Northern Cree & Friends: Canadian
Canada’s National Aboriginal Day is on June 21st, it’s something our Government gave them a few years ago so Native Groups would stop threatening to blow shit up and blocking our railways. Like most of Canada’s Grand Plans regarding Natives — this one was a 1996 initiative sponsored by the Liberal Party of Canada — it hasn’t worked.
So Natives are having their own Day this summer, and they’ve decided to call it a “National Day Of Protest“, because 200 years of negotiations with the Canadian government has left Natives in Canada with the highest levels of Alcoholism, Suicide and Drug Addiction in North America. In Canada, if you’re a Native on a Reserve, you count yourself lucky to have brown water coming out of your taps
Canada didn’t have a War Of Extinction with the First Nations, all three of our Governments — French then British then Canadian — signed Treaties with the People of the Mohawk, Ojibwa, Algonquin, Huron, Blackfoot, Bella Coola and all the other First Nations. All three Governments made promises to the First Nations, so Canada didn’t need a War Of Extinction with the First Nations like they had in America, we had The Reserves and Bureaucracy and The Residential Schools.
Natives didn’t become “People” under the Canadian Constitution (British North America Act) until 1960. Until then they couldn’t vote in Canadian elections without giving up their Treaty Claims, whatever they may be. Until 1985 a Native Woman lost her Official Native Status if she married a non-Native… lets read that again: If an Iroquois Woman married a non-Native that meant she was no longer a Native in the Eyes of the Federal Canadian Government. In 1985, when Bill C-35 became law, an Iroquois Woman could remain a Native after marriage to a non-Native… but her children and grandchildren were never again to be considered Native. Native Men, meanwhile, could pass on their Status to their children regardless of the mothers Status. Starting to get an idea as to how Bureauracy can erase a People?
Being “Status” means you’re considered to be an “Indian”, a “First Nations People”, an “Aboriginal”, an “Other” by the Canadian Government. It means being “Registered as an Indian under the Indian Act”. Being an “Indian” on a Federally Operated Reserve means never being able to own the land your home sits on, which means you can’t get a mortgage to improve your home, which means relying on a Bureaucracy hundreds or thousands of miles away to fix the fucking hole in your roof. Not having a mortgage means never getting a bank loan to start a small business, being an Indian on a Reserve means Third World Poverty and people on the Outside looking at you with contempt for not being able to pick yourself up with your bootstraps — which the government promised three budgets ago to supply you with last year.
Being “Indian” in Canada means no one will take your shit seriously. No one pays any attention because when You say “it’s our religion” the only thing Canadians see is a fucking Indian holding a feather and waving it at some smoke, and what the fuck is Sweet Grass anyway? Nothing about who Natives are or what they believe makes it into Our consciousness because we’ve been looking at them for 400 years as “just a bunch of fucking loin cloth wearing, raw meat eating, dancing in circles Indians”. But they’re not Indians. They haven’t been in India for 50,000 years. They’re as much an Indian as someone from Scotland. They are Cree, Ojibwa, and they’re not even that. We crushed their language when we forced them into schools where their teachers abused them physically and mentally and sexually. We didn’t send them to school to learn, we sent them to school so they’d forget and every time one of them stands up and says “hey, wait a fucking minute, I’m not an Indian at all… I have a heritage and ancestry going back 15,000 years on this land that you’re trying to deny” we shake our heads and ask “why can’t they just be civil?” and ignore them even more.
And land claims? Who fucking cares about some piece of paper written 200 years ago and signed by a bunch of people who are all dead, their ancestors are all dead, and the people who could trace their blood back to the Signers wouldn’t piss on the Treaties to put out the fire. Who fucking cares about a piece of paper signed so long ago promising, guaranteeing, that their descendants today could be prosperous and practice their religion on their land… promises written down on some irrelevant piece of fading paper like… I don’t know, like a Constitution or Habeas Corpus or a Papal Decree or the Magna Carta or a promise from one King and Queen to the King and Queen of another people. Honestly, who takes those things seriously?
And they’re so fucking poor. Why should we take their demands seriously if they can’t even afford running water? The Federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development gives Natives — gives them — $7 Billion Dollars every year. What more do those greedy bastard Natives want? Some kind of accountability within the Reserve System to prevent all that money from disappearing into a black hole of bureaucracy? Some kind of Federal Oversight Committee with serious powers willing to examine the Native Band System to see why that money never makes it to the Natives it was intended to help? The reserves Canada built for them are kept away from Civilization, there are no roads to many of them, then we deny them the funding to build waste and safe water treatment plants. We force natives to obey the rules they signed on to and we keep them on the reserves as a condition to federal support, but our governments ignore the rules they signed which should give Natives full control over that land. We keep them on reserves where a child considers herself lucky if she has a plastic bag to huff solvents out of. Right now, under the current system run by the Canadian and Provincial Governments, almost every Reserve in Canada has water — in 2007 — contaminated with e-coli. Right now, under the current system, more Native kids go uneducated than any other group in North America. Right now we tell them to stand up after hacking their fucking legs off.
It’s easy for Us to blame inept and corrupt Native Leadership for the atrocities on Reserves, and for the disproportionate level of Native homelessness in Canada’s cities, but that ineptness was bred into the system by generations of Canadian Governments and the corruption came from Native Leaders who believed and bought into a Federal System which had at its heart the assimilation and colonization of First Nations people. Most Bands have wanted to negotiate — in good faith — with Federal and Provincial Governments, but have been screwed over time and time again. So after the Canadian Armed Forces were called out to break up a protest in Quebec, and after an unarmed Native Protester — Dudley George — was shot dead by an Ontario Provincial Tactical Police Sniper just a few years ago, and after fifteen consecutive years of promises of a “New System” and a “New Way” of dealing with Land Claims and Reserve Issues and Rampant Abuse, why should anyone be surprised if — why should anyone be surprised when — Natives blockade a railway, or take over a Housing Project being built on “Contested Land”?
So there’s going to be a Day Of National Protest by Natives living in Canada — which is one of the Eight Richest countries on Earth, and one of the only Trillion Dollar Economies out There. And there have been threats of violence by fringe Native organizations, but there have been many more calls for a peaceful expression of just how truly fucked most Natives have it here. There are Native Bands which are thriving in Canada, and making their lives better by using The System. But, despite the best efforts of a lot of Native and non-Native people, they’re still the exception. British Columbia is in the process of turning over a chunk of their Province the size of Britain to Natives, and the Supreme Court of Canada has made several rulings over the past five years which have helped Natives regain some of their Treaty Rights but, again, 200 years after negotiations started, this is the exception, not the Rule.
In terms of Native Rights in Canada a recent Supreme Court of British Columbia ruling may give some insight into the dichotomy of the situation. Until a few days ago a Native woman’s children lost their Status if they had a non-Native father. But, thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia on June 16, 2007, in a case brought forward by Sharon McIvor — a professor on the Lower Nicola First Nations Reserve in British Columbia — her children may soon be considered Native — if they win the inevitable appeals. The magnitude of this Judgement may only be secondary to women gaining the right to vote. If this Judgement survives the Canadian Supreme Court the number of “Status Natives” in Canada — according to the Federal Definition — could nearly triple. So while it’s taken about 200 years for all Natives in Canada to once again be Natives in Canada, the Canadian Government is about to have three times the people in a system that is nearly completely dysfunctional at current levels.