Just recently something happened in our Political Office that has not been seen for a long time. We received a nasty note printed around the margins of an article in the July issue of First Nations Voice. I’m not exactly sure what to call it.
It did not contain X-rated slogans, and there were no swastikas scrawled on the note, but it did include statements such as:
“This is Canada why don’t you call yourselves Canadians”,
“…then we would all be equal…No more favoring you people.”
“You would all pay taxes, earn a living, and any free handouts would be to all Canadians.”
“We’re tired of so many years of this palaver.”
While the anonymous message may not legally qualify as “Hate Mail”, it does smack of ignorant perceptions which many of us who are in political positions hear all too often. The note was written around an article from First Nations Voice concerning the Anishinabek Nation’s decision to outlaw the term “aboriginal” when referring to our citizens. It described our process for moving forward in eliminating trappings of colonialism and our issues by the creation of “pan-aboriginal” approaches to dealing with issues affecting First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples.
We are trying for the most part to create our own way, devise our own government processes and our own self-determining road to a better future for our children. By doing things our way and removing ourselves from stereotypes, recognize that we are rocking the canoe.
We have rights affirmed within the Canadian Constitution. We have rights affirmed by many Supreme Court decisions. We have rights affirmed within our treaties, and we also have rights provided to us by the Creator, which may be referred to as our inherent rights. The treaties also lay out our special relationship with the Crown, a relationship that was originally based upon Nation-to-Nation negotiations. This is a relationship that for over a hundred years has been very one-sided in terms of who derived the most benefit.
In talking about self-actualization, self-determination and self-government, we know we are making some people nervous. There are many who have derived a great deal of benefit from our lands and territories over the years. There are many who would like us to stay right where we are – poor and always in need of government largesse. By being needy, we are always responding to rules imposed by other governments if we want to make use of their programs and services.
I sometimes refer to Joe and Edna Anishinabe as the average First Nation couple. Perhaps every now and again I should refer to Bob and Bertha Smith as the typical non-native Canadian. These are people comfortable with the status quo, who work and pay their taxes, and sometimes vote in federal or provincial elections. They are people who believe that everybody should be equal under the law. But their world is one where being equal means that if you’re poor you should stay poor, Indians should stay on reserves and not talk about things that make Canadians uncomfortable.
One of the things some have learned when moving with our “Rights-Based Agenda” is that some Canadians are fearful about what effect the essential change in the relationship between First Peoples and Canada will have on them. We are going to put forward ideas that do not conform to a colonialist attitude. We are not going to sit idly by and let the next 100 years reflect the last 100.
As for taxes, an overwhelming majority of the 60% of First Peoples in Canada who are lucky enough to be employed do pay taxes. But we are also taxed in other ways. Every day as millions of dollars of resources are taken off our territories with no benefit to the original owners of the land, it may rightly be said that our communities are being collectively taxed. Many Canadians past and present have become very rich off the land that our ancestors shared with theirs. Each year we see Canada’s Gross Domestic Product increase, yet the people who allowed development to occur still live in abject poverty. Yes sir, we contribute a great deal for Canada’s benefit.
I certainly wouldn’t describe First Peoples as “favored”, given that we experience the highest rates of infant death, youth suicide, and the lowest life expectancy in Canada.
I, like many, are tired of saying this year after year. I, like many others, wish we didn’t have these kinds of conditions in our communities. I, like many others, wish that we were at least equal to many other Canadians.
First Nations peoples look forward to the day where we all enjoy true equality , when we have the same access to education, health care, and economic opportunities as others enjoy in Canada.
Grand Council Chief