Eighth Fire Blog
By: Jenna Cameron
Janurary 19, 2012
Last Thursday’s preview of the much-anticipated CBC program 8th Fire did not disappoint. The first hour of the four part documentary focused upon contemporary Indigenous issues with a focus on Aboriginal-Settler relations. Likely, for many Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and any settler who has delved into the true history of Canada, the program did not present any new information. However, I know from four years of receiving blank stares as I tell friends and family what I am studying, that this program would truly be shocking to many “newcomers”, yes I am looking at you and your and your 8th generation Canadian grandma. But the fact that this “breaking news” is being told entirely through Indigenous voices is significant. I was impressed by the CBC’s dedication to presenting this brief history and quick overview of current Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations entirely from the perspective of Aboriginal Peoples. Mainstream media outlets in Canada rarely present Indigenous issues from this perspective, relegating this sort of news coverage and analysis to “alternative” media outlets [insert shameless plug for RedAlliances Media here].
CBC’s effort to tell this story through Indigenous voices responds in a powerful way to the ignorance and lack of communication which supports the colonial divisions within the Canadian state and First Nations. Furthermore, by prominently and continuously using Indigenous artists to carry the narrative, 8th Fire, CBC highlights the vast amount of talent within Aboriginal communities today. The impact of creative industries for First Nations economically, socially and politically should not be underestimated. Over 3000 Aboriginal Peoples in Canada earn their living from the arts. As the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population (45% growth between 1996 and 2001), with half of the population under the age of 24, the contribution of First Nation artists to creative industries will be significant. Not to mention the human capital of the numerous inspiring professionals, community leaders and activists also involved in Thursday’s program.
However, this program also highlighted another powerful and indeed more contentious form of capital held by First Nations; land and the natural resources within. The CBC premiered another program last week that interacted with this issue more directly; Arctic Air debuted last Tuesday to rave reviews. The first episode focussed the main character, Bobby Martin`s, return to the North West Territories to take advantage of the resource boom currently occurring on or in proximity to traditional lands in the region. Bobby seemed the human embodiment of this contemporary dilemma as he struggled with the tension between his traditional beliefs, ties to the land, responsibility to his community and the desire to be economically prosperous and responsive to the pressures from his southern colleagues and his career in Calgary.
This is a conflict which plays out daily in many First Nations, most notably today in the Enbridge Pipeline debate. As the global demands for these finite resources steadily increase, First Nations must continuously engage with the political and economic forces of capitalism, as they have for over 200 years. Efforts to temper these engagements with traditional culture, environmental awareness and community responsibility depend upon strong governance and self-determination. As I sit at my desk, a beneficiary of my resource hungry and environmentally destructive state who am I to say First Nations today should not take advantage of the environmental capital they rightfully hold? That`s where that human capital we talked about earlier comes into play, this is a discussion to be had within First Nation`s and then with the broader Canadian society, I think that these two programmes are showing the diversity and complexity of this discussion. I know I for one will be tuning in again tonight!
The Eighth Fire Episodes 3 and 4
By: Jenna Cameron
February, 16 2012
Episode 3, Who’s Land is it Anyway?, opens with Oosoyoos First Nation Chief Clarence Louie reminding viewers that the theft of 4000 acres of their traditional land caused his and past generations to struggle with poverty. However, instead of investing in Land Claim negotiations, the Oosoyoos have chosen to invest in the resources they were able to keep. Oppositionally, the James Bay Cree forced the government and the public to recognize their rights to land, investing emotionally and financially in what would make history in 1975 as the largest native land claim in the world. The James Bay Cree then used this land to achieve similar economic success. Both First Nations were able to develop economically and maintain land for traditional uses. However, social problems persist and the experiences of Schefferville and the Nisichawayasihk Cree nation in Manitoba illustrate the diversity of the Indigenous experience in Canada, how words like Aboriginal, Native and First Nation can have the effect of masking, for good or bad, the haphazard and complicated history and present reality of colonization.
In discussing the place of land and control of it, the series naturally moves to focus on the formation of Nunavut in 1992. This brought back some interesting memories for me, funny how knowledge can taint your childhood memories! I recall learning, as a grade two student, that Canada, “we” were getting a new territory. The throat singing, traditional drumming, Inuktitut, heck the existence of Inuit peoples themselves never entered into my understanding of that territory at the time. I was taught, in a publicly run institution that this moment was about polar bears and national pride, Canadian national pride.
I hope that series such as The 8th Fire, and projects such as Red Alliances Media, can rework this understanding for my own children. Knowledge is absolutely essential to any sort of reconciliation process. The hard work of the First Nations University, the youth in Attiwapiskat, Dr. Stanley Vollant, and the countless others highlighted in this series, are testaments to the dedication to improve Native education from within. I wonder when we, as settlers will work to improve our own education. If you would like to review the curriculum yourself, follow the link below to explore the general absence of First Nations’ history and total nonexistence of reference to the negative impacts of colonial interactions, especially beyond confederation
Since the CBC is a publically funded corporation perhaps the provincial Ministries of Education could get a super deal on copies of The 8th Fire to be integrated into high school curriculum? Imagine if each grade 10 history class had the opportunity to watch this series and discuss in a safe, educational environment the issues raised?
The fourth episode of The 8th Fire demonstrated the preparation, protest and educational campaigns occurring as First Nations communities across the country organize to fight the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. We cannot allow this country to be torn apart again, not another Oka, Caledonia or Ipperwash. We cannot handle it, and education is central to fulfilling the visions of hope described at the end of this final episode. Central to the building the 8th Fire.