Property dispute highlights disconnect from traditional ways

Indigenous land rights are human rights

To the Expositor:

The English language is enormously amusing sometimes. For instance, what does one think of when one sees the words “certificate of possession?” So, one can picture a certificate–so far, so good. Then one can picture possession as in holding, using and having something within one’s control–again, so far, so good. But what if the phrase “certificate of possession” is used to try and describe ownership? Whoa! That’s where it gets really sticky. Think about it–a certificate is a certificate. Possession is holding, using and having within one’s control. Not one of those words has anything to do with ownership.

So that’s where Whitefish River First Nation is up to its eyeballs in trouble. It has bought into the whole game of trying to follow white man’s rules—about everything: education, housing, “standards of living,” identity, use of the colonizer’s language, etc., etc. Whitefish River is so far up to its eyeballs in the white man’s way that it has forgotten who it is. Even the name of the place is spoken in English–Whitefish River. All of the other neighbouring Nish communities have Anishinaabe names for themselves, as in Wikwemikoong, Aundeck Omni Kaning, M’Chigeeng, Sheshegwaning, Zhiibaa-asing, Sheguiandah and so on.

In fact, Whitefish River has forgotten so much of who it is supposed to be that there are four eagle staffs in the community. Not one of those eagle staffs was taken to the Eagle Staff ceremonies recently.

Which brings me to the matter of trying to live the Anishinaabe way. When I was wrongfully evicted from my home and land, given to me the traditional Anishinaabe way, Whitefish River’s council buried its head in the sand, saying that it was a “family matter” between two individuals. Not so. It was a matter of violence against women, elder abuse, wrongful eviction, homelessness and loss of indigenous rights to indigenous lands. The whole matter turned on recognition of traditional indigenous land tenure.  Remember that indigenous peoples have been on Mother Earth since “time immemorial.” Even the white man’s archaeologists have provided evidence that artifacts and remains of indigenous peoples were found in the Sheguiandah area in the early 1950s. Some scientists even discovered that some of the remains of indigenous people were found underneath the layers of soil that would have placed them there before the Ice Age. Of course, there was great academic disagreement about this, and in the end, the academics would only concede that indigenous peoples were here at least 10,000 years ago.

The antiquity of traditional indigenous land tenure of course is not recognized by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada or even by Whitefish River First Nation. All that Whitefish River recognizes is Aboriginal Affairs’ “certificates of possession.” The Government of Canada does not own traditional indigenous territories. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada does not own traditional indigenous territories.  The courts of Canada do not own traditional indigenous territories.  Indigenous peoples own indigenous territories. And yet Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and the courts behave as if they own indigenous lands. It’s ridiculous to contemplate that Anishinaabe people have to “ask” the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for “permission” to use, occupy and possess traditional indigenous lands. Yet, that is what happens right now in Canada. None of them will admit that indigenous peoples own traditional indigenous territories.

Indigenous land rights are human rights and cannot be taken away. A free, independent, self-efficacious people do not ask for permission to exercise their rights as free, self-reliant people. A free, independent self-sufficient people stand up, declare, and go forward using and exercising their rights without asking anyone’s permission.

As for me and my house, I have the right to use, occupy, possess, and own traditional indigenous territory. Anything less smacks of continuing colonialism, discrimination, abrogation of indigenous women’s rights and elder abuse. Na haaw, mii sa iw.

Marie McGregor Pitawanakwat

Whitefish River First Nation

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author was in a legal dispute with her brother Robert McGregor over the right to occupy the family home.