…nothing I say helps, and being silent does not calm my pain.

Job 16.6

There was once a Cree shaman who dreamt of a rock island with tall trees appearing in the distance, with thunder booming in the sky.

A week following the dream, the Shaman’s people heard the same ominous thunder. It frightened everyone except the Shaman.

He paddled his canoe in the direction of the great noise, only to discover a tall wooden ship firing off its cannons. He kept his distance. When the crew frantically waved for him to approach, he cautiously boarded the vessel.

The Captain, using sign language, told the shaman he wanted the furs he was wearing in exchange for his European clothes. The captain introduced him to the gun. Inevitably, he was given a few shots of “firewater.” He paddled back to the camp and told the people of his exploits. Soon afterwards, every canoe in the camp was dispatched to meet the ship. The crew was standing in formation along the deck singing “Alouette…”

The story teller, Andrew Natachequan, understands neither French nor English, yet sings the song Alouette as it was heard and remembered. This is a story being passed orally from generation to generation among the Cree people. It was the first contact the Iyiyuuch had with the French people. Although the captain was able to make himself understood, from that day there was a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that continues to this day.

We call ourselves Iyiyuuch, the people, (pronounced Ee-yooch) we are commonly known as Cree. We live on land we call Iyiyuuschii, The peoples’ land. Since 1670 Iyiyuuschii has been transferred from King to King right down to the present day governments without the knowledge or consent of the people. Oblivious to the kings and powers that be, intentional or not, a system in place for thousands of years was quietly maintained by the people. Perhaps, too quietly.

We are a society with laws for governing ourselves and our land. That has yet to be recognized. The political battles being fought today are no different than the battles fought on the plains of Abraham. Granted there is no bloodshed in the courtrooms or boardrooms, but the outcome is no less different. The natives always lose.

In today’s enlightened world one would think logic, common sense and equality would win the day. One would think wrong. In the Crees’ fight against the first phase of the Hydro projects in the ’70s, the government tried to prove in the courts that we were no longer a nation because we had the audacity to eat chicken. To justify an invasion by the invaders based on diet seemed quite a stretch to me. By that logic, whoever eats at MacDonalds must be an American!

The Cree or Iyiyuu nation located in eastern James Bay is made up of hunting territories covering an area of 175,000 square miles. Within each of these territories, whole families have lived and passed the land intact from generation to generation. Each territory has a name. Every creek, lake, hill and land formation has a name. These names have been passed down through the millennia. We will not soon forget.

Elijah Harper said “No” to Meech lake for a reason. Not to spite the French and certainly not to humour the English. He said No, because there is so much that has yet to be understood.

For too long we have watched the bullies fight it out amongst themselves. It is our time. Our time to assert ourselves and our rights. The question remains: where do we fight the battle?

Hunters, trappers, fishermen—the people—will always be there. Their voices will be carried wherever the battle take us. In the courtrooms, in the Parliaments, in the boardrooms, on the Internet— in the words on the pages you are now reading—these are our new battlegrounds.

We are fighting because we have to, not because we want to. We are fighting in the hope that one day there will be recognition of who we are.

One day our song will be sung.

Note: This editorial appeared in the Alliance Quebec publication “The Quebecer.”