Friday, August 6, 2010

One Dead Indian, and one shamed Province

Having just watched the film, One Dead Indian, on the aptn network, I am a little in shock.
Born and bred within a few kilometers of the Parry Island Indian Reservation, and having attended both elementary and secondary school with many of the kids from "The Island" as we used to say, and having carried fond and beautiful memories of more than one of their number, specifically,  I can remember Les Tobobadung who played for the Provincial Junior C Hockey champions with elegance, grace, dignity and finesse, and having worked closely with his sister Dora, daughter of the former Chief, Flora Tobobadung in "lawyer Green's" office for several summers, and having eaten fillets of pickerel brought to my father each year for many decades by Solomon King from the Parry Island community, out of his fondness for my dad, I am somewhat familiar with individual First Nations people, and with their culture. For a few years, my family also had a long-term lease on a piece of land on Parry Island where we had a small and very modest cottage on a beautiful sand beach.
I can remember that the band office were less than "orderly" in their file-keeping about land leases; I can also remember that there were long periods of time between road work on the island road; I can also recall a decision, after I left school, when the children from the island, after a band council decision, were bussed 25 miles down the road to a private school in Rosseau, because the band believed that their children were experiencing discrimination at the local high school.
I can also remember the occasional sleeping, and presumed intoxicated, native man on the steps of the local bank on a Saturday morning and I can also remember when another native man was hired to work in a local pharmacy. It was an occasion second only to the hiring of Dora in the lawyer's office. There were small break-through's visible to anyone in the town willing to see.
Violence is not native to the First Nations people I know. Violence is not something they advocate, practice or even contemplate. Dedication to the history and the burial grounds of their ancestors, however, is something they value and honour. And those who might, or would, interfere with their perception of that sacred trust could run a risk of tormenting a generally "sleeping lion."
The conversation that followed the film, reporting on a conversation which included the then premier, Mike Harris, indicating "we have pandered to those people for far too long and this government needs to be seen taking action" is not the history, tradition, culture or memory of the Ontario in which I was raised.
In fact, it is a direct confrontation and assault on that Ontario.
This is the same man, who as Premier, delivered a memo to the then Dr. Allan King, who was at the time designing curriculum for the grades nine and ten history courses to be taught in Ontario secondary schools, directing "that no references to the role of First Nations,  Labour unions or women" were to be included in the curriculum design. In essence, the memo directed that our Ontario students were not be taught about these three subjects in their Canadian history course!
 Appalling? More like tragic!
Ideological? More like adamantine!
And settling the law suit brought against the person of the then premier just might indicate that there is more to the smoke that still rises from these bonfires of the 'vanity' of the government that white lines in the sky.
Ontarians can thank God for Officer Terrien the man who courageously challenged the evidence that "Dudley George was carrying a gun" from a vantage point behind the officer who shot and killed George. He knew and told the "Dean" trial on criminal negligence, that George carried only a stick, and was not a danger to anyone, from the perspective of firearms, nor was anyone else in that Ipperwash encampment. And the judge believed his testimony so there is at least the reassurance that this judge could see the tree for the forest.
Banana republics have constabularies paid to operate in the manner depicted by this film, albeit made by and for the First Nations Cree Band themselves. And we can only hope that this blood on the hands of all Ontarians is the last time our citizens ever have to witness blood on our hands, blood that never should have been shed.

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