How First Nations and the Canadian government deal with each other legally is in the midst of a “magnificent and wonderful shift,” says Aboriginal rights lawyer and VIU Chancellor Louise Mandell.
That shift, once taken on by Canadians in general, presents an opportunity for “a way forward which respects and reflects the diversity, strength and hope embodied within Indigenous traditions,” Mandell said in a press release ahead of her talk through Vancouver Island University’s ElderCollege on Saturday, March 24.
The talk at Nanoose Place is entitled, “We will help each other be great and good.”
That title is a quote from chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau First Nations of B.C., noted in a memorial given to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier on August 25, 1910.
The memorial, which pushed for Aboriginal rights, described how local Aboriginal law was respected by fur traders in the early 1800s, and the conditions under which white settlers were allowed to live on Aboriginal land.
“They commenced to take up pieces of land here and there,” reads the memorial.
“They told us they wanted only the use of these pieces of land for a few years, and then would hand them back to us in an improved condition; meanwhile they would give us some of the products they raised for the loan of our land.”
The nations saw no hostile intent and regarded the settlers as guests, reads the memorial.
“Some of our chiefs said, ‘These people wish to be partners with us in our country. We must, therefore, be the same as brothers to them, and live as one family. We will share equally in everything half and half in land, water and timber, etc. What is ours will be theirs, and what is theirs will be ours. We will help each other to be great and good.”
That sentiment of inclusivity is opposed to the colonial one that recognized First Nations members as inferior and sought to educate and elevate them with European culture, knowledge and beliefs, said Mandell.
“The settlers’ vision, the Crown, was about a superior race,” she said. “Very different, colliding visions of humanity came together.”
Looking at these sentiments, and finding inspiration for the future in the words of those chiefs, is part of Mandell’s upcoming talk.
Working in Aboriginal and treaty rights since 1977, Mandell has focused on Aboriginal-Crown relations, and said there’s a major shift happening in those relations.
“We’ve actually, over the last 40 years, shifted the legal paradigm from Crown domination based on these repudiated doctrines to really what I call legal pluralism, where you’ve got two legal orders — Indigenous and Crown, both having titles, both having jurisdiction, different cultural narratives, different world views, and we are trying to now move into the place where these legal orders talk to each other in a harmonious way about how decisions are made about the land,” said Mandell.
It’s already changing the way that businesses deal with First Nations groups, she said. The shift includes a call to action for individuals as well, to think about these issues and reconsider how they conduct themselves in their own lives, Mandell said.
Her talk, part of ElderCollege’s Saturday Speakers Series, takes place at 10 a.m. on March 24 at Nanoose Place Community Centre (2925 Northwest Bay Rd.).
Admission is $10 cash at the door, $5 for university students and free admission for high school students.