Voting no to Lheidli T'enneh treaty was right choice

I am an elder from the Lheidli T'enneh and I was in Prince on June 16-17 to participate in the second vote on the treaty.

I attended several treaty engagements in Prince George, Vancouver and Victoria, poured over the hundreds of pages of the final agreements, and side agreements, and tele-conferenced several meetings to gain a deeper and greater understanding of this agreement.

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I know that many of our members will be disappointed with the no vote on the final agreement.

I believe our people made the right decision for the next seven generations of the Lheidli T'enneh people. Our land was taken from my ancestors once, if we had agreed to extinguish our rights on the land this would be offensive to our ancestors and future children.

The value and pride of our people is in the land - not in transfer money to become self-determining by the colonizers.

Canada has a lot of work to reconcile, a starting point would be to stop talking and start doing. Why do we have to enter into treaty agreements to prove we are the rightful owners of the land? The burning question should be who or what creates the barriers that exclude our people as partners to the wealth from our land.

You can't change history - before the first Europeans arrived to the shores in this country the native people had their own form of governments, trade and territories and they were partners with the newcomers. What changed this relationship? What stops this from happening today? Why do we need treaties?

It was government agents/surveyors that "mapped" our people, it was their maps that showed where the native people lived, hunted, fished, trapped, harvested, so why do we have to go to court to prove if the government mapping is true or accurate?

Government willfully makes it more complicated to satisfy non-native Canadians. History explains: John A. MacDonald wanted the natives extinguished, which is no longer acceptable, so the new methodology is to extinguish our rights to the land?

When you don't have the land, you have nothing!

Let's not forget the creation of bands was the work of government and today they use it against us. People still decry what the government provides the indigenous people, so here is a simple solution. There is no denying our people are the original peoples when the colonizers created government and evolved to where it is today. Instead of treaties, why not share in all taxation to the tribes who occupied the territory where industry operates, towns and cities are built and property owners live? Give a fair and equitable portion of all taxes collected to the First Nation and then offer us the same deal as Canadians. Don't take our land and resources in exchange for the welfare state our people live in.

We arrived at this place today because our people were put on reserves. It was illegal for an Indian to leave the reserve. Our people could no longer hunt, fish, harvest or trade to feed and clothe the people.

Starvation was the first method to rid Canada of the "Indian problem." The second method, take the children and take the Indian out of the child.

The third method was to remove the children and place them into the child welfare system.

Sounds horrific, but after all that has happened, First Nations children make up the greatest number in care, First Nation are over represented in prisons as well as our homeless population. The irony is the government moved our people on reserves with a promise of a better life and 150 years later, there is no housing on those reserves, no water, no schools, yet the rest of Canada managed to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world from the natural resource exports.

Just listen to the prime minister when it comes to trade, something outlawed and illegal today for our people.

Our people are survivors. We get our strength from the land, because our people view the land as what it provides us, not what we can take from it.

When our people say government holds a "gun to our heads," it is about our relationship to the land, not in the relationships with government and building unsustainable economies by the insatiable appetite to strip everything from the land for stuff.

Our leaders feel the pressure to make these modern day treaties to stop the government-inflicted poverty to our people.

The only important aspect of any negotiation is trust, something the government has not been able to achieve in 150 years.

The government intentionally isolated our people to keep us from evolving and being partners to change.

Government wanted to keep our people simple and we see things simple so why do they criticize our people for not seeing the complexities and complication in the details? It is a reflection of their creation.

So while the Liberal government put their full support behind the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report, the court rulings in favour of First Nations, we still must take our position through the courts. Why?

Canadians should be outraged and offended by the billions of tax dollars spent trying to justify the theft of the land from Canada's First Peoples!

Government needs to seriously change how they deal with our people.

-- Jo-Anne Berezanski is an elder with the Lheidli T'enneh First

Nation who lives in North Saanich.

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