Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 154: ALIVE: Creating Systems of Change — with Scott Clark

Speakers: Paige Smith, Am Johal, Scott Clark

[theme music]

Paige Smith  0:02
Hello listeners! I’m Paige Smith with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. On this episode we chatted with long-time Indigenous rights advocate Scott Clark of the Coast Salish S’Klallam nation. 

Scott and our host Am Johal discuss how we can create systems of change for urban Indigenous people that produce positive and evidence based results. Scott also talks about his work with ALIVE, or Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, and the work they are doing to enhance and foster the social, economic and cultural well-being of Indigenous peoples in Vancouver. I hope you enjoy the episode!

[theme music fades]

Am Johal  0:56 
Welcome to Below the Radar. Delighted that you could join us again this week, we have very special guest Scott Clark with us, who for a long time has been involved with the organization ALIVE (Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society), which is actually located right next to me. Scott isn't there right now. But they're sharing an office at 312 Main, and are our neighbours. So welcome, Scott.

Scott Clark  1:20 
Thank you for having Am.

Am Johal  1:22 
Yeah, Scott, I'm wondering if you can begin by introducing yourself a little bit?

Scott Clark  1:26 
Certainly, my settler name is Scott Clark. I am Coast Salish. I am a descendant of the Douglas Treaty Chewhaytsum, signed in May 1850 on Southern Vancouver Island. I've spent the greater part of my working life, if you will, as an advocate for Indigenous peoples, principally the 80% of Indigenous folks that are living off reserves and often in large cities. And so I've been doing that for, you know, 30 plus years. And we're definitely in interesting times.

Am Johal  2:04 
Scott, when I first met you in the late 90s, you were involved with United Native Nations, leading that organization. I'm wondering if you can, maybe we can begin with you sort of starting with your arrival into that organization and some of the work that you were doing provincially, but also here in the Downtown Eastside?

Scott Clark  2:24 
Sure. That was probably the mid, early 1990s... 93', 94', 95ish. I started to get involved in issues when I went back to college and started to learn about this stuff and started to come awake about what was going on and the patterns. And as a young buck, still in college, the sky was falling. I had to tell somebody. I went to the United Native Nations' Annual General Meeting. I think it was in William Lake at the time. And I had to tell everybody, so I got nominated to run for the Vice President of the United Native Nations, UNN. And I got elected, Am. It was bizarre, because at that time I was quite young. And I didn't really understand how nonprofits work and all that kind of stuff. So I literally walked right into the fire, and having to learn how different government processes work, nonprofits, structures, and all that kind of stuff. And find my way in that. And I did that for about four years, two terms as the Vice President, and then I went on to become the President for about three years of the organization. Did a lot of really good work back then that was leading to some systems change, but sadly, all that work fell off the radar when the United Native Nations had a lot of internal bickering. And the organization ultimately faltered in 2013. So then, from that, we then created what's now known as the Northwest Indigenous Council to replace the United Native Nations. And so the last, that's 2015, the last six years, we've just been trying to build up this new organization and find a way that we can get these issues addressed that are deliberately, all levels of government, are being indifferent towards as though we don't exist. Yet, we're the ones that are filling their prisons, their child welfare industry, the opioid crisis, the homeless… all this stuff. It's the off-reserve population that are just continuing to feed into that corporate colonial industry that no level of government even wants to look at. So that's a lot I just shared with you, but those are a lot of years of work. So I've been working both at the, you know, local level through Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society (ALIVE) specifically, on behalf of urban Indigenous population. We are located in the Downtown Eastside, which I call ground zero for urban colonialism. But we also work through the Northwest Indigenous Council on provincial issues, and we're affiliated with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which is our national advocacy organization and through that organization, I represent the Officer of Indigenous Voices from the North West Coast, which is called British Columbia, and advocate for our rights and titles at the federal and international level through the United Nations.

Am Johal  5:31 
Yeah, so Scott, I'm wondering if you can talk about the formation of ALIVE you know, when it formed and kind of where it came from, in terms of what you're trying to advocate for?

Scott Clark  5:42 
Well ALIVE was actually, it wasn't my idea. It was Carole Brown, a longtime advocate, organizer through Ray-Cam Community Centre. She was the brainchild of that organization 12 years ago, and I got recruited to become one of the founding Directors along with four other people. And I became the spokesperson of that organization. And its President and then eventually its Executive Director, which I've now been doing for the past 10 years. We seek to support the largest population of Indigenous peoples living right here in Vancouver, most of us are pipelined into the eastside, more specifically, the Downtown Eastside. That's where we throw these people away. And so we've been working, myself and the organization, on how we decolonize the City of Vancouver, the Parks Board, the School Board, the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Public Library—all those institutions that's systemically built up on the backs of Indigenous peoples' oppression. So, a lot of our work has been channelled on systems change, which isn't a really sexy item for media or general laypeople. But ultimately, who controls the decision-making and who controls the resources. And it's always going back to the settler governments and nonprofits. And so it's a, you know, we've been doing this so deeply and so intensely over the past 12 years, but the systems change won't happen until we get legislation and policy implementation evaluated, because the systems just don't want to give up that decision making or that authority. So that's led us to working principally over the last few years with young people. And ALIVE has a really dynamic team of young Indigenous folks that you get to see every now and again, Am, because we're often very busy out there doing the people's work. [They're] very intelligent, very informed, very engaged. And so through that work with young folks, we have developed a policy document, I think it's the best in the country hands down as it relates to off-reserve of Indigenous populations. And we are advocating to—we have met with the Police Board, the City claims to want to meet with us. But we just keep doing that advocacy. And we meet with the Chiefs, we're meeting with the Chiefs coming up pretty quick over on the island, Southern Vancouver Island where I'm from, to talk about how we can unite our struggles and give some real positive evidence base results, because it's getting worse Am. And people don't know about it. And if they do know a little bit about it, they don't draw the links back to the ongoing Canadian and settler government assimilation policy that's in full gear right now.

Am Johal  8:44 
Scott, in the ways that government and say nonprofit organizations as well, in the Downtown Eastside, in as much as they've tried to shift policies for structural barriers in place, but what are some of your critiques around the failure of these service organizations to provide the appropriate services for Indigenous peoples, if you could sort of walk us through that critique of both government and nonprofits?

Scott Clark  9:14 
Yeah, it's a little bit bigger than that, Am. I don't consider myself a Canadian citizen. I am a Coast Salish citizen. I'm a Douglas Treaty descendant, those are where my rights are. Those rights are continuously being violated by the Canadian state and its settler forms of governments and nonprofits. So it's not my job to fix Canada. I'm not interested in fixing it. But the reality is that when Canada became a country, back in 1867, they allocated a funding allocation model where the Feds keep 50 cents of our tax dollar, the province gets 42 cents of that tax dollar, and the city gets eight cents. And over the last, particularly the last 30 years, there has been a serious devolution of responsibility for provinces and with cities, and to band councils. And through that devolution process, it's really been clawbacks because it's been cutting the amount of resources going down, but giving it to those other governments, including First Nations who are happy to take that money. But it doesn't change the systems. The systems are still not functioning. The funding model is messed up, the ministries at the federal, the provincial, and the civic—they don't talk to each other, let alone I mean, at the civic level, at the provincial level, they don't even talk to each other there, let alone to each other. And so they use the nonprofit service organizations. Those are extensions of government. Those nonprofit service agencies are accountable to government, to their contribution agreements, and therefore the devolution processes just seen us reconstitute colonialism at the neighbourhood level. You know, I don't blame, I understand where the nonprofits are, the service providers. But—and there's a lot of good people on there, I don't care how good you are. You're confined by contract law. You're confined by the contribution agreements, those type of colonial deliverables, which only perpetuates the colonialism, the industry of colonialism around our men, our women, our elders, our young people, the incarceration rates, the pushout rates at schools, that whole nasty thing. And that's the problem. And we have solutions. And ultimately, we don't need the settler states and the settler nonprofits in our lives, like they need to get out of our lives. Like, I don't know why—it's 2021, hello! There's been enough inquiries, enough reports, enough everything. We don't need more reports, spending untold millions of dollars telling us how racist or colonial they are. What we need is action, and to transfer the resources and the authority to us as Indigenous folks so we can resolve our issues based on our culture, our values, our principles, and we start taking care of our own.

Am Johal  12:14
Scott, I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit as Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations here in Vancouver have started to develop a closer relationship with the City of Vancouver, and also in the context of Indigenous-led organizations, nonprofits that are doing some of the service delivery. I'm wondering how you situate ALIVE's work in relation to the local nations and those organizations?

Scott Clark  12:43 
Well, in order to understand the basis, and this is really important for folks to understand, you know. Am, you've been around a while, so have I. A lot of new people coming up, and a lot of people that have been around probably too long, like myself. But ‘where do you start’ is the question. That's always that question that the mainstream dialogue or narrative doesn't want to start. I start with the Coast Salish Nation. That's where I start. Our nation, i.e. my hat [pointing to his baseball cap], Coast Salish law, our Nation has been in existence over 13,000 years. It's only been recently that the British and Spanish came in here and started to do what they did to us. So that's where I start. What is the Coast Salish nation? Well, if you look at a map, you'll see that we're made up of about just about 60 First Nations on the Canadian side, and almost the same amount on the American side, probably a population of about 400,000 people. And we've been divided with the 49th parallel. When British Columbia joined Confederation in Canada in 1871. And then Canada created the Indian Act in 1876. They had a lengthy debate about how they were going to organize the 34 Indigenous tribes on the Northwest coast. The last major landmass on Turtle Island to be mapped out, by the way, the last place to be seriously colonized by those other forces. So this history doesn't get talked about, people don't know—people don't know whose land they're on. They just don't know that. Learn that stuff because it will make you a better human being. And you'll be able to know, be able to deconstruct colonial narrative, but anyways. So that's where I come from. My family, I come from a village I said earlier from Chewhaytsum. We're Douglas Treaty, that's been turned into an Indian Act Band Council because back in the day, the Feds were just saying, "how do we organize these 34 tribal linguistic Nations on the Northwest coast?" And they decided that they were going to create Indian Act Band Councils. So they took the 34 tribal linguistic Nations on the West Coast and turned us into 204 Indian Act Band Councils, also known as First Nations. For the deliberate purpose of dividing and conquering us. Now, there's been some real positive work being done by some of our tribal Nations on the Northwest coast. I look at the Gitxsan, the Wetʼsuwetʼen and the Haida, there's a lot of our… the Nisga'a, Tahltans, they're bringing back their tribal Nations. The Coast Salish, we're so divided, as I shared with you, so when I think about Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, yeah they're one of the 21 dialects of the Coast Salish Nation 100 present, but we are part of a much bigger, broader Nation and that's the Coast Salish. And I've heard bureaucrats and others, City bureaucrats and others talk about, "Oh, how great it is that Musqueam and Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh are working so well together. MST." And you know, think about that for a second. Why weren't they working together before? Why is it since BC became into Confederation, the Indian Act came in, why are all these villages divided? Why is it now they're just starting to come together? Then that's where you could spend some good time doing some research, or academics could, about the dynamics, the corporate colonial model of divide-and-conquer that's happening. And so in my broader view, these band councils or First Nations, particularly the Coast Salish, I won't see it in my lifetime, Am, but I want to see us unite as one. And if we ever united as one Nation here in what we call Canada, and then down in Washington State, we'd be hands down the most powerful group, Indigenous or otherwise, in North America. Because just look at the land, the ocean, the mountains, everything that we have in our territories. So that's how I put the band councils in that context. And I mean, when they were in court, I mean, they were in court fighting over Kitsilano, 20 years ago, or whatever it was. And they're all spending millions of dollars in the courtroom, like Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, I think it's over Kitsilano, that area. They're all fighting. And you look in the courtroom, and they're all family. There's aunts and uncles, and cousins across the row all paying these settler lawyers millions of dollars to fight over who owns that land. 

And then they eventually haven't, I guess they had a settlement and MST has been working together quite well since then. But they have a responsibility. Those band councils have a responsibility to the large, urban Indigenous population, we have Indigenous people from all over Turtle Island that are living here. And traditionally—not not Indian Act style band councils—but traditionally, our way is that, as Coast Salish people, it's our responsibility to ensure that we welcome and we host all other folks that are in our territories. And we uphold that responsibility by actively supporting our families and our communities, and ultimately, our nation. And a lot of folks just can't get their heads wrapped around that, because we're so wrapped up in this neo-colonial exercise, what they call "reconciliation." Which is, when we look back on that term, in 10 years, 20 years, it's just going to say this isn't reconciliation. This is, this is reconstituted colonialism. And sadly, they use Aboriginal service providers, the governments do, as a means to say they've consulted with us. And this is just another form of assimilation and genocide. But we got a lot of young people coming out, a lot of educated young people and more of our folks are—they're solid, these kids are really, really intelligent. They're committed, and we're witnessing, and we saw it before the pandemic, Am. Before the pandemic, we witnessed Canada get shut down. We witnessed a whole bunch of youth and allies, Indigenous youth, over at the legislative building and occupied the building. And this country was shut down. That was just before the pandemic. And here we are now. And I went over there with our youth and we did our thing. And here we are now with Fairy Creek, the so-called NDP government—just another colonial corporate entity. I mean, Jesus Christ, just 1% of the forest, ancient forest is left on Vancouver Island. And this NDP government cannot even stop them from cutting down that last 1% of ancient growth. Only 3% of ancient growth is left in BC. They're still cutting these trees down. And they've already arrested over 1100 people, if not 1200, today, right? And then we got the stuff going up in Wet'suwet'en and territory where the gas companies are going in there and terrorizing with the RCMP support to build their pipelines. They didn't get the free prior informed consent of the traditional clan system. Government. Not talking band councils, not talking service providers. I'm talking the Wet'suwet'en and the Gitxsan's inherent right to self determination as peoples of the world. And the five Clan Chiefs have that territory said "No, you are not coming into our territory. You did not get our consent. Honour your own Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision which tells you that you have to deal with the traditional governments of these tribal nations." And even though they won that decision back in, I think it was '97, Delgamuukw, they're still doing this shit. They're still going in there. And like the violence these cops are—the RCMP. We need to get rid of the RCMP. They shouldn't be part of British Columbia anymore, they should be gone. And there needs to be a serious movement about the the terrorist tactics that these people, the violence that they're doing to these, these people. They're destroying their vehicles, pushing them over cliffs, breaking their bones, intimidating them. The RCMP needs to leave this place. And this province, in concert with our people, need to look at a new provincial, if you will... I don't even wanna use the word police, protective force, to uphold and honour, built on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). These people are—they carry the water for the corporatocracy. They carry the water for them, they do all that. You know, as an urban Indigenous person, we all know how the police are. We've all been beaten by them, or terrorized by them, or targeted by them. It's just part of the normal culture here, you know, if you live anywhere close to what the state wants. What the state wants, they're going to take, we saw that up in Gustafsen Lake, Ipperwash, Oka... Now we're seeing it at Fairy Creek, Unist'ot'en, the TMX. And, you know, it's, and the young people, these guys. Every day almost, Am, right now. They're blocking the bridges, and they're blocking the ports, and they're doing all this other stuff, right? It's only a matter of time. And it's happening now, I think, that we're gonna see another shutdown of this country. And they can ignore our people, they can ignore their government's fiduciary responsibility, their treaty responsibility, they can continue to try that genocidal assimilation policy that they're doing. But our people aren't stupid. Now we've got social media, they're educated, they're in the frontlines, they witnessed this, the child [apprehension], and all that nasty stuff. And we're starting to witness our people stand up, and allies just need to know how to be allies. There's a lot of non-Indigenous "allies" out there that—they're not allies, they're, I call them abusers. And we see a lot of that too. But times are changing. And I'm feeling I'm feeling good about our people. Because on the Indigenous side, we're a very young population that's got a very high fertility rate. We're getting more of our kids, are being able to stand on their own go through college and university or, you know, get involved in the struggle one way or another. So, you know, we need to unite our people. And we need to have the common objective, which is to get rid of the Indian Act, and the federal government's, what we call the "1969 2.0 White Paper" process, which is yet again assimilation, or genocide, if you will.

Am Johal  24:02 
Scott, I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to the work that some of the young people are doing out of ALIVE. I've got the report, Our Place, Our Home, Our Vision. I've had a chance to read it, it's a wonderfully written report, really thorough, excellent framing, and with really practical, positive suggestions on a way forward, wondering if you can speak to—I see someone next door getting ready to do a podcast recording. So, I see lots of activity happening, wondering if you can speak a little bit about what the youth at ALIVE are for up to.

Scott Clark  24:39 
Absolutely. Hopefully, Am, you can link that report to this thing so people can read it. Over I guess three years ago, four years ago, ALIVE partnered with a number of non-Indigenous organizations and we got some funding to do, reach out to youth, Indigenous,  non-Indigenous youth in East Vancouver. Long story short, after all various forms of engagement with workshops, everything, you name it, festivals, everything. We came up with that policy document, we consulted over 2000 youth from East Vancouver. The policy document is very pragmatic. It's the best document as it relates to real systems change from the ground up. And it covers nine policy areas, ultimately that the main one is urban Indigenous self-government, and how to get there. And so it deals with the issues around recreation, education, housing and homelessness, environment, climate change, economic development, all of those things. But it all does come under the banner of self-government, urban Indigenous self-government. And so we've been working on that, we're coming up with a second policy document because the young folks have been... They got a committee of 10 Indigenous youth, 10 non-Indigenous youth, they meet monthly. We do all kinds of, really... They love it. They just love it. And then we just came back from Lekwungen territory after eight days of teaching the young people that we brought from here over to Victoria. We've mixed them in with a bunch of on-reserve youth, and mentors. Kids learned how to do spear fishing, smoking salmon, drying salmon, learning to play Lahal, learning protocol about being welcomed into the territory by the Chief and Council on the work, we did all kinds of great stuff. So those young folks are learning exponentially what it means to be in Coast Salish territory, and building up their skills and their confidence. And we're coming up with—we're actually heading back to the island [around] Halloween, we're going to be hosting trick-or-treaty at the BC legislative buildings. And we'll be inviting in all the local, what we call the Siyá:ms, the hereditary leaders, spokesperson for the families in the villages and all the other folks, and we're gonna just have a two hour event over there. And ultimately, what it comes down to, Am, is we don't have any friends in government. We just don't. And that doesn't stop us from doing the work. And what the work is now telling us is that we need something called the Coast Salish Authority Resource Board. And that would look at all the resources that are spent federally, provincially, civically, foundations, and pull those resources through a Coast Salish authority, And then bring in the appropriate folks that know the communities, know what's needed, and then develop an approach that we can get those resources out to where our people need them, so that we can close the gaps. And the gaps are terrible, Am. And I don't need to tell you that. 30% of the prison population Indigenous, 62% of the children in care Indigenous, 45% of the homeless population Indigenous—like, how is not by design? And who are they using? Right, these governments. They're using the flipping service providers who can't fight back, because if they fight back, they lose their contracts. So they deliberately ignore ALIVE. And, as does the province, as does the Feds. But we keep doing the work, we're keeping—we've got a whole bunch of events planned over the next several months, where we're going to be refining the documents for a new model of urban Indigenous self-government that honours the Coast Salish law and traditions.

Am Johal  28:54 
Scott, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about what some of the activities you're going to be involved with ALIVE in the future?

Scott Clark  29:02 
Well, we're actually just going to be... Well, obviously, we have that the we call the Youth Implementation Committee. We have those 10 youth Indigenous, 10 non-Indigenous, we meet monthly. From that we design, we design activities that support the young people in a comprehensive approach. What are things that young people want to see? What activities can we do with them that can build their knowledge base and make them better citizens on Coast Salish territory? So some of the activities, I just said, we just came back from Songhees, after eight days. We're looking at going up to other, or Fairy Creek, we took the youth up there so they could witness firsthand what was happening there. Introducing them to elders, to mentors, we've got a bunch of other activities. Like in the summertime, when they released the pandemic stuff. We fed over 9000 people with salmon and halibut, clams and, and bannock and fried bread. And signed up a whole bunch of members, sharing our documents, talking about you know, what they can do as urban Indigenous peoples, how we can start organising, so we can collectively get our issues on the table in a respectful way. And so, we are, we've got a whole bunch of activities that we're going to be discussing with the youth. But we also—right beside you, Am—we have our brand new podcast studio. I think your crew is going to help our crew so we can get that thing fully activated. And then let the young people and other urban Indigenous peoples use that facility so that they can amplify their voices around whatever it is that they find meaningful and engaging around empowerment. Not charity, there's too much charity going on. But we're really looking at sustainable empowerment models that really support our youth, non-Indigenous and Indigenous, to deconstruct the power narrative that we're provided with by the colonial corporate governments and corporatocracy, and that these young people have real voices, they have real concerns, they have real issues. Change happens in their neighbourhoods. And, and these young folks are, I'm blown away. I'm absolutely blown away by their, you know, they're out there and being interviewed by the media, I think you I think you even did one with them. They're publicly speaking about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Girls, the Truth and Reconciliation, the colonial version of UNDRIP that was adopted by Canada, the province, and the City of Vancouver. We've had our youth meeting with the Vancouver Police Board, with the mayor. And following up with them saying that "We've got to stop this nonsense." We got, we got to stop this silos, this apartheid, this genocide, and you can't—you can ignore us. But we're not going to go away. You can ignore us, but we're not going to go away. And that's, that's the work these young folks are doing. I told you, we're going to be going back to the Island, very shortly to go do our tick-or-treaty over at the Legislative Building. Because as you know, and as most folks should know, all of the lands in what we call the Northwest, the Northwest of Turtle Island, have never been ceded. They've never been conquered. They've never been given to British Columbia, or Canada. It's ours. And we never gave up our governments. In fact, what we're seeing is a resurgence of it right now. And our job, really my job, as a part of that long sort of... Is to pass on what I've learned, what I can share, and ensure that, you know, these young people, when they go to the table, they're not there based on some charity model, they're there based on defend—exercising their responsibility to defend their rights, their family's rights, and the nation's rights. And so that's sort of where these young folks are going.

Am Johal  33:07 
Scott, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar. I'm wondering if there's anything you'd like to add?

Scott Clark  33:12 
Yeah, you know, the big thing is this, Am. And I would say that people need to know the history of the land. And the history of the people of the Coast Salish, that's where you live. And, you know, your ancestors didn't do this to us. But you're living off the privilege of that oppression. You learn the history of our people, you learn the history of our land, you learn the history of contact, you learn the history of the Hudson's Bay Company, the Douglas Treaties, the colonies when British Columbia—learn that history. Because our rights are protected. In Canada's constitution through the British North America Act, in the 1763 Royal Proclamation. We never give up our land. And the Canadian government doesn't want people to know about the 1763 Royal Proclamation. But every court case that we win at the Supreme Court of Canada is based on the Royal Proclamation of 1763. So if you don't know about that, I encourage you folks to learn that history. Because I think, well, you know, I think that knowledge will make you a better human being. And how you can really be an ally, to change the narrative that governments and the media are playing right now. So I'll stop there. And I just put my hands up to you in appreciation for giving me this opportunity to share some of my thoughts, some of the work that we're doing. And we're going to be busy. We're gonna be very busy in the next few months.

Am Johal  34:46 
Thank you so much, Scott, for joining us on Below the Radar.

Scott Clark   34:50
Huy ch q’u.

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Paige Smith  34:53
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. This has been our conversation with Scott Clark! To learn more about ALIVE Society, the “Our Place, Our Home, Our Vision” report and more, check out the show notes for details and links! Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on Below the Radar.

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Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
January 11, 2022

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