-- Political Issues: Indigenous Peoples --

Issues Index


This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on Indigenous Peoples.

  • January 31 1995 - On receiving the Global Visions Festival Artist Award

    Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn was recently the first recipient of the Global Visions Festival Artist Award for "demonstrating a long-term dedication to creating a vision of a more just world".


    I'm sorry I can't be here tonight personally but I want to congratulate you on receiving the first annual Global Visions Artist award. It's an honour you've earned and one you deserve.

    Last year Maureen Littlejohn wrote in Network Magazine that part of the reason for your enduring career is your ability to infuse your "music with a conscience -- an inherent sense of what (you) believe to be right and wrong". You not only influence others through your music but you raise the profile of social and environmental issues through your interviews and your appeal to your listeners to get involved.

    Your long-term commitment to Aboriginal issues, both through your music and your actions, is well-known. What may not be as well- known is the effect your commitment has on others.

    As a small society surrounded by powerful, unprincipled enemies it's easy to feel isolated and alone. In addition to the impact your message has on others your continuing support sends an important message to the Lubicon people that we're not alone -- that there are people in the outside world who care what happens to us.

    The Lubicon people, therefore, want to thank you for your concern, your support and your friendship.

    We are pleased to offer you this Dreamcatcher as a symbol of our common dream for a more just world.

    (Sharon Venne to elaborate in a couple of sentences the symbolism of the Dreamcatcher.)


    When you look at the broad issue of justice for Indigenous Peoples, the picture is so large that it's hard to take it all in. Even when you narrow the focus to North America that's true. It's useful therefore to look for paradigms. Sadly, there is no situation which captures in microcosm the elements of the Native struggle better than that of the Lubicon Cree.

    Colonialism, the paternalism of 19th century European thinking, the rush to settle and "civilize"; have given way to cynical buck-passing by Federal and Provincial Governments, to the playing off by unscrupulous industrialists of northern non-Native and Native communities against each other, even wedges driven into the Native community itself. It's hard to be a government person working for the transnationals of today, in this country. Recalcitrant Natives are sitting on valuable resources (in effect, on your opportunity for advancement). You don't want to pay them a fair price and you can't just kill `em like they do in some Asian and Latin American nations. They can read and write and use computers so you can't screw them with phoney legalities like in the old days. So what to do? It's a challenge to the ingenuity of the exploiter.

    Of course, Canada, Alberta, Unocal and Daishowa can afford to buy LOTS of ingenuity.

    I submit that those of us who care about such things as honour, justice and compassion have to keep the pressure on these folks until they are forced to exhaust themselves hunting for the next move.

    You can find a version of this scenario in almost every part of North America -- though few are as urgent as the one the Lubicons find themselves in. Some of us have used the phrase "Brazil of the North" with reference to Alberta, and it's all too applicable. When I look at the Lubicon, I see what could be the "Nicaragua of the North" and I'm afraid, and I'm outraged, and I want to fix this, and I hope you folks who have a heart and a conscience will stand up and make it happen.
    -- from Bruce's acceptance comments upon becoming the first recipient of the Global Visions Festival Artist Award on January 31, 1995.

  • November/December 1999 - The Lubicons

    BC: What do you do when you're confronted with a situation like the Lubicons in northern Alberta? I feel badly that I've done as little as I have for them.

    SAK: Who are the Lubicons?

    BC: It's a native group who have been trying for sixty years to sign a treaty with the government of Canada. Nobody knew they were there when the original land treaties were being drawn up; until the seventies they lived a pretty isolated life in the bush. Then people started prospecting for oil on the land where the Lubicons traditionally lived, and they had no paper to say they owned this land or had any rights to it. They tried repeatedly to make some arrangement with the government but have been ignored.

    Since the seventies it's been a very hot issue. But governments have shafted them constantly, and they're being killed off by pollution and the removal of their hunting prospects. Their stance was, "Look, we don't want to be on welfare. You're wrecking our hunting territory, so we can't live the way we used to live. Set us up with jobs, with an industry, something we can do that can be ours." Nobody's helping them do that. In fact, all sorts of devious efforts have been made to keep them from being heard and to further their social disintegration.

    Social involvement really comes from asking, when confronted with something like that: What do you do? Do you ignore it? Do you walk away? What do you say to yourself when you walk away from something like that? "I'm a jerk!" I don't like that feeling, so I try not to walk away any more than I have to. That's what it comes down to.
    -- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn," by Susan Adams Kauffman, TheOtherSide, November/December 1999.

  • 19 Feburary 2003 - The Lubicons - Bruce Cockburn's Statement at the Media Conference, National Press Theatre, Ottawa, Ontario.

    "A couple of years, I was on tour in Europe. After a show in Germany, I was talking with members of the audience and them asked, 'What's the situation with the Lubicon?'

    "It wasn't the first time the subject of this beleaguered native band had been raised on that side of the Atlantic. People in Europe are bewildered at the notion that a country as prosperous and progressive as Canada can't seem to find an equitable solution to what should be a simple problem: there is a band, the legitimacy of whose claims to land and life has been recognized by one impartial authority after another since 1939, but who can't get a just and fair settlement from the government of Canada. I confess I'm a little bewildered too.

    "The long record of shabby treatment by both federal and provincial officials is a shameful blot on the image of this nation, here and abroad.

    "I've been involved in the Lubicon struggle for justice since the latter part of the 80s. I've seen the ebb and flow of hope and disappointment, energy and frustration. Time is running out for them, but if we act now we can still turn things around.

    "So here I am asking -- begging -- the Prime Minister to use the time he has left in politics to lift the weight off the shoulders of this little group of poverty stricken native Canadians. The poverty they contend with is not of their own making. It is the result of decades of government arrogance, racism, exploitation, and manipulation: a sordid tale has at one point even included a direct threat to the civil liberties we all hold dear.

    "Things do not have to be this way. We can end it, so that the shame of it will fade into history, to be replaced by the grace of seeing a wrong righted at last! Negotiations are finally starting to move forward. We can fix this if we want to. Come on!

    "Next year, I want to be able to make a TV spot that says, 'Mr. Chrétien, thank you for being the Prime Minister who made it happen!'"
    -- from Bruce Cockburn's Statement at the Media Conference, National Press Theatre, Ottawa, Ontario, 19 Feburary 2003. Submitted by

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    Issues Index

    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.