First Nations chief to perform rare shaming rite on legislature lawn

A traditional Kwakwaka’wakw ceremony that has not been performed for decades will take place Sunday on the legislature lawn as a symbolic shaming of the federal government.

A copper — a metal plaque traditionally used to measure the status, wealth and power of Kwakwaka’wakw chiefs — will be broken by hereditary Chief Beau Dick, who has walked from Quatsino, near Port Hardy, with family members and supporters.

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“The copper is a symbol of justice, truth and balance, and to break one is a threat, a challenge and can be an insult,” Dick said. “If you break copper on someone and shame them, there should be an apology.”

Dick is under no illusions that the federal government will change course because of the ceremony, but he hopes it will prompt people to start thinking about the need to protect the environment and stop what the “cultural genocide” against First Nations.

“We are reaching out to our fellow men. These are not just native issues — we are all in the same boat in this world,” Dick said. “I think the federal government have shamed themselves, and this is a response.”

Dick is being supported by Idle No More organizers, who have orchestrated demonstrations, events and blockades across Canada as a response to the federal government’s omnibus budget bills, which are seen to be gutting environmental protections and trampling treaty rights.

The Idle No More movement is helping people connect the dots about issues such as corrupt corporate values and disappearing salmon stocks, Dick said.

“I am hopeful that, when these voices come together, they will be heard and someone will be listening.”

Linnea Dick, 21, who has accompanied her father on the trek, said it has been tough at times, but most people along the way have been supportive.

“I want change. I want everyone to have equal rights and be able to live harmoniously,” she said. “Most of all, I want a future for our children. What we are leaving them is very minimal.”

Coppers play an important role in Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonies, but copper cutting stopped in the 1950s, said ‘Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer.

“Our people were using coppers to fight each other,” he said.

Cutting copper was done if someone had been insulted. If that person could not cut a bigger piece of copper with a similar value, they were shamed.

“To be shamed was one of the worst things that could happen to you,” Cranmer said, adding: “What Beau Dick is doing is more symbolic than anything.”

Dick and his supporters will leave Goldstream Park about 10 a.m. for the walk into Victoria.

An Idle No More rally is scheduled to start on the legislature lawn at 1 p.m., about one hour before the Dick contingent is expected to arrive. The copper cutting is tentatively scheduled for about 3 p.m.

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