Let’s listen then clear the path so they can move forward.
In the 94 recommendations of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report, there were many calls on the Federal Government to fund programs and provide supports. Sadly, there were no calls for the removal of systemic barriers to building local economies to give people dominion over their own lives. This, however, is the one thing that will provide reconciliation for generations to come, and its truth is being demonstrated by the new generation of Indigenous people who have obtained an education and have learned that self-sustenance is the way to health and fulfilment.
Now these folks are standing up to make this case and they are making it eloquently.
It has been very heartening over the past few weeks to see several editorial pieces by enterprising First Nations individuals in newspapers, on television and on Facebook and Twitter. These are folks who are fed up with the way they are being portrayed in the mainstream media and they have begun to speak out for the vast majority of the indigenous population that is working hard to get ahead in the modern world.
These leaders are pushing back against the image foisted on them as the “poor downtrodden Indian”. Instead, they are asking for respect and an opportunity to participate in the richness of life that Canada today has to offer. They don’t want to be relegated to the bush or the backwaters or to be portrayed as ignorant savages who need the superior white man to speak for them. One courageous Indigenous trapper recently posted his disdain on Facebook for those who would deny the freedoms and opportunities offered Indigenous people by Canada. He says he owns land but also traps on Crown land. He says he doesn’t see many other people from his community looking to do the same, although there is nothing to stop them. This was his plea for getting on with life and grabbing the opportunities with both hands.
His post seems to have been removed.
But he is not alone. Take a moment to listen to Indigenous B.C. MLA, Ellis Ross, a former elected chief, as he explains to a mainstream reporter what the issue is between the hereditary chiefs and the Wet’Suewet’en mainstream.
It is ironic to listen to the CTV anchor argue with him as if she knows more about the subject than he does. Mr. Ross makes the case that the pipeline is also a lifeline for folks in his community. They need jobs and they want futures for their kids. He says he remembers the pain and suffering he went through with his generation because there was no hope and only welfare. He does not want to go back to soul-killing idleness leading to drinking and violence and hopelessness. He is very clear in stating his resentment for the way people appropriate his community’s thoughts and motives.
To me, there is arrogance in the mainstream media and the “supportive” white protesters and how they have appropriated Indigenous causes, defining them to suit to their own world view. Their self- motivated bias and hypocrisy with regard to First Nations’ affairs has never been more evident.
Why are (at the time of writing in late February) the Wet’Suwet’en hereditary chiefs objecting to the natural gas pipeline? As near as I can tell, it has very little to do with anything other than internal politics. It seems to have little to do with environmental issues since it is natural gas that is being transported. Eight hereditary chiefs from five bands are showing their muscle over the protests of their elected counterparts of those same bands.
Their quarrel is with the arbitrary way the India Act imposes a Western-made democratic voting system on them. It seems they want the federal government to come to the table and endorse their claim to sovereignty over their people, disposing of the election system and the elected leaders. That is not going to happen, but what the feds could do is to create some system of reconciliation between the currently elected leaders and the hereditary chiefs and be willing to accept whatever the conclusion is.
Politically, these eight people have done a masterful job of gaining attention to their cause by allowing it to become the rallying cry for every grievance any indigenous person has ever had and by enlisting what one activist Indigenous woman called their “guests” to bolster protest numbers. These guests are often white people who are using the First Nations as props to promote their own agendas. Some are directed by anti-Canadian oil interests masquerading as environmental causes. I am contemptuous of the leaders of these activists who would lean on a group of defenceless people to promote their own twisted ends.
The escalation of this civil disobedience, over the rejection of the cause by the people affected, has been this is amplified by the strident voices of the popular media who are so entrenched in political bias as to make them painful to listen to, especially the television news anchors. The clip cited above is only one example of their refusal to listen to any voice that does not reflect what they want to believe.
There is a lot of talk about reconciliation, but talk seems to be all it is. The only concrete action I can see is the recent letter of understanding signed in February between the Premier Pallister of Manitoba and Chief Arlen Dumas to devolve the operation of northern airports and ferries to the Indigenous communities that these facilities serve. This will do much to help build a local economy and is a concrete example of what “reconciliation” should be – a removal of barriers that have kept this population under the thumb of other Canadians for too long.
Unfortunately, there remains much to be done. In Manitoba alone, there are decades of regulations and systemic barriers to be dismantled – everything from dismantling the obstructive “permit” system that stifles enterprise in the north in the fields of mining, mineral exploration, fishing, guiding, wildlife area management , forestry and more – all areas where there are opportunities to build local economies.
It is time we stopped playing Lord and Lady Bountiful and begun to work with our Indigenous fellow citizens, instead of for them. They are smart and creative people with much to offer. Let’s get out of their way.