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in the eyes
of a teen

by Rob Johnson

The other day, the homeowners on the Musqueam Reserve were complaining about the 700% increase in payments to the First Nations Band. The homeowners also said that "they are prisoners in their own land." If only they could feel and understand what my ancestors went through when the settlers first came, their questions would be humbled. The pain and agony of children being taken away from their parents to go to school. Tears at the fabric of who we are. The settlers forced and imposed Christianity on my ancestors, while the rich First Nations culture faced extinction, and, disease hit the First Nations People hard. The question was asked, Why is this happening to us? Who heard us then? I would like to ask the homeowners, if that isn't being a prisoner in our own land then what is?

"Yaamiithla," 1999, by Stewart Thomas-Macnatt

First Nations in society has changed over the last 100 years. Native people were not allowed in the Legislature 112 years ago. On November 30, 1998, Glen Clarke, the premier of BC, invited the Nisga'a People into the Legislative Buildings. The march down to the buildings was a breathtaking experience. Being Nisga'a, I was filled with emotion as I watched the chiefs and elders travel by canoe, pulled by a 4x4 truck and a trailer. My ancestors did the same thing almost 112 years ago, but were turned away by Premier Smithe. Now many First Nations Bands are talking with the government to work out an agreement between them and both the federal and the provincial governments.

There weren't any games or support groups for First Nations decades ago. Now, we have the North American Indigenous Games and Youth Conference (held in Victoria in 1994). There is now support for First Nations to express their feelings through art and culture.

First Nations have a voice in society, but we had to go through many obstacles to obtain it. We can be recognized as people, not just a number. We can have control over our own destiny, but we have to stand up for what we believe in. If we do, we will be fully recovered from the Holocaust our ancestors suffered. I quote from Chief Joseph Gosnell, "We are no longer beggars in our own land." The settlers may have taken our land and freedom, but they did not take my nor my ancestors' spirit.

Rob Johnson is a Grade 12 student at Victoria High School.

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