The Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) ended a few months ago. As an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe I was fortunate that one of the event organizers encouraged me to submit a workshop proposal I assume as a mechanism to ensure appropriate Indigenous inclusion in the gathering.
Despite what I have been going through, addressing multiple layers of structural oppression in terms of my long time and ongoing section 15 Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge about the continued sex discrimination in the Indian Act regarding Indian status registration, critiquing the Algonquin land claims process for the very genocide it is, and the work I am doing trying to improve my ocular vision, I submitted a proposal to present a participatory traditional talk about the 1764 Treaty at Niagara.
My proposal was accepted and I offer a short synopsis of my workshop here as no video recording is available. (Click here for my talk on allyship during the PSF Indigenous Solidarity Caucus Assembly.)
While Samuel de Champlain recorded the Algonquin Anishinaabe on both sides of what is now called the Ottawa River Valley, and further, despite the fact that Sir William Johnson commissioned the Algonquin Anishinaabe to take a lead role during the 1764 Treaty at Niagara − where Canada’s first constitutional documents were ratified − the Algonquin were continually denied during the historic treaty process that has made Canada what it is today. According to the historic record it was in 1772 when the Algonquin submitted their first written petition for the recognition and protection of their land, water, and other rights. The Algonquin then submitted a total of 28 petitions during a one-hundred year period, only ending after suffering a brutal wave of settler land encroachment, a brutal wave of genocidal attempts, and the brutal criminalization of who they were as a people and as a nation. This is part of Canada’s history. Yes, it was that brutal.
Growing up Algonquin, today I embody this unspeakable, devastating, and brutal disenfranchisement. It was lived and it was bewildering. This embodiment became and is my way of life. As an adult I continue to live this disenfranchisement, the difference being that I am now able to reflect on and attribute meaning and discourse to what happened to the Algonquin people and how I feel. Some days the disenfranchisement of the Algonquin is unbearably harder than it is on other days. Since my time at the PSF a reoccurring disappointment endlessly circulates within and the intelligence of my heart is animated − the heart being the anthropomorphic vessel of our spirit.
The PSF took place in the city of Ottawa which is, and was recognized by many people during the forum as, unceded and unsurrendered traditional Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. Unceded and unsurendered means the Algonquin have not yet entered into a treaty with colonial Canada.
Naomi Klein spoke during the PSF under the big tent. I have listened to Naomi’s PSF keynote address. As an Indigenous person who understands the devastation of the earth from both western scientific and Indigenous perspectives, I experienced this speech as good, humble, and kind, yet at the same time it animated within me incredible disappointment. I am tired of this feeling that settler people animate.
In her keynote address Naomi correctly identified the supremacist-psychotic logic of colonial capitalism that sacrifices life on the altar of money as the culprit in the earth’s destruction. With this thinking, she aligns herself with what Indigenous people have known for some time now teaching us nothing new.
Naomi correctly argued that this supremacist-psychotic logic confuses destruction with creation, and has transformed Canada into an energy super power, settler people into somebodies, and Indigenous people into nobodies. All this, she continued, happened through the broken promises of settler ancestors. Then, she advocated that humans need to find our best selves and to re-establish our relationship with the land. She added, needed is a human movement that is rooted in love as this is the countervailing force to what she calls disaster capitalism.
Naomi continues that settlers are now realising that the only barrier to Prime Minister Harper’s delusional dream-world of continuous and endless resource extraction are the rights of First Nation people. Further, according to her thinking, the earth and human kind’s future rests in the hands of the most marginalized people, where as such healing the Indigenous-settler wound is fundamental in addressing the climate crisis. Essentially she claims the two – saving the earth and healing the Indigenous-settler relationship − are one and the same, yet as an Indigenous Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe she let me down.
While Naomi said all the right things and I value this, she neglected to take the time necessary to make sure she understood what is really meant by the concept “unceded Algonquin territory” and/or “unceded and unsurrendered Indigenous land”. She failed to take the time to understand the main oppressive structure that is imposing on traditional Algonquin territory and on the very land she stood on during the PSF. As such, she also neglected to make sure the structural oppression was transformed into better action as all PSFs should.
Currently, and through colonial capitalism, the Algonquin of the Ottawa River have been divided into two main entities. The division between the Algonquin has been achieved through the imposition of the Ontario-Quebec border, the English and French language systems, two religious traditions, and two legal traditions. Through these imposed differences and through the long-time denial of the Algonquin Anishinaabe, Canada has done much harm. Today the Algonquin of Ontario are involved in the termination of their land rights through the land claims and self-government process. Of course this termination process is fully funded by the federal and provincial governments of Canada. While the so-called leadership of the Algonquin of Ontario has been co-opted by the colonial governments, many Algonquin and their allies are not happy with this process but they have been silenced and very much marginalized. These same marginalized Algonquin people are marginalized again by broader colonial issues such as the debate and claim by other Indigenous nations that a large part of the land claimed actually belongs to them. Then there are the issues of internalized oppression and lateral violence marginalizing these Algonquin and ally voices even more. This layering and complexity of power, as we know, is the very nature of colonial oppression.
Unfortunately, like all social injustices, this marginalization and silence of the Algonquin Anishinaabe was manifest during the PSF. The Algonquin who did participate in the PSF were the Algonquin nations and members that now reside in Quebec. While I value the border is a colonial invention, this does not mean there is good cause to marginalize, silence, or ignore the Algonquin of Ontario. What Naomi neglected to do was to learn more about this complex history, and to act within accordance to their own thoughts and philosophy about the genuine and just way forward. She argued Indigenous nations need to be at the core. Clearly this means finding and including the local Indigenous people in a way that addresses the colonial divide imposed rather than ignore it, remain ignorant, and silent on the matter.
While some people might argue that I had the opportunity to be more actively involved in the PSF and the decision making processes, this argument misses the very nature of structural oppression. First, I was not a part of the decision making process. Second, I am not solely responsible as the change agent. It was a Peoples’ Social Forum after all, meaning we all have a responsibility as we move forward. Further, while many people might argue I have not done my part to raise the issue about the Algonquin termination process, in fact I have. I have several articles written on the topic that can be found through an easy internet search using the key terms of Algonquin and genocide (click here and here). I have also recently published a book titled: The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process. The short story is that we have several so-called leaders who are ready to terminate their land and water rights for a mere 1.3% of our territory and a $300 million one-time buy-out which will give Canada and Ontario easier access to land and water destruction in Ontario. This is a genocide that will lead to further disaster capitalism.
The main colonial force imposed on the land Naomi stood on while in Ottawa is the land claims and self-government process currently taking place in Ontario. This is also the main colonial force on the land that Canada’s parliament building squat on. Yet she neglected to learn this, speak to it, and act in a genuine transformative way. Theory minus practice equals rhetoric. We all know this.
As Naomi has pointed out, she needed to stop, take a look around, and find the silenced Algonquin of Ontario and not rely on others people to do this work for her. Once she correctly identified these people, she needed to literally and physically move over and share half of her speaking time with the very Algonquin women (not men) who have their consciousness and vision well focussed on the main structural oppression imposed on the very land that Canada’s Parliament Buildings squat on: the genocide of the Algonquin Anishinaabe, rather than assume someone else would do this for her, or worse fall into the interference of ignorance.
Two qualifiers are needed here. First, people who read this and opt to blame me, particularly PSF organizers or particular Indigenous speakers, for the neglect that I have pointed out have yet to have a good reading of the power dynamics inherent in colonial capitalism. Second, it is important that I stress that I do not blame Naomi for the perpetuation of the silence regarding the Algonquin of Ontario, I am merely writing about how she too is complicit in the Algonquin disenfranchisement and genocide that continues today.
I hope Naomi buys my book and reads it.
Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.