Symposium explores identity through treaty law

Aboriginal forum looks at connections between race, community and land ownership in the Canadian legal system

Police officers speak at a symposium Sunday hosted by Four Directions Aboriginal Centre.
Police officers speak at a symposium Sunday hosted by Four Directions Aboriginal Centre.

Much of a discussion at an aboriginal issues symposium centered around land claim issues- something that hits close to Kingston since last week's confrontation between Tyendinaga Mohawks and Canadian military near Deseronto.

More than 200 people participated in the symposium, entitled "Race, Identity and the Law" and was organized by Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.

The symposium included speakers like Sam and Ron George, brothers of Dudley George, who was killed by an OPP officer at Ipperwash; Jane Chartrand, a former corrections officer at the Prison for Women; Michael Swinwood, a lawyer who started an organization to preserve Aboriginal teachers called Elders without Borders, the Queen's Aboriginal Law Students Association; and Chief Don Maracle from Tyendinaga.

Maracle presented a historical account of land claim issues in his community, which have resulted most recently in last week's confrontation between community members and Canadian military personnel over disputed land development.

"In our collective history, there has been a lot of crooked Indian agents and some Aboriginal chiefs that liked to drink. There's been a lot of manipulation and illegalities with our land ... It's left a terrible legacy of pain and suffering that our people are still trying to heal from," Maracle told the assembled audience. "Our young people are no longer patient and willing to wait for justice."

Four Directions Director Georgina Riel said this year's theme was chosen because of its relevance to current events in the Aboriginal community.

"With law, we can break it up to talking about historical contexts, contemporary court, laws, and issues in the last 12 years regarding Ipperwash, Oka, Burnt Church, Caledonia, and now Tyendinaga," she said. "Land claims and land that belongs historically to the people of the community are a legal matter, but they are also trying to restore the identity of the community and its culture.

"Race can be an issue, as well. It becomes racist [in] the relationship between the respective community and the OPP or non-Aboriginal people."

Swinwood is a lawyer involved in land claim disputes and other treaty actions, questioned the sovereignty of the Canadian government over land that previously belonged to Aboriginal people.

"The Canadian government exists as a consciousness of genocide, and as Albert Einstein said, 'Problems are never solved by the consciousness that made them,'" Swinwood said.

Directions administrative assistant Heather Green co-ordinated the symposium, now in its eighth year.

"We initially started to give students a place to present. It also allowed us to reach out across Canada. We have people come from the east and the west and the north and it's a good way of networking across Canada in things that are going on and of interest to the native communities. It's just grown exponentially since," she said "It's something that's beneficial to Queen's, Aboriginal peoples in the Queen's community and for the centre."

The Centre is located at 146 Barrie St.. It offers a library resource, teaching seminars and counselling and mentorship from a Nokomis, grandmother, and doda, grandfather, in residence to all students, staff and faculty, regardless of ancestry. It is also home to the Queen's Native Students Association.

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