Imagine if…

Imagine if…

Your caucasian family lived in an area for thousands of generations and paid particular attention to nurturing the environment and living in tandem with it so that there would be continual health and well-being for all who lived there and all visitors who came.

That Indigenous peoples came to caucasians under a lie of friendship and peace in order to gain enough settlement to dominate caucasians all the while deliberately inflicting caucasians with smallpox and measles because Indigenous peoples knew it would kill them and make it easier to dominate and/or exterminate them.

There was a caucasian relocation program specifically targetting caucasians to remove them from the areas where Indigenous peoples wanted to live and also from where they desired to make a profit from destroying the trees, minerals, fish, lands, and waters so that they could use the money to dominate their own population.

If there was a caucasian reservation system where caucasians were forced to live where couldn’t own their own home or the land beneath their feet, their community couldn’t drink the water from their taps because it’s toxic and can kill them, there was 85% unemployment rate because it was illegal for them to access their own resources, and if they left those lands to work they would be forced to pay Indigenous peoples 35% of their income only since Indigenous people decided that caucasians didn’t have to go to jail if they left the reservation without a permit from Indigenous peoples.

That tax and a portion of all the profit from caucasian peoples’ lands was partially used so Indigenous peoples can make laws that force caucasian children to learn Indigenous peoples’ ways in Indigenous language, all the while being told that everything they were is backward or slow or irrelevant.

That tax and a portion of all the profit from caucasian peoples’ lands was also partially used so that caucasian children could be apprehended by Indigenous peoples because they weren’t raising them in the way that Indigenous peoples thought they should be.

That tax and a portion of all the profit from caucasian peoples’ lands was also partially used to fund an Indigenous police and military force that regularly murders caucasian people with little to no consequences or even investigation while threatening them into complying with anything the Indigenous people told them to do.

That tax and a portion of all the profit from caucasian peoples’ lands was also partially used to fund jails where caucasian people made up to 100% of the inmate population while Indigenous people made up to 100% of the guard population.

That caucasian women, girls, and elders were being murdered or disappearing with little attention and nothing done to address it by Indigenous people, who are the vast majority of the population and control all of the police, laws, and media.

That caucasian women were sterilized without their knowledge and against their will.

That Indigenous peoples decided that caucasian peoples were not capable of deciding how to govern themselves and Indigenous people imposed and enforced a system of governance designed to teach obedience and servitude to Indigenous peoples.

That Indigenous peoples decided that there were no ethnic, cultural, spiritual, political, physical, mental, or social diversity among caucasian peoples, so they wouldn’t have to treat them as human beings.

That every time Indigenous peoples mentioned caucasians in their pervasive media, they were presented as problematic, hostile, lazy, inferior, sad, self-destructive, violent, ungrateful, parasitic, nameless, jobless, homeless, addicted, immature, greedy, wasteful, or racist.

That caucasian people were expected to explain why they were in this situation to Indigenous peoples, who only wanted to hear that the caucasian people would get over it and just be like Indigenous people because they brought all their problems onto themselves.

That the entire system was designed to take and/or degrade everything that caucasian people had, were, and are, including their children, to benefit an Indigenous elite, determined to destroy caucasian people because their ways are a credible threat to Indigenous domination of their own people.

So if it were you, how would you feel if I told you that canada is a just society? How would you feel if I told you that you should get over it? How would you react if I told you your tone or your anger or your words prevent others from understanding? Tell me you don’t get it… if it were YOU and YOUR family and not the millions of Indigenous peoples who are being subjected to this.


Epidemic of Passivity

Are we passively accepting the genocide of our people, content to participate in the culture of consumption and greed as slaves to faceless sociopaths who pay us to not see our own chains?

Every day living in a colonial system, we must answer yes.

Are we passively accepting the widescale destruction of the vitality of the elements needed for our survival and the ambient slaughter of our friends in the animal and plant worlds?

Are we passively accepting the destruction of a healthy future for our children?

Every day we are living in a colonial system, we must answer yes to these questions.

“But I go to protests!”, we say. “But I vote my conscience!”, we say. “But I am educating others!”, we say. “But I am living my culture!”, we say. “But we need those things to live!”, we say.

The platitudes we tell ourselves do not stop the incessant progression to a horrific place in our narritive as a peoples. A horrific future where we abandon our children to survive the effects of our avarice and our arrogance. A horrific future that is quickly becoming our present.

The truth is that we have passively accepted these things and this future. We have not stood up against this genocidal/ecocidal slavery except to be included in it further and deeper. At best, our resistance has been passive-aggressive sarcasm against the very lifestyle we live, punctuated by some real real resistance visible to ourselves and others as we engage in brief blockades under the theme of “sovereingty” or “nationhood”.

By chasing “equality” or “equity” in a society terminally ill with avarice, we have sought out the pox-infected blankets unwittingly. Once again thinking the comfort of the blanket would help us to survive while unknowingly, or perhaps unbelievingly, the infection spreads throughout or societies while those who know and see shout out warnings about taking the blankets.

The ones who remain committed to resistance are ostracized by their own communties they love enough to speak the truth to despite the consequences of doing so. Their actions and words misinterpreted or dismissed as violent, dangerous, or hostile to our people when in fact they are desperate pleas to avert disaster.

How can we know those blankets are infected? One has only to look at the society from which they come. With the enslavement of their own people and the widespread destruction of their own lands at the time of invasion here, europe was a cesspool of disease, war, and famine ruled by parasitic dynastic lordship determined to dominate and control every aspect of the thoughts and actions of others while giving them just enough so they did not rebel against their slavery. The model has not changed and the parasites have only become more entrenched.

Our passivity has ensured they are not only present but has ensured they dictate even what resistance is acceptable. Condemnations of actions of people who truly want to protect ourselves and the lands physically by those who seek to passively maintain an intellectual or emotional connection to being Indigenous while not even realizing how compromised our emotional and intellectual states are (eg. speaking and thinking in english, adopting eurowestern or eurasian religions, adopting colonial identities of being “canadian” or “aboriginal” or “british columbian” etc.) and are simply degrading to our Indigenous ways and our history of resistance. In short, they demean the struggle of our ancestors, who did only what they needed to do, more than our passive acceptance of our genocide.

Our survival instinct is opening our eyes more to the racism and degradation we are facing. Our voices are becoming more widely spoken in defiance to these insults but to the open physical atacks to our sovereignty and our lands, our seeing is not enough. Our voices spoken, even shouted, are not enough. Our physical selves must be part of this battle. In no uncertain terms our collective actions must be unwavering and must be deadly serious. Without conviction and without physical resistance to the physical attacks, even the ones which have already successfully penetrated our sovereignty and lands, we will not be gifting our children with a life they will enjoy and cherish. We will be passing along the infectious blankets that have been passed to us.

Our nations are only as strong as our willingness to defend them with our bodies from those who would seize and destroy them. We have all been born into this battle. We didn’t choose it. We either fight in it by doing what we have to do or we passively accept our demise by doing what they needs us to do, passivelty kneeling at the trench alongside our children waiting for the shots to be fired. If our peoples, and indeed our leaders, are unwilling to do that, we must show them how to do what we have to. If they ask why, we must tell them why but not waver and continue to do what needs to be done. If they tell us that we shouldn’t, we must not waver and continue to do what needs to be done. If they join us, we must not waver and continue to do what needs to be done.

But first, we need to begin to do what needs to be done. See you in the streets.

Colonial Problems

Part of the problem is that the colonizers make disempowered people, suffering the spiritually debilitating effects of genocide, feel important by including them in the colonizers plans. These people who have been groomed in the colonizers ways since birth accept the subservience of themselves and their peoples to an idea of civilization that includes their genocide and they defend their position with the colonial ethos. Challenges to this indoctrination must come from our cultural worldview because that is the empowerment they lack, the strength of our Nationhood, and the truth of our existences that survives to this day.

Another part of the problem is that we have all suffered spiritually debilitaing effects of genocide and that has disintegrated vast aspects of our societies, most importantly our families and sense of family. This disempowers us to stand up to those in our nations and families who are acting against our Nationhood as we struggle to reintegrate and empower our families and we deafault to live the path of least resistance. This leads to our continued disempowerment collectively and forms the wheels on which our genocide rolls onward. If we are to arrest this progression to annihiliation and our subjugation, we must critically assess the foundations of our nationhood; our families, and make it a priority to relearn/reteach our cultural ways (language, traditions, foods, leadership, songs, ceremonies, dances, mobility, mentorship, etc.) for those who want to learn.

If people are not doing this, the last position they should be in is in decion making roles within our Nations because their indoctrination, which is all of ours in most ways, has filled them with the colonial ethos that is founded on our dissolvement as a people. For those who don’t wish to take part in “being Indigenous”, let their hearts take them where they wish and allow them to leave who we are.

But always leave the door open.

Another part of the problem is that there are many people claiming to be “decolonized” or who are “traditional” or who are “not as colonized” as others and they can often act as gatekeepers against legitimate Indigenous interest in returing to thier cultural traditions. Or worse, as “culture cops” who take the beauty of our cultures and deface it to claim power over others and to defend their own colonization by placing their actions as justifiable and right during times of widespread wrongs.

Decolonized people do not exist here. If you are decolonized, you are living an Indigenous life and living an Indigenous life would at least include access to your own lands free from colonial interference and restriction. Not one of us can claim that and people who do are living a lie or fail to understand the depth of colonization.

The difficulty here is that they may have some good knowledge of their traditions (they also may have a “cultural pastiche” which is a form of aboriginalism) and claim jurisdiction over what is and is not “traditional” or “colonial” or “Indigenous”. The counter to this is the knowledge that even our ancestors did not know what was “traditional”, at least not a singular one. It was and still remains a collective knowledge with no one person being “the authority” over what is and is not cultural knowledge.

Of course we are all colonized peoples and there is no need to establish that fact, whether or not we are aware of it is irrelevant of its effects on us. Being “not as colonized” is individualistic in orientation and reveals the colonization that is hidden as well as denying the collective pathos of our societies and families.

We are as colonized as our peoples are, simply put. We are as colonized as our families are. We are as colonized as our lands are. Our forests are fully infected, our waters are fully infected, our plains are fully infected (GMO’s, pipelines, oil and gas wells, etc.), and if we are to seek a decolonizing existence, we must challenge all of these things as they are today and bring an end to the future plans of “civilization” “growth” and “progress” that include the current models and understandings of the same.

We need our leaders to be all of us in this struggle, and every single one of us should be leading the way to our traditions for those who come after us. On that path to our cultures, we will encounter many enemies and obstacles as we have been forcefully taken a long way from who we are. There will be people and institutions blocking us as they have steadily constructed a “civilization” beind us as they force-marched us toward annihiliation. There will be the police, both tribal and state. There will be military. There will be social service agencies and lawyers. There will be teachers and there will be politicians, tribal and state. There will be churches and there will be food stores and there will be news outlets, chipping away where they can. There will be concepts of “god”, “justice”, and “democracy” to overcome. There will be family members who tell us we are going the wrong way.

We will have to return past the Residential School Holocaust and have a good look at it. We will return past the policies of assimilation and etermination. We will return past the racism, internal and external. Past blood quantum, past rape, past torture, past murder. We will return past corrupted collaborators, family and friend. We will return past our own complicity and all of the shame, anger, fear, and selfishness that we have lived and abetted through our ignorance.There will be guides on that path. Some will be masking as family or friend but they will be the colonizer. Some will be saying that the way back is by adapting the colonial tools for Indigenous uses. Some will be saying that a spiritual return is needed. Some will say that being on the land and protecting it is the way forward. Some will say being militant opposers to colonial rule is the way. Some will say being passive resistors will teach our way from genocide.

Who you follow is your choice but I reiterate; we need to learn to be leaders again. We need to lead ourselves and direct our leadership where we want our destinies to be. Not only must we lead ourselves again, we must fight against those who would stop us. Perhaps first with words and with knowledge, but it is absolutely necessary that we physically rise up against the very physical forces that are killing our lands and waters and enslaving our peoples in our own lands.

Rise up.DSCF0058

Guests of Indigenous Knowledge: Researchers and Raiders

warclub2K’oy (Me)
Being Indigenous within a Western-academic context is a contest of contradictions. As students we are committed to developing skills required for success in the academy. As Indigenous students we are often confronted with a paradox of resistance and assimilation as we compromise much in order to navigate Indigenous pathways through a colonial landscape. The nature of our engagement with the academy becomes an expression of resistance and resurgence and of accommodation and compromise. The former denotes an active metaphysical self-defence from the omnipresent forces of colonization inherent in the institution. Part of this is taking the responsibility of resurging against the colonial confines inherent within the academy for those who follow. The latter is a compromise of axiological structures in order to obtain accreditation and approval from a colonial system which seeks to maintain it’s jurisdiction over thought and knowledge as an imperial force. Dakota scholar Waziyatawin Angela Wilson (2005, p. 1) reveals that in relation to Indigenous history, the academy and “…the profession and field… has successfully colonized our past, maintaining hegemony over Indigenous written sources.” This privileging of Western academic values over those of Indigenous values foments approaches to research that counter the dominion of imperialist research paradigms. As I continue to decolonize, clarity of research principles consistent with Indigenous cosmology present themselves and possibilities of having them lead have profound implications for the future trajectory of upcoming research and even the self-determination of my community. In the following discussion, I will contribute to Indigenous principles of active metaphysical self-defence and resurgence within colonialist paradigms, whether they be in institutions, “in the field” or community, or found in the consciousness of researchers and their subjects.

Following direction from such Indigenous scholars as Smith (1999), I have inserted an Indigenous perspective into an academic paper through the inclusion of, and recognition that, my biases will be innate in this context. This identity inclusion continues the process of decolonizing scholarship and promotes an ethical point of departure for treading in Indigenous research homelands. One foundational myth which has sustained the imperialism of academia is that of the “objective” researcher. Following this notion of objectivity, publications and literary projections formed within this mythological space produce hegemonic notions of knowledge which may seem to be impartial (at least from a Euro-Western perspective) but are fraught with personal and collective biases of the academy. Without addressing one’s own experiences, worldview, and position within research and publication, one has the misfortune of being anti-ethical in an Indigenous context. Indigenous communities are vastly inter-relational and this perspective should be regarded as a fundamental requirement for research and publication of Indigenous research. It is with this in mind that I make clear who I am and where I come from in terms of this paper, and throughout development of Indigenous research methods wherever I do research.
It is in this spirit that I have dispensed with the traditional introduction and thesis statement, opting for a reflection of who I am and the reason for writing this paper. In order to reclaim a Tsimshian identity, I have devoted much time to recovering who I am and where I come from through acquisition of knowledge and this is becoming more integrated and manifested in practice. Through this process, realities of my heritage have come to the forefront which help to explain the format and content of this discussion. For instance, in recounting a brief family history below I have chosen to relate the matrilineal progression of my family, paying homage to Tsimshian cultural protocols. Relating my family in this way is by no means complete, as a detailed explanation of my family ties would be cumbersome in the context and confines of a paper on Indigenous research methodologies. Ironically however, this exemplifies aforementioned paradox of being Indigenous in a colonial landscape, as a robust accounting of my family would be culturally respectful, but would detract from the discussion on Indigenous research methodologies.

I am the son, grandson, and great-grandson of expatriated Tsimshian lineage. My great-grandmother, Mary Dennis (Enockson), attended residential school at the Crosby School for Girls in Port Simpson, B.C.. As a result of being disassociated from her home for long periods of time and subjected to mental and physical abuse, she became alienated from our Tsimshian heritage which stretches back until time began. Despite this, there were many values she taught us which can best be described as Indigenous. Values such as hard work for the good of family and community, tending to the land with a vision of reciprocity, and ensuring that the family came together at regular times throughout the year to reconnect, and being accountable to family and community. My grandmother, Norma Enockson (Dennis), grew up not knowing our Sm’algyax language, she was schooled in the English language and Euro-Canadian ways of knowing. Being indoctrinated by the Euro-Canadian society by attending public school, severed from her traditional community role and life by growing up outside of our Indigenous community, she entered the wage economy of Prince Rupert during the post-World War II era. My mother, Marlane Caplette, began the physical dislocation from our lands. Her ties to it became tenuous and fraught with psychological and emotional pain due to intergenerational trauma and this propelled her away from our ancestral lands and into the urban cities of Southwest B.C.. Upon my birth, I was three generations removed from our Tsimshian identity, and I began life not recognizing my language, knowing our songs and traditions, or having much Indigenous knowledge of the lands and waters which sustained my people since time began. I lived most of my life ignorant about who I was, where I came from, and who my peoples are. My family, from my grandmother’s generation on, has for the most part left our traditional lands and waters and today, I find myself in the process of repatriating myself into a society I never knew.

Since then, I have learned that the Tsimshian nation is comprised of at least 14 groups located along the west coast islands, fjords, and rivers of what is now known as British Columbia and Southwest Alaska. I learned also that my people, the Gitendaa or “people of the weirs,” were relocated from their village on the Exstew River which is a tributary to the Skeena River located at an approximate mid point between Terrace, B.C. and the mouth of the Skeena. They were amalgamated with 8 other groups and legislated into an Indian Act band named Lax Kw’alaams, which is actually a place name meaning the “place where the roses grow.” Through personal communications with my family, I learned that we are from the Gisbutwaada Crest which translates to Blackfish, or Killerwhale, in English. I was also told that we are from the House of Gamiyaam which is a designation to a lineage of one of several brothers who left the sacred headwaters of the interior ages ago when there was a lack of game during a particularly long winter. These stories are some of the findings I have uncovered as a part of research conducted over the last 6 years with family, personal interviews, and through academic sources. Although it has helped me to locate myself to a further extent than when I began, there is much more to these words that I am still searching for.

Decolonization is a process of my repatriation. It is the rejection of Euro-centric notions of who I am and is an active rejection of the intellectual, psychological, cultural, spiritual, and physical representations of “Tsimshian” that Euro-Canadian society has imposed me. Succinctly put, it is the reclamation of Indigenous knowledge systems to Indigenous peoples, communities, their lands and waterways, and application of those knowledge systems in a daily continuum. The process began with a reclamation of aspects of my identity which had been hidden from me either purposely, or from neglect. Asking questions from family members produced information as to the words of my identity and I now know that I am Tsimshian, Gitendaa, Gisbutwaada, and from the House of Gamiyaam. These words locate me within the concepts of Indigeneity that have been chosen from my people to decide who I am among the members of my society and how I am represented to others. These queries produced more questions which my family were largely unable to answer so I turned outward and began searching academia through books, articles, and films. I also researched with fellow Tsimshian people accessing oral histories (Adaawx), individual peoples’ research including Clan lineages, hereditary names, and linkages between tribes, Houses, and other Nations and through those processes I began to understand more of what had been left behind. A welcome and hidden addition to this process of working with my people was that I was unaware that I was repatriating myself further. By reinvigorating relationships with my community, I have established a trajectory which will continue to be significant to successful Indigenous research and repatriation. My community, and my role in it, has become clearer as my Tsimshian identity unfolds and the responsibilities I have to my people fuel the need for continuing to explore and identify Indigenous research methods which are beneficial to the Tsimshian peoples.

It is with the above in mind that I identify concisely to whom I am accountable to in my research and why (how will be expanded on in a following section). Delineations of accountability are not privileged in any particular order but are organized thus: home community of Lax Kw’alaams, Tsimshian nation, and global community of Indigenous peoples. Accountability to these groups are specific to my community and are by no means meant to be applicable to anyone but researchers and only in relation to research conducted which affects Lax Kw’alaams or the Tsimshian nation. Accountability to family and to the global Indigenous community is transferable to other contexts outside of Lax Kw’alaams and Tsimshian territory, but combined with these levels of accountability could be other specific Indigenous communities’ needs as long as their needs do not contradict those already mentioned. If conflict does arise and cannot be resolved so as to ensure those groups are not adversely affected, or that my allegiance to those groups does not compromise the integrity of the research, then as a ethical researcher, I must cease work immediately. It should be noted here though that as my decolonization progresses and my understanding of my culture deepens, there may be additions to the groups I am accountable to in order to accommodate my burgeoning identity.

A point of note is that of headings. Requirements of this assignment include questions involving themes of accountability; definitions of research; ethics, protocols and methodologies; and possible risks of engaging in Indigenous research. I have repositioned these themes into a framework which is more reflexive to a Tsimshian context as that will be the direction of further inquiry I am likely to embark on and I wish to assist in developing principles for working with my people. This is done to provide relevance and utility and so I have altered the themes slightly to encompass Tsimshian concepts, while satisfying the requirements of this paper.
I have explained the importance of the current section entitled “K’oy” by including the biases of the researcher (me) into the acquisition and articulation of research and by locating myself in relation to the research process and accountability. The following section is titled “Māḡonsk,” which is an approximation of the equivalent Sm’algyax term for research and I will expand on what distinguishes Indigenous research from other forms. Following this is “’Nüüyu Eesk,” which translates as a promise to do. This section will be dealing with the ethics and protocols of conducting research in an Indigenous context. The final section is called “Gānɫaan Gitwaaltk.” This section will devote time to outlining how Indigenous research can be protected from risks inherent with research as well as providing some ideas on Indigenous research as Indigenous resurgence.

Māḡonsk (Research, find out, explain)

Māḡonsk is word for the action of finding out. It can also mean to make sure or to explain something. I define research as being a series of values, protocols, and ethics for the purpose of seeking out and explaining events, concepts, ideas, or actions. Research can be thought of as inquiry, of finding out ideas and new knowledge, or of a different way of looking at information already known, in order to explain it to ensure it is understood properly (interpretation). As can be surmised due to the continual misunderstanding, unintentional or otherwise, between the academy and state agencies (including the so-called “aboriginal” agencies – i.e AFN, NCFNG, CAP, etc.) and Indigenous peoples, this latter aspect of research is important and is the nexus of conflicting worldviews which transposes into axiological dissonance.

Inherent in all research is the values and biases of not only the researcher, but of the institution and/or funding agency backing the research. According to Smith (1999), Western research carries with it “a cultural orientation, a set of values, a different conceptualization of such things as time, space, and subjectivity, different and competing theories of knowledge, highly specialized forms of language, and structures of power” (p. 42). Alfred (2004) contextualizes this by revealing that universities, which are for the most part are little more than self-serving departmental fiefdoms, explains that universities “are adamantly and aggressively opposed to Indigenous ways” (p. 88) which proves to make research with Indigenous peoples inherently hostile under the current academic framework. Backed by the full weight of imperialism, researchers who have been trained in Western academic methodologies continue to engage in research which reinvigorates the notion of domination theodicy before the researcher even reaches the community.
Standard practices from a Western academic orientation in terms of research have developed from a positivist understanding. That is to say they derive from a system which historically has decided the relevance of information based on Eurocentric notions of logic and of observation which reject higher philosophical inquiry including a deep exploration of ethics and morality, which are closer to metaphysics and theology. These practices come into immediate conflict with what would be acceptable Indigenous research from a philosophical standpoint let alone a praxis developed therefrom. Indigenous research places value on morality and ethics so that it plays a central role in the development of research agendas, the process, and in the results but more on the ethical obligations of Western research will be explained in the following section.

Protocols designed with acknowledgement of the power relationship imbalances between researcher and community or individual have been developed and are useful to ready a researcher for learning how to employ Indigenous research methodologies. Participatory Action Research (PAR) begins with including the community in research participation however, it is anaemic in it’s cursory examination of roles of researcher and community/participant, and there is no foundation of ethics or guidelines which support Indigenous methodologies. The actions of the researcher are not accountable to Indigenous communities and only to the Tri-Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, all of which are state-centric and exclusively informed from Euro-Canadian values or other “official” boards or councils.

Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) is another foray into developing research methods for communities. The basic concept behind CBPR is community inclusion in all facets of research and this sis a good starting point. This sees the community as a recognized stakeholder in the research being conducted and this imparts a measure of inclusion in the development, process, and dissemination of findings of research (Christopher & La Veaux, 2009, p. 4). In this way, these principles are meant to reduce the exclusively exploitative research paradigms preceding CBPR methodology. However, these principles fall short of satisfying Indigenous research methods as they do not address the historical and current manifestation of colonialism, are reliant on the good (or bad) intentions of the researcher, the level of accountability is superficial, and the control of the information gained by research remains squarely in the hands of the researcher. Again, CBPR research is accountable to state and/or institutional guidelines which privilege the power colonial power structures and inclusion of Indigenous peoples in all facets of research may only be at the state-imposed Indian Act band council level. Neither PAR or CBPR are specifically designed for research in an Indigenous context or in Indigenous communities.

Indigenous research methods compose a higher than called for commitment, at least from the academy and/or the state perspective of commitment. They comprise a set of values which are indivisible from absolute adherence to ethics and community and interpersonal relationships. This is meant to support and enhance the community based on what the community identifies their needs as. The direction of Indigenous research is meant to more than involve Indigenous people, it is meant to empower Indigenous people. Therefore control over development of a research program, information gathered during research process, and the findings must sit unequivocally with the Indigenous community.

The recognition and understanding of a colonial history and present are keys to guiding the researcher in identifying what respect should be paid to requests for research from Indigenous communities. A call for assistance in conducting research could be assisting further disempowerment of the community by a privileged few community members on behalf of colonial economic development corporations, band councils, and tribal councils, or individuals seeking personal gain. For this reason, being educated on colonialism, colonization, and imperialism should be a standard requirement for any researcher hoping to work with Indigenous communities or hoping to employ Indigenous research methods.

‘Nüüyu Eesk (I promise to)

This section will deal with the questions of ethics and protocols designed for research specifically for use in Indigenous communities or in an Indigenous context. Firstly a disclaimer, while ethics can be transferable, protocols vary from community to community and may not be contextually relevant in some cases and may not be transferable in others. A danger in codifying protocols for a community or for a project is the possibility of them becoming static and rigid in terms of applied community research. Formulating protocols should always be a balance between reflexive relationship principles based on respect and mutually beneficial processes and results intended to empower the community to conduct it’s own research for its own purposes. With this balance in mind, one can be prepared to work with a community in order to design protocols for research which are ethical to an Indigenous context.
The question of ethical principles and protocols for use in Indigenous communities and contexts has propelled communities and academics to develop or update procedures for conducting research. The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs (2007) adopted policy to “manage the collection and distribution of Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge throughout Nova Scotia” (p. 5). Going further that this and at the institutional level at the University of Victoria in the Indigenous Governance Programs, the development of a document to be used when conducting research in an Indigenous context has developed solid protocols in order to encourage ethical behaviour on part of researchers. These protocols include a section on ethics (p. 5) whereby the onus for ethical research is placed squarely in the lap of the researcher to ensure clarity, protection of Indigenous peoples, and transparency of the research program is explained and considered. The search for ethical research methods and practices which are adequate require a high degree of honesty and integrity.

Ethical research can be described as a continual reflection on part of the researcher in order to ascertain whether or not the needs of the community are a main part of the rationale for one’s conduct. It is not enough that it be only a small part and it must be weighed against personal or professional needs. The only way to ensure that it is given the chance to do so is to develop close relationships with the community participants. As the research relationship develops and trust begins to be established, it should become clearer to all parties about the biases each person carries. The trick is to have a commitment to honesty as revelations of dishonest intentions or conduct will virtually end your ability to participate further in Indigenous research as the integrity of your character diminishes and cna adversely affect your backer as a representative of an academy or agency.

I will identify four basic guiding protocols for conducting research in an Indigenous community or context and they are designed with flexibility and respectful engagement in mind. One level of engagement is that of committing to the research process as a relationship between the researcher and the community and/or participants. The next one is the co-development of a framework which addresses who is to take part, what information is sought and why, and what is an appropriate time line for conducting the research proposed. Another level is the creation of co-reflexive periods and meetings in order to permit adequate time to consider actions already taken and to decide next steps in the research process. The last basic guideline is to present updates on any drafts, information gathered, and any findings with the understanding that it is at all times the property of the community/participants, up to and including, the final outcome(s).

Committing to a relationship with an Indigenous community can take many forms and can be established in many ways. Prior to any undertaking of research, the community must be informed explicitly of the intent, scope, and nature of the research desired to be taken with the biases of the researcher (to the best of their knowledge and others’) being fully disclosed before an agreement to commit to a research relationship can be undertaken. A researcher must be open to answering any and all questions as fully and plainly as their abilities allow before a commitment can be established. One such way to establish commitment is for the researcher to be incorporated into a ceremony, such as we have in the Tsimshian culture, whereby the researcher may receive special instructions, or be housed in a bighouse for the duration of the research. Concomitant to this may be the inclusion of a written contract, the giving of a ceremonial name, or other mechanisms to reinforce the understanding that the researcher takes on considerable responsibility when undertaking research in an Indigenous context. The central theme to this commitment is to ensure that the understanding of accountability to the community is reinforced to not only the researcher, but to the participants in the research project. This is essential in guiding the researcher, who may or may not be accustomed to the realities of interpersonal relationships in an Indigenous community context. Close ties exist in Indigenous communities with many stretching back for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Committing to a process and a place in the community as an guest, or even as an insider, is one way there can be established a familiarity which will benefit the research, and build nuanced accountability mechanisms which escape being codified and defy quantification.

The next guiding protocol is that which concerns who is to take part, what information is being sought and why, and what time line is to be expected. These can be interrelated or they can be decided independently from each other, depending on the nature of the research being conducted. For instance, if there is information being sought from an Elder who is taking part in ceremonial preparations or is otherwise not available at the time research is needed, then creating a time line is impossible until it is determined when the Elder will be available. Likewise, if the information being sought is to be used in a way which is not deemed wanted by the community, then no person should be sought out who would deliver the information. Instances of this can occur but protection against this type of activity will be expanded on in the following section to deal with transgressions. Also, permissions for research from individuals must be taken in context with their role and standing in the community. If there is information gathered that is of a sensitive nature then the identity of the person and the data must be protected and discussions may be necessary about whether or not including the research will prove harmful or helpful to the community interests.

Decisions on who is to take part in research is of extreme importance due the effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples. Community divisions and social suffering has led to conflicts of values, families, and worldviews as colonialism has been forced into Indigenous communities. Colonial structures such as band councils, tribal councils, and are to be viewed with healthy scepticism in an Indigenous context as those structures are the physical representations of systemic oppression in Indigenous communities. A researcher must make sure to research a community in order to find out if there is already a community ethics board in place. If a researcher feels the need to resort to a band or tribal council in order to facilitate research, one must be vigilant in ensuring that other relationships outside of the band council are made before concluding that the community interests are indeed being served. Connections to persons to contact outside of the band council system remain difficult to ascertain, however, dedicated attempts to do so are a necessary component of an Indigenous methodology. It cannot be emphasized enough that a potential researcher in Indigenous communities be well read in works on colonialism, colonization processes, methods, and outcomes in order to appreciate the complexity of Indigenous politics and how they can influence a research agenda.

Another level is the creation of co-reflexive periods and meetings in order to permit adequate time to consider actions already taken and to decide next steps in the research process. This process is meant to be developed to mitigate the speed of research overcoming the nature of the relationship between researcher and community/participant. Communities may need time to reflect on the direction research has taken in order to discern that the original framework is going in a direction they wish to go. If may be that the research project as initiated has become irrelevant, has altered trajectory or needs to, or needs to be augmented or reduced in scope in order to fulfil needs which have arisen. Often the desire to engage in, conduct, and conclude research findings propel the researcher to fulfil obligations to funding institutions and funding agencies, rather than to the community. This leads to rushed research and there can be serious omissions and premature conclusions without allowing for the time to reflect on what steps have been taken. Other concerns may include seasonal activities which may require some research to be delayed and events which arise within communities which must take precedence such as funerals and other unforeseen events which may disrupt the research process.

The last basic protocol is to present updates on any drafts, information gathered, and any findings to the community. This protocol is augmented by the understanding that all data, information, and outcomes are the property of the community and/or participants depending on the nature of the research. Care must be taken during this protocol as information of a sensitive nature may have been disclosed and permissions must be secured in advance of presentation in a community or public forum. Presentation of findings should be done in such a way so that understanding is the goal. Jargon-laden drafts using language and style more suitable to a journal article is inappropriate and should be avoided. This would benefit researcher to a degree as it compliments a researcher’s abilities to explain complex ideas in simpler terms.

Although there is an element of progression in the protocols above, they are not meant to be used as a step-by-step process. They are intended to encourage continual engagement between researcher and community to facilitate guidance for the researcher so that the research continues on a decolonized trajectory. Aspects of these protocols are non-linear, interactive, interchangeable and can be combined to suit needs as they arise. For example, the reflexive process can be a component of the relationship building after the researcher discloses the intended research program. Or the development of an engagement process depicting the participation of suitable people can be part of the community ownership procedure in the form of divulging results in a ceremonial setting such as the bighouse. As was stated before, they are meant to guide the process of engagement, not control it.

Ethical principles are inherent throughout the protocols listed above but for clarity, they will be reiterated. Firstly, adhering to conduct which supports the empowerment of Indigenous communities and participants for the purpose of promoting self-determination and reinvigoration of Indigenous knowledge stems and its application in a daily continuum is the primary goal. Any researcher who does not have this as a guiding ethical principle has a conflict of interests in terms of doing research in an Indigenous context. This is non-negotiable and it may be incumbent on the researcher to promote such ethics when conducting research with Indigenous communities. Projects which privilege Indigenous knowledge systems for Indigenous ownership and uses can be difficult to delineate due to colonial systems in Indigenous communities, and colonial methodologies being taught in Western academies.
Ethics such as reciprocity are paramount in conducting research and should inform any decisions about research direction. Humility is necessary to cultivate in order to remain committed as the interests of the researcher come second in consideration of research orientation and the primacy must be placed firmly in the community interests; not that of the academy, funding agency or the personal aspirations of the researcher. Ethical research must come from application of moral guidelines and protocols, not with and idea of them, and this can only be done by committing to continual engagement in good faith with the Indigenous community with the understanding that the researcher is a guest of the knowledge these people carry, not an owner, explorer, or stakeholder in it.
As a guest to Indigenous knowledge, you may be asked to leave if there are instances of disrespect or if you have overstayed your welcome. Any good guest knows when it is time to leave and a researcher who is engaged in the community in a real way at an ethical relationship level will most likely know when it is time to go. A researcher must be willing to walk away from a project without having an outcome to show for it other than the valuable knowledge gained from learning how to (and how not to!) conduct research in an Indigenous context. As a researcher ventures into Indigenous research praxis, errors will be made but we must have the ethics in place so that we not only face them, but be accountable for them in a meaningful way.

Gānɫaan Gitwaaltk (Warrior’s Armour)

This section will outline how Indigenous communities and knowledge can be protected from risks inherent with research and will provide some ideas on Indigenous research as Indigenous resurgence. A continuing manifestation of imperialism in terms of research, as an extension of the academy, is that of lack of accountability. Namely, researchers have been historically accountable to the institutions of Western academia and not to the communities or participants they ply their trade. This privilege has been responsible for detestable transgressions of ethical behaviour in terms of research inflicted on Indigenous peoples. The academy has yet to be held accountable in any meaningful way and most have not developed sufficient policies which are applicable in terms of protecting Indigenous knowledge and communities from “refined” exploitative approaches. Since this is the current situation for Indigenous communities and paying attention to the continual interest in conducting research within Indigenous contexts, it is imperative that communities undertake the process of developing Indigenous research protocols specific to their communities interests and values. Notwithstanding the parachute ethnography which signalled the typical research scheme up to, and including the present, the benefits to a community which chooses to engage in research are many but the question of how to adequately protect against harmful or irrelevant research has been one which remains.

Rationalizations for conducting research which is harmful and/or exploitative can be in the guise of “good intentions” and in order to mitigate this risk, one must continually check in with oneself and also the community participants involved. A guide for assisting this can be accessed from Lynn Gehl (2010) in the form of her “Ally Bill of Responsibilities.” It is a non-academic paper which is meant to clarify what is helpful and what is not when it comes to people who seek to assist Indigenous peoples or communities and it outlines some common motivations which can commonly be misconstrued for an honest search for empowering Indigenous communities. Good intentions can often be fuelled from a sense of guilt or even worse, cultural superiority which compels the researcher to help lift Indigenous peoples from ignorance or suffering on to a level seen as “equal” to that of dominant society. While the goal may be similar, the motivations will inform the methods and ultimately, the divergent motivations will prove to be problematic in formulating respectful relationship between knowledge, researcher, and participant(s). Gehl’s work can also be used as a guide by Indigenous communities to discern between researchers who’s motivations are for the empowerment of a community or to serve the needs of the researcher.

For mitigation of discrepancies derived from divergent worldviews, the development of contracts for individual consent combined with community consent can be employed. Caution and care should be used when engaging in developing contracts as they are often viewed as static obligations and can only provide minimal requirements which cannot ensure that principles of respect and Indigenous research principles are adhered to. The deficiencies of a relationship solely based on contract are diffused by incorporating principles of Tsimshian values into the crafting of these contracts.

Corntassel & Gaudry ask, “how do we take our sacred relationships and responsibilities as Indigenous truth-tellers and translate those lived realities into respectful research and teaching relationships?” (p. 1). In a Tsimshian context, one of the most useful and culturally relevant mechanisms which can be employed by Indigenous communities to protect their knowledge and community is to require a surety from the researcher and/or the institution or funding agency backing the research. In terms of being culturally relevant, when Indigenous peoples travelled to or through other groups’ homelands, it was understood that they were guests in those lands and waterways. There were protocols which were agreed to in order to discern intent and reason for travelling abroad. There was a recognition that when you entered another peoples’ homelands, your life was in the hands of your host and you only landed and departed by permission of the hosting community leaders. Our Tsimshian Sm’oogyit would sometimes require assurances from a landing party of a neighbouring group in the form of goods and he would require a toll, depending on the context and groups, but it was common sense that the guests were the responsibility of, and responsible to, the Sm’oogyit who welcomed them ashore and hosted them. When the travelling party wished to leave they requested permission to do so from the hosting Sm’oogyit. If it was to the host’s liking and he felt that their business was finished, he would grant them permission to leave with whatever goods they received and wish them well on their return or continuing journey. Infractions against the common good or order of the community would mean forfeiture of the surety and, depending on the severity of the infraction, the perpetrator and his/her party could be subject to further action through application of our laws. Also, if the travelling party was known to be problematic, they may have been denied the privilege of landing at all and be forced to go elsewhere to find haven or do business.

With the above in mind, we can contextualize the values displayed by my ancestors and bring them forth by requiring that any person wishing to be guests of our knowledge, provide a surety in order to safeguard against conduct which is deemed harmful. Expanding on this, if conduct was deemed to be severe, invoking banishment from the community with all goods, equipment, notes, and possessions forfeited may be a way for conclusion of the arrangement if the researcher has not upheld the promises s/he made. The surety requirement could also be extended to the institution backing the researcher. This could take many forms depending on the nature of the research but it should be kept in mind the principle of reciprocity so if the nature of the research is sensitive and integral to the integrity of the community, then something of equal measure to the academy or funding agency should be secured by the community involved in the research.

As guests of Indigenous knowledge, researchers must ask for permission to leave with their findings and, much like the ownership protocols concerning songs, dances, and names, they must seek permission if they are to use it. Specific details of the intended outcomes of research must be articulated, adhered to, and the understanding must always be maintained that it belongs to the community and/or participants. It is not to be sold, traded, given, or altered without express consent of the owner(s) of the knowledge and coercive measures employed to seek this consent is a serious infraction against ethical obligations. Consequences for breaches in this arrangement can be created within a compensatory legal document with consideration given to provisions of public acknowledgement of transgressions. This would be consistent with Tsimshian public apology practices as were traditional. In the traditional way, the person who made the infraction is present but unable to directly apologize. They must stand in the centre of the House and have a speaker acknowledge the disrespect, make the apology for them, provide gifts in the form of goods, songs, pieces of copper shields, etc. and afterwards they would provide a feast for the Sm’oogyit and his house. This can be contextualized today but in order for it to be done in a meaningful way, a public apology through media and through acknowledgement to other indigenous communities in order to satisfy the acknowledgement and apology requirements. The compensation could be in the form of money, resources, scholarships, tuition waivers, or other meaningful recompense. The feasting is important because it re-establishes good relations. The feast should be held in the community where the research took place and all of the participants, their families, and the people affected by the breach in protocol should all be invited to attend in order to restore good relations.

Problematic researchers and/or institutions and/or funding agencies could be dealt with by the same values we have had for millennia. They would be denied entry into the community. Given that this is the final solution for community protection other than war, it is possible that this is not enough in order to secure the community and it’s knowledge. It may be required to go further, this may manifest in keeping a detailed history of the nature of the problematic actions of the researcher, institution, or agency and disseminating it to other communities. This is also consistent with our culture as our Adaawx is the oral history and true-telling of our people. This is the mechanism we use to define ourselves. It is our history and it is filled with our origins, defining events, wars, floods, and ways we know we are related to others and to our surroundings. There can be no mistake that portions of our Adaawx are shared with our neighbours for it is the way they know who we are as much as it is the way we know who we are. In this light, recounting the activities of our enemies (unethical researchers, institutions, and agencies) to our allies (other Indigenous groups and ethical researchers/institutions/agencies) would be ethical for us in terms of adhering to Tsimshian protocols so that others do not fall prey to the lack of ethical conduct on the part of exploitative or disingenuous parties.

These protection concepts are not mine because they come from our Tsimshian traditions but they are the property of the Tsimshian. Risks abound when a community comes into contact with eager researchers who have been trained in Western academic institutions be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous. The strategies above are meant to discourage unethical research but research still carries risks even without unethical researchers, institutions, and agencies. I believe that the most perilous risk in terms of Indigenous research is the cooptation of research, and subsequent misuse, by our own people. Given that our communities have many members struggling against and actively searching out ways to liberate ourselves from colonialism and the overarching philosophy of dominance which is imperialism, there are many committed to fighting off the overt and covert incursions onto our communities, however, engaging in battles with one’s own people carries with it social risks which can have profound effects on community members. There are many individuals of my community which are participating in our colonization and are deceived by the colonial myths of inclusion, economic expansion as an indicator for and enhancement of community health, and that amassing wealth is appropriate conduct. These individuals are coopted by the colonial system and have the capacity to invite and encourage research which is unethical in an Indigenous context. These individuals may or may not have the power of the Indian Act band council behind them but what remains clear to me is that they represent a significant danger to Indigenous research methodologies and our community.

Mitigation of this risk is highly problematic as the power structures in place in my community, already slanted toward Western concepts, privileges these individuals and perspectives. One way of mitigation is to actively participate in the development of a community ethics board independent from the band council system and comprised of selected members of the community who are known for their integrity and commitment to Tsimshian values. This is necessary for the acceptance from a community standpoint in order to be seen as legitimate in protecting Tsimshian knowledge. Enlisting the help and guidance from community Elders, historians, and keepers of protocol, can ensure that the requirements for ethical standards are met and can also function as a mechanism for Indigenous resurgence.

Indigenous resurgence can be facilitated through the inclusion of the accountability measures detailed above. In this way, the values which have been either left behind in stasis, can be reinvigorated into a contemporary context. Indigenous research can contribute even further to Indigenous resurgence by bringing forth traditional knowledge to be evaluated in a contemporary context such as has been articulated in this section. Many values which are becoming watered down by pan-Indigenism, cultural alienation, and Western education, can be reintegrated to contribute to the resurgence of community values. Research in terms of traditional food systems can contribute to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social improvements which can have lasting and widespread benefits. Other forms of research including trade routes can contribute to the reintegration into an nationhood network as knowledge gained is shared with other communities which are struggling with the same issues of health, colonialism, and research.

The possibilities of resurgence are varied and significant considering the untapped and growing demographic but let me be frank in my conclusion. We are at a time of immediate needs and my community has been colonized for a long time. This poses significant challenges as time is short and getting shorter as our Elders and knowledge-keepers are becoming older and every day we are all subjected to colonialism and attempts at acculturation from the state and all of its institutions. The time for establishing these protocols and accountability measures is now. The time for researching our history in order to bring forth the wisdom of our ancestors is now. Hesitation breeds complacency and that can find an easy home in a colonized mentality that is used to the desires of Settlers taking precedence over the needs of the Indigenous. Our needs must come now and we must commit to seeing them met. Research is one such path to a reclamation and reassertion of Tsimshian knowledge as being more than relevant and translational in a contemporary context, but as of paramount importance to survival and continuance. It is our decisions over the next few years which will shape our future as Indigenous peoples and research conducted in an Indigenous way, will contribute greatly to our ability to withstand the colonial assault and gain more tools to employ in the construction of a stronger society.

Alfred, T. (2004). Warrior scholarship. In D. A. Mehesuah & A. C. Wilson (Eds.), Indigenizing the academy: Transforming scholarship and empowering communities (pp. 88-99). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. (2007). Mi’kmaq ecological knowledge study protocol. Halifax, NS: Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.
Christopher, S., & LaVeaux, D. (2009). Contextualizing CBPR: Key principles of CBPR meet the Indigenous research context. Pimatisiwin: A Journal pf Aboriginal and indigenous Community Health, 7(1), 1-25.
Corntassel, J. & Gaudry, A. (2011). Insurgent education and Indigenous-centred research: Opening new pathways to community resurgence. Manuscript in preparation.
Gehl, L. (2011). The ally bill of responsibilities [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.lynngehl. com/my-ally-bill-of-responsibilities.html
Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago Press.
University of Victoria (2000). Protocols and Principles for Conducting Research in an Indigenous Context. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Indigenous Governance Programs.
Wilson, W. A. (2005). Remember this!: Dakota decolonization and the Eli Taylor narratives. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Colonialism is the disease.

When it comes to booze, I have heard all the rhetoric about how “Indians” are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol because they cannot metabolize alcohol as well as “other” people because they have not been exposed to it for as long as “other” races. I have also heard it is a “disease” that they call “alcoholism”. I reject both of these ideas as being false because they portray a standard of normalcy which is not able to be applied to everyone because people are diverse.

On the first point, fermented drinks have been present in these lands for thousands of generations. Some Indigenous societies have ceremonies which include alcoholic drinks as a component and it has been that way for a very long time. The difference being was that at one time it was part of a social structure that did not value consumption as a philosophy of being.

On the second point, it is known and accepted that alcohol affects the mind and the body but what is not widely known is that it affects the spirit. There has been tremendous damage to our spirits as holocaust survivors. Some have used alcohol to medicate themselves in order to survive genocide. They are coping with the continuing genocide and spiritual suffering of dispossession from lands, families, commmunities, and spiritual practices that have not been accessible or supported/supportive due to colonization. If there is a disease present it isn’t alcoholism, it’s colonialism. Drinking alcohol is a coping mechanism, not a disease and it is known even by mainstream counselling that addiction is a symptom of larger issues. Those issues, for Indigenous peoples, can be traced to a common source: genocide through land dispossession, state assaults on families and communities, kidnapping and imprisonment, murder, forced relocation, poisoned food and water sources, forced religious indoctrination, language dispossession, and a laundry list of other assaults.

Addiction to alcohol is a symptom of a much larger problem and addiction presents in many ways. Consumerism is an addiction. Materialism is an addiction. Our people get addicted to work, *ahem* facebook, video games, tv, food, sex, shoes, etc. etc. and at the core addiction is the hole. Any addict or self-aware colonized person knows what I am talking about. This hole is what colonialism is. When they attempted to homogenize/assimilate/include/absorb us, their attacks on our identities and connections to our lands, cultures, families, and deities and replacing them with their own ideas have led to this hole. Sometimes people can manage to live with this hole, coping well without drawing too much attention to themselves. This is not due to them not suffering from colonialism and being healthy, but it is due to being surrounded by the sickness that colonialism is. That is one reason why it can be so hard to see the problem: It is everywhere and we are immersed in it. Step back a little and the picture becomes a little clearer.

Anyway, just some morning thoughts. I hope the gift of today brings us all closer to where we are meant to be.

My Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples

 Guided by the principles and values of Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island as set forth from the millennia of interaction with our lands and all relatives who coexist with us both seen and unseen.

Affirming that Indigenous peoples are full, integral, and accountable partners in Creation respecting covenants with our relatives who gift us with their knowledge and their essences in order for the gift of Creation to continue.

Affirming also that Indigenous peoples require the continuation of our cultural traditions in order to maintain the respect learned throughout the intimate relationship with our relatives and expressed through our traditional languages, songs, dances, ceremonies, foods, economies, and stories.

Recognizing that various aspects of colonization continue to erode our connection to those expressions.

Recognizing further that the injustices which have weakened our peoples are now being perpetrated not only by the state, but in some cases our own people.

Humbly proclaim that this declaration be an aspiration of Indigeneity which requires a higher level of morality and ethics which are encouraged in the dominant society of the colonial nations of canada, the united states of america, mexico, and other colonial nation states.

Article 1

Indigenous peoples have the right, as a series of collective groups, to the full enjoyment of our respective rights, freedoms, and responsibilities as understood by the collectivity and not by the individual who may or may not be accountable due to distance of geography or familiarity or other effects of colonization.

Article 2

Indigenous people have the right to enjoy our responsibility to maintain our cultural connection to our ancestors and to fulfill those responsibilities to reclaim the knowledge that is meant for us so as to realize the further enjoyment of our responsibilities.

Article 3

Indigenous people have the right and responsibility to hold ourselves and our peoples accountable to the principles and values of our respective nations in a kind, fair, and ethical way according to our own respective laws.

Article 4

Indigenous people have the right and responsibility to care for and continually teach and maintain good relations with children according to the principles and values of our respective nations in order to instill trust, belief, reciprocity, honesty, kindness, humility, respect and to facilitate the continual learning process throughout our lives.

Article 5

Indigenous people have the right and responsibility to care for the elders of our communities by providing for them the necessities of companionship, respect, love, food, service, and time.

Article 6

Indigenous peoples have the right and responsibility to care for and maintain good relations and respect for the women of our communities and to lift them and hold them up with our thoughts, words, actions, and beliefs.

Article 7

Indigenous peoples have the right and responsibility to care for and maintain good relations and respect for the men of our communities and to lift them and hold them up with our thoughts, words, actions, and beliefs.

Article 8

Indigenous peoples have the right and responsibility to fulfill all of our obligations to our lands, the lands of the peoples of whom we reside as guests, the lands of the peoples of whom we travel through, and to all our relatives who share those lands.

Article 9

Indigenous peoples have the right and responsibility to understand that we are a part of Creation, not the summit of it and to act on this knowledge.

Article 10

Indigenous peoples have the right and responsibility to learn and understand, to the best of our abilities and through all walks of life, colonization and its effects on our peoples at the collective and individual levels and to ensure the knowledge is passed on to the ensuing generations.

Article 11

Indigenous people have the right and responsibility to guard and protect our cultures, our lands, our waters, our collectives, our families, and our relatives to the best of our abilities at all times recognizing that we have to use our spirits, minds, and bodies in the acts of protection.

Article 12

Indigenous people have the right and responsibility to strengthen our spirits, minds, and bodies as they have been weakened by colonization and are necessary in the protection of our cultures, our lands, our waters, our collectives, our families, and our relatives.

Article 13

Indigenous peoples have the right and responsibility to enjoy, without guilt, regret, or shame, the gifts of life and the action of being Indigenous as fought for and maintained by our ancestors and our warriors today.

As we struggle through the darkest chapters of our collective lives through colonization and we are at a time of awakening, the knowledge that we are still here can impress upon us the notion that just simple being alive is an achievement. It is an achievement to be alive despite the efforts at genocide which continue to be perpetrated upon us and it is one we should all be proud of and saddened by. Proud that we have made it this far with our traditions intact in memory, if not in practice. Proud that we have survived through the abominable treatment we have endured. Saddened by the staggering losses which have accrued. Saddened that our traditions are intact in memory, and not in practice.

Although we are culturally emerging along with the traditions which have endured, the work has only begun. I am in the middle of my life and I have no language other than colonial language. My traditions are largely unknown to me. My family is disconnected to our lands, culture, and to some extent, to each other. This is the individual effect of colonization and there are many of us affected in this way and many of us do not even know why we are living lives far from our Indigenous rights and responsibilities and which mirror more of the dominant society than we care to admit. The admission brings with it the critical nature of our situation and the enormity of the work ahead.

Colonialism has used many tactics to obliterate us. The tools used have been identified as education, governance structures, military, “development”, resourcing our lands, waters and even our relatives and our peoples. They are tools which have built the master’s house and they are tools which are dangerous to the Indigenous crafter. That is not to say they are tools not to be used but they are only tools after all. If we wish to dismantle the master’s house they can be useful but they cannot be relied upon to rebuild our own. It is our homes which need to be restored and the tools which built and maintained them are very different. Our tools are our languages and our stories. They are our dances, our songs, and our ceremonies. They are our art, our dreams, and our families. They are ourselves and our collectives that we may refer to as nations in the colonial tongue.

Our tools are what will rebuild our homes and they are found in our homes where brave and wise warriors have kept them in working order as have our ancestors for thousands of generations. We are the generation, as is every generation, the ones to continue to learn how to maintain and use our tools. We have the right to do so in order to fulfill our responsibility to be a part of Creation in the way it is meant to be. Our ancestors knew that we every right comes with responsibility; it is called balance and it is called reciprocity. We take what we need and we leave a gift when we take. Our lives are lived in this way and when we go, we leave our bodies as gifts back to the lands which are our homes. As we concern ourselves with rights, we must assume the responsibilities which come with them and ensure that we are accountable to the morality and the ethics of Indigeneity which are to be found in our homes where they have always been since the beginning of things.

The Indian in the Cupboard (Closet)


In contemporary Indigenous/Settler relationships today, there is a profound imbalance of power which has been ongoing for so long the people in the relationship are almost completely oblivious to it. It is like most cannot remember a different way or who they even are. The psychic effects are traumatic for all involved as the continual tension and conflict between Indigenous peoples and Settlers has been generational with both sides being subject to unhealthy ways of being. It is like the emotional reality of a lived human existence has been shunned in favour of an “objective”, rational, dispassionate, and sanitized relationship. It reminds me of many of those loveless marriages where the conversation which occurs at the dinner table are filled with hostility, passive-aggressiveness, and the myriad other was of non-communication which one finds in such relationships.

Like a relationship between two people, the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Settlers has evolved. The beginning of the relationship was one of hope and promise. The Settlers began the relationship with Indigenous peoples in a way which saw both parties’ needs seen to and respected. Indigenous peoples provided the necessary accommodation for Settlers to survive here and it was hoped that, in time, they would learn more of how to live here as we did; in balance with the lands and each other which was based in respect for all living things.

What ensued quickly was traumatic and is reflective of pre-meditation and actions of the serially abusive partner which canada continues to be today.

Outside the Closet

Firstly, the abusive partner (the crown and its peoples) lied in order to gain entry into the life of the abused partner (Indigenous peoples). By deception and with no willingness to honour their word, they negotiated agreements, many of them non-textual but no less formal than Treaties between nations in the eyes and minds of the abused partner.

And so the lie was created.

With entry into the abused partner’s life, the abuser then acted in the following ways:

  • They intentionally poisoned and weakened their partner.
  • The stole everything which the abused needed in order to be healthy and provide for their needs.
  • They locked their partner in a closet with inadequate resources to live.
  • They stole their children and locked them in different closets and subjected them to the same treatment.
  • They incessantly, 24 hours-a-day and non-stop, told them they were worthless and that all that they were was stupid and inferior and wrong.
  • They entered the closet from time to time to beat their partner.

Every once in a while, the abuser would put things in the closet which added to the suffering of the abused. Things like alcohol and drugs. Things like weapons. Things which would “teach” the abused that they were the problem, not the abuser. Things that told the abuser that they needed to change and become like the abuser in order to be free from the closet. Things which were meant only to frighten, control, confuse, divide, manipulate, and destroy any strength the abused might be able to gather. Things like money. Things like power. Things like foods which would make you sick and weak. These they gave to the abused in order to make them become abusive themselves.

During this time, the abuser began other relationships with other abusers and they would just act as if nothing was going on. They would also lie and say that the closet wasn’t a closet but it was a preservation chamber. They would also lie and say there wasn’t anyone in the closet at all except for some hostile and dangerous people who needed to be educated so as to not hurt anyone and who were in desperate need of training before they would be able to be let out.

Also, the abusive partner had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which they told the same lie to and new lies as well, when the successive generations of children asked questions. Some of the new lies were that the people wanted to be in the closet and only those ones which didn’t were the ones which were hostile and dangerous and should be feared. These were crafty people, they would say, because they sounded like the abuser but they were definitely not to be trusted. The successive generations of children believed the lie because they had never met the abused partner nor did they think their parent would ever lie to them. They also feared being duped by the abused in the closet and they also feared they would abuse them if they got the chance.

So the children and the grandchildren of the abuser learned that the abuse was deserved and needed for their protection because the abused were not to be trusted. How could they be trusted? The things they were saying were lies and were sometimes very loud and angry. They had been shouting, screaming, crying, beating on the door, pushing on it, and all the while trying to convince the children of the abuser to let them out.

Inside the Closet

On the other side of the closet door, things were much different.

The abused people in the closet had multiplied for they had children of their own. The trauma of being sick and watching some of their family killed by beatings or die of sickness or even worse, by their own hands, had left deep and ongoing problems in the closet.

The things that the abuser left in the closet were working. Some of the abused began to accept and use these things in order to be free of the closet like the abuser had been telling them to do non-stop 24 hours-a-day along with the messages that they were inferior, backwards, wrong and if they only used the things the abuser put in the closet, they would be set free to join the abuser outside.

Some are desperately fighting against the door of the closet and fighting against the abuser through the door. Yelling at them, screaming at them, reasoning at them, doing whatever they can in order for the abuser to open the door so they can confront the abuser directly and on equal terms. A sort of “face to face” intervention. Some of these people have looked at the things the abuser left in the closet and have even used them. Most of these people have seen how dangerous these things are and how they are now fighting even harder to get out of the closet.

Some of the abused were paralyzed by fear, telling the ones fighting to get out to be quiet or the abusive partner will beat them more, or take away their food, or stop giving them things with which to become like the abuser so they could finally leave the closet.

Some are telling them that the closet isn’t bad and we should make the best of closet.

Still others just sit and cry or scream or do nothing at all, completely traumatized into immobility; a kind of living death. Having been abused their entire lives and horrifically so, they cannot even face their feelings. They cannot even face the world. All cannot even face themselves because they don’t even know who they are. They eat and they cry and they scream and they sleep. Their sleep is haunted by nightmares and they often wake up screaming only to notice that the nightmare is real and they begin screaming again.

And then there are others. These ones that act as the abuser does. Abusing those in the closet in order to be granted exit from the closet and even fighting at the closet door, to be given more things from the abuser which will grant them exit from the closet. Which will prove to the abuser that they are ready to be freed from the closet, they have learned that they were inferior and they need more of the abuser’s things and lessons in order to become more like the abuser. They are abusing those in the closet like the abuser does and they deserve to be let out, because they are just like the abuser if they would only please let them out. They love the things which were put in the closet and they forgive the abuser for locking them in there in the first place because it was just a misunderstanding. You see?! They weren’t unlike the abuser at all, they just didn’t know it yet because they weren’t getting it. They got it now so just pass more things through the door and they would prove they were just like the abuser.

Back Outside the Closet

The abusers are listening to all of this happening and are now confused because to some, the lie seems less and less important. Less and less true. This is because the abusers are now starting to understand that the abused people in the closet are very much like them but even more so, could be even equal to them. Could even know some things which the abusers don’t know but need to know. They are now starting to talk to the abusers guarding the door and asking them if it’s a good idea to keep them locked in the closet. That the act of abusing may not be justified and that in fact, the abused have the right to be free of the closet and to confront and talk to the abusers. They understand that the abused may be angry and may be hurt and some may be acting very much like the abusers guarding the door but are willing to listen.

Some of the abusers haven’t even been paying attention and had no idea that there was even a closet, let alone people who have been trying to get free of it for a long time. They have heard some commotion but thought it didn’t really have anything to do with them so they just didn’t pay attention.

Some abusers, the ones guarding the door are becoming desperate for they see that the lies they rely on to hold the door closed and remain in power over the abused and the rest of the abusers is being questioned. They begin to tell more lies and act as if they are truth. Even when some of the abusers know they are lies. They begin to act hostile to those abusers who don’t wish to be abusers anymore and begin to look around for the things they threw into the closet in order to give them to the abusers so they would just shut up.

Then they get angry. They begin to build a bigger closet for the abusers who don’t want to be abusers anymore and even for the ones who weren’t paying attention, just to be safe.


I find that in writing this, I have had many thoughts with which to contextualize the experience of Indigenous/Settler relations. Some of the main weapons being used to divide and rule the relationship is to promote fear, anesthetize emotion through jargon and excessive dispassionate speeches, that is will cost too much money, and to instill in people that the problem is too great to be handled or too hopeless to address.  These weapons are tired and old and if you look at them critically, they are weak and the greatest power which overcomes every single one of these weapons is belief.

I believe we can overcome fear and be courageous.

I believe we can awaken our feelings and use our passion to clarify these issues.

I believe the cost of not addressing this is far more expensive than not addressing this.

I believe that this problem of Indigenous/Settler relations is not too great to be handled and is not hopeless because we are all capable of doing our part to lessen the size of it and support one another through that process.

I believe the closet door needs to be opened. Do you?