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Aboriginal Summit Reactions

The recent Aboriginal Summit in Kelowna, British Columbia, drew the provincial and territorial premiers, the prime minister, and aboriginal leaders into two days of discussions about how to improve the living conditions of native people in Canada. The news coverage has emphasized the large sums of money governments are offering to rectify the problems native people face in Canada. (Here, Here (registration required); And see press releases from numerous aboriginal and government agencies at the Protecting Knowledge List.) As we anticipate the Canadian government falling on Monday, November 28, the cynical are touting these expenditures as pre-election payouts. The Summit, and the promised spending of 5 billion dollars, is, however, encouraging new discussions on radio and in print media about the situations native people face.

This afternoon, on Vancouver radio CKNW, callers to an open-line show discussed the impoverished lives of natives and what should be done about them. One caller caught my ear. He suggested, first, that a community 400km in the bush doesn’t work. The caller then asserted that ‘hunting and gathering is not viable in the 21st century.’ He did not elaborate upon the statement and the host didn’t question it.

It is the kind of statement that fascinates me particularly as I seek to understand why hunting remains such a critical marker of economy and identity for contemporary aboriginal peoples in northern Canada. In my mind, this is precisely the kind of statement which stigmatizes a hunting economy. It does not allow discussion of the varied economic ventures may people participate in, nor does it accept the importance of hunting in places where unemployment rates (for all sorts of reasons) are far above national levels. It simply confirms a stereotype that native people hunt, gather, and barely make-do and denies the complexity of lives and histories in native communities across Canada.

(The Protecting Knowledge List is compiled by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.)

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