Elder calls for more visibility
When he thinks about the future of First Nations people in Canada,95-year-old Algonquin Elder William Commanda, known to many asGrandfather William, is not always optimistic.
When he thinks about the future of First Nations people in Canada, 95-year-old Algonquin Elder William Commanda, known to many as Grandfather William, is not always optimistic.
The trouble, he said, is that people running the country have largely ignored the problems facing Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.
“We’re invisible. They don’t even talk about us anymore. It’s like we’re not even here,” said Commanda, an advocate for First Nations people and the environment for 20 years. “We are the poorest people in this country of ours, but we never gave it away.”
According to the stories from his ancestors, Commanda said that the first European settlers were welcomed into Canada and resources were shared between all people so nobody would suffer.
“It didn’t happen that way. They took all the resources and then they left nothing behind,” he said. “We don’t want to get mad at anybody. We try to make people understand that we want to be friends, we want to be equal, we want to be visible.”
Canada as a nation benefits from exploiting natural resources, he said, but First Nations people are still desperately poor, especially on reserves where there are few job prospects.
“Canadians have an erroneous understanding about native people living on tax dollars,” said Romola Thumbadoo, a volunteer supporter of Commanda’s. “It’s really quite the opposite. The rest of us are squatting on the resources that are rightfully Grandfather’s.”
Thumbadoo said immigrants to Canada receive far more support, in terms of health care, education and justice services than what is available to First Nations people.
Few people living in Ottawa today are aware that they are living on unseeded, unsurrendered Algonquin Territory.
Since 1969, Commanda has been holding an annual Circle of All Nations Spiritual Gathering in Maniwaki, Que., during the first weekend in August. The gathering focuses on Aboriginal and environmental issues and peace building.