A past recipient of the international Sydney Peace Prize was on the West Coast recently to speak about the Aboriginal role in economics, the environment and its interaction with industry, writes Stefania Seccia in the Westerly News.

A crowd of about 20 people made up of locals, district councillors, Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Ecotrust Portland and Australia, and First Nation bands filled Darwin’s Caf? on July 14 for the event hosted by Ecotrust Canada.

Patrick Dodson is an Aboriginal from Australia joining the newly founded Ecotrust Australia with Ian Gill, chief executive officer and former president of Ecotrust Canada. He spent almost a week on the West Coast before returning to his country.

Of the First Nation communities he’s met during his trip to the United States and Canada they’re “much like many of the communities of my own home, struggling with housing needs and education needs, trying to grapple with serious issues of development and sustaining the country and looking after it on top with all resources they require,” Dodson said. “But also moving along, trying to do things with infrastructure. The most disconcerting factor of all that was the [consistency] of the bureaucracy both here and in Australia. Their ever desirous nature of dominating and basically stifling.”

Dodson was awarded the peace prize in 2008 “for his courageous advocacy of the human rights of Indigenous people, for distinguished leadership for the reconciliation movement and for a lifetime of commitment to peace with justice, through dialogue and many other expressions on non violence,” according to the website http://www.sydneypeacefoundation.org.au/.

He spoke on his experience of fighting for land rights and fighting against people such as miners or farmers. “Without necessarily listening by what they were talking about and without them necessarily listening to what I was talking about,” he said. “Gradually over the last 10 or 15 years I got to actually sit in the room with some of these people and develop some really close friendships.”

“And to try and understand how they think and what their priorities [are] in life.” Dodson said he helped organize meetings between major executives of mining companies, taking them to the mouth of the Mary River before it was developed.

“It was interesting at that time at the introductions, the mining executives are introducing themselves [and] spoke about how much capital they have control of, what commodities they were trying to exploit from the lands and the various windows of opportunity in terms of the market and therefore the pressures upon them,” he said. “And when the indigenous leaders spoke they spoke of how the country was impacted by mining or tourism, other sorts of regulations, legislative frameworks that were set up.”

Dodson explained that the differences in their viewpoints were not due to ill will, but what the executive’s mentality were “stuck in.” “They’re stuck in trying to make profit and get returns for their shareholders,” he added. “Life and the country and the indigenous peoples weren’t really a major priority.”

Whereas the indigenous people were dealing with the miners and what the impacts of that change meant to their lives. “And we pointed this out to these people,” he said. “Well, we’re all sitting in this room as human beings, but our minds aren’t meeting here and we’ve got to find a better way if we’re going to coexist on this earth.”

Slowly, the mentality of mining organizations changed to include interest of Aboriginal people.
“To negotiate not only about their heritage aspect, but to start to think seriously about some sort of compensatory payments or the exploitation of their lands, but somehow start thinking in terms of shareholdings in these companies, which wasn’t really a possibility in some of these places,” he said.

Dodson highlighted that these changes only came about because of the interactions between the indigenous leaders and industry leaders. “[We tried] to find other avenues instead of the confrontation of years past,” he said.

Dodson also spoke about another effort to coalesce indigenous people and industry where the two tried to find a common ground. “When they realized that it was that industry that they had in common, then they could revisit not only the things the natives have done to enhance that industry,” he said. “But what they could do in the marketplace to improve stock…they began to realize that what they thought would forever separate them was not as relevant as they thought it had been at the start of the conservation.”

He then rhetorically asked the crowd how people could coexist and live on a consensual basis. “Being a person who comes from an indigenous tradition of land, spirituality, ceremonies, of the interconnection of what lives and breathes on the land…with a purpose not to just service us as human beings, purpose is there for all,” he said. “This putting things into little boxes isn’t the way. We have to think of all things.”

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Levi Martin gave an opening and closing prayer. He said that his elders’ teachings were similar to indigenous teachings all over the world. “You talk about respect, honour, love, humanity and these are things that are teachings of our own people,” Martin said to Dodson. “The elders are saying to us again that we really need to do a lot of work.”

Past recipients of the Sydney Peace Prize include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson.