Singer Jully Black caused a tizzy throughout Canada with her use of the words “our home on Native land” rather than the accepted “our home and native land.”

The reality is that Canada IS Native land. Indigenous people were here long before colonists came and made the land theirs to do what they would. In order to do such, they advanced the argument the land was empty of people and free for the taking, settling and doing what they wished.

They would find they were mistaken. First of all, Canada was filled with hundreds of thousands of people living, hunting, cultivating and enjoying their lives through good times and hard.

Cultures were present with principles of how to keep the lands, treat each other within and outside their communities. Ceremonies were prepared for the Creator who protected them and provided lessons of survival and worship to the lands that gave life.

It is not their fault newcomer groups decided they did not exist and if they did, had no value to provide colonists, except to save them from starvation by training them how to survive here. It was a tried and true means of deliberately stealing lands, and decimating the people that resisted, even those that did not resist, all over the world.

Near three hundred years after Jacques Cartier landed, with Samuel de Champlain shortly after, did the British government determine that treaties needed to be signed with the resisting Indian groups starting with named treaties, followed by numbered treaties.

A treaty is a legal term for an agreement between sovereign groups. That means the federal government cannot sign a treaty with the provinces nor can the provinces sign treaties with their residents.

The NWT comes under treaties 8 and 11 and later the Inuvialuit land claims.

The numbered treaties did not provide for distinct land claims and self-government, merely recognition of the previous presence of other people prior to colonization.

It would take generations of people to have their rights to lands and self-government recognized and accepted. The NWT Indigenous people were integral to these changes. I was happy to observe such and remained in the North to watch the results.

I came from a province where Status People covered by Treaty were sequestered on reserves. The peoples’ movements were carefully watched by Indian agents with the Mounties sent by them to arrest those who left the reserve without permission or who overstayed their absence off-reserve.

People were starving with little provisions coming onto the reserves and the people were not permitted to leave to shop.

People did not have the right to choose their own leadership. “Approved” heads of bands became more figurehead subservient to Ottawa, than leaders with decision-making powers.

Traditions and languages were discouraged or outlawed.

Any decisions made for the people were starved for action by bureaucrats in Ottawa. (they still are)

Every aspect of life was controlled by the Indian agent resulting in acute despair of community members.

All this was to “break the will” of the people. But such failed. If anything, such actions made the people stronger even through the loss of lands, decision-making, colleagues, family members and friends.

The negotiation of land claims and later in several regions of self-government helped to provide people with the decision-making powers needed to develop their communities with the use of tradition and their vision of growth in all aspects of life.

These changes were not readily welcomed by a population afraid of Indigenous people and those who wished to take control of the North and its resources without sovereignty issues.

I was intrigued by how apprehensive the people of Manitoba were of land claims and having more faith in the reserve system. In 1951, significant changes were made to the Indian Act removing many sections on reserve decision-making and mobility. That might have made a difference. Equally important was a change in the administration of the Indian Act and the hiring of Indigenous People with first-hand knowledge of the way people were treated.

We still have challenges.

I hope the best for all of us regardless of our differences.

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  1. As an indigenous woman I was thrilled when Jully sang ON native land. The Canadian National anthem should officially be changed to reflect this truth. Canada IS on Native land. Mahsi Gail, for your article. I absolutely agree.