Mallick: Finally, native Canadians defend themselves at every level
By Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, January 8, 2013
It is the worst of times for dealing with the massive problems faced by Canada’s aboriginal people. There hasn’t been a government less sympathetic than Stephen Harper’s in many decades.
With Harper it’s always about the money. This battle is only partly about money, and that’s where the misunderstandings begin.
The new Federal Court ruling that Métis and non-status Indians (those not linked to specific reserves) are “Indians,” meaning that they gain all the “rights” to which Indians are entitled, comes at an awkward time for Harper. That means another 600,000 people demanding decency and fairness.
I doubt they’ll get it. Even the word “rights” is a poisoned chalice. Most of Canada’s native people live in a misery we don’t even see because we’d rather not know. It’s one of the many drawbacks of living on the reserve, far away from the southern cities that Canadians cling to. There’s no one to hear you scream, as the Irish writer Edna O’Brien once said about rural child abuse in her own country.
If you don’t like Indians getting uppity, try this. Look at the gorgeous, hopeful faces of their children, who don’t yet know they’re headed for a life of blank despair thanks to our idleness.
But we don’t look because we don’t have to. They don’t live where we do. We don’t consider them until they block our passage on road and rail and then we just spray them with the same idle anger we show to other drivers, cyclists and people not inside our own little vehicle.
The genius of Idle No More, the court ruling, the blockades and the suspiciously convenient leak of an audit that made Attawapiskat leaders look spendthrift is this: you may not be able to avoid paying attention. And remember, the new First Nations court challenge to the omnibus budget bill will help every Canadian who is angry about the casual Conservative disregard for environmental protection.
Someone has to step up and the First Nations did so. And if they decide to tear apart the land for tar and minerals, at least they can say they did it to their own land, which sustained them well enough until whites arrived.
If you say First Nations are not a nation, then why do they live apart? It isn’t a question of living on the reserve, it’s the fact that they’re rarely seen in the urban Canadian workplace. It’s so hard for them to get a good education, to find work, to fit in.
The consequences of stealing children from their parents and drilling a sense of inferiority into them in residential schools dotted across the country like a spray of blood will be brought home to you in this new and huge crisis.
The audit showed that in Attawapiskat they took a casual, almost-ORNGE approach to government cash. Without receipts, they might be buying $16 glasses of orange juice, Bev Oda-style.
The online response to the audit, as befits anonymous commenters, has been racist in the extreme. Here’s the thing that will attract suspicious resentful minds: Indians on the reserve don’t pay income tax. Extending Métis and non-status rights might arguably affect not just fishing licences but eventually tax obligations.
Even if Harper, as expected, delays with a court appeal, tempers will rise. Voters will notice.
I should add that I write this in anger and with a certain amount of shame. I was born on a reserve because my father, a doctor, worked for the federal government in a native health-care zone.
I went to public school with dozens of Indian children and watched them being humiliated and beaten, weeping in class with their hands swollen from the strap. I have terrible memories that I cannot revisit.
I truly thought I was being schooled with orphans and assumed that their huge distant dormitory was an orphanage. It never occurred to me that they had parents who loved them dearly and hated them being sent for abuse that would dwarf anything that modern anti-bullying rules are aimed at.
I was a child. I never dreamed of such a thing. And now I am grown and have put away childish things like pretending that if I can’t see something, it isn’t happening.