October 21, 2013

Murphy: Natives dismiss Canada's generosity

A conservative critic responds to the Elsipogtog conflict, saying Natives are ungrateful for all Canada has done for them.

A rude dismissal of Canada’s generosity

By Rex MurphyThe Canadian present is a vastly different place from the Canadian past, and not to acknowledge that, further, not to act on the great benign difference between the two, is willful blindness and reckless distortion.

The attitude of Canadians—now—toward aboriginal peoples, and the modern day plight of so very many of our fellow-citizens, is a composed of many emotions.

Some are moral-emotional: There is genuine shame in the country that conditions are as they are; there is a residue of guilt that the history of conflict and dispossession wrought such long-term hurt to native peoples. (Guilt is not a great ladder to progress, as it represses honest responses and straight talk—but it remains all the same.)

Other emotions are more straightforward: Most Canadians, genuinely, and in depth, wish better for their co-citizens, are not just open, but intensely eager to the right thing by them and with them—if only one or many right things can be seen and finally agreed upon.

There is also an attitude of singular respect for native peoples, respect is shown in a hundred different ways every day, from the honour given at various times to native ceremonies; the almost manic efforts of companies and governments to work toward inclusion; the honour most non-natives have for the wisdom and ways of native peoples; and finally, it is neither difficult to imagine nor possible to deny with what a rapture of utter enthusiasm from all Canadians would meet any lasting solution, if one were to be found.

But there is another spread of emotions. They come, to be blunt, as a backlash against the more extreme and angry expressions of some native leaders. When Canadians hear “settler” or “colonialist” or “genocide” tossed scornfully at them, they quite reasonably ask themselves: Have all the efforts to respond to native grievance, both financial and political—the very real and dedicated efforts of so many years to get beyond the distrust and anger—been for nothing?

Can Canada be accused of willful neglect, even racism as some radicals portray it, when every government—and I keep insisting the majority of citizens—really has made efforts to end poverty on reserves, to offer programs to rescue youth from the perils of drugs and addiction, to keep basic services working?
Below:  "Phil Fontaine is pictured in the foyer of the House of Commons in 2008, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a historic apology to residential school survivors." (Ashley Fraser/Postmedia News)

Commentators respond

Mruphy's claims certainly aren't true in the United States. And people were quick to point out they aren't true in Canada either.

What Does Rex Murphy Know About Aboriginal Peoples? Nothing

By Jesse StaniforthNot surprisingly, like so many other commentators on Aboriginal issues from non-Aboriginal national media outlets, noted climate change denier Rex Murphy conjures up an entirely fictional vision of Canadian-Aboriginal relations in which racism no longer exists, not understanding that doing so is the very enactment of racism itself.

He imagines that colonialism is something that happened 100 years ago and couldn't possibly be happening or even be relevant today, especially because of "the almost manic efforts of companies and governments to work toward inclusion" of Aboriginal peoples. (He must have dug hard and deep to have revealed such generosity, since I've never actually heard of such "manic" efforts unless they've been forced through the extremely hard-won authority of a document like the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.)

According to Murphy, when people talk about the issue of one people occupying and dominating the land and resources of another and call it colonialism, it's not because colonialism is a force with any power in the modern world. Rather, it's the result of whiny, spoiled NDNs who can't appreciate their mould-infested reservation buildings or their traditional lands being sold to American oil companies to poison through fracking, and who therefore attempt to "force-frame every dispute in the tendentious framework of the dubious 'oppression studies' and 'colonial theory' of latter-day universities."

No, for Murphy, Canada is full of loving people who deeply respect Aboriginal people and cultures (like Christie Blatchford, who argued last December that there's no such thing as "Native culture or traditions"--she's got an article in Sunday's Post too, but I'm not going to bother reading that).

These are loving and respectful people, like those who read the National Post and the Sun, who are sick to death of ungrateful Aboriginal people with shortened life-expectancies and higher likelihoods of living in poverty being ungrateful for their generosity. "When [they] hear 'settler' or 'colonialist' or 'genocide' tossed scornfully at them, quite reasonably ask themselves whether everything done to right our historical wrongs has been for nothing."

Murphy doesn't offer a lot of examples of "everything done to right our historical wrongs" (no wrongs have been committed in the last 50 years, obviously), except the "august and dignified ceremony" of the 2008 IRS apology, which he claims (!) "was the real public window on how Canada feels towards its native peoples."

Really! The millions of dollars in cuts to Aboriginal organization funding since then, the Omnibus legislation forced through in violation of First Nations' constitutional and treaty rights, the aggressive push for dirty oil and pipelines First Nations strongly oppose--what kind of public window do those offer?

The lack of a single dollar offered toward reconciliation without WINNING A COURT CASE AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT, the Federal Government's continued attempts to stall or slip by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, while spending $1.5-million to spy on and challenge in court child-welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock's attempt to get the same funding for Aboriginal Children as white kids get, rather than 20 per cent less--these real-world issues with real-world consequences of continued poverty, continued addiction, continued lack of drinking water, and continued murders and disappearances of Native women, to old Reactionary Rex, aren't expressions of "how Canada feels towards its native peoples."

That's something only a cornball parliamentary ceremony--with no promise of further spending--could express. It's almost like Murphy deliberately avoided listening to what thousands of Idle No More activists who've made the news over past year had to say so his slack-jawed awe at the government's "august and dignified" curtsey toward Native People would remain unperturbed.
Rex Murphy and the Frames of Settler Colonial War

By Corey SnelgroveAs the title implies, Murphy relies on a tired image of benevolent Canada: from Canadians “singular respect for native peoples” as demonstrated in “the honour given at various times to native ceremonies” to “the honour most non-natives have for the wisdom and ways of native peoples” to the “immense openness and goodwill of the Canadian citizenry.”

Is Murphy talking about the RCMP officer who said “land belongs to the government, not to fucking natives” as an example of Canadian’s “singular respect for native peoples”? Or is he talking about this past week’s Throne Speech in which, reflecting on Canada’s foundation, Governor General David Johnston read these words:

“They were undaunted. They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then few in number, reached across a vast continent. They forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.”

These words not only discursively produce the territory temporally termed ‘Canada,’ as terra nullius–a clear demonstration of not only disrespect for, but dehumanization of Indigenous peoples, but it also erases the centuries of violence that was and continues to be used in order to forge this “independent country.” A violence that re-emerged in the public eye at Elsipogtog on Thursday.

No, perhaps Murphy wasn’t referring to that either.

Maybe he was referring to the “hundred different ways” everyday Canadians show respect for native peoples. Like the camper a couple summers ago who said “Lets get Indian!” and opened a beer. Or perhaps Murphy is referencing the guy at the bar, who, when seeing Theresa Spence on the television last December told me “they should all die.” Or maybe Murphy overheard the Canadian woman in Oak Bay who called the Indigenous woman a liar when discussing the jawbone and bones of an infant that were removed illegally in order to build a bigger house. The Canadian instead argued that it was simply midden–refuse, waste, trash–coincidentally, this is perhaps a more honest statement of Canada’s views of Indigenous peoples: refuse, waste, trash.

Given all these examples of Canadian’s “respect” for native peoples, Murphy states that Canadians “quite reasonably ask themselves: Have all the efforts to respond to native grievance, both financial and political–the very real and dedicated efforts of so many years to get beyond the distrust and anger–been for nothing?” Have the efforts that “every government […] has made […] to end poverty on reserves, to offer programs to rescue youth from the perils of drugs and addiction, to keep basic services working” been for nothing?

Yeah, like the continued underfunding of education, inadequate water quality and over-housing in many reserve communities, environmental contamination, elimination of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, withholding documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, agreements based on surrender, the continued placement of children in care, the over 600 confirmed missing and murdered Indigenous women, the statement by Prime Minister Harper nearly a year after the 2008 apology that Canada “has no history of colonialism” and this past week’s Throne Speech which essentially repeats the claim, the failure to substantively address dispossession through restitution… I could go on.
Dear Rex: Colonialism exists, and you’re itDear Rex Murphy,

When you write that Canadians are offended at the term ‘settler’ and ‘genocide,’ you don’t speak for all of us. I’m a Canadian citizen, my ancestors came to Canada from Europe a few centuries ago, and I understand myself as a settler. It’s not disrespectful for indigenous peoples to remind us of Canada’s legacy of genocide. It’s not rude for indigenous peoples to label as ‘colonial’ the connections between the industries of resource extraction, the RCMP, and the corporate media you write for. What’s insulting is your attempt to paint Canada as benevolent, open, and respectful of indigenous peoples, and your contempt for any understanding of present-day colonialism and oppression in Canada.

I’m not an expert on colonialism, but clearly neither are you. In reading your vitriolic editorial, it struck me that you clearly hate the term ‘settler’ and ‘colonialism’; however, your writing also indicates that you probably don’t actually understand what these terms mean. So I’m writing to you, one white settler to another, to explain to you what settler colonialism means to me, and why I think it’s important for understanding (and living in) present-day Canada. With that said, I’m not convinced you’re really ignorant of these terms; I think you have a sense of their meaning and the implications, and it terrifies you, but that terror turns to anger before you can really feel it. I think you—and many other Canadians—know that something is deeply wrong, even if you can’t admit it to yourself. It’s something in the air, something we feel in our gut: we’re caught up in something horrible, and we can’t go on this way.

I think that’s why the truths spoken by indigenous people provoke so much resentment in people like you: because you know they’re speaking the truth. It’s plain for everyone to see: Elsipogtog and other instances of indigenous resistance aren’t political stunts by over-educated ‘radicals’ as you’d like to portray them; they are principled stands by everyday people—grandmothers, fathers, mothers, and their children—against rampant and unending extraction, exploitation, and destruction. These communities are not motivated by abstract ideologies or university jargon, but by deep responsibilities and commitments to protect land and people.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson puts it clearly:The story here, the real story, is virtually the same story in every Indigenous nation: Over the past several centuries we have been violently dispossessed of most of our land to make room for settlement and resource development. The very active system of settler colonialism maintains that dispossession and erases us from the consciousness of settler Canadians except in ways that is deemed acceptable and non-threatening to the state. We start out dissenting and registering our dissent through state sanctioned mechanisms like environmental impact assessments. Our dissent is ignored. Some of us explore Canadian legal strategies, even though the courts are stacked against us. Slowly but surely we get backed into a corner where the only thing left to do is to put our bodies on the land. The response is always the same—intimidation, force, violence, media smear campaigns, criminalization, silence, talk, negotiation, “new relationships,” promises, placated resistance and then more broken promises. Then the cycle repeats itself.This is the structure of settler colonialism. One of the basic assumptions of your editorial—and virtually all other mainstream media coverage of Elsipogtog—is that colonialism happened sometime in the past, and since then Canada has done a lot to “right our historical wrongs.” When do you imagine colonialism stopped happening in Canada? When the last piece of land was mapped, surveyed, and appropriated for the Crown? When government officials first broke their treaties with indigenous nations so that settlement and resource exploitation could continue? When the last residential school was closed? When Stephen Harper issued an official apology five years ago? When he declared that Canada has no history of colonialism a year later? Of course, Canada has changed, and so have settler attitudes. But the structure of settler colonialism is still very much intact.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Columbus Day Celebrates White Superiority and Indians Don't Fit American Myth.

Below:  Rex Murphy.

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