Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tribal Utterances

I currently work for my tribal government. My tribe is called the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. It used to be called the Ohiat Band back when we did not bother to correct inaccurate, anglicized labels given to us by bureaucrats of the federal government. Many of our elders still call our First Nation the Ohiat Band, but I suspect (and hope) that this has more to do with habit than assimilation.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations are located in the Barkley Sound region on the west coast of Vancouver Island. As far as I know, they have been there since time immemorial. Legend has it that we originated on Diana Island, named after a spring on that very island. Thus, it is a sacred place to us. We are a small band with approximately seven hundred members. The Huu-ay-aht main settlements are located principally along the Pachena River and next to Pachena Bay, though we have historically important settlements in a place called Numukamis on the Sarita River and on Diana Island. In truth, we are very much a tribal diaspora: seventy percent of our number live away from our traditional territory. I am one such person.

My relationship with "the band" had until recently been one held at arm's length from the core of my identity. As a child, I can only remember being ashamed of my heritage. Returning to the reserve was fretful, if not frightening, and the only thing I ever seemed to like about going there was getting home again. As I grew, I became more aware of my heritage and it became less embarrassing. When I graduated, I met many of the people from the band who my mother held in high esteem. They helped change my outlook on the nature of my first nation.

The Huu-ay-aht are a part of the Nuu-chah-nulth culture group. We speak the same language and inhabit the same general area of Vancouver Island. We are members of a larger entity known as the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, or NTC -- a group dedicated to having a unified voice in promotion, protection and preservation of our collective interests. In practice, the NTC is affected by -- surprise, surprise -- tribalism. It is little wonder that the NTC still struggles to cooperate enough to pursue a treaty with the Crown. There are too many cooks in this particular kitchen and it seems most people know it.

The Huu-ay-aht were one such tribe. In the mid-1990s, we broke away from the NTC on treaty matters and got together with four other like-minded members and formed our own treaty group: the Maa-nulth Treaty Society. We applied and entered into the British Columbia Treaty Commission's system for negotiating a treaty with the Crown governments and have since worked to successfully adopt a treaty.

My band paid for my post-secondary education. While I am deeply grateful, I find that I am also somewhat embarrassed by that fact. I can sense the discontent that this brings out in my non-aboriginal friends and colleagues and it affects me more than I tend to let on. I will not apologize for it. One need only look up economic and demographic information on the Statistics Canada website to understand that aboriginal people in this country are disadvantaged in ways that would take college-level lecture courses for most people to fully appreciate. The cynical part of me wants to tell people who complain about how tax dollars are spent on aboriginal issues that they should consider it the bare minimum rent payments on the lands that they occupy (but that might be seen as a bit bitter, so...)

Needless to say, my outlook has changed since I was fifteen years old. I am proud to call myself Huu-ay-aht and I am excited to be a part of something so special and unique. I feel a part of something larger than myself, but not so large that it is a mere abstract idea.

I am slowly learning about my heritage. I have participated in cultural events and rituals. I am becoming Huu-ay-aht. It fills a void and I am glad for it.

I will tell you more about my experiences later, but I think this is a good introduction. There are plenty of links, too!

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