The following speech was delivered by Ovide Mercredi, a First Nations leader in Canada, to the participants at the Save Canada Conference in Ottawa, Ontario, August 21, 1999
It's late and you have all worked very hard I'm sure, to express not only your opinions, but also your commitment to your country.
So it is not my intent here to keep you very long - but I was asked to show some experiences that we have had as Indigenous People in this country: about the loss of sovereignty and the impact of that on a people's capacity to defend themselves; or for that matter to organize for their wellness and their development against the forces of assimilation and Canadian threats to First Nation's independence in the last Century, and the American Dream.
I am a Cree - hence my views of Canada and the United States of America are different from that of citizens of these two foreign nation states that took root on Native soil.
However, I believe that our experiences with imperialism, colonialism and federalism can be instructive to those Canadians who fear the loss of their independence, loss of their land, water and economies and the loss of their territorial sovereignty, or the control of their way of life.
The americanization of Canada is a very powerful stream, a stream of assimilation that cannot be ignored by Canadians or Indigenous Peoples, within this country. There must be a national program of resistance to the global assimilation of corporate values, that puts profit ahead of people, or the capacity of a country to remain a true democracy. From our experiences with Canada and its own laws and policies aimed at dismantling our indigenous nation, we know that more action is needed than just mere reactionary resistance against the common perceived threat to our future, if we are to survive as distinct peoples with the capacity to shape and control our own future as a people.
We the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas understand all too well that our survival and future is linked to the maintenance of our separate and distinct identity, and to the free exercise of our inherent self determination within our territories.
Our past struggles with Canada, some of which have now become a part of Canadian consciousness, like residential schools were battles against the forces of assimilation and the efforts by the Christian churches or the Canadian Government to transform our peoples into Canadians.
Today the immediate threat for our treaty and Aboriginal Rights is the growing consolidation of corporate power and wealth that has a tacit support and promotion of the wealthy nation states, including those that belong to that exclusive corporate mind or club called the G7 Summit.
In some way I find your concerns for your future as an independent country similar to our peoples vision to blossom as a distinct people rather than becoming forever lost in that seemingly endless stream of assimilation. Does this mean that Canadians will better understand and maybe even support the aspirations and dreams of the first people for their own presence under the sun?
Maybe not, but I ask this question: how does it feel to be forced into something that you have very little power to prevent? By the way, time is not a friend, for the lapse of time that had been used by Canada to dis-empower the Aboriginal People and to assert exclusive jurisdiction over land, and its abundant resources: water, air, commerce and trade, economy and government. In short, full sovereignty to the exclusion of the First People.
It seems ironic that after trying so hard for so many centuries to dispossess the First Peoples of their rights and future, we are seeing a modern and young Canada handing over it's sovereignty and wealth to the Americans under the Free Trade Agreements, thereby making Canada the newest colony for corporate interests.
Do you want to digress into a state of a colony as your legacy for the new millenium?
I think that it is a very good thing for all of us who share this county that the indigenous nations have not given up their fight for their land, their resources and their independence. Since your governments and politicians have turned their back to the Canadian people and have abandoned the vision of your own ancestors for a free and democratic society, who is left to fight against the confluence of Canadian and American streams of assimilation?
We are still here. We are still standing; we have not forgotten. We will never surrender our destiny, nor our sovereignty.
In the century or more to come will Canadians be able to make that same claim? I do not wish to upset anybody nor do I want to surrender your dreams for a fair and democratic society, but you must know that not all of Canada is worth saving. For instance the colonial relationship that characterizes our relations with you in this country is not something we as Aboriginal Peoples can rally around to help save Canada from American domination. We must also remember that the experience of indigenous tribes in the United States begs for fundamental reforms in relation with the First Peoples of that country, as well.
For us it is not a choice between two colonizers or three colonizers. The choice is freedom. The choice is to build new societies that are not founded in oppression or totalitarianism. The choice is clear - the end of dominance of one society over another society of free people. That choice leaves me to say that I really hope that our shared option for our common future and destiny in North America.
I believe national measures in Canada and in the United States, must be undertaken to save Indigenous Peoples from further exploitation and to end any further destruction of their land, resources, and any further diminishment of their sovereignty, their culture or their way of life.
How can Canadians learn from our terrible journey - from a free people to that of dependency in less than one century? Let me put it in pure and simple language.
First, when you lose your land and its resources, your people will lose their ability and capacity to maintain their livelihood or their way of life.
Secondly, when you lose your economy and the ability to control your economic future, you are reduced to a pauper, forever dependent upon the charity of those who control the economy and hold the reigns of power.
Thirdly, when you lose your authority or jurisdiction over your land and territory you are no longer free to exercise the right of self-determination.
Fourthly, when you lose the sovereignty of your people and their lands and territories, the new masters of your destiny will never give it up voluntarily.
Fifthly, it is better to have freedom and to be self reliant as a distinct people than to be dependent upon another society for your needs, your well being, your progress or your destiny.
Sixth, you will find over the course of time that while the people may never forget their heritage and vision, the struggle to remain a distinct people with the right of self determination equal to all nations will take its toll on the lives and limited resources of your people.
And finally, to surrender your birthright as a nation of people, is to die.
We can also give you lessons on the art of resistance, and how to build a movement for the restoration of your rights and freedom: both as a collectivity or society and as individual citizens of your nation.
This advice, by the way, will cost you a few more trinkets and beads:
Your freedom for my freedom.
Your sovereignty for my sovereignty.
Your society for my society.
Your land for my land.
Your water for my water.
Your culture and heritage for my culture and heritage.
Your people's future for my people's future.
Is that too much 'free trade' for both you and me?
What is the point here? The point here, my relatives, is that no one should have to lose anything in order for someone else to make advances or gains.
For now that is all I will say. May your journey to save the country result in positive gains and advances for the Indigenous People of Canada. Good night.
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