Aboriginal strife in the northern world

Written by Bianca Thiglia

There is a great focus on what’s going on with indigenous people of the Southern world, their strife to protect the environmental conditions of their lands and the not always mild reactions of both the private and the public sector.
But less attention is given to the defined developed countries, especially to the conditions of indigenous people inhabiting a nation that is revered for its tolerance: Canada. They are the so called First Nations, usually pictured in maintained by public subsidies reserves. Despite their only formally stable integration, they keep on fighting to protect the land they have never legally given up, the same land that provides the natural resources Canadian economy is based on. 

The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have never signed a treaty giving up their rights to their 10,000 square kilometres territory. It has been estimated that 100 million dollars might be harvested from it annually by the natural resources industry (energy, hunting, logging). The Algonquins live in third-world conditions though and their peaceful protests are being silenced with physical coercion.

Rally against Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain

A similar aggressive approach has been employed with the Lubicon Crees. They too have never signed a treaty ceding their land rights but see oil and gas being removed by their traditional territory. A sour gas flaring resulted in an epidemic; the 2011 oil spill polluted their land that is now widely abandoned by animals. This made the community not self-sufficient anymore.
British Columbia is seeing its stunning and unique biodiversity, centred on the Great Bear rainforest, being dismantled, torn between pipelines projects opposed by an institutionalized First Nations resistance. 

But the first steps about the recognition of unceded land are happening. In Summer 2014, a court ruling recognized the aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot’in nation to 1750 sq km of their territory in British Columbia: the right to manage their land and benefit from its economical benefits even though not to ownership. The ruling affects all the never-signed-away or conquered territories of Canada. First Nations are starting to act accordingly and the Tsilhqot’in already moved for the safeguard of their environment by announcing their own policy on mining, even excluding part of their land from the practice. 

Rally against Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain

But Canadian Government is already organizing a dispossession by negotiation to limit the implications of such facts. First Nations are demanded to extinguish their right to 95% of their traditional territories in return of money and land parcels. This would push for a private property organization of the area, a method that strongly contrasts the long lasting stewardship on indigenous people. They also were forced to incur in a considerable amount of debt in order to costly prove their land rights. Most of tribes have not signed the deals yet. They remain an obstacle to the fossil fuel industry.
This may seems controversial in a moment of economic crisis but few weight the environmental crisis that is happening in parallel accordingly. Thanks to the stewardship of indigenous tribes, the “unceded” status of vast territories might not be a threat but of great value instead. Moreover, it is strongly related to the self-determination of communities that have their land as the root of their culture. “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.” is a comment from Tsilhqot’in chief Roger William.
It has to be remembered though that the image of tolerance of the Country might induce to the perception of an egalitarian context. Residential Schools, one of the worst things that Western people did to Natives in Canada, just ceased their existence between the 80s and the 90s after several criminal suits. They were designed throughout the 19th century under the motto “kill the Indian in him and save the man” and were compulsory institutions for First Nation pupils. The boarding schools aimed at annihilating the cultural heritage –including the use of their mother tongue- of the youngsters before reintroducing them in their reserves. Their curricula were simplified in order not to empower the students. This is only one of the means of cultural suppression towards native communities that are still induced to live in marginalization.