First Nations must remember stories
It is more important than ever for First Nations people to preserve their oral traditions and rebuild institutions taken from them when Europeans arrived in North America more than centuries ago, according to former Skeetchestn chief Ron Ignace.
Speaking at the International Seminar on the Doctrine of Discovery, hosted by Thompson Rivers University last week, Ignace gave a talk titled A Policy of Racial Subjugation and Genocide.
Ignace traced aboriginal-European relations back to Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America — after which, he said, native population numbers on the continent dropped to 60,000 from 300,000.
“Indigenous people were perceived as non-humans because they were not baptized,” he said, describing accounts of Europeans “stabbing Indians for sport and mashing babies on rocks.
Later, when Europeans appeared in the Thompson-Shuswap area, Ignace said, local natives were mistreated.
“When the first Europeans came among them, the chiefs reigned supreme in their respective homelands,” he said.
“To the uninvited guests in our house, they extended an olive branch.
“They were soon disappointed by their guests.”
Ignace said the Europeans began pushing their way of life on area natives.
“They force their laws on us without our consent,” he said of Europeans at the time.
“They say the Indians know nothing and own nothing.
“They enforce their laws one way for the rich white man, another way for the poor white man and yet another way for the Indian.”
Ignace also referenced an 1835 decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court, in which a judge ruled “the law of Christiandom” gave Christians the right to “discover” and take land from non-Christians — effectively allowing whites to take land from the native “godless heathens,” he said.
With such a troubled history, Ignace said, it’s important First Nations people hang on to their oral traditions and build new ones.
“Our stories are not just stories,” he said.
“You have to understand, they are our schools, our universities. They are our physics.
“They tell us about the universe. It’s important we get back to those.
“We have to first of all look within ourselves and how we relate to each other and within our families.
“We have to rebuild our own institutions. That will take care of our own people.
“We have depended on others’ institutions and it has created nothing but disaster for us.”