The Indian Act creates refugees among the Anishinaabe

As an Anishinaabe kwe you have a right to have a home

To the Expositor:

Now I know what a refugee feels like. There are people who have been displaced by bombs exploding and destroying homes in foreign countries’ wars. There are refugees who have been ousted from their homes by Alberta wildfires. And there are people who have been rendered homeless by out-of-control river flooding. In each case, refugees are homeless, landless, dispossessed by war, and “acts of God.”

I became homeless and a refugee through structural, systemic, and bureaucratic willful blindness. The structure of the Indian Act is what contributed to my homelessness. Here’s how. A registered “Indian” exercised an alleged “Certificate of Possession” over a home and land which was given to me by traditional Anishinaabe custom. A CP is basically only a permission of the federal government to live on “reserve” land. A Certificate of Possession is not ownership. Here’s why it is not. When a “shaganaash” wants to acquire land and building, she or he has only to deal with the bank, the real estate agent, and the lawyer who advises on the purchase agreement. Once that’s done, the “shaganaash” can take possession or move into the purchased property. The “shaganaash” does not have to obtain a federal government minister’s permission to acquire land.

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Not so for “Indians”–in fact an Indian cannot even own land on the rez. First, an Indian has to go to the lands office in the band office, look at the reserve map, ask for a property, pay to have it surveyed, and then the described property is posted publicly for other Indians to comment on, or object to the land acquisition. Then, if no one objects, the document of the described property is sent off to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada who must “approve” a Certificate of Possession for said Indian. This may take anywhere from nine months to two years. Once an Indian receives a CP, she or he may move onto the property. Remember that a Certificate of Possession is not ownership. So, in effect, all registered Indians in Canada who live on the rez on CP property are legally landless. The title of Indian rez lands are held by the Crown. 

So, when I received land and home according to traditional Anishinaabe custom, this was disregarded by the alleged Certificate of Possession holder of my land and home, by the chief and council of Whitefish River First Nation, by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and thereby, by the Government of Canada itself. The alleged CP holder of my land and home evicted me from my ancestral homeland, using the courts and the police to give effect to an alleged Certificate of Possession. So, I became homeless. I went to an emergency shelter for a few weeks. Then, needing to be independent and self-sufficient, I went to our traditional Anishinaabe land and lived in a tent. Later, I was able to purchase a tiny building. Later yet, I bought another tiny building and had the two small buildings attached, and this became an off-grid tiny home. Off-grid? Tiny home? Living traditional Anishinaabe style? Talk about trendy, eh?

The chief and council discovered that I was living independently, self-reliantly, off-the-grid, in a tiny home on Anishinaabe territory. So, without community consultation, they passed a trespass bylaw, the net effect of which was for them to try to evict me from indigenous homeland. Of course I did not move out when they issued an “Order to Vacate,” and I waited for the police to come along and physically remove me from traditional Anishinaabe land. At the same time, I launched a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Canada claiming that the alleged CP holder of my ancestral home and land, the chief and council, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the Ministry of the Attorney General for Canada violated the equality section of the Constitution Act of 1982, among other breaches. In fact Indigenous Affairs itself states that it recognizes “informal land holdings” of Indians, which is their name for traditional indigenous land tenure.

So, Anishinaabe-kwek, if you are facing family violence, spousal abuse, bureaucratic obstacles and administrative mean-spiritedness designed to force you from your home, do not give up. As an indigenous female living on ancestral indigenous homelands, you have a basic human right to have a home, to live on traditional territory, and to live safely and securely. If you are facing eviction, resist. Insist on your legal right to secure indigenous land tenure.  Incidentally, this is election time at Whitefish River. Who is going to re-elect a council and chief that throws out indigenous female elders? Na haaw, baa maa pii miinwaa. Hep no weh (Happy New Year).

Marie McGregor Pitawanakwat

Whitefish River First Nation