I attended the conference on the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples held recently at McGill University.
First of all, through some delays in registration by the Cree School Board, as students we found ourselves scurrying around looking for ways to get in after we were informed it was all booked up. I attending the conference wearing a Nation press pass. Fortunately, I saw other students, such as Alice Petawabano, Lillian Brien and Ella Saganash at the opening session. I was caught up in greeting many people whom I had not seen for some time before and during the sessions. It was a welcome change from studies and the opening made me aware of the importance of the Royal Commission. I was surprised at the amount of controversy surrounding the findings and how valid the report would actually be. By this time everyone was wondering if the governments would act on it or not.
During the conference I had a chance to hear three interesting women: Andrea Bear-Nicholas from St. Thomas University, NB, Martha Flatherty from the Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association, Ottawa, ON and Patricia Monture-Angus of the University of Saskatchewan, SK.
Andrea Bear-Nicholas has spent the past 30 years researching Malecite/
Maliseet history (located in eastern Canada, including Quebec) and was despaired by the misspelling of their name throughout the report (“Malecite” is used by Quebec and “Maliseet” by the New Brunswick Natives). Although she appreciated the intent of the Royal Commission, she felt they had failed in a most critical way: history is missing. The report leaves out a critical truth in that Native people had their land stolen.
Bear-Nicholas asks the question: “Are we asking for land out of the goodness of their heart?” She believes that Canada continues to be an imperialist state that still seeks to dominate Native people. The early colonial discussions with Native peoples about treaties sounded good but the colonizers’ real intent was to get the land away from Natives, according to Bear-Nicholas. She feels not much has changed. We may be tricked yet again with the report.
Martha Flatherty spoke of the amount of money spent on the Royal Commission. She told us that women’s issues such as economics and social development do not receive adequate funding. Women’s votes are needed but still women’s programs continue to be underfunded and women still have to struggle for equality. Women and children are at the center of violence in the homes. Flatherty ended by saying that to continue cutting women’s funding is a sure way of guaranteeing seats for men in the legislation.
Patricia Monture-Angus remarked on Matthew Coon Come’s comment on hope for the future for Aboriginal peoples. She said it would seem men are more hopeful in this direction than women. Hope is important for our survival. Monture-Angus went on to say that change has to happen in our communities, not Ottawa, for women to feel hopeful as well.
The Commission’s report states “women’s work is behind the scenes,” but Monture-Angus said this is wrong. Everything comes from the woman. The home, the family is the scene and the woman is the center of the home. Healing is not a big warm fuzzy feeling, it’s damn hard work and healing has become “women’s work.” The report states that women were highly respected. Monture-Angus said, “Excuse me, not were, are. It (the Commission’s report) is full of European culture.”
She told us, “Go home and reinforce the spider web in our communities. Like the spider, the women are the center of the web.”
From the open floor, a young blond-haired, blue-eyed student stood to her feet to ask how she could help. In her awakening from youth, she discovered the disparity of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. So many times, a young woman or man asks the same question at least once at these conferences. At a time when we feel the pain of survival in a world that does not understand our need to be who we are, we become unmoved by this type of request. Our communities experience the help of many good Samaritans who would have us change to become better equipped to deal with a set of standards that are imposed on us by others.
Unfortunately, Ella and I sat side by side weeping for the young student who was weeping beside us and for our people who needed to be understood that we have our culture, traditions and way of life. We want to be left to live then as we once knew.