farm field- by Gary W. Kenny, President of the NFU-O Grey County Local 344

The NFU has called its locals across Canada to find meaningful ways to reach out to First Nations communities. Some members have asked: Why should I care about Indigenous peoples?

When Europeans first arrived in North America they found, not an unpopulated land, but one settled by a multitude of sovereign First Nations communities. It had a name: Turtle Island. Most of those early Europeans would have perished but for the guidance of those who welcomed them. Indeed, much of our capacity to thrive in this land was derived from the knowledge and resilience of Indigenous peoples. As farmers with European ancestry, we should give thanks for those who helped our forebears learn to live on the land and survive the harsh conditions for which they weren’t prepared.

There are other important reasons. The early Europeans encountered peoples with a very different “worldview.” Indigenous peoples believed that all livings things are connected, to each other and the Creator. They viewed the land as intimately and inextricably linked with their own existence as peoples.

Europeans regarded the land more as something to be manipulated and exploited for commercial and personal gain. That way of viewing and treating the land, which largely prevails today, invites peril. Within the agricultural sector we hear of soil depletion and loss, the poisoning by agro-chemicals of the natural environment, and the debilitations of climate change to which some farming practices contribute. To remedy this trend we need to see ourselves, as Indigenous peoples did, and do, as belonging to the land instead of the land belonging to us. If we make this paradigm shift, if we learn more about the sacred and deeply respectful relationship Indigenous peoples have with the land, we can perhaps accelerate the transition to more sustainable farming practices. We might also want to consider specific practices (e.g. the use of polycultures instead of monocultures) that First Nations peoples developed over millennia.

And perhaps most compellingly: The undeniable oppression of European settler colonialism seriously damaged the social, cultural and economic fabric of First Nations communities. Most of us recognize something of its ugly face: treaties made and dishonoured; First Nations communities dislocated from their rightful lands and way of life; the debilitations and inter-generational trauma of the residential school system; cultural and sometimes physical genocide; and unsettled land claims. These and other depredations, some of which linger today, call for urgent redress.

Farmers, who at heart are fair- and justice-minded people, know they are farming on land effectively stolen from sovereign First Nations communities. We have a solemn responsibility to acknowledge this and other truths of settler colonialism and work with Indigenous peoples to build a new relationship rooted in principles of mutual respect and equitable relations.

We can do this, and without fear. It is not our guilt and shame that Indigenous peoples seek. What they want is open acknowledgement of the injustices of the past, and the present, and truly serious conversations designed to restore and ensure their sovereign rights.

They deserve nothing less.

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