I truly am happy that the “Idle No More” protests have brought discussion of native issues to the forefront in Canada. Our biggest shame as Canadians is our racially segregated native population living in economic and social misery in our appalling reserve system under terribly outdated and racist legislation. We need serious discussions as a nation as to how to end this cycle of misery that appears to get worse year after year no matter how much time and resources are being dedicated to it.
While “Idle No More” can be credited with engaging the national discussion, credit to the movement for anything productive pretty much ends there. “Idle No More” began with modest and well meaning intentions but quickly was taken over by extreme activists both native and non-native who sound pretty much like last year’s “occupy” movement in their lack of focus on anything specific aside from a general loathing of the Harper government and capitalism in general. That would be of course because the same unions and activists that led “occupy” have deeply entrenched themselves into the “Idle No More” movement and soon they will doubtless kill all credibility in the movement before moving back into their urban lifestyles.
In native politics there are a few elements of people. There are your average reserve level natives who are simply trying to get by as they are challenged by the poverty and dependency that are inevitable in our system of racial apartheid. We rarely hear from these people as they are rather busy and disengaged as they are awash in the socioeconomic mess of reserve life. These people are often used for photo opportunities by the activist elements who like to point to poor conditions on reserves as a means to attack our current federal government. To be fair, those images are used on occasion by truly racist people to try and paint natives as being from some sort of inferior race incapable of taking care of itself. It is the circumstance, not the race that is the problem here. People of any race would be dysfunctional raised in reserve circumstances.
Band Chief’s, councils and hired administration are another element of native politics. The degree of competence and ethics practised by people on this level of native politics varies widely as there are 600 bands on over 2000 reserves in Canada. While some Chief’s, councils and administrators truly have the best interest of the native residents under them at heart, corruption and mismanagement are epidemic in native reserves in Canada. Theresa Spence’s gross mismanagement of Attawapiskat is only unusual in the amount of attention that it has garnered. There are hundreds of reserves in Canada is much the same condition and for the same reasons.
The next level in native politics are the members of the “Indian Industry”. The most abhorrent of people take part in this portion of native management. There are levels and levels and levels of bureaucrats and consultants in this industry and they are accomplished parasites at intercepting government dollars before they ever come anywhere close to the natives on the ground who need them. Within the industry are countless lawyers as well who bleed the system dry with endless litigation on issues of questionable merit regarding native issues. A lawyer can make a good pocket full of cash going to court on a treaty interpretation issue no matter how inane it is as government will foot the bill for the action win or lose. If we want to see resources efficiently getting to where they belong, this cottage industry of bureaucracy and corruption needs to be cleaned right out.
We next get a level of activists in the native world. Many of these folks are non-native but have taken it upon themselves to focus their activism on native issues. Many of them envision themselves as some sort of reincarnated natives in white bodies though and it is comical watching them assume and wear items of native regalia. There are natives in the activist end of things as well of course. Lately one of the most shrill has been Pam Palmater who failed in her bid for the leadership of AFN and now has placed herself at the head of the “Idle No More” group. Palmater almost rages when speaking in her self-styled role as representative of “Idle No More” but despite her passion she seems to fall short on proposing anything aside from anger and perpetuating myths. It is from the activist bunch that we see many of the counterproductive ideas and myths erupting that ruin good discussion of native issues.
What the native activist world is constantly pushing for is all of the authority of native self determination while eschewing all elements of responsibility that come with that. Native activists are fight tooth and nail against forms of government oversight of the management of native bands yet howl indignantly while blaming the government when we see cases of massive mismanagement such as with Attawapiskat. You simply can’t have it both ways. Funding without oversight has turned native affairs into a giant black hole of expense with no visible or tangible benefits to be seen. Despite massive injections of money, traditional culture on reserves is fading and poverty is epidemic. Only through some forms of accountability will this trend change and it will take outside management to do this. This is not being paternalistic, this is being realistic.
The activist element constantly claims that we must abide by treaties until somebody actually points out what is in the treaties. Upon realistic exposure of treaty obligations the activist element suddenly goes off into an unverifiable and essentially fictional world where we must now suddenly abide by the spirit of treaties that only they of course can interpret.
One of the most deceptive and to be honest, ridiculous assertions by the native activist element is that native bands, tribes etc. are actually sovereign nations. It is through this imaginary status that activists try to play every possible side of the fence whenever they please. Again, these people want to pursue all of the autonomy of action of independent states yet they refuse to accept all of the responsibility that would come from such a theoretical setup.
A list of sovereign nations can be found here: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/states.htm One may note that there are no native bands listed there. I spotted no Mauri or Australian aboriginal nations in that list either. That of course is because these groups are not sovereign nations.
Sovereignty and nationhood can be very ambiguous things to define and wars have indeed been fought over such interpretations. It is simply absurd to recognize native bands as such but let’s go down the road of what commonly would be expected of a sovereign nation by most people’s measures.
Native sovereign nations should be expected to collect their own taxes, create their own currency, come up with a passport/visa system for citizens to come and go, develop their own resources, build and maintain their own infrastructure, make independent trade deals with other countries, make their own constitutions, make their own laws, make their own police forces, armies and courts…… The responsibilities go on and on and on. Clearly this is NEVER going to happen so lets move conversation to reality shall we?
At a website of Ontario Chiefs I see some of these wonderful statements built around that flawed sovereign nation concept too. While never addressing possible fiscal independence, it demands a right to all authority in governance and their site says this:
“As sovereign Nations we have never surrendered our rights or title in right of the Crown or the successor state of Canada but, have maintained and solidified their inherency (sic) through the Treaty making process”
The above statement is false on two levels. They are not sovereign nations and they indeed fully ceded title and rights to the crown when signing treaties. While some treaties have elements open to interpretation of intent, the ceding of land and title is pretty clear as per this clause from Treaty 9 below for example:
“For the purpose of negotiating an extension of James Bay Treaty No. 9 with the Ojibeway and other Indians, inhabitants of the territory within the limits hereinafter defined and described, by their chiefs and headmen, for the purpose of opening for settlement, immigration, trade, travel, mining and lumbering, and for such other purposes as to His Majesty may seem meet, a tract of country bounded and described as hereinafter mentioned, and of obtaining the consent thereto of His Indian subjects inhabiting the said tract, and of arranging with them for the cession of the Indian rights, titles and privileges to be ceded, released, surrendered and yielded up to His Majesty the King, and His successors forever, so that there may be peace and good-will between them and His Majesty’s other subjects, and that His Indian people may know and be assured of what allowances they are to count upon and receive from His Majesty’s bounty and benevolence, which said territory may be described and defined as follows, that is to say the said treaty to release and surrender also all Indian rights and privileges whatsoever of the said Indians to all or any other lands wherever situated in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba or the District of Keewatin or in any other portion of the Dominion of Canada.“
As I said, we need this discussion of how to deal with the growing disaster that we call a reserve system. These discussions must be based in reality and facts. As per past blog postings of mine, I have asserted and still believe that most people who are advocating for treaty rights have never actually read the treaties and don’t really know what they are asking for. Treaty 9 calls for compensation of $4 per year per Indian. Even adjusted for inflation that isn’t very much. There is nothing about healthcare or housing or many of the other things some are claiming as treaty rights.
It may be noted that while that group of Chiefs constantly states that FNs have some sort of inherent authority to all elements of their own governance, it says nothing about ending the utter dependency upon Canada for funds. Sovereign means independence in more ways than simply self-determination and sustainability of a modern economy on most of the reserves in Canada is utterly impossible.
Lets begin with what is documented in the treaties and work from there rather than with the myths and false interpretations coming from the self-serving native activist network. When we do that, we can start moving towards some real changes that may benefit future generations of natives and non-natives alike. Getting hung up on crap such as sovereign nations existing within nations is simply distracting and counterproductive.
We have an opportunity to seek and discuss solutions to this wretched and untenable system of racial segregation through reserves in Canada. I hope we are ready to take it on with reality and facts as a basis. We need to cut through the white-noise of activists and self-serving people entrenched within the system and start to look towards what will really aid the natives suffering on reserves in our current system.
Let’s look at these isolated reserves and try to envision what they will look like a in ten years, twenty years and fifty years from now. When looking with the status-quo in mind, we see only more misery no matter how much is spent.
Simply from an anthropological viewpoint, there is much truth to your article. However, perhaps one consideration should be made.The European settlers responsible for creating the sovereign state(s) of North America were far advanced in comparison to their Indigenous counterparts.Point of ethics would be to assist the unskilled Indigenous to acquire parity with the skilled Europeans. However as you say, it’s not working, after many decades of trying. I agree with your apt description of the socio/economics of the modern tribe. You generalize a little, but for the most part, your opinions are brutally true and very socially unpopular!
Best regards, Jennifer Yeoman.