Cultural strength: Restoring the place of Indigenous knowledge in practice and policy


Mick Dodson

Good afternoon, or should I say [0:00:07.4].  Welcome everybody.  I’d like, at first, to introduce myself, I guess.  Some of you might know me.  I’m Mick Dodson and it’s my great honour to be the chairman of the Council of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies and I’ll be your chairperson for this afternoon’s symposium. 

I would, at first, like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.  And I also want to pay tribute to their resilience and the maintenance and sustenance of their continued cultural practices on their country. 

We’ll get straight into it.  The format this afternoon is we’ll have Professor Alfred speak first and then we’ll have a break at around 2.30 and then we’ll have a panel after that, that consists of Dr Laurie Bamblett, Professor Kerry Arabena, Tony Lee and Dr Lisa Strelein.  I’ll introduce those just before we start the panel meetings.  But it’s now my great pleasure to introduce Taiaiake Alfred, who’s Professor of Indigenous Governance and Director of the iGov program and the University of Victoria in British Columbia.  He specialises in studies of traditional governments, restoration of land-based cultural practices and decolonisation strategies. 

Taia’s current research examines the effects of environmental contamination on indigenous cultural practices, with a focus on the Mohawk community.  He works as a consultant to indigenous communities to access cultural injury due to contamination of the natural environment and to design land-based cultural restoration plans.  His book, Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, University of Toronto Press, 2005, was named in 2010 as one of the most influential books in native studies by a Native American and indigenous studies association – by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.  His diverse writing and contributions include two others books:  Peace, Power, Righteousness, from Oxford University Press, 1999 – 2009.  And Heading the Voice of Our Ancestors;  also Oxford University Press,  1995.  He’s been awarded a Canada Research Chair and a National Aboriginal Achievement award.  He was born in Montreal in 1964, was raised in Kahnawake Mohawk territory, he now lives in WSANEC Nation territory with his wife and three sons, who are of the  [0:04:05.9] of the [0:04:08.9] nation.  Please join me in a tumultuous welcome.

Professor Taiaiake Alfred

Okay.  IT’s a great honour to be here.  Thank you for the welcome.  Thank you to the local people, the ancestors, title holders to the land, for welcoming me here.  It’s been since 1992, the last time that I was here at AIATSIS, so thanks AIATSIS for bringing me over.  I appreciate it very much.  Last time I was here, it was as a representative of – well, we actually didn’t know whether we were representing the Canadian government or indigenous peoples in Canada.  We had people vying for our attention on both of those fronts last time that I was here because I was a member of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and I was one of the researchers who was over here in Australia touring and building relationship and learning as much as we could about what was happening here and things that were happening in indigenous community and in terms of government responses, and folding that into the work that was done at the Royal Commission between 1992 and 1996.   But it’s been all that time since I’ve been back to Canberra and it’s good to be back.  And I’m really honoured to be able to share some thoughts on really what the journey has been intellectually and in terms of the work that’s been done in our community, since that time, and my involvement, and my own personal journey in understanding the basic question that we’re still confronting today, which is how do we deal with the issue of the fact that our lands were stolen and our people were dispossessed and our cultures were suppressed and our laws were denied and our people were affected in so many different ways, such that health and happiness and prosperity and language and cultural practice were virtually impossible to realise, and the openings that have happened in the states, in terms of opportunities legally and culturally and economically for the resurgence of our people on all of those fronts, in looking at this opportunity and trying to make the most of it, in terms of the objectives of our people that have been the same from the earliest times until today, which is the strength of our future generations, as indigenous people in their own homeland. 

I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons in Australia and Canada, and the work that I’ve done, I’m very honoured and proud to say, has been consistently in dedicating myself to try to understand that in personal terms, in terms of my family and my community, and to contribute what I could in terms of broader understandings through scholarship and through engagement in government processes, in land claims and negotiations and self-government negotiations and so forth.  So the remarks that I’m going to offer you today, I saw on the advertisement for the seminar, are a kind of a collection of analysis, personal reflection, stories and so forth.  So it’s really good to have the freedom to think about and talk about these issues in that way, because I don’t really think you can get at the real essential knowledge that needs to be conveyed and the conversations that need to happen by focussing just on analysis, or just on law, or just on any one of those.  It’s a personal issue. 

When we realise what colonisation is, in real terms, we realise that it’s really a process that shapes people.  Their understanding of themselves, their feelings about other indigenous people and their emotional and psychological positioning in relation to the domination the society and each other is really the most intimate relationship of colonisation and, to me, we need to talk about it in those terms in order to fully appreciate what kind of solutions are going to be effective in really making transformational change in our communities, as opposed to surface changes that address other people’s priorities, other people’s needs and solve other people’s problems, but don’t really get at the problems of our people.  And especially our youth who are confronting realities that are very different than the realities that the people who are making decisions usually have confronted.  And the new challenges that indigenous youth are facing, I think, are crucially important to consider in these conversations too.  IT’s hard for us to anticipate those, but I think if we pay attention to our youth and what they are telling us, we can really do a great service to our nations in trying to offer them a vision that allows them to be indigenous on their homeland.

And that’s the work, I think, that we’re all doing here, and it’s the work that transcends Australia and Canada.  In 1992 I found that out.  I was one of those people that grew up on an Indian reserve in Canada and didn’t really know other Indians and didn’t really know the reality of other indigenous people.  I don’t know if it’s like that in Australia as well but a lot of us, the experience that we have is one that’s defined within the experience of our family and our local territory and our community.  And so before I got involved in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People and came over to Australia, actually, it was almost my first – it was my first international experience as an indigenous person – I didn’t understand that there was such a thing as indigenous that made sense.  There was a word that I knew;  that was indigenous or aboriginal but I always imagined that Mohawks were what it was to be indigenous and I didn’t understand that there were other people who were facing the same challenges and had undergone the same kind of historical interaction on their land and had the same type of interactions with dominant society and racism and dispossession and all of the things that we’re dealing with here.  I didn’t understand that and I really appreciate, and I always acknowledge the fact, that the work that I did at that Royal Commission, and that I was allowed to do over here, opened my eyes to the fact that colonisation is a process and is a feature of all of our lives and has shaped all of our existence as people who are committed to being close to the land and defending that right to live close to the land, in the way that their ancestors did, whether you’re living in the central part of Australia, or in Cairns, Darwin, all the places that I visited at that time. 

My eyes opened more and more as I travelled around and began to see that these people are the same.  You know, there’s different cultural expressions.  Of course, there’s different languages.  Of course, there’s different ceremonies.  But what impressed me most in that experience was that, in our love of the land, in our relationship of the land, in the view that we have as indigenous people – in terms of the relationship being one of reciprocity and respect and the intimate connection between ourselves and our mother, the earth, as she’s made up in the land and the water and the trees and the plants and the animals and so forth – that relationship is what makes us indigenous.  The manifestation of that relationship in different cultural expressions is a beautiful diversity that we have all across – all over the world.  But there is something called indigenous culture.  I realise that’s kind of contentious in certain circles.  Even where I come from, it’s contentious to be able to say that there’s an indigenous culture.  But I firmly believe that. 

I was a person who didn’t understand that to begin with, but as I travelled more and more, I began to understand that;  not intellectually but in terms of the relationships and the transmission of knowledge that was offered by people in all these different parts of the world to those of us who were coming seeking that knowledge - through ceremony, through being out on the land, through food, through the cultural practice of gaining the food, through medicine teachings, through the use of these things and the actual use and integration of that into our life, we begin to appreciate that there is this strong connection between our peoples.  And, to me, that was a fundamental reorientation of my understanding, not only of what it was to be indigenous, but what the harm was of colonisation.  Because if colonisation was simply – I say simply;  of course, it’s an immensely complicated process but I know I only have about an hour here to convey to you my understanding of 500 years, in my part of the world, of colonisation.  If it was simply – excuse the word – a process that you could think of in legal terms, of the denial of our laws – as I started off talking – of the denial of the our laws, of the imposition of foreign governments and so on and so on;  if it was simply that, confronting that in court, confronting that through political means, regenerating our nationhood, the political power and the economic power that we have, that would solve the problem of colonisation. 

The logic that I had in my mind was, okay, if it’s the denial of our laws, if it’s the fact that our names were erased from the map, if it’s the fact that other people are controlling the use of the resources in this territory and generating wealth from it – if it’s all that, colonisation, then we can foresee a resolution of colonisation by the resurgence of our nation and gaining these things.  And, indeed, it is that;  that is part of what colonisation is.  All of those things are absolutely necessary.   In my own career, and the trajectory of native politics in Canada and the United States, that has been the major thrust;  doing those things and gaining control, building economies, building economic strength, reasserting our laws and so forth.  And these are ongoing and things that we are all committed to.  But the understanding that came to me at a later point was that the other relationships that I was talking about – the cultural practice, the spiritual connection, the things that are embedded in our food ways or practices, the way we use medicines, the way we are on the land, our presence on the land and what we gain in that reciprocal relationship and what we give in that reciprocal relationship to the land, and how committed are we to the preservation of that.  That’s colonisation as well.  So if it was just those other big historical processes – these big systems – that you can deal with, in the structures that the Canadian and the Australian and the American governments have set up presently, offering you a pathway – offering us a pathway to deal with them, colonisation would be something that we could seriously confront.

But through the work that I did and basically reflecting as well on the successes of our own strategies of resistance and assertion in our own communities and looking across Canadian and American examples as well, I began to see things differently, in the sense that those things are not enough and, in fact, they don’t get at the heart of what colonisation is because one of the major critiques that I’ve offered in my work, which is really drawn from paying attention to people in the community who are the subjects of the negotiation and who are the beneficiaries or the people who are affected by the negotiation of all of us on these bigger processes, is that they weren’t really feeling like the resolutions that we were offering them in these governmental processes were addressing the heart of the matter.  And, in fact, when you start to look at it, as a social scientist even, or a health scientist or someone who looks at the effects of dispossession and so forth, psychologically, on people and if you look at all of the statistics in communities, in terms of the relationships that we have, you begin to see, at least in the Canadian context, that the land claims process, and the self-government process, to kind of summarise it in those two concepts, was not resulting in the type of improvements to the quality of the existence of indigenous people. 

As these processes were gaining momentum and, eventually, succeeding, to the point were most of the land claims in Canada are resolved.  There’s hundreds of self-government agreements.  There’s a big thrust of economic development and partnerships in Canada between first nations and [0:17:28.7] with the Canadian state.  There’s opportunities to address colonisation on those bigger fronts in those collective ways. But there seems to have been a complete – maybe that’s overstating it – not a complete but there’s been a disregard for the actual intimate effect of colonisation which is, after all, the most important one, which is how has colonisation shaped our relationships as people?  How has colonisation effectively denied our ability to continued as indigenous people in the way that our ancestors saw themselves as indigenous people.  that was a big revelation for me when I began to look at it that way, as a person who was heavily invested in the negotiation framework. 

So when I talk about this in Canada – in forums like this in Canada – I like to put forward my credibility on both fronts.  To say that I’m not just a person who’s standing here railing against self-government and I’m not just a person who’s standing here railing against lawyers and negotiations and all that.  I was part of that myself and, in fact, for years I did that.  I was the lead negotiator for [0:18:43.2] nation, which is one of the biggest communities in Canada, numbers-wise.  A very prominent, assertive community.  I was the head negotiator on land claims for that for about eight years.  I have a lot of experience working in that.  But there came a point when this realisation that I’m talking about became very very clear and I think it’s a crucial issue to talk about for all of us who are concerned with this work and who are doing this work because state governments – I won’t speak for the Australian government because I don’t know enough but I assume, from what I hear, that the Australian government’s pretty savvy and strategic in trying to undermine the assertion of indigenous people in the way that I’m talking about.  In Canada, the Canadian government has been very effective in creating a framework for decolonisation – that’s the last time I’m going to do that, by the way – for creating a framework for decolonisation that undermines the ability, ironically, of the people to actually achieve their own ends. 

And so what we have in Canada is the emergence, since 1972 – when it was possible, according to the Supreme Court, to actually pursue a claim – before 1972 – actually, in the early seventies and then in ’72 it was consolidated.  In the early seventies and in 1972 officially, it was illegal to pursue a land claim in Canada.  So, like in Australia, indigenous people had been dispossessed legally, physically – everybody knew that.  Indigenous people knew that, of course.  And once we had recovered from the worst of colonisation, in terms of the effects of disease and outright military aggression and so forth and our people began to build up strength again in the fifties and sixties – numerically – and so forth, people began pushing for recognition of treaties.  Treaties had been signed.  There’s also the issue of prior occupancy and the fact that everybody knows what happened about history.  In Canada, it was illegal for – I think it was three but it might be six – it was illegal for three or six Indians to be together without the presence of a priest or an Indian agent, up until the seventies.  That tells you how controlling and how suppressive the legal structure was, prior to the opening up of the possibility of addressing these grievances through the activism and through the sacrifice and the work of indigenous leaders.  In 1972, land claims became possible.  Basically, it was no longer an offence to gather to pursue a claim.  And, importantly, I think ’72 was the major date where lawyers could no longer be disbarred for representing natives in land claims.  So it was possible to hire a lawyer to pursue a claim and, of course, immediately, natives did it.  And so between 1972 – to keep things short – between 1972 and 1982 – I’ll use that framework because 1972 was significant in the opening up of the ability to pursue a claim and 1982 was significant in that it was the repatriation of the Canadian constitution where Canada actually gained its own constitution, distinct from British control, legally.  And, importantly, in that constitution was a section – section 35, subsection 1 – which has the phrase:  “All existing aboriginal and treaty rights are hereby recognised and affirmed”.  Kind of vague but what it did was point to the fact that there is something called aboriginal rights in Canada.  It was, as at that time, undefined but it was there and it was seen to be a major victory and, in fact, it created a whole new era of activism on the part of indigenous people. 

So prior to ’72, the activism of our people was survival.  Surviving as collectivities;  surviving as individuals;  keeping your languages alive;  keeping the ability, in your family, to – preserving the ability in your family, the knowledge about spaces, sacred spaces, cultural spaces and actually having the ability to go and do that.  That was resistance.  That was activism.  Between 1972 and ’82, activism was about getting the legal recognition of our existence, distinct from the legal structure that had been used by the Canadian government to create a concept called “Indian”.  Indian, in Canada, is a concept that was created by the Canadian government, quite distinct from any notion of what it is to be indigenous in the way that we would understand it, any one of us sitting here today.  Indian, in Canada, is a concept that was created out of the piece of legislation – actually a collection of legislation that we refer to – collectively it is the Indian Act – which creates a category, almost like a management category.  A bureaucratic category called an “Indian” and you’re all issued a card.  I have a card.  It has a number and you’re issued a relationship to a band.  It’s the Indian band, Indian number, so and so.  No reference to the prior existence of the Mohawk nation or the [0:24:32.0] people.  No reference to the prior thousands of years of existence of the people in that territory.  Indian band, Indian number so and so, reserve number so and so.  People from the seventies to the eighties began to engage in activism to address that and to push the idea that we were not simply the legislative creation of the parliament of Canada, to be managed as a problem by the Department of Indian Affairs with, of course, the underlying cultural assumption that was most of the time held, you know, privately, but escaped into the public discourse once in a while, about us being a vanishing race and that, eventually, this will no longer be a problem.  That they’re managing a problem that has a lifespan because all signs are that this population is degrading culturally and fading away physically. 

Our people did their best to make that a lie and, in fact, did survive and they advocated in court, in politics, on the street, in various forms of resistance – cultural and physical – such that, by 1982, it was impossible for the Canadian government to maintain that illusion of the fact that native people were not there prior;  that native people didn’t have a culture;  that native people didn’t have an identity outside of the one that was given to them for the management of their colonial enterprise.  So 1982 was a significant victory.  Even those of us who are critics of the legal structure will admit that.  1982 represented a great opportunity;  a great opportunity for people to be able to re-envision what Canada was because if you have a new constitution with a section of that constitution that says all aboriginal treaty rights are hereby recognised and affirmed, it’s a very positive statement.  I remember – this is when I kind of came on the scene politically, as a young researcher, as a young person getting involved and beginning to learn about the history that I’m talking about now from the people that have been involved in it, and the thing that I always remember about that era, which was just after the constitutional recognition and the repatriation, was that our elders and the people that were involved in politics – and this goes not only in [0:27:08.0] but all over Canada – saw that constitutional opening as an opportunity to remake Canada – to fix Canada.  They saw it as an opportunity to bring forward the original vision that allowed for the establishment of that society in the first place in our territory but which had since been suppressed. 

In our culture, it’s called Guswhenta.  In English, you would say the Two Row Wampum.  It’s a vision, basically, that transcends, I’ve found, indigenous communities.  I haven’t talked about it too much in Australia so I’m not going to go so far as to say it exists here but I suspect it does because everywhere else I’ve gone I’ve found – especially in north America, the Maori in New Zealand and elsewhere – this idea of an interdependence, with a recognition of our independence, at the same time, of a relationship of mutual respect, of a partnership and a sharing of the land, on terms of mutual agreement.  That was the original treaty vision and that was the vision that the indigenous people brought to that relationship to begin with.  They were only able to have that vision realised, unfortunately, while there was a balance of power that was relatively equitable in military, economic and numerical terms.  So the settlers came over from Europe – the basic history of Canada is, the settlers came over from Europe, saw hoards of natives relatively well armed, even though they didn’t have muskets and so forth, engaged in a series of battles and found out that they couldn’t just deny the fact of their existence, couldn’t push them away;  in fact, that they depended on these native people for their own survival;  to ensure their own escape from the problems that they were running away from in Europe.  So they made treaties. 

So we have these treaties.  Unfortunately, the big – the major fact and then shaping the history of Canada and North America as a whole, is that relationship didn’t hold because native people, number one, didn’t have resistance to the diseases that were brought over by the Europeans.  That’s a simple fact with profound implications and massive tragedy of a great dying that took place over hundreds of years among our people that reduced the population between 70 to 90 per cent, in every nation.  Just as important, though, the Europeans didn’t have the integrity to hold up to the promises that they made to those people when they relied on them.  When those other people in the partnership were in a position of dependency now, because of the disease and the reduction of the population, the European society didn’t have the integrity to uphold the promises that they made.  So rather than build up that relationship and help those people realise the relationship that they benefited from a couple of generations earlier, they imagined the native people in ways that would see them basically erased from the landscape, erased from the consciousness and erased from the political and economic reality that this colonial country was trying to create and envision for itself into the future. 

Native people had the opportunity to push for an older vision which was original vision of the founding of this country.  And that’s been the great intellectual and political rock that Canadian native activism has been built on and I don’t know if it’s the same here.  It would be interesting to hear the conversation around this.  But the great rock that the activism of the native people in Canada has been built on is the fact that we were originally recognised as sovereign nations through legal instruments in the Canadian and European legal context.  And that has been – those agreements had been infringed and degraded and put aside, but they exist historically.  And the concept of native peoples in a nation-to-nation relationship with the government of Canada exists historically and legally.  And so it’s been the struggle of native people not to imagine a new relationship, not to assert something that is outside their consciousness and the historical reality and experience of settler colonial society.  In fact, native people are saying, “We’re asking you to uphold your own promises.”  We have a system that works in terms of relationships.  That’s what we’re fighting for and I think that that’s been a real strength in the resonance – allowing for the resonance of indigenous activism and the goals of indigenous activism in the new generation of Canadian society that does know its own history;  that’s not wedded to colonial mentalities;  that’s not emotionally invested in that space of denial and outright colonisation that existed between the [0:32:16.9] and between what we have now. 

So there’s opportunities in Canada to advance this objective.  But five or ten minutes ago I was talking about 1982 as if, you know, it was something that was a lost opportunity and, in fact, I’ll get to the point, it was a lost opportunity because this vision that I’m talking about, about this bridge to a new Canada, section 135(1) in the constitution, “recognition of aboriginal rights”, didn’t happen.  The state has been very strategic and very effective in co-opting the energy and the activism and the collective strategies of indigenous people to undermine the assertion of indigenous nationhood and indigenous nationalism and, in fact, channel it into existing streams of colonisation.  In essence, the state looked at 1982 as an opportunity to assimilate indigenous people into the colonial polity, as opposed to reorienting its own self to reflect that older vision of a nation-to-nation relationship, of course recognising the stakes, because the stakes are huge.  Because the stakes were the same stakes that were right at the beginning;  who controls the land?  Who benefits from the land?  Who gets rich?  Who gets to say the way the land is used and how people behave and think and what’s right and wrong and all those big questions of statehood and sovereignty. 

The real problem that we’re dealing with now in Canada is that we’re in this paradigm of recognition, which is really what has happened since 1982, where indigenous people have fought for their vision of section 35, which is the Two Row Wampum, the recognition of nationhood, respect of co-equal partners and all of the stuff that we talk about, Canada and, to a large extent, Canadian society have defended their own vision, which is still rooted in colonisation and the court’s been stacked with seven white men – well, there’s one one woman now – mostly white men, one white woman, have, of course, sided with the state in every instance where lower court judges, Canadian public and native activists and lawyers have been very effective at pushing the issue to the Supreme Court level.  There’s cracks in the system but it gets to the Supreme Court level.  Every single Supreme Court decision that’s come forward, up until recently, last year, with one that’s often hailed as transformative, the Williams decision in Central British Columbia which, for the first time since 1982, offered a limited recognition of aboriginal title. 

So aboriginal title has been this elusive thing that lawyers and native leaders have been trying to have recognised since 1982.  It’s never been done.  There’s been a lot of court activism.  There’s been a lot of legal decisions and so forth that kind of – I never understood it, because I’m not a lawyer.  I never understood, in positive terms, where a court would say:  “There’s such a thing as aboriginal title.  You don’t have it but aboriginal title exists so I’m sending this decision back down so that you can try again to prove that you have it.”  Apparently that’s a victory in legal terms and I guess I could kind of see it but when you are the person whose land is being used by mining interests and companies and uranium explorers and settlers and so forth, you can’t – you don’t have the luxury of seeing ten more years of lawyers doing battle in court as a victory for this vague concept of aboriginal rights and title. 

But for the first time last year, the court said, “You have proven that you have aboriginal title to the piece of land which you have proven you have met the four criteria in our legal construct of aboriginal title”.  So I’m not going to spend too much time going through that.  Basically, it says that you have to have uninterrupted occupancy, there can be no competing claims, you have to have use of it and so on and so on.  They finally did that – a group finally did that.  The court recognised a small area of their claim – one small percentage of their claim – and it was hailed as a great victory.  People like me – not saying I’m a cynic but people like me looking at it, I’d say, with clear eyes, say, “Good for you but did you read the last paragraph?”  The last paragraph of the decision is the same paragraph that’s in every self-government agreement, which says that aboriginal title exists, even in this case here, but is subject to infringement if the national interest is at stake.  So for national interest – and it’s explicitly defined in a number of these court cases as economic prosperity of the region or national projects of infrastructure development – I’m thinking what’s the difference between that and 1950 or 1840 or 1820?  Those are all projects of national significance for the collective benefit of the economy of Canada and so forth.  So, to me, it’s just a colonial Groundhog Day kind of a thing, where this keeps coming up over and over again. 

This story that I just told you about the Williams case, and pointed to one illustrative example of the problems with the notion of aboriginal title, is the reason that people are beginning to think differently about land claims and beginning to think about what the real priority is and what we should be doing as collectivities in confronting the issue of colonisation.  Around the same time that this was going on, my own personal work shifted because I was asked to do a study, by the national aboriginal organisation in Canada called the Assembly of First Nations, about the crisis of dependency in our communities.  Seemingly unrelated to the issues of land claims and so forth but the crisis of dependency, they said, “We want you to investigate:  (1) what is at the root of our dependency;  and (2) what are the impacts of that dependency on our people?”  And at first, honestly, I thought they were joking because I was thinking do you really need me to do a study on why we’re dependent on the Canadian government?  Do you – especially the Assembly of First Nations, whose explicit purpose and mandate is to address treaties and address the disregard of treaties and the dispossession of people.  But apparently, in the meantime, between the era of the assertion on the land and even aboriginal rights era and today, a lot of our people have forgotten. 

That’s the first thing that I realised when they asked me to do that paper, is that the Canadian government has been very effective in redefining what the problem is.  They’ve redefined the problem as the fact that we don’t fit in;  that we have not accommodated, in our development as people, the reality of Canada – the legal, the economic and the social and cultural reality.  That’s the problem.  So you need to do a study – we need to do a self-study, in fact, as to what our problem is.  Why are we dependent?  Why are we not independent?  Why are we not rich?  Why are we not acting freely, and so forth?  Okay.  All right.  A lot of people have forgotten the fact that our lands were stolen, our people were suppressed and a hoard of very angry religious zealots came here and completely destroyed our governments.  I’ll remind them of that.  so I started off by doing that.  but in doing that paper, I began to realise as well what I’m talking to you about here now and what has been the trajectory of my work since then, which is this whole issue of the fact that it’s our cultural disconnection.  It’s the removal of our people from the land that has created a psychology in our people of dependency, not only in terms of what we eat but psychological dependency on the notion of being a Canadian and the idea of being an aboriginal person.  So if you had asked that question to an elder in our community thirty, forty, fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, if you had asked them this question about their identity – “Are you a Mohawk?  Are you a Canadian?” – there’s no question.  They knew who they were. 

Oftentimes I use the example – a visual metaphor of a rock.  You know, the foundation of who we are.  Compare my name – the holder of my name two hundred years ago “Taiaiake”.  In our culture, our names are passed down, so my ancestor in my father’s family, Taiaiake, you think about that person and what he represented as a human being and his capacities and how he related to other human beings in his environment – natural environment and social environment – speaking his language, seeing the world through stories and ceremonies and culture in a way that was entirely unique and distinctly Mohawk.  He had values in the way that he conducted himself.  He lived in a community that related to each other in certain ways and so forth.  The rock he was standing on was huge.  Fast forward to that point in 2009.  The current pathetic holder of the name Taiaiake – me – standing there, how big is the rock that I’m standing on compared to the rock that he’s standing on?  Because, in the meantime, our culture, through the influence and the continuing influence of not only modernisation but pollution, increased settlement, aggressive racism, dispersion because of economics and so forth, our language hasn’t continued.  I didn’t grow up speaking my language.  I heard it but I can’t – I wasn’t fluent and I didn’t grow up speaking fluent Mohawk.  World-view, ceremony, cultural practice.  I can remember seeing traps and skinning knives and all kinds of things hanging in our shed but by the time I grew up nobody was using them.  That knowledge wasn’t passed down to me. 

On and on and on this goes, to the point where even someone who’s conscious politically and active and trying to be assertive is standing on a little piece of rock about this big compared to that one.  And it hit me.  It’s like, that’s our dependency right there.  Our dependency is not only the fact of economic relationships but it’s a psychological and spiritual dependency on the coloniser which creates a relationship that is very pathological in the way that it manifests in the lives of our people.  Anybody who’s worked in our communities – anybody who’s lived in our communities or even in relationship communities knows the effect of this psychology on interpersonal relationships, family relationships, self-perceptions and so forth.  And writing this paper, I realised that that is really the thing that we need to address and if we’re looking at addressing colonisation only in those other ways, we’re doing a great service to our future generations because they don’t really know who they are any more and, even if we win, we lose in the legal and economic process.  If we win, we lose. 

Awesome strategy on the part of the Canadian government to create that dynamic because what they’ve done is erased culture, denied culture, suppressed the ability of generations of native people to perpetuate their idea of themselves, such that even the smartest people, even the ones with the most energy, the ones we’re holding up as our young people, they’re going to turn to the coloniser for their conception of what’s right and wrong and where they need to be going in the future, as I did.  These are personal – I’m throwing in a lot of personal anecdotes here because I want people to understand too that I’m not pointing the finger or just being a critic;  that as an indigenous scholar, I think, and as an indigenous person who’s on this journey, you have to reflect on your own, so at that point you’re looking at a person who was a US marine – a former US marine who went to Cornell University, who was raised intellectually by Jesuits and all these sorts of things.  And did I know who I was in relation to that vision that Taiaiake from 1820 had for his grandson, three or four generations down the road?  Was I upholding that vision?  Not that it was my fault.  I’m not going to blame myself because there were three generations of racism and colonisation that happened in between, but no, I was not;  and I realised that.  No, I was not.  And was the land claim resolution, in the way that the Canadian government had structured it, going to solve that problem?  No.  Was more money going to solve that problem?  Well, more money’s always nice but it definitely wasn’t going to solve the problem, especially if I didn’t understand money in terms of a tool to use to address those other things but understood it in terms of the regular way that it’s understood in the capitalist society. 

So were all these big things going to help, basically, the problem that was the basic fundamental issue of colonisation?  No.  Then it gets worse.  Because then I realise that I’m going to have kids – now I do, of course – as I know.  Can I contribute to their understanding themselves?  Am I able to actually create a situation where, with my kids, the next generation down the road, where they understand themselves as [0:47:02.3], as Mohawks?  That rock’s getting smaller and smaller and nothing that happens in those big processes that I was involved in at that time is actually going to change it.  It’s not.  What it’s going to do is offer them a better opportunity but in terms of the larger society.  And it came like an existential crisis at that point.  Who am I – and who are we, collectively – who are we serving in these processes?  There are some good things that happen.  I think I – if I haven’t made that clear, I want to make that clear now.  It’s not all for nought, you know, those big negotiating processes because they do offer us opportunities but what we need to do is think about it in terms of, when choices need to be made – this is in the Canadian context because the government’s very active in maintaining its strategy of undermining.  When choices have to be made, which choice are we going to make?  Are we going to make the choice that offers that child, and that whole generation of children coming down the line, the opportunity to be more [0:48:13.6], in their homeland?  Or are we going to take the choice of offering the opportunities to be more Canadian, in the larger concept of what it is to be Canadian? 

Because we all want to do good for our children.  Everybody wants to do good for their children.  Everybody thinks they’re doing good.  But their critic, and their critical thinking, and the indigenous scholar and the native activists and the native elder, we’re all here to remind people about the choices that they’re making and to get to them to think about it in ways that are validated in our own world view and our own culture and to be there, to have people really have to face up to the fact that maybe what we’re doing is not the right thing.  That, in spite of our intelligence, in spite of our passion, in spite of our care and love for our generations, maybe we’re doing the wrong thing.  Simple as that.  Are we perfect?  No.  No one’s perfect.  In fact, maybe we need to take a hard look at the way that our reality as leaders, as scholars, as thinkers, as intellectuals, has been constructed and, in Canada, that’s a big part of what we do now. We have a critical view of indigenous scholarship.  We have a critical view of native activism, of the structure of indigenous governance and so forth. 

There’s a whole school of indigenous scholars emerging around this theme of indigenous resurgence where their critical view of this decolonisation process, as it’s been manifested in Canadian society, is the main thrust – one of the main thrusts.  Because the other thrust is the thing I’m going to talk about next, which is really what the whole focus of this seminar should be, which is, well, once you realise that, what do you do about it?  If you actually are aware of the fact that the opportunities for the resurgence of that next generation and the collective resurgence of indigenous people on indigenous terms, in ways that would be honoured and respected by those elders from three or four generations ago, are impossible, what do you do?  I’m happy to say that there are opportunities in Canada for doing resurgence in the way that results in the opportunity of that younger generation to reconnect to land, to feel better about themselves and native people and to actually address the fundamental harms of colonisation. 

So the fundamental conclusion of that paper in 2009 that I did for our national aboriginal organisation was that native people can’t survive disconnected from the land;  that the dependency that we face – the crisis of dependency is one defined in psychological and spiritual terms in addition to economic terms and it requires a restoration of a relationship, on spiritual, psychological and physical terms, of indigenous people to their land.  It takes represencing – which is a very academic term – I think that’s the way I phrased it.  We need to re-establish our presence on our land;  not only in terms of being able to look at it on a map but we need to re-establish those relationships and that the more we do that the more opportunity we’re giving our younger people to reset themselves as [0:51:42.9], as native people, and to begin to construct a culture for themselves, with the guidance of the older people, that can serve them well into the future, in terms of offering them insulation from the continuing impacts of colonisation. 

Because we’ve shown, to a number of studies that we’ve looked at, in the Canadian context, and particularly – I’ll use the example of the Cree people, in Northern Quebec, where the young people in that community, in that nation, that had survived and could withstand the ongoing effects of colonisation the best were those that benefited from programs that were set up by the Cree nation to relink them to their traditional cultural practice, to support the maintenance of their language fluency, and, even though it was seasonal and it wasn’t a permanent state, to surround them and have them experience life in a traditional cultural community.  Even those limited measures, which were seasonal, which were periodic, were enough to gain a measurable impact in the ability of these children to withstand, to put it simply, life on the res and life in the city.  They were much less susceptible to falling prey to all of the behaviours, all of the psychologies and all of things that happen to our people all too often.  It gave them purpose, it gave them an understanding of themselves and the real insight that we gained – the insight that I took from that was that that is the foundational principle of true decolonisation;  is that we need to put our kids back on the land.  We need to have them see themselves as indigenous people on the land and we need to have them experience what it is to feel that.  We need to have them experience what it is to taste it.  We need to have them experience what it is to be indigenous in their homeland so that they can go back into the realities that they are forced to live and understand that that is not normal. 

That’s the key insight.  Psychologically speaking – and I related to this very personally as well, thinking back about my own childhood and my own cousins and the reality on our Indian reserve at the time – when you normalise colonisation, when you normalise your position as a colonised subject, it’s a dead end.  There’s no escape from that.  the only escape, which is a false hope, is numbing.  All kinds of medicines that don’t really work;  drugs, alcohol, all kinds of things we all know too well.  But when you take a situation and change it from normal – which is very cynical, without hope – to abnormal and problematic, it reverses the relationship, so it’s no longer the person who’s abnormal.  It’s no longer the person who’s a problem;  it’s the situation.  “I’m a good person” – that’s what this kid is saying – “I’m a good person.  I know what it is to be happy and healthy.  I experience it for two months a year out in the bush with my grandparents and speaking Cree and speaking Mohawk.  I know.  I can go and withstand it and I see the problems now.  It’s this society who’s doing this to us.” 

To me, that was the key insight.  It didn’t say that in the Cree studies but that was my reading of it and talking about it with my friends and my community is that it delegitimises the colonial reality.  It breaks that dependency – psychologically and spiritually – and it reinvigorates the struggle because it gives native youth a sense of themselves and a sense of injustice again.  It gives them purpose and focus to their activism.  And that’s not to say that everybody who goes through this process is going to turn into the kind of activist that I am or the kind of activist that anybody is but what it does is it creates that psychology that legitimises them.  And just that thing, that one thing, is crucially important, because it’s that redefinition of us. 

It’s the foisting of false and problematic notions of who we are as aboriginal people that is really the crux of the problem, I believe.  It’s really the crux of the problem, as we live it out in our own lives, in our own relationship.  We address that, then we can have another generation whose rock is going to be bigger because they’re going to be committed again to following that pathway to enrich their family’s cultural heritage, to work on the things that really create the ability of them to go forward in life as [0:56:55.7] and not surrender to the attractions – because there are attractions – of assimilation.  So that central insight is the thing that really drove a reconfiguring in the work that I did, and in a lot of other people now in Canada, about what decolonisation is.  So the decolonisation framework that we’re working with now doesn’t explicitly attack any of those other processes, because there’s ongoing land claims, there’s self-government negotiations, there’s all these things going on.  There’s economic development and so forth. 

But what it’s saying is, to all the leaders and it’s saying to the people in the community, is that going to help you?  What in that is going to allow you to restore your medicines, to promote your language?  What is it, in that process, that is going to allow the younger generation to do the kind of cultural immersion and to have the experience of being indigenous in the way that we’re talking about here?  If it does it, if there’s opportunity, if you can envisage, as a leader, that happening and if you build that into your program and if you promote that and prioritise that and fight for that, fantastic.  Then that land claim process, that self-government agreement process, a great thing.  We’ll support that.  if you don’t, then we can’t support it.  We have to be critical of it and we have to label it assimilative and colonial.  That’s the new framework because it puts all the emphasis on the ability of that younger generation to be more native than we are;  to be more like their ancestors than their parents or grandparents.  No disrespect to parents or grandparents in here.  Everybody’s doing the best they can but, in the terms that I understand it, my generation of people, we want our children to be more like two or three generations than us, in terms of their ability to represent themselves in the world. 

So this concept of indigenous resurgence, that’s what it’s really about.  It’s against, to a certain extent, recognition, which is a legal construct of aboriginal rights in Canada, for the reasons that I mentioned.  It’s also against the idea that’s kind of come around socially on the back of recognition which is reconciliation.  I know that’s a big word here in Australia so I’m just going to talk about what we understand reconciliation to be in Canada and we can talk later about whether they’re comparable or not.  Recognition in Canada is basically the social, cultural equivalent to the recognition framework.  The reconciliation basically says, “Native people, you’re so poor for what happened.  We feel so sorry for you.  Residential schools, racism, terrible things that our ancestors did.  Terrible things that those priests and nuns did.  We’re going to help you.  We’re going to elevate you by giving you access to money and programs and so forth so that you can be just like us.”  That’s reconciliation.  Excuse me if there’s Canadians in the room and you think that it’s anything different, but that’s boiling it down to what the reconciliation framework really is.  

The prime minister said:  “Residential schools were a blight on the Canadian historical record, should never have happened.  We’re going to pay restitution to those individuals who suffered residential school and then we’re going to turn the page and get on with the business of building Canada as a better country.”  No self-awareness or self-reflection on what drove the need, in Canadian culture, for residential schools in the first place because, of course, residential schools were simply one part of a bigger strategy, to continue to dispossess native people.  So reconciliation gets at the surface in saying, “There are a certain number of individuals who experienced residential school.  We’re going to pay them money then we’re going to turn the page and move on.”  What about the child of that residential school survivor?  What about the grandchild of that residential school survivor who doesn’t speak her language specifically because of residential school?  What about the child of the residential school survivor who endured abuse because that person was abused and that’s how they understood relating to people and multi-generational trauma?  What about that?  What about the fact that some communities were depopulated of their youth through residential schools and, previous to that depopulation, were able to defend what little land they had and, after the residential school, with the population dispersed, or not present, were no longer able and settlers came in and took whatever little land they had left?  What about that? 

Residential school wasn’t just the suffering – although that was profound – of indigenous people in the system.  Residential school was part of a larger strategy of dispossession.  Very very bad to point that out in Canada today because people are so invested in the idea of Canada being a good country that’s addressing the past in an honourable way by acknowledging the ills and acknowledging the harm that was done.  But push a little bit and you’ll find that it’s still a very colonial country at its heart because it’s one thing to offer someone a few thousand dollars for the suffering they endured at the hands of a priest or a nun;  it’s another thing to say, “Well, we’re going to give you your land back too” or even – not being so radical – saying, “We’re going to establish a whole set of programs and fund a whole set of programs in Canada to help restore indigenous languages, to address multigenerational trauma, healing that needs to take place.  We’re going to do all of these things because that was the effect of residential school.”  No.  It’s still defined in terms of that individual suffering and so forth. 

And so that’s what reconciliation is in Canada and it’s become – at first it was this kind of annoying misunderstanding but it’s taken on a political weight in Canada such that it’s erasing real support for real resistance on collective, nationalistic terms, where people are oriented and organised to defend their land, their right to be indigenous, their right to access support for the reinvigoration of their communities and their cultures.  Reconciliation is kind of moving through the Canadian culture as this concept that is suppressing that and it’s a very very assimilative process of understanding ourselves as Canadians, as opposed to [1:04:07.0].  That’s where indigenous resurgence is in opposition to both reconciliation and this recognition paradigm.  So the indigenous resurgence paradigm is founded on this idea that I was talking about, about the need to restore connection and so forth.  But the way that it does it is also important because there’s a whole movement being generated among younger – particularly younger people, mostly led by women who are not having access to political power in their communities and decision-making structures towards this objective that I’m talking about, about re-establishing ourselves as cultural beings, psychologically and spiritually connected to the land and so forth. 

There’s a whole movement that’s taking place, outside of the recognised pathways of political organisation in Canadian society and that’s really the exciting thing in Canadian native politics today, is that we’re really seeing another shift.  So 1972 was a shift, 1982 was another shift and an opportunity.  It’s really a milestone now and it’s another time when the future is going to be shaped in a significant way by what happens and the choices that our leaders make.  People – some of you might have heard “Idle No More” movement – it’s like two years now, I think, or more – where every one of us was involved in kind of standing up to the status quo;  not only to the Canadian government but also to the established native leaders in Canada and these groups of people, who were not part of that structure standing up and saying, basically, what I’m saying here:  “This needs to be the priority.  The land needs to be the priority.  The relationships.  Family violence.  Violence against women.  Language.  Culture.  That needs to be the priority.” 

The passion and the energy in that movement has kind of dissipated but I’m not entirely disheartened by that because I think that, two years ago, we saw such a surge of emotion and passion around that and that was really a sign that it was something new.  People were coming to a recognition that this is an opportunity;  this is something that needs to happen.  The long-term, as you all know – people who’ve been in politics and working in native communities for a long time – the long-term effect will be determined on how much energy and time and effective leadership we have in investing in that concept of what it is to be in decolonisation.  And the fact that it’s not on Twitter’s trending list or anything like that any more doesn’t concern me.  What really does concern me and gives me a lot of optimism is the fact that we have a generation of indigenous scholars who are committed to this and advancing understandings of it and writing about it and talking about it and teaching about it.  We have people in the communities who are moving forward with their careers and raising their kids to see things in this way.  We have people coming into political positions of power that are questioning those older pathways – older now, from ’72 to ’82 – questioning those pathways because of their inability to be in alliance with or to advance the objectives that I’m describing here. 

So there is a shift happening and that’s something that I wanted to flag and talk about, to see whether or not there’s resonance here in Australia.  The other thing that I need to talk about is that – to finish off – is that there are practical examples of people putting this into place.  It’s not just indigenous intellectuals or political activists and so forth who are thinking about it.  there are people who have taken this and put it into practice and it’s a really good opportunity to measure whether or not this is just a theory or whether or not it actually does result in the things that I’m envisioning.  And the example that I have the most knowledge of is the one that I’ve been working on and I was talking to Lisa the other day, looking at my files, and I used to say, “Oh, it’s been eight years”.  It’s not been eight years.  Then I used to say, “Oh, it’s been ten years”.  I think I said in Macquarie University the other day, I said, “Oh, it’s been ten years since I’ve been working on it”.  In reality, it’s been thirteen years or fourteen years that we’ve been developing this whole concept for implementation in a community called Ahkwesásne.  It’s part of the Mohawk nation.  It’s not my home community but it’s about 45 minutes away from where I come from, around the south shore of Montreal, along the St Lawrence River. 

So Ahkwesásne is a community about 15,000 people, has been at the forefront of every one of these pathways that I’m talking about.  Political activism, physical resistance, guns blazing, physical confrontation, language revitalisation, economic development in legal and quasi-legal ways.  All kinds of different things happening to empower the people.  Very strong community, always committed to empowerment.  But they ran into a problem.  They ran into a problem between the 1950s and the 1980s which even they could not overcome.  We never have a victim story in the Mohawk Nation.  We just talk about fights that we didn’t quite win but we’ve put off for a while and we’re going to come back to.  And one of those fights that they had to put off for a while and endure was the pollution of the natural environment by two responsible parties, in legal parlance:  General Motors and the Aluminum Company of America. 

So, to make it simple, all of the aluminium engine blocks for General Motors’ cars were constructed about thirty feet off the boundary of this reservation and all of the PCBs and dioxin that were waste products of that process were dumped into the river for about thirty years.  And that was a problem that the Mohawks could not deal with in any way where they had control, in any way that they could adapt in a healthy way.  and so for the last thirteen years now, what we’ve been dealing with is this notion of cultural harm, the impacts of contamination of the natural environment.  That’s a very specific process;  it’s scientific and so forth.  But the import for it, I think, in larger discussions around the world, is what is the cultural impact – what are the impacts on culture and psychology and spirituality of dispossession?  It’s a live case. 

You know, previous to this, I’ve been talking about it in theoretical terms.  Here is an example of a community where we have dozens of interviews, oral histories, talking to practitioners, of people who say, “I’m the one who used to fish and teach.  I’m the one who used to do medicines for the community.  I’m the healer.  I’m the medicine woman.”  And they describe the day when they could no longer do that.  They describe the day when the scientists told them that the medicine she was giving to the pregnant woman was poison;  that the fish he was feeding his kids was poison.  They are the people that were affected.  What did they do?  How did it affect them?  That’s what cultural harm of contamination.  To me, the fact that it was contamination that caused the consciousness of these people to stop doing the process is specific to Ahkwesásne.  The real dynamic is dispossession.  It could be contamination, it could be a dam, it could be physical removal, it could be settlement, it could be anything.  The fact is, those native people were no longer in a position of adapting to culture change;  no longer in a position to adapt to modernity. 

Our people have always been fantastic when we’re not being actively suppressed in adapting.  Technologies and new realities and so forth, indigenous people all over the world have always adapted and Mohawks did too.  Mohawks adapted from – 1609 was the first time that a Frenchman ever came into our territory. 1609.  Probably, like, two weeks later they had muskets and were firing pretty good shots, you know?  Two weeks later.  Technology, no problem. Learn how to use a musket.  Learn how to use an iron pot.  All that stuff that’s not bad, having to change.  That’s not the problem.  The problem comes when change is forced on you;  when change for other people’s benefit is forced on you and change that harms you is forced on you.  so part of my job, in this Ahkwesásne situation – I kind of joked about it at Macquarie too;  it’s very depressing – I don’t know why they picked me but someone had to do it, I guess – was to describe this whole process.  Go into the historical record.  Do the oral history.  Study it.  Show how – and this is in a legal process, to actually hold the responsible parties responsible and to describe the situation such that there’s a basis for advocating for settlement and compensation and support and so forth. 

To go through that whole process and describe the situation of how the contamination affected that community, the central insight we had on one had was that change was not bad per se but when it was forced enculturation, it became an injustice.  So one of the arguments that was put forward by the companies throughout this whole process, and just to boil it all down again, is that, “We’re not responsible”.  You know, “Are you going to tell us that television hasn’t affected you?” or “Modern society changed – you guys are not wearing buckskin and feathers any more.  You’re wearing jeans and in the 1930s your people chose to drive cars.  So that’s what’s responsible for your cultural loss.  That’s why you’re not speaking Mohawk.  That’s why you’re not fishing.  It’s because you guys lost interest in it.  You like our way better.”  And they actually said – that was their basic position.  And so, number one, we had to prove that our people continued to do their cultural practice, even while they wore jeans, and that they still enjoyed yellow perch and that the fact that the lady had eyeglasses on and a nice dress, while she was doing medicines, didn’t indicate that she was assimilated or anything.  It just shows that she made cultural choices, some of which were moving towards fashion in a western way and some of which were not. 

And it’s that choice that she made that was the crucial thing in determining whether or not Mohawk people had the freedom to exist as Mohawks.  They had the right and the freedom to take or leave things that were put in their world and maintain themselves as a Mohawk community, based on the intelligence they had and the collectivity of their consensus as to what was good and bad.  All of that stuff. But that changed.  That was their central argument.  That changed, because you can’t debate with toxins, you know?  It’s poison.  You cannot fish no more and that’s it.  And you extrapolate across a wide spectrum of cultural practice on this and you come to the conclusion that there’s a great injustice there.  And so we went through that process of showing that it was a form of dispossession.  What do you do now?  That’s the thing.  I’ve got five minutes left and the “What do you do now?” is the thing that I’m going to be spending probably the next fourteen years of my career trying to figure out. 

The Ahkwesásne example is an early response to this problem in the framework that I’ve laid out for you.  It’s the only one in North America.  I can confidently say that because I work in this field in a number of different regions in the northwest, in the southeast and the southwest and all over the country and nobody else has really implemented a solution on the basis that we’re talking about here.  And so Ahkwesásne, all eyes are on this community because they’re looking at an irreparably harmed community or significantly harmed community, one that’s been disrupted culturally, one that has suffered significant effects.  How are they going to address it?  And that was a problem that we struggled with for years.  What do you do, when you have generations of loss and you’re asking this next generation to be the one to do it?  Our solution in Ahkwesásne was based on this concept of indigenous resurgence, although it’s not articulated that way by the elders in that community.  Our solution was basically to say that the problem is one of collective cultural survival and that all of the problems that are being manifested in this community among the youth, the reason that they’re there is because they are not integrated as valued members of that cultural community, connected to the land. 

So there’s the cultural aspect of it, in terms of solidarity, in terms of cohesion and integrity of the community, where mutual support, family systems are restrengthened and so forth, where people know their place and their roles and so forth.  But there’s also the spirituality of it and this was really hard to convey, even to some of our own people who had been trained and who think differently now about spirituality, that that spiritual relationship between the plants and the water and the earth and the elements of creation is so important for them to have in their lives, and to recreate those relationships is absolutely crucial to them being happy, healthy people into the future.  Those are the things.  You need to create that.  You need to create a situation where our young people are living that kind of life again.  And so, after thinking about how to do that in the environment that we live in, in Ahkwesásne, we developed a program and advocated a program which is basically a – if I say it in English, it’s a Master Apprentice program, it’s a land-based, cultural apprenticeship, to kind of put it in technical terms. 

But, really, what it’s doing is, in an indigenous way, it’s recreating a set of relationships that existed prior to the harm – prior to colonisation in the way that they have experienced it most recently.  It’s setting up a relationship between elders, young people, the land and the community, which has been identified in the Mohawk culture as the only way in which cultural transmission can happen, in which language can be perpetuated, in which the shaping of a person’s mind – a young person’s mind – and the creation of a type of world view can happen.  And so we thought that this is the thing that is really going to get at the heart of colonisation.  And we can address what colonisation is, in the way that I’ve spoken about it so far, by creating a situation where we give the young people that opportunity to invest their time, to invest their energy, into a relationship and rebuilding a set of relationships so that they can experience life more like their ancestors did and, conversely, the elders can be in a relationship that is more like the elder relationship that is one characterised by indigenous cultural teachings, as opposed to being left alone to sit there and watch TV in the elders lodge, reminiscing about the way things used to be. 

We’ve implemented that.  It’s been one year.  I can talk about it in the discussion or people can actually read about it online on my website.  I have a couple of reflective papers now about the process and so forth.  But I’m leaving you at that point because it’s work that’s not finished.  It’s work that’s just started.  It’s been one year.  The signs are good.  The people that are involved feel better about themselves and it’s not just a feel good thing;  they know themselves better as [1:21:01.3] and the community is going to be reshaped by that.  We’re confident of it.  And so when I talk about cultural strength in land-based cultural revitalisation, it’s good for individuals but it’s also absolutely crucial to the cultural survival and the nationhood of our people.  And I’ll leave it at that and look forward to having discussion with you and learning from you today.  [1:21:26.0].


Mick Dodson

Okay folks.  Thank you, Professor Alfred.  He’s certainly given us a lot to think about and we might think about that over a cup of tea and come back in fifteen minutes and discuss it with our panel.

[end of recording]