franke James of “Banned on the Hill” fame who has contributed limited edition prints. At last weekends’ East Side Culture Crawl, Shannon Harvey’s Monkey 100 studio is featuring “Wish You Were Here” woodcut postcards with proceeds to Pull Together.
Businesses are pulling too: Salt Spring Coffee held a “Lattes for the Coast” fundraiser this week, while the B.C. Kayak Guide Association has assembled an online fundraising team comprised of kayak guides and outfitters. Moksha Yoga B.C. have raised nearly $10,000 for the campaign by holding fundraising karma yoga classes and in-studio film screenings. Led by Eric Mathias, Moksha have extended their reach to include 25 yoga studios all across B.C. who have pledged to “Stretch Across B.C.” and fundraise for Pull Together.
The fundraising initiative is rapidly spreading both online and off, as people recognize this is a strategic way to stop Enbridge — and send a powerful message to Ottawa.
“It’s a big undertaking, but we’re not alone,” says Marilyn Slett, elected chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation. “We have people supporting us, really good people from all over the world and from B.C.”
“It’s a good feeling knowing that were standing together united in solidarity with British Columbians at large.”
There’s a saying among B.C. First Nations: many paddles, one canoe. Who knew stopping a pipeline could be so much fun?
Anti-tar sands campaigns have cost the industry a staggering $17bn (£11bn) in lost revenues, and helped to push it onto the backfoot, according to a study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), and Oil Change International.
Another $13.8bn has been lost to transportation bottlenecks and the flood of cheap crude coming from shale oil fields, says the Material Risks report, which presents the first quantification of the impact that environmental campaigners have had on the unconventional energy business.
“Industry officials never anticipated the level and intensity of public opposition to their massive build-out plans,” said Steve Kretzmann, Oil Change International’s executive director. “Legal and other challenges are raising new issues related to environmental protection, indigenous rights and the disruptive impact of new pipeline proposals. Business as usual for Big Oil – particularly in the tar sands – is over.”
The industry is currently facing a decline in increased capital expenditure on new tar sands projects, due to problems in transporting the crude, which the study links to public campaigns.
While industry profits continue to fall, the report says that lack of market access helped to stymie three major tar sands enterprises in 2014 alone – Shell’s Pierre River, Total’s Joslyn North and Statoil’s Corner project – which together would have emitted 2.8bn tonnes of CO2.
“The taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned – the animals and plants are dying in many areas in Canada,” says the Idle No More manifesto. “We have laws older than this colonial government about how to live with the land.”
“Tar sands producers face a new kind of risk from growing public opposition,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at IEEFA, and one of the lead authors on the report. “This opposition has achieved a permanent presence as public sentiment evolves and as the influence of organisations opposed to tar sands production continues to grow.”
Canada has staked its energy future on a massive expansion of tar sands, which hold the world’s third largest reserve of crude after Saudia Arabia and Venezuela.
But the huge amounts of water and solvents needed to extract oil from bitumen dramatically boost greenhouse gas output and, on latest production forecasts, will increase Canada’s CO2 emissions by 56 megatonnes by 2020.
The tar sands production process involves steam injection, strip mining and refining, and leaves environmental scars ranging from clear-cut forests to toxic tailing ponds and destroyed farmland.
This has pushed the focus of environmental and indigenous land rights protests onto export pipelines, such as the stalled Keystone XL project to send tar sands crude to the US.
According to the new paper, the industry’s current inability to build new pipelines has the potential to cancel most, if not all, planned new projects.
It says that the 6.9bn barrels of tar sands this could still leave underground by 2030 would be the equivalent of an additional 4.1bn tonnes of CO2 emissions – or the same as 54m average passenger vehicles, over the same period.
The unrest is palpable. In First Nations across Canada, word is spreading of a historic court ruling recognizing Indigenous land rights. And the murmurs are turning to action: an eviction notice issued to a railway company in British Columbia; a park occupied in Vancouver; lawsuits launched against the Enbridge tar sands pipeline; a government deal reconsidered by Ontario Algonquins; and sovereignty declared by the Atikamekw in Quebec.
These First Nations have been emboldened by this summer’s Supreme Court of Canada William decision, which recognized the aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot’in nation to 1,750 sq km of their land in central British Columbia – not outright ownership, but the right to use and manage the land and to reap its economic benefits.
The ruling affects all “unceded” territory in Canada – those lands never signed away through a treaty or conquered by war. Which means that over an enormous land mass – most of British Columbia, large parts of Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and a number of other spots – a new legal landscape is emerging that offers the prospect of much more responsible land stewardship.
First Nations are starting to act accordingly, and none more so than the Tsilhqot’in. They’ve declared a tribal park over a swath of their territory. And they’ve announced their own policy on mining – a vision that leaves room for its possibility, but on much more strict environmental terms. Earlier this month they erected a totem pole to overlook a sacred area where copper and gold miner Taseko has for years been controversially attempting to establish itself; no mine will ever be built there.
And the Canadian government’s response? Far from embracing these newly recognised indigenous land rights, they are trying to accelerate their elimination. The court has definitively told Canada to accept the reality of aboriginal title: the government is doing everything in its power to deny it.
Canadians can be pardoned for believing that when the country’s highest court renders a decision, the government clicks their heels and sets themselves to implementing it. The judiciary directs, the executive branch follows: that’s how we’re taught it works. But it doesn’t always – and especially not when what’s at stake is the land at the heart of Canada’s resource extraction.
The new land rights ruling is now clashing directly with the Canadian government’s method for cementing their grip on land and resources. It’s a negotiating policy whose name – the so-called Comprehensive Land Claims – is intended to make your eyes glaze over. But its bureaucratic clothing disguises the government’s naked ambition: to grab as much of indigenous peoples’ land as possible.
This is what dispossession by negotiation looks like. The government demands that First Nations trade away – or in the original term, to “extinguish” – their rights to 95% of their traditional territory. Their return is some money and small parcels of land, but insidiously, as private property, instead of in the collective way that indigenous peoples have long held and stewarded it. And First Nations need to provide costly, exhaustive proof of their rights to their own land, for which they have amassed a stunning $700 million in debt – a debt the government doesn’t think twice about using to arm-twist.
Despite the pressure, most First Nations have not yet signed their names to these crooked deals – especially when the supreme court is simultaneously directing the government to reconcile with First Nations and share the land. But the supreme court’s confirmation that this approach is unconstitutional and illegal matters little to the government. What enables them to flout their own legal system is that Canadians remain scarcely aware of it.
Acting without public scrutiny, prime minister Stephen Harper is trying to shore up support for this policy – now 40 years old – to finally secure the elimination of indigenous land rights. The process is led by the same man, Douglas Eyford, who has been Harper’s advisor on getting tar sands pipelines and energy projects built in western Canada. That is no coincidence. The government is growing more desperate to remove the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of a corporate bonanza for dirty fossil fuels: the unceded aboriginal title of First Nations – backed now by the supreme court of Canada.
A public commenting period opened during the government’s pr blitz has created an opportunity for the indigenous rights movement and concerned Canadians to demand a long-overdue change in the government’s behaviour. Recognising aboriginal title, restoring lands to First Nations management, would be to embrace the diversity and vision we desperately need in this moment of ecological and economic crisis.
Because the government agenda is not just about extinguishing indigenous land rights. It’s about extinguishing another way of seeing the world. About extinguishing economic models that prize interdependence with the living world, that recognise prosperity isn’t secured by the endless depletion of resources. And about extinguishing a love for the land, a love rooted in the unique boundaries and beauty of a place.
“The land is the most important thing,” Tsilhqot’in chief Roger William told me. “Our songs, our place names, our history, our stories – they come from the land that we are a part of. All of it is interrelated with who we are.”
The few days I spent in Tsilhqot’in territory five years ago made that vivid. It is a land of snow-capped mountains – Ts’il-os, who in their stories was a man transformed into giant rock after separating from his wife. Wild horses stalk the valleys. Salmon smoke on drying racks. The Tsilhqot’in carefully protect and nurture these fish – running stronger in their rivers than anywhere else in the province.
That’s why the habit of government officials, of media and even of supreme court judges to call the Tsilhqoti’in “nomadic” bothers William so much: his people have lived on these lands for thousands of years, while it is non-natives who are constantly moving and resettling. And what could be more nomadic and transient than the extractive industry itself – grabbing what resources and profits it can before abandoning one area for another.
As Canadians look more closely, they are discovering that the unceded status of vast territories across this country is not a threat, as they’ve long been told. It is a tremendous gift, protected with love by indigenous nations over generations, to be seized for the possibilities it now offers for governing the land in a radically more just and sustainable way for everyone.
In this battle between the love of the land and a drive for its destruction, those behind the extractive economy have everything to lose and indigenous peoples everything to win. The rest of us, depending on our stand, have a transformed country to gain.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Native tribes from the U.S. and Canada signed a treaty Tuesday establishing an inter-tribal alliance to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions of the animals once roamed.
Leaders of 11 tribes from Montana and Alberta signed the pact during a daylong ceremony on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation, organizers said.
It marks the first treaty among the tribes and First Nations since a series of agreements governing hunting rights in the 1800s. That was when their ancestors still roamed the border region hunting bison, also called buffalo.
The long-term aim of Tuesday’s “Buffalo Treaty” is to allow the free flow of the animals across the international border and restore the bison’s central role in the food, spirituality and economies of many American Indian tribes and First Nations — a Canadian synonym for native tribes.
Such a sweeping vision could take many years to realize, particularly in the face of potential opposition from the livestock industry. But supporters said they hope to begin immediately restoring a cultural tie with bison largely severed when the species was driven to near-extinction in the late 19th century.
“The idea is, hey, if you see buffalo in your everyday life, a whole bunch of things will come back to you,” said Leroy Little Bear, a member of southern Alberta Blood Tribe who helped lead the signing ceremony.
“Hunting practices, ceremonies, songs — those things revolved around the buffalo. Sacred societies used the buffalo as a totem. All of these things are going to be revised, revitalized, renewed with the presence of buffalo,” said Little Bear, a professor emeritus of Native American studies at the University of Lethbridge.
Bison numbered in the tens of millions across North America before the West was settled. By the 1880s, unchecked commercial hunting to feed the bison hide market reduced the population to about 325 animals in the U.S. and fewer than 1,000 in Canada, according to wildlife officials and bison trade groups in Canada. Around the same time, tribes were relocated to reservations and forced to end their nomadic traditions.
There are about 20,000 wild bison in North America today.
Ranchers and landowners near two Montana reservations over the past several years fought unsuccessfully against the relocation of dozens of Yellowstone National Park bison due to concerns about disease and bison competing with cattle for grass. The tribes involved — the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations — were among those signing Tuesday’s treaty.
Keith Aune, a bison expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the agreement has parallels with the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty, a peace deal brokered by the U.S. government that established hunting rights tribes.
“They shared a common hunting ground, and that enabled them to live in the buffalo way,” Aune said. “We’re recreating history, but this time on (the tribes’) terms.”
The treaty signatories collectively control more than 6 million acres of prairie habitat in the U.S. and Canada, an area roughly the size of Vermont, according to Aune’s group.
Among the first sites eyed for bison reintroduction is along the Rocky Mountain Front, which includes Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation bordering Glacier National Park and several smaller First Nation reserves.
“I can’t say how many years. It’s going to be a while and of course there’s such big resistance in Montana against buffalo,” said Ervin Carlson a Blackfeet member and president of the 56-tribe InterTribal buffalo council. “But within our territory, hopefully, someday.”
One year after the Reconciliation Walk brought 70,0000 people into the streets of Vancouver to walk with First Nations, another epic march took place. With a contingent of indigenous women from Canada and around the world leading the way, Sunday’s 400,000-strong People’s Climate March in New York City shone a spotlight on a different kind of indigenous leadership.
The sheer numbers and diversity of those marching alongside aboriginal people— together with countless others who took part in marches around the globe—was a powerful symbol of the shift towards climate justice within the environmental movement.
Some of the most popular images from the New York City march came from the indigenous block, where Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, and Mark Ruffalo walked, brandishing a “Shut Down the Tar Sands” banner. They want people to get the message that tarsands expansion— and pipelines across B.C. —will bring climate devastation to vulnerable communities the world over.
At home in B.C., stopping the expansion of the tarsands means the Northern Gateway must never be built. Standing together with the First Nations along the pipeline and tanker routes is crucial to realizing that goal. The passion of thousands of British Columbians who have marched and signed pledges to stop the Northern Gateway is being channelled into a new initiative, Pull Together, launched this month.
“I came to New York to talk about the disproportionate vulnerabilities frontline communities face with relation to climate change,” says Melissa Daniels, a lawyer with Woodward & Company LLP and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. She should know: her hometown is Fort Chipewyan, in the epicentre of the tarsands. Throughout her people’s traditional territory, fossil fuel projects are expanding at breakneck speed. The cumulative impacts of oil, gas, and coal projects—from extraction to transportation to climate change—are overwhelming.
“It’s crucial for us to tell our truth, that climate change is directly linked to violence towards indigenous people, violence on indigenous lands, and colonization,” says Erica Violet Lee of Idle No More. Lee’s home province, Saskatchewan, could become a new frontier of the tarsands if the Harper government realizes its agenda to double production by 2022. With tarsands expansion comes water and air pollution, loss of boreal forests and wildlife habitat, climate change and — less apparently— the destruction of indigenous ways of life. “It’s impossible to separate those things, those are our realities. In the environmental movement those discussions haven’t always been welcome.”
The Pull Together approach aims to change that paradigm. Indigenous leaders from across the north have invited help from all corners of B.C. to keep Enbridge out of their traditional territories. The campaign offers a chance to stand and be counted in one of the most important fights of our time.
Though they have invited help from the wider community, the message indigenous leaders are bringing is one of empowerment. Says Lee, who spoke at the opening plenary of the Climate Convergence, “There are so many people in our communities who are fighting these battles on the ground every single day. Connecting with other indigenous people from all over the world really strengthens my resolve in working on those issues. ” The solidarity being fostered—with the covergence of indigenous peoples and allies in initiatives like Pull Together— offers a way forward.
Susan Smitten, executive director of RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs), believes that First Nations constitutional rights are the strongest tool there is to fight run-away climate change in B.C. “With the dismantling of so much environmental legislation in Canada, the last —and hopefully inviolable— line of defence is First Nations’ Treaty and Constitutional rights,” says Smitten.
RAVEN are also in New York this week, to attend an international conference aimed at increasing indigenous philanthropy. One goal is to drum up support for a new campaign, Pull Together, that aims to raise $250,000 for five First Nations in B.C. who are taking legal action to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
This new campaign invites the majority in BC who oppose Enbridge to unleash their potential and find fun, empowering ways to raise funds. Just weeks into the campaign, Moksha Yoga has pledged to raise $10,000 through their studios across B.C., while communities from Smithers to Salt Spring have pulled together to raise $25,000.
“Support for Pull Together offers a way for those who stand with First Nations in the fight for climate justice to put their commitments to reconciliation into action,” says Smitten. “It’s great to see people let loose their creative spirit in support of this campaign.”
Thanks to the millions of people who marched worldwide, and to the leadership shown by front lines aboriginal activists this weekend, the climate justice movement has gone viral. Grounding that energy are the commitments that spring from this historic convergence.
Says Melissa Daniels, “the only true reconciliation worth working towards is reconciliation with the natural world. Think in terms of responsibility: to care for the earth so we can sustain ourselves for time immemorial.”
The energy of the climate justice movement is contagious: there has never been a more urgent moment to pull together. To defeat the Northern Gateway project—and keep B.C.’s wild places, and people, alive and kicking—sign on to fundraise, donate, or organize an event at www.pull-together.ca
It was a morning of music, dance, speeches, a little rain and a lot of protest as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights officially opened in Winnipeg.
“With the placement of this final stone, at the heart of our circle, it is with great pleasure that we now declare open the Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” Gov. Gen. David Johnston stated as the centre stone — part of a circle of hand-gathered stones from national parks and national historic sites — was set in place during the opening ceremony Friday.
Inside the event, hundreds of dignitaries gathered and heard speeches about the genesis and purpose of the $351-million museum.
Meanwhileoutside, dozens of protesters used the media spotlight to bring attention to issues of murdered and missing women, First Nations water rights, the disappearing traditional lifestyle of First Nations and the Palestinian conflict.
“What happens when these guys over here, with their suits and ties and their outfits, destroy everything?” one First Nations protester yelled.
‘You have to shine a light in some dark corners in Canada’s history because we have to know, I think, where we came from to know where we’re going.’— Stuart Murray, museum president and CEO
As strains of O Canada rang out, it mixed with songs of First Nations women protesting and was punctuated by a woman yelling, “Your museum is a lie.”
One of the first groups to arrive brought their message of the struggle of Palestinian people in Gaza.
They said they feel overlooked and will continue to push in the hopes that eventually they will be featured in the museum.
The protesters said they were upset the issue is not being recognized at the museum, even though they have met with museum representatives over the past couple of years to have it featured in one of the galleries.
Other protesters called on the museum to recognize what they said was the historical “genocide” committed against First Nations by the Canadian government. They drummed, performed ceremonial smudges, chanted and carried placards.
Buffy Sainte-Marie told reporters on Friday afternoon that Canada and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights should be using the term ‘genocide’ to describe the residential school experience. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
Their sentiments were echoed by legendary Canadian musician Buffy Sainte-Marie, who is performing at the museum’s opening concert Saturday night.
Sainte-Marie told reporters that Canada and the human rights museum should use the term “genocide” to describe the residential school experience.
“I think the museum needs to be much more honest, much more bold and much better informed,” she told reporters Friday afternoon.
“I don’t really think that some of the museum people are truly aware of what our history has been.”
Sainte-Marie admitted that she hadn’t seen all the galleries in the museum yet, but added that her expectations were not high.
Group cancels performance
Saturday’s concert was supposed to feature First Nations DJ group A Tribe Called Red, but the group pulled out on Thursday, citing concerns about how the museum portrays aboriginal issues.
“We feel it was necessary to cancel our performance because of the museum’s misrepresentation and downplay of the genocide that was experienced by indigenous people in Canada by refusing to name it genocide,” the group said in a statement Friday.
“Until this is rectified, we’ll support the museum from a distance.”
Museum president and CEO Stuart Murray said the museum will and should spark protest and debate. The vision for the museum has always been to allow people to voice their opinions, he said.
“The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will open doors for conversations we haven’t had before. Not all of these conversations will be easy. We accept that but we will not shy away,” he said.
Officials said they are open to talking to different groups and will update the museum’s content as human rights issues unfold around the world.
‘The journey is finally beginning’
In addition to the opposition from protesters, the museum has faced construction delays leading up to Friday morning’s grand opening ceremony, which began with an indigenous blessing led by elders, including a First Nations prayer, a Métis prayer and the lighting of an Inuit qulliq, or oil lamp.
The ceremony was attended by numerous dignitaries including the Governor General and former Manitoba premier Gary Doer, who is now Canada’s ambassador to the United States.
Current Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz and the museum’s national campaign chair, Gail Asper, spoke at the event, while the program also featured special performances from Canadian vocal quartet the Tenors, YouTube singing star Maria Aragon and Winnipeg singer-songwriter and fiddle player Sierra Noble.
Asper paid tribute to her late parents, Babs and Israel Asper, who were the driving forces behind the museum.
“Neither my father Israel nor my mother Babs [is] here alive to celebrate with us, but I know they would be filled with gratitude and joy that the journey is finally beginning, this beautiful journey of education and, most importantly, action,” Asper said during the ceremony.
A children’s dance finale, representing Canada’s next generation of human rights leaders, concluded the opening ceremonies program.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t in attendance. A spokesperson said his schedule did not permit him to be there.
Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who attended the opening ceremony, said the museum is an important space.
“This is a museum that will provide information and an educational opportunity to so many Canadians, and it’ll make you proud to be a Canadian,” she said.
When asked about the protesters outside, Glover said she would like people to take a look at the museum before judging what’s inside.
Lightning rod for protests, questions
The country’s new national museum is located next to the Forks National Historic Site, where the Red and the Assiniboine rivers meet in downtown Winnipeg.
Designed by world-renowned architect Antoine Predock, the museum with its Tower of Hope and sweeping windows forms a new silhouette on the city’s skyline.
The museum has been a lightning rod for protests, and some academics say they’re concerned the content may be susceptible to interference by governments, donors and special interest groups.
“The most important concern is not the concern of individual communities who are disputing the exact manner in which their wrongs have been depicted, but rather the overall issue of independence,” said Michael Marrus, an expert on international human rights at the University of Toronto.
Glover said at the opening ceremony that the museum “must present a balanced and factually accurate account of both the good as well as the bad.”
Murray said the museum has not been subject to any interference, and the content does expose Canada’s human rights failures.
“You have to shine a light in some dark corners in Canada’s history because we have to know, I think, where we came from to know where we’re going,” he said.
Northwest Tribes and First Nations block fossil fuel exports.
Eric de Place (@Eric_deP) and Nick Abraham, Sightline Daily, September 8, 2014
Across the Northwest, Native communities are refusing to stand idle in the face of unprecedented schemes to move coal, oil, and gas through the region. It’s a movement that could well have consequences for global energy markets, and even the pace of climate change.
Now is a good moment for pausing to examine some of the seminal moments of resistance from tribal opposition to fossil fuel exports. Yesterday, the second Totem Pole Journey came to an end with a totem pole raising ceremony at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. As it did last year, the journey showcased the tremendous breadth and depth of indigenous opposition to coal and oil schemes—spanning Native communities from coastal forests to the high plains interior of North America.
The journey was a reminder not only of the particular moral authority of the tribes and First Nations in the face of fossil plans, but also the fact that they are uniquely equipped to arrest these export plans.
Like the United States, Canada is in the midst of a natural gas boom. The industry is trying desperately to move its products to foreign markets, but concerns about public health, fishing rights, and environmental damage have First Nations raising red flags.
Many of the First Nations in British Columbia have banded together against a liquid natural gas facility at Fort Nelson in northeast BC. At what is now being called the “Fort Nelson Incident” Chief Sharleen Gale gave a rousing speech, saying:
My elders said, you treat people kind, you treat people with respect… even when they are stabbing you in the back. So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourselves from the room.
Gale later asked LNG representatives to leave as well, and the event galvanized the BC aboriginal community. Since then, no fewer than 28 BC First Nation organizations have signed a declaration to put the facility on hold.
The Canadian federal government gave approval to the Northern Gateway Pipeline in June, and women of the Gitga’at Nation did not take it lying down. In protest, they stretched a 4.5 kilometer (2.7 mile) crochet chain across the narrow channel near Kitimat, where the export facility is proposed to be built.
“It’s to show that we’re prepared to do what it takes to stop them because we can’t let it happen. It’s the death of our community, our culture,” said Lynne Hill, who generated the idea.
You cannot eat money…you see the devastation of the oil sands: a huge part of that land is no good. What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to our children?
The US Northwest
Like their neighbors to the north, Washington Tribes have had major concerns over fossil fuel exports, not to mention the way they have been treated by proponents of the projects.
In 2011, the would-be builder of the Gateway Pacific coal terminal near Bellingham got into hot water with permitting agencies after it was discovered that they had begun construction without approval. Not only did construction crews destroy acres of sensitive wetlands, they also damaged local Lummi Nation burial grounds.
It was a not-so-subtle “accident” and was the last straw for many in the local tribal community. The Lummi subsequently burned a mock check from the terminal proponents at the site of the planned coal terminal. It was a pivotal moment for activism in the Northwest.
Opposition from the tribes can be a tremendous barrier for the coal, oil, and gas industries to surmount. Above and beyond their sovereignty, most of the Northwest tribes have specific fishing rights guaranteed to them in their treaties with the US government, rights that were subsequently reaffirmed and clarified by the Boldt Decision of 1974. Those tribes have firm legal footing for demanding access to their “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds, which include most of the places where fuel terminals would be located.
Other Puget Sound tribes have also made it publicly clear that they are firmly against coal exports. In April of last year, tribal leaders joined then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in the Leadership Alliance, a coalition against coal export.
Said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Melvin Sheldon:
When it comes to coal… the negative potential of what it does to our Northwest—we stand with you to say no to coal. As a matter of fact, the Tulalip say ‘hell no’ to coal.
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and one of the state’s most influential Native American leaders, declared:
For thousands of years, Washington State tribes have fought to protect all that is important for those who call this great state home. We as leaders need to protect our treaty resources, our economies, and the human health of our citizens and neighbors.
The Nisqually Tribe likewise has submitted thorough public comment in opposition to a giant coal terminal planned for Longview, Washington. Beloved tribal leader Billy Frank, Jr., who recently passed away, was a persistent voice in opposition to Northwest fossil fuel exports. In one of the last things he wrote, he declared his solidarity with the Quinault Nation, who are fighting against a trio of oil terminals proposed in Grays Harbor Washington. Frank wrote:
The few jobs that the transport and export of coal and oil offer would come at the cost of catastrophic damage to our environment for years. Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, and neither do oil and fish, oil and wildlife, or oil and just about everything else. It’s not a matter of whether spills will happen, it’s a matter of when.
Networks of tribes, like the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), also voiced their strong concerns about what the proposals would be mean for their communities. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also declared its strong opposition to oil exports from the proposed site at Grays Harbor, highlighting fishing disruption in the Puget Sound, health problems in their communities, and pollution.
In fact, the 57 nations that make up the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians unanimously voted in May of 2013 to officially oppose all fossil fuel export facilities in the Northwest.
Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, may have put the tribal community’s view most clearly:
Our communities are wedged between the railroad and the river. We’ve got nowhere to escape. If we cannot escape, neither will the coal.
Lumley’s words are proving prescient. Last month, yet another Northwest coal export terminal was dealt what was likely a fatal blow. The Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit to Ambre Energy, which plans to ship coal from a site on the Columbia River. Among the most influential factors the state agency cited for its decision: tribal sovereignty.
The decision was, in some ways, recognition of the power that the region’s tribes and First Nations can exercise over the fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are cropping up across the Northwest. By asserting treaty rights and voicing cultural concerns, tribes are presenting a major barrier—are a key part of the thin green line—to a reckless expansion of coal, oil, and gas schemes.