Burnt Church ready to deal

By JAMES WARD*

(July, 2002) -- The community of Burnt Church, the Mi'kmaq people and their nation stand at a crossroads. Burnt Church has been the focal point of a struggle for Indigenous self-determination and the preservation of Indigenous inherent rights. The future of the inherent rights of our children and the generations unborn hangs in the balance.

More than two years ago, the people of Burnt Church made an historic decision and united as a community to stand against the colonial legacy of injustice, to stand against the government campaign of extinguishment of their inherent rights.

The people of Burnt Church did something that many Indigenous communities could not; they banded together and chose to make a sacrifice for the sake of their future generations. They stood defiant before an entire nation, the Canadian nation.

Many of us have paid a price: permanent injuries, prison terms, criminal records, and great loss of personal material wealth. My people have made great sacrifices during this conflict. They are noble sacrifices. I personally do not regret a single moment of it. Because of the government's illegitimate claim to Mi'kmaq natural resources, I stood many nights side by side with my Mi'kmaq and Indigenous brothers and sisters, looking out across our ancestral home, over our bay, geared up and standing guard against the next DFO and RCMP raid, guarding against the next non-Native fishermen incursion into our waters to destroy our gear, shoot at us and attempt to terrorize our people.

I look back with awe upon those chaotic late nights and early mornings, the times when the DFO/RCMP would launch raids on us. And I look with awe upon my people who selflessly came together, assembled at the foot of the shores, loaded up their boats and took to the waters to defend our way of life. They fully knew that they were outnumbered by an approaching threat that had 10 times the manpower, resources and equipment at their disposal.

Stand after stand was made on Burnt Church Bay. This was truly an inspiring example of Indigenous courage, valor, honor, gallantry and self-sacrifice.

I know that most people won't understand this. I know that it would be a lost cause to try to explain it to them. I know that there will be all kinds of non-Native critics who will condemn our actions for not making the assimilation and cultural genocide of my people any easier for them. The best I could do is to ask them to look down at their children, look into their eyes and tell me I am wrong for being willing to defend my children's future. Would you not do the same for yours?

In time when the Canadian government feels that this issue is no longer a threat to its political and social order, then the stories of Mi'kmaq courage will be told. Then people may begin to understand that the Mi'kmaq people of Burnt Church were not criminals, as the government would have you believe. They were and are heroes for my people. The stories of each battle, each conflict, the gathering of other Indigenous warriors from across Canada and the many summer love affairs will be told over and over again at powwows, family gatherings, and Indigenous political events for a very long time.

My community had a chance to do something so prestigious for their people and nation in this generation. They set the example for other Indigenous communities across Canada to stand up for their rights and freedoms, to exercise true self-determination, not to ask and beg the colonizer for it, and to preserve the dignity and honor of a people.

All these acts of self-sacrifice made by so many, all the effort, all the pain, misery and frustration endured and, in John Dedams' case, the loss of liberty, might be in vain because the chief and council of Burnt Church are giving in to the government's tactics of bribery. They want to compromise the rights and freedoms of the Mi'kmaq people by cutting a deal with the government.

We all know the outcome of this action.

The Native reserve feudal order will be empowered and entrenched. Nepotism and patronage will ensue and the majority of the people on the reserve will suffer.

The community of Burnt Church is at that crossroads. We as a community have a choice; to give up all that we stood for, all that we sacrificed and turn our backs on our children by endorsing the chief and council's desire to sell out to the government, or we can make it clear to the chief and council and to the government that the rights and freedoms that we have fought so dearly for are not to be sold for personal gain.

* Guest culumn in Windspeaker

 


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