Sunday, August 11, 2013

On The Margins No More

John Ralston Saul writes that scientific experiments to starve our aboriginal peoples should  come as no surprise:

When Canadians learn that malnourished aboriginal children were used for nutritional experiments, they cannot really be surprised. Shock is a more plausible reaction. We should never be beyond shock. But not surprised. That would be to feign innocence, when we all know that for more than a century, Canadian authorities of all sorts continually acted badly when it came to indigenous peoples. Many Canadians knew this when it was happening. The standard public discourse made these actions possible. These were our governments, our authorities. Our responsibility cannot be denied.

And Canadians are deluded if they think that matters will return to what they have been:

Those days are long past. That is, the aboriginal position has changed radically. And that was the underlying message of last winter’s protests and fasts, of Idle No More.

Those who were forbidden the right to hire lawyers as recently as the Indian Act of 1927 now have more than 1,000 lawyers of their own. They are in an increasingly strong legal position, having won case after case at the Supreme Court over the past 40 years. Having been forbidden the practice of their own spiritual beliefs, an increasing number of their young are embracing them. Forty years ago, there were virtually no aboriginals in colleges and universities. Now, there are more than 30,000 and the number is growing. There are thousands of indigenous corporations and businesses. And when National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo stands up to give the 11th LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture on Saturday, he will be the third indigenous lecturer in the series.
The central point is that we are witnessing a remarkable comeback. A century ago, we were convinced that aboriginal peoples would disappear. Today, those same aboriginal peoples are central players in Canada’s future.

If Stephen Harper thought that a public apology for the horrors of residential schools would be enough to keep Canada's native peoples quiet, he was sadly mistaken. First Nations want more than an apology. They want respect -- and they want a seat at the table:

The simple truth is that we are all witnesses to the remarkable comeback of the aboriginal peoples. This will mean fundamental shifts in power, in financing and in how we all live together. We can pretend this is not happening; we can manoeuvre in order to delay it. But it is going to happen. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by embracing this comeback as living proof of the strength of these cultures and peoples. We are witnessing how central they are to the future of this country.

Canada's First Nations refuse to live on the margins. They will be front and centre from now on.


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

There are still too many remote First Nations Communities that do not have enough of a voice to get the services they so much need. This is a federal responsibility. They need to step up and do the right things. They could begin by funding education at the same level as the Provinces do if not higher as remedial work is required.
Housing, affordable food, transportation, potable water all cry out for attention.

Owen Gray said...

Unfortunately, Philip, the Harperites don't see the issue as a matter of justice. It is simply a cost.

And, just as unfortunately, they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Lorne said...

Despite our dreadful treatment of Aboriginals, Owen, I often think they are our last and best hope through their land claims to mitigating the environmental destruction that the federal government is perpetuating thanks to its obsession with exploiting our oil resources no matter the cost. The fact that they are proving surprisingly resilient despite their mistreatment is indeed an encouraging sign.

Owen Gray said...

They've been here a lot longer than we have, Lorne. And the idea that we know more about the land than they do is offensive.

gingersnap said...

If not for the F.N. people, this country would become a, polluted wasteland. There are those who, have sense enough to listen to the F.N. They are our unpaid stewards of our eco-systems. Many of us appreciate, that they do so.

Now the F.N. are challenging Harper on, his evil FIPA deal with Communist China. Other countries kick China out of their territories. Harper invites China to set up shop, right on our Canadian soil. Harper has handed China the key, to our resources and resource jobs too.

There are those of us who support the F.N. people, in their battle to save their waterways, the sea and their hunting grounds, from government greed.

The Mound of Sound said...

Those of us fiercely opposed to Northern Gateway are immensely pleased that First Nations are taking the lead in the fight against Enbridge and Harper.

They seem to have thrown something off their shoulders to stand up and be heard with resolve. We need to back them up because, if we fail, Harper will have an easier time trying to sweep them aside.

Owen Gray said...

The First Nations are our conscience, gingersnap.

While our political parties have chosen the path of expedience, the First Nations remind us of the nation we could be.

Owen Gray said...

Harper believes lofty statements and apologies will mollify Canada's native peoples, Mound. But they've had his number for a long time.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, my cousins adopted a six-year-old Cree boy. We would spend a few weeks of our summers together in central Ontario. Eventually, as teenagers, we would camp out together at the family's fishing shack. We would take a transistor radio and listen to the latest hits, especially at night when the AM waves would bounce off the stratosphere from distant southern Canadian cities. We would smoke, talk and laugh.

Some days, I would find him crying in the woods alone. When I approached, he would run deeper into the woods. He would never tell me what was bothering him. I could never find him, but he would return a few hours later and we would continue on as if nothing had happened.

He eventually graduated college, started his own successful business, married a Cree woman, had children and turned his back on his adoptive white family. I haven't spoken with him for over thirty years.

The kind of pain visited upon these First Nations' children will not disappear with an apology from a politician. Reparations must be made.

Owen Gray said...

Your story speaks to the deep scars which have been left on our native peoples, Anon.

Words are cheap; and they are not enough. Attention must finally be paid. And respect -- real respect -- is the order of the day.

Most of all, our first nations must have a seat at the table. Unfortunately, we have a prime minister who doesn't like to meet with anybody -- at any table.