Chief Alexander McKinnon shares his views on the issues facing his First Nations community. (photo Tim Collins)

It’s time to say “I see you”

Chief speaks out on First Nations issues


It’s an African Zulu greeting that means “I see you,” and it means so much more than our traditional “hello.”

It says, “I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity and respect.”

It’s an exceedingly powerful statement, and one that Chief Alexander McKinnon of the Nak’azdli First Nation said should be considered in terms of the relationship between his people and the people of Fort St. James.

McKinnon had these insights regarding the realities of life for the Nak’azdli people; insights that may help the non-native community to “see” the Nak’azdli people.

On Health care:

“We have a clinic here on our land, and we’ve come a long way. We have a nurse practitioner and four Rn’s who work here. In town there are a supply of doctors, but our people still face racism when we seek medical care. We don’t get the same treatment as non-natives, and that’s just the facts.”

“They want us to come in and help build a new hospital for the community and they welcome us to the table because, as First Nations, we can access federal funds. But it’s just using us and we won’t be a part of it unless things change in how we are treated when we need medical care.”

On Education:

“We took over the Catholic School and now have an elementary school on our First Nation where we can start to teach the culture and traditions and language to our children. That’s a huge thing.”

The high school in Fort St. James has done a great job of continuing that approach in the later grades. What they’ve managed is far beyond what I’ve seen anywhere else. The people there have honestly embraced us as part of their community and we are very grateful with their wisdom in what theiy’re doing.”

On Policing:

“In the North we often get the greenhorn constables and some are really good, but some aren’t. We’ve experience racism in small ways all the time. In town, if a white person has a problem, the cars all roll up. We called a while back because a dog had bitten a child and were told it wasn’t their problem. That’s just not right. What if a white child had been bitten? Would the reaction have been the same?”

On traditional teaching:

“Residential Schools were designed to destroy our culture. They outlawed the Potlatch and the children who were taken away never learned the culture. These days the only traditional ceremony we tend to still have is the death ceremony. We don’t do the Naming Ceremony, the Coming of Age Ceremony and others. These were the things that gave our culture its base and we have to bring them back while there are still elders to teach us.”

On healing and reconciliation:

“They’ll come across a man who’s drunk and they’ll treat him like the 60 year old they see before them. They don’t realize that residential school broke that man and that what you have to deal with first is the eight year old inside him who was broken and who never healed.”

“I asked a (Fort St. James) councillor once what they thought about reconciliation, and they said ‘What’s that?’. Can you believe it? How are you going to accept us as part of your community if you don’t even know a thing like that?”

On racism:

“Maybe it’s ignorance. Or maybe it’s fear. We’re a force to be reckoned with and the days of keeping us quiet are over. “

“Some people don’t want to acknowledge racism because, if they do, they’d have to do something about it. But the problem that exists right now isn’t just my problem or the problem of my people. It’s all of our problem and it has to change.”

“Its time for people to really ‘see’ us.”

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