Posts By: First Nations Drum

Jake Thomas and the Great Law

Maurice Switzer

Beyond the borders of his beloved Six Nations territory, Jake Thomas’ death didn’t make any headlines.

When he died August 17th at the age of 76, he had been Cayuga chief for over half a century, a living archive for the Iroquois people. Chief Jacob Ezra Thomas was one of the first aboriginal people to obtain tenure as a university professor in Canada on the basis of his great wealth of traditional knowledge, and for 14 years he taught languages, culture, and history in Trent University’s Native Studies department.

He was the last man alive capable of reciting from memory the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, which has served as the constitution for the people of the longhouse since before Europeans set foot on Turtle Island. In early summer, 1994, over a 12 day period, Chief Thomas gave a public recital of the Great Law, an event that was recorded on videotape and archived by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

“That peace is supposed to work,” he told an RCAP hearing. “It’s the power of the words of the Creator where they came from, of unity, being of one mind, a good mind. That’s what makes power.”

The Great Law is the type of oral Aboriginal history that is scoffed at these days by the journalistic and academic elite, the same bigots who rail against modern-day Indian milestones like the Delgamuukw decision or Nisga’a Treaty signing that uphold Aboriginal title and inherent rights. It was also the democratic model used by founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in the framing of the United States Constitution.

Jake Thomas was a custodian of this precious gift, one of many shared by Amerindian people with European newcomers. Typically, neither the gifts nor their givers receive much credit from the beneficiaries.

Ironically, the most attention ever accorded Jake Thomas by mainstream society came during the last year of his life, when he agreed to participate in a recording by rock star Robbie Robertson that celebrated his Mohawk heritage. The Cayuga chief gave his blessing to Robertson’s Musical return to his roots, understanding better than most people the ability modern art forms to help ancient cultures survive.

I spotted the soft-spoken Elder standing by himself at a noisy reception following this year’s Aboriginal Achievement Award ceremonies, where he had chanted and played a turtle rattle to provide the native context for Robertson’s contemporary lyrics. In the middle of a forest of tuxedoes and glitzy evening gowns, this simple but profound man taught me how he honoured the handle of his turtle rattle with tobacco each time he used it.

Jake Thomas lived his culture, whether teaching Six Nations youngsters about nature in his sugar bush, or carving hickory condolence canes, traditionally used in the longhouse at the installation of a new chief, upon the death of his predecessor. His teaching will not end as long as visitors tour the Jake Thomas Learning Centre at Six Nations, or Trent University continues to incorporate into its annual convocation ceremonies the condolence cane he presented to the Native Studies program on the occasion of its 25th anniversary.

If Jake Thomas was a cultural icon for his people, the same cannot be said for the names on which the media focussed during the week of his passing. The attention they received — and Jake Thomas didn’t — speaks volumes about the priorities of “civilized” society. It was the usual cast of media celebrities — politicians doing about-faces on their principles, millionaire athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, a mobster gunned down in the driveway of his respectable suburban neighbourhood.

A lot of ink and air time that week was dedicated to a mounting scandal in Alberta, where senior officers of a provincially-owned bank were being accused of accepting huge bribes in return for approving multi-million dollar loans to prominent businessmen. The bank would also be writing off almost half a billion dollars in taxpayers money used to fund the business operations of Peter Pocklington, former meatpacking and hockey team tycoon.

What was so incongruous about this scandal is that it has been years in the making, escaping the scrutiny of Alberta politicians and journalists, who had been too busy focussing on the alleged financial difficulties of one Indian band which had run up a $3-million operating deficit.
Maurice Switzer

Chief Jacob Thomas is in a better place today, but only after dedicating his life to making this place a better one for all his people.

“We release you for we know it is no longer possible for you to walk together with us on earth.” (Wampum, The Great Law)

Maurice Switzer is a member of the Mississaugas of Rice Lake First Nation at Alderville,Ont. and director of communications for the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie received her Ph.D. in Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts, and also holds degrees in Philosophy and in teaching. These combined interests are clearly evident in her music, her visual art works, her writing, and her life.

She won an Academy Award for writing the song, Up Where We Belong (from An Officer and a Gentleman), but has also scored movies, ducked bullets, raised a son, and spent five years on Sesame Street teaching little kids and their caretakers that, “Indians still exist.”

Her electronic paintings on her Macintosh computer have been exhibited in both museums and galleries as well as online. In March she was inducted into the Canadian music industry’s Juno Hall of Fame. The versatility in all this work is a reflection of her own life and is best described as extremely varied, both universal and unique.

As a college student in the early sixties, Buffy Sainte-Marie became known as a writer of protest and love songs. Her songs have been performed by hundreds of artists including Elvis Presley, Indigo girls, Barbara Streisand, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Chet Atkins, Bobby Darin, Donovan, Glen Campbell, The Highwaymen, Roberta Flack, Neil Diamond, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and Janis Joplin.

The folk-scene in those Greenwich Village days was a mixture of preservationists and originals. Buffy was of the latter group, and a loner. Having written Universal Soldier, which became an anthem for the sixties’ peace movement, she still was absent from the mass protest marches in favour of shedding her unique light on Indian rights and environmental issues, which she continues to do today, “…because nobody’s covering those bases.”

Her musicianship was and is a reflection of her curiosity about sound. Even in the beginning, she strung and tuned her guitar in all sorts of unusual ways and played a mouth bow, which relies on harmonics and a remarkable ear. But what Buffy Sainte-Marie is best known for is song writing. From her first record to the present time, her songs have been meaningful to other artists and to audiences as well, making sense to both the head and the heart. She is a real original.

The songs she wrote were varied. Some music lovers might think of her as a writer of country songs of protest songs, but her big financial successes (which allowed her to remain an artist instead of having to work in some other field) were her love songs; particularly Until It’s Time for You to Go and Up Where We Belong. She had a string of country hits as well, including The Piney Wood Hills, I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again, and He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo. The protest songs she’s written are scathing and pointed. There is no counter argument that holds up against Universal Soldier, Now That the Buffalos’ Gone, of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Buffy went from Greenwich Village to Europe, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan, and had a unique career outside of the U.S. She scored movies, wrote essays, worked with early computers, presented a colloquium to Europe’s philosophers, established a scholarship foundation to fund native studies painted huge pictures, spent time with indigenous people in far away countries, received a medal from Queen Elizabeth II, and won an Academy Award. In 1976, when her son was born, she quit professional recording to become a mother and an artist. For the next five years, was a cast member of Sesame Street and she continued to be a student of experimental music for the next sixteen years.

In 1966, Buffy had made the first ever electronic quadraphonic vocal album, and she has continued to cut across musical stereotypes, scoring movies and blazing a personal trail through digital music, while never straying far from the heart of intimate song writing. Whereas in the seventies she used a Boucla synthesizer, and later a Serge, creating electronic soundtracks for songs and movies, during the same period she made rare appearances at huge European music festivals, using the early Roland MIDI guitar. In the later seventies and early eighties, she worked at home with a Fairlight and a Synclavier. When the Macintosh computer came out in 1984, Buffy was at the head of the line.

Today, her digital home studio is as personal and hands-on for her as a guitar was in the sixties. Her come-back CD, Coincidence and Likely Stories, was made at home in 1991. Using her Macintosh as a recording instrument, she played most of the parts herself. When it was just the way she wanted it, she dialed the number of her co-producer in London, England, and sent the music down the phone lines via modem, bounced it off the satellite, and it went onto tape in London.

Upon the release of that album, France named her Best International Artist and presented her with the Grand Prix Charles de Gaulle Award. In Ottawa, newspapers reviewed her performance with the 85-piece electronic band for 20,000 people last summer at Big Sky in Alberta, as well as for tiny Reserves and fly-in communities across Canada.

Today Buffy teaches at colleges, and lectures in a variety of fields including digital art, philosophy, film scoring, electronic music, song writing, Indian issues and the Native genius for governments. Most importantly, Buffy teaches to remain positive amidst tough human realities. Her digital paintings vary in style as do her songs, speeches, classes and essays, each reflecting her lifelong wish to empower creative people’s multifaceted individual potentials “…because we need fresh alternative ideas from every direction…students, artist, women, and indigenous people.”

Her latest single and video Darling Don’t Cry is a “Pow-Wow love song.” It was released in 1996 followed by another CD, Up Where We Belong. The album features fifteen recordings including some of Buffy’s most beloved classics: Universal Soldier, Until It’s Time for You to Go, The Piney Wood Hills, Soldier Blue, God is Alive, Eagle Man, and Indian Cowboy, as well as her own version of Up Where We Belong. Chris Birkett, who co-produced Coincidence and Likely Stories is once again her co-producer for Up Where We Belong

Band Claims Right to Run Casino

R. Stewart

The Beecher Bay Band will gamble in court that it has the right to build a casino on reserve land between Metchosin and East Sooke.

Band lawyer Rory Morahan recently said that bylaws covering gaming were submitted to the minister of Indian affairs in 1995. Under Indian Act
provisions, unless the minister specifically rejects bylaws submitted to him within 40 days, they go into force, Morahan said.

That means the band has had the right to govern gaming on its reserve since 1995 and the province’s rejection last week of a band application for
a gaming license was irrelevant, Morahan suggested. He’ll take that argument to either the Federal Court or the B.C. Supreme Court within a month.

“I estimate we’ll be filing within a month to six weeks and we could see a decision within about six to eight months…A lot of this is affidavit evidence — this is a document case — and those kind of cases can proceed fairly quickly.”

Band representative Pat Chipps said all the documentation is ready to go. “This is plan A for us, not plan B — this is the way we intended to go
originally, so the research has already been done,” Chipps said. “We think we have been very politically correct in this by trying to work cooperatively with the province. But this is economically very important to us, so we are going ahead.”

Morahan said he plans to introduce evidence that gambling is a long-held cultural tradition among the Coast Salish.

Linda VanderBerg, a cultural anthropologist who works extensively on behalf of First Nations in B.C., said the tradition of gambling goes back
thousands of years and that artifacts of s’lahal — or bone games — are often found in archeological digs.

“Blankets, copper, any number of things considered valuable would change hands,” she said. “There was even one Clallum chief (from Washington State) who lost his wife in one of the bones games, so the stakes could get pretty high.”

Band chief Burt Charles displayed his modern bone-game implements, made from wood and deer horn. Bands would gamble for blankets made from
mountain-sheep wool or other goods, though now cash changes hands, he said. Traditional tokens would have been made from whale bones, VanderBerg said.

Morahan stressed that the major goal of the casino proposal was to provide jobs and economic benefits for the Beecher Bay Band. But the economic spin-off would also benefit neighboring communities, he said.

“Portions of the revenue from the gaming would be set aside to pay for things like improving the infrastructure and the roads and so on,” he
said. And with 200 to 1,000 jobs expected as the project builds to completion, there would also be work for people outside the band, which has
fewer than 200 members, he said.

Chipps said the band would meet today with other First Nations to try to arrange joint funding for the court process. But Morahan said the legal gambit would continue even without support of other First Nations.

Déline Dene Mining Tragedy

Ronald B. Barbour

Years before the first white person stepped foot onto Dene territory, a powerful Medicine Man, healer and prophet, Louis Ayah began to warn his people of terrible circumstances that were going to come to his people when the white man starts taking the “dangerous rock” out of the ground. He foretold that this material would be taken in a flying boat and used to destroy many brown people in a foreign land. He also foretold of the water being poisoned and warned his people to stay away from this area.

Now, nearly 150 years later, six members of the Déline Dene, all living with the pain and suffering of family and friends dying of radiation poisoning, are going to Hiroshima to join in the services commemorating the dropping of the atomic bomb on that city on August 6, 1945.

According to Cindy Kenny-Gilday, the Chair of the Déline Dene Band Uranium Committee, the trip to Hiroshima serves two purposes:

  • to tell their story, on a global stage, of their repeated attempts to motivate the Canadian government into dealing with the horrific impact that the uranium mining has had on their community (and of Canada’s refusal to deal in good faith with these issues);
  • to express their sadness and compassion for the suffering that the uranium from Great Bear Lake has caused elsewhere.

“One of the widows expressed deep sorrow that the material that came out of our land had killed innocent victims in a land that’s foreign to us,” says Kenny-Gilday. “And we send them our deep sorrow and we send them our respects.”

Kenny-Gilday says that for nearly 30 years the Dene have been trying through their traditional methods to dialogue with the Canadian government and motivate them into addressing the problems experienced by the Dene of Déline. After years of neglect, the Dene elders decided to approach the government in a manner they might understand. Just over a year ago they decided to submit their concerns to Ottawa in the form of a written document and on June 10 a delegation representing the Dene met with three federal cabinet ministers with their 160-page report.

This report, entitled They Never Told Us These Things, recounts the history of government involvement with the Port Radium mine and the irreparable impact this activity has had on the environment, their health and their community. It lists 14 points of resolution that the Dene feel will adequately address these issues.

“The 14 points of resolution (are) common sense resolutions the people perceive to be the answers to their problems to be resolved at the community level,” says Kenny-Gilday. “…They came back with a three-point solution plan that we did not agree to that was tabled as a government solution to the peoples’ problem.”

The Dene felt Ottawa completely ignored what they proffered as solutions which were determined at a wide-spread community level. They have yet to receive any significant response. When the uranium was first discovered in their area in the 1930s, a couple of mineral savvy gold-seekers, Gilbert and Charlie LaBine bought the rights to mine the ore, that was worth $70,000 a gram, in exchange for a few sacks of flour, lard and some baking powder. In 1932 the Port Radium mine began production and continued operations until 1940. The mine was re-opened in 1942 under the ownership of a now defunct Crown corporation, Eldorado Mining and Refining, which ran until 1960.

During the beginning of the war efforts, the mine was kept running at a very high pace, utilizing non-Native miners brought in from all over the country. The Dene were employed as “coolies” packing 45-kilogram sacks of radioactive ore for three dollars a day, working 12 hours a day, six days a week for four months of the year.

Throughout the 1950s, the American government began studies on cancers linked with uranium mining. Victor E. Archer, an American epidemiologist, who started the first cancer studies on miners in 1954, had stated that the American reports on these studies and updates were forwarded regularly to the Eldorado mine management, as well as to the Canadian government. Although the Canadian government knew there were significant dangers in working with radioactive material, the decision was made to continue mining the ore without adequate safe-guards to miners and laborers or even without informing their workers of the inherent dangers.

Archer cites declassified reports by Wilhelm C. Hueper, the founding director of the environmental cancer section of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, who studied 300 years worth of data specifically regarding the effects of radon on European miners. His reports predicted serious health concerns of radium miners in the Great Bear Lake and the Belgium Congo.

The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission responded to Hueper’s reports by telling him that occupational cancers among uranium workers were “not in the public interest.” Neither the Canadian government or the mine owners wanted to scare miners away, or implement better health safeguards that would force uranium prices up, says Archer. The loss of close to 50 males in their community of 700 has had a devastating effect on the survival of their culture.

Kenney-Gilday, who has suffered the loss of her father to colon cancer and brother to stomach cancer, stressed that it is the grandfathers in Dene society who passes on the traditions. Because of the loss of these men in the community, there are too many men without fathers or grandfathers to teach them.

“It’s the most vicious example of cultural genocide I have ever seen, and it’s in my own home,” emphasized Kenny-Gilday.

The legacy of uranium mining at Great Bear Lake has not only left in its wake a “village of widows,” but the water and the land surrounding the closed mine has essentially become a radioactive wasteland. Over 1.7 million tons of radioactive waste and tailings from the operations of the Eldorado mine was callously dumped into and around the lake drastically contaminating the food sources of the Dene people

“The whole land is used on seasonal basis — on harvesting cariboo and fish,” say Kenny-Gilday. “People are surprised at how much the people in Déline depend on the food from the land. If you’re paying six dollars for a dozen eggs, you’re going to go have to get a fish or shoot a cariboo.”

Recent satellite tracking of cariboo in the north confirm that the cariboo have been migrating across the mine’s waste dumps, seriously contaminating the Dene food supply. The Dene have requested, as part of their 14 points of resolution package, to have a comprehensive health, social and environmental assessment done in order to determine the extent of the damage and to have the Canadian government to acknowledge their responsibility in the decimation of their livlihood and culture.

Other issues the Déline Dene are hoping the government will address are:

  • immediate environmental clean-up
  • containment or removal of uranium waste
  • compensation for the widows
  • implementation of facilities and programs to promote Dene healing and spiritual/cultural development
  • re-negotiation of treaty settlement, which included land that the Canadian government knew was contaminated.

“Alberta and Ontario have compensated women of uranium miners, but not us,” says Kenny-Gilday. “But they are the government of Canada’s responsibility.”

When asked why the Dene are not just simply suing Canada, Kenny-Gilday states, “The Elders feel that they must give Canada more time to do this honorably because thus far they have not dealt with us in good faith. We must do this honorably.”

In a humble and dignified manner, the Déline Dene left for Hiroshima to extend their sympathies and regards to the Hibakusha and share in their suffering as victims of nuclear programs.

Cheslatta Nation Goes to Court over Kemano

“Alcan is not obligated to spend a penny in the rehabilitation of the Nechako or the Cheslatta system. If Canada and B.C. is not committed, then Alcan is home free.”

Members of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation along with a group of Elders have filed a Statement of Claim with the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Prince George challenging all agreements and licenses granted to the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan) by the Canadian and British Columbian governments. These agreements and licenses allowed Alcan to construct and operate the highly controversial series of hydro-electric facilities and an aluminum smelter, known as the Kemano Projects, in north-central BC.

“We have run out of options. The only way to get Alcan Canada and B.C. to account for their actions is through the justice system,” said Chief Marvin Charlie. “We were not consulted in the 1950’s (Kemano I), we were not consulted in 1987 (Kemano II) and we weren’t consulted in 1997, which we now call Kemano III. Nobody was consulted – the farmers, the trappers, the municipalities, the commercial fishermen – nobody! Now we are expected to live with this forever – I don’t think so!”

The Kemano I Project resulted in the flooding of 120,000 acres of the Upper-Nechako Watershed, all within the Cheslatta Traditional Territory, and eventually removed approximately three-quarters of the natural flow of the Nechako River. The Nechako River is the largest tributary to the largest salmon-producing river in the world.

The Kemano II Project, an expansion of the first, was allowed to proceed when B.C. and Canada signed the infamous 1987 Settlement Agreement. In 1990, Kemano II became the first project in Canadian history to be granted an exemption from a federal environmental review process; an action later to be found illegal by a Senate-Commons Committee. Kemano II construction was subsequently halted by Alcan in 1997 who cited poor aluminum markets. In January of 1995, B.C. canceled the Kemano II project citing poor economic projections on behalf of the company.

Last August, under legal threats from Alcan, the B.C. government granted unprecedented rights and privileges to Alcan by signing the 1997 B.C./Alcan Agreement, which is now referred to as Kemano III. The B.C. government declared the Kemano II Project history.

Cheslatta claims that Kemano II is alive and well. With the 1997 Agreement, Alcan, who announced net profits for 1997 at $641,000,000, got everything they wanted and more. “Alcan is not obligated to spend a penny in the rehabilitation of the Nechako or the Cheslatta system. If Canada and B.C. is not committed, then Alcan is home free,” says Chief Charlie.

Since their forced relocation by Alcan and the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) in 1952, the 85 members of Cheslatta live on scattered parcels of land in the Grassy Plains area 175 miles west of Prince George. In 1993, they concluded a long dispute with the DIA over the matter of how much they were compensated for the land and buildings at Cheslatta Lake. With two weeks notice, the people were ‘evacuated’ to higher ground, all of their homes and villages were burnt to the ground and their cemeteries washed into the lake.

Charlie said many band members live today in condemned homes and have high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction. Reclaiming their ancestral homeland is a way for the band to heal, he said.

Since 1956, the Cheslatta river and lake system have been used as a spillway channel to allow huge releases of water to enter the Nechako River below Cheslatta Falls. This has caused massive environmental damage.

The Cheslatta Carrier Nation is expecting widespread support for this court action from many groups including First Nations, municipalities, commercial fishermen, wildlife organizations, environmentalists and others that rely on a healthy Nechako River. The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the defendants to repair the damage they have done to the band’s land.

“The fact is the upper-Nechako River and its watershed is owned and operated by the Aluminum Company of Canada,” said Chief Charlie. “And up to now, nobody has been able to do a thing about it. Let’s hope to change that.”

Alberni School Victim Speaks Out

Lloyd Dolha

“He kicked the little girl and she fell down the stairs and died. That’s murder. There were other kids in the infirmary who had their appendix burst. That’s murder. Other children were beaten so badly they died. That’s murder. No one bothered to take them to the hospital.”

At least 150 people crowded into a conference room at a downtown Vancouver university campus to hear three survivors recount the gruesome murders they witnessed at a Port Alberni residential school. At the February public forum, the survivors also alleged the complicity of the RCMP in the deaths of school’s students.

In Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre, Harriet Nahanee, Dennis Talio and Harry Wilson, sat with downcast eyes as they prepared themselves to relive the haunting childhood memories of their youth before the gathered throng.

Nahanee, 62, explained that at the age of five, all of the children on her reserve were dragged kicking and screaming onto a RCMP gunboat. They were taken to the Ahousaht residential school. At the age of 10, she was taken to the Port Alberni residential school the same day that 300 other children, from along the coast, were brought. She said that some children immediately hid in corners frightened, while others cried uncontrollably. Children were punished for singing their traditional songs and speaking their own language. They were so poorly fed that they were beaten for stealing vegetables from the root cellar.

In speaking of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of the administrators for four years, Nahanee’s voice began to quiver.

“I didn’t bring it to mind until 1984, when my daughter committed suicide. Then I began to look at myself. Why I was addicted to alcohol? Why I wasn’t a good parent?” When Nahanee visited a psychiatrist she told him, “I think the church and the government did this to us deliberately in order to take the land and resources. It was all about keeping us dysfunctional, to keep us dependent.”

Before speaking of the murder she witnessed at the age of 11, Nahanee stopped to compose herself and dry her eyes. “I didn’t consider it a murder because when you’re just a kid, it’s just another painful memory.”

On December 24, 1946, the school administrators told Nahanee she would not go home for the holidays because she didn’t bow her head in prayer. While in the playroom, she heard some shouting. Nahanee followed the sound and went to the bottom of a staircase and climbed them half way. She saw Mr. (Rev. A. E.) Caldwell, and a female supervisor at the top of the stairs. They were arguing about a little girl who was running up and down the stairs.

“Mr. Caldwell was always drunk. You could smell the liquor on his breath all the time.” While batting her eyelashes to hold back the tears, Nahanee continued telling her nightmare.

“He kicked the little girl and she fell down the stairs and died. That’s murder. There were other kids in the infirmary who had their appendix burst. That’s murder. Other children were beaten so badly they died. That’s murder. No one bothered to take them to the hospital.”

“The worst part of it was the loneliness. When you’re a little kid and you can’t reach out to your mom for a hug – it really hurts. It’s a wound for a lifetime,” said Nahanee.

Wilson of Bella Bella, 45, was sent to the Port Alberni residential school in 1961 at the age of seven, where he was molested by then administrator Arthur Plint for five years.

In 1967, he had discovered a body of a 16-year-old girl, completely naked and covered in blood. He found the janitor who said he would call the RCMP. Wilson does not remember the RCMP arriving at the scene. “The girl’s body disappeared. I can’t remember her name but she was from up north somewhere. There was no investigation. I believe it was a cover-up,” said Wilson.

When Talio, 40, also from Bella Bella, took the podium, he spoke in a voice so low that at times it was difficult to hear what he had to say. Talio spoke of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Arthur Plint between the years 1962-1967. In 1965, Talio had discovered the remains of a girl between the ages of seven to nine, who had been sexually assaulted. He alleged that RCMP officials had warned him to keep his mouth shut.

At one point, his voice rising to a quivering pitch, he asked the audience, “Have any of you ever been beaten with a horse’s harness whip? Sometimes I can still hear those screams from young girls, even the boys, who Mr. Plint sexually assaulted. During those years at school I couldn’t help; but I still can’t get those screams out of my head,” said Talio.

Former United Church minister Kevin Annett was fired and de-listed by the church after he unearthed evidence of murders at the Port Alberni residential school.

“I had to lose my job. I had to lose my marriage and my children in order to try to understand what we did,” said Annett, who partook in the forum.

The United Church schools in Port Alberni and Ahousaht were situated on some of the richest resources in the area. “In Ahousaht, there are some of the oldest Red Cedar stands, and in Port Alberni, at the mouth of Somass (river), is a major salmon fishing ground,” said Annett.

Annett quoted a letter from a veteran bureaucrat, DIA superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott. In part, it stated: “The residential schools cannot be located to close to the Indian reserves because then the children will stay on their own land, and as you know, we must open this land up for exploitation.”

The three survivors are involved in Canada’s first civil lawsuit, held in Nanaimo, on Indian residential school abuse. Their case will decide whether the federal government and the United Church should be held vicariously liable (financially accountable) for abuses committed by school staff. If the church and government art found liable, the trial will move into its second phase of deciding the amount of money that will be awarded to the plaintiffs. Hundreds of similar lawsuits are pending across Canada on the court’s decision.

For the second time since his de-listing hearing, Annett has requested the Attorney General to begin an investigation into the proceedings. In a letter to Attorney General Dosanjh, dated March 9, 1998, Annett wrote:

“Since the maintenance of human rights in B.C. is within your portfolio…I fail to see why you are unable to investigate what I have experienced to be a gross violation of my legal and human rights…I am quite concerned that your refusal to examine my case is a consequence of the political influence of the United Church of Canada within the NDP government in the form of such key actors as Rev. John Cashore and Tim Stephenson.”

Annett was fired without cause or review in January 1995, from his Port Alberni church and was subsequently expelled from the ministry after a lengthy and expensive trial without ever being charged or given cause for his removal.

Annett plans to take his case to the United Nations Human Rights Commission if Dosanjh refuses to investigate. Annett has also filed a legal writ of notice prior to his impending lawsuit against the United Church.

Aboriginal Cultural Festival Celebrates Unity

Ronald R. Barbour

When nations that are historically and traditionally at odds, or even at war, put aside their differences to come together and celebrate their similarities, culture and uniqueness – it must be another Aboriginal Cultural Festival.

The 5th Annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival brought together many nations representative of the vast diversity of the West Coast First Nations. People were drawn from their own lands to come to Coast Salish territory to join in this celebration of culture including the Dene, the Haida, the Kwakiutl, Nisga’a, Gitksan, Cree, and Ojibwe. It does the heart good to see this festive gathering of nations and peoples. The theme of, “Bringing the people together” made its indelible mark on the minds of the thousands that came to Squamish territory to witness this event.

This year’s festival marked a significant change from the venues where the festival had been held previous years – the Pacific Coliseum and the Plaza of Nations. The organizers, led by Festival Coordinator Rose Holzer-Tambour, took the festival to a place where many think it should have been from the beginning – out in the open, communing with the forces of nature.

“The concept was to come over to Squamish Territory and form a working relationship with Squamish Nation,” says Holzer-Tambour. “[This] is a first step for the urban Aboriginal community such as the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and organize an event in conjunction with their territory.”

For those with a penchant for soaking in West Coast style song and dance, the new festival site at the Squamish Nation’s Capilano Longhouse provided an ideal location.

“It’s very traditional, it’s much more comfortable than the Coliseum.” states Holzer-Tambour of the Longhouse. “It was one of the big highlights for this year’s events.”

In a great ceremony of respect and protocol, many honours were bestowed upon some of the dignitaries and elders that graced the festival. Venerable elders Khot La Cha (Chief Simon Baker), who welcomed everyone to his traditional territory and then delivered the invocation after the opening night’s grand entry; elder and spokesperson for the Burrard Band, Bob George, and Musqueam elder, Vince Stogan (who was not present due to illness in the family) were honoured and recognized for serving their communities and their distinguished work for all First Nations.

“How many drums have we heard today? Twenty? Thirty?” George asked the crowd rhetorically after accepting his gifts. “What about 30,000 – that could make a sound that could be heard around the world.

Bristling with emotion and punctuating his words with clenched fists, George brought the Longhouse down when he asserted emphatically that we had to stop fighting each other and unite.

“It is through this unity that will make us strong,” urged George.

Truly the Great Spirit must have moved through his body and touched everyone that was present, and the words he spoke of unity with purity of mind and spirit truly proved he is his father’s son.

The Pow-Wow itinerary held in the sports fields that was not even a stone’s throw from the Longhouse, kept those in the mood for fancy dancing, traditional and glass dances, enthralled throughout the weekend.

When asked about the success of the Festival, Holzer-Tambour smiled and let out a huge sigh of relief.

“It was very exciting,” beamed Holzer-Tambor. “It was very authentic and it was a very special.”

It seemed that the most difficulty anyone had was deciding between the watching the dancing, hearing the singing or witnessing the fascinating events inside the Longhouse.