Apr 08 2010

A morning with Molly Bono in Lumby

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Molly Bono, educator, speaker, moderator and active member of the Okanagan Shuswap First Nation came to Lumby to share the history of her people in the Okanagan.

We learned about the family structure within their community and their larger nation before the settlers moved in. We discussed the impact of European settlement and laws that oppressed the first nation people. I was surprised that this influence didn’t happen centuries ago – it’s within the generations of my own family history here in Canada. Sadly that negative impact is ongoing.

I don’t think I could do justice by trying to repeat Molly’s stories but this is what I took away from that meeting.

Europeans came and stole their land and destroyed natural food plants that once sustained them. Those plants had been nurtured and respected and protected by Native people for centuries. They were not important to the settlers who ploughed them into the ground to plant fruit trees and non native crops and turned their cattle out to graze on what remained.

Canada pushed her natives into reserves, making their way of life and their language illegal. Their families were in chaos but the Catholic Church offered to help by taking their kids away to teach them English. I think we all know about those schools and I was grateful that Molly left the residential saga out of her presentation.

It was illegal for natives to leave their reserve without a permit but they had to leave to get a permit so in order to comply with the law they had to break it. Many natives tried to change their way of life to comply with the law and those who rejected it, were jailed. To escape the oppression, some families went into the mountains but without a community network and access to year round natural food – they died.

Natives who served in the war lost their Indian status. White men who married native women became status Indians. Native women who married white men lost their status and I wondered how the people in Canada’s Government made laws without using common sense or logic. I’m sure other nonsensical laws and regulations were mentioned but the few I have presented brings to point Canada’s oppressive history. Our home on native land.

We had a lunch break and I met Dawn, a well spoken young native woman from the Niclola Valley – (near to the place where we sent cans of salmon). She pointed out that native people have to abide by the same rules for fishing as other Canadians. She may have the first right to fish but only when DFO opens the fishery. Last year DFO opened the river for two days but many people could not rearrange their lives to get to the river before it was closed.

I thought about that. We have been helping people with a first right to fish for food. People who had no fish last winter. If they were lucky enough to hear that the Fraser was open for fishing, they might make it to the river for those two days. A lot of them didn’t. There were not enough fish to keep the river open longer than two days and some people faced a hunger crisis because of it.

So what do you think when you hear that DFO has opened up the BC coast to sport fishing? To read about that, go to www.salmonguy.org I assume the elitist business of sport fishing is good for the economy. Did I wonder about past governments that drafted laws and regulations without using logic? What’s changed?

The more fish caught in sport means less fish can enter the Fraser to feed the first nation people. Fewer fish will spawn to prevent extinction. Open season for sporting shows little concern for people’s well being. Bill Chu may very well be right that Canada’s current policy on salmon may be a continuum of forced starvation. Less than 150 years ago over 150,000 First Nation people lived in the Okanagan Shuswap – now there are less that 6,000. I am very concerned that we may be a witness to the commission of an International crime.

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