Namgis hereditary chief Beau Dick has broken a copper shield to shame the Canadian government and draw attention to environmental issues in the region that threaten Native people. Among my tribe, the Tlingit, we call such copper shields Tináa and all along the Pacific Northwest they are a symbol of wealth and status. To break or cut Tináa is a display of power. It can be used to shame a rival clan or, in this case, the Canadian government. The deliberate destruction of wealth in the name of an enemy or rival showed power, and was seen as a direct challenge to the offender.
In Raven’s bioregion, as I like to call it, there are many ways for a clan or tribe to shame or taunt another people. The raising of a shame totem pool was a common practice. To this day some clans among the Tlingit claim ownership over military uniforms for the breaking of Tlingit law. Prior to contact with Europeans one clan might claim the sacred crests or stories of another to shame them. In some cases, the claiming or theft of at.oow (as we Tlingit call such sacred possessions) would be the final act before the outbreak of open war between feuding clans. The physical art, regalia and crests that represent our at.oow are proof of our rights and privileges as members of a clan. They tie us to the sacred origin stories of who we are as a people and how we earned the right to bear such crests. To steal another’s crest is to put them on notice that their people are treading on thin ice. Similarly, the breaking of copper challenges another clan or tribe to respond in kind, or to settle a debt. Not having the capability to respond lowers a clan’s status.
The rights and very existence of a clan or tribe depend on two things. The first is internal recognition among it’s members that they are a distinct people with their own history and unique identity. The second is recognition from other clans and tribes. If a clan or tribe cannot maintain it’s status among it’s peers than it is in jeopardy of losing recognition as a distinct people with all the rights and privileges that come along with being a part of a tribal nation. A tribe or clan that does not follow the natural tribal laws of the land will be put on notice by it’s peers that it is in violation.
Canadian Government: you are now on notice. Your status has dropped in the eyes of Native Tribes in Raven’s Bioregion and among the salmon tribes of Cascadia and the Pacific Northwest. Truthfully, I doubt that anyone expects you to respond in kind.