Loss of a culture

Former chief Kim Recalma-Clutesi points to roots of frustrations for First Nations people

Kim Recalma-Clutesi

Kim Recalma-Clutesi

Filmmaker, former elected chief and daughter and wife of clan chiefs, Kim Recalma-Clutesi doesn’t know how to solve the Idle No More situation, but she’s clear on two requirements: benefit sharing and a respect for traditions.

The NEWS talked to Recalma-Clutesi Friday in Qualicum Bay as Idle No More protests and a meeting with the prime minister played on TV in the background. It was meant as a profile of an interesting community member (see Thursday Spotlight, page A5) but became about the country’s hot topic.

While the main target of the protests is the Bill C-45, the  omnibus budget bill, she sees the frustrations driving the protests rooted in the history of residential schools and abuses under the Indian Act and the resulting loss of First Nations cultures.

“In the 1860s we lost 80 per cent of our population through smallpox and TB, virgin soil diseases, and then within a decade of that the surveyor generals ran through and 90 per cent of the land was lost, and within another decade the residential schools were set up and the anti-potlatch laws were set up — so you lost your culture, your land, your children, your religion and your population within a 40-year period,” said Recalma-Clutesi.

“You don’t survive intact from that. I think some people are coming out of it, but what we have left is fairly diluted.”

“I need to say this with great caution – but some of our leadership is kind of the end result of the assimilation system.”

“There was a lot of effort in the 1950s and ’60s to push out the hereditary leadership — which had a conscience and answered to something other than the Minister of Indian Affairs,” she said, bringing the current issues back to the loss of tradition.

“What has happened over the last 20 years is the downloading of that really archaic horrible system where more than 75 percent of the money goes to administration, whether it’s on reserve administration, but we’ve been downloaded so we’re delegated authority, junior indian agents, so we’re doing to our people what Indian Affairs did for a century.”

“Indian Affairs supports an incredible bureaucracy that is proven over and over again by auditor general’s reports to not be efficient, transparent or accountable, or even helpful and it eats up a lot of the dollars. There are more lawyers and consultants and ex-civil servants getting rich on the backs of aboriginal people — that is just unbelievably shameful.”

“There is a parallel service delivery on reserve — and how do you manage to keep an appropriately educated and staffed infrastructure on a reserve of 100 people? And not have politically motivated decisions? Not have people micro manage, not have people abuse their power, especially when there isn’t a lot of oversight.”

“That’s where some of the conflict is and that’s where the root of Idle No More is coming from, not just Bill C-45, it’s a chance to say it’s not okay. The leadership themselves aren’t quite about that — there’s two separate things happening.”

Recalma-Clutesi, who doesn’t claim to speak for the protesters, suggests it is about the long term issues but there is plenty of blame for the current government.

“It’s just unbelievable that this prime minister can make such a fuss over something that should be a matter of course – this is his job for goodness sake,” she said of Friday’s meeting with First Nations leaders. “It is his constitutional obligation to ensure that these relationships are still intact.”

And she has put a lot of effort into those relationships herself.

“I sat with Prime Minister (Paul) Martin when he held his first round table talk,” she said of the extensive process that led to the Kelowna Accord in 2007, which committed $5 billion to specific education, health and economic development targets. Though First Nations were generally in favour, the government has rejected the agreement.

“The Kelowna Accord was pretty amazing because it wasn’t just ‘here I’m going to do what’s good for you natives’ — a colonial approach — it was a culmination of roundtables by leadership, not just elected leadership, people who had expertise, and it was negotiated.”

For more of Auren Ruvinsky’s wide-ranging interview with Kim Recalma-Clutesi, please be sure to read the Tuesday, Jan. 22 edition of The NEWS.

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