By Jessica Numminen, 1st year MDP student
Reflecting back to my first semester in the MDP program, one of the readings in my course work I will never forget, in the book titled Alliances Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships, Chapter 23, “The History of a Friendship, or Some Thoughts on Becoming Allies”, by Dorothy Christian and Victoria Freeman. In this chapter the two writers describe their journey to understanding the legacy of colonization from their personal experiences and perspectives as Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and how these experiences play out within the context of a 20-year friendship. It sheds light on the difficulties and challenges of decolonization at the individual level.
In the article Dorothy Christian, an Secwepemc-Syilx woman, asks the question:
Can you love this land like I do? Can you love this Earth like I do?’ I pose that same question to all settler peoples. My ancestral homelands are thought of as the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ by many immigrant peoples. At what point do immigrants groups take responsibility for the land they have chosen to live on? At what point do they acknowledge that the original peoples of these lands are the landlords and they are the tenants?
The first time I read this passage, I had to reread it a few times, because my first reaction it came across like a bee sting. What was she trying to say became a question was raised in my mind that stayed with me?
Fast-forward to my domestic field placement in the community of Hartley Bay, located in the Northwest Coast of British Columbia, the territory of the Gitga’at First Nation. My time spent in the community has shed light and a new understanding of Dorothy Christian's words.
She is talking about the continual exploitation of the land and water. Our collective earth is in a state of peril because of this continual exploitation, because the lands and waterways are seen as commodities. The territory of the Gitga’at has many splendors to be conserved requiring a change in practice and attitude. A change in the way we view this earth and in the way we do things. Taking responsibility about decisions being made thousands of miles away always that can have life long implications. The Gitga’at people know what is at stake but when will the general public wake up and realize what is at stake? This goes beyond what is tangible and also includes the intangible.
Traditional knowledge, governance, culture and institutions are alive and have endured overtime to sustain their people since time memorial. We need to take responsibility for what happens in the far corners of these lands and waterways if they are going to be able to continue to sustain life. We are all here to stay but we need to recognize that Indigenous peoples are the landlords because this knowledge, governance, culture and institutions are miles ahead of what governments, institutions, development practitioners and others are doing in respect to conservation and sustainable development. Solutions lie in collective responsibility and true listening.