First Nations Chief Satsan discusses Idle No More at Beedie event

Mar 05, 2013
Satsan (Herb George), hereditary chief of the Frog Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation

Satsan (Herb George), hereditary chief of the Frog Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation

The Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University and SFU Public Square hosted Satsan (Herb George), hereditary chief of the Frog Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation on March 1 at SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus, as he talked about the story behind the Idle No More movement and its relevance to all Canadians today.

William Lindsay, director of the SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples, introduced Satsan, who is also a member of the Advisory Board to Beedie’s Executive MBA in Aboriginal Business and Leadership. Lindsay was followed by Dr. Vicki Kelly, assistant professor, Indigenous Education at SFU, who played an honour song on the Native American flute to welcome Satsan into the public square.

As the musical notes echoing around the meeting room faded, Satsan explained that the Idle No More movement is concerned with sustainability for all Canadians – a powerful message given the implication of natural resources-related extraction and transportation projects located on traditional First Nations territories. Satsan noted that First Nations wish to take back their rightful place on their land, to look after it and properly protect its resources for the good of the nation.

“We [First Nations people] have an obligation to the land, to our resources, to the animals and the birds on our lands,” Satsan explained. “So when this was about to be violated, we had to stand up to defend it.”

According to the Wet’suwet’en Nation Chief, Idle No More is about more than dealing with injustice and seeking resolution of Aboriginal peoples’ inherent sovereignty in Canada. The movement is also closely associated with protection of the environment and ethical stewardship of natural resources. Its beginnings are closely associated with passage of the omnibus bill, Bill C-45, which proposed changes to environmental protection of waterways across the country. The bill was seen as immensely disrespectful of Aboriginal rights since many of the waterways losing their protection pass through First Nations lands.

After describing his long career as a spokesperson on First Nations issues, including time spent as manager for his own band and later as a representative for the chiefs of British Columbia, Satsan set the historical context, guiding the audience through a review of modern times and historical record. From first contact between what was then a successful continental First Nations trading community and the European explorers, to the continuing aftermath of the colonial Indian Act, unified voices are finally emerging from the injustice that has blighted generations.

Satsan, describing the first and subsequent Indian Acts as oppressive, admitted that he had difficulty picking out just one story suitable to illustrate the widespread poverty and repression that has occurred. Instead he chose to quote a young participant at the Enbridge hearings on Haida Gwaii who asked, “Can you explain to me, who gave you the authority to do what you have done?” to express the disbelief felt by many First Nations.

The poverty experienced by many Aboriginal peoples, its associated health and social problems, and the bias shown against First Nations peoples are the historical reasons for the longstanding frustration and grievances. But now these voices are uniting under the Idle No More movement, recognising their achievements towards self-government so far, and working for a sustainable solution for the future.

Satsan also answered questions from the audience, focusing on the need to establish a new dialogue to build relationships both internally and externally. Questions were asked about the role of the Assembly of First Nations in Idle No More, and the need for reassurance and information by other Canadians.  In reply to Lindsay’s question on why more First Nations don’t have self-governing status currently, Satsan suggested that education needs to happen internally as well. People are used to living under the Indian Act for so many generations and are afraid of change.

Remarking on advice given to him by a friend, that there’s no point in trying to fix a flat tire by shouting at it, Satsan explained that First Nations people now recognise that they can take responsibility to act on this injustice; they will be Idle No More.

“If you pick up the tools, you can fix the flat tire.”

While Canada needs to recognize the historical wrongs perpetrated by the Indian Act in order to retain its global reputation as a just and free nation, it also needs to acknowledge that the principles and values inherent to First Nations people are also inherent to the long term sustainability of Canada.

“Canada needs to acknowledge its First Nations as it goes forward; change is only possible when this recognition and respect happens.”

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