By Christie Blatchford
The bureaucracies, federal and provincial, which purport to serve First Nations often make a mess of it. The Indian Act clearly breeds dependence and learned helplessness both, and infantilizes native people. The millions that flow every year to First Nations–Attawapiskat alone, the prime minister said last year at the time of the housing emergency, has received $90 million in transfer payments since the Conservatives were elected in 2006–seem to do nothing to raise the aboriginal standard of living. First Nations governance itself often offers a less than pretty picture.
And by almost any measure–poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, rates of children taken into care, even freedom of speech and expression on reserves where the only media are band-owned and operated–aboriginal Canadians live in near-Third World conditions.
Conditions on all reserves are not as despair-inducing and soul-destroying as they are at Attawapiskat, but neither is Attawapiskat unique. On too many First Nations, sexual abuse, profound dysfunction and physical violence are the stuff of daily life.
So, while Chief Spence, and others, may long for “nation-to-nation” discussions, there is I think a genuine question as to whether there’s enough of aboriginal culture that has survived to even dream of that lofty status, or if the culture isn’t irreparably damaged already. Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make.
Actually, a tribe doesn't have to retain any culture to be a distinct political entity. American states have separate governments even though their cultures are almost identical to their neighbors'. The same would apply to tribes.
Slurs and profanity
This dismissive attitude is only the tip of the racist iceberg, as the following posting demonstrates:
Debate on aboriginal issues overshadowed by online slurs
By Christopher Curtis
Since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike more than two weeks ago in Ottawa, in an attempt to get the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, websites such as Facebook and Twitter have been flooded with polarizing commentary over the Idle No More protests now taking place nationwide in her name.
One Facebook commenter called the chief a ‘dumb Indian' and suggested that irrationality was a genetic trait among aboriginals. The person later apologized for the comment after it was posted and criticized on a Montreal-based blog.
That blog singles out other epithets that run the gamut of aboriginal stereotypes, for example with one man suggesting police throw cases of whiskey at native Canadians to quell their growing protest movement. Other web entries and tweets are profanity-laced.
At the other end of the spectrum, columnists or analysts who have criticized the Idle No More movement have been dubbed ‘racist' by their online detractors. Comment sections of some new sites have been shut down because of abusive remarks.
"Some people are very defensive and start seeing racism when, in fact, what they're actually seeing is healthy criticism," said Melissa Mollen Dupuis, who co-founded Idle No More's Quebec branch. "But what you have to realize is that a lot of these people have been put down their whole lives. They've been discriminated against for being aboriginal, they've been beaten over the head with it again and again. So, naturally, they're sensitive."
True, some critics may hate the Idle No More movement for reasons other than race. But I suspect there's a racist component to most of the criticism. Blatchford's commentary above is a good example. She implies a Native government doesn't deserve a head-to-head meeting with the Canadian government because Natives are somehow weakened or inferior.
The continuing hunger strikes, flash mobs, and blockades; the movement's spread around the world; and its use of Native traditions all belie Blatchford's assertions. Which is kind of the point. Mainstream society tends to think indigenous peoples and cultures are no longer relevant. Idle No More intends to prove them wrong.
For more on Idle No More, see Idle No More in Los Angeles and Idle No More Goes International.
Below: "Chief Theresa Spence of Northern Ontario’s Attawapiskat First Nation sits in the sun on Victoria Island, a few hundred metres from Parliament Hill, during her hunger strike." (Teresa Smith/Ottawa Citizen, Postmedia News)