[The following piece is a expression of my beliefs as an individual Huu-ay-aht member. It is not necessarily the view of anyone in the Huu-ay-aht organization save myself.]
When I ran for Council in the month leading up to June 2009, I promised that I would work to bring Huu-ay-aht people together. I used the title above as a slogan and it has been in the back of my mind for the entire time that I have been involved with the people and organization of my tribe. In order to bring people together, one might suppose that they were separate in some way to start. In fact, I think we are somewhat divided and have been for quite some time. I wish to help reconnect Huu-ay-aht with each other, no matter their location or trajectory.
The Huu-ay-aht First Nations is a tribe that has been defined by its territory ever since we have been in contact with European settlers. When the Crown established the Indian Act and took over the "stewardship" of the Indian people, they defined native people by where they lived and not in any other way. In fact, native people in Canada were restricted from locating off-reserve until 1951. When that restriction was lifted, the effect was a slow but steady march toward city life. As time passed, our people moved away from the traditional territories of our ancestors in order to pursue a better life for themselves and their families.
Can we blame any of them for this? I'd like to think not.
This process created a divide within the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, just like it did with many other tribes in Canada. We came to know each other not as simply Huu-ay-aht, but rather as on-reserve or off-reserve.
Real Indians and Apples.
Has this helped us in any way? Of course not, but the notion that you have to live on-reserve in order to be thought of as an authentic native person has survived in the thoughts and words of far too many people.
If any form of Huu-ay-aht identity is to survive the test of time, we must redefine what it means to be Huu-ay-aht.
We must not base our identity solely on boundary or blood lines, but rather as a common cause, a common purpose. Our community must exist in the thoughts and words around the dinner tables of every household no matter its location. We are not defined by drops of blood or lines on a map, but rather by the way we connect with one another across all boundaries.
But how do we do this?
I read somewhere that the communities of native people in urban areas are a lot like the communities of foreign expatriates. Much like the Chinese and the East Indian people in urban places like Nanaimo or Vancouver, native people are visible minorities separated from their homelands by time and place. Does this make them any less Huu-ay-aht, Chinese or East Indian?
Many expatriates send resources back home to improve the lives of their families and native peoples do just the same in many ways. How many people do you know who send money back to their families back in our traditional territory? How many people open their homes so their cousins, nieces and nephews can go to school, go to work or get back on their feet?
The Huu-ay-aht First Nations are alive and well in those homes, no matter where they may be located. It is by allowing our community to be defined by its people, rather than by its borders that will ensure that our community will go on to exist beyond our own lifetimes.
What can the government do?
Government is not about nation-building. Rather, it is about creating systems for solving problems. It is the people who build the nation, who define what it means to be Huu-ay-aht. The government is meant to carry out the wishes of its people to the best of its ability. Every single person who identifies themselves as Huu-ay-aht helps to create what it means to be Huu-ay-aht. It doesn't matter where each person lives or what they look like, what matters is their connection to the community as a whole and their drive to make our lives better.
We are a people in transit, a mobile tribe in a modern world. We are strengthened when any type of connection is created and maintained between members of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, formal or informal.
As the government of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, we are obligated to help improve the lives of all members of the community. We can help to strengthen the connections between all members. We can create and cultivate networks to keep people informed of opportunities for employment, housing, education and perhaps most importantly, any and all forms of belonging.
As leaders of our community, we should know how our people relate to each other. We need to know what works, what can improve and what opportunities there might be in order to make our lives better. Our homeland is the root of our identity, it is our common origin and the basis of our history and culture. We need to be able to bring the benefits of our land, culture and common history to the Huu-ay-aht "expatriates" and allow for our people to access the benefits of city life -- employment and education -- should they choose to pursue that path.
Once we know what works, we need to provide support for those methods of staying connected. If this means that we need to have places for Huu-ay-aht in each major urban centre, then so be it. This may be an office, a home for the elderly, a dormitory for students or all the above, but we need to keep all of our people connected.
We need to bring Huu-ay-aht together, but not necessarily all at once or in the same place.