EMP is devastated to share the news of Tsaskiy's passing, on the summer solstice of 2021.
Tsaskiy's untimely death is recognized as a great loss by Indigenous organizations
from coast to coast to coast, and yet his work and leadership will continue to lift up
all the original nations and their people.
His forthcoming book, The Fifth World: An Indigenous Off-reserve Reality, will hopefully be completed with the cooperation of his family and colleagues.
Electromagnetic Print does not accept state or corporate funding. Donors may choose to be named on a special Acknowledgments and Supporters page on the EMP website, and in the book.
The Fifth World is a place where Indigenous individuals and families, dispossessed of their birthrights by the Indian Act, live in obscurity. This book documents their struggle: the challenges and the perseverance of “Injun-uity” to transform the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
The Fifth World is in Canada, where Indigenous individuals have access to none of their own institutions or land; nor documentation of their Indigenous identity. They are displaced, living away from home, and unrecognized.
How can we consult with you? asks the elected Band Chief, when visiting members of the off-reserve population question the pipeline plans. You’re never around!
“The Fourth World,” described by Grand Chief George Manuel, Secwepemc, in his 1974 book of the same name, is the realm of the Indian Bands: dependent on the state that delegates their limited and rigorously scrutinized powers.
The colonial criminalization of traditional governance subverted Indigenous jurisdictions, economies, trade, and self-determination.
The Fifth World is home to native people who were denied their natural identity and forcibly relocated. Some ended up in this world for refusing to leave their own Clan Lands and move on to an Indian Reserve; some for marrying white men; some for going to university – and sacrificing their Indian Status to do so; some lost Status as soldiers overseas, starving and unable to eat where their comrades ate, until they could produce a Canadian citizenship document. For others, there was simply no room on the Rez. And there are many more.
The Indian Bands’ elected chiefs and councils are used by the state to exclusively represent the approximately 30% of the Indigenous population that actually lives on an Indian Reserve.
In the Fifth World there is no representation, no recourse, no recognition: just the racist violence; just the forcible removal of the children to another group; just the physical and mental harm to members of the group. And the privilege of paying for the crimes against themselves with their taxes to the state.
Recent federal government responses to Supreme Court of Canada rulings, as in Daniels, now institutionalize “Indigenousness” with specialized services, but there is no connection to a person’s homeland or even national identity.
In The Fifth World, Tsaskiy speaks to the extraordinary resilience of the men, women, and children who resist these conditions; who cherish their culture; who have the colossal fortitude to help each other and rebuild their own Indigenous First World. The displaced people have built their own interim institutions and society to support each other on their way to where they belong.
Over the years they have raised institutions from coast to coast to coast: the Native Council of Canada; the Congress of Aboriginal People; the Friendship Center movement; Native Housing; Indigenous educational institutes; and continue to navigate towards healing the nations.
This treatise on identity and the source of the individual's right within the nation is a confirmation of all the sovereigntists, the roadblockers, and the next generations.
Descendants of Thomas George, Gisdayway, have faced racism without recognition; taxation without representation; and danger everywhere. Like them are 70% of the population Indigenous to Canada: individuals and families not living on Indian Reserves, living away from home.
My grandparents’ generation was the first, of our people, to be afflicted by the Indian Act of 1876. The Potlatch Law upended their entire economy and their freedom to govern themselves in the feast hall. Status Indians living on an Indian Reserve could not even travel away from the Reserve without permission from the Indian Agent, who lived right nearby. And there was the relentless scrutiny of the resident Game Warden.
My grandfather Thomas George, Gisdayway, held a powerful title in the Wet’suwet’en feast hall and lived in his own clan’s land. So did my grandmother Mary, Tsaybaysa. Gisdayway and Tsaybaysa were persecuted because they would not move onto an Indian Reserve. They were “enfranchised” – stripped of Indian Status – and they and their descendants lost their “Indianness” at the same moment. For example, Thomas George did jailtime for killing a deer "out of season," because he was no longer a Status Indian.
The glaring problem - which exists to date - is that Canada never bought that land from the Wet’suwet’en, or any of them, and has no right to award it to anyone; nor do they have any kind of treaty with the Wet’suwet’en on which to base their interference in our affairs.
After World War II, the reality of Non-Status Indians – many of whom had just been unilaterally enfranchised while soldiers overseas – became much more prevalent, as ways to lose Indian Status multiplied. Eventually there were seventeen amendments to the Indian Act which proliferated the displacement and disaffection of Status Indians, making more and more people "Non-Status." The matrilineal influence of the natural Wet'suwet'en culture was abruptly replaced by a Canadian preference for female dependence: women could not transmit Indian Status; whatever happened to an Indian woman's husband happened to her; even divorce would not undo what a marriage had done. These changes escalated a visible, widespread, forcible relocation off the Reserves and often to urban centers.
Perceptions of Indianness between the on and off-reserve populations was a divisive problem amongst ourselves, as well as a real problem for those of us who lost Status, because the colonial state assigned legal definitions to whom they would recognize as Indian and dictated accompanying rights. The state sponsored a social and civil construct for the need to charge, convict, and condemn those who did not live on their Reserves for all manner of “Indianness” infractions. For example, my father was affectionately known as Midnight Jimmy: because we were Non-Status Indians, we hunted and fished at night to evade the Game Warden.
My Aunt Gloria characterized the reserve boundaries, which she and her parents could not enter legally before 1951, as the “Colonial Berlin Wall.”
“Off-Reserve and Non-Status Indians” became an identity: a group. And they went to public schools, where the non-native teachers ridiculed them, and they were often scapegoated for anything that might go wrong. My family has spoken out about their own experiences of racism in public education, and I will share some of them in this chapter. A person's Status only mattered if someone was looking in your pocket: anyone looking at your face could see you were an Indian, and the racist violence of the settlers did not discriminate according to the Registrar. I will share some examples of the shattering losses we suffered this way. Employment, social status, access to resources and services, and even the right to keep one’s own children were all dismally and dramatically affected by racism.
The entire off-reserve situation has not changed much since finding myself under a non-Indian dogpile in Grade One, after the most recent Cowboy and Indian movie came to Telkwa in 1951. There’s the overt racism toward my cousins Greg and Corinne, when the Delgamuukw-Gisdayway case proceeded in the 1980s, and, lately, Brian’s concussion from a racist attack on the street. Nor has it changed with the children living in urban centers near any other land or resource dispute in some unceded territory in British Columbia. The non-Indian children only act out the bigoted ethos in their environment, while the tired old untruth of “damn Indians get everything for nothing, why don’t they get a job?” is still moist on Canada’s lips.
Gloria and I, and all of us, experienced the lateral violence of our own people when being referred to as “white act” Indians and therefore “high tone,” and too “stuck up” to be real Indians. As if our Indianness belonged to someone else, to be taken away or restored with the stroke of a pen. Aunt Gloria experienced the height of disrespect from our own people when her chief name Smogilthgem was stolen simply because she did not live in the territory and had difficulty attending meetings during the week when she had to work.
Discrimination from our own reached its apex during the negotiation of Canada’s Bill C31, in 1985, when Non-Status Indians were being considered for reinstatement to Band and Indian registries across Canada. As President of the United Native Nations, I sat in open Canada-wide meetings of Status Indians, with the Assembly of First Nations, when they spoke with hatred of us “assimilated Indians,” who would return to dilute their culture and overcrowd their Reserves.
The result of Bill C-31 was that many of us were finally registered as Status Indians. For myself, I enjoy only the non-descript designation of belonging to a “General List.” That was supposed to be a temporary category, but now remains an ambiguity that the Registrar does not know what to do with. I’m an “Indian” now, but I belong to no Band. We are still out of place.
The racism entrenched in the 1867 British North America Act, Canada’s first Constitution, plays itself out daily. Section 91:24 designated “Indians and lands reserved for the Indians,” to come under federal jurisdiction of “the Crown,” while all the Indians who had just been made non-Indians dissolved roughly into the 99.2% of the remaining lands (which had not been reserved for Indians), and the settler population.
Ron George (Tsaskiy) writes the history of his family's dispossession. This treatise on identity and the source of the individual's right within the nation is a confirmation of all the sovereigntists, the roadblockers, and the next generations.
If Indigenous Peoples around the globe can be considered “The Fourth World,” as Grand Chief George Manuel named them - being even more desperate than the global Third World countries, then unrecognized Indigenous individuals, with no rights at home and no representation in the colonial state, are the citizenry of The Fifth World. This book frames a generations-long quest for self-determination for the colonized Indigenous nations and peoples; for the restoration of their right to determine their membership.
Tsaskiy holds a hereditary title within the Wet'suwet'en feast hall. He has held leadership positions in the BC Association of Non-Status Indians; the United Native Nations; and the Native Council of Canada. He has organized in movements from the Constitution Express of 1980/81; advancement of the Delgamuukw / Gisdayway case against Canada for Aboriginal title, 1983-1997; Constitutional talks over the Charlottetown Accord; a sailing to intercept the flotilla re-enacting Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, in the Gulf of Mexico, 1992; trips to Europe to memorialize Native Veterans of the two World Wars and to win the recognition and rights non-native veterans enjoy; the attempted merger of organizations representing Indian Bands and Non-Status Indians in 1976; interventions in the extradition hearing of Leonard Peltier, 1976; the occupation and defense of Lyell Island, Haida Gwaii, in 1985; and more.
Tsaskiy holds a Master’s degree in Psychology, Education and Leadership from the University of Victoria, British Columbia.