There is a lot of talk lately about the “rise” of Indigenous governments. But what does that exactly mean? Who are we referring to when we talk about rising? Is it the government that is rising to the occasion to make an honest effort at playing fair and being respectful towards Indigenous Nations? Are they finally listening?

Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) deputy chief Jordan Peterson and Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan participated in the GTC special assembly on self-government in Aklavik Sept. 21, 2018. If Indigenous peoples’ fundamental rights are not included in self-governance regimes, as set out in the Treaties, Indigenous governments will still be under the thumb of the federal government, columnist Catherine Lafferty writes.

The dictionary says that the word “rise” it is to “move from a lower position to a higher one” or to “get up from lying, sitting, or kneeling” and to “increase in amount, extent, size, or number.” That last one makes sense when referring to the fact that there is a rise in the number of claims made against the government for wrongful treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Nations have never stopped exercising their sovereignty. Indigenous peoples have been fighting against injustices since Canada was formed and I believe we are winning that fight. Progress is now being made at negotiations tables across Canada.

Precedence has been set by many Indigenous Nations and the bar is high. But there is much more work to do. Many First Nations leaders are sitting at the negotiations table right now all over Canada working on the chapters of their self-government agreements but if Indigenous peoples’ fundamental rights are not included in those self-governance regimes, as set out in the Treaties, then I don’t believe there is true self-governance in play and at the end of the day Indigenous governments will still be under the thumb of the government no matter how many chapters of an agreement are written down on paper. Indigenous nations need to be the ones leading the way at these tables.

The government will argue that no one owns land except the government, yet Indigenous Nations were never conquered because they simply never surrendered. Therefore, the government cannot claim ownership over land, but surprise, they still do and will continue to do so until challenged.

I staked my claim on the land a few years ago. I was given permission to occupy the land parcel from my band. It’s a small way of asserting my rights as an Indigenous person. My presence on the land is a way of showing the government that I am here and I’m not going anywhere. Yet, why should I have to prove to the government that I belong on my own territory? Why should the onus of proof be on Indigenous peoples to prove their inherent rights? The answer can be found in the corrupt governmental policies and practices that are set out over the land created by those that were once in positions of false power in an effort to control Indigenous peoples for the purposes of financial gain.

I stood in line for the annual five-dollar bill that is divvied out by the government each year in recognition of the Treaties that were signed a hundred years ago. I let it collect for a few years until it grew to about fifty dollars. If I waited to collect this money until I was ninety years old, I would have $500. This is not even enough to buy a week’s worth of groceries for my family.

Indigenous peoples are often left standing at the bottom of their own totem pole and capitalism is at the top. A five dollar bill each year as a reminder that we have an agreement with Canada, a promise that Canada will live up to the Treaties. This promise, that I have yet to see come true, is not making things any better. Why should we accept this? It’s insulting. Yet these are the exchanges we make and many wait in line not seeing the underlying factors and the aforementioned meaning behind this practice of handing out five dollars bills to Treaty holders in the North.

So, do I think Indigenous self-governance is on the rise? I can’t answer that question because I won’t lower to it. I believe that Indigenous peoples are continuing down the path we have always been on. The one that has never led us astray. The one that has been trail-blazed by our ancestors. The path that has been made by those who have died fighting for their rights. We are walking the trail of those that have led the way. The path that is entrenched with cultural significant value systems and integrity for all living things.

Indigenous peoples are forging onward as we have always done and will continue to do so in order to ensure our rightful place in this country as sovereign nations and no less. There is room to walk this path with us, but those that choose not to, need to get out of the way.

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