A Declaration of Nishnawbe-Aski (The People and the Land)
By the Ojibway-Cree Nation of Treaty #9 to the People of Canada.
Delivered by the Chiefs of Grand Council Treaty #9 to Ontario Premier William Davis and His Cabinet in the City of Toronto
Wednesday, July 6, 1977.
We will use a second language to speak to you, in recognition of your inability to understand our language.
Once again we want you to understand us. For over 350 years you have failed to recognize the unique lifestyle of the Nishnawbe-Aski. It is so crucial that you understand today as tomorrow may be too late.
We the people and the land declare our nationhood. We, of the Cree and Ojibway nation who come from within your boundaries of Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec, and who live in the Ontario North at the height of land known as the Arctic Watershed, declare ourselves to be a free and sovereign nation. We bring to you a declaration of independence.
We say to you that we have the right to govern our own spiritual, cultural, social and economic affairs. We will describe to you how we are going to secure our sovereignty. We are also here because we want your government to play a role, in our return to self-government. We ask that you become involved in our right to develop our individual communities. We intend to make them as viable as they were before the white man came. You are the only people who have ever questioned our sovereignty. Our rights and entitlement to his land were inherited from our forefathers. Unlike you, we have no memory of an existence in other lands across the sea. We have prior rights to the custody of this land, which precede and supercede all of your claims.
This custody must remain with us. It is our sacred duty to pass it on to our unborn children. We do not accept the illegal seizures of our land by the Europeans, and their descendants. We will protect these custodian rights by whatever means necessary.
We declare that all laws, rules, regulations, orders-in-council and act passed on or enacted by you and your federal, provincial, and territorial governments, which interfere with our sovereignty, must be re-examined in the light of our position. The right to make laws which govern our people must be returned to our people.
On having regained the ability to govern ourselves we will insist that Treaty #9 be re-negotiated. Your government had refused to live up to the terms, and the spirit of the Treaty. This treaty reads in part, that “His Majesty the King hereby agrees with the said Indians that they shall have the right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping, and fishing throughout the land.”
We agreed to share. We lived up to the terms of our agreement. We kept the peace, paid the honour to the European sovereign, allowed the white man to settle and live according to his laws, and permitted his religions and cultures to be introduced to our people.
You agreed to share. You said our rights would never be lost. You did not live up to the agreement. You took most of our land, outlawed our religious beliefs and practices, destroyed much of our animal life and forest, restricted our movements, stopped us from using our languages, and tried to convince us that our music, dances, and arts were barbaric.
Despite these overwhelming odds, we have survived the elements of conquest.
Your cultural genocide is about to end. In order to regain our freedom we must establish our own control, and return to our traditional philosophy of life. We recognize only one ruler over our nation – the Creator. He made us part of nature. We are one with nature, with all that the Creator had made around us. We have lived here since time immemorial, at peace with the land, the lakes and the rivers, the animals, the fish, the birds and all of nature. We live today as part of yesterday and tomorrow in the great cycle of life.
Unlike you, we have a sacred respect for the land. You have alienated life and land, by the exploitation of the natural resources. As a result of your greed there is a real possibility that our environment will be destroyed. If it is, we also will be destroyed because we are part of nature.
In 1977, Chief Simeon McKay stated: “Today, we are here realizing that there is somebody here on earth that wants to destroy everything on us. Remember what our grandfathers have told us; we should try and retain what the Great Spirit has provided for us. We are trying to keep and retain our ancestors’ way before this means of livelihood is destroyed.”
In your rush for materialistic gain, you are threatening nature’s very limits. Now, it is our sacred duty to slow you down before she is destroyed.
In Chief Emile Nakogee’s statement of 1977, he said, “I am not against employment, it is a good thing. But the most important thing we must take into consideration is the land around us. It is also our income and we must not destroy it.”
We are here with another unalterable principle: “Nishnawbe-Aski are not for sale!” We remember the legacy of Old Joseph, as he spoke to his son Chief Joseph in 1871: “My son, my body is returning to my Mother Earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country…this country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and mother.”
This is a sad day, but we have been a sad people for many years. However, to our people, today is also an historical day. It is not often that a nation makes a declaration of independence.
We are not a new nation like you.
Only a few days ago we watched as you celebrated your Canada Day, and as we did, we thought what Canada Day meant to us. To the Treaty #9 Cree and Ojibway, 110 years of your confederation have meant 110 years of our disintegration. While you celebrated, we felt anger, frustration, regret and tolerance.
We can no longer permit the progressive rape of our mother earth, and its life-giving forces. We have our children to save. The continued existence of out race is a sacred mandate passed onto is by our ancestors.
Today our relationship with you must change. We will only accept your meaningful involvement. It will be on our terms or not at all.
To ensure our survival on the land we say that our aboriginal hunting and fishing rights will never be taken away. We do not recognize the fish and game laws which have eroded our way of life. We encourage and support our people; (a) to hunt and fish in any part of Treaty #9 for their own consumption during any season; (b) to trap anywhere in the Treaty #9 area; and (c) to trap without the infringements of tax regulations. If necessary, we will encourage our people to fill your courtrooms in our fight for our aboriginal rights.
We will defend our right to self-determination. However, we realize that this self-determination may take many different forms. Therefore, we are open to new, and innovative directions. Only on this context are we prepared to establish the legislative foundation of local government.
The success of our future will depend on our leaders of tomorrow. These young people are adjusting to new forms of knowledge. Our experience will also strengthen their involvement. We expect that you in turn will encourage your young people to understand our lifestyle.
Today, we are here to tell you who we are. We, the Nishnawbe-Aski have inalienable rights. They are:
- the right to self-government.
- the right to receive compensation for our exploited natural resources.
- the right to receive compensation for the destruction and abrogation of our hunting and fishing rights.
- the right to re-negotiate our treaty.
- the right to negotiate with the elected governments of your society through appropriate levels of representation.
- the right to approach the judicial, governmental and business institutions of your society in our quest for self-determination and local control.
- the right of our elected chiefs to deal with your society’s elected cabinets on an equal basis.
- the right to approach other world nations to further the aims of the Cree and Ojibway nations of Treaty #9.
- the right to use every necessary alternative to further the cause of our people.
- the right to use all that the creator has given us to help all of mankind.
The solutions to our problems must come from within our local communities. The right to deal with those problems must rest with our people. We will regain our independence only through legislation that recognizes and supports our form of local government.
Our nationhood itself is sacred and cannot be negotiated. However, we are ready to start negotiating the implementation of this nationhood. For any nation to exist, it must have legislation that enhances its self-reliance and its local control.
We will now deal with the mechanics and processes of our sovereignty. Our primary objective is the attainment of spiritual, cultural, social and economic independence.
Your Anishinaabe spirit name is the key to spirit world. Everybody should have a spirit name it doesn’t matter if you are a Christian. In our language we say “Manidoo Esish’nikasso’win” They say Creator knows you by your Anishinaabe name. I remember my wife when she was grieving for her sister..she said “I went help my sister get to spirit world..she was given a spirit name by an elder who sits by the entrance of spirit world” I did the same for my late brother. Why do we keep believing the European way of life?… because we were assimilated by the government and churches. It’s hard to break free.. I know been there.
White people still controls all people through their biblical system. Black people who come to our communities were assimilated too what can they offer to help the community they can only provide the teachings of white people ways. I believe in our culture, our traditions is a way to beat the government we must challenge them through their court system. Indian Reserve system is like a concentration camp setup controlled by Indian Act dictatorship. It’s no different than Jewish concentration camp when Hitler was in power. All Jewish people had their numbers tattoo in their hand. But we, Anishinaabe have our numbers on our Indian Status Cards. When do we tell the government we have our own natural and spiritual laws that they need to respect our land. Today it’s only medicine people who know and follow these laws through our ceremonies. It’s too bad we continue to believe in their system.
Long time ago there was no burial grounds they say our ancestors are part of this earth we live in. Only the spirit travels back to spirit world when we die. We are given only one year to grief during that time we are required to do tobacco and food offering while our loved one is on spiritual journey. On anniversary date we are required to do a final feast and let our loved one go to let them live an eternal life. As years go by sometimes our loved ones will visit us in our dreams when we struggle or sick they will come to help us. When we experience that we are required to put tobacco and food in a bush to show our appreciation for their visit. I know people get scared when they dream of dead people…. nothing to be scared of….. A’how!
Intergenerational impact of Indian Residential School exist, some youth I work with share stories how they were treated at home the beating and abuse they get when they were young. Alcohol and drug abuse they saw while growing up..the family violence… I’m not saying I was better, my children must have had a hard life too. The biblical teaching “whipping the rod” to discipline a child is not Anishinaabe way. Our ancestors remind us to never hit a child for they are sacred, they say use “LOVE” to discipline your children.
This is Sioux Lookout hostel where patients from northern communities stay during their medical appointment. Beautiful building with a big drum sitting on top. Look at the name of the hostel second photo..why do we keep following European’s way..naming our schools and buildings after people who moved on to Spirit World. Long time ago our people were taught to never disturb the dead. “Da’he’gun Kabayshewekamik” would have been a beautiful name referring to Mother Earth’s heart beat.
Many of us were brought up through Christianity I was too. Our people had no choice but to accept Christianity because it was against the law for Anishinaabe to practise their own traditional belief. Missionaries were sent to enforce the law even Hudson Bay Co. worked for the government. The Elders today who might be in their 80′s -90′s were never exposed to Anishinaabe spirituality or ceremonies. It was outlaw already when they were born. Some families did keep the teachings underground. But some of the traditional teachings like the spiritual responsibility of taking care of animals we kill for food were passed on. I learnt a lot when I was hunting and trapping with elders.. Anishinaabe spirituality is unique it’s based on God’s creation the land, animals, earth and universe…we don’t pray to a human being like Europeans do or to anything created by human being faith… many times you hear people say “those people who practise Anishinaabe spirituality pray to a bear or eagle”…it’s not true. We pray to Creator for he gave us life and gave us a reason to come live in his garden. I was scared of Anishinaabe spirituality too because I didn’t understand it and nobody ever taught me traditional teachings when I was young..so don’t be afraid to learn your culture. Creator made us Anishinaabe it was the Europeans who converted our people to Christianity.. It was part of colonization process so they can take our land and resources. That’s why we are living so poor in Indian Reserves government and missionaries put our people there. We need to empower our people to being Anishinaabe again living the traditional way of life which gave us our identity and purpose in life. Too many youth are killing themselves because they are not proud of themselves of being Anishinaabe.
If First Nation communities are going to heal our people will need to return to traditional way of life. European assimilation process did lots of damage to our people and communities. Creator gave us our Anishinaabe spirit we need to return to original spiritual ways to heal. Our spirits are crying everyday craving for spiritual healing. When we first smelled sage, sweetgrass or hear a drum our spirit reacted. It can be scary for a person who don’t believe in traditional way of life. I was like that too. Many people think we can decide how we should believe in Creator but that’s not the case. Creator created our Anishinaabe spirituality through his creation the land, animals, earth and universe we were given the responsibility to take care of his creation today we neglect that responsibility. Our ancestors did for thousands of years before European contact they took care of everything even when they killed animal. Alcohol was used in fur trading thus Anishinaabe turned against each other fighting and killing each other over land and animals. It’s time we teach our grandchildren and great grandchildren to live in harmony the way Creator gave us in the beginning of life.
Anishinaabe spirituality is unique it’s not made from a human being it’s not written but the natural laws are from Creator. Our spirituality is about living life on earth it teaches us who we are and where we came from. We are connected to the land and all of Creator’s creation. We learn as we grow the ceremonies were very important in child rearing. It taught everybody the sacred responsibility of Mother Earth. Today we are just like foreigners who don’t care about life.