I recently asked for a book that I knew would interest me. I didn’t know when I started to read how muchit would influence me. The words that Johnny said were so close to the words I grew up with I couldn’t put the book down. The words of an Elder named Johnny Davis from right across Canada in B.C. echoed the words of my great-grandfather and others. The book Is called, “Hang onto these words, ” Johnny David’s Delgamuukw Evidence. Let me introduce you to a few of his words.
“The trees that they have been taking off our territory, the government has been receiving the money and they’re putting it in their pockets. Now we want the stumpage fees. We want the stumpage fees from all the traplines they have logged. Where do they get the money to be driving nice cars, to have a railroad system or to be flying in the air? This is our money they are using and I am walking on my feet. In the old days these people that trapped each territory, they protected the trees in blocks so that the animals would flourish. Now the government has trapped all our territories and they have all the money and the way they treat us, they throw little bits and pieces of things to eat.”
These are words from the testimony given in the Delgamuukw court case. The Delgamuukw decision said that Aboriginal oral testimony and knowledge is to be given the same legal weight as written history. Johnny’s words bring the human element into Canadian law and this is the importance of the book.
Crees need a similar work to reference their oral history. In the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the Crees achieved what was called the first modern treaty.
The words of our Elders, however, can be like lost fish to a fisher: they grow into legends and are little believed. It is as Nietzsche said, “Memory says, M did that.’ Pride replies, ‘I could not have done that.’ Eventually, memory yields.”
I, for one, would choose to respect, honour, and remember the words of my great-grandfather as he said them. To do less is to deny him and the others who spoke on our behalf in those days. It would be less than their due. Their hearts and minds were focused upon the way of life of the Cree and how that would continue.
They were the Dab Eeyou, the real ones, and the words they gave must be remembered as something true and not as we would like them to be. They, who were the guides to our survival and way of life, deserve no less.
My great-grandfather was not the only one to talk about the Cree and what they hoped for and wanted from the outside world. Many of you have relatives who talked about the Cree and the way of life they enjoyed and wanted to continue.
It is important we take the words of our Elders much as has been done in Hang Onto These Words and record them for our present and future.
For those who would say the world has changed since then I have only the words of other leaders from the outside for you to consider. Who can say that J.F. Kennedy’s famous quote – “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” – has no worth? There are many more examples.
The lives that have gone before us continue to have worth as well as pride for those who have listened to them once more.
That pride is within the words spoken to Judge Malouf and they should be saved and savoured. It is part of our history and our worth as they were spoken by those who shaped our nation.
Now all we need is our own Anonita Mills to edit these words our Elders spoke into a powerful tapestry. What has been achieved and the words that helped gain that achievement should never be a forgotten milestone. The Crees have those who can assist in editing the transcripts and if we are to achieve a Cree sovereignty that reflects our destiny it must be rooted in the footsteps of those who have gone before.