Racism on a native reserve? Try Racism in Our Media!
However, at the end of the day, given that so many Canadians obtain their "information" about Aboriginal peoples from the media, I as an educator, simply cannot sit by while media outlets, like the National Post, misinform readers and malign First Nations. Yet, despite my attempts to address the misinformation, I still have a serious issue of exposure. Similar to gossip rags like the National Enquirer, the National Post has a loyal following that includes those of the right-wing persuasion.
My responses to such articles, on the other hand, only reach those who happen to read my blog. None of my comments to the National Post have ever been published, nor those sent to other newspapers to whom I have written - so what is the result of my efforts? Some individuals get the benefit of another perspective.
An incredibly bright professor once told me that images shape our aspirations. So, if all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people see in the media are negative stories about First Nations and uninformed print media which spreads negative stereotypes about First Nations, then our children - yours and mine - continue to see First Nations as inferior. A vision that is no better than the racist views of colonial days supposedly long-past.
It is absolutely ludicrous for a newspaper to take a story about an ISOLATED incident of ALLEGED racism on ONE First Nation of the 633 First Nations in Canada, and somehow use that as proof positive that ALL Chiefs of ALL First Nations are not accountable and prefer instead to "do things behind closed doors". This is categorically false and perpetuates the very kind of "hate" about which this National Post article critiques.
The Assembly of First Nations itself has long called for and made requests of Canada to meet and talk about ways to modernize First Nation accountability measures. More than that, the Auditor General (AG) Sheila Fraser has reported on more than one occasion that First Nations ARE accountable for the funds they receive from the federal government. In fact, all First Nations submit audited financial statements to Canada and according to the AG, First Nations fill out so many reports about their funding that it averages out to one report every three days.
Nothing in First Nations related to federal funding happens behind closed doors. In fact, most learned commentators have noted that of all the groups in Canada - political, religious, cultural or otherwise - that First Nations' activities are so closely monitored that they often feel as though their whole lives are "under a microscope". Yet despite the plethora of research, reports, studies, commissions, and considerations of First Nations issues, none of them have ever shown that all First Nations leaders are corrupt or that First Nations are more likely to abuse their residents than Canadian governments.
Yet, we continue to be bombarded by uninformed and unsubstantiated allegations against First Nations in the media that serve only to misinform the public and malign First Nations. Rarely are Aboriginal commentators asked to submit their own views and most issues are not covered in any balanced manner that would give the public enough information to make up their own mind. For example, the National Post printed a comment in today's newspaper entitled: "Racism on a native reserve". Here are just a few of the unsubstantiated or incorrect items presented:
(1) "Canadian taxpayers pay close to $10-billion a year to finance on-reserve programming for natives."
In fact, almost HALF of that amount goes to Indian and Northern Affairs and/or other government departments to support their bureaucracy and ever-inflating salaries. The taxes used to pay for some of the First Nation programs come from taxes submitted by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. Furthermore, the privileged position of non-Aboriginal Canadians in relation to First Nations is the DIRECT result of them benefitting directly or indirectly from the theft of First Nations' lands and resources by their ancestors.
(2) "Whenever it is proposed that we IMPOSE some accountability...the AFN... complains that its members are being mistreated." (emphasis added)
In fact, the national Chief Shawn Atleo was interviewed by APTN last night wherein he reinforced the fact that the AFN and First Nations ALL believe in accountability to their citizens and that they have called for discussions with Canada on how to improve those accountability measures. What he did not agree with was the "imposition" of laws by Canada on First Nations without so much as even consulting with them first (as is required by law).
(3) "...even in 2010, natives are still waiting to enjoy the full protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
In fact, Aboriginal peoples have ALWAYS the full benefit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms like all Canadians since 1982. What some Aboriginal peoples did not have was access to the complaint process under the Canadian Human Rights Act, but this was remedied in 2008. Now complaints relating to the Indian Act can be brought against Canada and in a little over 6 months, they can bring complaints against individual bands. Bands simply wanted an opportunity to amend their laws to make sure they were compliant with both human rights and their traditional laws.
But it is not even these obvious pieces of misinformation that is the worst part. It is the fact that one solitary example of alleged racism on one reserve could be used to say that all Chiefs and First Nations are corrupt and that their only goal is to "circle the wagons in defence of their cash and powers". This is little more than a discriminatory remark meant to stir up racist images about Aboriginal peoples so as to deflect readers from the real issues. That kind of blatant racism should not be tolerated, nor should it be published by our national media. This kind of comment does nothing to add to the debate nor does it inspire collegiality amongst citizens or offer mutually beneficial solutions.
The vast majority of First Nations Chiefs are tireless, hard-working, passionate leaders who carry the weight of every single community member on their shoulders. Many Chiefs don't make a great salary, but regardless of the pay they go far above and beyond their role as a political leader. They often find themselves mediating marital disputes, helping students find text books, volunteer as cooks, firefighters, pow wow emcees, hunters, fishers, babysitters, chauffeurs, and mentors.
While managing social conflict within their communities, they must also negotiate with federal, provincial and municipal governments, manage the same programs as provinces, stay on top of developing laws, and monitor private activities within their territories. Many of the Chiefs I know literally work 20 hours a day and carry the weight of community ills as their own personal failings. Chiefs are trashed in the media as often as we hear the weather forecast. They are vilified and disrespected by federal and provincial governments and their triumphs are overlooked by the media in exchange for scandal and hardship.
I would suggest that the National Post and any other "mightier-than-thou" media outlet try walking in the shoes of First Nation leaders for a day. Instead of berating them and spreading hatred against First Nations, they need to finally recognize that section 35 of our Constitution Act, 1982 is there for a reason and just as Canadians are not going anywhere, nor are First Nations. Despite the assimilatory goals of the past, First Nations have survived and are here to stay.
The supreme law of the land (Constitution Act, 1982) and the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes the special place of First Nations in this country and the democratic obligation we all have to ensure their continued existence. Reconciliation is a two-way street - we can't expect to move forward as a country if we respect all our laws except those that relate to First Nations. We have an obligation to respect our First Nations as we would each other and racist stereotypes have no place in that relationship. It seems ironic that on the one hand, the National Post comment advocates for greater human rights for First Nations, and then on the other hand, uses racist comments and stereotypes to demean them.
I would suggest that the National Post and others like it should reconsider their roles in educating the public about important issues related to First Nations and better represent the public which it serves - including First Nations. Here are some tips for moving forward:
(1) Hire some Aboriginal reporters, columnists, and commentators who are knowledgeable about the issues;
(2)Hire some Aboriginal people in management at your paper/station who are knowledgeable about the issues;
(3)Include more Aboriginal people on your advisory committees who are knowledgeable about the issues;
(4)Make a concerted effort to offer more balanced and informed perspectives which are based on fact, not sensationalism. Try practising what you preach.
For more information about these issues, please read my previous blogs.