First Nations were not 'conquered', are not 'ruled'
By Pat Apikan

Like most people making a life for themselves, my friends and family are way too busy to get wrapped up in what some self-absorbed expert, elite opinion-maker, or modern-day Indian fighter has to say about our existence in "the best place in the world to live."

A goofy statement here and there, a slip of the tongue, or an unkind word in the heat of the moment does not usually get too much attention. We have heard it before, and worse. But when it becomes a recurring pattern in the age of mass media, it's time to set things straight.

On Feb. 8, 2002, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverly McLachlin, gave a speech to the Canadian Club of Vancouver about Aboriginal rights. Among the countless terms and ideas she could have used, she decided to talk about "conquered people" and their relationship with "rulers". This is a person who makes decisions for a living, but who, apparently, does not get much press. You have to be a French skating judge to get press. But I digress.

At one time, we were the people of terra nullius, a legal concept used by the Europeans when they first arrived in North America. It means a land that is empty of people and was meant to justify their claim to our land. Since that did not have the desired effect, we are now "conquered people" and they are now our "rulers".

When did this conquest occur? I fail to recall. Maybe it happened when the "People of the Flint" held the balance of power during the commercially motivated wars of the 1600s and 1700s. Or maybe it happened when the "People of the Longhouse" turned back the invading Americans from conquering Canada in the early 1800s. Or maybe it was when all of our peoples -- like the People of the Stone Weir and the People of the Standing Stone -- fought for our continuing existence and freedom as peoples in the Great World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm in the 1900s, and now in the 21st century war against the "axis of evil".

We can't recall the conquest because it simply did not happen.

It's odd, but not long ago, I was thinking about the Anishnawbe people -- it means the "Real People" in the language of the Algonquin and Ojibway. It seemed strange that Jim Flaherty, the Deputy Premier of Ontario, thought it necessary to say that the "real people" live in big cities, and then backtracked when our leaders took him to task.

For a minute, I thought my father's people, the Anishnawbe, had moved to Toronto and forgot to tell us. By the way, the Chief Justice also backtracked. But the damage was done.

The Chief Justice, Deputy Premier and others of their ilk seem oblivious to the damage they do. Or maybe they do know what they're doing. Since many have tried and failed to erase the memory of our existence as a People, others are trying to capitalize on the lack of public education about our achievements and contributions to the world, and want to plant the seeds that denigrate our existence and, therefore, our right to evolve as a people.

While it's not my place to invite the Chief Justice or Deputy Premier of Ontario to Kahnawake, if they did come, they might just go away with some better ideas about what to call our People. Perhaps proud, sovereign and caring people would come to mind. And if they really wanted to meet and talk with us, maybe strong, loving, even downright good-looking people wouldn't be too far a stretch.

This article first appeared as an editorial in the March 1, 2002, issue of The Eastern Door, Box 1170, Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Quebec J0L 1B0.