Canadians Need to Face Uncomfortable Truths About How We Treat Indigenous People

As we approach Canada 150, it’s time we all get on the same page about this country and its terrible history.

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May 16 2017, 2:02pm

By. Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

If the #AppropriationPrize debacle in this country has taught us anything else over the last week, it's just how much work we have left to do in regards to whatever "reconciliation" is.

When prominent, powerful mainstream media figures from legacy media institutions like Maclean's, CBC, The Walrus, National Post and others take to Twitter to openly mock the very real conversations about appropriation that Indigenous writers, artists, and publishers are having, then what are we led to believe about their editorial choices and what content is (or isn't) being given to Canadians who consume media in this country. In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls To Action, items 84-86 explicitly call on Canadian media to do its part in the effort for change. But if the media can't be a vehicle for change, then we're pretty fucked, no?

At this point, if you're engaged in the idea of "reconciliation" in any way, you've probably experienced the overwhelming feeling of doom and the occasional fleeting moment of joy that your reconciliation effort brings into your life. We are told to be patient, that reconciliation will take a while. And I suppose the call for patience is reasonable. However, after a week like the one we just had in this country, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Especially when it seems like we're all speaking a different language...which would be nice, but, you know, I don't speak my actual language. Thanks, intergenerational effects of residential school.

But what I can say is that I propose we find a common language to speak in this country as it pertains to reconciliation, Canada 150, and a pathway forward. Before getting wasted on beers and hotdogs on July 1st, let's suss out a statement of facts that we can all agree on so we can all start from the same page. If we don't find a common language to speak we're going to continue to have unmitigated disasters like the #AppropriationPrize.

So. We need a statement of facts.

Here goes.

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Let me propose the following as a starting point.

Can we agree that 150 years ago, the founding fathers of this country identified Indigenous Peoples as an "Indian Problem" and that that general sentiment still exists to this day.

Can we agree that if Canada had been successful with carrying forth their vision from 150 years ago, Indigenous Peoples in Canada would have been wiped off the face of Turtle Island, and that this is pretty fucked up?

Can we agree that for 150 years now, Indians have always been the problem, we've always been in the way, and the solutions to this problem "from a long time ago" are eerily similar to the solutions that are being proposed today in many political circles?

Can we agree that my ancestors, or even Indigenous Peoples in general, said "fuck no" to all the genocide bullshit, and through a miracle of equal parts resilience, strength of character, and pure unfiltered love for their families, communities, and this land, survived.

Can we agree that the well-intentioned Fathers of Confederation and their "at all costs" attitude are just a little problematic?

Can we agree, that at this point, there is no debate on whether what happened here in Canada was genocide or not?

Can we agree that Canada made a deal with Indigenous people 150 years ago and it's never really made good on that deal?

Can we agree that Treaty founded this country and Treaties are made between Nations (it's the law, look it up)?

Can we agree that there were no Indian wars, there was no final battle, that Native people lost and therefore the land was won? (There was relative peace. This foundation of peace is the precarious misnomer at the base of the political and social debate in this country today—it can be said that the Crown has been at war with Indigenous Peoples ever since.)

Can we agree that Indigenous Peoples in Canada carry the burden of Treaty and non-Indigenous Canadians benefit from that burden each and every day because the government has never done their part to live up to the Treaties?

Can we agree that Treaties are Nation-to-Nation agreements, by law, and are binding and they last forever?

Can we agree Canada's history is wrought with colonialism and paternalistic attitudes, stolen lands and resources, and essentially, the founding of this country is based in an ugly truth that "we" probably shouldn't be proud of?

Can we agree that in 1982, Section 35 of the Constitution Act provided constitutional protection to the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada?

Can we agree that when the Government of Canada goes to court against Indigenous Peoples as it pertains to Indigenous Rights and Title, they get their asses handed to them almost every time. The Supreme Court upholds Aboriginal Title and the need for free, prior, and informed consent - it's cooked into the constitution, which, you know, governs us as a country?

Can we agree that when Canada goes to court against Indigenous Peoples, and they are sure to lose, they're wasting your taxpayer dollars?

Can we agree that discriminatory laws, their effects, and their legacy are at play today when we look at the "difference" between Joe Canada and Joe Indian?

Can we agree colonialism and the weight of its efforts exist today in Canada and we can point to it as the dominant psychology that has put us here in the first place?

Can we agree that colonialism isn't just an Indigenous problem, and that colonialism has negatively affected all of our lives and we're all worse off for it?

Can we agree that at only 150 years old, it's not too late for Canadians to look back at where we've been, determine what went/is wrong, and fix those things on a go forward basis? Namely, Treaty interpretation, Treaty implementation, and what a Nation to Nation agreement means in 2017.

Can we agree Indigenous Peoples know what is best for Indigenous Peoples and top down government will not "fix the Indian Problem."

Can we agree that a really large percentage of Canadians reading this right now think I'm a fucking whiny Indian and that I'm making most of this stuff up.

Can we agree that a really large percentage of Canadians reading this right now don't understand most of what I just said because you lack the knowledge and Canadian historical revisionism has kept this from you, your textbooks, and your media?

Can we agree that collectively, we have work to do?

Can we agree that this is exhausting?

Additional/Required Reading

OK, let's say you don't entirely agree with me (I understand) but you think I am on to something. Do you want to know more? Let's just use pre-existing documents, studies, inquests, etc. that have done ALL the heavy lifting for us. These documents, processes, inquests, and special departments have cost this country hundred of millions of dollars—surely there is some good reading in here, right?

Read the Indian Act. Seriously. It's hilarious. It's a good place to start. You'll see the deep-seated racism shine through the text. If it helps, imagine Kevin Spacey, or Sir Ben Kingsley or Keanu Reeves dressed up in pre-confederation garb, close your eyes and imagine them it reading out loud!

You can read the White Paper—a terrible policy paper from 1969 that then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, proposed to eliminate Indian Status (and the rights therein), assimilate Indians into the body politic, and complete the wholesale theft of Indigenous lands and territories by adopting fee simple/private land ownership and extinguish lands held in reserve.

Look, Indigenous Peoples know what Indigenous Peoples need to do. We've been studied, asked, experimented on, kidnapped, prodded, ignored, revered, ignored again for the last couple hundred years.

You can read the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. This is in reference to your Queen, Canada. It doesn't get much bigger than this—a ROYAL commission. It's 4,000 pages long but it essentially gives you the truth behind the country and provides a framework on a pathway forward.

Or. Maybe read the Kelowna Accord. Again, it was an exhaustive effort to come to an agreement on a framework in which to move forward with in Canada. It cost millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of negotiations, meetings, and best practices to come up with the plan. Ultimately, Harper's Conservative Government squashed it, and opportunity was lost. BUT. It was a plan. It was a plan that Canadians forget exists when they talk about the impossibility of moving forward in 2017.

Thumb through UNDRIP. Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada would mean constitutional talks (which we need anyway, if we're going to make things right in Canada) and it'd essentially the mean the end of the Big White Daddy attitude the government holds towards Indigenous Peoples.

You could also peruse the thousands of pages of documents that the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada has gifted us! Maybe start with the Summary Report for overall context, or read the words of survivors themselves, or, hit the 94 Calls To Action to understand the work that your children, their children and their children's children will be undertaking in the next 100 years.

Look, Indigenous Peoples know what Indigenous Peoples need to do. We've been studied, asked, experimented on, kidnapped, prodded, ignored, revered, ignored again for the last couple hundred years.

Whether we're talking about the media elite in Canada, a grade school teacher in Saskatchewan or a politician in Ottawa, we must be clear that there are answers in front of us that will get us to "The 2167." We need Canadians to do some of the heavy lifting, do the reading, learn the truth. Doing so will allow us to start from the same place when we talk about building futures together in this country. If we have to start the conversation by explaining Colonialism 101 to everyone that shows up at the party, what a boring fucking party indeed.

Ryan is an Anishinaabe/Metis comedian and writer based out of Treaty #1 territory (Winnipeg, Manitoba). Follow him on Twitter .

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested a senior figure from the Globe and Mail was involved in the #AppropriationPrize debacle, but the individual being referenced, Rick Anderson, was only a freelancer who has not worked with the Globe in several years. VICE regrets the error.

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