We are THRILLED to be launching the new “Raven Debriefs” podcast, meant for everyone out there who is wondering just what we talk about when we talk about “LAW” in this country.
10 years ago Susan Smitten founded this organization called RAVEN: the acronym stands for Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs. RAVEN works at the intersection where human rights, colonial law, indigenous legal frameworks and environmental justice meet. By braiding all of these threads together, RAVEN is growing a movement that stands behind and with Indiginous leadership: RAVEN is‘justice powered by the crowd’.
If you are like most Canadians, you are wondering just what lies beneath the sound bites and the social media sparring when it comes to the uprising – across the country, and aroudn the world – of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en peoples. These are complex issues, but what an important moment to get informed, dig in, and find ways to act in meaningful solidarity.
In this episode you’ll hear a conversation with Jeff Nicholls, RAVEN’s board president, Indigenous lawyer and member of the Raven Clan of the Tsimshian Nation. Jeff is in conversation with Shoshona Kish, founder of the Indigenous Music Summit, front woman of the band Digging Roots, and one of the originators of #WeAreTheSTronghold, a movement of musicians, artists, and allies working togehter in solidarity to support legal challenges of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership that aim to push back against Coastal Gas Link and assert Indigenous rights in their territory.
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Prefer to read? Here is a transcript of Episode 1:
ShoShona Kish, Indigenous Music Summit founder, front woman of the band Digging Roots
Jeff Nicholls, RAVEN board president, Indigenous lawyer, member of the Raven Clan of the Tsimshian Nation
Susan Smitten, RAVEN founder
Music by: Digging Roots, Kinnie Starr and Amanda Rheuame
SUSAN: Hi, I’m Susan Smitten and I’m thrilled to be launching this podcast for everyone out there who’s wondering just what we talk about when we talk “law” in this country. More than 10 years ago, I founded this organization called RAVEN. It stands for Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs. We work at the intersection where human rights, colonial law, Indigenous legal frameworks, and environmental justice meet. If you’re like most Canadians, you’re wondering just what lies beneath the sound bites and the social media sparring when it comes to the uprising across the country and around the world of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en peoples. These are complex issues, but what an important moment to get informed, dig in and find ways to act in meaningful solidarity. In this episode, you’ll hear a conversation between RAVEN’s board president Jeff Nicholls – Indigenous lawyer and a member of Lax-kw’alaams Nation on BC’s North Central Coast as well as a practicing lawyer at Ratcliff and Company. He’s in conversation with ShoShona Kish, founder of the Indigenous Music Summit and one of the originators of We Are the Stronghold – a movement of musicians, artists and allies working together in solidarity to support the legal challenges of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership.
JEFF: Welcome everyone, to all our listeners out there we’re here today on beautiful Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territory. We’re going to have a conversation about a bunch of, you know, burning questions that I think we’re all thinking about right now. My name’s Jeffrey Nicholls. I’m the board president of RAVEN and I have with me ShoShona.
SHOSHONA: Aaniin. Yeah. Hi. [introduces herself in Ojibwe] Ojibwe Anishinaabe. I’m – my name is ShoShona and that’s how most people know me, but, um, I’m Eagle clan from Batchewana and I’m Ojibwe Anishinaabe.
JEFF: So, we’re at Yaletown Roundhouse Community Center and ShoShona, I understand that you’re doing some cool stuff here. What, what, are you doing here?
SHOSHONA: I’m here for the Talking Stick Festival and my band Digging Roots is here playing tonight. Yeah, we just heard – you know, I obviously wanted to come and support this festival and be a part of this community because there’s so many beautiful things happening here which was, you know, the initial reason to be out here but now there’s so much going on in the world, I feel like I’m here with a very clear purpose alongside of, you know, just a celebration of community and that strength.
JEFF: Yeah, absolutely, and I understand that, you know, when you’re out here, you really wanted to connect in with, with RAVEN and you’re just finding ways to support the organization and support, you know, the broader initiative and movement. What is it – what, what are you up to?
SHOSHONA: Well, I mean, I feel like we’re helping each other out. [laughs] I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on. And I really appreciate that. You know, I think for us out east, we’ve been – the community has been really looking at how we can stand in solidarity with what’s happening out here in Wet’suwet’en territory. And because I’m an artist and a musician, for me, you know, I thought about raising up those powerful voices of artists in – and that’s part of our traditional role as well and bring us together to make some noise, essentially, so we’re hosting sort of a launch concert this coming Thursday, February 27 with a whole bunch of really beautiful, exciting, brilliant humans. And from there, a number of other concerts are going to light up across Turtle Island and things are evolving internationally. And we’re also working really hard to light up the spaces on social media. So, I really just wanted to create a platform for us to raise our voices together and make space because what everybody has matters, and we’re not powerless. And particularly-
JEFF: Everybody has something to offer.
SHOSHONA: Yeah. And when we’re – you know, I just feel like we’re stronger together.
SUSAN: That was Digging Roots with “AK-47.” Just one of the amazing acts you’ll see Thursday night if you’re in Toronto. This show is going to be one for the record books – a star-studded lineup of Indigenous and BIPOC musicians at Toronto’s Great Hall. Follow #WeAreTheStronghold on social media and sign up to host your own event or online fundraiser to stand with Wet’suwet’en. Visit www.raventrust.com/wetsuweten for details. This is RAVEN DeBriefs. Subscribe on iTunes.
SHOSHONA: Well I think that just because of the way that most of our media is aggregated for us, I am seeing a fairly biased view of, of things and a biased view of the responses to things. I’m not seeing a lot of the pushback but I do know that it exists. You know, I heard a call-in show on CBC Radio that was local a few days ago and people were really angry about these “blockades” – I say it with bunny ears because I know we’re using those words but I actually – I don’t know if they’re the most effective way to talk about what’s happening. I think that what’s happening is political protest which we – and demonstration which is really something that I think we should defend strongly and be very concerned about beyond this issue. You know, in terms of telling the story and how we continue to look at what’s happening, I think the language tends to be misused sometimes to create divisiveness. That’s what I see happening-
JEFF: It’s all about, it’s all about the slur-
JEFF: -where you say, they’re “protesters” or they’re “pipeline protesters” or, you know, “radicals” or things like that where-
JEFF: -it tends to dismiss the legitimacy of, you know, what they’re out there for.
SHOSHONA: Yeah. They’re bundling it together with many things so it’s really hard to see clearly what the issue is and why people are standing and what ground they’re standing on and by what, what their jurisdiction in that space is. I think that those, those narratives are all very confused for people right now. So, you know, the, the pushback has really been, like, I can’t get home from work conveniently and this is a deep inconvenience and people are really angry and they felt really entitled to use the word “inconvenience” in the context of this conversation which I thought was interesting because if I was one of those people, I think that I – that I would be, I would hesitate to use something like “inconvenience” which is to me not, as a mild experience, to be really up in arms about. It doesn’t click for me so I’m not, I’m not really sure that I understand what that position is, like I do, I do think that things, like anything that makes our lives more difficult in the day to day is – as humans we can understand. But, whenever – you know, we, I think we’re all experiencing things in context and that’s where it gets blurry for me. I just can’t connect the dots the way some people do.
SHOSHONA: So, you know, I just have some really basic questions about, what you think, what, what the critical issues are, not just from the context of RAVEN and what your interests in all of this are and how you’re supporting and how you’re showing up for the work, but, as, you know, a collective community, what do you think the core issues that we’re looking at here are?
JEFF: First of all, I don’t want to comment specifically on the internal politics of the Wet’suwet’en. So, I want to preface my comments and saying that you know it’s, it’s really, you know, it’s for the Wet’suwet’en to articulate, you know, what their governance system looks like. So it’s, it’s not, you know, I’m not going to speak to that, but I can speak to some of the history around, in particular the Delgamuukw decision and, the, the Gitxsan and the Wet’suwet’en people – they went to court and asserted their Aboriginal title and their Aboriginal rights over a significant part of their territory and it took years, took significant resources. It took a lot of people’s time – elders coming out and, you know, the court even went to people’s homes and took testimony and really set the stage and the grounds for putting their best foot forward and proving Aboriginal title and saying, these are the rights we have. This is who we are as a people and this is our territory. That was in the early 90s, the trial. They actually were unsuccessful at proving title. It was later found in the Supreme Court of Canada that the judge did not adequately consider oral tradition. He didn’t, he didn’t put enough weight on it because of course – as is the case with a lot of nations up there – I’m Tsimshian, and you know, we come from a society and I know that other nations up there are similar – is that, you know, our oral traditions really define who we are and if the judges aren’t prepared to consider and weigh our oral traditions then it’s very difficult to prove title and that’s really what happened in the context of Delgamuukw.
But the Supreme Court of Canada said that the trial judge did not adequately consider the oral traditions of the Wet’suwet’en and the Gitxsan people and they ordered a new trial and that, that new trial has not happened. Yet. Just on a, on a personal note, some of my family is Gitxsan and my Auntie Alice holds the name [name in Gitxsan] which is a House chief name in Gitxsan territory and she actually has all sorts of binders and family history and all of this stuff that was prepared in the context of that litigation because, you know, obviously it’s important, who you are and, you know, what your territories are and things and I’m sure that’s the case with a lot of other families and nations up there is that – so that’s some of the legacy of Delgamuukw is that, you know, not too long ago a lot of effort was put in to, you know, establishing Aboriginal title and of course obviously, on the legal side, it’s technically not established. The court didn’t recognize it, but it said, “Here have a new trial.” And, of course, there are – I think it’s quite common ground that their strength of claim –
SHOSHONA: So, I mean my very limited understanding of Delgamuukw is that – is around this – oral histories and the legitimacy of that and that Supreme Court ruling and that precedent being set for further work for other First Nations to establish the same legal title on those same grounds. But are you saying that the – they were unsuccessful still in their – in the claim in some way?
JEFF: I’m just familiar with the rulings of the, the court and in court, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial on the basis of – they didn’t make any determinations about whether or not the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en had title. They said, you know, a new trial should occur and it should adequately consider all of the – some of the deficiencies that the court set out. There’s a component to these things that are not contingent upon recognition by Canada. You know, like, when – and I’ve gone, I’ve been to the Unist’ot’en territory. And when you stand at the bridge and you do protocol, there’s no question in your mind, you feel a very real legal basis for Aboriginal title, you go, yeah, of course it exists. You know, this is what I’m dealing with is Wet’suwet’en title. It’s not necessarily a settled question in certain contexts. You know, when you – when you look at the Canadian context generally, you know there’s – or even, as I understand it from an outside perspective, you know, within the Wet’suwet’en themselves, there’s these internal dialogues that are happening and about, you know, who has authority over what. And you know ultimately it’s, it’s, you know, it’s according to their own principles that they have to come together as themselves to decide that. And it’s, it’s not for us as people outside to, to be, you know, even talking about that or making any sort of judgment around that.
SHOSHONA: So can we talk about that for a minute because I feel like this is something that I feel like is circulating a lot in my circles and on social media. And it’s really about – I respect that legitimacy and know it to be true. Unquestionably. But I think the average Canadian does not acknowledge that or even have enough information that they might acknowledge it –
SHOSHONA: Where, from a legal standpoint, does that sit with the Canadian government? And you know when we’re saying this is an illegal action and an illegal militarized occupation of Wet’suwet’en unceded territory, what are the legal grounds when we’re saying that in terms of the Canadian colonial government?
JEFF: What I tend to think about it in terms – and these are just my own aspirations for where I see opportunities to shape the law – and I think that one of the greatest opportunities that we have right now is the greater recognition of Indigenous legal orders in the context of what we would define as Canadian law.
JEFF: You know, it’s easy for people to – when they think Canadian law, they think of the French civil law tradition and the English common law tradition, but they tend not to adequately acknowledge our laws are also part of this society. You know, what I think of things like, you know, the potlatch ban in British Columbia where, you know, we go to jail for exercising our forms of government. You go to – like, they would take away your regalia and they would throw you in jail and they would fine you some inordinate amount of money that, you know, you couldn’t pay. And, that happened not too long ago, you know, in my grandparents’ generation.
JEFF: And so, you know, people – and we could talk for – on and on and on and on and on, examples of really crazy bad stuff that happened in that regard. And so – and even today, you know we’re – I still don’t think that we’re at a place where we adequately acknowledge and have settled the question of, you know, what does it mean to have Indigenous law in the context of our society? And, and I think that at least some of those issues are coming to bear right now.
JEFF: And I certainly don’t have answers to a lot of those questions. I think it’s something that society has to grapple with and, you know, we have to come together on that. You know, all of us. But, that’s just where I see the opportunity coming and where we need to do some concerted thinking is about, you know, how do Indigenous legal orders play a role in solving some of these issues?
SHOSHONA: Mmhmm. I find that – well and I so appreciate, just the way that you’re talking about this right now because I feel like what you’re describing to me is a different way of viewing the application of law than what I normally would think of it in and – when I’m talking, I’m talking about colonial law.
SHOSHONA: And what I think most people think of which is this very black and white thing, but what you’re describing to me is actually much more fluid. It’s a process and are you saying this is, uh, something that the Canadian government has not yet addressed in terms of their application of law and that’s work that we need to do now?
JEFF: Yeah. No, I understand. I understand your question-
JEFF: -and I think it’s, yeah, it’s an exciting topic to talk about. And it’s – and I think that that is a great illustration of the importance of the work that RAVEN does as an organization. We support Indigenous peoples to articulate their position on specific legal issues or campaigns. So, for example, you know, the Trans Mountain pipeline project – you know, we ran, in partnership with other organizations, a campaign to assist and support Indigenous groups in expressing their views about and participating in that process of, you know, here’s what we think.
JEFF: And we don’t dictate that, and it’s not my role to – you know, as RAVEN, we don’t have anything to do with the, the legal issues even. You know, those are for the communities to decide. But as far as a social movement and I think that what a lot of, um, you know, our donors care about or the people that come out and volunteer, or, you know, the people that just even, you know, follow some of our content and just want to get engaged or educated about these things, you know, they just, they want to see change. They want to see positive change. You don’t need to know all of these – like, these things are really – some of them are quite complicated, right? Like, they’re, they’re very technical and whatever – like, those should not be a barrier for your feeling of justice. I think that we should focus and honor our feeling of what is right and what is wrong. And I think that there’s a lot of reparation and justice to be done in the context of Indigenous peoples’ relationship with, you know, broader society right now because I think that that’s at least where I try to engage around this. You know, I look at the news and I go, this is, this, it doesn’t feel good, you know? Like, it’s – that sense of injustice is really there and I think that that’s, in a lot of ways, why people, you know, want to contribute, right? And I think that that’s important to honor.
SHOSHONA: Do you think that the system, as it exists right now, can – is set up in a way that can adequately respond to issues of justice as it pertains to environmental and Indigenous rights?
JEFF: I certainly think that there’s lots of opportunities for creating positive change or positive outcomes in that context. I think that engaging with these kinds of actions – these kinds of actions being, let’s say, court cases or negotiations or whichever. It’s all part of, I think, a plurality of strategies. Where RAVEN sits – we operate on a – what we call a legal theory of change. So, you know, we take a look at the fact that over the past 50 years or so, let’s say, there’s been a number of very landmark decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada that have fundamentally changed the way in which Indigenous peoples are respected and our laws are respected and our communities are respected and it’s given us a lot more room to breathe, I think? Just from – I think where RAVEN is situated, we try to focus our resources on that one particular area. And of course there’s, there’s a million and one different ways to make a positive difference. And, and I’m hopeful in that regard. I think that it’s incumbent upon all of us to make that positive difference wherever we are. But just specifically in terms of, you know, maybe believing in that legal theory of change, I think that we’ve seen an opportunity, in particular over the past, let’s say 50 years, in starting with some of these landmark Supreme Court of Canada decisions and even into, you know, overturning the Trans Mountain pipeline approval with Pull Together and that kind of thing, you know, we’ve seen tremendous success and using the court system to assert our rights, because sometimes, in the legislative system or political system, you may not get that kind of recognition. But certainly in the judicial branch or in the court system and through the Constitution and the protection and the constitutionalization of our rights – that has at least played – in my view – a positive role in asserting our – as Indigenous peoples, you know, rights, or at the very least, has, has allowed us to play defense on some of these initiatives of colonization.
[Music plays – AK-47 by Digging Roots]
SUSAN: This is RAVEN DeBriefs. Subscribe on iTunes.
SHOSHONA: Being where we are in the world as the front line to some degree – and that is certainly not to take away from community members and leadership that are – have been out in minus 40 –
SHOSHONA: -with, putting their bodies on that line –
JEFF: Sure, yeah, absolutely.
SHOSHONA: -and I, I just recognize that work is work that impacts all of us and gratefully recognize that that work impacts all of us and in – we will all live the consequences of what comes out of this as a greater community. So, I just – I think that, you know, it’s an important time for us to have the conversation about what’s happening in our home.
JEFF: Yeah I think that, that, if anything has, has been one of the big lessons – at least for me – out of this, these last couple of weeks is that – just how much this is a national issue. You know, it’s, it’s not – it’s not isolated, it’s not something that’s happening way out there. It’s, it’s in fact, you know, it’s something that affects us all and it’s something that we should all really pay attention to and care about.
SHOSHONA: Yeah, I’m really – thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this. I feel like, in some ways, you know, not being a politician, not being a lawyer or somebody who’s really engaged in policy or lawmaking in any direct way – I just – sometimes, I hesitate to answer some of the questions that are circulating about – out there about this issue because I don’t feel informed enough. You know, it’s like, as we’re launching into this, this sort of collective action around art and music and support, we’ve been very conscious about this – the story that we want to tell and this story that needs to be told and really wanting to be very respectful –
SHOSHONA: – you know, about the truth.
SHOSHONA: And, you know, and also respectful of the way that we engage, talking about this because the misinformation is not helping anybody.
JEFF: I think some of the core issues that we’re looking at here are the fact that Canada still has a lot of work to do to recognize the place of Indigenous peoples and just respect that we exist. Respect, you know, respect the fact that, you know, we have a right of self-determination over the things that affect our communities. And when you think of concepts like consent and, you know, just, just having, having a say and I think that, you know, we’ve seen, you know, all of these issues are entrenched in a long history of – a broader context of struggle, of colonization, of discrimination, of racism and, you know, those, those things continue on to today. And I think that, you know, we’re seeing more attention to it but, you know, to also acknowledge – not in the sense that these are issues that are real all the time. You know, for, you know, a lot of people across this country, in particular Indigenous folks. So – and also just, you know, being mindful of the fact and, and respectful of the fact that, you know, it’s, you know, I think the elephant the room is, you know, we’re, we’re talking a lot. The reason we’re having these conversations right now is, you know, about the issues that are going on in Wet’suwet’en territory and have spilled over into solidarity actions, you know, across this country. But I think it’s also important that we acknowledge that, you know, we need to make space for the Wet’suwet’en people to decide things for themselves and, and respect their autonomy and respect their, their authority and jurisdiction because, you know, from what I understand from a completely outside perspective is there are some questions that they’re asking of themselves and, you know, between and among their people and, you know, as a First Nations person myself, you know, it’s not our, it’s not our place or our protocol to, to speak into, you know, what is the business of another First Nation.
JEFF: But I think it is important that we focus on some of the broader context of these issues. And, you know, there is, there is a shared experience of colonization among Indigenous peoples in Canada. And there’s a lot of issues that I think are coming to bear in different ways and I think certainly that, you know, having a conversation about those is really constructive, right? And it’s just figuring out those pathways to do that and, you know, it’s so cool to hear about, you know, some of the ways that you’re doing that and, you know, people all across this country are figuring out ways to do that and even for myself you know as, as a lawyer, you know, what is my role in this and how do I, you know, give my time to RAVEN for example or whatever and, and, just, just try to make a difference and, you know, hopefully move things toward a better place. So, you know, hopefully, you know, we can have that kind of conversation and share it with our listeners and just kind of bring people under the, under the wing or in the circle of allies, the nest, you know, things like that, so.
SHOSHONA: For me, it’s just a matter of, like, getting word on the street in a really accessible way. And I think, for us we’re excited about doing that because we know how powerful music can be-
SHOSHONA: -and the transformational space that music can create and, and how many really beautiful artists coming from our communities, from the Indigenous community and just the larger community also, just that, like, spark of creativity and you know stories are magic.
SHOSHONA: So – and they tell us, like, who, who we’ve been and who we can be and who we are right now and so I want to make sure that we’re telling the most sort of truthful and respectful and, like, engaging story that we can about this and the only way I know how to do that is to ask questions about the things I’m most curious about, so can I just like ask you a few things?
JEFF: Yeah, absolutely.
SHOSHONA: When, when we’re talking about the right to self-determination-
SHOSHONA: – I think for me, I understand that this is an inherent right.
SHOSHONA: And – but there is a legal precedence in terms of the right to self-determination in Canada. Can you talk to – about that because I feel like the balancing of that information is something that many people are curious about? You know, there are traditional and hereditary laws that we’re accountable to as Indigenous nations, sovereign Indigenous nations. And then there is a colonial rule of law that is developing around that. I feel like it’s, it’s not fully realized yet.
JEFF: Yeah, I think that the concept of self-determination is a complicated one because I think it manifests itself in different ways in the Canadian context. So, you know, we see things like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. You know, there’s – one of the rights that is captured in that particular instrument is a right to self-determination. And, you know, we’ll see how that is interpreted in the future. And then there’s also our own legal traditions as Indigenous peoples where, you know, we, we have these legal orders and they continue to propagate and structure our lives as Indigenous peoples. We’ve, we’ve worked so hard to, to keep them alive in the face of residential schools, in the face of things like the potlatch ban – all sorts of different things that have served to just try to wipe us off the map. But I think that, you know we speak about self-determination that is contingent on, you know – I think when you boil it down, it’s just about Indigenous peoples being able to put forward and, and, and be a people together and to express ourselves both politically and culturally and that has been interfered with in certain ways due to colonization and all of that.
SHOSHONA: That’s an understatement maybe…
JEFF: Yeah, understatement of the year! And so, that’s, I think – that’s at least how I understand the concept of self-determination. These things are very contested concepts and, you know, people have different – like, reasonable people can disagree about, you know, what, what its content is.
SHOSHONA: So are you saying that law means different things to different people?
JEFF: When we think about, you know, like, what the law is in Canada, you know, we – I think that people readily recognize the fact that when we think of Canadian law, we often think of the French civil law tradition and the English common law tradition, but people don’t often easily associate Indigenous legal orders within that foundation of what we understand the law of our society to be. Because of course for Indigenous peoples it’s abundantly clear, like, there’s Tsimshian legal orders, there’s Gitxsan legal orders, there’s Anishinaabe legal orders, there’s all sorts of these legal traditions that have governed our people since time immemorial. And I think that there’s, there’s room to evolve our law or understand the law of Canada to include those in a more fulsome way. And I think that that’s a lot of the work that still needs to happen is that – I don’t think we’ve solved that question, you know, at least in Canada.
SHOSHONA: Yeah, I feel like the conversation right now is people from – and I don’t want to say there are only two perspectives but, sort of those clear different perspectives that are coming up, that are opposed to the action by the leadership, traditional and hereditary leadership from Wet’suwet’en – and then those who are in support of it. So, on both sides of that I’ve heard people say that the law is being broken.
JEFF: Yeah. People say we should follow the rule of law. Well, you know, what is the rule of law in this context? You know, you have clear articulations of an Indigenous legal order that is, you know, as old as time. And you also have the laws of Canada which are set out and certainly have force and they’re coming together in certain ways and people make claims to, “this is the rule of law,” and “this is the rule of law” and people understand that, I think, in different, in different ways.
SHOSHONA: When we talk about jurisdiction and then you can run with that.
JEFF: Um –
SHOSHONA: I’m really – actually I have real questions about this, like-
JEFF: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SHOSHONA: I have questions about federal jurisdiction, like, why would-
JEFF: I love federalism by the way.
JEFF: I like, I like stuff like that.
SHOSHONA: Right. So federal jurisdiction as opposed to provincial jurisdiction. Why have the OPP been sent in to respond to this CN rail protest in Tyendinaga when it’s, it’s reserves so it’s federal jurisdiction from my perspective and its CN Rail so at CN Rail police from that perspective – I don’t know what you call their police force, but –
JEFF: Yeah, there’s like a –
SHOSHONA: So why OPP? You know, like, I just don’t understand these things. And I, I feel like any, any light that you can shed on this for me would be helpful.
JEFF: Yeah. One of the most interesting aspects of Canadian politics for me is – and I’m a, kind of a bit of a nerd about this kind of stuff and a lot of our politics in Canada is defined by what we call federalism and federalism is a division of power between different levels of government, you know, whether it be local, provincial or federal government and so much of Canadian politics has been, you know, what is the power, is it the province? What is the power, is it the federal government? Yadda yadda yadda. And as an Indigenous person, I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about, why doesn’t this include more of a discussion about the role of Indigenous peoples in federalism? Because, you know, we have so much debate about which body has powers over what and you’d think it would be quite a natural extension of that discussion to have a conversation about, what is the jurisdiction of Indigenous governments within this context of, you know, dividing the power? Who has authority over what in our society? So there’s so many different kinds of Indigenous governments out there. You know, you talk about self-determination or you talk about nations. There’s, you know, an infinite variety of Indigenous governments. You know, some nations in Canada have treaties, some have self-government agreements, some have – in British Columbia we have, you know, modern treaties or different kinds of governing arrangements and some have customary governments, some have band councils under the Indian Act that, you know, operate under customary law.
JEFF: Some have completely traditional governments and some have a hybrid of all of those things and ultimately it’s, it’s for the Indigenous peoples themselves to decide what kind of government they want for themselves and to have – I think the relevant question is, do they have the freedom to decide what kind of governing institution they want for themselves? I think that’s really the key to self-determination.
SHOSHONA: Well, it’s an interesting question because in many cases there are Indian Act chiefs and councils that have been given the power to make those decisions on behalf of community and without respect for traditional governance and there’s a big difference. So, I think it’s a really interesting question because who’s negotiating? Who, who do we empower to speak on our behalf? And –
JEFF: And I know that’s a challenge in, in, many Indigenous communities, you know, to figure that out because there is – there’s, there’s been a myriad of challenges that have resulted from colonisation in putting tremendous stress on our governments as Indigenous peoples. You know, I think about my own community and I think about how, how important it is for our family units to be intact in order for our governments to be intact. You know, we operate on, on a house system where there are – houses form tribes and form nations, you know, that kind of thing and, you know, if you think about something like residential schools where they take away the children and the relationships between the children and the parents are broken and that, you know, translates down through the generations, you know, it has untold harm on our governing institutions and of course, you know, we’ve – Indigenous governments and in particular, you know, I’m so proud of how we’ve been able to adapt and –
JEFF: -and to propagate our, our forms of – just of our forms of life. You know, our, our identity together, you know, in the face of all of these, these disruptions. And that’s a very beautiful thing. But I think that we’re still, we’re still healing from that –
JEFF: -and we’re still figuring out ways of, you know, supporting and healing and putting forward our own governing institutions free from a lot of those, those harms that aren’t just historic harms, they’re harms that continue to today. And, and certainly there’s always going to be, you know, disagreement and internal debate and dialogue where, you know, people disagree with one another and that’s the beauty of living together in a society –
SHOSHONA: Yeah, that’s healthy.
JEFF: -and, and Indigenous peoples are, are no different and that, you know, among Indigenous groups there’s, there’s, you know, different opinions and I think that the more relevant question is, you know, how do we create or propagate or continue to recognize a form of government that gives, gives spirit and life to that internal process of deciding for ourselves how, how things are, are going to, you know – how we’re going to be together as a people and even how we’re going to relate to other peoples, like in a nation to nation context and, you know, I know that when we look historically and even into today and into the future, you know, we have ways of recognizing other people, you know, where we invite them and we, you know, we do protocol and, you know, we just come together and those are the things that are just so beautiful and are so inspiring to see and quite frankly I think we need a bit more of, you know, because it’s a process of healing.
SHOSHONA: The interesting thing about protocol is that that being a form of law-
SHOSHONA: -you know, is that it’s about accountability, not about fear-based enforcement. So it’s like, you would never do something because, you know, what would my grandma think, you know? And it’s like, I know I would never go out into the world and do something without first considering, you know, what my mother and my grandmother and my great-aunties would think. And, and we were just talking about this the other day – yesterday, I think – we were talking about these yellow, yellow vest crew.
JEFF: Sure, yeah.
SHOSHONA: And we were like, “Who are their moms?” you know, because I feel like that should – that would help regulate-
JEFF: Yeah. [laughs]
SHOSHONA: You know, if there was-
JEFF: We need some, some strong aunties –
SHOSHONA: Yes, the aunties would just like, you know, sort that out and, and, you know – because I feel like in the larger – any larger community, a whole, you know, great diversity of perspectives and opinions is what makes the healthiest and most, um – yeah, just like, lights the community up in the most beautiful way and this is what we want. But what we’re seeing is this level of divisiveness and anger that I don’t fully understand. There is a large population, although not the majority of, like, the colonial nation of Canada that is, like vehemently opposed to Indigenous people standing for our own rights. And I just – I find it really, yeah, confusing. [laughs]
SHOSHONA: And, you know, and I, and I always think, one, you know, somebody needs to call that guy’s auntie, and two, you know, [laughs] I wish that I could have a conversation with that person and have the, the, um – be like fully armed with all of the – with like, a good mind as you know, our Mohawk relatives would say, our Kanien’kehá:ka relatives, and be able to just like, really speak for what the confusion between us is. And you know, and I think that just being able to come to the issues and really speak to the heart of them rather than like, all this other noise around it –
SHOSHONA: -would really helpful –
JEFF: For sure, to share a meal together.
SHOSHONA: Yeah, yeah, break, break some bread.
JEFF: Or have a feast.
SHOSHONA: A feast-
JEFF: -come, come full circle. Yeah.
SHOSHONA: Yeah, totally. Well, and you know, I mean, I think people often, I’m sure, just think that I’m just being idealistic but, isn’t this the way things work? Like don’t we – isn’t, isn’t that the way we have as human beings always done things? So, you know, and I’m, I’m not trying to say this is easily solved by eating a good meal [laughs].
JEFF: Or come together to play music!
SHOSHONA: Play music or by playing a beautiful song! But I do think that they become points of intersection that can change the way we move forward together and so, you know, I’m really interested in creating all those points of intersection and I’m really interested in knowing more. Like I’m just really curious and knowing more about all of the sort of –
JEFF: Yeah, and I think that that’s where the work of RAVEN is an opportunity for people to come together and, you know, like, our supporters, they might see our campaign and they want, they want to make a difference and if they want to make a difference on, you know, a better future for reconciliation or for greater recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights or that kind of thing, like, it’s really just that, that sense of justice and it’s that, that feeling of just wanting to connect and, and just wanting to create that, that better world. And so, you know, just really – I’m personally really proud to just try to, you know, water that seed and to be able to build that kind of community and to have, you know, these kind of courageous conversations and where, you know, we’re able to come together and say, you know, what are the, what are the things we care about?
JEFF: And what kind of things do we want to see in the world?
JEFF: And, you know, obviously, you know, RAVEN, we’re dealing with, you know, quite – very specific things from our campaigns. You know, we want better environmental laws and a better Indigenous -recognition for Indigenous rights and things like that and a lot of, you know, how that works is very technical in the courts. But, I think that, you know, why people care about it is much bigger, is, you know, people recognize it to be something a lot more fundamental about, you know, caring for each other in a society and caring for our planet and caring for future generations of people and just recognizing that, you know we, we can’t do it alone.
JEFF: You know, we can, we can do it, but we can do it together. You know, we really can do it together and-
SHOSHONA: We’re not meant to do it alone.
JEFF: Exactly! Yeah! And I think that’s the point, right?
JEFF: It’s, you know, we can come together and it’s really magic because I think that we both understand that, you know, the past that I think we’ve had in Canada and even some of the current issues, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not comfortable and I’m not comfortable with it, and-
SHOSHONA: No, well, we should be uncomfortable.
JEFF: Yeah, absolutely.
SHOSHONA: I think we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can do the work. Some of our music is really topical.
SHOSHONA: And, and people have a really emotional response to it, and it’s like, well yeah, that’s, that’s what it means to be human together. And this is an emotional topic, you know?
SHOSHONA: This is why we want to tell stories about it, because it cuts to the center of our humanity and they need to be in those truthful brave spaces together, you know, and sometimes, you know, sometimes people are very unhappy with what we say at concerts and not that often but –
JEFF: Sometimes, yeah, that happens-
SHOSHONA: – and I feel like, well, good, I’ve done my job then [laughs]. You know, like, in – because I feel like if, if, if we’re not a little uncomfortable together then I’m not being brave enough about speaking truth and shining a light on the things that are most important for us to work on and those things are uncomfortable. That’s real.
SHOSHONA: I want to acknowledge that. Yeah.
JEFF: And what’s the alternative? You know, doing nothing?
JEFF: And, you know, letting some of these grave injustices propagate because, you know, doing nothing is something, you know, it’s-
SHOSHONA: It’s a choice.
JEFF: Yeah. It’s a sobering history. It really is. And we owe it to ourselves to know and understand it, but we also owe it to ourselves to make it different in the future and make sure it never happens again. There’s been times and, you know, the not so distant past, it was illegal for Indigenous peoples to hire lawyers.
SHOSHONA: Um, I think that’s something that not very many people know.
JEFF: Yeah, you know, there was a time in my grandpa’s generation, like my grandma’s generation, that if you were to become a lawyer, you’d lose your Indian status. And you know, it’s something that I think about every single day as an Indigenous lawyer and just never forget that. And I think that, you know, one of RAVEN’s roles is to, is to recognize that legacy. And I think the best way that we can recognize that legacy is to give as much money as we can to Indigenous peoples to help make up the, the ground that we may have lost [laughs], you know, during, during that time. So-
SHOSHONA: These histories, you know, I think people want to think about them in the distant past but they’re really, like in living memory.
JEFF: Oh, absolutely.
SHOSHONA: It wasn’t that long ago and these changes are new and it’s – you know, and I hope, I hope that the work ahead can be exponentially seeing these kinds of changes come to pass.
JEFF: Yeah, absolutely.
JEFF: Absolutely. Well, it was so nice talking to you and connecting it with you and I can’t wait to see what this collaboration, you know, bears in the future. And I’m so excited to have, you know, tried to answer some of your questions and hopefully, maybe answer some of the questions of our listeners and more so just, it’s, it’s a good opportunity, just like we were talking about earlier, just to come together as people and, you know, connect with each other-
JEFF: -and just share what we’re feeling because I think that, you know, in these past few weeks, I’ve felt a lot of things, you know, looking at the news and –
JEFF: – you know, I care about what’s going on and, you know, it’s always, you know, we can’t, we can’t feel those in isolation. You know, we can’t just, kind of turn away and you know, we have to talk with other people about them. So, I really appreciate that-
SHOSHONA: We have to find each other!
JEFF: Yeah, absolutely.
SHOSHONA: Me too, I really appreciate it.
JEFF: I really appreciate that.
JEFF: So thank you so much.
SHOSHONA: [laughs] Awesome.
[Music begins to play]
JEFF: Thank you.
SUSAN: This show today was recorded at the Talking Stick Festival on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. The episode featured Jeffrey Nicholls and ShoShona Kish with music from Digging Roots, Kinnie Starr and Amanda Rheuame, who you hear now with their collaborative song, “The Best.” The show today was produced by Andrea Palframan, sound recording by Gary McNutt, editing [inaudible] and hosted by me, Susan Smitten. Let’s give the last word in this courageous conversation to ShoShona Kish.
SHOSHONA: Yeah, please come and find one of our events or find us on online. We are posting everything to our summit page, that’s the International Indigenous Music Summit. And we have a hashtag, #WeAreTheStronghold and it’s really – we dreamt that from this idea of, like, circling the Warriors and hereditary chiefs in community and protection and support and solidarity. So come find us!