‘The arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice’

treaty-chapter4hIn 2011, diaries kept by Daniel D. MacMartin, Crown-First Nations treaty commissioner for Ontario in 1905, were discovered at Queen’s University. ‘Legal counsel Murray Klippenstein claimed that in MacMartin’s diaries oral promises had been made that contradicted the written Treaties and supports Elders’ claims…. Klippenstein argued that oral promises that are part of the Treaty should override legislation.’ Maybe it’s time to renegotiate the treaty. Read on….

Rebecca_Tarbotton-by-HroeyerBecky Tarbotton says, ‘What we’re talking about, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is transforming everything about the way we live on this planet. Really. We’re talking about re-embedding the economy within the limits of nature. That’s the project, and it’s a really long-term one…. You know, we really are in the midst of what will be the next Industrial Revolution. Joanna Macy called it ‘The Great Turning’, and I say the evidence that it’s happening is all around us if we care to look…. Martin Luther King said that the arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice. And sometimes I don’t think we can see it bend, sometimes it feels like it’s sort of flattening out, and there’s other times … that we can see that arc perceptibly bending towards justice, towards balance.’ image by hroeyer.

Thomas_Berry-by-caroline-webbThomas Berry called this project ‘The Great Work’. Writes Mary Evelyn Tucker that for Berry, from the beginning, some form of consciousness ‘is present in the process of evolution. Matter,’ she writes in his biography, ‘is not simply dead or inert, but a numinous reality consisting of both a physical and spiritual dimension. Consciousness, then, is an intrinsic part of reality and is the thread that links all life forms.’ image by caroline webb.

A Great Turning or Great Work takes a long time, hundreds, if not thousands or millions of years. Collectively we may have that long, but not individually. We still have to face the day-to-day stuff, like kids and hunger strikes. Michaëlle Jean says ‘she finds it troubling that so many aboriginal people take their lives because of a sense of powerlessness.’ She says, “we have a Third World in Canada.” ‘ Public opinion seems to agree with the former Governor-General that the chief end her hunger strike, though Rick Salutin says Chief Spence has a point. image by roosewelt pinheiro.

saul_john-(cred.-Kate-Szatmari)-306-306In A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada, John Ralston Saul, husband to another former Governor-General, says, ‘Canada is a Métis nation, heavily influenced and shaped by aboriginal ideas: egalitarianism, a proper balance between individual and group, and a penchant for negotiation over violence are all aboriginal values that Canada absorbed.’ However, ‘Canada has an increasingly ineffective elite, a colonial non-intellectual business elite that doesn’t believe in Canada.’ image by kate szatmari.

Paul_Martin_in_2006-by-Kate Gottli-from-wpPaul Martin, architect of the Kelowna Accord, says Ottawa has ‘no understanding’ of Native issues. Comments in Letters to the editor of The Star from Jan 19th include ‘these First Nation leaders … can read the character flaws of the too many Canadians who are driving indigenous people (and the majority of the world) headlong into environmental catastrophe’ (Judith Deutsch), and by building pipelines in Native territories and removing environmental protections, ‘Harper shows that he views First Nations as nothing more than obstacles to economic goal’ (Marc Herscovitch). In the wake of Attawapiskat audit concerns, Denis McKee points out that ‘Toronto politicians spent $74,000 to renovate a locker room’ and that ‘under Chief Spence, the Attawapiskat First Nation reduced its debt’ while ‘the Harper government gave hundreds of millions to wealthy foreign-owned auto manufacturers who then laid off workers…. Attawapiskat invested its income from the De Beers’ diamond mine to produce ongoing revenue … when the short 10-year life of the mine is finished. Perhaps we should be asking who is making the better decisions.’ image by kate gottli.

Spence-by-fred-chartrand-from-the-g&mA hunger strike is a form of protest against injustice used by Gandhi and many others. In Canada, May used it before she became an MP to protest the toxic tar ponds in Nova Scotia, and Senator Hebert used it to protest funding cuts to Katimivik. Now Theresa Spence, who has gone almost six weeks without eating, uses it to call attention to the plight of her people in Attawapiskat and aboriginals across the land. But the unwilling starvation in the early 1900s that preceded the signing of the treaty between Canada and the First Nations of James Bay, mentioned by Stan Louttit in ‘On the Path of the Elders‘,  and noted in the treaty itself (‘undoubtedly at times they suffer from lack of food’) is not a form of protest against injustice. It is the spectre of Death, and a poor context for negotiation. Who wants to negotiate when you’re desperate? Canada and the First Nations are bound by treaties. Spence urges us to read the treaty between Attawapiskat and Canada, Treaty 9. It’s easy enough to find on the web, so I did, and more. image by fred chartrand.

treaty-chapter4hThe treaty sets aside land for Natives–reserves–which ‘will not in any way interfere with railway development or the future commercial interests of the country…. No valuable water-powers are included within the allotments’ and ‘connections may be made for … roads.’ However, as several Elders said (see below), ‘we were promised that our traditional activities would not be regulated from us.’ Were those promises broken? Could decades of broken promises and a government that seems intent on breaking more underlie the angst of the Idle No More movement and Chief Spence’s actions?

pathoftheelders.comThe treaty mentions ‘evidences of approaching civilization and of the activity in railway construction and surveying, which had rendered the making of the treaty necessary.’ More than a century later Louttit says Natives ‘were in the way of “progress” and certainly in the way of railroads, clear cutting forestry, mine development, surveying, road construction and exploration.’ Treaty 9, aka the James Bay Treaty, was written in 1905 and signed that year, 1906, 1929, and 1930, ‘reluctantly‘ by some to avoid starvation. ‘Many people heard stories of other peoples to the south who were signing treaties for money, medicine, schools and relief as a means to help them survive. Our Elders, parents and village leaders were thinking of the future for their communities, families and children…. So it was in this way that our peoples sought to make a treaty with the governments of the day’, writes Stan Louttit, a Cree from Moose Factory. ‘The governments … wanted to make sure the land was open to settlement and railroads for easier access to the resource development they had in mind for the north.’

Anishiinaabe Elders remembered ‘the treaty as a relationship of sharing with the governments, and not land surrender or government regulation.’ Treaty-signer Elder Hosea Wynne said, ‘Many times we, the Elders, discuss this and we tell the young people of today. But they do not believe, just like the government doesn’t believe. There are too many worldly pleasures the young people are involved in. Things come from the government, even things that are not good. It allows them these things. These are the things that are distracting today’s youth. They think it makes them happy.’

Attawapiskat was entered into official treaty with Canada and the Province of Ontario relatively late, in 1930 (Treaty 9 adhesion), and the majority of the First Nation members moved to the community as late as the mid-1960s. Traditional structures, thinking and interpretation of life were maintained in a deeper fashion than for many less isolated First Nations communities…. There is still an awareness of traditional way of life among most of the Attawapiskat First Nation members.’ image from wikipedia.

treaty8-caIs the treaty land shared or surrendered? The written treaty uses the word ‘surrendered’, but the treaty was orally translated. Something seems to have changed, to have been lost in translation. According to Louttit, Elders ‘viewed the treaty as a relationship of sharing with the governments, and not land surrender.’ Elder Jimmy McKay said ‘I can clearly remember when the treaty was signed…. We were promised that our traditional activities would not be regulated from us.’ image from treaty8.ca.

Murray-Klippenstein-from-klippensteins-caIt gets complicated. The treaty says, ‘Throughout all the negotiations we carefully guarded against making any promises over and above those written in the treaty.’ But in 2011, diaries kept by Daniel D. MacMartin, treaty commissioner for Ontario 1905, were discovered at Queen’s University. ‘Legal counsel Murray Klippenstein claimed that in MacMartin’s diaries oral promises had been made that contradicted the written Treaties and supports Elders’ claims [for example, ‘Elder Hosea Wynne stated there was a problem concerning the verbal promises and especially the written treaty, “But there is no agreement in there. Everything that was promised should have been written there. This is not a true treaty, what you see there. These promises are missing.” ‘]…. Klippenstein argued that oral promises that are part of the Treaty should override legislation.’ Maybe it’s time to renegotiate the treaty. image of klippenstein from klippensteins.ca.

treaty-chapter4g-from-pathoftheelders-comElder David Sutherland, ‘interviewed about whether the treaty as he understood it meant they surrendered their land in exchange for support, replied, “No we did not.” ‘ Loutitt continues, ‘Our Elders had a very clear idea that the Treaty meant sharing of the land and resources and not surrender as was written into the Treaty.’ image of the signing of the treaty at Winisk (near Attawapiskat). Left to right, standing: Father Martel, John Bird, Xavier Patrick, David Sutherland, Dr. O’Gorman. Seated: Commissioners Cain and Awrey. July 28, 1930. From pathoftheelders.com (Library and Archives of Canada. PA-094963).

‘Our Elders in 1905 did the best they could for us living today. Our Elders secured our education, protected our hunting, fishing and trapping rights, and ensured health care,’ writes Louttit. ‘From the Elders oral history we see that they talked about sharing the land and resources and they expected the newcomers to do the same. Remember, I said earlier that sharing and reciprocity was our land-based philosophy and tradition during the fur trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company and we expected the government to follow in this tradition.’

Victor_Mine_taken_in_August_2011_-De Beers Canada officially opened the Victor Diamond Mine in 2008 on Attawapiskat First Nation traditional land. ‘An Impact-Benefit Agreement (IBA) was signed with community leaders in 2005 to be later protested by the community through demonstrations and road blocks. De Beers has negotiated a lease area. Although it is acknowledged that the mine is on Attawapiskat traditional land, the royalties from Victor Mine, flow to the Province of Ontario, not Attawapiskat First Nation.’ A not-subtle indication of the Government’s intent is that the Prime Minister changed the name of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The de Beers mine is part of the government’s northern development strategy. image from de beers.

Elizabeth_II-by-Bill Ingalls-May_8,_2007_editThe association between the Canadian Crown and Aboriginal peoples of Canada stretches back to the first interactions between North American indigenous peoples and European colonialists and, over centuries of interface, treaties were established concerning the monarch and aboriginal tribes. Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples now have a unique relationship with the reigning monarch and … generally view the affiliation as being not between them and the ever-changing Cabinet, but instead with the continuous Crown of Canada, as embodied in the reigning sovereign.’ image by bill ingalls.

john-duncan-by-fred-chartrandThe CBC reported in 2011 that ‘Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan claimed that officials in his department were unaware of Attawapiskat’s housing problems until Oct. 28, despite having visited the community many times this year.’ However, the ministry ‘has known about the worsening living conditions at Attawapiskat for years, says former Indian affairs minister Chuck Strahl.’ As we see in the NFB film, People of the Kattawapiskak River, this isn’t the only time Duncan has been ignorant about Attawapiskat.  image by fred chartrand.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, who ‘announced that the AFN had approved a resolution renewing calls for a meeting with Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston on Jan. 24, … backed Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s demand for Johnston to be present at a meeting between First Nations and Harper to discuss treaty issues.’ image from the cbc.

ellen-gabiel-from-cbcThe CBC reports that ‘Ellen Gabriel, of the Indigenous Women of Turtle Island, said Friday [2013-01-11] that the prime minister is fostering hatred of aboriginals across the country by failing to condemn racist reactions to the Idle No More movement.’ image from the cbc.

On Tuesday I had an MRI. In the hospital lobby I was struck by all the non-living things, things I used to accept wholeheartedly, like wood panels which were once trees, or girders made from ores extracted from the Earth, or plastics made from oil also extracted from the Earth. Star Trek and Star Wars–which I love–and Dr Who and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and 2001: A Space Odyssey too–are visions of the future, but do we accept the trap of relying on our technology to rescue us, or do we truly boldly go where no one has gone before, without dilithium crystals and phasers? image from how stuff works.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m going crazy. I know that what I, in my brief appearance on the Earth, what I believe doesn’t mean a hill of beans. But like I learned from Tarbotton, ‘the arc of history’ is long and it bends ‘towards justice, towards balance.’ I am honoured to be part of that arc. I’m mindful of what I heard Philip Berrigan once say, that if the problem you’re working on you expect to see solved in your lifetime, the problem isn’t big enough. Still, I gotta learn to laugh more and celebrate the small victories. You know, to be pleasant to be around and to stop from going crazy.

We watched on PBS a bunch of palaeontologists race against the clock to dig up hundreds of mammoth skeletons from 40,000 years ago. They only had fifty days before developers took over. They had no evidence for the massive die-off. Could it have been predators, like big cats, wolves, or bears? Too-early humans? An earthquake–Hey! Maybe. During the quake the solid ground would liquefy and the mammoth sink, perhaps up to its knees. Then the ground would stop shaking and solidify, leaving the mammoth trapped. It would starve to death. They first recreated this with a miniature and then CGI. At first, at the dig, the palaeontologists were ecstatic. But back in the lab, one soberly, compassionately, reflected on the awfulness of that death. Scientists have feelings too. image from the cbc.

We watched scientists worry about a much smaller animal, the mosquito, the leading bearer of death to humans in the 20th century. We thought we had it licked at the chemical level with DDT. Ooopps! Now we’re aiming at the molecular level with genetics and nanotech…. image from the cbc.

LaurieBrown from cbc ca radio2 images host march 20 2010 m hollowayLaurie Brown says there are two kinds of people: Boomsters and Doomsters. Boomsters think technology will save us, growth will continue ad infinitum, etc, whereas Doomsters think technology is a trap and growth, material growth, has limits. But what if you’re neither a Boomster nor a Doomster–or you’re both? Technology could save us or it could be a trap. Who knows? Or both, it could save us, but in so choosing we are entrapped, and we have only certain options, which is like some scientist’s–I forget who–definition of creativity. Maybe in the long arc of history, it doesn’t matter, or maybe it all matters. Long arcs are made of short segments. Moments. Actions to take while sinking up to our knees. Or not. Either way, we end up in layers. I take hope from my heroes, people like David Suzuki, Jane Goodall, Wade Davis, and Stewart Brand, people who have seen firsthand both the misery and the joy of human actions and remain optimistic.

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