Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sun Media or Hate Media - Racism for Sale

I am caught right now between heeding or ignoring the usual advice about fanatics and their rantings. Most people figure it is better to ignore the hateful, ignorant ravings of people who spread nasty hate messages against other groups of people like Indigenous peoples or people from other cultures. I used to think that was good advice, because who wants to give those unstable few a bigger platform for their disturbed ideas.

But then it hit me that this advice usually comes from the majority population, who, for the most part, are not the ones directly impacted by the end result of hate propaganda. It also hit me that in this age of social media and kids using the internet at younger and younger ages, that these very public media outlets have the ability to influence and brainwash our youth. Thus, even though there are far too many fanatical groups, commentators and media outlets to monitor (nor would I want to), there are some articles that require a response.

Sun Media, which should rename itself Hate Media recently published a racist article related to the upcoming Assembly of First Nations election. While the Toronto Sun may or may not have written the article itself, it made the decision to publish it. Hate crimes are punishable in Canada - but at the very least they should not be able to profit from their hatred.

"Compromise... is the route Shawn Atleo has been following"

The article appears to support Shawn Atleo as the "compromising" candidate and thus the one who should be elected. This group is supported by Senator Patrick Brazeau who openly endorsed Shawn Atleo as the only candidate that the Harper Conservatives could work with. My issue is not whether or not the right wing contingency in Canada supports Shawn Atleo, my issue is with how they talk about our people and the hatred they invite into our communities by virtue of their propaganda, racism and misinformation.

"Despite billions in taxpayer welfare..."

Every aspect of the way this article is written is meant to promote hatred against First Nations people. It is the tone, the implication, the words and even the facts that are left out that can influence and encourage non-First Nation people to see us in a stereotypical light and treat us with both disdain and lack of compassion. How does this happen? Since contact, the colonizing governments have tried to portray us as less than human. This allowed them to justify in law both the theft of our lands and the control of our people - as if we were incapable of managing our own affairs.

This could not be farther from the truth of course, as we have literally tens of thousands of years of having lived quite well with our own complex governments, laws and justice systems. We also had extensive and profitable trade networks, strong militaries and political skills in alliances and treaty making. We had our own cultures, traditions, languages, practices and beliefs to fill our spirits, teach us how to live up to our responsibilities and to keep us connected to the land, sky, water, people and animals. The ways of our diverse peoples were and are beautiful.

Our ways and our peoples were attacked by those colonizing governments in very direct violent ways (scalping laws, forced sterilizations, military assaults, abuse and murder of our children in residential schools) and we were attacked in less direct but harmful ways (Indian Act, Indian agents, federal and provincial laws outlawing our subsistence activities, ignoring treaties etc). Many people are of the understanding that all of this is history - but the ongoing colonization of our people continues - they just use different names for it.

Today we have theft of children by provincial agencies, the over-representation of our people in jails, murdered and missing First Nation women, and the pre-mature deaths of our people through chronic and severe under-funding of essential programs and services.

"It [Harper] makes a historic apology... and can't win for losing"

Take for example, the Toronto Sun article claims the apology was historic. Yet, the Prime Minister forgot the other half of the apology. Every child knows that you can't apologize without also making amends for your offense. The Prime Minister apologized for the  assimilatory foundations upon which residential schools policies were based yet, promptly after the apology funding was cut for Indigenous languages. Our children are still stolen by from our communities by child welfare agencies at rates HIGHER than during the residential school era. What has changed in terms of what the majority of our children learn in provincial schools? Harper hasn`t lost anything - but we have.

"It fronts a reconcilation commission"

Even the words used to describe the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) make suttle negative associations. The Toronto Sun seems to imply that out of the goodness of the Prime Minister's heart, a Truth and Reconciliation was funded. I think the author is forgetting that all of this came about because of the litigation against Canada. These are the facts that ought to be on the table if we are to have a responsible discussion about any of these issues.

Since it is unlikely that these people will stop their campaign to turn public opinion and policy makers against us, we need to occupy the space of educator. The Assembly of First Nations needs to take a stronger public education role in making sure the facts are accessible and that forums are created for informed and fact-based discussions versus allowing the old uneducated right-wing hate debate to dominate.

"Unreasonable demands from aboriginal 'leadership' in cesspool reserves"

It is one thing for us to all have different perspectives, beliefs and interpretations of what we see, hear and experience, but it is quite another to promote blatantly racist and uninformed statements about us. Our youth need to know that the very foundation of race as a biological determinant of personality, intelligence or capacity was discounted both in science and fact decades ago. It is impossible to look at the end result of devastating and often lethal colonial policies forced on our people and imply that we want any of this or that our choices put us where we are today.

How dare they call Attawapiskat a "cesspool" reserve when they know the facts - that many of those residents live in poverty not because they want or choose to, but because of the chronic underfunding of our communities and the government's refusal to share what is ours - the land and resources. Yet, there is no mention of the mining company which overloaded the reserve's underfunded infrastructure and flooded their sewage station and caused back-ups in some of their houses. Where was the amends for that?

"An idiot... and fool"

I don't care who you are, what your background is or what your political stripes are - no one gets to talk about our people this way. We have our strengths and weaknesses like any other collective in the world, but we did not ask for any of this. We are tasked with managing the dysfunction that Canada created and fights hard to maintain today. Our people have tried against all odds to work with Canada. We have survived everything that has been thrown at us - from scalpings to sterilizations to complete control and impoverishment.

And we still sing, we still dance, and we still celebrate who we are as the FIRST PEOPLES of this land - like the Mi'kmaq, Cree, Mohawk, and Maliseet. Despite generations of brainwashing we still fight to protect our ways and our people. None of us are disposable. We are all human beings and if Canada is embarassed by our living conditions they need to do something about it. If they are not, then they need to step aside and let a legitimate government take charge - one that puts the well-being of the people first. Name-calling by Conservative Ministers, Senators or their right-wing media outlets will never cover up their culpability.

"Compromise is chief priority"

We made our compromises when we signed treaties. Those deals are now internationally and constitutionally protected. Those treaties need to be recognized and implemented. Some right-wingers say that treaty implementation is an old argument and that I should give it up. Senator Brazeau said that his government would `never`recognize treaties - important insight on the kind of government we are dealing with and the positions we need to take.

Even those non-treaty Nations made their compromises years ago when they agreed to share, not give up their lands and resources. To ask us to compromise again is to ask us to give up what little we have left. We stand on the strength of our original and prior sovereignty - we need to assert it, live it and protect it. There is no compromise to be had on our sovereignty.

``bangs war drums and blows smoke``

I hope for the sake of our children and their children and their children forever, that we always hear the beat of the drum and honour the pipe ceremonies. Our ways connect us to our ancestors - many of whom gave up their lives to protect our lands. I am proud to be part of those traditions and hope we never compromise on our sovereignty,our treaties, our traditions or the well-being of our people.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

It's Time to Stand Up and Defend our People

It used to be that in the old days, it was only really disturbed or ultra fanatical people that would say overtly crazy, racist things in public. Today, if you read any of the online comments after news articles related to First Nations people, you will see a segment of Canadian society filled with anger, hatred and racism who lack any actual knowledge, context, history or factual basis for their opinions about our issues. That is to be expected given the lack of education in public schools, work places or society in general about who we are as Indigenous peoples.

However, when it comes to educated and experienced Canadian Ministers and politicians - there are no excuses. In fact, each Minister has an army of policy advisors, lawyers, assistants, communications specialists and advisors that fully brief him or her about all the facts, history and context. They don't even have to think for themselves as they have issue binders, speaking notes and press releases written for them. Once in a while though, a Minister gets caught off guard by a reporter and has to speak for him/herself and then their REAL views come out.

I am writing this blog today because the ignorant, racist comments against Indigenous peoples in Canada seem to be increasing by Harper's Conservative Cabinet Ministers. Since they are so well informed about our issues, we cannot excuse them based on ignorance - their words reflect not only their lack of empathy for our peoples, but also their outright disdain for us. I hardly know where to start with this one, but here goes...

Minister Duncan has said a great deal of really dumb things in his tenure as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) which is likely one of the reasons he is "handled" so obviously by his staff. One of the worst things he has ever said was that he did not consider the devastating loss of language and culture caused by the residential school system to be "cultural genocide".

Of course this ignores the actual realities of residential schools, and of all the people who should know better, it should be the Minister of Indian Affairs.

Then there is his most recent comments about our sovereignty and law-making powers. When asked about over sovereignty, Minister Duncan laughed and said "well, that doesn't really work does it". He went on to say that "we are a federal government" and "that's the way it has to be". This was in response to several First Nations in this country exercising their right to trade tobacco between First Nations.

It seems to me that First Nations can't ever win in this battle - if we are impoverished our communities are referred to as "human cesspools"...

If we try to hunt and fish to provide for our families, we are stopped by brute force:

If we try to engage in inter-First Nation trade of traditional products like tobacco - our right to our livelihood is criminalized:

Canada can't have it both ways. Government can't create laws and policies to keep us in poverty and then complain about the cost of poverty. Similarly, government can't tell us to "pick up our socks" and then arrest us when we find ways to provide for our communities. But, if we think this is bad, it is only going to get worse as governments race to extract as much oil, minerals and riches from our traditional territories as possible with little or no input from us.

Yet, Canada's well-informed Ministers continue to make statements based not on fact, but on their own self-interest or racist views about Indigenous peoples. Look at Minister Aglukkaq's denial of food insecurity in Canada. This Minister comes from the very region which suffers the highest food insecurity in all of Canada and she denied that there was even a problem - alleging that everyone just hunts and fishes for a living.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, many other Conservative Ministers have made racist or derogatory comments against our people. Think of Prime Minister Harper's denial of colonialism in Canada, Minister Oliver's description of First Nations people as "dysfunctional" or the very telling Canada-AFN Summit held in January where everyone smiled and shook hands, while Harper outlined his assimilation plan.

Time and again the Harper Conservative government denies Canada's role in our poverty, they try to sugarcoat the past and have put their assimilatory agenda on fast forward. Where is the Assembly of First Nations in all of this? They should be standing up for our people! They should be educating Canadians about the facts and most of all they should do what they were mandated to do: advocate for better conditions in our First Nations and "to protect our succeeding generations from colonialism". It's time the AFN joined all the Chiefs, First Nation organizations and grassroots people in standing up and defending the very strength of our Nations - our sovereignty, land and people.