Yellowhead Institute research details Indigenous consent and land reclamation

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By Madi Wong and Valerie Dittrich

Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation-led research centre at Ryerson, released a new report on water and land reclamation and Indigenous consent.

The report, titled “Land Back: A Yellowhead Institute Red Paper,” was released last week and was officially launched at an event on Oct. 30 as part of Ryerson’s social justice week. 

Authored by Yellowhead Institute’s research director Shiri Pasternak and executive director Hayden King, the report dives into the colonial policies around Indigenous land and water dispossession, as well as what steps Indigenous communities are taking to reclaim land and water. 

The Red Paper is split into four parts and covers the topics of Indigenous consent, denial, recognition and reclamation. 

The first section, titled “The Spectrum of Consent” details “how Indigenous consent is ignored, coerced, negotiated, or enforced.” It explains the overlapping eras of “consent-based policy making regarding Indigenous lands and water, from the complete denial of Indigenous self-determination, to a reluctant recognition of limited rights, and finally, the more assertive consent-based decisions and practices of First Nations.”

Pasternak, who authored the first two chapters of the report—denial and recognition—said that her goal when researching The Red Paper was to bring together a group of people from various Indigenous communities and ask them, “What does consent mean to you?” 

“My motivation…is to hold my own government to account for its failures in its integrity to uphold treaties, to mitigate the damage that has been done and the ongoing strategies being done around this land possession,” she said. 

The second chapter discusses denial and is described by Patsernak as a “dismissal, refusal and a theft” of Indigenous land and the refusal to recognize Indigenous jurisdictions.

In Canada, land owned by the state or government is called “crown land.” Currently, 89 per cent of Canada is claimed by the state as crown land, leaving the rest as land held in private fees controlled by Indigenous Peoples via comprehensive land settlements, according to the paper.

The paper found that 81 per cent of injunctions filed by Indigenous people asking corporations to give their land back failed. 

The third chapter looks at forms of recognition by governments and other institutions. The researchers examine what “strategies have been developed by [the] government and private industry to address Indigenous demands for self-determination.”

Pasternak said that the effects of these private lands are disproportionately felt by women in these communities. 

The fourth chapter was authored by King and Riley Yesno, an Anishinaabe writer and student at the University of Toronto, hailing from Eabametoong First Nation who grew up in Thunder Bay, Ont.

King said that the paper engages Canadian proposals on reclamation in an alternative way by rooting it within Indigenous values. 

“Indigenous people have been campaigning for a just relationship with Canadians for a long time,” he said. 

At the launch event, four young Indigenous leaders were invited to participate in a panel. They discussed advocacy within their communities on land and water reclamation, as well as how future decisions relating to reclamation can be influenced. 

“One of the ways we see this work is through reclaiming our language and culture…When young people reclaim their language, it helps with reclamation to learn the land,” said Quinn Meawasige, who is Ojibwe from Serpent River First Nation.

“Understanding our relationship to the land is important to understand reclamation,” said Meawasige. 

Clyde Brandon Moonias, from Neskantage First Nation, has been an avid advocate for Indigenous land reclamation since 2011. Moonias said his work has to do with the climate crisis and Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land and water. 

Moonias told the audience that he thinks the best way for youth to get involved in advocacy is to strive to get into roles of authority. 

“It’s been very challenging, but rewarding,” he said. “As a young person who loves to hunt and fish on their land, having that youth voice is important in any community.”

Amy Norman, a land protector and activist from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., said she engages with the community through political memes. 

“I think you’re going to see our youth get stronger and stronger because of these really accessible means of communication,” she said. “There’s this generation who are growing up with a very robust political education because of memes.”

King ended off the event by discussing the final chapter in The Red Paper—reclamation—about how Indigenous communities are at the forefront of keeping up biodiversity during the climate crisis. 

“We can give land back to Indigenous people who have philosophies and practices to be in relationship with the land,” he said. “We can’t rely on our governments alone.”

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