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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Land back

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Oct 25, 2019

On Sept 27th, half a million people were taking the streets of Montréal to march for climate alongside Greta Thundberg. Indigenous youth were also chosen to open the march. From what I’ve seen on social medias, people from my community attended the event to raise awareness on the caribou.

Soon after the event, some Indigenous youth took social medias to address their experience at the march. One tweet from a Salish youth reads: “Montreal climate strike was one of the most racist protest spaces I’ve ever been in. I was intentionally pushed, received nonstop racial remarks like ‘it’s not just your land’, and had to fight for space the entire time. This is what happens when you white-wash climate justice.” If other Indigenous folks said they had a great time, a small group of people was holding a huge sign that said “land back” on it, and it did not go well for them. White people love when Natives talk about animals and spirituality but hate when we start talking about reparations.

If you’re unfamiliar with this country’s history, reservations have been created so colonizers could access our lands and resources. To access resources, they first needed to extinguish our land titles, then they put us in reservations, land for our exclusive use. Problem is the 2267 reserves means approximately 2.6 million hectares or 0.2 percent of the total land area of Canada. In the Plains, it was barbaric. Indian agents withheld food to lure Indigenous people into reserves so John A Macdonald’s railroad would not be disturbed. Even there, they would starve and would be given rancid food supplies. Even today, the dispossession of our lands benefits Canada when it comes to mining, hydro, tar sands and forestry development. Isn’t it what people were marching against in September? Then why being mad because of a sign that says “land back”?

Land acknowledgements are useless. It’s a bit like saying: “We acknowledge you lost your land but we won’t do anything about it.” This country needs to think about land reparations if it’s really serious about fighting climate change. Studies have proven that biodiversity is higher on Indigenous-managed lands and that restitution of land rights is the most cost-effective way to protect forests and to lower carbon emissions. So if you are angry because of a slogan, take a quick look at this country’s history and ask yourself if you really are entitled to be.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.