Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What does the Fall of "Darth Harper" and the Galactic-Canadian Empire Mean for First Nations?

Finally, the Conservative government has been toppled by their own lies, deceit, and cover-ups. But what took so long? Did it really have to get this bad and go on for this long for the opposition parties to feel secure enough to topple the government? Where have all their values gone that they would let their citizens suffer for this long? At the top of the Conservative target list were First Nations - was no political party ready to topple the Conservative government on our behalf? If not, then what does the fall of "Darth Harper" and his twisted Galactic-Canadian Empire mean for us as First Nations?

For those of you who don't already read the blogs from "Galloping Beaver", I would highly recommend that you start. They are often insightful, critical, and sometimes even humorous. Their most recent blog was a video of Stephen Harper being compared to the evil Sith Lord, otherwise known as Senator Palpatine from Star Wars.

While the video is humorous, it is also scary, given that Stephen Harper ruled very much like a dictator while praising the virtues of freedom and liberty. Here is another one along the same lines:

He will no doubt be known as one of the most dictatorial leaders in Canadian history. I have also been critical of Harper's contempt for democracy and have spoken against his autocratic-type rule:

Now, the whole world knows that Harper's style of rule led to the defeat of his own "empire". The Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee found Harper's Conservative government to be in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the real costs of "big ticket" items like the stealth combat jets, the corporate tax cuts and the infamous law and order plans to build and staff more jails.

The report which was released on Monday, March 21, 2011 held that: “the government’s failure to produce documents constitute a contempt of Parliament” and that “this failure impedes the House in the performance of its functions.” The Conservatives demonstrated a serious lack of honesty that could have seriously hurt many Canadians.

Based on this report, a vote of non-confidence was held and Harper lost. The vote was brought by the Liberals and supported by both the NDP and the Bloc. The next step in the process was for Harper to speak to the Governor General and ask him to dissolve Parliament, which he did. This means that Canadians will have an election on May 2, 2011.

This should be no surprise to anyone who owns a television, as we have now seen all the attack ads start. I am quite sure that for the next 6 weeks, we will all be exposed to very little campaigning and a whole lot of attacking. I can also predict that there will be no ads which speak to the third world conditions of First Nations in this country, or the lack of action on our land claims and treaties. I also doubt they will run their elections on removing the 2% funding cap in First Nations or designing legislation to officially recognize our sovereignty.

What does all of this mean for First Nations in this country? That is a good question. A leading Indigenous academic scholar, Taiaiake Alfred, argues that there is nothing to be gained by First Nations voting in federal elections. In his view, voting in their elections is akin to accepting their assumed sovereignty over our Nations.

There are other Indigenous scholars, like John Borrows in "Landed Citizenship: Narratives of Aboriginal Political Participation", who argue that we should not only put significant efforts into rebuilding our Nations, but that we should also participate in federal and provincial government processes as a means of extending our influence.

While I can see the merit in both arguments, I can't help feel that at this point in time, with the current power structures and laws we now have in Canada, that our influence in Canadian politics is negligible at best and harmful at worst. None of the federal parties have our best interests at heart. At the end of the day, our interests are just another commodity that can be bartered away for a bigger piece of another pie.

Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act was a prime example of the vulnerable nature of our rights. Indian women and their descendants are still - to this day - treated blatantly unequally as compared to Indian men and their descendants in Canadian law. Yet, despite Sharon McIvor winning in both levels of court, our right to equality was bartered away by national Aboriginal organizations and federal political parties for an undefined "joint process" with no clear mandate, structure, authority or funding. This left Sharon McIvor staring in disbelief before the Senate when near unanimous opposition to the bill in the House, became a trade item for a joint process in the Senate.

Perhaps I am just feeling defeated? Maybe, but when I look at the process for Bill S-4 Matrimonial Real Property, Bill S-11 First Nations Safe Drinking Water, Bill C-575 First Nations Accountability and so on, a theme emerges - non-First Nations peoples and governments are designing laws and policies for our Nations based on their own priorities, not ours. In fact, there was not even any legal consultation and accommodation of our "interests" in those bills. Were it not for the dissolution of Parliament, we may well have been stuck with many new laws that would detrimentally impact our communities and Nations.

Could voting in federal or provincial elections change any of this? No. We simply do not have the numbers to make a change. Sure, in some ridings, if all Aboriginal people voted, we could add a few more MPs, but these additional folks would not change the make-up of the party itself. My father once told me that politics is about making deals and trade-offs. MPs are often required to vote with the will of their party, not based on what is just. If something like our basic equality rights are up for auction, then I don't want to be any part of that.

However, I do support those rare few who participate in the Canadian process who also stay true to their Indigenous values and teachings and don't allow others to bully them into siding with the majority vote on issues. These individuals are not the mouth-pieces of government trashing their own people, nor are they the Aboriginal faces needed to promote a new government policy that will hurt First Nations. These individuals are the rare few who stand out on committees and in the media highlighting the need to respect inherent First Nation jurisdiction.

That being said, I think we have a far better shot at making real change by healing our communities with our cultures and languages, rebuilding our Nations, securing our lands and resources, and asserting our sovereignty instead of asking others to recognize it. We have to start from a position of power which means our focus should be on our Nations first - and we have a lot of work to do there. I think that our inherent sovereignty is our real power and that we need to step up our game in that department.

No one is going to "give" us our sovereignty - that is something we have to believe in and do ourselves. We have to protect our jurisdiction over our people, lands, governments, and laws - or it will continue to be eroded under the guise of "reconciliation".

We also have to make sure that this next government knows we mean business - our sovereignty is not for sale, politically or otherwise. Our sovereignty is the very core of who we are as Indigenous peoples and our ancestors were willing to die to protect it. I think we have an obligation to honour their sacrifices...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity and Belonging

OK, so here is my shameless self-promotion - please buy my book and help me become a National Best Seller!! I would love to hear all your feedback on the ideas and issues covered in the book as well as ideas for my next book!!! You can buy my book directly from the publisher at or you can buy it from places like Chapters:

Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater

• What impact does status have on band membership codes?

• What limits, if any, should be placed on the right to  determine citizenship?

• Legal, political, and cultural factors affecting Indigenous identity and belonging

• Interim proposed solutions to discrimination against Non-Status Indians

“For hundreds of years, we have struggled to survive amid a patrilineal system of government. We will not continue to allow government policy to manage our affairs, decide who is Aboriginal or not based on blood quantum ...” – Chief Candice Paul, St. Mary’s First Nation

Author Pamela Palmater argues that the Indian Act's registration provisions (status) will lead to the extinguishment of First Nations as legal and constitutional entities. The current status criteria contain descent-based rules akin to blood quantum that are particularly discriminatory against women and their descendants.

Beginning with an historic overview of legislative enactments defining Indian status and their impact on First Nations, the author examines contemporary court rulings dealing with Aboriginal rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in relation to Indigenous identity. She also examines various band membership codes to determine how they affect Indigenous identity, and how their reliance on status criteria perpetuates discrimination. She offers suggestions for a better way of determining Indigenous identity and citizenship and argues that First Nations themselves must determine their citizenship based on ties to the community, not blood or status.

Dr. Palmater teaches politics at Ryerson University and holds a JSD in law from Dalhousie University. She was denied Indian status as a Mi’kmaq because her grandmother married a non-Indian.

“It is time that the Indian Act was revised, section by section, in full consultation with First Nations so that we can keep the sections which benefit our communities and finally eliminate those sections which threaten our very existence. Dr. Palmater’s book raises these very important issues ..." – Chief Lawrence Paul, Millbrook First Nation

“This work is an important discourse that looks at a judicial anomaly which continues to perplex the integrity of the Canadian legal system, and illustrates the glaring contradictions of an ever-weakening Honour of the Crown.” – Chief Isadore Day, Serpent River First Nation

$35.00, 280 pages, index, paper, 6 x 9, spring 2011                                ISBN 978-1895830-606

Purich Publishing Ltd.                                                              P: 306-373-5311
PO Box 23032 RPO Market Mall                                             F: 306-373-5315
Saskatoon SK S7J 5H3                                                   E:
Visit or ask at your local book retailer

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"No Natives" Allowed: How Canada Breeds Racism and Fear

On the one hand, I cannot believe that we as Indigenous peoples are still subjected to such overt racism on a such a frequent basis. On the other hand, I am not surprised, given that this kind of anti-First Nation sentiment is still out there in more hidden forms also known as systemic racism. I guess the best way to describe my feelings is that I sometimes feel overwhelmed that these perverse ideologies don't just come from a few wackos, but comes from all elements in society - individuals, business, professionals, academics, politicians, and government.

I received this picture from people on Facebook today who wanted to bring this issue to the attention of the public and the police. This picture is allegedly of a restaurant in Lakefield, Ontario. It was reported in the Toronto Sun that the police are investigating this as a hate crime. Here is the link to that story:

If this incident actually happened (and everyone is innocent until proven guilty), it is a symptom of how Indigenous peoples are portrayed generally in our society - in schools, the media and by federal and provincial governments. Even if this one turns out to all a big misunderstanding, there used to be many similar signs like this, just for Aboriginal people:

I am less surprised by this kind of overt racism from members of small communities, when I hear famous people, like Kevin O'Leary (who appears on Dragon's Den and CBC News' Lang & O"Leary show). You will recall, that Kevin O'Leary called his co-host an "Indian giver" and when she rebuked him for such barbaric language, he repeated the phrase and defended his use of it.

This comment was made on Canada's CBC News during prime time when a large number of Canadians would be watching. It happened LAST October 2010 and not a word of apology was issued by O'Leary or CBC. It wasn't until 5 months later and AFTER the CBC Ombudsperson had publicly released their decision that the comment was wrong and so was CBC for not immediately addressing it - that we heard any mention of an apology.

Specifically, the Ombudsperson stated:

"In this instance, the preferred course would have been for O’Leary not only to privately recognize the fault of his ways but to publicly express remorse, either that night or the next night or soon after. But if he wasn’t going to publicly apologize, the program could have done something further to make amends. Its obligation goes beyond the complainant to the viewers in order to uphold the broader reputation of the program and CBC itself."

This is obviously the point I am getting at about the effect such comments have, especially when left for many months to fester. The problem is that Indigenous peoples are getting it from all sides and by not acting to address these issues, it's no wonder society thinks this is acceptable. Scripted apologies forced by legal decisions, litigation or threat of job loss are hardly sincere or even effective at undoing the damage caused.

You will recall on the very same day that Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology on behalf of all Canadians for the physical, sexual, and other abuses committed in residential schools, his conservative MP, Pierre Poilievre, had the nerve to question the compensation being given to survivors and asked whether it was "value for money". I still feel nauseated when I read his comments. As if there is any monetary amount that could ever compensate for sexual abuse like rape, physical abuse like beatings, neglect that resulted in many deaths and the loss of culture, language and hope.

Keep in mind, Canada has compensated Japanese families for ripping them from their homes and putting them in camps during the war. The Chinese were also compensated for the head tax that was imposed on them to prevent them from immigrating to Canada. While the Supreme Court of Canada has specifically said that discrimination is not "a race to the bottom" (i.e. who is more discriminated against), they have said that often times Aboriginal peoples are dually disadvantaged on mulitple levels not necessarily experienced by other groups.

Indigenous peoples suffered in residential schools for their entire childhoods and many others suffer the deadly inter-generational effects for communities all over the country which could take generations to address. How could the residential school compensation be less "value for money" than another group's? Somehow, conservatives and others find a way to insert doubt and blame into the conversation when it is about Indigenous peoples.

We all know about Senator Patrick Brazeau who uses the Senate chambers, resources, and logo to film carefully worded videos meant to portray First Nations as lazy and corrupt. In fact, on my previous blogs, I have highlighted his negative, stereotypes of First Nations and how in one show he even accused First Nations as hubs of "illegal activity". This all coming from an individual who claims to be First Nations - imagine the powerful effect this would have on the views and opinions of non-Aboriginal peoples.

That brings us to Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan. As you know from my previous blogs, I am no fan of Minister Duncan given his past racist comments about Indigenous peoples and their rights.

Duncan was very much opposed to Aboriginal and treaty rights to fish, ignored their constitutional protection, and characterized them as "race-based".

More recently, however, Minister Duncan appeared before the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples regarding Bill S-11, the bill dealing with safe drinking water on First Nations. Senators have commented that all witnesses, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, including water experts and legal experts all agree that this Act is so bad that even amendments could not save it.

On March 8, 2011, Minister Duncan, expressing his frustration, commented that:

“This committee has been receiving a very one-sided view on the way things are going.  We’ve actually been working very collaboratively especially with the Treaty 6, 7 and 8 group from Alberta....  You’re correct in concluding that everyone does not have the same view.  But I think this committee has managed to somehow capture a prevalence of negative views.  Sometimes that’s what happens.  It’s easier  in First Nation politics to be aggressively  contrary to something than it is to be supportive.  And that’s an observation that I will make and stand behind and it’s something I hope we can change

How could we as Indigenous peoples NOT be, at the very least, "agressively contrary" to the sexual abuse in residential schools, the outlawing of our cultures, the legislated exclusion of our women and children from our Nations, the removal of thousands of our children to child welfare agencies, the early deaths of our people from extreme poverty, the theft of our traditional lands and resources,  and the political and legal destruction of our laws, governments and communities? In other countries, this can and has resulted in revolutions.

While I can't say for sure what was going on in his head, it certainly appears to me that Minister Duncan gave his comment some thought before he said it as he followed up his comment with confirmation that he will stand behind it. This is not dissimilar to Kevin O"Leary standing beside his racist remarks, or Tom Flanagan standing beside his comments. I have always been told to believe people when they tell you who they really are - so I am listening.

Aside from showing a pre-disposition to having racist views about Indigenous peoples, Minister Duncan's negative stereotyping of First Nations does little to suggest his views have evolved over time. Looking at it from society's point of view, if the Minister of Indian Affairs, who is supposed to be an advocate and champion for Aboriginal peoples in Canada has such hostile, negative views about Aboriginal peoples, why would we expect society to be any better? It is almost as if Minister Duncan is sickened to even have to work on this portfolio - which begs the question - why the heck does he?

Sadly, comments by our top law enforcement agencies about Indigenous peoples do not fair any better. Official documents in the Canadian Military have characterized Mohawks as insurgents or terrorists. This not only false and offensive, it also serves to spread fear and distrust amongst non-Indigenous society. My children's own friends ask questions about whether we are "terrorists".

The damage has been done. No carefully worded apology will be able to undo the damage to Indigenous peoples and especially the Mohawk in this case. Canadians are more likely to see us as terrorists than the First Peoples of this country. If there was any doubt, just ask Christy Blatchford and TVO, who portrayed Mohawks in Six Nations as lawless and out of control:
Yet, despite the military's indication in 2010 that they would be offering a very carefully worded apology, one remains to be given. Many months later and not a single word has been issued. It makes me wonder what kind of priority they made of the apology. Instead, there seems to be a universal default that these comments will be allowed to be said, defended, repeated, and given time to sink in before any superficial apology is offered. We deserve more than this anti-First Nation propaganda on our own homelands.

Add to this the list of right-wing academics who promote the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples in various forms like Tom Flanagan, Dale Gibson, Frances Widdowson, and Alan Cairns, etc. This is reinforced by some teachers in schools which either don't teach their students about Aboriginal peoples, do so in a minimal way or teach some of these same stereotypes. This is further reinforced by the various media outlets who make millions off portraying First Nations as lazy, crooked, criminals and movies or TV shows which promote an archetype of Indians that few today can live up to - the "good" version or the "bad" version.

This is an old battle, one that we have been fighting since contact. While many in society would like to believe that old colonial ideologies about Indigenous peoples have long waned, the opposite is true. Just take a peek at some of the vile comments posted on online media stories about Indigenous peoples and you'll see what I mean. Not only do Indigenous peoples face this battle on multiple fronts and on a daily basis, but they must also face the battle within themselves, Every day we face the battle to prove we are worthy as human beings. Too often this battle is lost and we lose our young people to suicide, violent deaths, and early deaths from diseases, malnutrition, and lack of housing caused by extreme poverty.

I'd like to point out that the Criminal Code of Canada specifically prohibits hate crimes (section 319) which provides that public statements made against an identifiable group that incites violence against that group is a CRIME. Similarly, section 318 specifically probihits GENOCIDE - which is the killing of an identifiable group, or creating lufe conditions would bring about that group's physical destruction. Sounds like an option, but the tricky part is you have to get the Attorney General to agree to bring these charges. So, back to the drawing board...while assimilation, racism, theft of our lands, resources and souls continues...

Those of us who manage to wake up every day and win this internal battle (at least enough to keep trudging along), must then engage in the political and legal battle for our basic human rights and freedoms, to protect our cultures and identities for future generations, as well as the key issues like sovereignty, Aboriginal and treaty rights, land rights and so on. We have to know more than anyone else about our issues, we have to work harder than anyone else, and we have to find ways to do so politely and with smiles on our faces lest we be characterized as "agressively contrary" or "terrorists".

So the next time you hear someone say how easy First Nations have it; how they get everything for free; or how lazy they all are, why don't you suggest they live with Indigenous peoples for a while and see what the "free & easy" life is really like? Or perhaps they'd like to discuss the subject with those of us who fight in this battle 24-7?

It is time Canada accepted the fact that we will not be assimilated. Whether you call it "agressively contrary", "insurgency" or "criminal" - we will continue to protect our cultures and identites for future generations. If only Canadians could leave their minds open long enough to see the incredible strength of our diverse peoples, the beauty of our rich cultures and traditions, the unique ties we have to our territories, or the incredible pride we have in our identities - then they would see why we refuse to give it up.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Country of Harper: Are We Moving Towards an Autocracy?

I am absolutely stunned by what has been happening in politics lately. Canada used to pride itself in being a democracy, but in recent years under the Conservative government, we have moved further and further away from a real democracy that represents the voice of the people, and have moved closer and closer to an autocracy. An autocracy is a form of government where one person possesses unlimited power. Leaders who are autocrats are sometimes referred to as dictators or tyrants.

Some of you who are political scientists or armchair critics might be thinking that Canada is not really an autocracy because we have a Constitution (which is the supreme law of the land), an independent judiciary and free elections. That is absolutely true. Technically, Canada is set up as a democracy - rule by the people. However, what is happening in practice differs a great deal from how things are SUPPOSED to work. Some key events have made me question where we are headed. My fear is that we may be repeating history under the guise of politics. Don't forget, some of the worst of tyrants and dictators started out as something else - passionate leaders for a cause which they believed to be "good".

Just to be absolutely clear - I am not a member of any political party - Liberal, Conservative, or NDP. Nor am I a member of any other federal party of which, you might be surprised to know, there are quite a few:

So this isn't an election smear campaign, promo ad for the liberals, or pro-NDP blog. This blog represents my thoughts on what is happening based on all my knowledge, experience, education and most of all, my common sense. It is my personal opinion, and I am entitled by law to exercise my freedom of expression and share my personal views with the world. This freedom, as with other rights, are guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

As integral as these ideals are to our democratic society, under the Harper regime (or whatever it is), these rights are slowly but surely being eroded. I have to worry now, whether my personal views and opinions are safe from unreasonable and arbitrary interference, when I hear reports that the government has contracted private companies to monitor our Facebook postings and other social media sites:

Seriously? I knew there were some looney-toons sending me messages, but this is too much. Who is Canada to invade our social spaces, where we enjoy the freedom to discuss what we want, and add what THEY view to be the CORRECT information in our discussions? What about politics is correct - or is there only one way of thinking now? This sounds eerily close to other countries which do not allow dissent or who control social media communication. Is this where Canada is headed?

You may have also heard the latest about Prime Minister Harper changing the name of our Canadian Government to the "Harper Government". I thought it was a joke at first, but no, this is serious:

How could a democracy, which is truly governed by the people, have the name of the people's government changed to reflect a single leader's name without consulting with the people? Canada is not the sum total of Stephen Harper (thank goodness), so how on earth could he be so egotistical to think Canadians would agree to this?

Our government is supposed to represent all of its people - not a single leader. Nothing good can come from boiling down our government to one person - we have seen what happens when individual leaders think they are all powerful. I can understand the layman's use of that kind of terminology, as the media does it all the time. However, they do so as a short-cut to saying what the Conservatives, in general, are doing as opposed to saying Canada is Harper. In the United States of America, the media often refers to the Obama administration, but you NEVER hear the government refer to itself as the United States of Obama.

What makes this all the more suspicious is that they did this all in great secrecy. We might not even know this change has happened but for a bureaucrat "inadvertently" bringing the news to light. This is very characteristic of how the "Harper" government works. When the "Harper" government tried to defend itself by saying that Chretien used to do the same thing, lifelong politicians quickly pointed out that this was not the case.

"Mr. Chretien . . . had way too much respect for our public institutions to cheapen them the way Harper has and he didn't have the political megalomania the way Harper has to ensure his likeness or name was stamped on everything the government does."

In fact, many long-time politicians have pointed out that this name change even violates the Federal Identity Program Policy:

One of the objectives of this policy is to help "project the Government of Canada as a coherent, unified administration". This can't be the case if a name is chosen which reflects only one person and is obviously partisan in nature. The policy goes on to state that "the "Canada" wordmark are applied wherever an activity of the federal government is to be made known in Canada and abroad". This includes communications with other states.

Similarly, the Communication Policy of the Government of Canada is designed to "Ensure that institutions of the Government of Canada are visible, accessible and accountable to the public they serve" and that key messages represent our diversity. There is nothing diverse about changing our government's name to "Harper Government". All this does is send the message that Canada is a one-man show:

To put it simply, Canada is not now, nor has it ever been represented by one single autocrat, tyrant, or dictator, nor should it be in the future. Who is Harper to be so egotistical and ethnocentric to think that a white man could stand before the world and say that HE is Canada. How quickly he has forgotten the First Peoples of this Country and that our identity and rights are protected in the Supreme Law of Canada - the Constitution Act, 1982. I don't see Harper's name ANYWHERE in the Constitution.

Perhaps we should change the name to the Aboriginal Peoples Government - maybe that would end Canada's paternalistic hold over our communities and "re-brand" Canada in a more realistic way. After all, this is our territory. I think that every person who reads this blog should file an official complaint with the Treasury Board of Canada who is responsible for overseeing these rules and policies.

Then, take another 5 minutes and e-mail all MPs at the following addresses:

To contact Liberal MPs -

To contact Bloc MPs -

To contact Conservative MPs -

To contact NDP MPs -

I welcome any comments and feedback at

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mohawk Tobacco Trade - Standing up for Our Sovereignty

The days of only looking at issues that impact our local communities (bands) are long over if we expect to protect our cultures, identities and Nations for future generations. The issue of our sovereignty as Indigenous Nations (Mohawk, Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, etc) must be looked at in the bigger context. I am the first to admit that we have significant issues to address in our home communities and many of them are absolutely life and death issues related to poverty, addictions, housing, violence, and child welfare. It is critical that we ensure we have citizens dedicated to addressing these issues for the well-being of our families, communities and Nations.

At the same time, we also have to dedicate some of our citizens to fighting the larger battle which is being waged against our identities, cultures, and sovereignty. In the days of my great grandfather and his grandfathers, Mi'kmaq people made sure they protected their women and children by having warriors posted at our our local settlements. However, knowing that our territory (known as Mi'kma'ki) was rich in resources and our traditional territory was vast (7 districts covering many provinces), we also ensured that all directions were protected from intrusion by other Nations. The idea being that you had to have all directions covered, even if one direction required more attention at any particular time.

The same can be said about our current state of affairs. Our social issues have taken such priority, that in some ways we may have left ourselves vulnerable to attack from other directions. I don't just mean within our own Nations either. If the sovereignty of the Mohawk is being challenged, that has a direct impact on the future of Mi'kmaq sovereignty and vice-versa. Similarly, every Indigenous Nation in this country has its own special resources that is uses to support its communities and whether it is tobacco, lobster, moose, seal or oil, we owe it to each other to not allow government or corporations to jeopardize what little we have left. We can't think for a minute that the loss of lobster fishing for the Mi'kmaq will not have a significant impact for the Maliseet and their logging rights.

We owe it to our Nations and our future generations to make sure that our political strategies have all the bases covered. It is for this reason that I write about the Mohawk Tobacco trade. The Aboriginal right of the Mohawk to engage in their centuries-old trading activities is being threatened by big business and provincial governments all of whom are desperate to get their hands on money which rightfully belongs to the Mohawk. Similarly, the self-determining rights of the Mohawk to exercise jurisdiction over their own political and business activities threatens their very sovereignty.

As many of you know, many of the traditional Mohawk territories in what is now Ontario, Quebec and the USA have lands which are particularly suited to the growing of tobacco, which is why they have engaged in growing tobacco for many years. Their traditional use and trade of tobacco has evolved into a larger scale tobacco growing, manufacturing, sales and trade industry. Today, First Nations like Six Nations and Kahnawake are engaged in various elements of the tobacco trade.

One of those companies, Rainbow Tobacco, is based on Mohawk territory in Kahnawake. They have had their shipments of tobacco to other First Nations seized by several provinces for failure to have provincial markings on their cigarettes, despite the fact that they did have federal markings. This only appears to be an issue since  non-Indigenous businesses started complaining. However, these groups try to sway public opinion by categorizing the Mohawk Tobacco Trade as "illegal" and "contraband". By using this kind of language, it relegates Indigenous peoples to criminal status and detracts from any arguments they might make in their own defense.

The following arguments have been made against the Mohawk tobacco trade:

(1) It is illegal because there are no provincial stamps.

In fact, there is no requirement that First Nation products have provincial approvals. The cigarettes had the proper federal stamps, and since jurisdiction (as between feds-provs) with regards to First Nations, their lands and property, vests in the FEDERAL government, the province would be ultra vires (outside the scope of their legislative authority) should they attempt to legislate in this regard.

In case anyone needs a reminder, here is what the Indian Act, 1985 has to say about the matter:

Section 87 - the interests of Indians and bands in reserve lands AND the personal property of Indians and band on a reserve are NOT subject to taxation;

Section 89 - the real (land) or personal (movable) property of Indians and bands on a reserve (or deemed to be on a reserve) are NOT subject to: charge, pledge, mortgage, attachment, levy, SEIZURE, distress or executive in favour of ANY PERSON, other than an Indian or band;

Section 91 - certain property can't be traded by Indians like: grave poles, totem poles, rocks with paintings, but tobacco is NOT one of them;

Section 93 - can't remove certain materials from reserves like minerals, stone, timber etc without a permit, but tobacco is NOT one of them.

The Mohawk tobacco is not illegal, not subject to provincial tax or jurisdiction and the province had no right to seize anything on any reserve.

(2) Smoking is bad for you and causes too many health problems.

There is no doubt that smoking is bad for you and does cause way too many health problems that can even result in one's death. I don't smoke and I don't ever want my children to smoke either. My father smoked and he died of lung cancer. I would never want that for any family or community.

However, the issue of whether or not to engage in smoking is not the matter in question. The issue is whether or not First Nations can grow, manufacture, sell and trade tobacco products on their traditional territories and/or between First Nation reserves. First Nations have no less of a right to make a living off the resources on their territories than all the settlers who made good use of our lands. In fact, First Nations have a constitutionally protected right to do so - this is something that non-Indigenous businesses can't say.

The double-standard inherent in this ideology is obvious. It is legal and publically acceptable for non-Indigenous businesses to manufacture and trade tobacco, but it is a moral sin when First Nations do it. This has nothing to do with morals and everything to do with the bottom-line: the provinces see it as a cash grab and corporations see it as losing "their" profits.

(3) Tobacco can only be used by First Nations as it was used traditionally.

This line of reasoning is not only racist, it is legally inaccurate. The Supreme Court of Canada has clarified on many occasions that Aboriginal peoples and their rights are NOT to be frozen in pre-contact times. The SCC has further clarified that Aboriginal rights are able to evolve over time into modern methods of exercising those rights. Telling First Nations they can only use tobacco as they did in pre-contact times would be like us telling lawyers they still have to wear white wigs in court or that you have to take the Mayflower boat on your next holiday to Cuba.

(4) Most of the First Nation tobacco companies are owned by band members and not the band.

Regardless of my own personal feelings about individual vs. band owned businesses, again this is not the issue at hand. Those are debates to be had between band members and their bands or citizens within Indigenous Nations.

I am stunned however, by the hypocrisy of statements like this when they come from the same right-wing people who are advocating the privatization of reserve lands. You simply can't have it both ways.

(5) Indigenous peoples should compete in the market place on the same level as everyone else.

People who advocate this line of reasoning are usually the non-Indigenous tobacco companies or retailers who blame their poor sales on Indigenous tobacco trade as opposed to the decline in tobacco usage in Canada.

What they forget is that the "market place" is fueled by the lands and resources, and the spin off taxes and businesses, which rightfully belong to First Nations. How is it that settlers could steal our lands and resources, use them to make a profit, and then when First Nations get into the market place with what little resources they have left, all hell breaks loose?

They also forget that the provisions of the Indian Act noted above are legal rights afforded to First Nations. Their Aboriginal and treaty rights are also constitutionally protected. The issue is not whether the settler society likes that Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected, the fact of the matter is that they are the supreme law of the land.

(6) Indigenous peoples use the money from the tobacco trade to fund all sorts of illegal activities like drugs.

This ludicrous, stereotype is advanced by people like conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau. If you view the following video, you'll hear him make this racist stereotype against First Nations:

There are always individuals who break the law in Canada. That does not mean Canadians are all crooks. Robert Pickton was a serial killer, does that mean all Caucasian people in Canada are serial killers? Of course not. Then why is it acceptable for Senators and others to advance such disgusting racist stereotypes against our people? We have to call them on it, and then get back to the real issue: we are sovereign nations and our sovereignty has been challenged here.

While you may not personally like tobacco, that is not the issue. Mohawks engaged in their traditional tobacco trade are no more criminals than Mi'kmaq people fishing lobster. Yet, when the Mi'kmaq proved their treaty right to fish and sell lobster, the non-Indigenous fishers could not accept having to share what was never theirs to begin with. It resulted in government officials riding their boats over our people (literally) and calling us criminals and in the media said we were engaged in illegal fishing.

If we do not stand up for our sovereignty at EVERY instance that it is challenged, including those times when we don't like the issue, then we'll have no defense when we want to exercise it for issues we do like, i.e., land and hunting. We  owe it to each other to get each other's backs and to ensure that all our directions are covered. There is no negotiation when it comes to sovereignty.

Our heroes were not well-paid lawyers or consultants - they had nothing and risked their lives for us. We have to prove to our future generations that we were worth the fight.