Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta held a Parent Conference in Slave Lake March 22 and 23. The Leader was able to make it for just one of the sessions, which was on Cree law by Sylvia McAdam.
McAdam is a lawyer and professor from Saskatchewan who was a founding member of the ‘Idle No More’ movement. She has written about Cree law, and that was the theme of her presentation, although it veered fairly sharply off at times into political exhortation. McAdam didn’t pull a lot of punches in denouncing ‘the system.’
But first things first. McAdam introduced her listeners to several concepts of moral law in Cree tradition. She described the “core laws,” which deal with how a person should behave toward others, toward nature and so on. Her presentation went from English and into Cree and back and forth like that. Many – perhaps most – of her listeners were fluent in Cree. Unfortunately this reporter was not one of them. Those who were seemed to respond well to what she was saying.
McAdam left no doubt in anyone’s mind how she feels about what she called “the moniyaw economy,” and how it is “poisoning the land and water.” She characterized it as “war on our people.”
What the alternatives to the modern economy might be McAdam did not go into, though her vision seemed to have much in common with the ‘back to the land’ ethic of past decades. It likely puts her out of step with many of the First Nations governments and people, who are very much a part of the modern economy and are striving for a bigger role. She urged resistance.
“Half the Treaty Chiefs are there (Ottawa) negotiating your rights away,” she said. Speaking of something called the First Nations Land Management Act, which gives First Nations more control over their land, McAdam said it’s “in complete violation of treaty.” She called it an attempt to extinguish treaties.
McAdam closed her presentation with an uplifting and funny story about her uncle. A drinker, he’d been found frozen to death (so they thought) on the side of a road one morning. Taken to the morgue, he was in there for three days before he woke up, got up and started banging on the locked door. He gave the attendant a terrible fright, which was the funny part. But he also brought back some wisdom from ‘the other side.’
People are breaking the four sacred laws, he said. These are: – to take care of orphan children, to not gossip, to be grateful instead of jealous and to not be greedy.
In the question period that followed, a woman from the Driftpile Cree Nation, lamenting the division within the Indigenous community, asked what can be done to bring the people together.
“The answer is within all of you,” McAdam said. “How much do you love the land and water?” Other presenters at the Treaty 8 Parent Conference were Ray Peters on ‘Elders Principles’, Janice Makokis on ‘TRC’ and ‘UNDRIP’ (Truth and Reconciliation Commission and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and Clayton Kootenay on the Indigenous Knowledge & Wisdom Centre.
Around 25 people were in attendance for McAdam’s presentation.