Idle No More founder speaks on Cree law

Joe McWilliams
For South Peace News

Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta held a Parent Conference in Slave Lake March 22-23.

One session included Cree law by the Idle No More movement founder, Sylvia McAdam, who is also a lawyer and professor from Saskatchewan. She has written about Cree law, which was the theme of her presentation, although it veered fairly sharply off at times into political exhortation.

McAdam didn’t pull a lot of punches in denouncing ‘the system’.

First, she introduced her listeners to several concepts of moral law in Cree tradition. She described the “core laws,” which deal with how a person should behave toward others, toward nature and so on. Her presentation went from English, into Cree, and back and forth. Many – perhaps most – of her listeners were fluent in Cree.

Attendees responded well to what McAdam was saying. She left no doubt in anyone’s mind how she feels about what she called “the moniyaw economy” and how it is “poisoning the land and water.”

She characterized the oil, gas and the forest industries as “war on our people.” What the alternatives to the modern economy might be, McAdam did not go into, though her vision seemed to have much in common with the back to the land ethic of past decades. It likely puts her out of step with many of the First Nations governments and people, who are very much a part of the modern economy and are striving for a bigger role.

Nonetheless, McAdam urged resistance.

“Half the Treaty Chiefs are there negotiating your rights away,” she said.

Speaking of something called the First Nations Land Management Act, which gives First Nations more control over their land, McAdam said it’s “in complete violation” of treaty and called it an attempt to extinguish treaties.

McAdam closed her presentation with an uplifting and funny story about her uncle. A drinker, he’d been found frozen to death [so they thought] on the side of a road one morning. Taken to the morgue, he was in there for three days before he woke up, got up and started banging on the locked door. He gave the attendant a terrible fright, which was the funny part.

But he also brought back some wisdom from ‘the other side’. People are breaking the four sacred laws, he said, i.e. to take care of orphan children, to not gossip, to be grateful instead of jealous, and to not be greedy.

In the question period that followed, a woman from the Driftpile Cree Nation, lamenting the division within the Indigenous community, asked what can be done to bring the people together.

“The answer is within all of you,” McAdam said. “How much do you love the land and water?”

Around 25 people attended McAdam’s presentation.


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