The so-called New Nations such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc., created by European colonialism bulldozing indigenous nations, their sovereignty and territoriality in those lands, are now in the forefront in preaching ‘multiculturalism’ of their understanding even to the contexts of nations facing genocide in the Old World. In an exclusive interview to TamilNet, Ms Sylvia McAdam of the Nehiyaw nation in today’s Canada, while exposing the deception in the kind of multiculturalism the Establishments preach, asserts the identity of indigenous nations, their territory, their right to protect environment and their sovereignty not ceded or surrendered. Sylvia makes contrast to Canadian ‘multicultural’ minister avoiding the issues of genocide, colonization, grab of land and denial of sovereignty faced by the nation of Eezham Tamils.
“My people are called Nehiyaw, we’re referred to as the Cree Nation from what is called Canada now, but we call it Turtle Island,” said Ms McAdam, beginning her interview.
Referring to other such indigenous nations in Canada, Sylvia said, “First Nations is a term given to us by the Canadian State […] but we prefer to call ourselves in our language.”
Explaining her visit to London, she said that it was to tell London citizens what the Monarch [the Monarch of the UK is also the Monarch of Canada] and the Canadian State are doing to the First Nations.
“For the First Nations people we’ve experienced colonialism and genocide, and part of that colonialism and genocide is that the resources are being extracted from our lands and the Indigenous people do not get anything– they get nothing out of that. But the biggest issue here is the land and the resources and the waters are getting damaged because of colonialism and the genocide that is happening to Indigenous people,” Sylvia said.
She referred to a treaty the First Nations had with the Monarch of England and said that the treaty is not honoured.
A part of honouring the treaty is [accepting] that “our resources and our lands are un-ceded and un-surrendered, and that’s not what’s happening” Sylvia said.
On the talk of multiculturalism, Sylvia said Canada’s practices don’t support what it tells the world.
“For the longest time we were not allowed to practice our culture; we were jailed or we were fined, and this continued until the later 1960’s,” she said, adding that what is happening right now is Canadian parliament passing an omnibus bill that is going to damage the waters and environment of the First Nations and thus going to affect their culture.
Ms. McAdam said that another reason for her visit to London was to connect to other indigenous nations in the world facing similar situations.
“Ever since Idle No More [the organisation co-founded by her] began, there’s other Indigenous nations contacting us and telling us they’re facing very similar things, so we’re learning,” she said.
When asked what is her message to refugees coming to Canada and think that by cooperating with the Canadian Establishment justice could be get, she replied: “I would suggest that they get informed about the history of the colonization in Canada and then make their own decision.”
“Because there are good things about Canada, it does provide good things; but there are things that are not good about it either. So they need to get themselves all of that information and then make a decision for themselves,” she added.
Her words to Eezham Tamils in the island were that they should maintain the language, care for the land, and never give up their foundations of nationhood and indigenous sovereignty.
Diaspora activists who went through the video of the interview commented that it should be an eye-opener to sections of elitists in captivity in the island and in the diaspora, who try to relay that certain fundamentals are negotiable and could be ceded or surrendered just because some Establishments of vested interests press for it.
Never commit the historical blunder of formally giving up the sovereignty and territoriality of the nation of Eezham Tamils in the island, the diaspora activists said, adding that the Eezham Tamils should realize that the World is full of Nations sharing their plight and they should only know how to get mobilized.
The interview also is a message to the diaspora to consciously take care of certain symbolic matters such as asserting to the Eezham Tamil identity and rejecting the Sri Lankan identity even in ordinary speech, they commented further.
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Full text of the interview follows:
TamilNet: Hello Sylvia McAdam, so let me start the interview with a very important question to your people and your nation, a question about identity. How do you identify yourself as?
Sylvia McAdam: My people are called Nehiyaw, we’re refered to as the Cree Nation from what is called Canada now, but we call it Turtle Island.
TamilNet: Why do you call it Turtle Island, and why not Canada?
Sylvia: Before the Europeans came to our lands that’s what we called it, is Turtle Island; it translates into Turtle Island.
TamilNet: Now there are different terms which have been used, both by Europeans and by your own people to describe your people. Yes?
TamilNet: For instance, I will just give you a very brief list of the different terms used: Tribes, Aborigines, Minorities, and First Nations. Why have you chosen the terms which you have chosen to describe your nation?
Sylvia: Because that is what we called ourselves before the Europeans came to our territories. That’s our traditional names.
TamilNet: Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
Sylvia: It’s a part of our Indigenous sovereignty, to refer to ourselves, to our Indigenous names. I cannot call other nations Nehiyaw, because they’re distinct as well. There is the Dakato, Nakota, Lakota, the Dene, Nakawey, the Soodo, the Ojibwe are all different nations.
TamilNet: Could you elaborate a bit more on the idea of First Nations? How is it different from the new nations?
Sylvia: The First Nations is a term given to us by the Canadian state. So, it’s a political term not an inherent, pre-existing, before European contact name.
TamilNet: So the term First Nation is based on European contact?
TamilNet: How is it different from the European concept of nation?
Sylvia: It’s not that different, but we prefer to call ourselves in our language. But it is almost the same. If I wanted to translate it into English, I guess that’s the term people will use.
TamilNet: Now let us talk about the politics of Canada or as you would call it, Turtle Island. Now as you know Canada is also a preferred destination for many other refugees, especially Tamils. Some of these new refugees who themselves have fled from genocidal regimes have tried to coopt themselves into Canadian politics, they prefer to work with the Canadian establishment. Do you think that is a successful strategy? They think that by cooperating with the Canadian establishment they can win their rights. Do you think it’s a very successful strategy?
Sylvia: For the First Nations people we’ve experienced colonialism and genocide, and part of that colonialism and genocide is that the resources are being extracted from our lands and the Indigenous people do not get anything– they get nothing out of that. But the biggest issue here is the land and the resources and the waters are getting damaged because of colonialism and the genocide that is happening to Indigenous people. That is one of the reasons I am here, to tell the London citizens what the Monarch and the Canadian state are doing. There is a treaty in place with the Indigenous people and the Monarch of London and that is not being honoured; and part of honouring that treaty is that our resources and our lands are unceded and unsurrendered, and that’s not what’s happening.
TamilNet: Yes, but what would be your message to those refugees who think that by cooperating with the Canadian establishment they can get justice. Do you think that is possible, or do you think they’ll have to explore alternative methods?
Sylvia: I would suggest that they get informed about the history of the colonization in Canada and then make their own decision. Because there are good things about Canada, it does provide good things; but there are things that are not good about it either. So they need to get themselves all of that information and then make a decision for themselves.
TamilNet: Now, Canada has a history of celebrating multiculturalism, for instance even the Canadian Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, he says that Canada is a place where we tolerate diversity, pluralism, and all of that. What is your opinion on the Canadian version of multiculturalism?
Sylvia: Well, I’ll give you an example. There is something called the Indian Act that governs the lives of Indigenous people. For the longest time we were not allowed to practice our culture; we were jailed or we were fined, and this continued until the later 1960’s. So for Canada to put to the world that they are multicultural, when their practices don’t support that…? The other thing that’s happening to Indigenous culture right now is that there are bills going through parliament, right now, that don’t support our culture. Our waters, there is an omnibus bill – C45 – that has become law, and it is going to damage the waters because the environmental assessments have been lowered. Therefore, water is fundamental to Indigenous culture and the water and the use of the water, when the companies come in they damage the water and the land so that makes it difficult for Indigenous people to practice their culture if the land and the water is damaged.
TamilNet: Your movement speaks a lot about preserving Indigenous cultures and traditions, how do you do that?
Sylvia: You see there is this idea out there that Indigenous people do not have laws, but we do, we have laws and those laws tell us to protect the land and the water. And part of protecting the land and the water protects the animals, the trees, all these different environmental things. Because Indigenous people we still eat from the land, our medicines are growing from the land, there are certain medicines that are picked and used by water – fresh water that comes from the ground. The animals are needed for our ceremonies; there are some ceremonies that we cannot do without having animals, the food, the meat and different things like that. As well as our drums, our ceremonial items, they are made from animal skins and animal bones, so our culture is integral to the land and the water.
TamilNet: Do you connect to other oppressed Indigenous communities and other oppressed nations which are facing similar overt forms of oppression?
Sylvia: We’re trying now. We’re trying. Ever since Idle No More began there’s other Indigenous nations contacting us and telling us they’re facing very similar things, so we’re learning. That’s one of the reasons why I am in London as well, to connect with other Indigenous people.
TamilNet: Let us talk about Idle No More. What are the primary and secondary goals of Idle No More?
Sylvia: The primary goal of Idle No More is the resurgence of Indigenous sovereignty and the protection of land and water. The secondary, is to resist those bills that are going through Parliament that are devastating to the land and to the water, that is the immediate, immediate effect and impact of those bills.
TamilNet: You are one of the co-founders of Idle No More.
Sylvia: I am.
TamilNet: How did you start from a group of women to such a large grassroots mobilization?
Sylvia: Three of the women are Indigenous, and the other one is a white woman she is part of our group. We tell people, we tell them, we don’t want them to join our movement – we don’t want them to join this movement – out of guilt or anger or feelings of not being peaceful. We want people to join this movement for the love of the land and the water, and for the love of all children. Every child deserves clean water and land that is safe for them to go to. That’s what we tell people, and so far it seems to be working.
TamilNet: What is your strategy for such large scale mobilizations which has been very successful?
Sylvia: We do what we call teach-ins, and I am going to be doing that right away here. We teach people, we provide information: what is bill C-45, how is it going to impact people. Immediately it’s going to impact Indigenous people and Canadian citizens in Canada, but on a bigger scale we all share the same water. If the water in Canada becomes contaminated – and it has the biggest fresh water bodies of water and waterways – if those become contaminated it is going to effect the whole world.
TamilNet: As a last question, the Eelam Tamils are a nation who are facing a protracted genocide in their homeland, which is currently occupied by the Sri Lankan military. Now one of the aspects of this genocide is a corporate-military nexus, which is robbing the resources of the Eelam Tamils and involving in environmentally unfriendly activities: deforestation, land grabs, and building up of business resorts and tourism resorts. This is changing not only the demography of the Tamil homeland, but also the ecology of the Tamil homeland. What is your message as a representative of the First Nations, who has suffered genocide, to these people?
Sylvia: Maintain your language. Care fore your land. Teach your children your songs. Teach your children your ceremonies. Talk to your land, nurture it and heal it through your ceremonies and through your songs, and through your language. Go to your elders and understand the laws of your land, understand the laws of your ceremonies, because those are the ones that are the foundations of your nationhood, and the foundations of your Indigenous sovereignty. Never give those up. And always maintain your peace, because the trees, the land, the medicine, they all have a spirit; and if you attend to them and nurture them in a peaceful way, your lands will begin to return to you.
TamilNet: Thank you very much Sylvia McAdam, it was a pleasure having you here.
Sylvia: Thank you.