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UBC Reports | Vol. 55 | No. 5 | May 7, 2009

Grad studies loss of traditional identity

By Brian Lin

Kyle Bateson’s Master’s thesis paints an artful portrait of a landless First Nations people and the strong spiritual connection its younger generation – including himself – has to a land they have yet to call home.

Bateson is a member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation, a community displaced from its traditional territory in Northern Ontario when the Government of Canada failed to set aside land for the signatory band as part of Treaty No. 9 in 1906.

Growing up in Saskatoon, Bateson’s only interaction with his traditional territory was an annual weeklong gathering, a tradition that only began in 1992.

“Like many other Aboriginal peoples, the Cree see themselves as interconnected with their environment and all living things and spirits therein,” says Bateson. “For example, memory is said to be embedded in the land and in the observation of changes and transition of landmarks and events in the territory.”

The impact on his community’s value system – or on that of any landless Aboriginal community – from being denied access to their land had never been comprehensively evaluated until Bateson undertook it as his Master’s thesis. The study – and the process leading to its results – is especially poignant now that the Missanabie Cree First Nation is on the brink of reaching a land transfer agreement with Ontario.

“My family and the people in my community supported me through my undergrad and I wanted to do something that would be useful in the effort to regain our place,” says Bateson, who pursued graduate studies at UBC’s Faculty of Forestry after receiving his Bachelor’s degree there in 2006.

By surveying band members living across Canada and during the last annual gathering, Bateson asked fellow members to list and prioritize what the traditional territory meant to them in the past and into the future. What he found both validated long-held beliefs and unearthed new insights.

“Three themes emerged from the process: cultural and spiritual, economic and conservation, and community infrastructure,” says Bateson. “Despite the long absence from their traditional territory, the majority of the members saw the land as a spiritual place and as part of their identity.”

In addition, while community members had different ways of expressing their connections to the land, they agreed that any future development needs to address sustainability and ecological responsibility, as well as economic benefits.

Bateson also found that young people had strong ties to the land. “The majority of the participants who emphasized the cultural and spiritual values of the land were between the ages of 18 and 30,” says Bateson. “Despite never having lived on their traditional territory, the annual gatherings over the past 17 years have allowed our youth to visit the land of their ancestors and engage in activities that help answer questions about their cultural identity.”

Bateson’s thesis defense was attended by members of the Missanabie First Nation, who “unanimously expressed their support and admiration for Kyle’s work in a very moving way,” according to the Defense Chair Report. “One member of the band’s Council stated that he was going to need to re-evaluate his own views as a consequence of reading the results reported in the thesis.”

“This work is for members of my community. To have them participate in the pursuit of my education was very gratifying,” says Bateson, who will be the first graduate in the Faculty of Forestry to receive a new Honours designation for outstanding Master thesis.

Since passing his thesis exams, Bateson has moved to Prince Rupert to begin work as an environmental assessment coordinator for the Gitxaala Nation.

“Throughout my time at UBC, I’ve had the opportunity to focus on First Nations land issues,” says Bateson. “That, along with training in research and scientific methodology, has been extremely valuable in my current job and ensuring the interests of the First Nations are addressed.”

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Last reviewed 11-May-2009

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