If truth is the first step toward reconciliation, then in 2016 on the 60th anniversary of the declaration of extinction of the Sinixt/Arrow Lakes people for the purposes of Canada’s Indian Act, we in the West Kootenay are still far from our goal.
According to multiple anthropologists — Dawson (1892), Teit (1909), Boas (1928), Ray (1936), etc. — Nelson sits squarely in Sinixt territory. And yet, in the City of Nelson’s recent aboriginal protocol, they acknowledge “all indigenous peoples on whose traditional territories we stand.” This politically expedient statement has nothing to do with truth. Instead, it’s about colonial whitewashing under the pretense of being a progressive community. It’s Nelson doing the truth and reconciliation dance without actually addressing our ongoing occupation of Sinixt unceded territory.
Extinction means “total destruction or annihilation,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. We perpetuate this destruction by reducing once thriving and unique people into the vague category of “indigenous.” There were specific people who lived here with a specific culture which emerged from this land, in response to this land. And they still live here, still hunt and gather here, still carry out their traditional responsibilities to their ancestors. By refusing to speak their name, we re-enact their bureaucratic obliteration and our complicity in this cultural genocide.
The second sentence of the protocol reads “We honour their connection to the land and rivers and respect the importance of the environment to our strength as a community.” What does the City of Nelson actually do to “honour” their connection? Are they suggesting that if the city respects “the importance of the environment” this translates into respect for indigenous people? And that this amounts to strength for a community that fails to acknowledge the people who have lived here for millenia?
There is little in the City of Nelson aboriginal protocol that reflects any truth except the ongoing project of colonialism. There is no acknowledgement of the brutality that brought about the bureaucratic genocide of the Sinixt Nation. There is no acknowledgement of the ongoing machinations of government, from municipal to federal, to deny the Sinixt their unceded rights. There is only the continued pretense that either the Sinixt don’t exist, and if they did, it wasn’t in Nelson.
This protocol is riddled with moral, ethical and structural weaknesses. It has got to be the most obtuse statement I have ever read about “honouring” First Nations. When it is read out at all city events, we should all remember to hang our heads in shame. When called to step up and answer to the past in order to create a vision for the future, all Nelson could muster was this drivel.
K.L. Kivi, Blewett