Today marks the beginning of the first ever, Indigenous Sovereignty Week. It is a week that indigenous activists from across Canada can promote their cause. Where people from across Canada can show their support for their indigenous brethren in their struggles for justice, land and water, treaty rights and self-determination.
But what exactly is indigenous sovereignty?
In Canada, the word sovereignty carries a number of different connotations.
In the 1990s, some Quebec “separatists” use the word “sovereignty” to lessen the fear referendum voters had over “separation”. “Sovereignty association”, as it were. Some call it “separation anxiety”. (Lots of words in quotes, eh?) Don’t’ worry. Nobody meant what they said, anyhow.
For monarchists, the word comes directly from the root word sovereign, which means monarch, referring to the head of state: The Governor General. Umm, I mean The Queen.
For Americans, indigenous sovereignty may be a partial political reality, through tribal constitutions, governments, courts and laws. But the practical and social reality continues to be much different.
For most people, sovereignty means the ability to exercise jurisdiction and control over one’s territory and people.
For the Anishinaabeg, the definition is somewhere in the middle of all these definitions.
The Anishinaabek Nation, specifically those tribes and bands who formed the great Confederacy of the Three Fires formed an alliance with the Crown. This began formally with the Treaty of Niagara in 1764, where the British Crown and the Confederacy formed a Covenant Chain. Together, our Nations exchanged wampum and smoked the pipe together. We pledged loyalty to His Majesty and agreed to peace, friendship and respect. This included a military alliance, something that has held true even into the 20th century.
The modern Anishinabek Nation in Ontario is guided by the Anishinabek Declaration. This document states that we have the right to our own forms of government and we shall have full control over our land, water and resources. However, the Declaration doesn’t expressly call for sovereignty. In fact, principle seven states: “We wish to remain within Canada, but within a revised constitutional framework.”
It wasn’t until John Beaucage published his Political Manifesto that the Anishinabek Nation outlined our objective with regard to sovereignty. He said: “We are Sovereign Nations. This sovereignty was granted to us by the Creator and bestowed in the Sacred Law of the Anishinabek. This sovereignty has never been given up.”
Beaucage also envisioned how the Anishinabek Nation would achieve sovereignty, through negotiation and cooperation and changes in the Constitution.
According to the Political Manifesto: “We will work towards the necessary constitutional change that will recognize our traditional, community and communal governments as the third order of Government within Canada. We will work towards the necessary constitutional change that will recognize the sovereignty of our governments by the Crown.”
However, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the conciliatory approach. There will be more than a few participants in Indigenous Sovereignty Week that are outright militant. This is not an Anishinaabe principle.
Those that take to the streets to disrupt their fellow Canadians are misguided. Those that use intimidation or violence are, plain and simply, wrong.
Good causes, including sovereignty, land and treaty rights are often high-jacked by the angry, the pissed-off and the irrational. Many of these people want to put on a show, get in the newspapers and have their fifteen minutes of fame. They do nothing to generate mainstream support.
Sure, the Anishinaabeg have a warrior’s society, called the Ogitchidaa. However, the Ogitchidaa are not visible. We don’t have membership cards. We do not show up waving fierce looking flags, wearing fatigues, or sporting balaclavas during nice weather.
True Ogitchidaa take care of the fire, lead ceremonies and protect our families. We are positive role models. We teach tolerance, gentleness and living a good life. We work to gain the support from our Canadian brothers and sisters. Ogitchidaa are givers and helpers.
Case in point, the Ogitchidaa and Ogtichidaa-kwe at Site 41. Sure, they stirred the pot. They even got themselves arrested. But everyone was cheering them on.
There are some Anishinaabek leaders, such as Roseau River Chief Terrance Nelson, who choose to take a hard-lined approach. During the old times, Terrance would be someone we called our War Chief. He has a place too and is well-respected for the role that he plays within our Nation.
The American Indian Movement itself was formed by Anishinaabek leaders Clyde Bellecourt, Eddie Benton-Banai and Dennis Banks. AIM was originally started as a Spiritual and educational movement.
But AIM too, was highjacked by the angry. Taken over by the whim of the galactically pissed-off.
However, these leaders are also intensely spiritual. Terry, Clyde and Eddie are all Midewiwin people. Our society doesn’t advocate full sovereignty, but rather peaceful coexistence. This comes directly from the Great Prophecy.
For the Anishinaabek, the Great Prophecy spoke of the coming of the light-skinned race, referring to the European people. It is said that they will be wearing the face of destruction.
The Prophecy accurately spoke of the time when “the rivers would run with poison, and the fish would become unfit to eat.”
However, it would also tell of a time in the future when the two great Nations would join together in brotherhood. The settler people would come to the indigenous people and ask for their help and knowledge as equals.
Despite the overwhelming chasm between Indigenous and non-native understanding, Indigenous Soveriegnty Week is something that will bring us closer together.
Still a long way’s away, the time of the Great Prophecy is closer than ever.