I want to clarify that I am not a doctor. There is just Dr. King.
I am going to greet you in my language.
[Witness spoke in Mohawk]
I wanted to greet you in my language, because that is one of the things related to land.
I just want to alert the translators that I might be veering off-script. Thank you.
As indigenous people, we have been living on reserves. These are tiny, postage stamp-sized pieces of land the government has allowed us to live on and set aside for us, yet settlers and their governments still want to chip away at our homelands. Our traditional homelands are millions of square miles, not a few square miles. “Land back” is about restoring our indigenous laws and relationship with mother earth, ourselves and all our relations.
If I may, I will begin by talking about what is happening in my community of Kanesatake. Last week, Radio-Canada described how Kanesatake is, for all intents and purposes, a failed state. This is due to the collusion of the federal, provincial, municipal and band council governments to deny us our rights to our lands and to steal our lands and sell them. Anonymous and brave souls in the community felt the need to hide their identities to denounce the gunfire and intimidation, and the incapacity of the band council to apply the law in the face of extensive organized crime. We know there are many things involved in this case.
I want to say that Kanesatake has been abandoned by those who purport to uphold the rule of law. Whether it is on the land issue, dealing with multi-generational trauma or addressing the lawlessness in our community, the federal, provincial and municipal governments have thrown their hands up, so we live in very precarious, uncertain and unsafe communities.
The fact is that, since the government has surrendered our community to organized crime and allowed gangsters to shield themselves behind the appearance of defending indigenous sovereignty, it is our responsibility to try to create some kind of governance and cohesion, which is impossible in the current state. For most of my life, I have been fighting for our land, culture, language, self-determination and human rights.
This brings me back to land back. Land remains the foundation of indigenous languages and cultures, and it's the basis of our relationship to all our relations. It is, in essence, the pillar of our identity and governance structure. Any serious land back program determined to truly restore the dignity and health of indigenous communities must situate land returns within a broader multi-generational and intersectional approach of restoring relationships, culture and language within indigenous communities.
In 1985, when indigenous women who had lost status due to marrying non-indigenous men regained their status under the Indian Act, there was no compensation or extension of our reserve lands to accommodate the thousands of individuals who'd regained status and wanted to live back in their mothers' communities. In fact, our population, as indigenous people, is the fastest-growing, yet our land base has remained unchanged since the creation of reserves. If we contest development, we are incessantly forced into costly colonial court systems necessitating lawyers who uphold colonial laws. As land defenders, we do not have the budget to do this, so we are considered the troublemakers in our communities.
I have spent my life denouncing and fighting the Government of Canada, because it is stealing our land, but I will open my hand to anyone....
When we defend our rights, we are criminalized. Conversely, I will fiercely denounce a PR-driven approach to piecemeal token gifts that satisfy Twitter #LandBack slogans without understanding the deeper context wherein such a project would become truly transformational. The right to free, prior and informed consent is relentlessly under attack, diluted to a right to consultation in the service of those who want to profit from the theft of indigenous peoples' homelands. Let us not allow land back to follow the same path.
That this situation is difficult, complex and dark does not mean it is hopeless. Indigenous peoples have found hope in hopeless places since settlers arrived on these lands. Serious, long-term work is needed, and it can be done together.
In closing, I would like to recommend that there be an independent investigation of Canada's, Quebec's, Oka's and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake's collusion to defraud the Kanienkehaka of Kanesatake of our homelands and human rights. I'll ask this question: Whose sovereignty are we protecting, if there is a double standard applied to the human rights of indigenous peoples and our rights to self-determination?
Skén:nen. Thank you.