Indigenous rights are lived responsibilities

Niigaan James Sinclair
Niigaan James Sinclair

Pipelines, mines, and projects that extract resources while compromising the earth and water are not the only solutions to escape poverty. Anyone who offers these as the only possibilities are either not thinking or lying. There are other options.

Indigenous rights are really lived responsibilities. There is no purpose in singing fish songs if there are no fish. There can be no offerings to water if it is poisoned. There are no ceremonies if the people doing them don’t embody the relationships they create.

Struggles for Indigenous rights aren’t an option for Indigenous communities – they are literally struggles for life. Canada has been forcing Indigenous peoples to compromise Indigenous life for centuries and there is very little room – if any – left to compromise.

The “path forward” is to understand that Indigenous communities want a path out of poverty but not at the cost of the cultural fabrics that make us who we are. This is non-negotiable, regardless of injunctions, arrests and “consultation” – a principle that must lead all dialogues.

Reconciliation doesn’t ever happen when one side forces the other to acquiesce – that’s domination and control – it happens when sides meet and listen while committing to working towards shared principles for as long as it takes. This is the hard, real and complicated work.

Indigenous peoples have continually committed to dialogues with Canada in the courts, negotiation tables and now at peaceful stances on their own lands. No one has believed more in the “rule of law” then Indigenous leaders. Who are the ones to bring guns and police when they don’t get their way?

The only hope now is that people of vision, principles and ethics will rise to the occasion and help lead us all out of this before it turns violent. Vigilantes and opportunists seeking power are emerging in the vaccuum. I have children. You have children. They deserve nothing less.

In Anishinaabemowin, our word for love is zaagidiwin, which also means “to open.” We don’t say “I open” when we express love though but giizaagin, meaning “you open me.” Tonight I pray that going forward people open to one another instead of close – commit to zaagidiwin and not to hate.

But, if Canada continues to act violently it will be impossible to ask Indigenous peoples to continue the paths of peace, dialogue and treaty-making as so many do. Since these are base principles in so many Indigenous cultures, many will likely continue, but for how much longer?

Originally posted on Facebook at

Niigaan James Sinclair is an Anishinaabe writer, Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba and 2018 Columnist of the Year, National Newspaper Awards.

Filed in: Indigenous Rights


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