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Indigenous Rights 1, David

Page history last edited by David Kaczan 10 years, 12 months ago


Welcome to Foreign Policy Camp Edmonton. This event promises to challenge perceptions and promote new ideas on Indigenous Rights around Canada and the wider world. Don't miss out.


You'll hear more from me on Monday.



Monday, 30th November, 2009: Welcome to Foreign Policy Camp Edmonton


My name is David Kaczan and I'll be bringing you updates on proceedings as they happen via this notice board. So let's get started...


We were honored to have Clifford Cardinal give the opening prayer for this event. We would like to acknowledge Clifford for his dedication to the promotion of Aboriginal culture, health and healing, and to cross-cultural dialogue.


Sarina Piercy, organiser of today's event in Edmonton, introduced the session by welcoming participants to the Interactive Dialogue on Indigenous Rights.  

This event has been brought to you by Canada's World, with support from the Aboriginal Students' Council at the University of Alberta, the Alberta Public Interest Research Group, the Political Science Department, the Faculty of Native Studies, and many volunteers.


But what is Canada's World? It's a national citizen's dialogue that is "out to find Canada on a Map." The organisation wants to find an alternative avenue to democratic participation, in the belief that there is no more powerful force than public participation, for enriching our lives and shaping more inclusive policy. The organisation aims to create a space for people to come together, to learn, discuss and share, in the hope that in doing so, apathy will fall away. The organisation believes that although the heartbeat of Canadian's collective conscious concerning public issues is strong, we don't always hear it.


In regards to Indigenous issues, Canada's track record is unacceptable. In 2008, the UN criticised Canada for failing to address poverty and other socio-economic problems in Indigenous communities.


Today we are here to discuss the gaps and failures in Indigenous policy, learn from past mistakes and identify positively how to move forward. The event hopes to demonstrate that Canada's collective heartbeat is strong. The aim of today’s dialogue is to develop a series of actions that can promote indigenous rights in Canada. The very fact we are having this discussion is a step in the right direction.


Indigenous issues have been growing as a global movement due to the failure of National Governments to act effectively. In the past, indigenous rights were seen as a domestic issue, but now international law (such as the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples) is increasingly recognising the issue. Canada voted against this UN declaration, however, on the basis that it could interfere with land claim processes.


Canada's Indigenous policies are increasingly placed under the global spotlight. We must strive to protect and promote languages, cultures, environments, way of life and opportunity for indigenous people. At today's session, we are examining Canada as a multi-layered entity: government, business, non government organisations, community groups, indigenous groups, environmental groups, social entrepreneurs and individuals - all have a stake and responsibility in improving the state of affairs we face.



Three community leaders/experts presented to the group. the ideas presented by the first two are covered by Aliza in the parallel blog.


Dr. Makere Stewart- Harawira is a Maori scholar and Associate Professor in Indigenous Education and Globalization at the Univerisity of Alberta. We would like to acknowledge Makere for her passion and dedication to these issues, and for giving her time to share her ideas with us.


Dr. Steward- Harawira started by considering the differences between New Zealand's relationship between its Maori people and non-Indigenous people with the same relationship in Canada. She noted the differences in the history of these countries' respective Indigenous history: Maori populations and culture were not devastated with quite the severity of Indigenous in Canada. Maori make up 14% of the New Zealand population, and increasingly more New Zealanders are identify with their Maori heritage. The stigma associated with doing so has decreased over time.


Our presenter stated her surprise at the Canadian Government's insistence on defining absolutely who is and who is not Indigenous. She asserted that doing so was a means of gaining economic and political control of Indigenous peoples, and strongly criticised Canada's Indian Act. Until 1986, the NZ government followed similar principles, and only later did "self-definition" become the norm. However, she noted that self-determination still requires genealogical verification - not anyone can claim Indigenous heritage and this prevents unreasonable claims.


In fact, our third presenter's area of research is this issue of self determination. She stated that this is the greatest challenge facing Indigenous populations in the settler countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. There is a fear in these countries that recognition of the right to self determination will allow Indigenous populations to make demands for economic and political power. She stated that the conditionality associated with treaty settlements favour privatisation and individualism. This model of settlement has formed new divisions, new forms of hierarchies and fragmentation within communities. She stated that they further marginalise traditional forms of governance, leadership and knowledge. In some cases, and with the facilitation of provincial and federal government, such treaty settlements require development that is the antithesis of the form of development espoused by Indigenous communities.


The idea that "there is no alternative" has become extended to economic models of self determination, a notion that our presenter rejected. Makere concluded by asking how do we stop asking for power and rights, and start acting in ways that expresses those rights?




The next section of the meeting consisted of short statements from participants: their background, their thoughts and their hopes for change. Aliza has covered the thoughts from the first few speakers, and here are the last two from this part of the discussion.


Our next speaker stated that being Indigenous is not just about rights, it's about responsibilities in tandem. She stated that although she was not legally accepted as a status Indian she still felt connected to her community. She expressed a need for better understanding of the terminology of self determination - what exactly it means.


Our next speaker is a resident of Edmonton who works with an inner-city agency to help homeless people. Her organisation helps 600-1000 people per day, and over the winter serves approximately 4000 different individuals. Her organisation is "non-aboriginal", meaning it is excluding from many avenues of funding and support from Government, although 80% of the people her organisation supports are of Aboriginal background. She felt that her work with street people had provided her with a wealth of understanding into the issues. She set up a board to represent the people who her organisation was serving, which led to her considering the importance of personal identity. She stated that her own identity is an issue of considerable importance to her. She stated that there is a 'melting pot' of different Aboriginal identities. She stated that unfortunately many of the suggestions and ideas that arise from participatory discussions on policy often do not filter down to people on the streets, and her interest today is in working out ways of making this happen.


The event broke into small group discussions where participants considered a central question on the Indigenous theme:  “What role should Canada play in realising Indigenous Rights in a Global Context?” This question was considered from the perspectives of government, business, NGOs, the cultural sector, social entrepreneurs and individuals.


To follow up, the participants considered the question: “what gaps exist that prevent this, and opportunities exist that can make this happen?”



Group number 1:


Group 1 felt that their ideas fell under four headings: self identity, knowledge (including non-aboriginal knowledge), power imbalance and tradition. To make tangible progress on these, the group considered specific actions.


The felt that fundamentally, there was a need for an alignment of values, or at least appreciation of different values between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community, as well as within these diverse sectors of Canadian society. They recommended the following ideas for consideration:


Consensual partnerships between Indigenous communities and the private sector or Government departments could be used to address specific community aims.


Workshops could be used to disseminate Indigenous thinking and knowledge with the non-Indigenous community. This would be particularly valuable for new Canadians (immigrants) who may identify with the Indigenous population. It was considered important that Indigenous ideas and values were demonstrated to be relevant to Canadians who may not be familiar with the issues. It was thought that the internet and ‘new media’ techniques might be valuable for this.


Films and television productions could be used to counter misconceptions and points of antagonism between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. For instance “Indigenous people pay no tax” was considered to be a commonly held view: promoting a more nuanced understanding of this issue was thought potentially valuable for improving race relations.


There could be a role for school curricula to incorporate Indigenous knowledge to help raise understanding of issues from a young age. These were considered to be most appropriate for a year 10 school level.



Group number 2 was covered by Aliza.


Group number 3


Group 3 wished to emphasise ways of improving wellness as defined by four aspects: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. These are based on the ‘Medicine Wheel.’


They discussed leadership, and reverting to a traditional way of nominating community leadership. This might involve the Sun Dance, or a democratic voting system. It was also recognised however that leadership occurs at all levels within a community and requires participation.


Keeping the language was considered very important. “The language is the people. The language is who we are.” It was also suggested that perhaps Indigenous languages should become official languages of Canada.


The group also suggested that there is inequality within the Indigenous population, with some groups receiving more support than others.


They stated that the Indian Act is responsible for a sense of mistrust.


They stated that the value of traditional land use has been lost, with a focus primarily on resource extraction and maximising economic development. They expressed a sense of dismay towards extraction instead of stewardship of the land. They suggested that the Indigenous population has many solutions and suggestions for moving towards more sustainable economic practices, however Governments are not receptive to these.


Often the community does not feel worthy of participating in the policy arena due to their socio-economic disadvantage. This was recognised on a micro level by one group member who had worked with disenfranchised Indigenous who felt that their ideas would not be listened to simply due to their impoverishment.


A strong emphasis of this group was the notion of core values: why we do the things we do as Indigenous people. Keeping the values alive was considered paramount. It was stated that protocol helps sustain core values; however these protocols must be adapted as circumstances change, and furthermore, understanding of the protocols is required. The example that was given was an appreciation of sweet grass representing forgiveness. No matter how many times it is stood on, it always stands up.


Aboriginal homelessness is a problem that is grossly misunderstood. The typical reaction is “well, just give them a house.” The group went on to explain that the concept of ownership is different for many Indigenous people and there are a whole set of criteria that must be satisfied before a house becomes a home.



The small group presentations concluded the event.


Event organiser Sarina Piercy emphasised in closing the importance of individual actions and how these can translate to wider social change. The concluding question posed was ‘how can these ideas be implemented?’ Sarina asked the group, and the wider online audience to make their suggestions via the website on moving forward from here. There was a brief discussion about the possibility of follow-on events.


A number of suggestions were made as to reconvening the group and developing more tangible, actionable ideas based on the issues identified today.



Thank you to all who contributed and made the event possible.


By David Kaczan


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