We are all so frightened of labels. We say we’re not, but really, we are. You say you don’t give a fig what other people think of you, but when someone calls you a bully or an intolerant bitch, there are plenty of figs to be given. It’s a veritable cornucopia of figs. A HORN O’FIGS A’PLENTY, one might say.
This has really struck home in the last few weeks as the Idle No More movement has swept across the country sparking action and debate. I made the mistake of listening to the radio this morning (it behoves me that there are so many ass-o-penny dinglehoppers on the radio nowabouts, because radio really is my first love, and lover, you’re losing me) and some jubejube said something about how Idle No More doesn’t really have a ‘focus’ and how their ‘platform’ is ‘vague’. I complained a little about this in my last post.
I’ve read the Idle No More website, and their focus seems pretty focussed to me. Sovereignty and working towards sustainable, renewable development of resources which need to be protected. That’s…that’s pretty clear. I mean, short of saying “we want a say in how our environment is going to be used”, I’m really not sure how much more clear that could be. Personally, I think there are people who CHOOSE not to “get it”. Just so that they can be thicky thick thick McThickertons from Thickville (to borrow liberally from my favourite Doctor). Perhaps I have misunderstood entirely what the movement is about.
Anyway, aside from the thicky thick thick McThickertons from Thickville, there’s something else going on that’s really interesting. People are talking. And most of the time, they’re skirting around some pretty big button items. They’re speaking in a kind of code. It’s not a subtle code, but it’s code nonetheless. And they’re speaking in this code because they’re terrified of being labelled. Specifically, they’re terrified of being labelled racists.
Whether you support this grassroots movement or not, you are entitled to your opinion. Whether you believe Canada’s First Nations are actually sovereign nations is your decision entirely. Whether you believe the Government of Canada is doing all the treaty people a huge disservice by inserting the thin edge of the wedge into waterways and environmental protection is completely your game. You get to think what you want and you get to say what you want and personally I think you ought to do so without being afraid of the labels you’re going to have stuck on you.
I mean, if you *are* a racist, then I want to hear you say it. I want to hear you say “I just don’t like Native people.” Then I know where I stand.
And…and here’s the really important bit. It’s super duper important. It’s probably one of the most important things I’m going to say in a while. Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean you are being discriminatory or bigoted. That means you can disagree with Idle No More without being a racist. You can disagree with the treaties themselves without being a racist. You can hate the fact that ANY Canadians get treated differently from any OTHER Canadians, and that doesn’t make you a racist.
You’re going to hear a lot of words bandied about in this narrative. You’re going to hear words like patriarchal and colonial and my own personal favourite, “white privilege” (I get a kick out of people who don’t think the term white privilege is racist. Of COURSE it’s racist. If it were just ‘privilege’, it’d be different, but once you assign an ethnicity/skin colour to it by which you define a group of people who may or may not be a part of the group, you’re using bigoted terminology). You’re going to hear a lot about sovereignty and nation-to-nation consultation and discussion. You’re going to hear a lot about injustice and inequity.
I’m not saying those things don’t exist. I’m saying they’re buzzwords. And a lot of the time, people use buzzwords like that because either they think it makes them sound more clever or more authentic or they think it gives their arguments more gravitas. The *problem* with using buzzwords is that they begin to lose their meaning. They begin to be a bit fuzzy.
I, and my family for the past three generations are part of Treaty 4. You can find the entirety of Treaty 4 here. And you can find a guide to Treaty 4 here. In fact, you can find all of the treaties signed between the British Empire and the First Nations peoples in those same locations. I am not going to go in to much about the treaties, because I am by no means a scholar in the subject and barely even have a working knowledge of them. But I have read Treaty 4, and much of Treaties 5 and 6, and some of Treaty 7. I may have read more than that in grade school, but I don’t now recall it if I did (yes, we did study the treaties when I was in grade school).
I come from a place of privilege. Great privilege, in fact. Both of my parents are University graduates and had good-paying careers. All four of my grandparents had careers (not just jobs) and earned good incomes for their families. Seven out of eight of my great-grandparents had paying jobs that helped them provide for their families. None of my grandparents were harmed in residential schools. None of them was told they could not practice their religion nor speak their language. Only the women were told they could not go to the same public places others could. My grandparents and my parents were able to provide for me the sort of life their own grandparents couldn’t have imagined. And I benefitted from this over and over, and still do, to this day.
I had a stable home to live in. We had good food to eat. I had good clothes to wear. I received an excellent education. I received excellent health care. We owned our own land, and our own home. We had income and savings. We could afford to travel. I was able to participate in sports and in cultural groups and events. The cycle of substance abuse was stopped. The history of violence ended before I ever came into the world. My life was stable. But more than that, my life was SAFE.
Perhaps this all happened because of the colour of my great-grandparents’ skin. Or because of the religion my grandparents observed. My ancestors are survivors of colonialism and were driven from their native land. Their religion and culture was outlawed as well. Yet I still come from a place of privilege. And I don’t think for a moment that that makes me better or worse than anyone else. I also recognise that’s probably the privilege talking. It’s easy for me to say that because I don’t know what it’s like any other way. And that is absolutely, 100% true. I could very well be talking out of my arse here.
When I was young, there were families living on the student residence up the street from my home. My neighbour’s auntie, who was an elder, used to have me over for fry bread and tea. I learned a lot from that terrifying woman. I think most of all, I learned respect. Because she demanded it. Because she lived it. She just…she HAD it, you know?
So listen, I don’t consider myself a bigot. I really don’t. Maybe I am. Maybe I have some outdated ideas, or maybe my ideas come from ignorance or from a lack of empathy or understanding. I freely admit these are all possibilities.
I also freely admit that I don’t know if “assimilation” is good or bad. I can see both sides of the argument. Sure, every citizen of a country ought to have the same rights and privileges. Sure, there are historical inequities and injustices that must be addressed before we can consider ourselves to be on equal ground with many cultural groups in Canada. First Nations, whose ancestral grounds we now call ‘home’. Asian peoples, whose ancestors emigrated here and were essentially treated as indentured servants. Japanese and eastern European people, who were placed in internment camps during the war on suspicion of espionage and treason. We all of us have rights, and we all of us deserve to be treated with respect and with a mind to the historical wrongs which have been committed against us by our own government.
My point here is why can’t we have these discussions with one another without fear of reprisal of being labelled as intolerant, discriminatory, racist bigots? Why can’t we express our opinions without having to FIGHT about them? I support the Idle No More movement. I support the Duty to Consult (incidentally, if you’d like to know more about the government’s legislated duty to consult with First Nations and Aboriginal Peoples regarding land use, stewardship, etc., there’s a really good book out there about it called The Duty to Consult: New Relationships with Aboriginal Peoples by Dwight G. Newman. And if you’d like to read up on Treaty and Constitutional Rights, check out Aboriginal Law: Commentary and Analysis by Thomas Isaac). I don’t know what I think about “assimilation”; it sounds terrible. I don’t know what I think about Bills C-30 and C-45 (did I get those both right?). My gut reaction is that the federal government, which I don’t trust any further than I can stand to PM Harper Himself, is using these omnibus bills to, if you’ll pardon the expression, bend us over a sawhorse and leave us with our britches to the wind when it comes to environmental protection and the sovereignty of our waterways. I haven’t any evidence to substantiate that suspicion.
But I don’t think it’s fair to call me a racist if I don’t agree with your position. If I don’t want to use words like colonialism and patriarchy and ‘white privilege’. I agree that genocides have been committed, without agreeing that my family is in some way personally responsible. Particularly when they were fleeing the same institutions that did the same thing to their families so far away. They didn’t vote for the King or the Queen. They didn’t want that government. And for cripe’s sake, some of them weren’t even white. WHY DOES THE COLOUR OF THEIR SKIN MATTER?
Argh. I’ve got myself all off-topic again.
But the gist of all of this is that I think it’s *possible* and, indeed *necessary* to get rid of the incendiary language if we’re going to actually have meaningful discussions. You can say what you mean to say without being arrogant or aggressive or cruel or vindictive, and so can I. We can talk about important things that matter without starting a fight. And we must. Because whether you agree with me or not, if you live in this country, your future depends on the Treaties. Your future depends on the sovereignty of our nation, of our nation’s ability to and willingness to provide due diligence when it comes to land and resource use policy and implementation. Your future depends on our ability to speak plainly to one another and to try to understand, even if we’ll never live in one another’s lives, and never truly share each other’s memories and souls. Your future depends on our government’s willingness to follow their own laws without passing new legislation that works around other legislation or that provides a convenient loophole or exception to the laws and agreements that this country was founded upon.
Because if you will not uphold Canada’s foundations, the entire house of cards will come tumbling down around us, eagle feathers, wheat sheaves, and all.