All of my siblings took his death differently—some got angry, some didn’t come to the funeral, some were barely there because they were so drunk. Some of them fought over my dad’s earthly possessions and there weren’t many. The only thing I got from my father, other than being alive, was the sport coat he died in. It still had his blood all over the front of it from him puking it up. What I want most are pictures—I only have one or two of my dad, and he was pretty hammered. I don’t have any pictures of him looking dignified.
papiyâw ᐹᐱᔮᐤ: s/he flies this way, s/he comes flying, or s/he arrives by plane
Peter Sinclair Sr., my father, was a Cree bushman. He was a miner. He worked for the railroad. He was also an advisor to political leaders, and a writer, and a real Indian Indian-agent for the Ministry of Indian Affairs. My dad was much older than my mom, but he had an eye for her. One day in 1976, he was back home in Pukatawagan Cree Nation, Matthias Colomb Cree Nation. My mom was about 16 and he said to her, “Hey Gail, I really like you. You want to come with me to the big city?” So my mom said, “Oh yeah, the big city?” He said, “Yeah, we’ll get on an airplane tonight. We’ll go to the big city.” They got on an airplane and flew to the town of Thompson, Manitoba. He got a motel room at the Thompson Inn, a notorious Indian bar. He snagged my mom and one thing led to another. My mom became pregnant with me. She kept it a secret. The social worker in Pukatawagan told her that she had to get an abortion. But my mom, like all my aunties, went to a Catholic residential school, so she was venomously anti-abortion because she thought she’d go to hell. The social worker said, “Well, you’re going to have a really hard time if you stay here in Puk and have a baby.” She put my mom on an airplane to Winnipeg.
taswêkakocin ᑕᓭᐧᑲᑯᒋᐣ: it glides through air with outspread wings
Birds would land on the apple tree outside the living room window of the house on Arnold Street where I lived when I was five. One day, I was watching cartoons, looking at the apple tree, looking at the birds, looking at the cartoons. The front door suddenly flew open, and my dad stormed in, really irate. My mom had been sleeping in her room, right in front of me. He yelled, “Gail, you open the door!” She screamed back, “I’ve got nothing to say to you!” He started kicking and punching the door.
It was back when doors were made of solid oak, but he was a professional martial artist. He was a North American kickboxing champion. He got banned from participating in Taekwondo competitions because he broke a man’s back with a roundhouse kick. The door exploded into a million pieces. Wood everywhere. I picked up two pieces of wood and I was pretending they were an airplane. I walked into the bedroom. My dad was beating my mom on the bed. She was screaming and there was blood everywhere. I pulled on his shirt a little and he stopped and looked at me like: What the fuck do you want? I said, “Do you have any glue?” He yelled, “What?!” I said again, “Do you have any glue?” He screamed, “What do you need glue for?” I told him, “I want to glue this wing on this airplane so that I can fly away from here.” He got up and he left.
sipwêkocin ᓯᐯᐧᑯᒋᐣ: s/he flies off, s/he departs flying; s/he leaves by water or air
I drowned when I was a little boy. We were out on Midnight Lake near our trap line in Jetaite, a hundred miles from civilization. The only way to get there is by train. You take the train between Pukatawagan and Lynn Lake, Manitoba. It’s mile 121—20 miles after mile 99, the stop for our reservation. My uncle Alec had been drinking and we were horsing around. Alec was a bit of a trickster. We were out in the canoe, slashing each other with paddles, and my auntie Bernadette was laughing and my mom was saying, “Stop fucking around!” It was broad daylight and a big snowy owl flew real low over the canoe. We all stopped, suddenly really humble, because we all knew the omens around owls.
Then Uncle Alex pulled out his shotgun and took a shot. Auntie Bernadette yelled, “What the fuck are you doing? You don’t shot no owl!” He was laughing. All of a sudden, water was rushing into the canoe. My next memory is coughing and coughing and opening my eyes and there, with his little hands on his knees, leaning over, looking at me right in my eyes, was my brother Perry, who grew up to be our Sundance chief at our family’s Sundance in Mookaman River. He’d heard a commotion out on the water and he came running down to the shoreline and my mom was there, resuscitating me. Bringing me back to life.
peyâsew ᐯᔮᓭᐤ: s/he descends from the air to the ground, e.g.: a bird
My brother, Johnny, had a white Thunderbird with blue-tinted windows and a white leather interior. It was an Indian gangster car, a real G-car. It roared when it started. Johnny got me my gig managing a house with the Native gang the Manitoba Warriors. One day, Johnny and I were getting out of his Thunderbird and walking up the steps to the drug house. All of a sudden, a woman in the house right next to ours jumped out of the second-story window. She was screaming and she rolled out onto the roof. She was going to fall off the roof so I came up underneath and I tried to catch her but she just fell right through my arms and hit the ground.
She was lying there, out cold. Naked except for her underwear. A needle was sticking out of her arm. I looked at my brother John and my uncle Brian and I said, “What the fuck! We gotta do something! We gotta help her.” My uncle Brian, who was the president of the Manitoba Warriors at the time, said, “Fuck that. Get in the fucking house, man.” As I was going up the stairs though, she jumped up and started running down the sidewalk. But she’d broken her leg in the fall. She was in her underwear, the needle still sticking out of her arm, her shinbone protruding out of her skin. Running down the street.
nawatahikew ᓇᐊᐧᑕᐦᐃᑫ: s/he shot ducks in flight
A couple of weeks later, my brother Johnny came up to me. He came in to my house as he always did, with his coffees. He’d buy himself multiple coffees from Robin’s Donuts—double sugar, double cream—and he’d have a bag of donuts. He came in and sat down and said, “Clay, I want to talk to you about something.” Johnny was a legend in Winnipeg. He was a revolutionary and a philosopher. He was known as Johnny BagofDonuts or Johnny Treaty. That day, he said to me, “The heat’s coming down. I can sense it. I’m going back to Pukatawagan. I’m gonna hunt moose. I’m gonna shoot duck. I’m gonna fish. I’m gonna get married and have kids and I’m never gonna come back to the city.” He said, “I’ve always respected you as a man and I’ve never told you what to do, but this one time I’m gonna pull rank and be your big brother. So listen to me. I don’t want you to have nothing to do with these guys anymore. I don’t want you to be affiliated. You’re too smart for this shit. Go do something with your life. Go to school. Do something.” I got mad at him. I told him, “Go fuck yourself. Don’t come to my house trying to tell me what to do. Fuck you.” He was really humble and he just said, “This is the one time I need you to listen to me.” So I listened to him. I moved out. I talked with my uncle Brian, who said, “Yeah, man, go to school. I can respect that.” Because of my family’s street cred, I never had to go through the things everybody else goes through when they leave a gang. You get jumped out. Maimed for life.
piyesisikamik ᐱᔦᓯᓯᑲᒥᐠ: bird house or bird cage
They hired some other young Native guy to run the house. A couple of weeks later, the federal Government of Canada implemented the Anti-Gang Legislation Act and their first implementation of that new law was to enact Operation Snow. The federal Anti-Gang Task Force, with armored personnel carriers, full body armor, fully automatic weapons, took down that house. They arrested all my uncles in the Manitoba Warriors. Everybody got arrested. My uncle Brian went to jail. Everybody went to jail. That kid who took over for me went to jail. He got two years less a day. He went to Headingly Provincial Correctional Facility, one of the most notorious provincial jails in the country. It was built in the early 1800s and the conditions there were so bad that there was a prison riot. One of the guards was captured in the riot, held hostage, and mutilated. That guy who took my place, who got two years less a day for the initial raid, was served ten years in Stony Mountain Federal Penitentiary. While he was in Stony Mountain, some incident went down and he got charged for murder. He’s serving life in prison to this day. I never knew that kid’s name. He was just another Native kid like me who had the dream job. But I always think to myself: That could’ve been me. I could’ve been serving life in prison if my brother John hadn’t sat me down that day and told me to do something more with my life. Every day, I give thanks to Creator and to the Spirit helpers watching over me.
wayawîhâw ᐊᐧᔭᐄᐧᐦᐋᐤ: s/he flies out; it flies out of a cage, it flies outside
Time, in the way that it passes, always brings challenges. As life speeds up and you walk with the pressure of all the regrets you have on your shoulders, you’re challenged to learn how to forgive people. Because when you’re angry at someone, you carry that and you’re weighed down by it and you’re not free. But you can’t fake forgiveness. You have to go on journeys of discovery to try to find the fortitude to be tempered enough to actually forgive someone and let go.
Pîkiskwêwin ᐲᑭᐢᑫᐧᐃᐧᐣ: Voice
miyohtâkosiwin pl. miyohtâkosiwina ᒥᔪᐦᑖᑯᓯᐃᐧᐣ: the act of singing with an inspiring voice
In 1984 one of my mom’s good friends was a Caribe guy named Tony. Tony was black as night and had a really thick Island accent. He was a very animated individual in incredible physical shape, a very powerful man. My mom and I were living in Brandon, a city of about 80,000 a couple of hours west of Winnipeg. Every summer my mama would send me to Winnipeg, where I’d bounce back and forth between my cousins’ place and my kokum’s, my GG’s. In later years, my mom would send me to the city on the Greyhound but the year I was eight I was too young to ride the bus alone. One day Tony was over and my mom was complaining, “I don’t know how I’m going to get my kid over to Winnipeg for his summer trip. I can’t put him on the bus.” He said, “I’m going to Winnipeg. I’ll bring your kid.”
I barely knew Tony. He’d come over and say, “Let’s do push-ups, Clay.” And he’d do push-ups and I’d join him. The thought of spending two hours with him driving to Winnipeg was intimidating. The morning we were to leave, he rolled up in his Lincoln Continental. I got in the car and he was blasting Rick James on the 8 track. It was hella funky and I suddenly felt very cool. We set off. He was puffing big joints and Rick James was belting out: “I’m in love with Mary Jane. She’s my main thing.” I was sitting there on the big bench looking at him, and he was singing every word, puffing this big joint, laughing at me. We were going down the Trans-Canada, Number 1, with two lanes each way in this huge Lincoln and he was driving down the center of the road, one wheel in each lane, talking about all kinds of stuff that as a young kid I didn’t really comprehend. The beautiful women that he loved. The smoke he was going to pick up. Mostly talking to himself. That was the first time I heard the song Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant. He leaned over to me and said, “Yo, let’s sing this shit.” So we sang: “We’re gonna rock down to Electric Avenue and then we’ll take it higher.” For me, coming from living in Brandon, that drive made me understand that we were going to the big city. It put an incredible glamor on Winnipeg: We were listening to Eddy Grant and Rick James and it was the 80s and I was in a huge Lincoln with a Caribbean guy who was ripping joints. It was the most magical ride that I’d ever had in my young life. I felt like a king.
ayisitohtawew ᐊᔨᓯᑐᐦᑕᐁᐧᐤ: s/he mimics her/his words
In kindergarten, at Linden Lanes Elementary School, I had a teacher named Mrs. Menary, who was a very cruel woman. Whenever I’d make a mistake in her class, she’d make me stand in the garbage can in the corner. She’d get all the kids to stand up and she’d say, “Why is Clayton Thomas in the trash can?” The whole class would repeat what she’d taught them to say: “Because Clayton Thomas is garbage.” I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder that that kind of thing happened to me when I was a little kid, when I was powerless. I had no way to defend myself. I knew it was wrong back then but I didn’t know what I could do.
Out of all the kids that I could release my rage on, I lost it on Chris, another Native kid. He was the brownest little boy in class. One day, I was playing with a Tonka truck, one of those old-school full-steel full-cast metal dump trucks, a big one, and he took it from me. I had this overpowering fury: I barely have anything, I thought, you ain’t gonna take this little thing from me, you dirty piece of garbage. I raged out. I picked up the dump truck and I smashed his head with it. Blood came pouring down his face. I got suspended. It’s a big regret that I have: the one kid I made an example of in kindergarten was one of the only other Indian kids in the whole school. Chris, wherever you are, I love you. I wasn’t me. It was colonization and internalized oppression.
I always wondered if some of these horrible memories were manufactured by the erosion of time. The mind tends to sensationalize things as time passes. But when I was in Winnipeg in the nineties I ran into a woman who was in that kindergarten class. Her name was Lisa Martin. She must’ve been a university student. She was plugged into the fight against the Pimicikamak Cree hydro dam and I ran into her postering in Osborne Village. I said to her, “Hey, Lisa Martin?” She still looked the same even as an adult. She said, “Yeah. Clayton? We went to kindergarten together, right?” She looked kind of woeful and said, “I think about you a lot.” I was shocked and asked, “Ok. Why?” and she told me, “It always disturbed me how cruel they were to you in that class.”
sîhkimêw ᓰᐦᑭᒣᐤ: s/he urges someone, s/he orders someone, s/he guides someone (by speech)
On the streets where I grew up, it was really telling how abuse would come up in the real world. I used to war with the little Native kids who lived next door. One day we’d be friends and the next day we’d be fist-fighting. One time, we were all playing in the middle circle on this crescent and the older brother was picking on me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mom coming around the corner and I got brave. I started swinging for the fences and he bopped me once right on the mouth and that was the end of it. Real quickly, I went running back to see my mom. I was crying and she held me. She said, “My boy, you shouldn’t be violent. Don’t ever be like that. You should never be violent in that way.” She did it in a really loving way. She held me close.
nakayâhtawew ᓇᑲᔮᐦᑕᐁᐧᐤ: s/he is familiar with hearing her/his voice
After getting out of juvenile detention at seventeen, I moved back to Winnipeg to try and get my life back in order. I had been in a downward spiral ever since the age of 14 when my cousin Starr was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Starr was like a sister to me. We grew up together. All my greatest memories, my most cherished memories, of my childhood deep in the bush or on my great-grandparents trap line in Jetaite are with my cousin Starr and my cousin Rena. When Starr died, I was already struggling with the public school system and my identity and systemic racism. I just said fuck it to life and that landed me in juvey for a break and enter. When I got released from the facility in Prince George, BC, I moved in with my mom back in Winnipeg and I tried going to high school but I got expelled by Christmas. My mom told me: “No job? Not going to school? You can’t stay with me.”
So I found myself couchsurfing. I had friends but there were a lot of nights that I didn’t find a couch to surf on. So I’d walk the streets all night and quite often I’d come to the Legislative grounds and cruise around and kind of feel safe because it was so beautiful and not as rugged as other parts of the city. One January night, I was really hungry and destitute. It was freezing cold out and I had nowhere to go. There was a payphone on the Legislature grounds and I called directory and said, “Hey, do you have a Peter Sinclair Sr. registered in Pukatawagan First Nation?” They told me his number. I didn’t even have a quarter to call my dad so I called him collect and he answered the phone. The operator said: “Collect call from Clayton Thomas-Muller, do you accept the charges?” He said, “Yep. Okay.” “Hey Dad, how’s it going?” I said. “Oh. Not bad. How are you doing?” I told him, “Well, you know, I’m not doing so good. Actually I’m homeless right now. And I’m having a really hard time. Look, I’ve never asked you for anything before but I sure could use some help.” He was quiet for a little bit and then he said, “Well my boy, I’m not going to send you any money but if you really want to work, I can get you some work.” I said, “Yes. Absolutely. Thank you.” “Ok,” he told me, “I’m going to give you a phone number. Call that phone number and everything’s going to be okay.” I was relieved: “Alright. Thanks, Dad. Ekosi.” He said, “Ekosi” and he hung up.
I called the number and heard “Hello.” Right away I knew it was my older brother Johnny. We’d been close before I went to juvey. I’d been in Winnipeg for a summer and we spent some time together. I was supposed to go to British Columbia, face my charges, get probation, and come right back and hang out with him. But the courts had another plan for me, so we’d lost touch. “Ah. Shit, Clay,” he said. “Holy cow. Where the fuck did you end up going, man? I thought we were supposed to go check out Pink Floyd. I had tickets and everything. Where the fuck were you? Holy shit, jail, eh? Well, where are you now?” I said, “Yo man, I’m down on the Legislative grounds. At a payphone on Broadway.” He said, “I’ll be right there.” He picked me up and we went to Ken’s Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in Winnipeg that was open after hours. At that time my older brother John was high up in the Manitoba Warriors. To me, he could do no wrong. He was the king of Winnipeg. Nobody could touch him. So, suddenly nobody could touch me.
kisîkitotêw ᑭᓰᑭᑐᑌᐤ: s/he speaks to someone in anger
The conversation in Canada, and in the United States to a lesser degree, has advanced to a place where people are very comfortable calling out invasive media that are doing extractive storytelling. Native pride is such that people are very comfortable defending their sacred spaces, especially when they’re being documented. But the discourse around decolonization and white supremacy and patriarchy is different around the world. In 2002 I was part of a delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and we were hosted by the Khoisan people. The film The Gods Must Be Crazy profiled the Khoisan people in South Africa. They’re known as the first people, the first humans, the infamous cradle of civilization. The world’s oldest human remains exist in their territory. They have faced wave after wave of colonialism, of African tribal colonialism and then European.
As part of the World Summit, our Khoisan hosts did an ancient ceremony to honor the full moon. They were doing a dance out in the middle of the desert outside of Johannesburg and they were naked. We were all in a circle, there was a fire, there was a full moon. It was very sacred. But all the media people were up in their faces. One guy, an Afrikaner, a white South African, with what seemed like a floodlight on his rig, went right up in the middle of a circle and was recording up close in their behinds. That’s how invasive he was being. I was shocked but nobody was saying anything. I lost my temper. I was a little more fiery back then. I walked right into the circle of a thousand people. I grabbed that guy by the scruff of his neck and I dragged him out of the circle and yelled, “Get some goddamn respect. Don’t be filming up on them. They are doing a sacred ceremony. See any of us going in filming during the sacred ceremony? Turn the goddamn light off on your camera.” He realized that I was not going to back down and that I was a foreign national and he said, “Fine then.” When the ceremony ended, my Khoisan friends came up to me and asked, “Holy shit. What was that all about?” I said, “Why didn’t you call him out?” They told me, “They always film us like that.” They were amazed that I manhandled the guy.
Later, I realized that I was projecting my Western-centric experience with settler colonialism in a place where there is hyper-militarization. Black folks in South Africa were still getting disappeared all the time, let alone Indigenous Black folks like the Khoisan, who are an incredibly marginalized group. I should’ve gone up to my Khoisan brother and said, “I’m going to go up and grab this jerk. Is that ok?” I should have gotten that consent. You can never project your experience on anybody else. It trips you up. I do it to this day. I get agitated with what I see happening in the movement, but everybody is a product of their own environment and everybody’s reality is real to them.
kipeyihtamiskawaw ᑭᐯᔨᐦᑕᒥᐢᑲᐊᐧᐤ: the wind is knocked out of him by someone
When disgraced Canadian Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau and Liberal party leader—now Prime Minister—Justin Trudeau boxed in a charity match called Fight for the Cure in 2012, there was more at stake than raising funds for cancer research. The contenders had made a side bet: the loser would have to wear the hockey jersey of his opponent’s political party and also have his hair cut. “We’re both known for our long hair on the Hill. Let’s say the loser gets a haircut,” Trudeau said of the bet, adding that Brazeau “resisted back a little bit, you know, pointing out that hair has a cultural significance for First Nations peoples, and I said ‘I know. That’s why I proposed it. When a warrior cuts his hair, it’s a sign of shame, so it’s very apropos.’” Trudeau is the one who suggested the loser get his hair cut, even while he expressed a clear understanding of the spiritual significance and cosmology of a Native man’s hair.
The night of the fight and Trudeau’s surprise win, I felt a deep sense of shame. The son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a man who wrote the 1969 White Paper on assimilating Indigenous Peoples, publicly beat down a Native man on national television. Sun Media’s pitbull, Ezra Levant, made it all the worse as the ringside commentator, a morbid, pale-faced Don King-style promoter shouting and spitting his vitriol all over the live television feed. After the loss, again live on television, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau cut off Senator Brazeau’s long hair in Parliament.
As a Cree man watching Brazeau and Trudeau hype their celebrity boxing match on Twitter, I was disgusted primarily at the self-destructive actions of Brazeau. As Harper’s “House Indian,” he represented how so many First Nations men have internalized colonialism and been broken. I was also disgusted at the thick machismo of both politicians beating their chests at each other. Brazeau was appointed to the Canadian Senate in December of 2008 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an effort to put an Indigenous face on controversial government policies. It’s no secret that Brazeau is no friend to his fellow Native, and much has been made of his notorious reputation and deplorable actions. But the powerful symbolism woven throughout the boxing match and its aftermath bears more consideration.
During the fight, Trudeau sported a temporary tattoo of the Katimavik logo on one arm, a symbol of Canada’s future youth leaders. On the other he wears a more permanent piece of cultural appropriation, a tattoo of a thunderbird depicted in a west coast First Nations formline. On one side, the anointed heir of Canada’s elite, and on the other side Canada’s most assimilated Indian. And well, the rest is history. To me the symbolism represented not charity, but rather the manipulation and exploitation of one of our deepest and strictest spiritual protocols. To touch a Native man’s hair, and especially to cut it, has a profound impact on the individual. What possessed Trudeau to think, in a time of residential school apologies and moves towards reconciliation, that the public shaming of a First Nations man was appropriate or empowering? Was the fight some sort of rite of passage? Indeed the match is regarded by many commentators as a turning point in his political career, the moment at which Trudeau demonstrated the toughness required for the job as prime minister.
We see that as prime minister, Trudeau’s economic policies are very similar to those of the Conservative government. Having approved two major pipelines, Trudeau is destroying his climate commitments and the international image he built as a climate hero by supporting the actions of the US government to fast-track the Keystone XL, a pipeline that millions of Americans and Canadians have spoken out against through petitions and direct action in the streets. Across the board Trudeau’s neoliberal vision can only result in further erosion and violation of Indigenous hereditary and treaty rights and the hastening of Canada’s termination agenda. It means more dispossession, marginalization, urbanization, and coercion into profit-sharing for those attempting to assert their territorial jurisdiction by practicing their hunting and fishing rights and living on their sacred lands and waters. I think about who Trudeau is at his core, and how he felt it was okay to target our weakest, to publicly beat him, then shame him in a way that by design would take away his spiritual power.
Shortly after the fight the country witnessed the spectacular fall of Brazeau.
Allegations of sexual harassment and public drunkenness were already dogging the senator when he stepped into the ring, but to this day I wonder how much the symbolism of cutting off Brazeau’s hair, no less in the halls of the settler-colonial state of Canada, sent that pitiful man on his final spiral. If this is what Trudeau did as an MP to one of our most damaged and weakest, what will happen now that he controls Canada’s military and policing apparatus and is faced by our strongest warriors and land defenders asserting Indigenous jurisdiction and sovereignty? What will he do faced with that fight, especially having supported Harper’s anti-terror legislation Bill C-51? The bill allows legitimate expressions of sovereignty and jurisdictional assertion to be twisted by the police and courts, potentially criminalizing Indigenous Peoples standing in defense of the climate, water, land, and treaty rights and allowing them to be charged as terrorists.
This will not stop us. People are unified when it comes to climate change and Indigenous rights. We have the technology to get off of fossil fuels right now. We’ve moved over five trillion dollars out of the fossil fuel economy through the global divestment campaign and this is the reaction that we’re getting from a dying industry that knows that its days are numbered.
mamawo pikiskwewak ᒪᒪᐅᐧ ᐱᑭᐢᑫᐧᐊᐧᐠ: altogether, they speak
Until I was born, everybody in my family had gone to Indian residential school, including my mother. Like everybody else who went to residential school, they went through a lot of trauma, a lot of physical abuse, a lot of sexual abuse. So it was very significant when the era of residential schools came to an end, with the closing of the last residential school in Canada in 1996. The genocidal policy of Indian residential schools is recorded through the stories of survivors as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We are entering an era of reconciliation.
Of course, Indigenous Peoples today are still in crisis and neo-colonialism continues to rear its head. Only this time it’s not Jesuit priests in black robes coming into our communities, it’s corporate CEOs in black suits coming into our communities. Instead of saying, “Change the way you communicate to Creator to solve your problems,” they are saying, “Change your relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth by entering into the industrialization game.”
But Indigenous Peoples know how to be resilient. They are offering lessons in how to overcome oppression from an archaic oil sector and from our own governments who have lost their minds with power. The Trudeau Liberal government, building on the approach of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, proudly advertises Canada’s strong, stable, and safe investment climate. The prime minister and his ministers repeat this message across the country, around the world, in an effort to attract foreign direct investment to Canada. While the government continues to paint a rosy picture, there is mounting evidence that suggests that Canada’s investment climate is not as secure as the government has been claiming. With Indigenous resistance to extractive industries on the rise and news headlines stating that Indigenous lawsuits could paralyze the tar sands and that Aboriginal rights are a threat to Canada’s resource agenda, the situation is remarkably different than what the government of Canada is telling the investment community.
The Canadian government is not telling the investment community that Indigenous social movements across the country have created an unprecedented movement that is fighting in the streets and in the courtrooms for the protection of Indigenous territories and sovereignty. This combination of Indigenous resistance to resource extraction projects and the protective legal regime based on Aboriginal and treaty rights is the basis of much of the uncertainty in Canada’s resource sector. Constitutionally protected rights and title has become an important tool for our First Nations struggling to protect our territories. Numerous Supreme Court cases have created a legal precedent where the absence of legal consultation by corporations and governments is leading to legal action by First Nations coast, to coast, to coast. This is raising the alarm bells for industry, including forestry, mining, and oil and gas. Combined with numerous, well-organized, unrelenting acts of protest to resource projects, this legal regime based on Aboriginal rights and title is giving resource companies pause and raising concerns within the government for plans for resource exploitation in Canada.
There are many stories of resistance to resource development by First Nations communities. Projects that have led to foreign direct investment in Canada have become fraught with uncertainty. This is especially true in our success as a movement in stopping the building of export pipelines like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway in northern British Columbia and of course the northern segment of the KXL, which has caused the shelving of billions of dollars of expansion projects in the tar sands, seen most notably through Total, France’s oil giant, and Statoil, Norway’s oil giant, recently pulling out because of the power of Indigenous Peoples organizing and taking action. Meanwhile, financial strategies, such as the carbon-risk strategies and the fossil fuel divestment campaign, are taking hold.
As Indigenous Peoples, we are lifting up our own financial risk campaign that highlights the proven track record of Indigenous communities in stopping corporations from privatizing and destroying the sacred through our Native rights-based strategic framework. This framework has been tested time and time again. It is enshrined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. It has been validated by over 170 Supreme Court victories. It is validated by all of the international Indian treaties. It is validated by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the ILO Convention 169, and many other legal instruments, both domestic and international. Companies interested in investing in Canada need to be aware of the risks involved with Aboriginal title, the extra costs involved with Aboriginal consultation, and the challenges posed to projects when these legal obligations, constitutionally protected, are ignored.
môcikimisowin pl. môcikimisowina ᒨᒋᑭᒥᓱᐃᐧᐣ: the act of creating self-happiness through speech
Through the last twenty years of being an organizer-campaigner, I’ve always had problems with self-medicating to manage my post-traumatic stress disorder/intergenerational residential school syndrome. Getting too heavy on the drink and doing drugs to escape when I’m not out there campaigning. About four years ago, I decided to proactively stop running from the trauma of my childhood and get myself into therapy. The process of facing my trauma has been very complex: the things you think have messed with you actually end up not being a big deal and it’s often something that you never thought it was. We need to deal with trauma the way that way we do campaigning. You’ve got to be sophisticated about it, multi-pronged in your approach. When you mess up, you’ve got to evaluate and then come at it again.
Trauma manifests in different ways, especially when it’s from the impacts of colonization. We have markers in our genetic code that come from times of genocide in our ancestors, on top of what we went through growing up in real time. For me, being a father and working for a global climate organization trying to build the biggest movement for climate justice to overcome our economic paradigm, I’ve had to go to great lengths to stop running from my youth, to stop running from all of the things that I experienced as a boy. Much of what I experienced, I didn’t understand and I’ve had to compartmentalize those traumatic experiences so that I can be present for my sons and my wife, so that I can be present for the people who look up to me, the people I mentor, my brothers that I roll with. So that I can celebrate the victories in the fight for climate justice.
It’s been a long journey and I’m still not there. But I go to therapy, I go to sweatlodges, I moved back home to Winnipeg, the city I where grew up, so that I could be close to my center of spiritual power, the place where my family goes to ceremonies. So that my children could hear the language of my ancestors. There have been many different Claytons over the years, reiterations of myself, but it’s never been my full self. I have kept that part of me that’s been hurt, the little boy, inside. I’ve kept him really hidden away out of shame and out of fear.
The hook of a song I wrote goes: “When I was a child I use to hide my Nation’s feathers because to me they represented shame. Now I be grown up, I be rocking the eagle feather. Look into the eyes of my enemies, I see them crumble like a bullet shattering your brain. I said they crumble like a bullet shattering your brain.” A lot of our young Native people start out proud to be Native and then they face the realities of systemic and interpersonal racism and they get shamed. They get hurt by our broken family structures. They come to a reckoning in their adult life when they have the power to actually control what happens to them. Some succeed but many don’t. Many end up the prison industrial complex or dead. Many commit suicide.
Writing this book is part of my process of being proactive about becoming whole so that I can do everything I want to do and be happy, actually truly happy, and not fear that doom is around the corner. My healing involves telling this story, coming to places of my childhood to tell stories as a man who can be in active conversation with his inner child, to tell that inner child, “I’m here now and I’m going to keep you safe. I’m going to hold you close when there’s stress and violence happening around and nobody’s going to hurt you.” Because the power is mine now. It’s nobody else’s. This is my responsibility.
Thank you to the Online Cree Dictionary Sponsored by Miyo Wahkohtowin Education and Intellimedia for the translations from English to Cree.