“There is one greater power than all the powers we know—the power from above.”

Chisasibi Elder Robbie Matthew Sr. was asked to comment on the Sept. 12 Quebec election won by the Parti Québécois

Myself, I was not really concerned about who won and who lost. Myself, I was more concerned about what are we going to do about the land issue. That was my number-one priority—the land.

I was thinking like this myself. I didn’t vote myself—Tor anybody. I voted myself for the land itself. The Elders are telling us if we want to govern ourselves with self-government or self-determination, what are you going to use if you run out of land? This is a very good example for our young generation to look at about the concerns of the Elders.

And also they say, what are we going to teach concerning the land if there is no more land for us to teach our young generation? What are we going to use if we run out of land first? And this is a strong argument I guess I would say to my concerns.

And the elections, as far as I am concerned, I was not really worried about who won and who lost—as long as the priority is land, number one is land. Because we cannot do anything without the land. This is very important, especially for the voters and the leaders who are going to lead Quebec.

This comes from the Elders’ side— what are we going to do if we run out of land? Who’s going to teach?

This is a very strong argument, I guess, understanding how these Elders look at the land issue. Because they say if the Cree Nation wants to self-determine or govern itself, it must have this land as the priority. Without the land, you cannot govern yourself. You don’t have anything to go by. In other words, you cannot teach if you do not have the land. You cannot teach the traditional way of teaching, because you cannot have contact with the land because there’s no more.

And this is, I would say, a very special view, I guess, from the Elders. To me, it’s a very good lesson for me, too,

because I’ve always maintained the land issue. To me, it was number one. What are we going to do if we run out of land and if we don’t have anything to goby?

Because as the Elders put their concerns, they said: When you look at the land itself, they were talking about this to the young people, you must protect the land. Because it’s like protecting our mother. You wouldn’t want if someone wants to hurt your mother, you wouldn’t just watch. You would have to defend that person. This is the same thing with the land too. You cannot just watch and see the land being destroyed.

You have to say something now because it’s coming to the stage now that we have to use the land to govern ourselves and to teach our young generation our traditional teachings. We want to save that land for that purpose.

And about the elections, it doesn’t matter to us, the Elders, who won and who lost. As long as there is land in our territory, this is our number one priority. We need the land to teach our young generation and the generation that is not born yet.

When you have to deal with the governments and the big corporations, we have a hard time trying to put something across to them. We may have to put it like this: Myself, I’ve always tried to come up with something that the white society would understand about what we mean about the land. It’s like this: When we have a bank and we need to put the money into the bank for our future use, this is the same thing with the land issue. We must have something for our young generation to use, to develop their own strategy. That’s what we have come up with to create understanding, to put it across to other nationalities of people. This is the same thing with the land issue.

We must save that land. Because this is where we got the education, the personal education, the traditional education. It’s just like money. You have to look into things like that to make other people understand why you are so concerned about the land. Why are you so concerned about the money in the bank? You want to save that for your own, not only for yourself, but your young children. This is the same thing with the land issue too. This is how I guess other people will understand why we are so concerned about the land.

I UNDERSTAND myself very well that we cannot go anywhere else. Because this is where we came from. Canada is our homeland, our mother earth. We cannot go anywhere else. We have to educate the white society about why we do not want anything like separation.

We cannot go anywhere. Because we were here before. We were the first ones to have been here. Our ancestors have been here. The other nationalities of people arrived here later on, I guess.

With separation, I don’t think we have the chance to go anywhere else because nobody would want to take us if we want to move from Quebec to Ontario or Manitoba or British Columbia. I don’t think anybody would like to take us in. We’ve already been here.

I don’t think one bit, to my dreams I guess, that Quebec can do this. He cannot separate from Canada. Because he doesn’t have the power. Maybe he thinks he’s got the power. But there is one greater power than all the powers we know—the power from above. He cannot overtake that power unless he is given that power from above.

My understanding is that Quebec cannot succeed. He cannot succeed because why separate the nation? If a nation wants to separate, it will be a smaller group. We are told when a smaller nation does not have anything to go by, he will fall because he doesn’t have any guidance. This is what makes Canada a strong nation—working together.

To me, even though people think Quebec might separate, I don’t think one bit Quebec can overcome this, this power we have, the power from above. He cannot do that unless he is given the power to do this, because I don’t think he has the power to do it.

He has the power by using whatever, like money, but I don’t think he can do this. I don’t think our Creator will go along with that. Because we must remember—our Creator gave us life here, every day, and we should learn and we should learn to appreciate what we have, rather than separation. I don’t think Quebec will be given that privilege. That’s my strong argument about separation. I don’t think he has the power to do this.

So that’s my opinion. And I think myself it’s about time that indigenous people across Canada will have to come forward and be as one nation. And this is the only way that we can put the words I guess into Quebec. Quebec cannot separate. Even though he’s relying on the resources that we have, like the waters where he gets the power, and the minerals we have, I don’t think that won’t work.

We as indigenous people have to speak up now. Because it’s time. Because we’ve been silent for I don’t know how many years—over a hundred years now. Just sitting down and listening to the governments, taking this land bit by bit.

It’s time I guess for us to speak now—or forever hold your peace… [laughs].

We cannot just sit down any more now. We may have to go against this.

But I don’t think for myself, I’m not at least that worried. There is something that we as indigenous people have always observed and maintained—that there is one greater power than the powers on this earth here. There is greater power. I guess you need to ask for that power to be used, not on individuals, but to be understood, how this power should work.

So we as indigenous people also have another thing that we call “power from the north.” This is something that has not been revealed or even written about. Someday, you might see that in years to come. We as indigenous people call this power from the north. It’s not the electric power—it’s something different. It’s never been used. It’s never been mentioned.

And why I mention this is someday you might see it in that paper you’re making, The Nation. Someday somebody will write it down and say this is what we’ve been talking about. That is a strong power, I would say, and we would I guess be blessed from the power above.

—as told to Alex Roslin