Calgary Herald

Why as­sume that Indige­nous Peo­ples think alike?

Too of­ten, oth­ers paint with a broad brush, some­times for their own ben­e­fit

- TO­MAS JIROUSEK Society · Canada News · Politics · Alberta · British Columbia · University of Toronto · Toronto

Indige­nous peo­ples are a broad and di­verse col­lec­tion of con­fed­era­cies, na­tions, clans and tribes. As a Black­foot per­son, I of­ten re­flect on the sto­ries, lessons and con­ver­sa­tions I share with my grand­par­ents and broader com­mu­nity as I nav­i­gate the world. These val­ues that we share as a fam­ily, com­mu­nity and na­tion in­form the de­ci­sions I make, even as I con­tinue my ed­u­ca­tion thou­sands of kilo­me­tres from our home on the Blood re­serve south­west of Lethbridge, Alta.

And while many Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties might share cer­tain cul­tural traits or val­ues, our ex­pe­ri­ences and ap­proaches re­main dis­tinct from one an­other. A Black­foot per­son will in­herit a dif­fer­ent set of val­ues than some­one who is Inuit, Cree or Ojib­way. Not only are we unique in terms of lan­guage and cul­ture, but our ex­pe­ri­ences with colo­nial poli­cies like the In­dian res­i­den­tial school sys­tem will be dif­fer­ent.

And, by virtue of the broad di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ences and his­to­ries, Indige­nous na­tions will have dif­fer­ent needs and pri­or­i­ties.

Yet, so of­ten, the ap­proach of non-indige­nous ac­tors — in the me­dia, in gov­ern­ment, in ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tions — is to treat all Indige­nous Peo­ples the same way, to paint us with the same brush and as­sume we main­tain the same opin­ions or val­ues.

In fact, non-indige­nous peo­ple have been known to am­plify pan-indige­nous mes­sag­ing for their own ben­e­fit, as we see in the case of the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line.

Many Indige­nous na­tions, in Bri­tish Columbia par­tic­u­larly, note their op­po­si­tion to the pro­ject on the grounds that they see the pipe­line as pos­ing an ex­treme en­vi­ron­men­tal risk to their ter­ri­to­ries. Not only can pipe­lines pose direct threats to Indige­nous na­tions’ phys­i­cal ter­ri­tory, but the deep con­nec­tion be­tween land and cul­ture means that pipe­lines can also pose a direct threat to the cul­tural and spir­i­tual health of com­mu­ni­ties.

On the other side of the con­ver­sa­tion, we also see that First Na­tions, notably in Al­berta, and in­clud­ing my own, have sup­ported or even ex­pressed in­ter­est in pur­chas­ing an own­er­ship stake in the pro­ject. Indige­nous lead­ers in Al­berta note its eco­nomic im­por­tance, and see it as help­ing to en­sure that younger First Na­tions peo­ple have job prospects.

And while it might ap­pear that these ap­proaches are con­tra­dic­tory and pos­si­bly harm­ful to each other, I ar­gue that it’s nor­mal, and even healthy, to see these di­verg­ing opin­ions and ap­proaches. Na­tions’ dif­fer­ent eco­nomic, cul­tural and spir­i­tual con­sid­er­a­tions will in­her­ently lead to dif­fer­ent thoughts and opin­ions.

It would be ex­pected for ev­ery na­tion to have dif­fer­ing opin­ions on the pro­ject, based on the needs of their com­mu­nity. This doesn’t mean we need to fall into some type of com­bat­ive di­a­logue. In­stead, we should rec­og­nize and re­spect each other’s dif­fer­ences, and hope to foster an open and in­clu­sive di­a­logue be­tween dif­fer­ent na­tions. This means or­ga­ni­za­tions on each side of the dis­cus­sion have to avoid de­mo­niz­ing or to­k­eniz­ing the views and opin­ions of dif­fer­ent Indige­nous na­tions.

This also doesn’t mean shy­ing away from hard con­ver­sa­tions that need to be had across Canada and within the broader Indige­nous com­mu­nity. These dis­cus­sions ob­vi­ously present a com­plex set of ar­gu­ments re­gard­ing trans-ter­ri­tory projects and poli­cies, and there are many is­sues that need to be thought through and re­solved.

Yet, that con­ver­sa­tion won’t be re­solved by re­ly­ing on ad­ver­sar­ial pro­ceed­ings. In rec­og­niz­ing the di­verse ex­pe­ri­ences and val­ues of Indige­nous Peo­ples, we need to main­tain the high­est stan­dards of re­spect and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for one an­other.

In this re­spect, as we move to­ward prop­erly rec­og­niz­ing di­verse val­ues and ex­pe­ri­ences, we are called to hold onto the com­mon teach­ings of re­spect as we model a healthy ap­proach to con­flict resolution.

To­mas Jirousek, a mem­ber of the Black­foot Con­fed­er­acy from the Kainai First Na­tion of south­ern Al­berta, grad­u­ated from Mcgill Univer­sity this past spring as a vale­dic­to­rian af­ter lead­ing a suc­cess­ful cam­paign against the use of Red­men as the name of Mcgill’s men’s sports teams. He begins law school at Univer­sity of Toronto in the fall.

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