Wild Mushrooms or Wild Land: Do you have permission to pick wild food on “Crown” land?

How a mundane practice like mushroom picking can disregard or disrespect First Nations rights and title. And how education can help.

Advertisements

Earlier this summer, I stumbled onto a patch of resistance to reconciliation. My fellow settler neighbours did not agree that the “Crown” land behind their homes was the traditional, unceded territory of the Secwepemc Nation. My neighbours assumed that all non-reserve land had to belong to the government and therefore, what was on it, was theirs for the taking. This was despite a solid public school education on the history of how Canada was settled.

One of my takeaways from this interaction is that the education of First Nation issues needs to include discussions about how individual actions can respect First Nations rights and title. My neighbours knew the history of how Canada was settled and yet they assumed that all Crown land was Canada’s. This was despite recent new stories that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a Specific Claims Tribunal decision that found that the Crown broke a treaty with the Secwepemc Nation and wrongfully took land from them (Williams Lake Indian Band v. Canada (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development), 2018 SCC 4; see https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/supreme-court-williams-lake-1.4516522). My neighbours and I live in a town that is literally on stolen land, and that big forests around us may be Crown land on paper but in actual fact it is the unceded traditional territory of the Secwepemc.

Not all places in Canada have the convenience of knowing whose land you live on and a Supreme Court case confirming that the land was wrongfully stolen. This information is accessible to everyone in my town and it made a splash in the news when the decision first came out. This information, coupled with the education that I assumed all my neighbours received about the historical injustice of colonialism, resulted in what I assumed was a common understanding that the land around them was belonging to the Secwepemc First Nation.

It was against this backdrop that we rolled into the early summer months, the first summer after the wildfires of 2017. For several months ahead of this summer, my husband Chief Russ Myers of the Yunesit’in band in Tsilhqot’in First Nation, had been working with his nation around setting up a permitting system for picking wild mushrooms in the Tsilhqot’in traditional territory (http://www.tsilhqotin.ca/Portals/0/PDFs/Press%20Releases/2018_05_18_MurshroomPermitPR.pdf).

The Tsilhqot’in knew that there would be many mushroom pickers coming into the area and that the Province of British Columbia would not regulate them. It was up to them to create a system to ensure that the mushrooms were picked in ecologically sustainable areas.

This system had already been announced when my neighbours made their own announcement on Facebook; these women had recently returned from the traditional territory of Secwepemc Nation and had picked basketfuls of wild mushrooms. They were happy to get some healthy, organic, (free) non-GMO food.

Their glee at picking wild foods was shocking to me. I sent them messages, asking if they secured permissions from the Secwepemc Nation. My fellow settler neighbours were either silently cold or hotly angered at these questions. One woman responded to my suggestion by posting her outrage on Facebook. My other neighbours chimed in. The 93 comment thread lay clear that many people believe that it was their right to pick wild mushrooms on “Crown” land.

When I saw this, I was reminded of a few paragraphs that the Chief Justice McLachlin wrote in the Supreme Court decision, Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, [2014] 2 SCR 257. I had been reading this decision earlier in the year, and paragraphs 114-115 always struck me as infuriating. In these paragraphs, Chief Justice McLachlin, speaking for the Court, assumes that all non-reserve and non-treaty land must belong to the Crown because to assume otherwise would leave “no one in charge of the forests that cover hundreds of thousands of hectares and represent a resource of enormous value.” This assumption overlooks the number of treaties that were made and broken by the Crown, such as in the Williams Lake case. It also overlooks the evidence that we have that many First Nations in Canada were “managing” the forests and lands without Crown approval or knowledge. These Nations did this because they had been doing it for hundreds of years prior to colonial settlement.

It’s a funny thing to see the Chief Justice and a disgruntled white lady on Facebook arrive at the same blind spot. Two people, with radically different knowledges of the law, First Nations and history, both arrive at the same, unsupportive, assumption: if I don’t know this is Native land, then it must be Crown land.

Most of the land that we have today emerged from the historic wrongs that we all learn about in school. In schools, students look at these wrongs and perhaps will look at the current legal and political systems designed to address these wrongs. I think that this leaves students with an idea of what governments or industry need to do, but it doesn’t give the students a sense of what they need to do as individuals to respect the First Nations whose land they live on. How to live ethically if the land that you live on is stolen?

To ask permissions from the First Nation to harvest wild food is a practice that is small but potentially impactful. How one asks for permission to harvest wild foods is a delicate act; it requires taking the time to learn whose land it belongs to, to reach out and contact that First Nation, to listen and really try to hear the response, which might be in a language which is not yours. This process may not be easy, and there probably is not a universal approach. But by even trying to do this, settlers are showing government and industry and all our neighbours whose land and laws we are choosing to follow. An education that connects historic wrongs with how individual actions can help reconcile the past is one way that we can get other settlers to begin this kind of practice.

After I had sent my neighbour the questions, the Secwepemc Nation came out with a map of the areas where mushroom picking was allowed. Other Secwepemc bands have also put up signage instructing mushroom pickers and buyers that they were in the unceded territory of the Secwepemc people. In a move that shows how deeply people recent “Crown” land from belonging to Fist Nations, one of these signs outside of Lac Du Boise Grasslands Park near Kamloops was vandalized with a violent and crude message (https://www.kamloopsmatters.com/local-news/education-is-the-only-answer-to-ignorance-band-chief-responds-to-racist-comments-found-on-vandalized-sign-near-kamloops-973042).

How settlers pick wild mushrooms and other wild food can be a case study on how individuals can take small steps to recognize and reinforce (or deny and erase) First Nations right and title. Teaching the “Big History” or “Big Law” of First Nations rights and title is important, but may not be enough. In these lessons, there is an opportunity to also interrogate what mundane, everyday practices that settlers may be doing that disregards First Nations rights and title. It is in these small acts, as simple as picking a blueberry, or talking to your neighbour, that can help us all carry the responsibilities of reconciliation.

 

Top photo: Wild mushroom, known as a morel, growing on Fox Mountain, on Secwepemc territory, in Williams Lake, Spring 2018. Photo credit: Frances McCoubrey.
Many thanks to Rebecca Johnson and Gillian Calder for their helpful and patient edits and suggestions. 

Bannock, a Graphic Novel & Conversation: Re-framing Justice Using the Teachings from “Mikomosis and the Wetiko” — by Veronica Martisius

[Ed Note:  Veronica Martisius is a student at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, the co-chair of the Indigenous Law Students Association, and was a co-op student with the Indigenous Law Research Unit at UVic during the 2018 Winter Term.  We invited her to contribute a post reflecting on the workshop discussed below.]

In the wake of the acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier for the murders of two Indigenous young people, Coulten Boushie and Tina Fontaine, The University of Victoria arranged  ‘5 Days of Action’.  During those 5 days, faculties and groups across campus held a number of action-based events.  One of these was a collaborative workshop involving the Office of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement, the Office of Equity and Human Rights, and the Faculty of Law.  The two-hour workshop was held at the First Peoples House and was open to the public.  Approximately 40 people participated.  I was one of the facilitators of this workshop (along with Professors Gillian Calder and Rebecca Johnson), and offer here some reflections on the event.

The purpose of the workshop was twofold: 1) To actively engage in making UVic a diverse, welcoming and inclusive place to study, work and live and; 2) To create space for Indigenous laws. In their article Gathering the Threads, Napoleon and  Friedland remind us that “State law is not the only source of relevant or effective legal order in Indigenous peoples’ lives…Indigenous laws continue to [exist and] matter today.”

Canada is a multi-juridical society, and, as such, justice systems ought to reflect an understanding of law across social boundaries in order to be just.

The Stanley and Cormier cases illuminate ongoing institutional discrimination and systemic racism on the part of Canada and its laws.  In particular, Canada’s criminal justice system, which was imported from Britain and imposed on Indigenous peoples, does not reflect Indigenous values or notions of what justice requires nor does it incorporate Indigenous legal orders.  But what if it did?  What might that look like? To answer those questions we had the workshop participants take a close look at the story of Mikomosis and the Wetiko.

Mikomosis
Photo by: Veronica Martisius

The graphic novel, Mikomosis and the Wetiko, is based on a story told by Val Napoleon, drawing on graduate work done by Hadley Friedland (now published as The Wetiko Legal Principles) and by the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU) while it was working on the Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project.

The story explores the tale of a Cree man sentenced to death by a 19th-century Alberta court after carrying out an execution ordered by his Cree community  under a Cree legal concept known as Wetiko.

A team of Indigenous lawyers travel back in time to intervene and apply aspects of Cree law and legal processes not originally presented. With a more in-depth understanding of the circumstances, the court finds the accused not guilty.

*** In the graphic novel, Mikomosis executes Sap-was-te when it is determined by the decisions makers that there is no other way to keep the group safe from her increasing violence.  Just as execution would not be an option in Canadian law today, it is important to point out that this would never be a current option in Cree law today either. ***

You might be thinking to yourself, “why is this story relevant in responding to the Stanley and Cormier verdicts?”

It is relevant because, as Robert Clifford (2014) argues, “colonial power structures are best mitigated and subverted by applying Indigenous narratives, including Indigenous systems of law.”  In other words, Canada is a multi-juridical society, and, as such, justice systems ought to reflect an understanding of law across social boundaries in order to be just.  Mikomosis and the Wetiko is one example of how Indigenous societies used and applied their own legal principles to deal with harms and conflicts between and within groups and how they might be usefully applied today.  For information about a current example of Indigenous law and procedure in action on Coast Salish territory, click here.

During the workshop we started off by asking the participants two questions:

1) What do you think of, or picture, when you hear the word, ‘law’?; and

2) What do you think of, or picture, when you hear the concept ‘Indigenous laws’?

As you can see from the two images above, when thinking about the ‘law’, participants used various words that reveal what may be attributed to its adversarial nature.  When thinking about ‘Indigenous laws’, participants used words that reflect a more holistic approach.

After the large group discussion, we divided up the participants into groups of three. Over a delicious lunch of soup and bannock, we asked each participant to read the graphic novel.  In addition to being provided with a copy of the graphic novel, participants received a handout including a glossary of terms and Cree words, and a set of ‘re-framing’ questions that move from generalizations to specifics.  For example, with respect to the latter, moving from “what is aboriginal justice?” to “what are the legal concepts and categories within this legal tradition?”

After lunch, each group engaged in a facilitated conversation.  To help guide the conversation, we used the Mikomosis and the Wetiko: A Teaching Guide for Youth, Community and Post-Secondary Educators, and asked the following questions at page 40:

  1. What does the graphic novel make you think about?;
  2. What part made the most sense to you, or felt the most uncomfortable?; and
  3. If you were a character in the graphic novel, who would you be? Who would you most want to sit down and talk with? What would you ask that character?

Each conversation generated a diverse range of comments and questions around the relationship between Indigenous laws and Canadian law, pan-Indigeneity, responsibility vs. guilt, safety and protection of the victim(s) and the community, different legal processes, burden of proof, gendered power dynamics, ‘Whiteness’, decolonization, and dispelling stereotypes about Indigenous peoples.

Discussion Visual
Discussion Visual

Participants expressed a desire for change with respect to addressing and eliminating the injustices that Indigenous peoples continue to face.  They talked about how to affect change in their daily lives through introspection, getting to know the local Indigenous community, learning about the land they live, work and/or play on, their responsibility as guests/visitors, building relationships, engaging with their various social networks (family, friends, classmates and co-workers) about the issues, and lobbying the government.  At the end of the workshop, each participant wrote themselves a letter as a future reminder of their individual commitment to take up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

In a March 14, 2018 article that explores the idea of a cross-cultural criminal justice system, law professor, Marilyn Poitras said, “[g]oing home to suburbia or the farm or the reserve and shutting the door is not going to work. How are we going to open doors, open hearts, open conversations? For the sake of future generations people need to talk with each other.”

If you are an educator, lawyer, law student or a concerned citizen who is not sure how to spark up meaningful discussion about ways to re-frame justice in Canada, consider bannock, a graphic novel & conversation to get the ball rolling.

Resources Referenced: