“If someone comes to your house to hurt you, then you just want to protect yourself”. This is the reflection of a protector of indigenous people, who was born in a region in Canada where “human rights are not respected”. She does not consider herself an activist, but her fight has transcended.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
“Having been born into this atmosphere, you take part in the revolution” asserts one of the founders of ‘Idle no more’.
Through this movement, there have been more worldwide witnesses to the massacre that indigenous people face, and now, “the colonial government is acting with more care”, she says.
Lawyer, teacher and writer, Sylvia McAdam, a member of the native Cree group, says that in the past “they used military force against the natives” citing British Columbia as an example where they “killed people”.
But the activity of extractive industries continues to have “a devastating effect on our lands”, she says, and all this, with the cooperation of the government, which passed law C-45, eliminating the protection of water and facilitating the extraction on resources. As a citizen of the Nêhiyaw nation and an advocate of First Nations and environmental rights, she does not consider herself an activist, but a defender of her land.
Sylvia repeatedly stresses that “it was the Europeans who started this fight when they arrived”.
Now, “Canada does not recognise our laws” and it is the consequence of the imperialist mentality of the colonisers, who “should question their ideology”.
This leads to ethnocide, “the death of culture, of language, of who we really are”. Because Sylvia talks of the beauty of listening to different languages, as in Treaty 6 or British Columbia, where there are more than 200 native languages.
However, she is aware that to move towards a peaceful future, “we have be given back our systems, which worked for thousands of years”.
During her visit to London to participate in the event “This is not a gateway”, she spoke with The Prisma about the importance of cultural identity, defending territory and supremacy established by colonising countries.
As a person born on Treaty 6 territory, when did you realise that you wanted to help the indigenous people?
Always – when you are born in this political atmosphere, the circumstances are inevitable, you take on the revolution, you are born into it.
How has the ‘Idle no More’ movement changed the situation in Canada?
The colonial government is now more careful. Before, they used military force against the indigenous people. In what is now called British Columbia, people have been killed.
Now, with ‘Idle no More’ and other previous movements, we have people within the United Nations, and they have come to investigate Canada.
Do you have any kind of alliance with the natives living in South America?
Yes, we have ‘Idle no More’ in Chile, but there is a language barrier. Therefore, there is a lot translating and intermediary work. So, I have to learn Spanish.
How was the fight against the C-45 bill?
The C-45 bill was going to unilaterally change the lands we understood must be protected, and even if all the indigenous people said no, the Minister of the Department of Indian Affairs could say yes. Even if it means burying uranium waste in our lands.
The secondary impact was that Canada had a protection for water, but with C-45, it would remove 99% of the protection of water. Extractive industries have better access to the water now and they use it to extract resources. Now, there is an incredible increase in fracking, and you see all over the land the impact of extraction and devastation.
The day that I read about the C-45 bill, that they were stealing my people’s land, is when I draw a line. Something inside me shifted, “I can’t do this anymore”.
Why don’t consider yourself an activist?
I am very aware of the English language and the importance of words. I am a lawyer, and I have been raised around my people, with my father’s language and my mother’s.
I am not fighting, I am defending my lands. Someone is coming to your home, to harm you, and you just want to protect yourself.
These are my family’s lands; they have been there for generations.
I am defending them from invaders and I am not an environmental activist. I didn’t start this – the fight began when Columbus came to my people’s land and did their Christianisation. They took possession of my people’s lands and, according to the colonial law, the presumed sovereign is the Crown.
The colonisation of the empires has destroyed part of the culture in Canada, South America, Africa and Australia. Do you think that the people have an awareness to protect these lands?
All of them should be concerned. Take a look at Cape Town, in South Africa – they are running out of water.
I don’t want to reach that point; I want to do something now so that we still have water.
The South American indigenous tribes believe in Mother Earth and spirituality. Do you think that Western cultures view this kind of thinking as strange?
We have a belief that the Earth and the lands are female, and there are other nations that believe the Earth is a spirit and is not necessary male or female.
My people say that “once the men no longer have respect for the land, they will no longer have respect for the women”. It is like a pyramid, where respect moves everything. My people even say “how you treat animals is how happy your nation is”.
The European nations that have colonised other countries should start questioning their ideology. The Bible says that human beings dominate animals and water – people should do something to change that.
In writing your first book, ‘First Nations Protocols and Methodologies’, it was the first time that the elders consented to write down their traditions. How did you achieve that?
They gave me permission because they want young people to learn the language, but the spiritual laws cannot be written down.
The most difficult part was speaking in our language and then translating it into English, because there are words that are not translatable.
Speaking about your second book, you realised that there was a lack of knowledge about the indigenous laws. Do you think there are similar problems in other cultures?
Canada refuses to recognise our laws. They are doing everything to absorb our laws into the common law.
But there is a movement to get away from Canada. In fact, I don’t consider myself Canadian, but I am forced to use their passport and to move in their system.
Eventually, it is my dream that my people will have freedom, liberation and self-determination. The laws have been interrupted and we need to get this back into the system.
Because there is nothing wrong with them – we lived sustainably for thousands of years before the Europeans came and we had a beautiful system with laws that guided us.
If we are going to move towards a future with peace, the colonisation nations need to support us in bringing back our systems. When the colonisers came to our lands, they didn’t consider us human and they still don’t. Canada talks about human rights but we don’t have human rights.
Can you explain the meaning of ethnocide?
It is the death of culture, the death of language, the death of who we are. It is being assimilated in the colonising countries, who forget our laws.
We need the trees, the animals, and spirituality. When those things are gone, it is the death of who we are. Who are you without your language?
In British Columbia, there are over 200 hundred indigenous languages. And where I come from, there are many different languages. It is amazing to hear all of them and good for the soul, for the spirit. The ancients had a different understanding and yet it is the same. The language is a flash of the human spirit. Therefore, you must learn your language, know your land, hang on to your culture – that is life. And it must endure for humanity and peace. All of us need to learn to live together, in the beauty of who we are, and honour all the lands.