Dr. Judith Sayers, ChangeMaker

Almost exactly one year to the day, Emily Luce follows up with Judith Sayers on her Complex Social Change talk “Unravelling the Federal Agenda-Empowering the People” at the University of Lethbridge.


It’s been one year since you gave the talk at U of Lethbridge, “Unravelling the Federal Agenda-Empowering the People” At that time, academics were struggling to understand what was happening in the big picture with the Idle No More movement as they parsed news sources, official statements, and dialogue happening in the community and classrooms in real time. If you recall, as you gave your speech, the Nishiyuu Walkers were arriving on Parliament Hill and the room you were speaking in was SRO. Has the year gone by provided any critical distance for you, and if so, what does that reflection reveal?

The Idle No More Movement that took the country by storm became a more introspective time throughout the past year. It has been a time to educate everyone on the issues. It has been a time for people to go back to being involved in their own First Nations issues whether it is opposing the Northern Gateway project, or the TransMountain Pipeline, or fracking in Elsipogtog territory. No One will forget the line of women standing up the Canadian arm or the lone young man on one knee holding up a single powerful feather as they defended the water. First Nations people continue to fight battles on many planes and they continue to need support and understanding in advancing fair and equitable solutions. The situation with the federal government has not changed, but a different approach by First Nations people is being used. Idle No More still exists but in a way that is empowering the people.  Mass action will be used when needed. Idle No More showed that First Nations people can be mobilized and quickly.

What’s at the top of your mind right now? What are the urgent issues that need to be worked on in your world (and how might that relate to the interdisciplinary, cross-dialogue work with the Complex Social Change group? How can people interested in Complex Social Change help?)

There are so many urgent issues happening in the world that affect all people. So many international trade agreements are being negotiated including the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. (CCFIPA) Trade agreements increase the amount of development in First Nations territories and negatively impact rights and way of life.  These major projects will be a threat to quality of water and threats of oil spills in oceans and lands.  The Independent Review Panel recommended it to government over the objections of First Nations, the province of BC, many organizations and people.  June will be a volatile month in BC if the Federal Government approves it.

The First Nation Education Act is also a big issue.  The Chiefs in Canada rejected it and then the National Chief made a few changes and approved it without the consent of the Chiefs.  Many First Nations and organizations are very angry about this and refuse to accept this way of doing business.  The act is supposed to be First Nations control of First Nations Education, but control relates more to culture and language and still using provincial standards.  This is an issue worth watching and is no different than the methods used for the omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 that was a large part of Idle no more.

Who is interesting right now? Who’s catching your eye in terms of standouts/interesting viewpoints/important questions in contemporary First Nations / Canadian federal government dialogue? Who or what should we be looking into, or watching?

The big issue these days which is gathering steam is Missing and Murdered Women.  Cries for a public inquiry go unheeded and the BC and Federal Governments are throwing pots of money at things that could help without having a greater strategy of what needs to done, by whom and by when.  The biggest disappointment to people was the special parliamentary committee that produced a “status quo” kind of report that did not provide for innovative solutions and immediate action to prevent more murdered and missing women.  It also did not request a national inquiry.

This issue is getting a fair amount of media attention, marches and protests are continuing, and this issue will not be forgotten because it keeps happening.  Many groups are involved in this such as  and Indigenous Nationhood movement blog #itendshere

Another issue to watch for is the Tsil’quotin aboriginal title case that was heard before the Supreme Court of Canada.  The court will finally rule on aboriginal title.  The main issue here is whether the court will decide on the small spots theory (aboriginal title in small areas where First Nations, hunt, fished, trapped gathered, cultural or spiritual sites) or go with a territorial view.  First Nations have been trying to negotiate aboriginal title issues through treaty with few results.  This court case will be important in defining aboriginal title and depending which way the judgment falls, this could be a volatile issue either way.

What can be done?  I think most importantly in the social change area, education on issues must be foremost.  Then those issues must be talked about and action taken to assist First Nations peoples in their struggles for justice and equity.  So much energy is expended on fighting the governments at negotiating tables, courts, defending the land when that energy could be in advancing in social, economic, and environmental areas.  The governments need to know that all people are concerned about the way First Nations peoples are treated, and lack of action on most issues and the top down action on imposing legislation and policies without First Nation consent.  Right now the Harper government thinks it can do what it wants.  The budget for Environment Canada has been cut back so much and will continue to be cut back till 2016, many key jobs have been lost and the Department cannot do all of its work so our environment is at stake.  Some issues are everyone’s issues and people need to start speaking out. Finding alliances to work together on issues that are important to you is also another way to help facilitate change.  The issues are numerous, so pick one and get involved.

Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers

Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers is the National Aboriginal Economic Development Chair and an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Victoria and works on facilitating aboriginal economic development. Judith also works for as a Strategic Advisor to First Nations and Corporations on building relationships and negotiating fair and equitable agreements.

Judith served fourteen years as Chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, located in Port Alberni, BC.  As Chief of her First Nation, she focused on capacity building and sustainable development. Judith was instrumental in the development a 6.5MW run of river project, a woodlot based on higher environmental standards, eco tourism canoe tours and put in place a Land Use Plan, a cedar Use strategy.  Judith continues to advance First Nations opportunities in business development based on their values.

Judith serves as Co-Chair on the Island Corridor Foundation a joint venture between Regional Districts and First Nations that own the Rail line on Vancouver Island. Judith is on the Boards of the New Relationship Trust Foundation, and Clean Energy BC.  Judith also Co-Chairs the Joint Working Group on First Nations Heritage Conservation and is on the Advisory board for the Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education Program.


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