Opinion: Who speaks for Canadian Natives?

"It turned out that he was the friend of some friends of mine (not a great surprise in retrospect) so it was easy to find out his story. He had been the leader of a group who had occupied the band council office of the local Mohawk reserve, Tyendinaga. They were protesting the misappropriation of government money, nepotism, and a variety of other irregularities by the band's Chief that they wanted investigated.

Less then a year later this same man was leading a party of Mohawks from his reserve on a raid of the office of the Grand Chief of The Assembly of First Nations in protest against their inaction on dealing with issues that affected the day to day lives of people living on reserves. While his actions were more extreme then other peoples the frustration behind them represented the split between some people who live on reserves and their elected chiefs.

While the Assembly claims to speak for all native people in Canada, its membership is limited to Chiefs. While on the surface this may give the appearance of adequate representation there is a serious problem inherent to the system. The concept of an elected Chief is alien to the majority of native peoples. The position of Chief had been traditionally earned, appointed, or inherited. For example the female elders, grandmothers, of a tribe, selected the Chiefs of the Mohawk people.

The election of Chiefs was a concept imposed upon tribes as a condition of the Indian Act of Canada in order for them to be accorded "status" and be given a reservation. It has long been a bone of contention between those wishing to live in a traditional manner, following the rules and customs of their ancestors, and those more inclined to assimilate."

Get the Story:
Richard Marcus: Who Speaks For Native Canadians? (Desicritics.org 11/15)