On Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, STU Native Awareness Days began with a potluck social and drumming session that featured the St. Mary’s First Nation Muskrat Singers. Approximately 40 participants gathered to enjoy the opener at Holy Cross Conference followed by a lecture featuring Chief Hugh Akagi from St. Andrews, New Brunswick.
For the Passamaquoddy of St. Andrews the issues they have been experiencing are seldom heard in the media. For Chief Akagi the issues are part of a constant and difficult struggle surrounding Passamaquoddy perspectives and their Indian Status recognition in Canada.
He asked what had gone wrong between the Passamaquoddy and the “other” people. In his experience he views the concept of State consultation with Aboriginal Peoples as something ultimately used against the Indian, to destroy their environment.
Earlier that evening, Hugh set up a kiosk display made of cedar in the lobby of Holy Cross that addressed Aboriginal Oral Knowledge, or as he called it, “A-ok.”
He said, “It’s to make them understand that when you hear our people, when you interact with our people, you share in it and the knowledge goes back and forth. It’s not something one culture can use to take advantage of another.” For Hugh it represents a meaningful technique in the sharing of aboriginal oral knowledge.
“Natives value their people while the other society values their infrastructure. But they seem to have forgotten to appreciate their people,” he said. “How can we possibly believe that our elders could be replaced by paper, steel and glass while we store our knowledge in our elders?” he asked.
Hugh Akagi brought to the conference a real dilemma with Canada which involves the Passamaquoddy Nation. It touched on the ideals of equality, diversity and universal human rights. Passamaquoddy territory extends into what is now the United States and Canada. Separated by a border, their lands now rest in two distinct countries, and getting recognition for their Indian Status has proven difficult.
“By recognizing their borders, they don’t recognize our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, or of our own [distinctiveness] in Canada. And if you’re affiliated with a tribe in the United States you are not recognized in Canada,” said Akagi.
The power of recognition lies with Canada and the Indian Act. Chief Hugh Akagi views this as the elimination of diversity through a legislative instrument.
“How does this promote diversity? How does this promote multiculturalism? How does this support the rights of Indigenous Peoples?” he asked.
Chief and Elder Hugh Akagi heeded the following caution to the crowd that paid close attention.
“Beware of the language, the use of the language of industry, the language of corporations, the language of Government, and the language of conquest,” said Akagi.
St. Thomas University hosts the annual Native Awareness Days each year. It is a collaboration between STU students, the Native Studies Department and local First Nation communities and supporters to bring forth and discuss important issues related to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and beyond.