from Chapter Eleven: New Millennium
Indigenous people of Canada declared that there must be no more Okas. Canada, to respect the constitution, had to respect aboriginal land. Chiefs and elders demanded that the Canadian government honour the promises made to them in treaties. They wanted to teach their children themselves in their own ways, they wanted to practise their spirituality in their own ways, and they wanted to have their lands respected. In the new century, Indigenous people were lawyers, teachers, doctors, police officers, and industrial workers. Indigenous playwrights, actors, and musicians were winning international fame. But Indigenous people of Canada were still the country’s poorest minority by far. Trying to change that, the Haida in British Columbia, the Lubicon in Alberta, the Anishnaabe in Ontario, the Innu in Labrador, and many others were asserting their rights and defending their traditional lands from occupation by loggers, miners, and oil companies.
Canadian judges had begun to uphold First Nations claims to land and self-government. But what did those treaties Canada and the First Nations had signed really mean? Had Indigenous people surrendered their land and willingly gone to small, isolated reserves to live on welfare and charity? First Nations elders and chiefs declared that the treaties their ancestors made had been about sharing, not surrendering, their lands and powers. They wanted a share in their traditional lands: not just the fish and the game, but the timber, minerals, water, oil, and other precious resources. “We are all treaty people,” not just the First Nations but all Canadians, they declared, and the treaties meant sharing.