When I say urban reserve, what do you think of?

When asking people this question expect a multitude of responses. While there may not be right answers, there are certainly wrong ones that are misperceptions and fallacies. I truly do understand the need to rebrand urban reserves as economic development areas (EDAs) and now, as I alluded to in my first post, will look at New Zealand as a shining examples of aboriginal success in implementing EDAs followed by underlying assumptions that inhibit aboriginal economic progress in the Canadian context.

The Base is a great example of how the Maori in New Zealand have built an economic base for their community and brought benefits to the whole surrounding area. The airbase was built on Waikto-Tainui land that was confiscated prior to World War 2 and was returned as part of the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu settlement in 1995.[1] The Base began in 1998 as the Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) took ownership of the decommissioned airbase. Shortly thereafter TGH signed a joint venture with The Warehouse Group, a major shoe retailer in New Zealand. Plans were drawn up and construction began on the massive retail centre which today is valued at around 100 million dollars. There are plans to essentially make The Base a town center out of the development including healthcare, offices, and hotels to serve the entire population. This is what success in a Canadian context can look like.

However, there is an important difference between aboriginal populations and europeans in that business and business development are viewed differently in both communities. Business from a european perspective is an individual endeavour that is built on the right to private property, whereas aboriginal business is viewed as a community project on a belief in collective ownership. Quoted from the TGH website as part of their vision statement “In our view there is immense potential to fully utilise Maaoridom’s asset base by pooling resources and expertise, and as with TGH, what benefits Maaoridom will ultimately benefit the whole community.”[2] Within this statement, and larger narratives of aboriginal vision, is a view that inevitably leads a scrutinizing observer to see as anti-capitalist in that development and wealth are viewed as means to better serve the community than as an ends into themselves. That being said, not all europeans view development and wealth as the end goal and not all aboriginals have an anti-capitalist vison.

For instance Manitobah Mukluks is an aboriginal owned company that has recently outsourced some manufacturing to China. Clearly this doesn’t align with an anti-capitalist vison in the way that I suggested yet the dominant narrative is still community oriented and outsourcing will produce more capital for the community to spend. And while I am highly critical of this decision, I am not limited to criticizing Manitobah for choosing the outsourcing route as many other companies have followed the same route such as Heinz and Kellogg’s to name two. Therefore, as my classmate suggested, why should aboriginal companies be held back from achieving the material success that european companies do?

A second underlying assumption is that aboriginal culture views all things holistically as everything is inter-related.[3] This is contrasted to the european instrumental view that everything can be utilized for a purpose. Europeans fundamentally do not understand the aboriginal spiritual attachment to the land nor do they understand the traditional ways of life which are now in conflict with european values and lifestyles. These two views ultimately manifest themselves and lead to prolonged conflict on such issues as resource development and management.

Needless to say aboriginal EDAs are one way to solve the problem of persistent poverty on reserves. It should come as no surprise that repercussions of colonisation have created a festering wound on Canadian identity that need to be resolved in one way or another. When looking at places such as New Zealand it is easy to find solutions to the broken system that exists in Canada. EDAs are one step in the right direction and will hopefully overcome the barriers mentioned; thus leading to greater self-determination for aboriginal communities.

[1] http://www.te-awa.co.nz/?id=407

[2] http://www.tgh.co.nz/default.asp?sid=4&cid=20&aid=

[3] http://www.ccja-acjp.ca/en/abori1.html


The Values that Underlie Aboriginal Title

In my last blog post (November 3, 2014), I discussed the significance of the Tsilhqot’in decision. This week I will explore some potential issues with the meaning of Aboriginal title defined by the decision.

The Tsilhqot’in decision provides legal precedent for recognizing Aboriginal land title, but at this stage there is much uncertainty about how this precedent will manifest itself in future legal and governmental decisions. Much more work needs to be done – in the form of legal challenges, political negotiations, etc. – before new norms regarding Aboriginal land title are determined. In the meantime, commentators and experts have made predictions that range across the spectrum. Below I will briefly explore two of these perspectives and offer my thoughts on their implications.

“Full Property Rights”

In a Globe and Mail column published shortly after the decision, Tom Flanagan and Ravina Bains argued that the Supreme Court’s recognition of Aboriginal title is qualified by “three paternalistic conditions that drastically reduced its value”. These three conditions, which I touched on in my last blog post, are all related to the conception of Aboriginal title property rights outlined in the decision. Flanagan and Bains take issue with the fact that Aboriginal title can only be sold the Crown, that it must not be used in such a way as to prevent future generations from benefiting from the land, and that it is collective in nature. They argue that the assumption that all Indigenous communities have a communal attachment to their land is paternalistic and denies the extension of “full property rights to First Nations members”.

“Responsible Land Stewardship”

A radically different perspective was recently put forward by Martin Lukacs in The Guardian. Lukacs, analyzing the several months that have elapsed since the decision, is highly critical of the federal government’s response to Tsilhqot’in. He argues that the Harper Government is “doing everything in its power to deny” Aboriginal title. The main site of tension Lukacs identifies is between the government’s drive for resource development and the inherently conservationist values of Indigenous groups. He defines this tension as a “battle between the love of the land and a drive for its destruction”. Wider and more meaningful recognition of Aboriginal title, he argues, would mean “much more responsible land stewardship”.

Thoughts: What are Indigenous values?

The two articles I have outlined above come from authors on two very different places on the political spectrum. Flanagan and Bains are both conservative commentators, and it is clear that championing private property rights lies at the heart of their analysis. Lukacs, on the other hand, is an environmentalist and largely opposed to the extractive industry. Their arguments mirror this difference. However, both articles prompted me to ask myself similar questions about Aboriginal title as conceived in Tsilhqot’in. Namely, what are the assumptions about Indigenous values underlie the decision? Who defines these values, and how open are they to change?

After reading both articles, my initial reaction was to disparage Flanagan and Bain and endorse Lukacs. After all, I support environmentally conscious land management and do not place great value on private property rights. However, after some thought I realized this evaluation of the articles was potentially problematic. The issue I wanted to consider was not private property or environmentalism, but rather the extent to which Aboriginal title allows Indigenous groups to exercise self-determination. Why, then, were other values informing my opinion to such an extent?

I think the reason my opinion was informed by these values, and the reason the debate is often coloured this way, is clear in the text of the decision itself: the Supreme Court justices don’t just recognize Aboriginal title, they define it. More importantly, they define it based on a set of values – collectively held land, sustainable development, etc. – that are derived from a particular understanding of land use. This does not seem problematic in the context of the Tsilhqot’in case, because the judges reached an understanding of Aboriginal title based on the Tsilhqot’in people’s traditional relationship with the land. But if this is now legal precedent, and therefore this is the conception of Aboriginal title used in the courts moving forward, the implications go far beyond Tsilhqot’in Nation. I think this could be problematic.

Amongst the incredibly diverse range of First Nations across Canada, it seems highly probable that there will be some groups who may want to sell parts of their traditional land to private entities or allow resource extraction that is not subject to strict environmental protocol. These desires would clash with the form of Aboriginal title recognized under Tsilhqot’in. If such desires are denied, however, what is the basis for this denial? That managing the land in such a way is inconsistent with Indigenous values? If this is the rationale that is used, we are accepting that Indigenous conceptions of land can be essentialized into a coherent set of values and that departing with these values is somehow un-Indigenous. I think this is could be a dangerous road to travel.

I have tried to tread exceptionally lightly in this blog post because I am conflicted. On the one hand, I think the conception of Aboriginal title set out in Tsilhqot’in is a beautiful way to think about land management and clearly reflects the values of Tsilhqot’in Nation. It is an extremely positive decision in many ways. On the other hand, however, I wonder what the decision means for Indigenous autonomy over traditional lands that are recognized under this conception of Aboriginal title. Cultures and traditions can change; if they do, it seems inappropriate to say that these changes are out of line with traditional Indigenous values and therefore invalid. Aboriginal title may limit autonomy in this way, and, although I am loathe to agree with Tom Flanagan on anything, perhaps even paternalistic.


The Art and Science of Being a Winnipeg Fashionista: When to Say ‘No’

Winter is Coming

It’s cold in Winnipeg. Really cold. Cold enough that there are days when we might wonder whether we are in Canada or part of a literally inhospitable and alien landscape. With this merry season fast approaching, talking about clothes seems to be a reasonable conversation to be having. The last time I posted, I was wondering about my use of the Festival ceinture flechée and if this was indicative of me appreciating a component of our province’s foundational history or if I was appropriating a cultural symbol by using it in a disrespectful context. I’ve perused the websites of a few provincial Metis organizations and have yet to definitively answer my question. But this question and the impending weather had me thinking of another article of clothing that I use and, no hyperbole here, completely adore: my mukluks.

From My Cold, Dead… Feet

While it might be somewhat of an overstatement, I fully credit my survival of winter to my mukluks. They are the perfect shoe, and I sincerely believe they should be standard issue to anyone who depends on Winnipeg Transit from December through February. While they are more than aesthetically pleasing and have an adorable rabbit-skin bauble near the top, there is a practical reason why I wear them virtually every day in the wintertime. There is shearling in the foot, and all fifteen inches of the boot is covered in fur and leather. I’m not sure of the science behind it, I am certain that its heat retaining properties are synonymous with magic. Long story short, if cultural respect dictates that it is inappropriate for me to wear my mukluks, there are going to be some real problems. Mostly for me and my desire to get around the city in sub-zero temperatures.


Last time, I talked a bit about authenticity and how that (or more accurately, the lack of) can factor into appropriating behaviours. Fortunately, mostly by luck, I happened to source my mukluks rather authentically and thus my mukluk worship seems to fall more in the category of ‘appreciation’ rather than ‘appropriation.’ This could have not happened in what today would be very embarrassing for me. I am a bit of a mukluk snob (in a totally superficial way). I bought my first pair from Manitobah about five years ago and wore them down to nothing. When it was time for me to replace them, I had a very specific look in my head and set out on the internet to match this image. As it happens, the price and look was right for me to go back to Manitobah. I decided to check out the website for the other company I was considering. It’s changed. I like to think that if these were the images that greeted me when I looked at their website last year, that there would be no question that I would look somewhere else. I’m probably being generous with myself, but it clearly represents all the things wrong with fashion and appropriation. If you let the images cycle through, you’ll see a model in the infamous fashion war-bonnet (I’m not going to touch this one, I don’t have too. It’s essentially the definition of cultural appropriation) as well as some highly impractical moderately sexist representations of mukluk use (I can’t, under any circumstances, fathom why someone would want to sit on an ice-block while not wearing pants. That is not what mukluks are for. You’re doing it wrong). So, it seems I dodged a bullet there. But it made me wonder a bit about the company that I had purchased from and how they were different from the pleather spandex wearing, ice-block straddling, war-bonnet clad company that could have been my choice.

International Production. Local Commitment.

I’d noticed between when I bought my first pair of mukluks and my current replacement that there had been some changes in the company that I purchased them from. Some of their products were being manufactured overseas. One of the keys to avoiding appropriation in my fashion choices seems to be to purchase Aboriginal goods from Aboriginal artisans – usually a safe bet. I wondered what that means for when an Aboriginal company expands to the point that everything isn’t local. I got my answer. What I really appreciate about this article here is how it identifies a double standard that privileged classes are allowed to impose on others. There’s an idea that large companies are allowed to utilize all available resources but, in the name of authenticity, an Aboriginal company don’t deserve that same kind of access. In some of our class discussions it has come up that we, as a nation, haven’t quite wrapped our heads around the idea of economically successful First Nations. I think one of my fellow students will be examining how that relates to commercial developments in more detail, but here we can clearly see how that stereotype feeds into ideas of what Aboriginal business owners can and cannot do where as there are lesser restrictions on what kind of arrangements demonstrably commercially successful agencies can engage in.

Who Can Say ‘No’?

My exploration into the clothing industry and what I can respectfully wear has taught me something about the concept of ‘no.’ Looking into the more defensive comments on blogs and articles that call out cultural appropriation by the fashion industry of First Nations symbols, there is a privileged set that is not used to being told ‘no.’ We don’t often get told we can’t wear or do whatever we want, so when a group says that’s inappropriate and not okay, we fight or ignore it.  What is interesting is that it seems to be this same breed of commentator who is a-ok with telling traditionally marginalized groups the appropriate way to run their business. We’re awfully good at saying ‘no’ but not so great and listening and responding to the word. It’s no wonder that misunderstandings come up with as much frequency as we see when only one group is allowed to object that that same group need not listen to objections.


Dauphin Lake Aboriginal Fishing Rights

Aboriginal Fishing Rights

Aboriginal fishing rights are a contentious issue in Manitoba. There has been a lot of resentment and misunderstanding between Aboriginal rights holders and non-aboriginal anglers. Both sides have accused the other of mis-managing fish stocks and taking more than their fair share. Unfortunately, whenever debates turns into a blame-games, both sides loose and future generations are the ones who suffer.


In my last blog, dated November 2, 2014, I described the current system of fish and wildlife management as a dysfunctional tri-party relationship. Non-aboriginals are regulated by the province, Metis are regulated by the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), and First Nations rights are affirmed by the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement (1930), section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982). But the actual management of First Nation fishing rights is a mixture of Provincial regulation and local council regulations. The judgement on Sparrow (1990) allows for crowns to set hunting and fishing regulations for First Nations as long as they are given first priority. In my last blog I made the point that Aboriginals always maintained their sustenance fishing rights, and so it is the non-aboriginals who receive the rights to hunts and fish. In reality, however, the crown imposes regulations on all parties, and has typically adopted the stance of protecting the resources for the Aboriginals, for their “own good”. But does it have to be that way? If Aboriginals are entitled to manage their hunting and fishing resources, why not allow them? That proposition has been quite contentious, and this next case will describe how the crown is gradually relaxing its stance.

Dauphin lake case study

Dauphin lake is a watershed area that has for many years been the subject of fishing rights debates. An article in 2008 [1] describes how non-aboriginal anglers were infuriated at seeing aboriginal anglers catch scores of walleye during the off-limits spawning season. They lamented that fact that they have worked hard at building up stocks by building new spawning grounds and releasing fry, and that all that hard work was wiped out by irresponsible right-based harvesters. On the other hand, Aboriginal anglers pointed out that once fishing season opens, the lake would be filled with sport anglers and they wouldn’t get enough food for the season. Both sides were resentful, and did not have any concern for the other’s needs.

How far have we come?

That was six years ago, and a lot has changed since then. In 2007 and 2008 the province worked together with elders from the West Region Tribal Council (WRTC) to begin a monitoring and education campaign among Aboriginal harvesters during the walleye spawning season [2]. In 2009 and 2010, the province closed fishing to everyone during spawning season, and provided walleye fillets to Aboriginals who would other have fished for sustenance during that season [2]. In 2011, limits were being imposed on Aboriginal harvesters to 6 fish a day by rod angling only [3], and in 2014 limits were imposed to release all walleye between 45 and 70 cm in length [4] during spawning season. Currently, the province and the WRTC are drafting and reviewing the “Dauphin Lake Resource Management Plan” [2], the purpose of which is to develop an integrated fish management plan that preserves fish stock and allows for rights harvesters to continue sustainable fishing. The memorandum of understanding [5] was drafted in 2009, and intended to be implemented by 2011. However, it is still in review phase [6] and a long way off from implementation.

Where are we now?

Judging by how long it is taking to review and revise the documents for a resource development plan, there must be a lot of challenges to overcome. When all stakeholders work together to develop a plan, compromises will be necessary. If all parties can lay their past grievances aside and develop a management plan based on communication and honest input from all parties, then it will become easier to convince all side that the compromises they need to make are worthwhile. The key to a successful outcome is the building of trust, using the input from stakeholders, and leaving the front-line management to the original rights-holders. Hopefully the outcome will be that the Dauphin Lake region becomes a model for sustainable fisheries across Canada and other jurisdictions.

[1] http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/historic/32838779.html


[3] http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/fishing-ban-for-walleye-temporary-120533899.html

[4] http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Fishing-ban-on-Lake-Dauphin-and-area-to-protect-walleye-258130301.html

[5] http://www.gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship/iwmp/dauphin/documentation/mou_dauphin.pdf

[6] http://www.wrtc.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1241&Itemid=586

Urban Reserves: Common Misperceptions and Quiet Success

When people first hear the label of urban reserve they likely think of it in a negative light and visualize some kind of poverty stricken ghetto. In reality there could be nothing further from the truth. Urban reserves are an opportunity for aboriginal groups to do what the rest of Canadian society takes for granted; that is have a chance at being economically successful. Not surprisingly aboriginal groups have recognized the negative stigma associated with the term urban reserve and have now decided to call such land economic development areas (EDAs). Hopefully this blog post will remove some of the misperceptions in this often controversial issue (at least in Manitoba) and build support for the framework that is so successful.

Before building support for the idea of EDAs, there needs to be some fact finding about what this label actually means. First and foremost an EDA is often a commercial area within a city that operates businesses and uses the profits to support the rural reserve with amenities that the rest of Canadians take for granted. Services such as running water, roads, electricity, and healthcare are some services that are supported through these businesses. Often people do not understand that such basic services are unavailable on some rural reserves. EDAs can also include housing arrangements as people from the home community are encouraged to work at the businesses operating on the reserve land.

Do aboriginal businesses pay taxes? Aboriginal groups and individuals are required to pay the same taxes as other Canadians. The only exception is when the transaction or employment is on reserve land which, under section 87 of the Indian Act, stipulates that aboriginal personal property on reserve land is tax exempt.[1] In an EDA this means that property, sales, and income taxes will not be collected. However, being on reserve land means that aboriginals are not included in the services that the city would normally provide for taxpayers such as sewer and water, fire protection, among many other services. To overcome this obstacle, aboriginal groups have negotiated service payments with the municipalities where the EDA is situated to provide the same government services for a cost. Generally, the payments that are negotiated are comparable to what would be paid in property and other taxes had the business and land not been on reserve.

So how does land become reserve land? In 1997 the Canadian government, Manitoba government, and The Treaty Land Entitlement Committee signed the Treaty Land Entitlement Act to compensate aboriginal groups which never received the land that was included in treaties. In order to gain land, the Treaty Land Entitlements Act gives aboriginal groups the right to purchase designed surplus lands from the crown and a fund for purchasing privately held land at market value. The claim for land then moves through the additions to reserve process to be designated as reserve land.

Has this been a successful process? Yes. Saskatchewan has been touted as a leader in the area of EDAs and has the oldest EDA established in 1988 which has been a boon to the Saskatoon economy employing around 400 people and bringing millions of dollars to the local economy. Manitoba can learn a lot from the success of the Saskatchewan leadership on this issue and hopefully see through the myth and misperceptions to fully embrace the idea of economically successful aboriginal peoples.

On my next post I will look into specific cases in Manitoba and New Zealand to compare and contrast the process and progress that each has chosen to take.

David Scammell

[1] http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100013800/1100100013801

The Tsilhqot’in Decision: Unpacking Aboriginal Title

Historic. Landmark. Watershed. Game-changer.

The language used in the media to describe this year’s Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia Supreme Court decision is enough to make one sit up and take notice. With Tsilhqot’in, the Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision to recognize Aboriginal title to a specific tract of land for the first time in Canadian history. Understanding the implications of this decision, however, can be difficult. It is a decision steeped in centuries of history and decades of litigation, and it is not something that has an immediate and noticeable effect on the everyday lives of most Canadians. But the language used by the media is not hyperbole: the Tsilhqot’in decision is a transformative moment for Aboriginal land rights in this country. This affects all Canadians– both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and therefore demands our attention.

This blog entry is a product of my attempt to understand the broader implications of Tsilhqot’in. As a non-Indigenous Canadian with a strong interest but little background in Indigenous politics, trying to sort out the complexities of Tsilhqot’in was a valuable endeavour. The decision cuts to the heart of the land claim movement in Canada, as it acknowledges a history of dispossession, incorporates Aboriginal conceptions of land usage, and sets out guidelines for future Aboriginal land claims. I will explore these topics below.

Historical basis

The true basis for this case goes back many centuries to the time before European incursion into North America. For thousands of years, Aboriginal nations across the country, including the Tsilhqot’in Nation in what is now central B.C., hunted, fished and lived on their home territories. They built complex social, political and legal structures, and, in the process, fostered an intrinsic connection with the land on which they lived. The Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the Tsilhqot’in people’s title to over 1,750 square kilometers of their traditional land is powerful recognition of this historic and unbroken connection.

Equally as important as maintaining a connection to their land is the fact that the Tsilhqot’in people never formally ceded their claim to the land. The historic basis for this aspect of the case goes all the way back to 1763 and the passage of The Royal Proclamation. The Proclamation, passed by the British Crown during colonial times, claimed all of North America in the name of King George III, but it also recognized the existence of Aboriginal title and stated that this title could only be extinguished by treaty with the Crown. For the next 250 years, much of modern day Canada was settled by Europeans through treaty agreements with First Nations. The meaning of these treaties and their impact on Aboriginal title is highly contested, but the treaties are nonetheless useful in providing a basis for negotiation between Indigenous leaders and the Canadian state.

However, the Tsilhqot’in people never signed a treaty. In fact, unlike much of Canada, most of B.C. was settled without formal agreements with local Indigenous groups. Without a treaty ceding their claim to the land, and with a strong historical basis for Aboriginal title built upon centuries of land use and stewardship, the door was open to Tsilhqot’in Nation to issue a legal challenge to the Crown. This is exactly what they did, relying on the guarantee in section 35 of the Constitution that “the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples of Canada are to be respected and affirmed” to do so.

Treaties in Canada_AADNC

Source: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

What does Aboriginal title mean?

In rendering the Tsilhqot’in decision, the Supreme Court concluded a 30-year legal dispute by setting out a definition of the rights and duties conferred by Aboriginal title. They can be summarized in three main points:

  1. Economic rights

Aboriginal title recognizes the right of the Tsilhqot’in Nation to decide how their land will be used and to reap the economic benefits of development projects within their borders. If any other party wishes to use the land, including the government, they must obtain consent of the Aboriginal titleholders. This means that projects such as mining and logging can still take place, but the terms of such projects will be dictated directly by the Tsilhqot’in Nation.

  1. Collective and timeless ownership

Aboriginal title is distinct from Canadian common law conceptions of property in that it is defined as land that is timelessly and collectively held. This means that it is subject to two restrictions. First, the land can only be alienated (i.e. transferred or sold) to the Crown. Second, it cannot be used in such a way that would prevent future generations from enjoying benefit of the land.

  1. No veto

While the recognition of Aboriginal title allows the Tsilhqot’in Nation meaningful control over their lands, it does not give them a final veto. The Crown can still intrude on the land without consent, but such intrusion is subject to several restrictions that ensure proper consultation and a “compelling and substantial objective”.

Although the official decision contains much more detail than I have provided above, it still remains to be seen how each of the prescriptions will be worked out in future cases.

What does this decision mean for future Aboriginal title claims?

The Supreme Court has made rulings on Aboriginal title in the past (see Calder, 1973 and Delgamuukw, 1997), but none have so clearly spelled out what title means in a specific context. Tsilhqot’in is extremely important in this regard. In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court judges established a template for determining future title claims. This template is not rigid; rather, it allows for a context-specific approach that must be “culturally sensitive”. In other words, future adjudication on Aboriginal title claims must consider both Aboriginal perspectives (e.g. oral evidence from elders) and Canadian common law conceptions of possession and occupancy.

This legal precedent is indeed a “game-changer”. There are currently 64 First Nations involved in treaty negotiations with the B.C. government through the B.C. Treaty Commission. Their claims to land title are bolstered by the Tsilhqot’in decision, giving them a newly strengthened negotiating position. For many other First Nations in B.C., Quebec, and elsewhere who neither signed a treaty in the past nor are involved in modern treaty negotiations, there is a clearer path to gaining official recognition of title over their traditional lands. Even those First Nations who have signed treaties may use the decision to challenge government interpretation of those treaties, although there are many obstacles to this strategy. What is clear, though, is that Tsilhqot’in signals a new chapter in land management relations between First Nations and the Canadian state. This chapter has the potential to more closely represent an equal partnership than anything before it.

Continuing the conversation

Above I have explained what I found to be the most important facets of the Tsilhqot’in decision. It is a complex decision, but hopefully I have touched on most of the key points. In two weeks time I will make another blog post. In that post, I would like to engage with the public debate that has arisen as a result of this decision. To gauge public perception and identify common themes, I will speak to people in my life, read other blogs, and analyze online message boards. I also encourage people to leave their thoughts below in the comment section. I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation.

Further Reading

Explanation of the decision from a legal perspective:


Description of Aboriginal title:


Perspectives on the decision:





The Stories We Share: When is it Appropriate and when is it Appropriation?

Welcome to 1812

I’m a huge nerd. I really like wearing costumes and pretending I’m someone else.  On Thanksgiving weekend, I participate in the traditional pilgrimage of Canadians who go to the United States instead of having a family meal at home. Except instead of cross-border shopping, I go to a reenactment event centered around the War of 1812. In addition to the British Military Camp (which includes several Canadians like me and our American friends who prefer to lend their talents to the Empire) and the American Military Camp, there is an ‘Indian Village.’ The name makes me shudder a bit, and it contains a fair bit of non-Indigenous people who take it as an opportunity to paint themselves and dress in a manner that makes me a little uncomfortable. That aside, there is the opportunity to learn something on local Indigenous history. There are some recreated traditional dwellings that have been set up that I am unfamiliar with (being Manitoban I have a bit of familiarity with Cree and Ojibway stuff, anything beyond that is literally and figuratively foreign) and my favourite feature is a Pottawatomie storyteller. I’ve talked with him a few times and I love getting his perspective. I also really enjoy a lot of his non-mythical stories. In my head, I enjoy comparing what I hear him say about his experience with reservations and what I’ve heard people from Manitoba and Saskatchewan say about how they’ve experienced reserve life. As I am taking this course in Comparative Indigenous Politics, I particularly paid attention to what we said about clan structure, responsibilities, and community duties and rights. This year, when I returned to Our Home and Native Land, I decided to do some Googling and see if my favourite storyteller had any websites or any resources that I could follow. I found his work and popularity mentioned in many Indigenous discussion forums. He’s been representing Native Americans for over a decade. He is also completely ethnically European, changes between being Cherokee, Seneca, or Pottawatomie depending on the event he is at, and across all the forums I had discovered is widely lauded as a fraud.

Back to the Future

There’s something unnerving about assuming you are getting an authentic experience and hearing the perspectives from someone from a different community than your own and then discovering that it’s at best, insincere, and at worst, completely fabricated, inappropriate and offensive. I am fortunate since, as a non-Indigenous person, the worst that happened to me is I experience a slight violation of trust. I didn’t have to feel misrepresented, mocked, or anything else that I can only assume comes with running into someone masquerading as someone with your background, wielding symbols and stories in a way that could be totally incorrect yet presented as an expert insider. This made me reflect on a role I may play in this and re-examining how I discuss the histories and practices of a group to which I do not belong. I have been a historic interpreter at Festival du Voyageur. It won’t surprise anyone that as a local winter festival that focuses heavily on the fur trade and Franco-Manitobain culture, the Métis people are featured prominently in many of the stories we tell throughout the festival. Is what I am doing respectful? Do I contribute in a meaningful way to the discussion of our provincial heritage? Am I just a jerk?

Authenticity and not Speaking for Others

The last thing I want people to feel after I have shared some of my knowledge at Festival or other similar interpretive events is that they’ve been duped or offended. One of the interpretive activities I have often explained is the process of making pemmican. I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in all aspects of its processing, included tearing apart a bison for its meat (which I did badly, but have some great pictures. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?). I have often wondered how appropriate it was for me to be presenting this as a non-Métis individual. I found this great blog that does an excellent job of giving one the tools to think about whether on is participating in cultural appropriation or merely celebrating diversity. It boils down to symbols and using that which you have not earned in an inappropriate way. It seems that since pemmican making is and has been largely utilitarian, I can make it and talk about it as a celebration of our provincial heritage, especially if I’m not trying to make myself sound more authoritative by claiming to have a background that I don’t (which, as I mentioned earlier seems to undermine your knowledge when you’re found out as well as being poor taste). Also wearing my moccasins that I purchased from a local, Aboriginal owned business can be seen as support and celebration rather than theft. Not like those people who use items that have now taken on a symbolism that goes beyond that like a ceinture fléchée or a ‘Métis sash.’ Wait, what? The sashes that I wear every February and is sold en masse in the festival souvenir stand? Oh, crap.

When is a Symbol not a Symbol?

In the above mentioned post, I had a moment of panic. One of my favourite pieces of Festival du Voyageur swag was outed as being something misused by outsiders. Ouch. Once utilitarian, the above mentioned author considers the ceinture fléchée to be cultural and thus subject to appropriation. I can’t say this is incorrect (as we’ve mentioned, I do not belong to a community that can make that call) but it hasn’t been called out as inappropriate in the Winnipeg/Festival context (which might not mean anything. There have been sports teams called the ‘Redskins’ all over North America for way too long with too little backlash). Let’s be generous and assume it’s because the  ceinture fléchée has become a symbol of Manitoba generally rather than exclusively of the Métis. Why might this be? We are literally a Métis province. The Métis nation is the who, what, when, where, why, and how at the heart of our provincial creation. In using this symbol, are we celebrating our provincial heritage, or are we appropriating a symbol that is not ours to take?

Dialogue, Definition, and Making it Right

I finished my quest for authenticity and respect with a question. Questions like this often don’t get answered because people are afraid to discuss, afraid to be wrong, and afraid someone else will be heard and not them. In our last blog post, we’d mentioned that there is a widening rift in Winnipeg between our Aboriginal and non-Indigenous citizens. I hope we get used to having safe dialogue so that these questions can be answered and that everyone in our city can make a commitment to being authentic, respectful, and making things right. It’s something I’ve been striving for personally, and I will listen to see if there are answers for my questions on cultural sensitivity. Even if it means I have to reconsider my small collection of festival sashes.