An Anthropological Approach to Aboriginal Workforce Engagement

Engaging the aboriginal workforce: It’s a great term but a significant understanding of the First Nations’ culture is an important aspect

Engaging the aboriginal workforce: It’s a great term but a significant understanding of the First Nations’ culture is an important aspect of this idea.

Enter Bruce Cutknife, who presented a history of the Maskwacis at an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) workshop Oct. 9. The event was co-hosted by the Town of Ponoka and the Ponoka District and Chamber of Commerce bringing more than 90 representatives from Hobbema, Rocky Mountain House, Wetaskiwin and students from the Maskwacis Cultural College.

Cutknife started a historical presentation with a quote from Spanish philosopher George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So Cutknife proceeded to explain how archaeologists believe people first made their way into North America when land formed thousands of years ago. At first it was unclear why Cutknife explained some of the history but as world explorers started travelling by ship across the globe, specific religious documents helped shape the way First Nations people were treated.

The first he spoke of was the Ostiensian Doctrine, written by Cardinal Henry of Susa in the 1200s, which stated that, “When Christ became king of the earth, the heathens lost their right to a political jurisdiction and to worldly possessions.”

“This was one of the first doctrines, Christian doctrines, that determined that Christ and Christianity would rule the earth,” explained Cutknife.

Later the Portuguese would travel the globe and would claim land for themselves and would compete with Spain over land. Eventually the two countries disputed over land and they asked the Catholic Church to step in.

The Discovery Doctrine of 1454, a Papal Bull was established, allowed the State of Portugal to establish, capture or vanquish and subdue all Saracens…And other enemies of Christ”

This allowed explorers to take possessions without fear of punishment and could sell anything taken for profit.

“The Discovery Doctrine is still in effect today,” said Cutknife.

He referred to Charles Mann, who wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. about life before Columbus’ arrival. European doctrine was strongly based on the Bible at the time, which made no mention of First Nations people. This made it difficult for explorers who were unsure whether the people they met were human, he says. “The Spanish were able to enslave them and kill with impunity.”

If the First Nations did not bring as much gold as possible to the Spaniards, their hands would be chopped off. Eventually a Papal Bull called Sublimus Dei was written in 1537 stating that indigenous people were considered not allowed to be enslaved but this was difficult to police as Europe and North America were so far apart. “There are a large number of documents that affected us through history.”

“In the past there has been a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of mistrust that has separated us as peoples,” added Cutknife.

The Royal Proclamation of 1793 and Treaties also affected First Nations, he explained. Cutknife said in an interview the purpose behind his presentation is to provide a better understanding of the how the Maskwacis were affected. Much of his presentation is not taught in schools either.

“I think it’s important to realize the social problem. A lot of dysfunction in First Nations communities is a product of the colonization process,” said Cutknife.

He said there are also many First Nations people who do not know the full history, which is important to learn. When he was younger older folks did not even talk about residential schools either. But speaking about what happened may be one way to learn from the past.

Alberta Works, the Government of Alberta and the Maskwacis Employment Centre also sponsored the event.