Six Nations - An Argument for a little Growth

People need safe drinking water and decent housing. Most of all, Six Nations needs a fair share.

By Undustrial
Published July 15, 2010

Throughout the last century, Southern Ontario has seen urban and suburban growth on a scale rivaled by few other centres. Our conurbation, the Golden Horseshoe, holds a quarter of the nation's population and is the sixth densest area like it in North America.

Throughout the explosive growth of the last few decades, nearly every community in Southern Ontario has exploded in a wave of suburbanization, which I shouldn't need to get too deeply into here. I also shouldn't need to get into the obvious harm it causes.

The point I want to address is one has been left out. As our cities have rampaged through the farmlands and forests of the Golden Horseshoe, one municipal entity has shrunk nearly as dramatically, and has remained a small kernel of its former self for decades.

I'm talking, of course about, Six Nations, a reserve which once stretched around the entire region, before being clawed away in shady land deals. Billions of dollars of real estate, on which several cities - such as Brantford and Kitchener-Waterloo - now lie.

Haldimand Tract Map. The grey area with red border is the land granted by the Haldimand Proclamation, 950,000 acres granted on October 25, 1784. The solid red area is the current Six Nations reserve, 46,500 acres or 4.9% of the original. (Image Source:
Haldimand Tract Map. The grey area with red border is the land granted by the Haldimand Proclamation, 950,000 acres granted on October 25, 1784. The solid red area is the current Six Nations reserve, 46,500 acres or 4.9% of the original. (Image Source:

Six Nations today remains extraordinary among native reserves for many reasons. It's the only place all Six Nations (Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga and Tuscarora) all live together. It's Canada's most populous reserve, and one of the best known. But despite the fact that Canada's First Nations are the fastest growing demographic, and that a shortage of land is a crucial issue on Reserves, it has not been allowed to grow.

Growth is a crucial issue for First Nations at the moment, too, since it is only in recent history (since the late '80s) that Canada has been reforming the sexist status laws which voided so many women and children because she married a non-native man. This massive influx of Status Indians into the system has packed reserves everywhere to the brim.

This is not to suggest that the entire Haldimand Tract be returned. No serious negotiations today, either in land claims or on the national scale are demanding that white people be stripped of their land and sent back to Europe. However, if we continue to deny the community any land, we will only see more poverty and more angry roadblocks.

If there is a shortage of land in the area, then why does the government continue to grant municipal boundary expansions to every entity in the area? The "Greenbelt" itself, Premier Dalton McGuinty's plan to "limit sprawl", gives almost 60% of Hamilton's traditional urban area for new development. Farmers are selling land off left, right and centre.

The fact that the single biggest issue of contention - the Douglas Creek Estates - is a suburban development should say a lot here. Did you know that an "anonymous donor" gave Gary McHale a free house for a year?

And yet, unlike the endless acres of asphalt roofs and roads which characterize views of our suburubs, Six Nations looks very different on Google Earth. Without any markers, the boundaries of the reserve are clear - it's the big green block in the middle of the peninsula, the darkest shade of anything around it.

The history of First Nations involvement in environmental decisions in this nation may not be perfect, but the track record is world's better than those which simply involve governments and corporations. If we're really interested in "Green Development", why not give it to the folks who are so green you can see it from space?

Land is not the only issue here. And yet again, the contrast is stark. In a seemingly endless plan to build a boondoggle industrial park around Hamilton's airport, water will be a crucial issue and a major expense. That's a long way to pump water uphill.

And yet it took a decade for Six Nations to get money for a new water treatment plant, and conditions there are still abhorable. A short drive from some of Canada's richest areas, around half must still boil their water, and over three hundred homes don't have water service at all.

The kind of development budgets thrown around in ridiculous (that is to say, deserving of ridicule) projects like Aerotropolis is nothing but insulting when so many live in nearly third world conditions a stone's throw south. The land is right there for the taking, or the giving.

Our country has a reprehensible history when it comes to the history of Native Peoples. Our Indian Act was a primary legal inspiration for Apartheid in South Africa. The Residential Schools often killed over half the students they kidnapped. An apology isn't going to cut it, and we all know it's going to have to happen sooner or later.

Our governments have no problem annexing land for boondoggle projects like Aerotropolis, the Mid Pen Expressway, East Mountain stadiums, or vast seas parking lots and Wal-Marts. They have no problem dumping millions into suburban development. If ever there were a need for actual growth, it's here and now.

We don't need stadiums. We don't need highways. We don't need any more industrial parks, and we definitely don't need any more suburbs. People do, however, need safe drinking water and decent housing. And most of all, Six Nations needs a fair share.

Undustrial is a writer, tinkerer, activist and father who lives in Hamilton's North End. He chooses to remain pseudonymous as he frequently works with much of Hamilton's Development industry.


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By Jay (registered) | Posted July 15, 2010 at 20:09:49

Well, if we're going to talk about a "fair share", then the Indian Act must be abolished-- along with the whole reserve system. If we as a country want to be "fair" than we owe it to Aboriginal peoples to treat them the same as everyone else. That means no special treatment because they were here earlier than the white man.

That being said, I have no idea how this would be accomplished. We as a society have dug ourselves such a deep hole over the past two centuries that it will be difficult to rid ourselves of the Indian Act. However, we've tried this system for a long time now, and yet Aboriginals still suffer from poverty, language extinction, and extremely high suicide rates, to name a few issues. Obviously the current structure isn't working.

I know I may ruffle a few feathers with my comments but you must understand that I am coming from a position of real concern for human suffering and our fate as a country.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted July 15, 2010 at 21:34:33

It seems your rant is a little misguided. All of the so called unneeded projects you mention are either provincial or municipal, while reserves are a federal responsibility. The Indian act is a federally administered act. The province and the municipalities have no say how that act is administered. Even if they wanted to, they could not do anything to help the plight of those on reserves. They just don't have the authority to do so.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2010 at 00:35:00

The Federal/Provincial thing is a common cop-out when it comes to First Nations issues. Reminds me of when the province cleaned up the old contaminated uranium mine sites around Elliot Lake right up to Serpent River, because though the Reserve lands were also contaminated, they were a "Federal" responsibility. National responsibility (as in treaty requirements) isn't confined to the Federal government.

As a taxpayer, I'm not amused. This is, at it's heart, a departmental matter, not something which should be giving people radiation posioning.

I don't disagree that the Indian Act should be immediately abolished, but simply turning all First Nations people, legally, into "Canadians" is nothing but an act of forcible assimilation. Historically that kind of thing has never gone well. What we need are self-governing native communities which can exist AS First Nations, and not as some municipal sub-entity of the Federal Government. We're talking about a distinct nation of people, with a traditional governance structure (the Confederacy Council) which enjoys a lot of support - the council house is even still there. It's been extremely active on issues like Red Hill and the Caledonia Standoff. And precedent for this kind of thing clearly exists - look at the Nisga'a or Inuit.

Freedom needs to exist for communities, not just individuals. And not everyone in Canada wants a Toronto or Burlington lifesyle.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2010 at 01:29:56

Undustrial, ya sure opened a can of proverbial worms! I'm way over my head so let me just ask what is going on in this paragraph:

Growth is a crucial issue for First Nations at the moment, too, since it is only in recent history (since the late '80s) that Canada has been reforming the sexist status laws which voided so many women and children because she married a non-native man. This massive influx of Status Indians into the system has packed reserves everywhere to the brim.

Putting aside all the ins and outs of the Caledonia mess for the moment, I really want to understand the fundamentals at work. I'm not sure why Jay is wrong and have always been quite confused how nations within a nation can really be a viable concept. It would be nice to resolve the whole native thing but have no idea how that will happen - although J Raulston Saul apparently thinks all Canadian have 'become' native in some philosophical kind of way (haven't read the book). What is your vision for a viable resolution, beyond the details of physical mechanics? We don't have Amish reserves but the Amish seem to have well defined communities that don't seem to be a problem, no?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 16, 2010 at 13:30:38

What we need are self-governing native communities which can exist AS First Nations, and not as some municipal sub-entity of the Federal Government. - Undustrial

Can we perhaps get some First Nations' eco-villages going? I would be all for that type of expansion and growth.

Undustrial, ya sure opened a can of proverbial worms!- Bob Innes

Even worms need to see the light of day sometimes : )

I commend Undustrial for starting a discussion on a critical but often avoided topic.

I'm really interested to see what comes out of this discussion. I have some opinions (if you can even call them that) formulated through some life experiences but I honestly do not know if they are accurate. Hopefully this will be a chance to learn a little more on the subject.

We don't have Amish reserves but the Amish seem to have well defined communities that don't seem to be a problem, no? - Bob Innes

Hmm??? Interesting thing to think about Bob.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2010 at 14:56:20

Mennonites are perhaps the best example I could come up with of a paralell group within "settler" society. And because they haven't been held back by laws like the Indian Act (which made business development illegal for most of its history) many Mennonites are doing very well today. I drive around St. Jacobs all the time, and it sure looks a lot nicer than most reserves I've been to.

Ironically, the Mennonite rejection of modern technologies in areas like farming or carpentry has now put them at the cutting edge of those fields - simply because they didn't throw away their traditional skills for low-quality petrochemical substitutes.

This issue comes up a lot more than you'd think outside First Nations, and is usually dealt with by quiet assimilationist prejudices and media bias than anything else. Think about Quebec. Or attempts to establish Shari a law within Muslim communities (very little of which has to do with head-scarves). The difference with First Nations is that they have treaty rights to it - something our government has never forgiven them for. Despite this, whichever issue you look at, whether it's crime, addiction, abuse or poverty, studies always show that culturally relevant ones which let Natives heal in a Native context almost always achieve better results than bland government programs.

What would it look like? Most likely aspects like a game reserve, a return to traditional Iroquois crops and growing techniques, and upgraded, self-sustainable buildings. The lack of infrastructure on Six Nations and other reserves, as well as their low rates of consumption make a transition to "green" systems much easier than here. I am a bit wary, though, of imposing any set of eco-village standards designed by white people, but I don't doubt something similar could come from natives themselves. A speech was recently posted on my website by Winona LaDuke which illustrates these things well. Her dirt-poor Ojibwe reserve (a nation which spans much of Ontario, too) managed to set up wind power as a means of gaining energy independence.

The most important issue, though, is self-determination. No more meddling federal departments, corporations or federally managed puppet governments (Band Councils). They've all done far too much harm. And as many scholars pointed out, the amount of money we all spend managing native people would be more than sufficient to solve all these poverty, education and infrastructure issues. The only real lasting solution, though, will be a return to autonomy as nations and cultures.

This whole issue raises a lot of important questions about the nature of Confederation (and where do you think we got that term?). Must a community be subject to centralized Federal authority to be a member. And if white (or immigrant) communities wish a similar autonomy - like Mennonites, or an entire city like Hamilton - how does that fit? Among the Five/Six Nations Confederacy, not to mention the Ojibwe ("Three Fires"), Huron (Wendat) and others, there was never any such centralized control - just organization and coordination. The Great Law of Peace (the Six Nations "constitution", alleged to have influenced the Founding Fathers) exists to this day, and the Confederacy Council still meets.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 16, 2010 at 16:15:12

I am a bit wary, though, of imposing any set of eco-village standards designed by white people - Undustrial

Ya, just a term I used loosely Undustrial, I didn't mean to apply an existing set of standards. I'd simply prefer any expansion to be "self sustainable".

The most important issue, though, is self-determination. No more meddling federal departments, corporations or federally managed puppet governments (Band Councils). They've all done far too much harm. - Undustrial

Agreed, this is what some of my experiences and limited knowledge of the subject has led me to believe.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2010 at 20:36:38

Regarding John Ralston Saul's 'A Fair Country', I read it last year around this time and it had a profound effect on me. This is an excerpt of a review I wrote on my private blog:

"I won't belabour the point here by rehashing what's in the tome. My copy was dog-footed to the extreme, there were so many bits that I just had to go back to, or excerpt for friends. Suffice it to say that 'A Fair Country' is by far the most important book I've read this year, and as a Canadian, one the most important ever. It's unsettled me, forced me to look at elements of Life in Canada in entirely different ways, compelled me to re-examine my perspective. (As a screenwriter, it's even given me pause to consider Canadian history as source material, no mean feat.)

'A Fair Country' should be required reading for all Canadians. The resulting dialogue might get us up off our collective apathetic arses and into action, at long last creating the nation we're capable of realizing.

So it goes without saying that I would recommend it to any and all here on RTH; I can't imagine not being affected by what he presents, and it very much is germane to this discussion.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2010 at 21:42:49

I'll second Kiely's motion to commend the topic and hope it continues. Surely there's lots of long held thoughts/beliefs/biases/prejudice lurking around!

I asked what para 6 was about because i've heard about some of the issues it touches on, the most important of which is a minor but important difference between Canada (cuts off below 1/2) and the US (cuts of below 1/4). This subtlety is MAJOR in my opinion and ensures, i believe, that the US will reconcile (assimilate) sooner while Canadian natives probably experience more discrimination. It seems Undustrial is our board historian so i'd like to hear his observations on this. Well, he seems to be against assimilation, but what about the differences in nativeness?? Also, i was surprised at the notion of overcrowding. If 6 nations is so green, how can it be overcrowded? Is it all because of INAC (Indian & Norhern Affairs) mismanagement? Has their visegrip been loosened?

I only know one native fellow i talk to on a regular basis. Lives off-rez and opines strongly that all subsidy should be cut cold turkey. It's about 10Billion$/yr last i heard. There was also a native wannabe Hamilton candidate (Provincial?) who opined more or less the same thing i believe. Can't recall his name. Makes sense to me but my mind is not made up by any means.

Gotta run again but lets see what this sparks. /Bob

Next topic: tax free status

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 17, 2010 at 01:15:14

I find it amazing how people purport 'fair' and 'equal' treatment of First Nations AFTER we've bilked them out of their land, sovereignty and culture. 'Fair' can never be part of the equation. So, consider any perceived gratuities as our microscopic installment for living here.

I also don't think we'll see any movement, involvement from an eco-sense and improved territories until we consider our negotiations as nation to nation. I can only speak for what I know of the Haudenosaunee, but they have never reliquished their sovereignty. And right now, as we speak, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is held up in New York because the U.S won't recognize their passports.

The removal of the Indian Act should coincide with the return of land and control over resources -- and where land cannot be returned, then a mutually agreeable lease/ rights-fee can be implemented. That way, First Nations will be able to heal their communities, reap some of the benefits of the resources they once had and apply their own eco-sense moving forward.

Based on what I've been educated on -- from both the Canadian and First Nation sides of the coin -- it boggles my mind that the international community hasn't been aghast at what's happened here.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2010 at 12:52:20

Assimilation just isn't an answer. If people wanted to "move to the city and get jobs" like white people, they would have already. Many certainly have. Beyond the poverty and oppression of reserve life lies a deep and meaningful culural identity that people still want to be a part of. They were here before Canada, and in one form or another, they will likely be around long after we're gone.

So often I'm asked whether I condone forcing people to leave wealthy urban lifestyles. I'm not. I'm just not in favour of forcing people into it.

The issue of "green" overcrowding comes with how land ownership works on reserves. Each person is entitled to more than a house, they get a chunk of land. Housing is low-density and many lots are forested other than their house. It's a totally different urban model.

And as for "status cards", the whole notion is racist and colonialist. Why does the white government get to define who is native, against the wishes of the natives themselves? Traditional bands and tribes have very specific rules on group membership, all of which get over-ruled. It isn't just a racial or ethnic issue because First Nations aren't ethnicities. People left and joined Nations all the time, even white people. The first step away from race-based legislation is putting native status in the hands of natives.

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted July 17, 2010 at 14:27:54


No one on a reserve owns land on the reserve. The idea of land ownership is foreign to indigenous people in Canada. It is not part of the native culture. They consider themselves caretakers of the land.

Besides that Indian reserves are Crown lands set aside for the use of natives. Thats why they cannot get mortgages to build houses on reserves. If you don't own the land banks will not lend you money. Thats why most of them live in substandard housing. They have to pay cash to build a house unless the federal government builds it for them.

There are some reserves where the land has been turned over to the bands. They then own the land. The tradeoff is they are no longer eligible for federal assistance or any of the benefits available under the Indian act.

As for the determination of status. That is done by the natives themselves in consultation with the Federal government. The natives set the rules and the feds enforce them. Did you know there are more status Indians living in the city of Hamilton than on the Six Nations reserve. Most Indians live in urban areas and not on reserves. Up until recently if you had 1/8 Indian blood in you, you could get a status card. That has changed, but to think that someone who is only 1/8 Indian could be considered a native is just ridiculous.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2010 at 15:07:11

il recently if you had 1/8 Indian blood in you, you could get a status card. That has changed, but to think that someone who is only 1/8 Indian could be considered a native is just ridiculous.

How much white blood (or Asian blood or black blood or maybe Incan blood) can how have and still be a non-ridiculous Native?

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2010 at 16:23:53

Undustrial, i'd like to encourage you to imagine what you'd do with the native situation to solve whatever you see as the problem. For the moment, ignore all rules/realities, what would you do as benevolent dictator?

Why is assimilation no good, other than some may not desire it? Is there an inherent bad in moving toward a common mind? What if we urban non-natives all of a sudden saw the benefits you speak of and wanted to assimilate in the other direction, toward a native worldview? JR Saul thinks we already have, to a degree.

Native culture has many merits but how can it adapt to modernity/automation/capitalist society (disregarding its flaws for the moment)?

Slodrive's solution, giving natives control of resources and/or paying them lease payments in lieu, doesn't solve the problem as much as just shifting the source of funding. Most people, to live a healthy life have to contribute in the form of work or creation of some sort. The question is how can the natives achieve that. Most have answered the question by living off-rez but that brings up the tax question. If natives use the infrastructure, shouldn't they help maintain it (by paying taxes)? Slodrive's guilt-answer is no answer, imo.

But the impasse Slodrive speaks of is real enough. But how do you negotiate with a so called nation which can change its mind and declare the rules are changed as the next generation comes along? How does a nation even exist within a nation?

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted July 17, 2010 at 23:44:04


If a native lives off the reserve they pay income taxes as well as the federal portion of the HST.

The only natives who don't pay taxes are the ones on reserves.

As for your last paragraph, I totally agree. We made agreements with previous generations that are now being called into question. We cannot deal with people who deny the past just because they don't like what their ancestors agreed to. Whats to stop them from doing the same in the future.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2010 at 20:41:28

"Why is assimilation no good, other than some may not desire it? Is there an inherent bad in moving toward a common mind? What if we urban non-natives all of a sudden saw the benefits you speak of and wanted to assimilate in the other direction, toward a native worldview? JR Saul thinks we already have, to a degree."

Assimilation isn't about choice. Natives have had the option for centuries, and although most (51%, so barely) live in cities, that doesn't mean they've given up their identities as natives. Assimilation is about the destruction of cultures, almost always indigenous ones, and that starts straying very dangerously into the territory of genocide. A diversity of cultures is not a bad thing.

Moving toward a common mind, historically, has always come with brutality and oppression. No matter what the "enlightened" purpose. Rome, the Vatican, the British Empire - all committed unspeakable injustices while hoping to create a world in their image. Canada's own history of assimilationist policies have done exactly the same things - Residential Schools, redistributing native kids to white families in the 1960s, or all the laws which would strip a native of status if a man became a doctor or lawyer, or a woman married a white man. Would the whole world embracing an enlightened worldview be a bad thing? I'd question how enlightened any worldview is which would desire it.

There is no way Six Nations would ever allow all of Hamilton to join their nations. Get any indigenous person started on how they feel about white people trying to adopt their'll get an earful. And in any case, no one tribe ever ruled Canada, and trying to restore a "native" Canada by getting us all to join one or a few tribes en-masse would be laughable. Indigenous societies work very well for a lot of reasons, but only because they are the product of vast stretches of careful adaptation. It isn't something you can just pick up without years of work. If anyone does want to be a part of Six Nations, it isn't all that hard. Lots of white people are involved in many positive ways - but it means being humble, respectful and helpful - just like anywhere else. I'd wholeheartedly welcome any move which let native societies accept immigrants ON THEIR TERMS, as I suspect others would as well - there's a rich tradition of it in Canadian history. Blood quantum is a horrible way of establishing community membership.

If non-native people truly want to embrace a more "native" worldview (and there are certain widesperad patterns across tribes which one could point to, like autonomous communities or respect for the environment), we need to change our own society. To suggest that we live with a "Native" worldview is pure postmodernist semantics. We're living in one of the most wasteful and destructive cultures in history, and no matter how enlightened our ideas sound, they'll always come off as hypocritical when seen from the perspective of the 90% of the world which has next to nothing by our standards.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2010 at 19:31:05

Undustrial. I erred in using the word assimilation. As you point out, there's a lot of associated baggage and bias toward the dominant. Melting pot is a better (neutral) concept, no?

Diversity,imo, is an increasingly troublesome concept in the general sense, even though it has advantages from many perspectives such as economic, culinary, technical, etc. The only downside is political but that is a biggie. Mere cultural differences can and do melt away after a few generations but religious divisions usually go the other way. Native culture seems sort of in between which is perhaps a positive indicator for future relations. The logic is simple. Different groups means different rules and different rules means unfairness or discrimination. Plus what happens at the mixed offspring margins. Plus how do the groups negotiate/agree? Is the agreement reliable if it's not democratically arrived at? Can a communal logic survive into an industrial world? Etc.

Its all very well to say they were here first but acceding to every nuance probably leads to a dog's breakfast of conflicting guidelines/ customs/ rules. Which is inherently unfair. So even if the INAC were abolished, we would problably have to reinvent it just to keep track of all the details. So, I tend to cut the INAC a little slack.

The issue of home loans not being available because of land rights issues one hopes would be addressed by the natives themselves, if such a thing is possible, logicwise. Some criticize banks on this, not I because natives have a responsibility to resolve this without blaming the INAC. Are the rules not put in place to protect natives from just the situation that prompted this article? Either one has ownership or one does not. If yes, then one must be free to sell to any buyer? If buyers are restricted to natives only, presumably price suffers. How would you resolve this?

I also look at our land title as a great example of the strength of the western model, at least the English model i'm familiar with and as internationally recognized by Hernando deSota. Which is why i get hot to maintain what we are about against those who want to adopt foreign ways willy nilly, in the name of diversity or demographics. At least that was true until our fancy lawyers, banksters and crony politicians managed to destroy the integrity of the land title system (while we slumbered) without telling us. As you said on the other thread:

We can only choose who's making the rules, and don't have a lick of say about which rules they choose.


Btw, i thought you'd like to know about the format symbol to make a quote box is to put a right arrow ">" at the beginning of the line/ para. Maybe Ryan can post a list of these things below the blog archive.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2010 at 22:37:03

Good to know about the quotes.

The thing with "melting pots", is that while cultures blend (and this is true of all cultures), it almost always leads, in the long run, to a wider array of more diverse array of cultures. Many retain old identities, others create completely new ones. This is exactly how evolution works in nature, too. It always seeks to create as large a diversity as possible, to protect from specific threats (microbes, droughts, etc). When everything tends to homogenize, there's usually because something is wrong, as with an invasive species. We have English language television and internet broadcasting around the planet. We educate the children of the elite of nearly every nation. And according to markets in London, our dollar is worth dozens of times more than any other. If other cultures are disappearing, this is why.

Natives only began emerging from the legal dark ages within the last few decades. Before that, they lived for most of the last century under a set of rules so oppressive that any kind of development was impossible. Under the Indian Act, it was illegal to do business, gather in groups larger than three, travel without permission, get a lawyer for land claims, or even play pool. If Hamilton had been under these conditions, we'd look like a Brazillian slum right now.

Since First Nations rights started getting attention in the 80s and 90s, there's been tremendous regrowth and healing (ie: Nunavut), but it doesn't happen overnight.

And though land is commonly "owned" in native societies, that doesn't mean it runs like Stalinist Russia. Long before Europe abandoned feudalism, small tribal bands had very well defined hunting territories assigned to families, sustainably managing game while Europe's forests were falling. They had hunting rights to the land, but not the right to burn it down and build condominiums. This is why so many early treaties were so generous - Natives had no idea that our notion of "ownership" was much more permanent and absolute.The lack of lending opportunities to First Nations people would be understandable if anything existed on reserves which could make up for it. But after a century of crippling underfunding, there has never been the opportunity to build up the kind of capital which our banks did.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2010 at 00:21:21

Undustrial. You've got some good thoughts but i'm still looking for some recommendations we can chew on. How would you change land rights? Should banks be forced to lend or should natives start their own bank? Should native 'citizenship' be made wider or narrower? If bands have more self government these days, why can't natives just build their own houses bit by bit instead of having to get a mortgage? Should band treaties/agreements be made on a democratic basis or per traditional consensual basis? How would that be safeguarded? Should the reserve system simply be abolished? How can Natives become contributors to Canada's economy instead of a drain? ie How can remote native communities become self sustaining economic units - or should they be abandoned? What would be your priority issue? I'm not expecting you to have all these answers but just some idea of where you think we should go, if different than what is going on now. Cheers.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2010 at 12:43:41

I don't like writing policy as it's kinda pointless. I much prefer planning grassroots action - it's far more do-able. But for the sake of argument...

Land Claims - it is completely unacceptable that it takes decades to resolve the average land claim. The Douglas Creek Estates had a claim filed in 1992. If that had been handled in a reasonable stretch of time, a lot of the current chaos could have been avoided.

Banks - a very large amount of land taken unlawfully cannot be returned without displacing entire cities worth of settlers. Standard legal practice in these cases is to pay cash (usually with interest) for the land. That's how you get the capital to start locally controlled lending institutions.

Houses - if you doubt that natives build their homes bit-by-bit, go to any reserve. Even if you're just buying lumber and power tools though, you may still need a loan, especially if you're dirt poor. I'm a huge proponent of low-cost green housing methods like Earthships, but even they aren't cheap.

Government - most traditional consensus-based native governance styles are far more democratic than anything offered by either municipal governments like Hamilton's or government-imposed Band Councils. We could learn a lot from the Six Nations Confederacy, and how it makes decisions. And while I'm not saying natives should be forced to stick with ancient ways forever, any "progress" they make needs to be on their own terms, not dictated by colonial governments.

Reserves - we need to abolish the ghettoized reserve system, including the Indian Act. However, First Nations have rights under International Law too. Treaties are not just a matter of domestic policy - Canada has obligations which go beyond our own legal structure. Despite over a century of attempts at extermination and indoctrination, there are more natives than there have been for century. Governments, borders, history - sounds like an argument for autonomy to me. And federally, we need a framework which allows for it (federations do not, necessarily, need central control).

Nearly every country in the world is dealing with these issues, and usually in the same way. Japan, Isreal, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Mexico - indigenous peoples are a fact of life, and they're not going away.

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By dazed and confused (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2010 at 15:09:07

I think the land claim issue should work faster but I think the idea needs to be rethought as well. I mean smaller independant reserves for the various first nations do not work well and are dependant on the federal government and therefore the desires of whater regime happens to be in power. Yet at the same time bringing everyone together under one rule will never work as it will be opposed by the First Nations people. If non-native Canada were to pay up for stolen land though, it would go bankrupt. So how do we fix this?

On a side note, while I have met many great first nations people, I have tried on several occasions to bring local first nation knowledge to bear on issue which would benefit from this input and would even effect them as the issues affect all who live here but aside from looking at me like I am crazy or dismissive as they believe I am up to something bad, I never get anywhere. I have even been involved in local native issues but have always felt I was held at arm's length and that my contribution was less due to my ancestry.

I think at a Hamilton level there is a great wealth of knowledge and expertise among Hamilton First nations people but I see little integration with the rest of the community. And if my experience is any indicator it is because they want to live here but have little to do with the rest of us. By integration I do not mean assimilation or anything that drastic just various local communities working together.

I think if more people understood each other among those they lived, it would be easier to enact change on a larger scale.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2010 at 22:03:07

Undustrial, for someone who doesn't like to write policy, that effort was pretty good. To some degree though, i think we're all pussyfooting around issues a little timidly. So lets try to zero in on perhaps the biggest irritant, poverty.

you may still need a loan, especially if you're dirt poor.

If you're poor, you can't get a loan. No matter who you are. Well, we heard of NINJA loans in the US but that didn't work out. And there's micro lending but thats generally only for business activity. Most poor folks have to rent. Is there a rental market on rez? If not, why not? Depending on land claims to solve this problem seems fraught with risk that a one time cash infusion will be gone soon enough and then its back to square one with nothing solved. With so much forested land in six nations, why isn't there more farming or nuts or fruit trees or something? I'd guess welfare is to blame for robbing people of the incentive to work, though you're right about the damage to their psyche too. But honest work is a salve.

Perhaps this is why I hear some natives say that the feds should cut off support cold turkey. Hunger sharpens the mind and gets people out of a rut. In today's job market, such a move would hopefully/= necessarily result in a spate of entrepreneurial initiatives in and out of the rez. Some reservations though are not so well situated so I agree with you on shutting them down if there is no hope of any economic activity. I wonder if the internet can open doors for natives seeing as how location can be irrelevant. Are natives into technology?

I see in some comments that there is a perception among all parties that native culture was based on hunting and gathering in a sustainable manner. This view is being challenged on several fronts that might lead to some hope. First, I now understand that hunting and gathering was only sustained by moving when areas were depleted. This means that hunting was not really sustainable, or was only sustainable with a moving fudge factor. Secondly, our knowledge of natives was based on what we found but that was hundreds of years after Columbus' men had introduced diseases that wiped out 95% of native populations according to some estimates, even in North America. This means that prior to being wiped out, most natives were farmers or perhaps mixed farmers/ hunters. An article in National Geographic a few years back described such situations. In fact, around here, they were famous for developing the triple crop concept that I would dearly love to master. They only reverted to hunting gathering after their stable way of life collapsed. Therefore I propose that natives try to get their minds wrapped around this different history in order to feel more comfortable with a profitable farming lifestyle as opposed to trying to fit a non sustainable gathering mentality into modernity because of a false view of history. Farming is also compatible with communal setups as we discussed before.

If natives were willing to become farmers, i'd be more inclined to give land than money. Which is what they say they want but done in a way that implies healthy work rather than unhealthy rent seeking.

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:06:06

Interesting ideas Undustrial but essentially it all seems to boil down to Canadians paying leases on cities or towns in disputed areas. This massive infusion of cash will finance Native banks or lending institutions which will help raise the living standard. You also indicate this or any other new cash infusion should have none of those meddling strings attached. I must have missed the transformation of Six Nations from unreliable financially to a rock solid guardian of band interest. All I remember is scandal and jail sentences. So yeah hey why not through a train load of money down that hole maybe some of it will actually stick to the target without being diverted as in the past. Sorry but I don't see any of that happening any time soon. I have yet to meet a Native North American who wants any sort of return to their cultural heritige. Most are / were as well assimilated as any 3rd generation European immigrants. I get the feeling that the current aspiration for Native youth is to become share holders in a lease / land claims settlement with an environmental vote or even veto for resource use etc. The expectation seems to be that this compensation would be adequate to provide a very decent standard of living to every member. OK maybe land claims settlements plus reworking current transfers makes that possible. What is to stop your power structure from pillfering that as they have in the past? Don't kid yourself about the merits of your political structure, yes ours is atrocious but yours is far worse. In fact that is your biggest problem in negotiation with the feds. Look at the flip flops at Six Nations when that started. Who is in control changes too easily and this means real negotiations don't begin until the power structure solidifies.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2010 at 20:47:54

Oh, as for the Band Council and certain well-known business interests on the reserve, I fully agree, these people shouldn't get a penny. The Confederacy Council (and I've met 'em) represents a side of Six that I'd trust much farther with money. In either case, it would need to be as a part of a new governing entity, rather than any existing group. Poverty requires capital, not just spending money.

And as for hunting and gathering - yes, both can be very harmful to the environment. But hunter-gatherer societies are a different story. Ones which are well-rooted in an area tend to be the most sustainable societies we've found. It has to do with more than just hunting, there's a very detailed knowledge of ecology which is required to hunt and gather anywhere for a long time. Such societies almost always have populations well below the theoretical carrying capacity for the area, because having less kids (through a variety of means) is better than watching them starve. They use almost entirely local materials, virtually all technologies are widely understood and there's almost always a religious basis for strong environmental protection. Most importantly, if the environment is damaged, they suffer immediately. And though many foraging societies (and others) are nomadic, it almost always takes place through very well defined territories, right down to the family. And there are certainly examples of North American societies which caused destruction - usually either upon discover of a new and unfamilliar territory or adopting new technologies. And while they did farm (Six Nations, among other Iroquoian groups, helped revolutionize European agriculture). I whole heartedly endorse getting some of their seeds - there are some truly beautiful corn varieties.

This doesn't mean that natives are somehow genetically "more environmental". They've found almost perfectly preserved examples of ancient Northern European hunters and they're almost indistinguishable, right down to the buckskins and bow-types. Different types of societies rely on different types of production, and some are much more damaging than others.

It isn't 1498 anymore. Natives aren't going to go back to that way of life any sooner than we go back to old Europan Feudalism. That doesn't mean there isn't still a native culture in 2010, or that they don't still hunt. And both foraging and hunting are incredibly valuable food sources, especially when woodlands are managed for certain plants and animals (William Cronon has done some interesting research into how this was done). And while vast hunting grounds are available to many other reserves, all it takes is one pulp mill or tar sands project to make hundreds or thousands of square kilometres of nature potentially toxic. Bison is extremely nutritious, but has less saturated fat than chicken (domestication isn't exactly good for nutritional content of foods) and tons of polyunsaturated fats. I don't eat meat, but if I did, it'd be hunted. And as for wild plant foods, learn a few - they're growing out of almost every sidewalk crack in the city, and lambsquarter is better for you than spinach. Clearly there's some local food potential there.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2010 at 23:04:38

I just listened to a podcast from CBC's The Current on how the Miska(?) tribe in BC are getting the rules changed to allow reserve land to be held "in fee simple" (privately owned) by residents or businesses. This means folks can sell their land, mortgage it etc. Various argument were presented but it seems the proposal is progressing and attracting interest from other bands. So perhaps progress is being made. Unfortunately this episode seems to have lapsed from the CBC podcast page.

I can't seem to find anything on google about this so i probably mis-heard the name or can't spell it properly. Maybe someone can help.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:26:28

They're called the Nisga'a, and their Self-Government agreement is a huge step forward. It isn't the only one (Nunavut's techncally the biggest, but the Inuit and Dene are a special case), and there's a bunch more in the works.

If I hadn't studied anthropology and Indigenous Studies in university, I wouldn't know a tenth of this stuff otherwise, and I'd been involved in blockades and other actions with natives for years. The media coverage, and the kind of history we get taught in public schools is atrocious. It leaves out so much crucial context that the whole issue becomes a joke.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 24, 2010 at 14:53:54

Here's some gasoline for this fire. I listened to CBC today discussing the Metis. Whole new can of worms due in part, to trying to define what/who is Metis. Seems they're mentioned in the constitution - thanks Pierre. Whole new group to make life complicated - problems are real enough for the direct children but how far down the line of descendants should we go in giving special rights? Having said that, i'd be all for giving lots of benefits to the kids. Both people and dogs benefit from the mutt factor, no?

Hunting rights seem to be a key issue. So how do we assign hunting rights between competing groups? Is there, or should there be a privileged group? Is there any way to permanently resolve this in a fair way?

The first link is to the show & current episode, the second to CBC past podcasts - go to ReVision Quest heading. I downloaded the whole bunch for my holiday listening/ dog walking. Undustrial, given your extensive background in this area, i'd be interested in any comments you have about any of this series.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2010 at 03:27:54

Thanks Undustrial for creating this thread.

You hear a lot of very bigoted things in this area, esp. since the land claim dispute near Caledonia. It`s brought a lot of `nasty` out from under the wood pile.

The same people who would react pretty vehemently if somebody tried to build houses in their back yard, don't seem to understand why Native people would object to the same thing.

As I understand it, the dispute has been handed over to the Federal (?) Government.(The Feds were in no great hurry give back Ipperwash, even though it was only lent to them for the duration of WW2.) The 6 Nations land claim could be tied up in court for another 200 years.

The Harper Gov. doesn't seem to care a great deal about Native people. (they stopped funding for The Aboriginal University earlier this year & other programs for urban natives also have been canceled.)

Shawn Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, has suggested that scrapping of the Indian Act as soon as possible, & input from First Nations from the get-go is better than allowing the Federal Government to decide what will be done, how it will be done & when. I agree, but didn`t Native Autonomy also appear as part of the Meech Lake Accord? (Mulroney) When Meech Lake failed to pass, it took Native Sovereignty along with it. This is how the Federal Government does things. Omnibus legislation that ties many unrelated things together, or takes many important things away, while handing back a few small things.

I'm not saying that I have much more faith in a Liberal Federal Government, but I think The Assembly of First Nations is going to have to be very careful in any negotiations undertaken with the Harper Conservatives, given their interests in oil, gas, mineral, & logging. It's very important that bands retain all rights to the natural resources. (But could the Government try to trade these rights off against the rights of more southerly bands like the 6 Nations?)

To classify either people as 'purebred or mutts' seems to be really none scientific. All people, natives included may have other tribes, or whites, or blacks or any other race in their DNA. The same could be said for us all, considering the waves of migration, war, & trade across Europe, Africa, India, China & the entire World.

(The only purebred 'dog' is the wolf, & their are many species of them, which have also interbred. Breeding purebred dogs is breeding for a desired type, & that subjective assessment changes with time too. I agree that mixed breed dogs are often far healthier.)

The situation of Native kids being adopted outside of their culture presents problems to deciding who is Native or Metis & who is not. The children & grandchildren often don't know if their parents were 'Status Natives', or even who their birth parents are. The laws have changed for the better as far as Native women & their children are concerned, but does this change the definition of Metis along with 'Status Native'?

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