My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part
Aboriginal Issues and Left Biocentrism
by David Orton
"Be careful lest, in casting
out your devils, you cast out the best that is within you."
Aboriginal-environmental relations became a particular concern for me in 1992, when I attended a forestry conference in northern Sweden as part of a Canadian delegation of environmentalists, and I had to deal with these relationships at the conference.(1) At the time, I found the only option offered to non-aboriginals like myself, was non-critical endorsement of indigenous-related forestry resolutions drafted by aboriginals and aboriginal advocates. I realized that to build real unity, there had to be an honest assessment of aboriginal relations to the environment (past and present), and this was not being done by the indigenous advocates.
Since then, a number of Green Web bulletins have been written, looking at how environmental- aboriginal relationships play out in land and marine use issues, and examining various related philosophical and theoretical questions. I feel that this has been new work, without any existing deep ecology signposts.(2) I believe what I write to be true in a Canadian context, but such an exploration has had a personal price.(3) Sometimes it seems that there is a contending of ultimate belief systems. While the well documented historical oppression and wretched personal condition of many aboriginal Canadians appear to confer a vigorously asserted moral high ground to aboriginal advocates, romanticizing the past and continually emphasizing the “historical guilt” of non-aboriginal Canadians (see below), ultimately does a disservice to all.
Today, what seems to have changed from my first involvement with aboriginal issues, is that there is a growing awareness of the potential conflicts between social justice for aboriginals, and environmental-social concerns and activism. (For example, David Suzuki was recently reported in the press as having spoken out against having gambling casinos on reserves.)(4). Support for indigenous peoples may conflict with the fundamental ecological beliefs of those with deep, non-human centered ethics. For example, land claims and treaty rights with alleged rights to "harvest" year-round, can seriously impact any protected areas or wildlife strategy, whether land or marine based. Contemporary human-centered disputes between aboriginals and non-aboriginals in Canada are being resolved at Nature’s expense by government bodies.
This bulletin aims to convey a left biocentric perspective
on issues concerning Canadian aboriginals.(5) It draws attention to, and brings
into critical consciousness, various taken-for-granted assumptions which
are brought to aboriginal discussions by aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike.
This is a complex and daunting task, perhaps particularly for a non-aboriginal.
There may seem to be a negative tone in this writing, but one has to consider
that a new position is being advanced in the form of a critique of current
views. Many issues have to be considered in trying to arrive at a deeper
position which respects the Earth and social justice. This is the
intent of a left biocentric position.
Feelings of what can be called "historical guilt" seem to interfere with deeper discussions and critical analysis. There is a real and horrible pattern of past institutionalized - repressive and assimilative - policies in Canada towards aboriginals. People of conscience in Canada, who I believe to be the majority, once they become aware of past policies imposed on aboriginals by the dominant society, often seem to feel this guilt. (I am not arguing that racism does not exist today in Canada. It does. But I am saying that it is not sanctioned overtly by the majority of the population or supported by bourgeois law or by official institutions.) Past policies such as the residential schools, which were literally designed "to kill the Indian in the child"; or past Indian Act policies of "enfranchisement", which meant that, for an aboriginal to succeed in something accorded status by the dominant society, such as gaining a university degree or becoming a church minister, he/she was declared 'free' of Indian status. However, guilt feelings often seem to shut off critical thinking or romanticize past aboriginal societies before European contact. Also, some aboriginals who want entry into industrial society, exploit these historical guilt feelings among non-aboriginals. Some aboriginals (and some aboriginal advocates) find it hard to leave behind a "victim mentality", as any reading of the aboriginal press shows, e.g. Mi’kmaq Maliseet Nations News, in the sense of applying a historical lens to contemporary issues, which are then misrepresented. We cannot live in the past, although the past must be acknowledged and understood.
Sometimes, aboriginals tap into and exploit their past experiences of racism, by falsely accusing critics of "environmental racism" - for example, when such critics raise environmental concerns and want protected areas, national parks, and wilderness areas not subject to any hunting, fishing, or trapping. Such charges amount to a form of psychological warfare designed to put environmentalists on the defensive and to advance a particular aboriginal agenda. Real environmental racism - such as the location of polluting industries which are race- (and class-) based; or low level military training flights where traditional aboriginal people live; or discrimination towards others based on skin colour, ethic origin or cultural background - is of course opposed by left biocentrists.
All of us, including aboriginals, have greatly benefited
from the destruction of Nature by industrial capitalist society. All of us
have also been imprinted by consumer culture. Of course, some have benefited
more, and if reparations are paid to aboriginals, a left biocentric class
perspective would insist that those who mainly benefited pay.
Differences or Unity?
There is more unity between aboriginals (however defined) and non-aboriginals in Canada, than there is disunity. Policies should strengthen this, since for a functioning society, some commonality of shared values is necessary. This is in opposition to the position advanced by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which continually stressed what it called “substantial cultural differences” between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians,(6) as do many aboriginal spokespersons. The Commission advanced that for aboriginals, the situation in Canada at the time of the initial contact with the European nations should be replicated today in some form. This disregards that there are far more people today in a culturally diverse Canada (30 million), and also disregards the negative impact of an industrial consumerist society, modern technologies, and the fundamental deterioration of the ecology. The Royal Commission proposals would mean regrouping aboriginal communities into nations (an estimated 50-80 in Canada), with a large land base. Aboriginals would have special privileges in wilderness areas denied to non-aboriginal Canadians, and hunting/trapping/fishing rights which would be denied to non-aboriginal Canadians on public (crown) lands. The right by aboriginals to exploit wildlife and nature - considered “resources”, is not challenged in the Royal Commission Report.(7)
Who is an Aboriginal?
When looking at Supreme Court rulings about treaty rights, or to whom do government settlement of land claims apply, it is important to know - who is an aboriginal? It is actually quite a contentious issue. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples states that criteria such as self-identity and being accepted by the appropriate aboriginal community, define who is an aboriginal. There must be, according to the Commission, some descendence from the original peoples of North America. The Commission was very much against any “blood quantum” criteria. Many aboriginal advocates would say, and I would agree with them, that “categories of aboriginality” have been created through Canadian law and have reflected in the past, Victorian ideas of race and patriarchy as expressed in the federal Indian Act. But paradoxically, some “status” reserve-based Indians, defined by the Indian Act, speak against the right of non-status Indians and Metis, to claim and enjoy benefits derived from Supreme Court rulings, from land claims or treaty settlements, or from Indian Act entitlements. This is not the position of the Royal Commission, which gives the view that any existing aboriginal social, economic and exploitive rights should apply to all peoples who consider themselves aboriginal, whether Metis, Inuit, and Indian (status and non-status, on-reserve and off-reserve). These disputes have important wildlife implications, e.g. who can hunt, fish, trap, gather (and sell) as an aboriginal. Government wildlife regulatory enforcement also reflects this ambivalence, as has become apparent in Nova Scotia. (Further potential deleterious fallout for wildlife is that non-aboriginals can start acting as if there is a wildlife free-for-all and no real regulatory authority.)
The Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 which states: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”, also defines, in a contemporary sense, categories of aboriginality - the “Rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada”. (Aboriginal peoples of Canada are defined as including Indian, Inuit and Metis peoples.) The Act has been used by aboriginals in the court system and in government negotiations, to advance treaty and land claims. The primacy of treaty rights and land claims is asserted in the Constitution, and various Supreme Court rulings give subjective interpretations of what this means. According to now existing bourgeois legalities, it is only by constitutional amendment or by surrender through treaty negotiations that aboriginal rights can be extinguished.
Different sources give different figures for the size of the aboriginal population in Canada. The Royal Commission uses a figure of under 3%, whereas Metis historian Olive Dickason in her book Canada’s First Nations, estimates that the Metis could make up as much as 16% of the total Canadian population.(8) Over half of Canada’s aboriginal population, including Metis, is now urban based, and this social trend is growing.(9)
As well as who is an aboriginal, an important question,
it seems, is what different values does an aboriginal person living under
the impact of industrial capitalist consumer culture in Canada have, compared
to a non-aboriginal, in regards to a land ethic and animistic spirituality?
Christianity has undermined traditional animistic beliefs which formerly guided
interaction with the natural world, and industrial capitalist society has
commodified Nature into “resources” and undermines an alternative land ethic.
One or Two Sets of Rights?
Left biocentrists do not support the view that there are two sets of rights today for Canadians, depending on whether one is socially categorized as an aboriginal or as a non-aboriginal. Because of an ultimate belief system rooted in support of the Earth, we uphold that only one set of human-made laws must guide interactions with wildlife and the environment for all. But on social, economic, cultural, health issues, etc. we believe in equity and understand that although we are all in this together, we are not starting at the same place. Left biocentrists are open to needed further discussions with aboriginals and other Canadians, about what special measures are required in order to alleviate the suffering currently being experienced by many aboriginals.
Left biocentrists acknowledge that indigenous peoples
have suffered disproportionately, and take as a given the position expressed
in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples:
"No matter which diseases and problems of social dysfunction are plaguing Canadians
generally, they are likely to be more severe among Aboriginal people."(10)
Therefore left biocentrists, while understanding that the industrial paradigm of values and institutions is not sustainable and must be fundamentally changed, accept that aboriginals should have the same rights as non-aboriginals to participate in this unsustainable paradigm (as in the lobster and other fisheries), and corresponding land use activities. We are, however, not going to stop fighting for Nature, for the total replacement of industrial capitalist society, and advocating patterns of respectful interaction with the natural world.
We do not support that past historical treaties from
two or three hundred years ago, can be considered as contemporary signposts
for ecological and social change. The treaties were signed to gain access
to lands the Indians occupied, and should be looked at as profoundly unjust,
imposed because of military power. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
stated that past treaties were agreements in good faith between two sovereign
entities and that these treaties, if creatively interpreted, are valid today.
I do not agree with this. Treaty interpretation, as diverse and split- decision
Supreme Court rulings show, is a very subjective affair. The colonial and
post-confederation Canadian governments always conceded hunting, fishing
and trapping rights in the treaties. Wildlife was seen as expendable and
this orientation continues today in Canada, in contemporary treaty negotiations
Then and Now
In the 70s, Thomas Berger conducted public hearings into the routing of a possible northern gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley, on behalf of the Canadian government. Overwhelmingly, the aboriginal people who spoke at the hearings opposed the pipeline. In his 1977 report Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, Berger recommended that no pipeline be built across the northern Yukon and that there be no pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley for ten years, in order to settle native land claims. His recommendations were accepted. CBC radio recently broadcast a three-part series on the demands today to build such a natural gas pipeline.(11) These demands are now supported by a number of the same aboriginal leaders who spoke against the pipeline project at the hearings in the 70s. Several examples were given on the program of “then” and “now” positions by various aboriginal spokespersons. Land claims have been mainly settled and several aboriginals, now in positions of authority - including a premier of the Northwest Territories, said “Now is the time to do business.” This is quite a good example of ultimate assimilation into the industrial growth paradigm of values. Once this happens, there is a disregard for environmental values such as the fossil fuel economy and global warming, to which the natural gas pipeline will significantly contribute, apart from the pipeline’s impact upon wildlife and the local environment.
Some Academic Corroboration
Two books published in 1999 which I previously reviewed,(12) provide additional information and support for the analysis about the romantization of past aboriginal relations to the environment. They are Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities by Rod Preece, and The Ecological Indian: Myth and History by Shepard Krech. Both the authors are academics and neither wrote consciously from a deep ecology perspective.
Rod Preece’s Animals and Nature stresses the
necessity of looking at aboriginal practices, not the ideals which are presented
for public consumption. A language of harmony with nature conceals for the
author, "relatively little consideration for animal suffering."(13) Like
left biocentrists, Preece sees the necessity for a spiritual transformation.
And he re-evaluates the Western intellectual tradition:
"The Western tradition, so readily castigated by its opponents, has not been so
uncaring as its depiction by detractors would have us believe... It should not
escape our attention that, in the nineteenth century, a vegetarian movement,
anti-vivisection movement, naturalist movement, and animal welfare
movement, and, in the twentieth century, an environmental movement and
animal rights movement all began, and in most cases have found the greatest
response, in Western society. Indeed, Western society's greatest critics are
themselves Westerners, and are products of a civilization that has promoted
and encouraged intellectual dissent to a far greater degree than any previous
society. The fact that Western civilization has treated the criticisms as
legitimate has given greater weight to those criticisms than would have been
the case in any other contemporary society. The West has certainly not been
immersed in the realm of nature; but at least it has been ambivalent." (14)
The book may be attacked as an apology for the Western intellectual tradition, but this, it is not. Intellectuals sometimes refuse to consider the positive features of present-day society, because of “historical guilt” about the treatment of indigenous societies, and an awareness of the ongoing, destructive "resourcism" of industrial capitalism. But like Preece, I believe that our guilt over the legacy and ongoing destructiveness of industrial capitalism has lead to a romantization of aboriginal societies as ecological and social models and an undue reverence for Eastern philosophies.
Shepard Krech’s book, The Ecological Indian: Myth
and History, examines in a careful and documented manner a question with
widespread contemporary political ramifications, that is, whether or not
indigenous peoples were in the past ecologists and conservationists, as understood
in a present-day sense. The author, an anthropologist, draws upon research
both from Canada and the United States. This book gives the evidence to show
that aboriginals cannot always be said to have been icons of harmonious co-existence
with Nature. Some important insights from The Ecological Indian:
1. Krech believes that Paleoindians played some role in the Pleistocene extinctions about 11,000 years ago, when many animal species vanished from North America, but that climate changes were more important. The author provides some important pieces of evidence upholding that there was some role by humans in the megafaunal extinctions.
2. North American Indians used fire extensively. The most important use was for subsistence. Other uses were for communication, aggression, and travel. Aboriginals played a role in maintaining some fire-succession ecosystems, says the author, and therefore North America was not some unmanipulated “Eden” when the first Europeans arrived. Aboriginal-lighted fires also destroyed habitat and killed elk, deer, buffaloes, wolves and beaver.
3. Krech clearly shows that before Europeans arrived in North America, Indians lived both harmoniously and recklessly, using generally accepted, environmental criteria, with regards to wildlife exploitation and the fur trade. The wasteful exploitation of wildlife (buffalo, deer and beaver), of which many examples are given in the book, were often justified from a specific indigenous cultural belief system. Thus at buffalo jumps, where buffalos were run off cliffs and some were left to rot, no animals could be permitted to escape because it was believed that such escaped animals would warn other buffalos, who would then no longer be available for hunters. A belief concerning beavers was that, provided beaver bones were treated respectfully, beavers would always be available. Hence beaver lodges could be trapped out and whole regions could be cleared of beavers. Such beliefs meant that animals could be slaughtered without thinking about the future, because the culture justified it.
In a context of the 21st century, we must take overall
ecological and social interests into account, and be prepared, if necessary,
to put aside cultural relativistic views of “rights” to exploit nature and
wildlife. I would say that today in Canada, there is a cultural relativistic
difference between most aboriginals and a growing number of non-aboriginal
people in the radical ecology movement. These are people who have an ecocentric,
non-human centered perspective, one that does not view nature and wildlife
as “resources”. This has been influenced by the deep ecology and animal rights
movements. As I have argued before (15), the policy proposals in the Report
of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and which are being advanced
by aboriginals, and Supreme Court decisions on aboriginals, will have negative
consequences for the future of wildlife, parks and wilderness in Canada.
This Report still promotes the fur trade today, recognizes no unhunted or
non-trapped wildlife sanctuaries which would be off-limits to aboriginals;
and maintains a human-use orientation towards wildlife. (And so do most aboriginals.)
Yet for those inspired by deep ecology, wildlife, plant life and all of wild
nature, have value in themselves, independent of their usefulness for human
purposes. Shepard Krech’s book shows there is no ‘Ecological Indian’ in the
commonly understood sense of being the first or true environmentalists.
Ownership of the Earth?
Prior to European contact in North America, sovereign indigenous societies exercised control over this land mass and they were dispossessed. Each aboriginal society had a Creation story (myth) which basically said that the specific aboriginal nation had been entrusted with looking after the plants, animals, rocks, waters, etc. in a particular area. The sacred duty was to preserve this for the unborn. This was not “ownership” either collectively or individually. In Canada, this becomes ownership today because land “claims” became transposed into a European-derived (mainly British but also French) legal system. This legal system is also essentially a social fiction with historical roots in imposed military/colonial power. “Ownership” then is not in keeping with traditional aboriginal teachings. Left biocentrists would not agree with aboriginal writers like Vine Deloria, Jr. who, in his book Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans And The Myth Of Scientific Fact, opposes the Bering Strait land bridge theory, and says:
“By making us immigrants to North America they are able to deny the fact that we
were the full, complete, and total owners of this continent.”(16)
Tecumseh, the Shawnee war chief (1768-1813), who opposed intertribal hostilities and sought to build unity, advocated throughout his life the concept of Pan-Indianism. This was an idea, also promoted by others since the 1780s, which saw the land as “common property”, belonging to all Indians, which could not be sold by individual tribes or nations to the U.S. or Canadian governments, but only with the consent of all aboriginal peoples. (17)
Among non-aboriginal anthropologists, there are now a number of different theories as to how the Americas were peopled by aboriginal peoples and the land bridge theory has apparently lost its ascendency as the theory of migration. This, to a large extent is based on the discovery and interpretation, using modern dating methods, of much older skeletal remains than accorded with the land bridge theory. That people originally came from somewhere else into the Americas, with human origins in Africa, remains however a basic belief. There is obviously a fundamental clash here with the basic aboriginal creation view, “we have always been here”, as part of North America.
Deep ecology is about holding the Earth, not the individual or the collective as sacred. I take this to mean that personal and collective ethics are not unimportant (or business ethics for that matter), but such ethics must primarily reorient to the sacredness of the Earth. This means that no one can “own” the Earth, whether individually or collectively. Ownership is a human-derived social fiction, designed to enforce control and utilization over the Earth and its life forms. Therefore, a left biocentric perspective is to oppose claims of ownership over Land - understood in Aldo Leopold’s sense as including soils, waters, plants and animals. Human occupancy of Land, whether recent or, as often claimed by aboriginals from “time immemorial”, does not give “ownership”. Thus no one (aboriginals, the “Crown” [the Canadian government] or non-aboriginal Canadians), can have “title”, that is ownership of the land called Canada. Aboriginal rights in a modern context, become some kind of reconciliation of these claims each of which, from a left biocentrist perspective, rests on the false premise of “ownership.” This is what court rulings on aboriginal related issues are all about and why they cannot be philosophically accepted.
We humans make use of or impact the Earth either respectfully
(bearing in mind the interest of all other species), or selfishly and destructively.
To argue for a non-human centered view on property ownership, left biocentrists
have to outline some kind of usufruct right (right of enjoyment and use),
which respects and is bound to uphold the community of all life forms. Rights
would then become subordinate to responsibilities to such a community, and
would bind all Canadians. Usufruct rights and obligations would revert back
to the community (understood in a deep ecology sense) on the person’s death.
As we know, when humans feel responsible for an area where they live, they
can become Earth defenders, not just Earth destroyers. (Some “defenders”
attempt to remake nature to try to remove “wildness” and to shape it in a
human image.) Aboriginal communal and common ownership traditions, have a
lot to contribute to this required new thinking around usufruct rights and
A new society has to build on the best in the old, of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal thinking. We have to start working together on taking back some ecocentric control of our communities. For example, the extensive crown lands and inshore marine waters should be managed through an accountable leasing system. To take one area - the commercial fishery on the East Coast of Canada needs to be reoriented to a small boat, near-shore fishery, its overall intensity drastically scaled back, and governed by a respectful ecocentric ethic. No destructive fishing technologies to bottom habitat or to other marine species would be utilized. This fishery would be accountable to the appropriate coastal guardian community and fully accessible to aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike. Fishers, whether aboriginal or non-aboriginal, are but one, although important, component of such a community. (A community which consists of humans, marine plants and animals, including the fish themselves.) Coastal citizens also would have access to a food fishery. In the commercial fishery, no individual fisher or corporation would be able to acquire a vested financial interest.(18) On leaving the fishery, licenses would return to the guardian community. An ecocentric social ethic says that licenses or quotas will not be bought, traded or sold for profit.(19)
Learning from Aboriginals
Left biocentrists can learn from and unite with those traditionalist aboriginals who retain an animist spirituality i.e. “all my relations”, and a “seventh generation” outlook. Basically, apart from much compatibility with the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform, what is to be learned is that traditionalist aboriginals, like Aldo Leopold, have extended a human-centered ethics. This is rooted-in-place but is ultimately a self-interested land ethic, or “deep stewardship”. With animism, the salmon and bear sacrifice themselves for the aboriginal hunter, not the hunter to the bear or the salmon. (Deep ecology supporters have a profound ambivalence about hunting or the “use” of animals, with many being vegetarians. But, as noted in Part II of the My Path bulletin, “it is important to not oppose subsistence hunting or trapping by native or non-native Canadians who live in rural Canada.”) Yet Nature is part of human consciousness in an animistic world. David Suzuki points out the “self-interest” dimension:
“Aboriginal people’s relationship with other life-forms comes from a deep respect
that is ultimately self-interested.”(20)
The “seventh generation” concept is human-centered, but a long term view is taken over several generations. This is far from industrial society’s immediate and destructive impact on the natural world, with no thought for tomorrow. “All my relations” conveys more of an ecocentric awareness.
Deep ecology supporters need to see that “human-centered” can cover a vast range of ethical behaviours, that is, from destructive self-interest with no concern for Nature or anyone else, to animism’s “all my relations” and “seventh generation” ethical standards. One must therefore question the current use of the term “anthropocentrism”, which for deep ecology supporters usually only has negative connotations. Philosophically, for left biocentrists and for supporters in general of deep ecology, while their philosophy can learn from and build on aboriginal traditional thought, there still is a need to ultimately move beyond the human-centered deep stewardship position. But this traditional thought has shown us the progressive side of anthropocentrism.
One of the important concepts in deep ecology is Self-realization.
But this “expanded ecological self” is divorced from the “sense of place”
of traditional aboriginalism, or the bioregionalism focus in much of deep
ecology. Left biocentrists believe that “living in place” is a necessary
part of any deeper environmental ethic. In this sense, I believe that the
expanded ecological self can be enriched by traditional aboriginal perspectives.(21)
This is also pertinent to the earlier discussion of usufruct rights and obligations,
land ownership, and deep ecology.
Being a non-aboriginal or an aboriginal in Canada does not define a person. What defines someone are their values and beliefs, and how one relates to the natural world and to other human beings. This essay shows that to build the needed new relationship to nature and to each other, we must unite with what is positive in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal society and discard the negatives. So we cannot romantically believe, that all was beautiful in pre-contact indigenous societies in the Americas. And, we cannot throw out everything from “Western” society because of historical guilt about past treatment of aboriginals, and because of the ongoing industrial destruction of the Earth. There are many people who have been raised under industrial capitalism, and who like me identify with a radical ecological and social vision. As Nietzsche says in his quote (which sets a theme for this paper), we do indeed have devils to cast out, but there is a positive side to the Western intellectual tradition. The way forward is to combine the best from traditional aboriginal and non-aboriginal belief systems. This is the promise of left biocentrism.
In Canada and throughout the world, we need to create new cultures grounded in respect for the Earth and social justice. We must search in our actions and beliefs for the common ecological good for all species and the common social good for all the people. None of this is possible with the continuation of industrial capitalist society. Ultimately, in this new century, our thinking must advance that humans and their priorities are subordinate to the “larger than human” priorities of the Earth - the essential deep ecology and left biocentric position. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike must organize our affairs accordingly, and make the institutional and value changes to exit this Earth-, soul- and people-destroying society.
1. See Green Web Bulletin #36, “Jokkmokk Perspective: What is causing the destruction of the boreal forests?”, February 1993. A nine-page theoretical perspective by D. Orton on some of the issues which emerged at the founding conference of the Taiga Rescue Network.
2. Discussions on aboriginal-related issues, which have taken place in the internet group “left bio, have also contributed to my understanding and are here acknowledged.
3. I have encountered personal abuse from some aboriginal and non-aboriginal advocates, because of the views I advocated for discussion, e.g. during the organizing for, and at the 1995 Learned Societies Conference in Montreal, where the initial public discussion on aboriginal-environmental relations took place.
4. Suzuki was emphasizing economic self reliance on reserves, see story covered in The Chronicle Herald, in May 19, 2000. If one opposes gambling and the selling of tobacco products in non-aboriginal society, then it is not hypocritical to do the same for such activities on aboriginal reserves. Revenue generation becomes directly linked with the promotion of negative social values, a lesson that provincial and federal governments will not acknowledge.
5. This bulletin is a continuation of the series of articles on “My Path to Left Biocentrism.” (See previous Green Web bulletins #63: Part I - The Theory, #64: Part II - Actual Issues and #70: Part III - Handling Contradictions.) For a discussion of left biocentrism as a theoretical tendency within the deep ecology movement, these bulletins can be considered together. The bulletins are available on our web site: http://fox.nstn.ca/~greenweb/ The “Aboriginal Issues” discussion in Part II of “My Path” (bulletin #64), focussed on forestry-related issues. This commentary in Part IV is more general. There are now ten bulletins (including this one) on aboriginal issues. #43-48, 50, 51, 67 (A&B), and 71.
6. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Vol. 1 (Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1996), p. 32. This five-volume report is the most comprehensive review ever done in Canada devoted to the aboriginal peoples. Its work started in 1991. There were four aboriginal and three non-aboriginal commissioners appointed. More than 350 research investigations were commissioned and close to 1,000 written submissions were received. Newspaper reports said that this Royal Commission cost $58 million, the most expensive in Canadian history.
7. The general documentation for the views of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the critique in this paper of those views, are given in Green Web Bulletin #67 (A&B), “Unfashionable Ideas: A Left Biocentric Critique of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples”, April 1999.
8. Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada’s First Nations: a History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (McClelland and Stewart, 1992), p. 365.
9. The term “First Nations”, in widespread use in Canada, excludes Metis and Inuit, even though they are considered aboriginal peoples according to the Constitution Act. Most Canadians (including myself for a long time), erroneously assume the term “First Nation” applies to all aboriginal people in Canada. The Royal Commission Report notes, “First Nation means an Aboriginal nation composed of Indian people.” (Vol. 2, Part 1, p. 107) According to the Indian Act, an Indian means a person registered as an Indian or entitled to be registered according to the Act. First Nations is an exclusionary and discriminatory term towards other aboriginals. I also find “native” and “non-native” discriminatory terms. “Native” implies being rooted in place and “non-native,” even if born in Canada, implies without roots.
10. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Vol. 3, p. 201.
11. The three part series was broadcast in April-May, 2000 on Radio I of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
12. See Rod Preece, Animals and Nature: Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities (UBC Press, 1999) and Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (W.W. Norton & Company, 1999). The review of the Preece book was written in September 1999, the Krech review in October 1999. Both reviews were circulated on the internet and are available from the Green Web. The Preece review was published in the Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, Vol.2:3 (1999).
13. Preece, p. 193.
14. Ibid, p. 7.
15. See Green Web Bulletins 67A and 67B, “Unfashionable Ideas: A Left Biocentric Critique of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples”.
16. Vine Deloria, Jr., Red Earth White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact (Scribner, 1995), p. 84.
17. John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life (Henry Holt And Company, 1997).
18. By virtue of holding a lobster license which can now reportedly cost up to three hundred thousand dollars.
19. It is ironic that inshore non-aboriginal fishers who often speak against ITQs (individual transferable quotas) because of the “price” which accrues to quota allocation, frequently ending up in corporate concentrations, through the cost of lobster licenses have their own vested “private property” economic interest. Aboriginals entering the fishery are being pressured by governments and non-aboriginal fishers to play by the iniquitous, human and corporate centered rules now in place.
20. David Suzuki, in Peter Knudtson & David Suzuki, Wisdom of the Elders (Stoddard Publishing, 1992), p. xxviii.
21. This important insight is from the ecofeminist Val Plumwood, who notes
how many “modern conservationists” as well as indigenous peoples have this
love of place. See her essay, “Nature, Self, and Gender: Feminism, Environmental
Philosophy, and the Critique of Rationalism”, Environmental Philosophy:
From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, first edition, by Michael Zimmerman,
general editor (Prentice Hall, 1993), p. 297.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the many people who have engaged in discussions with me (sometimes heated) on aboriginal issues over a number of years. I would also like to thank the members of the internet discussion group left bio, where discussions have taken place on aboriginal issues. I have freely drawn from such discussions. In regards to this particular bulletin, I would like to thank the following activists who critically read this document in draft form, contributed their ideas, and share the basic analysis: Helga Hoffmann, Ian Whyte, Sharon Labchuk, Billy MacDonald, Mike Novack, Bernadette Romanowsky and Owen Hertzman.
Green Web, R.R. #3, Saltsprings, Nova Scotia, Canada, BOK 1PO
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