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Lands (Whose Are They?)

Vern Chocan

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      MARCH 1993      v22 n03 p04  
Vern Chocan by Vern Chocan

When I was a little boy growing up in Central Saskatchewan it meant so much to me to go to Lloydminster every month. On the way to Lloyd I would see all these FarmHouses along the side of the road with beautiful yards and lots of farm machinery. I would ask my Father "how come we don't have these on the reserve, the only places with this kind of a set up is the Indian Agent's house and Residential School Grounds?" The response my Father gave to me was "My son, later on in life you will find we, as Indian People, view the Natural Environment as being more beautiful than trying to plant trees in a certain place." Only after my Father said this to me did I realize that upon entering a reserve I could recognize what my Father had said. In the reserve I would see all these trees and natural meadows all over. As soon as we got off the reserve it became apparent that everything was so arranged. The roads were straight, bushes were also straight, nothing was left untouched except places which were located on areas which could not produce any agricultural crops or the terrain was too tough to be developed.

Throughout my short life, I have experienced the term of "being in harmony with Mother Earth." Also the word our Elders used quite frequently, "kikawenow". As an Aboriginal, I attended rituals which were held in the reserve and always the Elders would be praying and asking the Creator to look down upon us. After they asked the Creator, they would also ask kikawenow (Mother Earth) to answer the same prayers. In addition they would say that it was from her body that Plant and Animals came from, which Human life depended on.

It was not until later in life that I really understood the - significance of this relationship Aboriginal people had with the Land. The conservation practises that Our Ancestors used at the time was that "you do not try to control Nature, but you adapt your lifestyle to Nature". This basically meant that if our Brother the Buffalo moved, the people also moved along with them.

They did not build fences to keep them in one spot, because they did not believe in taking the freedom away from anybody or any animal. If they had to cut a tree, they gave an offering to the tree and prayed; they asked the spirit of the tree to forgive them and said that it had not given its life for nothing, but to benefit the individual that cut it down. Everything that grew from Mother Earth's body was considered to have a spirit similar to a Human's. The rock in the Cree language is considered an animate object, which means something that is living.

After the Europeans made contact with us, there was a different system towards Land that was introduced. This more or less meant that having or owning Land was a symbol of wealth in Societies across the Big Sea, which was Europe. The idea of Fee Simple ownership was introduced, Indigenous People could not understand this concept and were shocked to hear people say they owned a piece of Mother Earth. As more Europeans came across the Sea, the land, which was so vast was suddenly being owned by Europeans. As more Europeans came across, the Aboriginal People continued to move further west because of the growing population on their traditional lands.

Due to the increasing population in the world we must respect the fact of the need for development, but it should not be at the expense of the Four gifts the Creator gave us to sustain life. The Four gifts are Nature (land), Water, Air, and Fire. Of these Four gifts it is only Land that we can live on and yet we abuse the Land to satisfy our greed. Yet I fear that one of these days we will wake up and find that there are no more plants and animals. Only then we will realize that money will not be able to satisfy our Hunger. Lands, "Whose are they?" I ask myself, "Who can really say they own them?" or "does the Land own us?"