OTHER VOICES: On First Nations, 1996 attitude lingers

Sometimes we seem stuck in the 1990s. While I would argue the music was pretty great back then – grunge was “all that and a bag of chips” – this country’s relationship with its First Nations really wasn’t.

As a non-native journalist on Squamish Nation territory, I sometimes find myself surrounded by other non-natives as they discuss the motives and actions of the Nation, specifically its decisions around the liquefied natural gas facility. I’ve heard intelligent, thoughtful “white” people say things about First Nations that make me wonder if Jean Chrétien is still in power and Eaton’s still anchors the mall (Google it, kids).

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Things such as “Maybe they don’t know what is really happening,” or “They must have been bought off,” or “That other nation is against project X; why isn’t the Squamish Nation?”

The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples found most non-natives viewed First Nations in very stereotypical ways. Common stereotypes of the time included First Nations as victims, noble environmentalists or angry warriors. Listening to how the Squamish Nation is talked about on both sides of the LNG debate it seems we haven’t come very far since then. Some against the project talk of the Nation as duped by the evil companies; some in support of the project hold up Nation support as proof the project must be environmental; still others sound as if they would like to see the Nation blockade or take up arms, rather than negotiate for itself around a boardroom table.  

The quizzical comparison of one nation to another borders on laughable. My best friend and I are both pale and of European descent, but we sometimes disagree on politics, board games and sausage. (I am opposed to the latter.) How totally ludicrous to think one entire group of people will agree with another because they are both First Nations.

While there may be plenty of reason to disagree with the decision of the Squamish Nation to conditionally support both the Woodfibre LNG project and the pipeline – some Nation members have loudly done so themselves – we need to check our stereotypes. Agree or disagree, we must do so in a way that honours the complexity of the issues and each other. Otherwise, we will remain in the 1990s forever, and no one wants that – even if it did have those sexy threadbare wool sweaters.

Jennifer Thuncher is a roving reporter at North Shore News’ sister paper The Squamish Chief. She can be found chasing down politicians or elk and everything in between, depending on the day. jthuncher@squamishchief.com

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