COMMENTARY · 2nd May 2013
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater
The government and church-run residential schools knowingly created conditions that led to the mass deaths of the Indigenous children who attended - upwards of 40 per cent never made it out alive. Incredibly, not only did government officials know that Indigenous children were dying and even "acknowledged" the high rates of deaths and their causes, but this was part of the overall objective:
"But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards the final solution of our Indian problem." (SI Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott)
Why do I bring all this uncomfortableness up in my blog? Why am I asking readers to face the brutal reality that is Canada? It is because genocidal acts against Indigenous peoples continue to this day, hidden in government policies which purport to be in the best interests of Indigenous peoples. It is because every government (Libs and Cons) has had a hand in continuing the situation, but mostly because this Harper government has ramped up efforts to eliminate Indigenous peoples. In my opinion, the Harper Indigenous Manifesto is about erasing Indigenous peoples from Canada socially, culturally, legally and physically.
What used to be forced sterilizations to prevent child births and control Indigenous populations is now pre-mature deaths from the extreme poverty directly linked to chronic, purposeful under-funding, over-prescription of addictive drugs, and lack of housing, water and sanitation.
What used to be residential schools became the 60's scoop and is now child and family services removing our children from our communities at alarming rates.
What used to be European/western education forced on our children through residential schools, is now the provincial school systems, which for the most part, teach the same western ideologies, histories, sciences and politics to our children and specifically exclude our traditional Indigenous knowledge, languages and cultures.
What used to be scalping laws are now starlight tours, murdered and missing Indigenous women by the hundreds, and quelling land claims with brute military and police force.
What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples leaving their reserves are now laws which take away rights when one leaves the reserve (taxes, governance, jurisdiction, trade, identity).
What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples gathering in one place is now CSIS, RCMP, DND and INAC putting us on terrorist watch lists, monitoring our movements, and over-incarcerating our men, women and youth at increasing rates.
What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples hiring lawyers to advocate on their behalf, are now devasting funding cuts to local, regional and provincial First Nation political organizations. All coming at a time when Harper wants chaos, confusion, and lack of political capacity to ensure there is little resistance to his comprehensive Indian Act-based legislative agenda.
He hopes to strike fear and confusion in chiefs so that they don't know whether to stay quiet and hope it doesn't get worse, or take action. Either way, funding cuts will be imposed on local First Nations as well. This is not about whether regional political organizations are doing a good job or not - this is about Harper fulfilling the original intentions of Indian policy;
(1) accessing Indigenous lands and resources and
(2) reducing financial obligations to Indigenous peoples.
He just happens to see striking at political organizations as the best way to isolate individual First Nations, already overwhelmed with issues, so they are easier to bully into submission.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) either does not have the capacity or inclination to take these issues on. Regardless of the reasons, it is clear that local community members are going to be looking to their local First Nation governments to take action. In the same vein, First Nation leaders will be looking for assistance from their treaty, regional and provincial organizations. The days of waiting for the AFN to do something are over. If these funding cuts are ok, so will be the ones that come to individual First Nations, then will come the eventual constitutional changes, the accelerated extinguishment of Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the division and sale of the rest of our lands.
If Canadians think that this does not concern them - they should think again. As your "Canada" slowly becomes a dictatorship led by a rogue Prime Minister who is obsessed with power, Canadian laws, rules, and regulations are breached with impunity. Everything from elections, ethics, budgets, and legislation are manipulated without regard for the rule of law. The damage done by these renegade Conservatives is already so severe that analysts feel it will take years to undo the harm.
In standing beside Indigenous peoples to oppose these destructive policies, Canadians would be living up to the spirit and intent of the treaties and, in so doing, protecting their own futures. Economic reports have already shown that the cost of maintaining Indigenous peoples in poverty is higher than the solution. Those same studies show that the costs of delaying the resolution of land claims and treaty implementation for example, are higher than if those claims were resolved equitably. Even the most basic math shows that it costs more to keep an Indigenous person in a federal prison for one year ($100,000) than it does to pay for a four-year university degree ($60,000).
If you think for a minute that once Harper is done erasing Indigenous peoples, that he won't come after women, children, the impoverished, the remaining pristine environmental areas, water basins and sanctuaries all in the name of wealth and power, think again. There is no room for justice, diversity or freedom in a dictator's view of the world.
We are all compelled to act. Our reasons do not have to be the same. I can be a Mi'kmaw citizen and someone else can be a Canadian citizen, but still have a mutual interest in protecting the environment. Whether someone votes in federal and provincial elections, or like me, does not vote in elections - we all still share the desire to protect our waterways. One can be Maliseet and someone else French, but still feel it important protect our cultures for future generations.
I have no intention of letting Harper erase me, my family, my home community or Mi'kmaw Nation. Let's put our heads together about a plan of action.
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 Center for Indigenous Governance.
Tom Flanagan behind Conservatives' Aboriginal Policy
Comment by david dickinson on 2nd May 2013
Whenever possible, the Conservatives should be reminded of where their aboriginal policy comes from: none other than Tom Flanagan, a right-wing American extremist who believes child porn should be legal. Flanagan might be out of the limelight, but his un-Canadian policies continue. How sad that Canadian policies would be dictated to us by disgraced Americans. If he's so popular in the USA, then why is he still here, in Canada? Fascist go home!