Indigenous economic justice on the rise
- Alyson Bear | December 24, 2020
December 2020, welcome to the season finale of this crazy year. The theme for this month’s column is change maker of the year. I believe, given the circumstances of this year, the change maker of the year is all of us. We have all had the unexpected thrown at us and with that come lessons from being pushed outside of our comfort zones. Hopefully, it has enlightened us to see things from different perspectives. Covid-19 is not the story of the year, but all of our individual stories of perseverance, survival, adaptation and resilience are.
There is a shift happening right now in our society and I hope it is a shift from an individualistic society to a community-based society. This means that it is not just everyone for themselves, but we show compassion and understanding towards one another, creating an inclusive society based on respect for all.
I have witnessed more than ever this year people coming together to take care of one another and this is the type of civility that should be taken forward into next year. It is all coming full circle as we are reclaiming who we are as Indigenous people. This means revitalizing and implementing our traditional ways that governed and sustained our peoples for thousands of years prior to colonization.
This leads me to how I am seeing people rise up during these times, especially Indigenous people, taking back and reclaiming our identities and spaces within colonial society. Spaces we once could not have access to due to the government imposing the pass system, and other gross segregation and assimilation tactics, outlawing our ceremonies, and barring us from taking part in the economy.
I wrote a paper titled, “Still We Rise: First Nations Economic Justice” in my First Nations Economic Development course in Law school. The paper speaks to the fact that we still rise despite intentional policies and legislation enacted barring us as Indigenous people from taking our place in the economy. Economic justice is taking our rightful place in the economy.
The Indian Act, the pass system, and other impositions have created barriers in achieving prosperity and sustainability for our people. The old Indian agriculture permit system alone fined anyone who partook in business with Indigenous Nations without permission.
This permit system barred reserve farmers from participating in the commercial economy and the following will be an example of this. Before 1892, the Oak River Dakota in Manitoba, along with other Indigenous farmers, had disposed of their crops as they saw fit, but in 1892, Indian Agents were instructed to see that no grain left the reserve without a permit from the Indian agent. Grain buyers, when presented with a permit, were told to pay a sum to the Indian Agent and the balance to the Indians.
In October 1893 the Dakota protested that they could not sell their grain without a permit and they resented the dictatorship of the Indian Agent who was keeping the proceeds. In this petition and other letters, the Dakota stated that the permit system discouraged their interest in farming, as they did not know what they got in return for their crops.
In December 1893, the Indian Agent discovered that the Dakota were defying regulations and marketing their grain without permits. Department officials took action against the grain buyers. William Chambers of Ogilvie Milling Co. and Alexander and William Forrest of Leitch Bros. at Oak Lake were found guilty of buying grain from Indians without permits and each was fined.
In January 1894, F. W. Thompson of Ogilvie Milling Co. of Winnipeg threatened to instruct his agents that they were no longer to buy wheat from Indians with or without permits as the best means of protecting the interests of his Company.
The irony in this is that Indigenous peoples have been stereotyped as unable to adjust to a different economic system whereas this is not the case; the reality is that Indigenous peoples have been legislated out the economic system.
The Oak River Dakota remained small-scale farmers and eventually ceased raising wheat altogether as it was unprofitable on such a small scale. The Dakota did not successfully enter the grain-centered cash economy as their white neighbours did.
There was no recognition of the fact that for more than ten years of successful farming, the Dakota had managed their own financial affairs and had been independent of government assistance.
Fast forward to 2020, you have the Dakota Dunes Resort now open just 20 minutes south of Saskatoon on Whitecap Dakota First Nation. The Mi’kmaq have now announced their billion-dollar deal to partner with Clearwater Seafoods. There are now countless Indigenous artists, rappers, designers, academics, entrepreneurs, teachers, lawyers, doctors, all on the rise and we love to see it! This is the type of economic justice that our children and the future needs.