In light of the upcoming Crown-First Nations Gathering scheduled for this week — the one from which our Prime Minister will be “ducking out early” — trm thought it prudent to review some basics on Canada’s relationship with her First Peoples. Harper’s planned early exit, the crisis at Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities, as well as the threat to Coastal First Nations in BC as posed by the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline add to the urgency of trm‘s review, despite the fact that those items are not on the ever-changing Agenda for the gathering.
An Unhealthy Relationship Between the Canadian State and Her Indigenous Peoples
The Indigenous Peoples Solidary Movement Ottawa (IPSMO) provide an excellent case study of Canada’s continued colonial and genocidal policies, the overt and covert racism, and the ongoing dishonouring of the Crown Treaties and Agreements in the case of Attawapiskat.
Since a state of emergency was declared…, instead of receiving immediate supports from both the federal and provincial governments, the community has received:
- Jurisdictional wrangling between the federal government and Ontario on who should be responsible for the emergency, who should pay for the needs of the people
- Blaming from the feds on their financial mismanagement, which isn’t true
- Punishment with third-party management
- Red tape & bureaucracy in order to have their state of emergency recognized and needed funds allocated
Of course, this isn’t anything new to our First Peoples.
Completely Unnecessary Surveillance of First Peoples
The case by IPSMO and the film, Canada: Apartheid Nation (which trm will examine in an upcoming post), both reference Dr. Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. Dr. Blackstock, a tireless advocate for First Nations children who speaking frequently at meetings and conferences across the nation and beyond is someone who sees the inequities and peacefully responds. Yet, she has been subject to routine surveillance by the federal Aboriginal Affairs department.
Again, this is nothing new to First Peoples. Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer, member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, professor of Indigenous law, politics and governance and head of the Centre for Indigenous Studies at Ryerson University and another peaceful advocate for equality. In her Indigenous Nationhood blog at rabble.ca she reveals that the surveillance of Dr. Blackstock led her to file Freedom of Information request on her own activities. Not surprisingly, there is at least one file on her. It leads her to wonder, then, given the heartful nature of Cindy Blackstock’s work and her own peaceful activities, “[W]hat First Nation activities are NOT considered a potential threat to Canada?“ It’s a valid question, I would think. Perhaps it is something you could ask your Member of Parliament.
The Road to Change: Ending Colonial Practices and State Dependency
In “Colonialism and State Dependency“, as published by the Journal of Aboriginal Health V5, I2, Dr. Gerald Taiaiake Alfred of the University of Victoria’s School of Indigeous Governance explains “the fundamental roots of the psychophysical crises and dependency of First Nations upon the state.” He examines “the effect of colonially-generated cultural disruptions that compound the effects of dispossession to create near total psychological, physical and financial dependency on the state” and “identifies a direct relationship between government laws and policies applied to Indigenous peoples and the myriad mental and physical health problems and economic deprivations.” He shows that,
Political and social institutions, such as band councils and government-funded service agencies that govern and influence life in First Nations today, have been for the most part shaped and organized to serve the interests of the Canadian state. Their structures, responsibilities, and authorities conform to the interests of Canadian governments, just as their sources of legitimacy are found in Canadian laws, not in First Nations interests or laws. These institutions are inappropriate foci for either planning or leading the cause of indigenous survival and regeneration. Reconfiguring First Nations politics and replacing current strategies, institutions and leadership structures with those rooted in and drawing legitimacy from indigenous cultures is necessary for creating renewed environments capable of supporting indigenous ways of being. Transformations begin inside each person, but decolonization starts becoming a reality when people collectively and consciously reject colonial identities and institutions that are the context of violence, dependency and discord in indigenous communities. (Emphasis mine)
His work provides detailed recommendations for change, references the work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Ultimately, he says,
It is the use and occupation of lands within traditional territories, economic uses, re-establishing residences, seasonal/cyclical ceremonial use, and occupancy by families Colonialism and State Dependency and larger clan groups that will allow First Nations to rebuild their communities and reorient their cultures.
The Role of Settler Society
If we of “settler society” do not make significant changes in our personal and public lives, if we do not stand with our Indigenous Peoples to challenge our racist and colonialist governments and institutions, then we are an enormous part of the problem. Saying and doing nothing is akin to condoning the actions of our governments, of saying yes to ongoing racism and colonialism, of perpetuating the cycles of abuse towards our First Nations peoples by our governments at all levels. As such, each of us can challenge our internalized racism, speak out against racism in our families and communities and, on a larger scale, do our utmost to ensure that the HarperCon’s pet project, the Northern Gateway Pipeline, is a #fail. Doing otherwise is a disservice to not only our First Peoples but also to ourselves for we are all Treaty People.