A broken promise is not a victory

The community where I live is well outside the city. It's a half hour by car to get here and the drive into the mountains is an inspiring journey every time. The geography changes with each couple kilometres.

The community where I live is well outside the city. It’s a half hour by car to get here and the drive into the mountains is an inspiring journey every time.

The geography changes with each couple kilometres. You move out of the arid semi-desert of the river valley into the flat open range land that sits between mountain ridges. Then, a steep and winding upward climb takes you into the fir, spruce and aspen of the high country. Near our home the bush is thick and the land sweeps upwards to the crests of the peaks. It’s a magnificent drive.

We live quietly here. There’s a lot of room between houses and people pretty much keep to themselves. In the evening as the sun sinks at the far western edge of the lake there’s a feeling of peace, contentment, rightness, if you will. Though we know our neighbours and have become friends with many of them, everyone is content to let each other be. There’s an unspoken compact centered on privacy and quiet.

That’s why we chose to live here. It’s a lifestyle. What you choose when you live here is solitude, quiet and space in exchange for convenience, hustle, bustle and noise. It takes a certain kind of person to come and settle here, to make a home in the rustic, removed peace of this place. The land is lulling and people here come to be slower, more home centred and family oriented. I guess that’s why we all get along.

It’s so quiet that you could almost come to believe that it’s a separate peace, that it’s a community removed from the heartbeat of Canada. While that’s a nice thought and quite probable when loon calls wobble through the dusk, it’s really just a removed part, a chunk of Canada separated by the sweep of open territory.

It’s an Indian reserve. We all lease land from the local band and none of us are property owners in the normal sense. We’re tenants and a First Nation is our landlord. We pay taxes and leases and we’re at the whim of a government few of our neighbours understand or comprehend. No matter how connected we feel to the place, no matter how deep the emotional and spiritual attachment, someone else owns the land.

There’s irony in that. The irony lies in the fact that First Nations themselves live the same scenario. The Crown owns the land reserves sit on. No matter how deep the emotional and spiritual attachment, someone else owns the land. Like us, they can only really occupy the houses. The lawns we mow, the trees we trim, the renovations we make to our places are moot because of the underlying truth of our reality – it’s never, ever really going to be ours.

But we leaseholders chose the situation. First Nations were legislated into that relationship. We looked at the alternatives and made a decision to come and live knowing full well the reality of things. The land will never belong to us. Now, as the first decade of a new century nears its end, I wonder how long the situation can persist. We need to amend the Indian Act and dismantle the bureaucracy that sustains it. We need to create equality if Canada is to fully be Canada. That’s the obvious truth.

When the Indian Act was drafted it was because Canada was young and the new government suddenly realized that they had made a lot of promises in the treaties. Holding to those promises was going to be expensive. So they created a legislation called the Indian Act to monitor the delivery of those promises. Then they had to create a bureaucracy to monitor the provisions of the act. All the money that’s paid out every year to native people? Most of it’s gobbled up by that bureaucracy.

Decisions about our communities are made by people who have never been to those communities. Decisions about education, health care, housing and amenities are made by people who have never met the people. Legislation is deeply impersonal. Bureaucracy is stunningly oblivious to reality. You don’t have to be a native person to know that.

What divides us is an archaic legislation meant to put off the fulfilment of promises. First Nations were never conquered. We were signatories to agreements that have never been honoured. As long as that archaic legislation persists, our communities will always be separate from those of our neighbours. That’s the plain and simple truth of things.

Here in the mountains we live in peace without division. We’re all the same. There’s a pervasive sense of community here on this land, on this reserve. Even though we’re guests here, we feel that. I only wish the community of Canada could feel the same feeling of togetherness.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, is out from

Doubleday. He can be reached at richardwagamese@yahoo.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: Another election, another anomaly

Monday’s “double-tie” election is generating some free publicity for the Yukon as Outside news agencies scramble to find someone to interview.

A cyclist rides along the Millenium Trail in downtown Whitehorse on a frigid Feb. 9. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of an e-bike bylaw that would designate how e-bike riders can use city trails. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
First two readings passed on Whitehorse e-bike bylaw

Delegate calls on city to consider age restrictions and further regulations

Whitehorse City Hall at its Steele Street entrance. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Change of plans approved for city hall

Project would see 1966 city hall demolished

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Whitehorse International Airport in Whitehorse on May 6, 2020.
NAV CANADA suspends review for Whitehorse airport traffic control

NAV CANADA announced on April 15 that it is no longer considering… Continue reading

A bulldozer levels piles of garbage at the Whitehorse landfill in January 2012. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Rural dump closures and tipping fees raise concern from small communities

The government has said the measures are a cost-cutting necessity

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit… Continue reading

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Most Read