Census 2016: Where is the discussion about Indigenous education? John Richards

Valid points:

Recently, Statistics Canada released the final batch of results from the 2016 census. It included education statistics for Canadians – including Indigenous Canadians.

Perhaps Indigenous education outcomes are the most important findings in this final batch, and among Indigenous education outcomes, perhaps the most important are high school completion results among young adults. They provide a snapshot of how Canada’s K-12 school systems are performing. For the record, among non-Indigenous young adults (20-24) in 2016, 92 per cent have at least a high school certificate. (Canada is above the overall OECD average.) Among Métis, 84 per cent have completed high school. Among First Nations young adults living off reserve, 75 per cent. But among those living on reserve, only 48 per cent have done so – less than half.

Regardless of race, children who do not complete at least high school are unlikely to gain regular employment and are probably doomed to poverty as adults. Arguably the best way to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and “settler” populations is to close unacceptably large education gaps, starting with high school.

Admittedly, both on and off reserve, First Nations results are five to six percentage points better than in the 2011 census. However, if any other sizable group of young Canadians realized such large high school completion gaps relative to the Canadian average, there would be a hue and cry.

Earlier in the decade, there was. Shawn Atleo, at the time national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), spoke eloquently about the importance of education. Despite some serious disagreements between them, Atleo and then-prime minister Stephen Harper succeeded in negotiating legislation for the organization of reserve schools, plus a large increase in federal funding. Rather than look at the Atleo-Harper agreement as a glass half-full – which could be topped up – most chiefs and Liberal MPs denounced their efforts. Atleo resigned, and Harper let the legislation die when the election writ was issued in 2015.

While I think the legislation was a decent compromise, perhaps I am wrong and the legislation deserved to die. In 2016, the new, Liberal government quietly increased funding for reserve schools in line with the Atleo-Harper agreement, but there is little evidence of urgency on this file from either Ottawa or most Indigenous leaders. Among the 94 “calls to action” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), only seven concerned K-12 education and only one referred explicitly to the provinces, the order of government responsible for almost all Indigenous students in high school.

It is important to realize that only half the Indigenous population are “registered Indians” entitled to live on reserve, and fewer than half of those “registered” actually live on reserve. Since there are few on-reserve high schools, most children living on reserve attend provincial high schools.

The AFN, the TRC and everyone else involved in K-12 education should be raising a hue and cry with provincial governments and their education ministries. The census shows which provinces deserve the most aggressive prodding. Among the six with large Indigenous student cohorts (Quebec to British Columbia), B.C. stands out as by far the best, Manitoba as the worst. In 2016, 70 per cent of on-reserve First Nations young adults in B.C. had completed high school; in Manitoba, only 36 per cent. In B.C., among First Nations young adults living off reserve, 81 per cent had a high school certificate; in Manitoba, 61 per cent. Some interprovincial differences are due to variations in social conditions – but only some.

As a generalization, both on-reserve and provincial schools are doing things better in B.C. than in the other provinces. Not perfect, but better. While B.C. has no “silver bullet” to close the gaps, it can point to many incremental initiatives over the past quarter-century that, cumulatively, have succeeded.

If the on-reserve high school completion rate rises six points every five years, then in 35 years it will match the rate for non-Indigenous young adults. That’s a long time to wait.

via Census 2016: Where is the discussion about Indigenous education? – The Globe and Mail


House of Commons gearing up for Indigenous languages in chamber


Ottawa is boosting its roster of Indigenous language interpreters in the House of Commons, even as MPs grapple with whether to move beyond the chamber’s two official languages, English and French.

An extra interpretation booth has already been added to the new Commons chamber in the West Block, slated to open next fall as the existing chamber gets a 10-year makeover. From there, specialists will be able to interpret Indigenous languages like Cree and Ojibway, as well as other languages, in real time.

“Given that there are approximately 60 different Indigenous dialects in Canada, grouped in 10 families, the capacity of qualified freelance interpreters in Indigenous languages is extremely limited,” warns an internal briefing note from Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

An artist’s rendering of the temporary House of Commons chamber, in the West Block, to open next fall. The new chamber has been fitted with a extra booth that can be used for simultaneous interpretation of Indigenous languages used by MPs. (Government of Canada)

“The [Translation] Bureau is working to develop this capacity and has assigned a senior interpreter to work on assessing and building capacity. Other factors to be considered are related to security clearance, travel (distances and costs are significant), and the ability to assess language skills in Indigenous languages, which is limited, as well.”

The July 2017 document indicates the government is gearing up for a potential linguistic watershed: the first simultaneous interpretation of an Indigenous language ever provided in the Commons chamber.

The issue has been forced by Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, who gave a speech in Nehiyo, or Cree, in the chamber on May 4. One of every five people in his riding is Indigenous.

Ouellette provided 48 hours’ notice of his speech, but there was no simultaneous interpretation into English and French — prompting him to ask the Speaker of the House to rule on a question of privilege.

Ruled against

Geoff Regan ruled against Ouellette, while acknowledging some MPs might find the situation “woefully inadequate.”

Regan then wrote to the Commons committee on procedure and house affairs, on Sept. 25, suggesting MPs study the issue. The committee has agreed, and is expected to hold hearings early in the new year.

“I want the grandmother who’s sitting in a reserve in her community to be able to turn on a channel and to listen to the Cree language, and listen to the great debates going on in our Parliament,” Ouellette said in an interview.

The Commons chamber has echoed with many languages over the years, including Japanese, Cantonese, Punjabi and Italian, and even a 1983 exchange between two members in Latin and Greek.

Indigenous languages heard in debate have included Dene-North Slavey, Inuktitut, Ojibway, Salishan and Cree, including comments from New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash after the 2011 federal election.

But simultaneous interpretation in languages other than English-French has been restricted to those rare occasions when a foreign dignitary has visited, requiring an extra booth be set up in the crowded chamber.

The Translation Bureau did provide simultaneous interpretations for two Indigenous senators in the Upper Chamber for a 2009 pilot project. And two Commons committees received simultaneous interpretation of Indigenous languages for a total of 14 days in 2016, including during visits to Kuujjuaq and Iqaluit, says the briefing note.

via House of Commons gearing up for Indigenous languages in chamber – Politics – CBC News

2016 Census Environics Presentation: Release 6 – Education, Labour, Journey to work, Language of work, Mobility, migration

Really good detailed series of slides on the latest Census release. Not just for policy and data nerds:

via 2016 Census: Release 6 Education, Labour, Journey to work, Language of work, Mobility, migration

Australia’s citizenship saga resurfaces ‘legacy of pain’ for Indigenous MPs | The Guardian

Interesting wrinkle to Australia’s s 44 dual citizenship prohibition for parliamentarians (some Indigenous Canadians have likely also had citizenship issues given lack of documentation):

Requiring Indigenous politicians to prove their Australian citizenship has been an upsetting and anger-inducing process that resurfaced a colonial “legacy of hurt and pain”, two federal parliamentarians have said.

Some were unable to say when or where their family members were born because the Australian government never registered the births or recognised them as citizens.

Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman, was not considered an Australian citizen until she was 10 years old, and in her maiden speech described her experiences of “racism and exclusion”.

Being forced to justify her place in Australia again, as the federal parliament sought clarity on everyone’s citizenship status, was “gut-wrenching”, Burney told Guardian Australia.

In an attempt to end the continuing parliamentary chaos over breaches of section 44 of the constitution, all parliamentarians have been required to lodge declarations and evidence of their citizenship. The forms request the date and place of birth for parliamentarians, their parents and their grandparents, as well as any evidence required to show any citizenships to other nations were renounced.

“I have been made to feel quite angry about what I had to go through to find out about my father and his parents,” said Burney. “The only way that we could find out anything was to go to what was left of the old Aboriginal Protection Board records, and there was a document written by my grandfather to the mission manager on Brungle reserve, requesting permission to build a home.

“To go and have to do that, to go to the old Protection Board records, to realise the best they could do was a letter requesting permission to build a roof over their heads, it really stirred up a lot of deep emotions. Some of that was just disgust and an understanding of the way our people were treated.”

Burney said she understood there had to be a “circuit breaker” in the citizenship crisis and she hoped this process would achieve it. “Somehow or other this issue needs to be dealt with, intelligently and sensitivity, because I suspect there are people – not just Aboriginal people – who are going to find out some very difficult family histories.”

The NT Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy told Guardian Australia there were “moments of outrage” as she sat in her office trying to complete the questionnaire. “Because just a simple act of filling out this document reminded me of how far our country still has to go in recognising First Nations people in our country, and the legacy of previous policies and the impact they still have today,” she said.

“It brings up a lot of hurt, the legacy of hurt and pain, because we reflect on very real circumstances on the past that impact on the present.”

McCarthy was raised on Yanyuwa country, near Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria, to an Indigenous mother and a father of Irish descent. She is a traditional owner of Yanyuwa land and uniquely has declared as much on the parliamentary registry.

“The difficulty for my maternal side of the family is that we don’t know the dates of when my grandparents were born on Yanyuwa country and Garawa country, or even the dates of my mother’s birth, although we’ve always guessed it was around 1950,” she said. “My maternal grandmother we guessed around 1930.

“I don’t know [details for] my maternal grandfather and that’s largely because statistics and birth certificates were just not part of the way of Australia and the policies of the time didn’t include us.”

McCarthy said she had no concerns about an unknown second citizenship in her background, but added the Labor party’s vetting was strict.

Other parties appeared to be more lax. Among those to have been found ineligible is Jacqui Lambie. The former Tasmanian senator is Indigenous, but her father’s Scottish heritage bestowed upon her dual citizenship, overriding her place as a First Nations Australian.

Western Australian senator and Yawuru man Pat Dodson declined to be interviewed but in a speech to farewell Lambie he decried the system which “put to one side” her Indigenous heritage. “It’s an absolute tragedy that our constitution was written by all these white folks that never bothered to consider and incorporate the First Peoples in it,” he told the Senate.

McCarthy said: “This is what the non-Indigenous men of the day, when they wrote this constitution, this is what they determined for this country.

“The question is do we want to change that?”

To change it would require a referendum. Referendums are difficult to win – something Malcolm Turnbull recently cited to justify his total rejection of an Indigenous voice to parliament.

McCarthy said constitutional recognition of First Nations people must come before any changes to section 44. “If there is a genuine approach to [the concerns of First Nations people], and if First Nations people can see and will believe that, then any steps towards changing the constitution would probably follow suit,” she said.

via Australia’s citizenship saga resurfaces ‘legacy of pain’ for Indigenous MPs | Australia news | The Guardian

Pathways to Prosperity 2017: Building Bridges between Indigenous and Immigrant Communities

Not able to attend this conference and session but some interesting presentations available at the links below.

My faves: IRCC presentation on the process of engaging Indigenous peoples in the new citizenship guide (explaining in part why it is taking so long) and the Vancouver and Winnipeg examples of what communities are doing on the ground:

Historically there has been little effort to bring together immigrant and indigenous communities, and to promote harmonious relations between these groups. Rather than gaining knowledge of indigenous history and culture, immigrants have often either been uninformed or presented with misinformation and stereotypes. This session focuses on strategies that can be implemented to remedy this situation and create mutual understanding, including several notable promising practices that are being used in various locations across the country to build bridges between indigenous and immigrant communities.

  • Authentic Sustainable Relationships: A Vancouver Model (Download Presentation) (Video – Coming Soon)Kory Wilson, Executive Director, Indigenous Initiatives and Partnerships, British Columbia Institute of Technology

  • Colonial Persuasions: Sovereignty as the Limit of Reconciliation Education for New Canadians (Download Presentation) (Video – Coming Soon)Kevin FitzMaurice, Associate Professor, Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Sudbury

  • Building Bridges: Promoting a Harmonious Relationship between Indigenous People and Newcomers in Winnipeg (Download Presentation) (Video – Coming Soon)Abdikheir Ahmed, Director, Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, and Maria Morrison, Coordinator, Citizen Equity Committee of the City of Winnipeg

  • Citizenship and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (Download Presentation) (Video – Coming Soon)Alec Attfield, Director General, Citizenship Branch, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)

via Pathways to Prosperity 2017 National Conference – Canada’s Place in the World: Innovation in Immigration Research, Policy, and Practice – Pathways to Prosperity: Canada

A guide: Think before you appropriate

Interesting guide developed by the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project led by George Nicholas of Simon Fraser :

To mark this latest appropriation [Victoria Secret] , I felt it was time to recirculate a guide that was developed by the Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project, a project I led that explores and facilitates fair and equitable exchanges of knowledge relating to heritage.

In response to the frequent instances of appropriation in the news relating to the fashion industry, members of the IPinCH team produced “Think Before You Appropriate: A Guide for Creators and Designers.”

Taking a practical and pragmatic approach by posing a series of questions to consider, this guide unpacks important questions about cultural appropriation. It provides advice to designers and marketers on why and how to avoid misappropriation and underlines the mutual benefits of responsible collaborations with Indigenous artists and communities.

The lead developer on the guide was Dr. Solen Roth, with illustrations by Eric Simons. Roth has done extensive research on Indigenous cultural heritage and commercial products, especially in Canada’s Northwest Coast.

The guide has much broader applications than just fashion. To note just two instances, it’s been used by one book author to help him decide whether to contact First Nations groups to discuss using their mythology in a children’s book, and by a potter who manufactured Japanese-inspired ceramics.

As my colleagues and I have found, many First Nations and Native Americans are willing to share their culture, and are open to conversations with product developers. Reaching out and consulting can lead to fruitful collaborations and mutually beneficial results.

Here are some excerpts from the guide:

The costs and risks of misappropriation:

For you and your company:

  • Discrepancies between your practices, on the one hand, and the values you want to be associated with, on the other
  • Negative campaigns and calls to boycott your business
  • Costs of removing or modifying a line of products, both online and in stores
  • Lawsuits and other legal challenges

For Indigenous artists and communities:

  • Reinforcement of stereotypes that are the source of discrimination
  • Misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and their cultural expressions, undermining efforts to educate the public about their histories and culture
  • Heightened competition for artists and artisans who have been developing these cultural expressions, generation after generation

The benefits of a responsible collaboration:

To you and your company:

  • Less risk of your products causing offence or harm to Indigenous artists and communities, and less risk to your personal or company credibility
  • Cultural richness and relevance from higher-quality renditions and more culturally informed interpretations of that cultural heritage
  • Opening your business to the market of the artists’ networks and communities
  • Brand association with progressive efforts to counter stereotypes about Indigenous peoples

To Indigenous artists and communities:

  • Opportunities to counter stereotypes to a broad audience and consumer base
  • Opportunities for public education about history and culture at a wider scale
  • Heightened public recognition of community heritage
  • Artist exposure to a wider audience
  • Increased economic resources to support individual livelihoods, as well as community efforts to ensure cultural perpetuation

Before designing your product or garment ask:

  1. Does my project truly require the use of Indigenous cultural heritage?
  2. Am I basing my work on accurate knowledge and representations of Indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage?
  3. Am I sure that my work in no way reproduces stereotypes about Indigenous peoples?
  4. Am I sure that my work does not show disrespect for the beliefs and world views of the Indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage inspires me?
  5. Does my work reflect a deep and original reinterpretation of elements from various sources of inspiration, or does it rely on the copying or imitation of existing Indigenous works or styles?
  6. If I embark on a project that is inspired by Indigenous cultural heritage, what steps will I take to ensure that it leads me to a respectful and responsible collaboration?

via A guide: Think before you appropriate

Kaleidoscope: How a Ukrainian dance ignited a debate on cultural appropriation

Latest cultural appropriation debate but one leading to conversations:

Six young men dance arm-in-arm, stomping as they move in a tight, precise circle.

The men kneel and clap as a dozen female dancers float and swirl and kick across the stage at a recent rehearsal in their Saskatoon studio.

This Ukrainian folk dance is called the Holubka. It’s familiar territory for the dancers and their bouncing, gesticulating choreographer, Serhij Koroliuk.Some have said it’s never OK for Ukrainians to dance powwow. Pewapsconias, founder and CEO of Neeched Up Games, doesn’t go that far — her point is that this particular performance was disrespectful to Indigenous people.

That August night at Folkfest, Pewapsconias and her sister had enjoyed the dances and food at other pavilions, and hoped to do the same at the Ukrainian.

When Kaleidoscope began, Pewapsconias, an active member of the Indigenous Poet’s Society, said everything changed.

Pewapsconias noticed when a blanket containing flags of many immigrant nations was unfolded on stage, neither flag for Treaty Six nor the Métis Nation — the Indigenous jurisdictions on which the City of Saskatoon sits — was represented. The Indigenous dance costumes were partly plastic.

​Pewapsconias noted that for decades, First Nations people were banned from dancing powwow and performing their spiritual ceremonies.

It was part of a massive effort to eradicate Indigenous culture that included residential schools, the pass system and the Sixties Scoop.

She and her family are finally reclaiming their culture, so she was shocked to see non-Indigenous people taking liberties with their traditions.

“It just immediately went from having a fun, OK night to feeling powerless, feeling angry,” she said.

“I feel this way. The people I’m with feel this way. I need to share this on social media and call this out. So that’s what I did.”

Some on social media accused the dance group of using Indigenous culture as entertainment. But others defended the dancers saying critics were too sensitive.

A love letter to Canada

 Koroliuk hasn’t spoken publicly about this controversy until now.

He created Kaleidoscope as a love letter to Canada on his 10th anniversary of becoming a citizen. His dancers have performed this same routine several times in Saskatoon and around the world to standing ovations. He said people of all cultures including Indigenous have thanked the group for reaching out to their culture.

Koroliuk calls himself “a made in Ukraine Canadian.”

He was born just one generation after a genocide called the Holodomor in which millions of Ukrainians were intentionally starved to death by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

So he was particularly hurt to see the online comments calling him a colonizer and accusing him of cultural appropriation.

“Shocked. The simple answer is I was shocked. So were my dancers,” he said.

“I thought I was contributing in this way and expressing my gratitude but I felt like I was outcasted and saying ‘This is not your place.'”

‘Coming from a place of goodness’

Caught in the middle of the controversy was Don Speidel of Buffalo Boy Productions.Speidel, who has spent his life trying to bridge the gap between Indigenous cultures and the rest of society, offered advice to Koroliuk when the dance was first created more than a decade ago.

Many criticized Speidel for “approving” the dance, but others say Koroliuk took liberties and should have consulted more. Still others saw the dance as imperfect but applauded the effort to honour Indigenous cultures.

Speidel, who has travelled the world conducting ceremonies, including a recent honouring of late-singer Gord Downie in Ottawa, said he doesn’t want to point fingers at anyone — he’d rather figure out ways to bring people together.

He said he understands the frustration of young Indigenous people who are often finding their voice through social media. He also sees the efforts being made by non-Indigenous people, even if the execution doesn’t match the intent.

He said the key is for everyone to respect each other.

“When you want authentic engagement, you might be prepared to take that relationship to a whole other level.”

“It’s really about that idea of coming from a place of goodness.”

Reconciliation begins with conversation

That relationship-building has already begun.

Koroliuk and Pewapsconias met earlier this fall and agreed to take the stage together in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

Koroliuk has put Kaleidoscope on hold. He said he didn’t intend to cause pain but knows that the dance did.

He wants to work with Indigenous experts and hopes they can find a way to honour First Nations people.

“I’m puzzled and definitely I will have to address it differently,” he said. “Many hurt was done to First Nations people. I recognize that. We all live side by side. Let’s be good friends and neighbours. Let’s build this great country together.”

Pewapsconias also wants to learn more. She said she never meant to hurt anyone, but knows the Facebook posts did.

She said reconciliation begins with conversation — sometimes those are awkward, sometimes painful.

“I hope good things come from this and we’re able to leave the table being able to shake each other’s hand and give each other the respect they deserve,” she said. “because we’re all human.”

via Kaleidoscope: How a Ukrainian dance ignited a debate on cultural appropriation | CBC News

Who gets to be Metis? As more people self-identify, critics call out opportunists

Interesting account of the debates and divisions over Métis identity:

The scent of burning sage lingers in the air as drummers begin a song of welcome. They are traditions dating back centuries, but on this Sunday afternoon the ceremony opens a gathering of one of the country’s youngest Aboriginal groups — the two-year-old Wobtegwa Métis clan.

The meeting, held in a high school auditorium, has brought together members from a corner of Quebec stretching northeast from Montreal past Quebec City and south to the United States border. Some of those present have long known of their Indigenous roots; for others the discovery has come recently. But they have all come together to push for government recognition of their rights.

“This clan is sovereign on its territory,” Yves Cordeau, band chief for the Lac-Mégantic region informs the group.

If the claim comes as news to many in Quebec, it’s because the province’s Métis awakening is recent. Raynald Robichaud, the Wobtegwa’s clan chief, says even members of his own family discouraged him from returning to his Aboriginal roots. “We knew we had a great-grandmother who was aboriginal, but our family absolutely did not want to talk about it, because they were afraid,” he says. “For us now, the fear is gone, and people are coming back.”

Yves Cordeau poses during a break in the meeting for the Wobtegwa aboriginal community, a new Metis group that is trying to attract new members in Sherbrooke, Quebec November 19, 2017.

According to the latest census numbers, make that coming back in droves. Between 2006 and 2016 the number of Métis increased by 51 per cent, with the most pronounced spikes in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Demographers say natural growth explains only a fraction of this increase. “Put simply, more people are newly identifying as Aboriginal on the census,” states Statistics Canada’s report.

Checking a box on a census or connecting to family heritage is one thing. But as groups like the Wobtegwa lay claim to special services and territorial rights — in some cases, the same land as other Aboriginal groups — a backlash to the influx of new Métis is emerging. Some critics question the motivation of those who “become” Métis, and the impact of their activism on more established groups. Others question the right to self-identify at all.

Last month, for example, two professors posted a scathing piece on “self-indigenization,” or “becoming” Indigenous, on the website The Conversation. The “meteoric rise” of Métis in eastern Canada, wrote Darryl Leroux, of St. Mary’s University in Halifax, and Adam Gaudry, of the University of Alberta, is mostly due to white Québécois and Acadians using “long-ago ancestors to reimagine a ‘Métis’ identity.” These new Métis are “deeply invested in the settler status quo,” they added, and could undermine the sovereignty of First Nations in Quebec and the Maritimes.

Leroux, Gaudry and organizations representing western Métis maintain that mixed ancestry alone does not make one Métis. True Métis — as recognized by the Constitution as one of Canada’s three aboriginal groups — must have roots in Manitoba’s historic Red River settlement, they say. That can include Métis all the way west to British Columbia and into Ontario, but not as far east as Quebec and the Maritimes.

Chris Andersen, dean of the University of Alberta faculty of native studies, shares that view. The wave of people identifying as Métis because they have one or two Indigenous ancestors somewhere in their family tree do a disservice to “legitimately Indigenous people” who have been separated from their communities and are trying to reconnect, he says. “Métis identity is not a soup kitchen. It’s not open for people to come whenever they feel some hunger for belonging.”

The impression that Métis identity is there for the taking is in part because of the Supreme Court of Canada. Two key decisions — Powley in 2003 and Daniels in 2016 — were seen to expand the scope of who is considered Métis. Powley, which involved members of a Métis community near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., established a three-part test to determine Métis status in order to assert Aboriginal rights under the Constitution. The court ruled that one must identify as a Métis person; be a member of a present-day Métis community; and, have ties to a historic Métis community.

After Powley, new Métis groups sprung up in eastern Canada, but so far none have managed to have their Aboriginal rights recognized by a court. The Daniels decision, however, which recognized the Métis as “Indians” to whom the federal government has a fiduciary duty, contained a paragraph that breathed new life into their aspirations.

“There is no consensus on who is considered Métis or a non-status Indian, nor need there be,” the court wrote. “Cultural and ethnic labels do not lend themselves to neat boundaries. ‘Métis’ can refer to the historic Métis community in Manitoba’s Red River Settlement or it can be used as a general term for anyone with mixed European and Aboriginal heritage.” For eastern Métis, proof of the latter is enough. Their organizations typically accept anyone who can provide a genealogical chart showing an Indigenous ancestor.

Denis Gagnon, a professor at Université de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg and former Canada Research Chair on Métis identity, says those in the west who claim they are “the only real Métis” are hypocritical. They fail to acknowledge how their own ranks have swollen in the last 15 years. “Every day I meet people who have a Métis card but do not have the culture,” he says. “They know a little bit of history. The expression they use is that they are non-practicing. It’s like a religion.”

Undoubtedly, part of the draw of Indigenous identity is the rights and benefits it is seen to confer. The meeting of the Wobtegwa grew lively when discussion turned to which stores accept their membership cards and deduct the provincial sales tax. News that the Wal-Mart in Lac-Mégantic accepts the cards caused a stir, but others reported most other shops yielded no discount. Cordeau explained that members would have to be patient until the federal government or the courts officially recognize their Aboriginal status. And he warned a woman who said she had her new car delivered to a First Nations reserve to avoid paying tax that she could be tracked down for fraud.

Georges Champagne, who says he joined the Wobtegwa because his family has Algonquin roots, has more basic needs than saving money on a new car. He opens his mouth wide to show a discoloured molar. “I’ve got a rotten tooth, but I can’t get it removed because it costs too much,” he says, explaining that his treatment involves putting an aspirin on the tooth to dull the pain. He hopes official recognition by Ottawa will provide dental benefits like those offered to First Nations and Inuit people.

Gagnon acknowledges that some of the people claiming Métis status in Quebec may be opportunists. But in an interview he says he believes others “are proud of their identity of mixed ancestry … and now they are fighting for their rights. It’s legitimate.”

His position is forcefully rejected by St. Mary’s University’s Leroux, who in a September lecture at the Université de Montréal called the existence of a distinct Quebec Métis people “a myth.” He accused Gagnon and other like-minded researchers of “rewriting history” and “creating an Aboriginal identity for a colonizing people.”

In his interview with National Post, Gagnon counters that Leroux is spreading “hatred” toward eastern Métis.

Relations are hardly more cordial between eastern Métis and their First Nations cousins. In Nova Scotia, Greg Burke, chief of the Bras d’Or Lake Métis Nation, says his group’s 250 members and the thousands of other Nova Scotia Métis deserve the same benefits as the province’s Mi’kmaq. He belittles Mi’kmaq reserves as “welfare states” and says Mi’kmaq leaders claim exclusive Aboriginal rights in Nova Scotia because they do not want to share the millions they receive from Ottawa. “This is all about money at the end of the day,” he says.

Some eastern Métis have gone so far as to present themselves as the true descendants of Canada’s first inhabitants.  In a 2007 presentation to Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor commission, Métis organizations from Gaspé and the Eastern Townships described themselves as “the only direct descendants of Quebec’s First Peoples.” They said “the most miserable” were forced onto reserves, where they succumbed to disease, but the Métis took to the bush and “refused to die on ‘your’ reserves.” It is a message echoed by Cordeau at the Wobtegwa meeting, who describes First Nations people as victims of forced immigration onto reserves. “We decided not to. We are still standing,” he tells the 90 people in attendance.

Ghislain Picard, Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Quebec, is not surprised the census shows more people claiming an Aboriginal identity in this era of reconciliation. “People want to find their identity. It is a very human reflex to want to trace your origins. In that sense it is a good sign,” he says. But he foresees conflict if Métis groups take it further and lay claim to land. “If the territory is claimed by more than one group, it doesn’t help our cause,” he says.

The phenomenon of indigenization is not all about claiming land or seeking tax breaks, of course. In her book Becoming Indian, Circe Sturm examines a similar trend in the United States, where the 2010 census recorded 577,000 more people identifying as Cherokee than there were members of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. What drove this new identification, she found in her interviews, was not economics.

“It’s almost a conversion narrative,” says Strum, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Their life before was empty of meaning. They felt isolated. They felt wrapped up in the modern condition. There is a nostalgic longing for what being tribal means.”

Also important is the “pull of indigeneity,” she says, which can be romanticized by people troubled by the historic mistreatment of Native Americans. “If you look at this settler-colonial history and you look at the dispossession of Indigenous people by white folks, which side do you want to be on? If they have multiple ancestry, they want to claim the side that makes them feel like they have an original relationship with the land and don’t have to be guilty for being here.”

Monique Tremblay came to the Wobtegwa meeting to sign up for a membership card after recently learning from a cousin that she has an Aboriginal ancestor four generations back. She sheepishly admits that as youngsters in Gaspé, she and her friends did not think well of the native people living on a nearby reserve. Today, she says, times have changed. “People think more highly of Aboriginals,” she says, “because we see that there were a lot of things done in the past that were not right.”

via National Post

Douglas Todd: Who decides the land is ‘sacred’?

Todd on the Ktunaxa/Jumbo Glacier case:

Ktunaxa elder Chris Luke Sr. lives in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains, about 1,000 kilometres east of Vancouver. He doesn’t speak English and he knows how to keep his silence.

Still, Luke is a powerful man.

For eight years, the elder’s religious vision has seized the attention of Canada’s top courts, demanding the focus of hundreds of lawyers, judges, civil servants and politicians.

Their work became necessary because Luke said he had an epiphany in 2004 — which he did not reveal to his people until 2009 ­— that the grizzly bears that inhabit a large chunk of public land in the Purcells are sacred, divine protectors.

As a result, Luke’s small tribal group entered into years of hard political negotiations with the B.C. government, which turned into a precedent-setting court case against developers of a ski resort called Jumbo Glacier.

The case, which Luke and his people lost this month in the Supreme Court of Canada, not only raised profound questions about Canada’s commitment to protect religious freedom, it opened a bigger cans of worms. It highlighted philosophical, ethical, anthropological and religious issues.

Four of the broad questions from Luke’s case are: Who decides what is “sacred?” Are religious beliefs static? Is Indigenous spirituality monolithic? Do aboriginals consistently respect the land?

In the case, known as “Ktunaxa Nation versus British Columbia,” the elder was put forward as the sole source of religious truth.

“The record is clear that the Ktunaxa (believe) only certain members of the community, knowledge-keepers, possess information about spiritual values, and that only Mr. Luke could speak to these matters,” wrote the judges.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed the Ktunaxa were “sincere” in following Luke’s vision of the “Grizzly Bear Spirit.” But the judges noted the Ktunaxa had believed for less than a decade that the grizzly territory they call Qat’muk was of utmost spiritual significance.

The judges concluded timing didn’t matter, though. “Whether this belief is ancient or recent plays no part in our analysis. The Charter protects all sincere religious beliefs and practices, old or new.”

In other words, Canadian courts are obliged to take seriously almost anybody who convinces their followers that land in B.C., or anywhere, is absolutely sacred.

Theoretically, Luke could have been a New Age guru from, say, Los Angeles, who persuaded a group to “sincerely” believe parts of Saskatchewan, or Mississauga, were untouchable. The potential is high for arbitrariness.

Even though the Ktunaxa lost their case, two of nine Supreme Court judges (and many aboriginals and their supporters) believe the majority made a mistake in one of the reasons they refused to stop the ski development for religious reasons.

In general, I tend not to champion giant ski resorts, nor shopping malls nor casinos, whether on public, private or Aboriginal land. Like many Canadians, I also strongly support reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous populations, along with the treaty process.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed the Ktunaxa were ‘sincere’ in following their elder’s vision of the ‘Grizzly Bear Spirit.’ But the judges noted the Ktunaxa had believed for less than a decade that the grizzly territory in the Purcell Mountains was of utmost spiritual significance. Determining ‘sacredness’ is subjective, and the courts justifiably don’t want to take a stand on it.

But, with the Ktunaxa case, it’s hard not to think the majority of judges were more reality-based than the dissenters.

One of the flaws in the Ktunaxa lawyers’ arguments was in the definition of sacred. Who decides what is sacred? And what rights does that give those who claim it?

The court concluded understandings of “sacred” are subjective. In a pluralistic society, one person’s sacred is another person’s profane.

So, instead of legally protecting a physical place or object that some claim sacred, the only thing Canada’s courts rightly felt justified in guarding is religious expression (which includes giving Sikhs the right to carry kirpans, or ceremonial knives).

Beyond the legal angles, which are many, the Ktunaxa case also brings up many broad religious issues, including about whether faiths are static.

Though many think religions such as Christianity or Islam are set in stone when they’re founded, many other believe they change over time. The Ktunaxa case inadvertently confirmed how a group’s theology can dramatically evolve, since the court found no evidence they believed in the “Grizzly Bear Spirit” before contact with Europeans.

The case also touches on the question: Are Canadian Indigenous beliefs monolithic?

The two dissenting judges seemed to assume so, with Judge Michael Moldaver saying things such as, “There is an inextricable link between spirituality and land in Indigenous religious traditions.”

But no judge mentioned the wide religious diversity among Canada’s 1.7 million Indigenous people, including that two of three are Christian. That includes many Ktunaxa.

Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality, by Philip Jenkins, is one of many books describing how eclectic and syncretistic Indigenous spirituality has been, including in the way such things as smudging rituals have been loosely borrowed and adapted.

We cannot assume religious uniformity among Indigenous people or anyone else, even though the dissenting judge appeared to do so — somewhat naively, romantically.

Canadian scholar Rod Preece’s Animals and Nature has detailed hundreds of ways North American Indigenous people have through the centuries mistreated the land and animals.

That includes the way Prairie natives killed thousands of buffalo at a time, wasting their meat, sometimes just taking their tongues. It also entails recent events, such as the Inuit hunter on his snowmobile who chased 162 wolves to their deaths and B.C. aboriginals joining non-Aboriginals in overfishing.

North American aboriginals often ambivalent approach to nature also suggests itself when tribal groups erect unsightly billboards and casinos on what is supposedly “sacred” land, along with huge commercial developments, such as the new Tsawwassen mall.

Such troublesome realities, however, didn’t stop Judge Moldaver from playing the role of a religion expert when he insisted Aboriginals are unique in their firm belief physical things are sacred.

That’s unlike those who follow “Judeo-Christian faiths,” Moldaver claimed, “where the divine is considered to be supernatural.”

Thousands of religion scholars would disagree with the judge’s generalization. They might cite the Christian theology of “incarnation,” which teaches God is embedded in every natural thing, not to mention the commitment of Jews and Muslims to their holy lands.

Moldaver’s awkward attempts at theology serve as a reminder of why Canadian courts have decided never to rule on what is religiously “orthodox.”

To be fair, the dissenting judge was trying in his way to further the valuable process of reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginals.

But the majority of judges went ahead and actually did so: By clarifying that ostensibly political claims about who controls public land cannot be made on religious grounds.

via Douglas Todd: Who decides the land is ‘sacred’? | Vancouver Sun

Why Indigenous Languages Should Be Taught Alongside French and English

Chelsea Vowel makes the case (the practicalities will be a challenge):

There are constitutional protections and billions of dollars of funding for Canada’s two official languages, but what of the languages of the original peoples on these lands? I’m not suggesting that all 70 Indigenous languages be made mandatory and offered in every corner of this country. Instead, we need to be looking at supporting these languages where they exist, on the lands whence they originate. In Iqaluit, that would be Inuktitut, while in Halifax it would be Mi’kmaq. Each province and territory should pass an Official Languages Act recognizing the Indigenous languages that originate in those areas, and bolster this recognition with funding to ensure language transmission continues in schools, workplaces, and government. Incentivizing second-language learning in an Indigenous language could be done by hiring speakers in daycares, schools, and public service positions.

It often feels as though we are being asked to justify the continuing existence of our languages to a Canadian audience who may not value them. I believe we need to remind Canada that Indigenous languages are an Aboriginal right, enshrined in section 35 of the Constitution, as well as an inherent right — to speak and pass on our languages — that is recognized internationally by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which Canada has officially adopted. What we need now is an implementation of those rights, supported with adequate funding.

Everyone stands to gain. Embedded within our languages are cultural concepts that have the potential to give all Canadians a deeper understanding of our place in relation to the world around us. Our languages have been systematically devalued for generations out of a misplaced sense of their inferiority. Yet many of the concepts currently being explored by Western medicine, environmentalism, and the humanities are foundational within Indigenous cultures and languages. Holistic health and teachings, understandings of interconnectedness with human and non-human beings, and ways of being in good relation with one another are all described in our various Indigenous languages.

Public perception has a powerful impact on policy, and when Canadians are told that Indigenous languages are on the rise, this obscures just how desperate the situation is. Twenty-four of the Indigenous languages listed in the census have less than 200 speakers each, and if what we truly need are highly fluent speakers, then even these numbers are likely inflated. Even among the so-called robust languages — Cree, Inuktitut, and Ojibway — language loss is speeding up.

We can and must start planning to offer these languages alongside English and French throughout the country. Don’t let a rosy reading of the statistics lull you into a false sense of security. In 10 years, we will once again count the number of speakers of Indigenous languages in Canada. Without immediate, robust, and heartfelt intervention, language decline will be irreversible. As someone who has fought hard to access and reclaim her own Cree language, I am asking Canadians to recognize that we are at a tipping point. Please, support us, and come learn with us.

via Why Indigenous Languages Should Be Taught Alongside French and English – Chatelaine