When I was young, I often wondered about those guys who seemed to expel a lot of spit while hollering at the top of their lungs at other people. They often looked riled up enough to speak out, but would hold their tongues, until it was their turn to rant and rave. Often, large puffs of tobacco smoke would be violently spewed out when tempers flared and emotions ran high. These were high-level talks back in the day, the local men and women gathered around in a band meeting to discuss and debate matters of concern.
At one of my first band meetings, I heard the band manager defend a friend of mine, who had just got caught wiping out the local church’s chicken coop. The band manager’s defence was loosely based on the rights of a young hunter, loaded to the hilt with stones for his slingshot, to feed his family. How could he have known that these birds couldn’t fly and would just sit there, as he methodically killed the hens one by one? A plentiful bounty, he probably thought, but tonight, in his snotty nosed defiance, he didn’t seem to really care or be scared of the consequences of his killing spree. In the end, the band won against the church and my buddy was set free. This was in the late 1960s on Fort George Island and there wasn’t that much more to deal with, or much money for that matter.
That meeting left quite an impression on me, as the speaker was the late Josie Sam Atkinson, an eloquent orator and linguistic master. He knew when to turn up the volume, when points had to get across and agreed upon. Today, amidst the official talks in any band meeting, paper handouts and PowerPoint presentations, free coffee and cookies, the courteous yet monotonous speakers drone on about why it’s important to buy their product or service or be involved their project. They have nothing on the late Josie when it comes to stirring up support from the masses. In a way, I miss those loud, fiery speeches, as it really showed how much the speaker or leader was willing to go to get the people to back him.
If I were a chief or leader, I would encourage the ones who are passionate and truly believe in their vision of the future, or product they wish to sell, to speak up. Be heard! I think I could throw in a good speech or two to get everyone excited about a change. I would change the way we look at and interpret ourselves in order to inspire us to look beyond our imaginary woes and worries and think positively and realistically.
Sometimes I wonder if we really need to sell off land to get what we want. The funds we get now come from the exploitation of natural resources on our lands anyways. What if we did the exploiting and benefited directly instead of the roundabout funding route that exists now.
I would change the trade-off system. Instead of accepting meagre annual funding packages make it a sell-off position where we would get immediate benefits and total control. This may be exactly the opposite of never selling the land to pay for our needs, but, in reality, someone’s lands are funding the monies we get through exploitation, leaving less for those First Nations. But hey, I’m not chief or some great leader… yet.