Canada 150 is the focus of this week`s highlights. In the first article, 6 Aboriginal scholars give their thoughts on reconciliation. Mi`kmaq lawyer and professor Naiomi Mettalic states that “In a reconciled Canada there would be a renewal of our treaty relationship, a recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship”.
In the second article Lisa Forbes writes a letter to the premier of Manitoba reminding him that reconciliation will entail more than a symbolic bike ride. She reminds him of the land grab by the Settlers and the promise made to Chief Peguis in return for his kind gesture to leave the Settlers on the land. A promise that was never kept.
In the article “The Canada most people don`t hear”, a group of Aboriginal writers respond to an article by Scott Gilmore (A Canada most people don`t see) appearing in Macleans. They address Gilmore`s views and, in particular, his stand that the solution for many of the problems is to close reserves and move people away.
Aboriginal artist and Elder Alex Janvier highlights the reality of a cruel policy whose scars remain. He recollects the times the pass system controlled daily lives and the indignity he endured along with his experience at Residential School. It is no wonder that he states that it’s the land, not the country, that inspires his loyalty. “I don’t have to celebrate,” he says. “That 150 years is none of my business. It never included me so why jump up and down and celebrate?”
As a starting point toward reconciliation, the question should be asked, “Who inhabitited this land called Canada thousands of years prior to 150 years ago?” Aboriginal People is the answer and that should be a start point to understanding what reconciliation is all about. The Christian Doctrine of Discovery claiming territory as your own as though the people who greeted you as you arrived did not exist because they are savages and less than human because of cultural differences and a spirituality that we now know usurps religion, does not cut it! Reconciliation must start with a clear acknowledgement of this fact.
Renaming a building, donating one or renaming Aboriginal day, however well-intentioned , should not cloud the basic fact that this has no impact at the Band level. In fact, it can help the Government as they point to these actions as signs of accomplishment and the real issues of sovereignty, resource development, gender equality (Bill S-3) and the like slip away.
As the late Arthur Manuel states in his book “Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call”, “We are looking for a partnership with Canada, while Canada is trying to hold on to a harmful and outdated colonial relationship.”
I encourage you to read the articles below and the hundreds of other comments and newsworthy items on the site.
Six Indigenous scholars share their views of Canada at 150
A massive birthday party at a cost of $500 million has many wondering what’s worth celebrating. The view by many is that to recognize 1867 as the birth of Canada is to celebrate the beginning of an abusive relationship. Most of them won’t be celebrating
Confederation has been described as a turning point for the worse in the lives of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada. Indigenous rights established through Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 and subsequent treaties were not upheld, it’s been well-argued. There was a steep decline in the vitality of Indigenous cultures and languages, and in people’s well-being, particularly after the Indian Act of 1876. The country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking into the legacy and abuses of the residential school system for Indigenous children, wrote in its 2015 report that “national reconciliation is the most suitable framework to guide commemoration” of Canada’s 150th anniversary, calling it “an opportunity for Canadians to take stock of the past, celebrating the country’s accomplishments without shirking responsibility for its failures.” The following are reflections from six Indigenous scholars at Canadian universities on their vision for a “reconciled Canada.”
Naiomi Metallic, assistant professor and holder of the Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy, Dalhousie University. Mi’kmaq, from Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, Quebec.
The 150th anniversary does not have the same celebratory tone for us as it would have for other Canadians. What we hope other Canadians would reflect on, especially after the TRC report, is how we can move the discourse forward into concrete action. There is a lot to atone for. The status quo cannot continue.
In a reconciled Canada there would be a renewal of our treaty relationship, a recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. Among other things, this requires a legislative response in partnership with Indigenous people. For far too long the government has done things by policy and that can change with each government; legislation demands greater accountability. For example, recognition of the right to self-government in at least core matters relating to the good government and welfare of Aboriginal peoples could be legislated, such as child welfare, social development, housing, language and culture, and other matters of an internal nature to communities. That could act as a foundation for subsequent negotiation around other issues where there are overlapping interests and jurisdictions between Indigenous and other governments, such as lands, water and resources.
Indigenous people and communities would be treated as respected partners, rather than as stakeholders, often consulted after the fact. It would involve the phasing out of the Indian Act according to the desires, needs and capacities of the different Indigenous nations. This direction would require emphasis on capacity-building within Indigenous communities, as well as resources dedicated to helping achieve the goal of self-government. Universities could provide space, research and other services to help communities vision where they want to go and how to get there, and assist in the capacity-building that has to happen. Self-determination does not mean that Indigenous people separate from the Canadian polity; in a reconciled Canada it would be the opposite. There are many areas of overlapping interests and jurisdiction that affect us all. To have a genuine partnership and nation-to-nation relationship, we must share space in the places of power in this country, like in Parliament, the Senate, and on the judicial boards and tribunals – that’s part of reconciliation too.
Shirley Williams/Migizi ow-kwe, elder and professor emeritus, Nishnaabemowin language, Indigenous studies, Trent University. Odawa-Ojibway, from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, Manitoulin Island, Ontario.
Canada’s 150th is not a time of celebration for Anishinaabe people; this period represents 150 years of oppression. What we can celebrate is my people’s history of resistance, resilience, resurgence and restoration. Reconciliation means telling the truth about what happened to us. It means that we have to rebuild, together, what was broken.
I attended St. Joseph’s Residential School in Spanish, Ontario, from age 10 to 16. The government and the priest came to get me when I was seven, but my father was able to keep me at home longer by telling them he would teach me himself, including the catechism – but he did not say in which language. This meant that my Nishinaabemowin language was instilled in my mind; I did not learn English until I went to residential school.
The greatest thing that Canada could do for reconciliation would be to help us restore the languages and cultures that were destroyed. There are still barriers to getting funding to design and publish Indigenous-language teaching materials that are attractive and appealing to students, the same as is done for other languages. We also need to eliminate barriers against First Nations students receiving language instruction at school, such as requiring at least 15 students before offering a program or only offering it during lunch. There should be programs for adults who have lost their languages through the Sixties Scoop, as well as programs to train and accredit fluent speakers as teachers so that they can pass on what they know without having to go through years of university credits. We need immersion programs, too.
In a reconciled Canada there would be a new relationship between First Nations people and Canada, one without racism, so that there is peace, harmony and understanding. It is possible, but the relationship will not be rebuilt unless we mean it. Only then will we both accept each other. There has to be commitment.
Janet Smylie, associate professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto and holder of the CIHR Applied Public Health Chair in Indigenous health knowledge and information. Métis, with kin ties to Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In a reconciled Canada, every Indigenous infant would be born into a family, community and society where all of their needs and gifts would be met and nurtured. Relationships between adults, children and youth would be strong so that Indigenous knowledge and practice could be passed on.
This means there would no longer be inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in the distribution of health and social resources. The mortality rate among Indigenous infants in Canada is two to four times higher than for non-Indigenous infants. That is an important indicator of health and well-being and it’s tragic. There would be a serious redistribution of wealth – our work shows more than 80 percent of Indigenous people in Canadian cities are living below the poverty line.
Land claims would be settled. Since the majority of Indigenous people now live in cities, we would see them reclaiming beautiful Indigenous spaces there too. This would not preclude non-Indigenous people from using them, but these spaces would be self-determined and Indigenous-led. The Toronto Birth Centre is an example. All people in Toronto are welcomed but it was an Indigenous-focused group of midwives who led its development, and it is governed by an Indigenous-majority board.
Universities would partner with Indigenous communities and organizations to help create Indigenous-led centres of learning and training – in health or the arts, for example – where at least 50 percent of the curriculum is based on Indigenous ways of knowing and doing. Indigenous languages would flourish among our children. Adults would have access to language recovery programs designed for their learning style and busy schedules.
For all this to happen, non-Indigenous Canadians must recognize that they’re our kin on this land – we are like stepbrothers and stepsisters. It will require rewiring the individual and collective Canadian psyche, recognizing that we are really cool siblings and have a lot to offer. Every Indigenous infant is an opportunity to make that change.
Bob Kayseas, professor of business and associate vice-president, academic, First Nations University of Canada. Nahkawe (Saulteaux), from Fishing Lake First Nation, Saskatchewan.
I understand the sentiments of people who feel that celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation is an affront and a slap in the face. On the other side of the coin, there’s a shared history on this land. It hasn’t always been good and the relationship is still very challenged. But if you look at how Canada is today, we have opportunity; it is a great place to live. We should celebrate it but with recognition that we still have work to do.
In a reconciled Canada we would see companies involved in resource extraction around First Nations communities reaching out in a sincere way at the beginning of a project and actively engaging with the community about it at a higher level than happens now, even giving them an equity position. Businesses would have relationships with Indigenous businesses in the same way they have relationships with other businesses. The Canadian government would publicly show its support and champion Indigenous business deals the same as it does for other companies. At the moment, it’s as if we have to succeed in spite of everybody else. Our success should be seen as Canada’s success.
In order to grow those businesses and investment, the federal government needs to settle land claims. Unsettled and claims create uncertainty, settled claims create opportunities. In Saskatchewan we had the Treaty Land and Entitlements process in 1992, which saw nearly half-a-billion dollars transferred to First Nations so that they could buy land and mineral rights [to settle a Crown land debt]. This led to economic growth for First Nations and the province.
There would be more active involvement of Indigenous people in the labour market and entrepreneurship. This requires educational support as well as understanding, not judgment, of where Indigenous people are coming from. Indigenous entrepreneurs are often first-generation, so they need start-up support. We won’t see a reconciled Canada until Indigenous entrepreneurs and business people are no longer paraded as exceptional but instead are the norm.
Karla Jessen Williamson, assistant professor, educational foundations, University of Saskatchewan. Inuk, from Maniitsoq, Greenland.
It has been very trying for Indigenous populations to have their existence annulled – that’s what the last 150 years have been. The 150th anniversary has to be marked by the fact that things have to change. We must confront our colonial thinking and attitudes and redefine what Canadian-ness means. We must move beyond the false notion that Canada was founded by the French and the English, recognizing that we started off with the First Nations, Métis and Inuit, and have become a society that thrives on diversity and knows how to share resources fairly among everyone.
In a reconciled Canada, taking care of the interests of Indigenous peoples would be done without question. The mental, physical and spiritual health of Indigenous people would be restored – what kind of Canada is it when 70 percent of people in Nunavut are hungry? For the Inuit, it would mean self-determination.
There would be respect and recognition for Aboriginal knowledge systems. Funding institutions currently do not recognize the uniqueness of these, so there’s no funding set aside for Indigenous populations to develop and systematically bring these knowledge systems into the academy. Funding cannot be obtained unless a project is done in one of the official languages. In a reconciled Canada, it would be possible to do an entire research project in an Indigenous language using an Indigenous knowledge system, and which could then be reinvested into the institutions where the researchers are working.
Universities would also appreciate the special effort Indigenous researchers make to bring Indigenous knowledge into the academy in an authentic way that is respected by our home communities. Indigenous researchers often work with a “two-eyed” perspective, negotiating Western and Indigenous ways of seeing the world as we conduct and present our research. There needs to be sensitivity towards this. The processes in academia have repeatedly shown themselves to be well-oriented towards colonization and can easily bulldoze the unique contributions and knowledge brought by Indigenous scholars.
Reconciliation has a lot of hope, but I’m hoping that real actions will take place.
Qwul’sih’yah’maht/Robina Thomas, associate professor, school of social work, and director of Indigenous academic and community engagement, University of Victoria. Coast Salish, from Lyackson First Nation, B.C.
I don’t think Indigenous people are at a place where we want to talk about a reconciled Canada. By definition, reconciliation is the action of making one’s view or belief compatible with another. What views or beliefs are we trying to reconcile? Who needs to reconcile with whom?
I don’t think we’re even close to beginning to do that. I get concerned that by focusing on reconciliation, we turn away from the crimes of the past and ignore their connections to the present.
Atrocities continue to happen that are related to residential schools: the murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people; and the alarming rate of Indigenous children who are apprehended and placed in strangers’ care. Upwards of 50 percent of the children in care in Canada are Indigenous, even though we make up four to five percent of the population. Some of the families of murdered and missing Indigenous women say they feel left out of the federal inquiry process, so whose views are we aligning? The federal government has been taken to the Federal Court and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal over discrimination against Indigenous children in child welfare; we win that case yet nothing really changes. We will never have a reconciled Canada if this level of violence continues – our children continue to go missing through the child welfare system and our mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers go missing on our streets and in our communities.
Education is key. We must start with young people, sharing the true history of the legacy of colonial policies and practices, and how they impact Indigenous people. If children grew up knowing this, they would at least have an opportunity to understand Indigenous people in Canada differently and would not have to “unbecome” or confront their Canadian identity later in life – a painful process.
I am very conflicted about Canada 150. I have never celebrated July 1 – it’s hard to celebrate when we can’t honour all people, but especially our Indigenous women and children. I do think some Canada 150 events will be respectful and honour Indigenous people and Indigenous ways of knowing and being; I will seek out those events.
Winnipeg Free Press
As Brian Pallister begins his ‘reconciliation’ bike ride, Lisa Forbes offers an open letter to the premier
Premier Brian Pallister stands with Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, and the bike the premier will use to travel 160 kilometres starting on Friday
On June Premier Brian Pallister begins a 160-kilometre bike ride from the former site of Peguis First16, Manitoba Nation in East Selkirk to the community’s present site in the north Interlake, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Selkirk Treaty. As the premier begins what he calls a “journey of reconciliation,” Lisa Forbes wrote this open letter to the Manitoba premier.
Dear Premier Pallister:
Today is the start of your bike ride to the present-day Peguis First Nation as commemoration of the 200-year-old Selkirk treaty.
I have my own treaty-related symbolic gesture I’d like to share. Last year, for the first time, I collected my treaty payments at Peguis, my mom’s birthplace. I received a handshake from a red-uniformed RCMP officer and 29 newly minted $5 bills as annuity payments for each of the years that I have been a member of a Treaty 1 First Nation.
I still have all those crisp fivers and in this, the 150th year of Canada, I want to start putting my $5 bills to good use. In the spirit of treaty, with you as a settler on Treaty 1 land and me as a person of Cree, Métis and Scottish descent living in that same territory, can I buy you breakfast? Not much of one, for five bucks — maybe tea and toast.
As background to the talk I hope we have, I’ll tell you a little-known side to the Selkirk Settler/First Nations relationship — Chief Peguis’s truth tells of an unfulfilled promise.
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Selkirk Settlers arrived at the St. Peter’s Indian Settlement (present-day East Selkirk) in 1817. In his Narrative of the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857, Vol. 1, Henry Youle Hind writes that Chief Peguis recalls, in a letter to the London Aborigines’ Protection Society in 1857:
Writing about the Selkirk Settlers in 1857, Chief Peguis said, ‘For the sake of peace, I, as the representative of my tribe, allowed them to remain on our lands on their promising that we should be well paid for them by a great Chief, who was to follow them.’ (Archives of Manitoba)
“The Silver Chief [Earl of Selkirk]
told us he wanted land for his countrymen, who were very poor in their own country. For the sake of peace, I, as the representative of my tribe, allowed them to remain on our lands on their promising that we should be well paid for them by a great Chief, who was to follow them.
“The Silver Chief never returned and either his son or the Hudson Bay Company have ever since paid us annually for our lands only the small quantity of ammunition and tobacco which in the first instance we took only as a preliminary to a final bargain about our lands.”
The Selkirk and other European settlers were among the people who formed governments in the decades that followed. Their elected leaders and government agents were responsible for the subjugation and eventual removal of the original First Nations people who lived there.
They did this through the reserve system, shorting the community of its Treaty 1 land entitlements, eventually stealing the community’s land and moving the St. Peter’s Reserve from East Selkirk to its present location as Peguis First Nation.
That, premier, is why there’s distance to cross at all — by bike or otherwise — to visit the present-day community of Ojibway and Cree people of Peguis First Nation.
After their land was stolen by fraud, and over a period of 30 years from about 1907, the First Nations people of St. Peter’s faced sanctions if they did not move to the present-day community, and so they moved. Some of them resisted and were jailed.
‘A place that had absolutely nothing’
They moved from their thriving community to a land with poor-quality soil, a place that had absolutely nothing — no high ground free of floodwater, no land ready for farming, no houses, no proximity to jobs, no schools, nor the trade they had enjoyed with settlers in the towns close to their original community.
My relatives across four generations were some of the Peguis First Nation members who fought a 91-year legal battle with the Government of Canada over land theft. And finally it was won in 1998, long after my relatives’ passing, with the terms of an agreement settled in 2010 by the First Nation and Canada.
The Apology has been said, and the money is being paid, but there is present and ongoing fallout from those historic crimes. Let’s talk about the reconciliatory acts it will take to repair our broken relationship.
Premier has the power
You, as the premier of Manitoba, oversee justice — you can implement the 25-year-old Aboriginal Justice Inquiry recommendations.
Through your leadership, you can enact laws that require the City of Winnipeg police to meet the AJI guidelines for minimum numbers of Aboriginal police officers and staff. Or change bail rules that force those who are poor and charged with, but not found guilty of, a crime — some with no criminal record — to languish in the Winnipeg Remand Centre, while those with relatives who can afford it get out on bail.
You, as the premier of Manitoba, have the power to change Manitoba’s infamous position as the province in Canada with the highest percentage of kids (90 per cent) in our residential-school-disaster-equivalent of a child welfare system who are Indigenous.
You can do that by implementing everything in the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry and put the federal government to task whenever there is something to negotiate.
Tell them Manitoba won’t come to the table until the federal government meets its Human Rights Tribunal Order to enact Jordan’s Principle and equitably fund education and child welfare for children who live on First Nations.
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Those are the kinds of reconciliatory actions we can talk about. It might take more than one sit-down, but that’s OK.
I’ll pull out the fivers for more breakfasts.
In peace and goodwill,
A Winnipeg citizen and Peguis First Nation member
The Canada most people don`t hear
MacLeans – Alicia Elliott, Robert Jago, Melanie Lefebvre, and Ryan McMahon
Four Indigenous writers respond to what they say is a ‘counterproductive’ piece in Maclean’s
Last week, Maclean’s columnist Scott Gilmore wrote an article for this magazine called “The Canada Most People Don’t See.” In this article, he recited what we Indigenous people might call “the Litany”: the list of the latest and greatest wrongs done against us collectively or individually. Gilmore concluded his article by imploring his fellow Canadians to “imagine if they cared.”
The impetus for this article appears to have been the revelation the CBC uncovered of the actions of an Edmonton-based judge towards a First Nations sexual assault victim. Gilmore asked readers to “imagine it were their family”: “Against all odds, she survives, and a year later, at the trial, the prosecutor and the judge decide to lock up your wife because they want to ensure she is available to testify. She is put in the same remand centre as the man who raped and stabbed her. They share the same van to the courthouse.”
What was done to that First Nations woman in Edmonton is an outrage. But in our view, Scott Gilmore’s response to it was counterproductive, and demonstrated once again Gilmore’s and Maclean’s failure to listen to Indigenous voices.
When we see the new outrage in Edmonton we connect it to the Cindy Gladue case—a First Nations woman who died under similar circumstances, and whose vagina was cut out by the prosecution and used as an exhibit at trial. There is something wrong with what that court system did to Cindy Gladue, and it’s clear there is something systemically wrong when they abuse yet another First Nations woman. Judges and prosecutors in that system must be held accountable, and an investigation must take place into the inhumane treatment of Indigenous women.
However, in Scott Gilmore’s article, the cause of the problems in the Edmonton court system don’t get a mention. Along with on-reserve problems such as alcoholism, HIV, failing water treatment systems, the incident in Edmonton is merely one example among many of Indigenous dysfunction. While the article carefully recites the litany, Gilmore leaves out any mention of who is responsible. His only call to action is for Canadians to “care.”
And this is a problem with his work. Gilmore does not assign blame or identify causes. This does not appear to be an unintentional omission; in an interview about his article with Ottawa radio station 1310 News, Gilmore was asked why this was happening. “There are a thousand different reasons,” he said. “But I’m less interested in apologizing for all of these different things and more interested in how are we going to fix them …we’re going to have to upset some feelings, there is no way you could get one band to agree with another on every issue, so we are going to have to step on some toes … some of these communities will have to leave and move.”
The call for Indigenous people to leave their homes is older than Canada, and is at the heart of several of Gilmore’s recent articles on our peoples. It is the solution he proposes in his January 2016 article “La Loche shows us it’s time to help people escape the North”.
“The only way we can ever truly help the people of La Loche and hundreds of other remote communities like it, is to give those who want it a viable option to leave, to build lives in southern Canada, integrated into one of the world’s healthiest, safest, most rewarding societies. If we really want to end the violence and deprivation that plagues Canada’s remote Aboriginal communities, we need to help them leave these communities, forever,” he wrote.
The conclusion is repeated in his February 2016 article, “The hard truth about remote communities,” and in his April 2016 article, “The unasked question about Attawapiskat” in which he states: “The residents and leadership of communities like Attawapiskat need to consider other options, and provincial and federal governments would be morally obliged to help those who choose to leave.”
By proposing this as a solution, his articles effectively absolve Canadians and their government of blame and shift it to Indigenous people for choosing to stay in remote communities.
Gilmore’s proposal is summed up in this January 2016 tweet:✔ @Scott_Gilmore
It’s time to shut down the reserves, repeal the Indian Act, and help Cdn aboriginals escape “the land God gave Cain” http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/la-loche-shows-us-its-time-to-help-people-escape/ …
In the News 1310 interview earlier last week, Gilmore mused about withholding funds from reserves which he believes aren’t sustainable: “There are very difficult conversations that have to be had with elders in some of these communities about whether if you were going to invest $50 million in trying to make some inherently unsustainable and unhealthy community last a little bit longer, could that $50 million be spent elsewhere.”
In our view, the solutions he proposes in his articles would ultimately rob Indigenous people of their homes, their religion, their culture, their livelihoods, and their collective future—and that serves us up the same kind of assimilation that we’ve been hearing since John A. Macdonald was in diapers.
It appears that Gilmore ignores a chorus of Indigenous voices, coming from people who have been fighting for their peoples’ rights for generations. It presupposes that we have been passively enduring these injustices, waiting with bated breath for One Good White Man to stand up and save us—it removes agency from us.
Of course, as Indigenous people know, that’s ludicrous. Last Wednesday, First Nations academics and activists Pam Palmater and Sharon McIvor demonstrated that agency by testifying before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAN) about Bill S-3, arguing that the Liberal government should finally remove all gender discrimination from the Indian Act. They’re referring to century-old laws that made it so First Nations women who married non-Native men would be forced to not only give up their legal status as “Indians,” but also to leave their reserves—and thus, their families.
The reason Pam Palmater and Sharon McIvor were in Ottawa was because that so-called solution to what Duncan Campbell Scott infamously referred to as “the Indian problem” failed, and put First Nations women at risk.
FROM PALMATER AND McIVOR: The people left behind in Trudeau’s promised nation-to-nation relationship
The reason Bill S-3 is being addressed now is not because of people like Gilmore. It’s because of women like Sharon McIvor of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, who has been battling the Indian Act’s gender discrimination in courts since 1985. It’s because of men like Stéphane Descheneaux, a father of three from Abénakis of Odanak First Nation in Quebec, who filed litigation in 2011 to argue that the Indian Act’s continued gender discrimination was unconstitutional. Descheneaux was fighting for his daughters’ rights to their identities, for their rights to live in their community.
In our view, this must be truly perplexing for Gilmore, who has boldly proclaimed on Twitter that the cure for Canada’s continued Indian problem is to “shut down the reserves, repeal the Indian Act, and help Canadian Aboriginals escape ‘the land God gave Cain.’ ’’ Why would any woman want to be considered an Indian and live on barren, lawless land when she could instead become a good Canadian in the city? Besides the fact that living in the city as an Indigenous woman means you have to interact with police officers who can physically and sexually assault you before you’re categorically dismissed, as happened in Val-d’Or, Quebec. Besides the fact that off-reserve means “Aboriginal people have to get arrested to access public services,” as Tanya Sirois, head of Quebec’s Association of Native Friendship Centres, testified during an inquiry into the relationship between Indigenous people and the justice system in Quebec. How will mass migration to cities fix that?
Any attempt to address these issues needs to look at the root causes; after all, if you don’t pull a weed out by the roots, it simply grows back. There are thousands of pages worth of documents that have looked at these causes, from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, to the more recent report from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, to any of the numerous inquiries into why the Canadian justice continually fails our people.
With real, viable solutions we can begin to address issues such as unemployment rates, which require that government obey court orders and provide equal funding to Indigenous communities; safe drinking water, which means adequate water treatment systems as in the rest of Canada; access to culturally relevant care options, which would begin to treat addiction; MMIW and Indigenous deaths in Thunder Bay waterways, which demand attention and reflect the desperate need for police to protect all citizens as well as conduct thorough investigations.
Indigenous people have spoken loudly and clearly, should Gilmore choose to listen. All of these reports focus on the legacy of Canada’s colonialism, specifically its flawed policies of assimilation. Many leading voices on Indigenous issues in Canada have been blocked on social media by Gilmore during attempts to articulate the nuances of the ongoing colonialism problem in Canada and thus the current state of our communities. One would figure that if Gilmore was trying to search for answers, lived experience and its context would be essential to this ongoing impulse to lead these types of conversations in the public discourse.
Indeed, the word “colonialism” has figured only once in a Gilmore article, where it was cited as just one contributing factor among many. “Assimilation” has also appeared in only one; Gilmore used the word to address—and dismiss—criticism from Indigenous people. His writing does not address how we got here; after all, he has said: “I’m less interested in apologizing for all of these different things and more interested in how are we going to fix them.”
How can Gilmore possibly offer solutions to issues when his writing on the subject does not address their causes? What qualifies him to speak on Indigenous issues in the first place? How does he engage with Indigenous people who challenge his authority to speak about them and their communities? And, perhaps most importantly, why does it appear that publications like Maclean’s are more comfortable asking white men like Gilmore to write about Indigenous issues than Indigenous people themselves?
Following the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which the U.S. cavalry was defeated by a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne militia, two Cheyenne women passed over the bodies of the dead Americans, and used long needles to pierce the ears of General Custer. They did this in order to help him hear better in the next life. Refusing to listen to Indigenous voices has a long tradition on this continent. By ignoring his critics online, and not including Indigenous voices in his writing, Scott Gilmore is practiced at this.
Gilmore’s articles on Indigenous issues are met with condemnation and scorn by Indigenous people on social media. Very rarely does Gilmore reply to this, and when he does it is often with a belittling tone, as demonstrated in a conversation with respected CBC journalist Waubgeshig Rice, who said on Twitter: “I refuse to read columns that argue for simply leaving ‘troubled’ reserves. These pundits clearly don’t understand a relationship with land.” Gilmore responded: “Do you also refuse to speak to the majority of indigenous Canadians who have already left reserves, they don’t understand either? And how to do you explain your own decision to live in a city? Are you also unable to understand a relationship with the land?”
Gilmore’s response to Rice about living in a city is one of the more offensive ways in which he replies to Indigenous critics. Like many diaspora communities, there is a deep insecurity and shame that many First Nations people feel for living away from the reserve. It’s a feeling echoed in the words of Jewish writer A.D. Gordon in the early 20th century when he reflected on what he saw as the impoverishment of Jewish culture in their diaspora: “We in ourselves are almost non-existent, so of course we are nothing in the eyes of other people either.” Gilmore’s words to Rice feel, to us, like rubbing salt into an open wound.
Rice, spurred by his confrontation with Gilmore, wrote an article in which First Nations people talked about why they had actually left reserve—with very few citing the reasons Gilmore gave.
But we believe the greater fault lies with Maclean’s magazine. This magazine lately has a troubling relationship with Indigenous people—perhaps best exemplified by its editor, who was among the group of white Canadian media figures who pledged money to help fund an appropriation prize, a tone-deaf proposal that’s very suggestion willfully ignored the painful, ongoing history of colonialism, racism and sexism in this country. While an apology followed, it doesn’t erase the slap in the face that Indigenous writers felt then—or the slap in the face Indigenous writers feel now reading decontextualized articles like Gilmore’s.
As Indigenous people, we have to ask how it is that Maclean’s can’t hear the Indigenous voices imploring this magazine to give a fair representation of our people, and to stop giving a platform for Gilmore to so unfairly represent us in support of his failed solutions. In spite of all the evidence, it’s hard for us to imagine that the editors of Maclean’s don’t care about Indigenous people. So as Scott Gilmore has asked us all to do in his article, we will imagine you cared, and accordingly, we will expect you to do something about it.
Artist Alex Janvier on discrimination after residential schooling
The StarArtist Alex Janvier pictured at his gallery in Cold Lake First Nations 149B Alta, on Wednesday February 8, 2017. Alex Janvier is a pioneer of contemporary Canadian aboriginal art in Canada.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
After surviving 11 years in a residential school with art as his only escape, 19-year-old Alex Janvier was ready for freedom.
But in mid-1950s Canada, freedom still depended on the colour of one’s skin.
Janvier was offered a spot at what is now the Ontario College of Art and Design. But his destiny lay in the hands of the Indian agent from his home reserve in Alberta.
The agent said no — the man who would become one of Canada’s most celebrated indigenous artists wasn’t smart enough to go.
A chance to study in the United Kingdom was similarly denied.
Under Canada’s pass system — a vestige imposed during the failed Northwest Rebellion to prevent others from leaving reserves to join the uprising which lingered into the mid-20th century — there was no appeal, no recourse.
Janvier was allowed to attend art school in Calgary under the watchful eye of the local diocese, but he had to keep a piece of paper with the Indian agent’s signature on it in his shirt pocket.
He met a fellow student there and he recalls taking her to a movie one night. He had his arm around her. He was feeling good. It felt as though life was beginning to open up.
The couple were at the bus stop when a police cruiser pulled up.
“You! Come here!” he recalls one of the officers shouting. “Not you, him. What are you doing?”
Janvier says he walked over and explained they were waiting for a bus, but the interrogation continued.
“Am I to be arrested?” Janvier asked.
“A smart ass, eh?” he remembers the officer responding and then came the question: “Do you have a pass?”
Janvier pulled out the note the agent had signed. He remembers the cop glancing at it and then throwing it on the sidewalk for Janvier to pick up.
“That’s how it was,” Janvier, now 82, shrugs. “There was no law to do it and yet those Indian agents pushed it like you wouldn’t believe.”
Here is a look at some of the key dates in the relationship between Canada and its First Nations:
A royal proclamation notes First Nation claims to lands and says treaties with indigenous people will be handled by the Crown.
The British North America Act gives the federal government responsibility for First Nations and their lands. PHOTO
The first residential schools open. At least 150,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students pass through the system over the years and their painful legacy stretches to today. PHOTO
The Northwest Rebellion takes place. It’s a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Metis people of Saskatchewan under Louis Riel. The rebellion gives rise to the pass system, meant as an emergency measure to prevent indigenous people from leaving reserves to join in the resistance. It is acknowledged as illegal by the government, but stays in place for 60 years. PHOTOS
As residential schools start to close, indigenous children are taken from their homes by child-welfare services and placed with non-indigenous families, some in the United States, in what becomes known as the ’60s Scoop. The practice lasts into the 1980s.
In the Calder case, the Supreme Court holds that indigenous rights to land do exist, citing the 1763 Royal Proclamation. The ruling prompts the government of Canada to overhaul much of the land claim negotiation process.
The Oka Crisis takes place. It’s a 78-day standoff between Mohawk protesters, police, and the army over the proposed expansion of a golf course and development of condominiums on disputed land that included a Mohawk burial ground. It lays the groundwork for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
The federal government approves the Nisaga’a Treaty, the first modern-day treaty in British Columbia, giving the tribe about $196 million over 15 years plus communal self-government and control of natural resources in parts of northwestern B.C.
The Kelowna Accord calls for spending $5 billion over five years to improve indigenous education, health care and living conditions. Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government falls before the accord can be implemented.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers a formal apology on behalf of Canada for residential schools.
RCMP release a report calculating a total of 1,181 indigenous women are missing or have been murdered since 1980. Pressure grows for the federal government to call an inquiry.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission releases its final report based on visits to hundreds of communities and the testimony of more than 6,000 survivors who shared stories of rampant sexual and physical abuse. The report contains 94 calls to action which includes addressing the disproportionate number of indigenous children in government care, improving education funding, language rights and health care.
The newly-elected Liberal government launches an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women which is expected to last two years and cost up to $53 million.
As Ottawa spends $500 million on throwing the country a 150th birthday party, many indigenous people, including Janvier, wonder what’s worth celebrating. To recognize 1867 as the birth of Canada is to celebrate the beginning of an abusive relationship.
Janvier’s colourful, abstract art, which was recently displayed in a special exhibit at the National Gallery, has taken him around the world and every time he returns home to Cold Lake, Alta., he feels a surge of relief and affection. But it’s the land, not the country, that inspires his loyalty.
“I don’t have to celebrate,” he says. “That 150 years is none of my business. It never included me so why jump up and down and celebrate?”
To celebrate 150 years for many means to raise a glass to the continuing legacies of colonization — the disproportionate number of indigenous children in government care, dozens of communities without clean drinking water and some without basic indoor plumbing.
The Canada being celebrated this year would not exist without the suppression of First Nations, says Pam Palmater, lawyer and chair of indigenous governance at Ryerson University.
“The only way that it could exist is from our genocide and the theft of lands and resources and the ongoing discriminatory laws, policies, exclusion from our territories,” she says.
“The only way that it could exist is from our genocide and the theft of lands and resources and the ongoing discriminatory laws, policies, exclusion from our territories.”
“The only reason they are able to maintain this is because they put us in jail, they put our kids in foster care, our women go murdered and missing because they keep us out of the way. Canada 150 is a celebration of how they’ve been able to keep us out of the way. It wouldn’t be Canada 150 without all of that.”
Canada’s milestone of 150 seems quaint when compared to the history of indigenous people dating back at least 10,000 years, notes Isaac Murdoch, from Serpent River First Nation about 150 kilometres west of Sudbury, Ont.
“Ignoring 10,000 years of our history erases us when they only celebrate 150,” says Murdoch, who is behind the #Resistance150 hashtag on Twitter.
“It seems silly for Canada to celebrate 150 in these lands when indigenous people have been here forever. It’s quite rude. It really is.”
When European settlers first arrived, they used First Nations for knowledge on how to survive the harsh elements and rugged terrain, as well as military allies and fur traders. Once the fur trade declined and the military threat from the United States subsided, indigenous people became more of an obstacle to settlement and the exploitation of resources.
When Canada was born, it only had two recorded parents — the French and the English. No mention was made of indigenous people.
“I’m not a Canadian. I don’t know why it’s so offensive to say that. I’m Ojibwa. I was born Ojibwa. That’s who I am. Our nation is separate from Canada,” Murdoch says.
“Indigenous people have always been known to Canada as the Indian problem. Their whole policies when creating the country … were to contain the Indian problem.”
Canada’s first prime minister, Sir. John A. Macdonald, made it a goal to “do away with the tribal system, and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the Dominion.”
That mindset would last through the next century.
The British North America Act imposed a European-style bureaucracy on all things indigenous. Ceremonies were outlawed, traditional governance was replaced by powerless band councils, reserves were set up.
Through it all, the Indian agent was king. With the pass system – the same system that prevented Janvier from going to art school and gave police the right to harass him – indigenous people needed permission to leave the reserve or conduct any business on it.
They were expected to become farmers but needed permission to sell a cow.
“It was a way of control,” says National Chief Perry Bellegarde with the Assembly of First Nations.
“The pass/permit system that Indian Affairs put in place here in Canada was such a strong system of controlling indigenous peoples that the apartheid system in Africa was modelled after the Indian Act system, the reserve system and the permit system.”
They could not vote, consult a lawyer and could be relocated “for their own protection” if their land was needed for settlers. Equally, they could be relocated “in the national interest” if their settlement were built upon mineral-rich soil or along the shores of a river that needed damming.
“The relationship became one of interdependency to one where we became wards of the state,” Bellegarde says. ” A lot of our people were starved into submission by the Indian agents and the Indian Act and the killing of the buffalo. Our entire way of life was taken away.”
Then they came for the children.
“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages,” Macdonald told the House of Commons in 1883.
“Though he may learn to read and write … he is simply a savage who can read and write … Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence.”
Residential schools were set up and children were removed from their homes — by force if necessary.
Thousands died, buried in unmarked graves. Others were sexually and physically abused, returning to their communities alienated from their culture and haunted by demons that have been passed on through generations.
“It was like a jailhouse for little kids,” Janvier remembers. “They used to feed us pills to control us.
“They said it was for my health, but what it used to do is sedate you, calm you down so you didn’t get too crazy in that school.”
To this day, Janvier doesn’t know what the pills were. The records of his lost childhood, like those of so many, were apparently destroyed by a flood.
There was also what became known as the Sixties Scoop — apprehending First Nations and Metis children and placing them with non-indigenous families.
The intentions were more subtle but the resulting trauma was the same.
All of these policies have taken their toll. The majority of today’s indigenous people don’t share in Canada’s health and prosperity.
Many live below the poverty line in dilapidated housing without access to clean water. Their life expectancy is lower. Their odds of growing up a ward of child welfare, in prison, addicted to drugs or alcohol are much higher.
Sen. Murray Sinclair says the abusive relationship between Canada and indigenous people has gone on long enough. Divorce isn’t an option. Neither side is moving out.
The next 150 years will be about learning to co-exist, but that can only happen if it begins with honesty and equality.
“Trying to figure out how we can live together in the same territory is really the issue,” says the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined residential schools.
“Nobody’s going away. If nobody’s going away then how do we get along on this land?”
That won’t happen unless Canadians acknowledge the foundation upon which their country is built, he says.
“We need to acknowledge that indigenous people are in a position of inferior power, inferior economic status and problematic social conditions largely because of government actions over last 150 years.
“Trying to figure out how we can live together in the same territory is really the issue.”
Sen. Murray Sinclair
“We cannot say let’s assume from this point forward that everybody’s equal because the reality is that we’re about 150 yards behind the starting line and you’re asking us to now enter the race with you. That’s not fair.”
Canadian people, who are becoming more educated about their own history, will likely be the ones that push their government into action rather than the other way around, he says.
Canada 150 is a birthday party, “yours, not ours,” Sinclair wrote recently.
“Don’t be surprised if we keep pointing out that it is not an anniversary about our relationship. It’s an anniversary of the joining of colonies and colonizers.
“Invite me and my relatives if you want. We might come and watch you blow out your candles, and sure, some of us will probably eat some of your cake. We might even sing Happy Birthday to you Canada.
“But then, we still need to talk about our relationship.”