It's Time to Stand Up and Defend Our People
It's time to stand up and defend our people
By Pamela Palmater; June 4, 2012 - rabble.ca
It used to be that in the old days, it was only really disturbed or ultra fanatical people that would say overtly crazy, racist things in public. Today, if you read any of the on-line comments after news articles related to First Nations people, you will see a segment of Canadian society filled with anger, hatred and racism who lack any actual knowledge, context, history or factual basis for their opinions about our issues. That is to be expected given the lack of education in public schools, work places or society in general about who we are as Indigenous peoples.
However, when it comes to educated and experienced Canadian ministers and politicians -- there are no excuses. In fact, each minister has an army of policy advisers, lawyers, assistants, communications specialists and advisers that fully brief him or her about all the facts, history and context. They don't even have to think for themselves as they have issue binders, speaking notes and press releases written for them. Once in a while though, a minister gets caught off guard by a reporter and has to speak for him/herself and then their REAL views come out.
I am writing this blog today because the ignorant, racist comments against Indigenous peoples in Canada seem to be increasing by Harper's Conservative cabinet ministers. Since they are so well informed about our issues, we cannot excuse them based on ignorance -- their words reflect not only their lack of empathy for our peoples, but also their outright disdain for us. I hardly know where to start with this one, but here goes...
Minister Duncan has said a great deal of really dumb things in his tenure as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) which is likely one of the reasons he is "handled" so obviously by his staff. One of the worst things he has ever said was that he did not consider the devastating loss of language and culture caused by the residential school system to be "cultural genocide".
Of course this ignores the actual realities of residential schools, and of all the people who should know better, it should be the Minister of Indian Affairs.
Then there is his most recent comments about our sovereignty and law-making powers. When asked about our sovereignty, Minister Duncan laughed and said "well, that doesn't really work, does it." He went on to say that "we are a federal government" and "that's the way it has to be." This was in response to several First Nations in this country exercising their right to trade tobacco between First Nations.
It seems to me that First Nations can't ever win in this battle -- if we are impoverished our communities are referred to as "human cesspools"...
If we try to hunt and fish to provide for our families, we are stopped by brute force [see video directly below].
If we try to engage in inter-First Nation trade of traditional products like tobacco -- our right to our livelihood is criminalized.
Canada can't have it both ways. Government can't create laws and policies to keep us in poverty and then complain about the cost of poverty. Similarly, government can't tell us to "pick up our socks" and then arrest us when we find ways to provide for our communities. But, if we think this is bad, it is only going to get worse as governments race to extract as much oil, minerals and riches from our traditional territories as possible with little or no input from us.
Yet, Canada's well-informed ministers continue to make statements based not on fact, but on their own self-interest or racist views about Indigenous peoples. Look at Minister Aglukkaq's denial of food insecurity in Canada. This minister comes from the very region which suffers the highest food insecurity in all of Canada and she denied that there was even a problem -- alleging that everyone just hunts and fishes for a living.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg, many other Conservative Ministers have made racist or derogatory comments against our people. Think of Prime Minister Harper's denial of colonialism in Canada, Minister Oliver's description of First Nations people as "dysfunctional" or the very telling Canada-AFN Summit held in January where everyone smiled and shook hands, while Harper outlined his assimilation plan.
Time and again the Harper Conservative government denies Canada's role in our poverty, they try to sugarcoat the past and have put their assimilatory agenda on fast-forward. Where is the Assembly of First Nations in all of this? They should be standing up for our people! They should be educating Canadians about the facts and most of all they should do what they were mandated to do: advocate for better conditions in our First Nations and "to protect our succeeding generations from colonialism." It's time the AFN joined all the Chiefs, First Nation organizations and grassroots people in standing up and defending the very strength of our Nations -- our sovereignty, land and people.
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.