Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 23, 2000
Native people wait patiently for justice
This is the last year of the UN-sponsored decade of indigenous peoples. It has not been an overwhelming success.
You might well say that a decade is not enough to repair the damage done during 500 years of abuse.
Restoration is always a much lengthier and more difficult process than exploitation. To exploit, one only needs brute force, inbred arrogance and insatiable greed to exploit. Those attributes are easy to come by.
Reconciliation requires humility, a willingness to see the beam in our eye and a readiness to be forgiven and make restitution. These are rare human traits.
It is clear from the Burnt Church confrontations, the abandonment of native people by police in isolated areas during mid-winter and the legal wrangling between Church and government to settle responsibility for abuse of native children during the residential school era, that we are a long ways from finding a harmonious solution to what has bureaucratically been referred to as "the Indian problem."
Chief Bernard Ominayak and his people are still waiting patiently for a resolution of the land issue between the Lubicon and both levels of government.
In the meantime foreign interests have devastated the ancestral grounds and forced the population from a 90 per cent self-sufficiency rate to 90 per cent dependency since resource exploration began.
Ominayak put it well when he said: "The resource companies don't see the Lubicon as people with rights to their traditional unceded territory. They see us as an obstacle to be overcome in their relentless drive to exploit the valuable resources that our traditional lands hold."
Between 1979 and 1983, more than 400 oil wells were drilled within a 24-km radius of the Lubicon community, scaring off the wildlife on which the people depended for subsistence. In 1989 the transnational Daishowa was granted leases to clear-cut a forest area that included all of the traditional Lubicon grounds.
Ominayak protested that "the oil and gas and forestry companies come from elsewhere and will move on after they have stripped our lands of its resources. We have no place else to be. If we can no longer survive on our traditional lands, we will cease to exist as a people."
The prevailing attitude in certain circles is one of indifference whether native people cease to exist as long as they quit hassling us with their constant demands for justice.
It has been government policy since this country was founded that the solution to the "native problem" was assimilation or extinction. It is our hope that neither will come to pass, as there still exists a residue of native wisdom and spirituality regarding Mother Earth and all of creation that the white dominant culture is desperately in need of.
This summer, a missionary friend visited us from Brazil. He brought with him the magazine Caros Amigos featuring an article about the 500-year commemoration of the "discovery" of Brazil by the Portuguese.
The indigenous people rejected the celebration and organized a conference to remember a history of massacres, slavery, disease and cultural genocide and to call for a new 500 years of peace and justice and a halt to extinction through exploitation.
As they marched towards Porto Seguro in Bahia, the military police met them to disperse them with tear gas and bullets. The article shows a photograph of Gildo Terena, a young native man, sitting on the pavement with his arms spread out, pleading for the authorities to shoot him and leave his people go in peace.
We have learned so little in half a millennium since the encounter because we believed we knew it all.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.