The “Two Canoes” Seminar: A Study in Perception
By Arthur Holbrook
Each seminar concludes with a traditional drumming circle in an indoor or outdoor setting. Credit: Ann Jacob
Based in British Columbia, the Fair Mining Collaborative, www.fairmining.ca, is an Indigenous organization providing “technical and practical assistance around the issues and impacts of mining in British Columbia.” The organization provides a number of services to aboriginal communities including mine analysis and monitoring, reviews of exploration and mine permits, and development of tools to improve community oversight of mining operations. The organization also provides, among other things, training, coordination with scientists and other experts, development of relationships between communities and mines as well as strategies for communities dealing with mining companies that are operating on their territories.
The Fair Mining Collaborative has recently introduced a seminar called “Two Canoes” https://www.fairmining.ca/two-canoes/ that focuses on helping non-aboriginal people to understand aboriginal rights and title to land in the context of mining claims. I attended this seminar in Victoria in October 2018. In the seminar, Glenn Grande, executive director of Fair Mining Collaborative, focuses on the differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal perceptions of the land. Those differences begin with the original “colonial” legal perception that land is to be discovered and claimed while aboriginal peoples have always seen, and will continue to see, themselves as of the land.
Mr. Grande demonstrated the differences in perception with a series of comparisons. Aboriginal society emphasizes cooperation whereas European societies emphasize competition. Other comparisons include: group vs. individual, autonomy vs. control, sharing vs. individual ownership, generosity vs. saving, orientation to the present vs. focus on the future, and many other contrasts in perception between the two cultures … or “Two Canoes”, as it were.
The first half of the seminar was a presentation by Mr. Grande on the legal status of aboriginal rights and land title in Canada. In the province of British Columbia most of the land is unceded territory meaning that the Indigenous people did not sign it away to the government or settlers. Canadian common law sees this land as Crown land, meaning it is owned by the government, whereas most First Peoples do not share this perception. During the seminar, participants walked through history from ancient times to some of the recent Supreme Court of Canada court decisions regarding the land. Important dates in that history include 1846 and the Oregon Treaty. In court, B.C. First Nations are generally required to prove that an activity existed prior to the date of the Oregon Treaty to be accepted in common law as an aboriginal right. In effect, this jurisprudence freezes aboriginal rights in time, by assuming no cultural development since that date could form the basis of a right.
Another significant date is 1876, the date of the passing of the federal Indian Act which is the last race-based legislation remaining in the western world. It was only in 1954 that Indians were recognized as persons in Canadian law.
During the seminar, we learned that a number of Supreme Court of Canada cases over the last fifty years have helped to define aboriginal rights and title. The Calder case in 1973 was the first mention of “aboriginal title” to land. It was the precursor to today’s Nisga’a Final Agreement which has seen Nisga’a land removed from the B.C. land registry, thereby recognizing aboriginal rights on traditional Nisga’a territory within the Constitution of Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights. The Delgamuukw decision of 1998 declared that aboriginal oral history/testimony would be recognized as evidence in court proceedings. The Haida decision of 2005 provided a “duty to consult” – a common law duty required when the Crown has real or perceived knowledge that an activity may infringe on an aboriginal right. The Tsihlqot’in decision of 2014 granted title to ancestral lands to the Tsilhqot’in people. It was the first time ever in Canada that aboriginal title to land was formally recognized.
After Mr. Grande delivered this intense history lesson, he turned the proceedings over to Elder Fred John of the Xaxli’p First Nation to offer attendees at the seminar a fascinating glimpse into the practical application of the different perceptions of the world of aboriginal and “colonist” societies. Mr. John is a teacher and healer. He described how doctors, tutored in western medicine approach healing from the outside in while native people practice healing from the inside out. He has used his healing skills to help people where western medicine has failed, often despite the resistance of doctors. As part of the seminar, Mr. John led a smudge ceremony and drumming, offering participants a more active and spiritual entrance into the aboriginal world.
I felt it was important to take the seminar because, as a member of the PPP Board, I believe it is necessary to be aware of First Nations issues. I was not disappointed. The seminar was challenging to me as a white person. It was revealing to have my traditional white notions confronted as Mr. Grande and Mr. John recounted a version of Canadian history one does not find in schools or in our media. The seminar concluded with a traditional drumming circle in a park. At first, I felt quite self-conscious as people stopped to watch us but soon found myself enjoying the occasion as Mr. Grande welcomed others to join us. I recommend the Two Canoes seminar to anyone interested in aboriginal issues.
Glenn Grande is of European and Aboriginal (Cree) ancestry, presently living in Victoria, British Columbia. With a Juris Doctorate focusing on Aboriginal Law, inherent rights, and self-determination, he has designed two Fair Mine Collaborative training programs: First Rock: Mining Justice Basics and Two Canoes. He joined the PPP Board of Directors in November 2018. See his fuller biography elsewhere in this newsletter.
Arthur Holbrook has been on the PPP Board of Directors since December 2016. Now retired, Art traveled to the South Pacific as a filmmaker. He went to Papua New Guinea to film “Killer Whale and Crocodile,” the story of an exchange between the carving cultures of the Iatmul of PNG and the Coast Salish of Vancouver Island. The travel was organized by long term PPP board member Elaine Monds. Art also went to Vanuatu to film a moving “sorry ceremony” between the people of the island of Erromango and the descendants of John Williams, a missionary who was killed when he attempted to step ashore on the island. In the past, Art has worked with Inuit Communications on several films in the Arctic and for Indian and Northern Affairs on modern self-government initiatives by several First Nations.