The Silence of Our Friends

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Where Tragedy Falls Off Canada's Map

This is from an article in the Toronto Star, Where tragedy falls off Canada's map by Marie Wadden. It starts:
Aboriginal communities are out of sight from most Canadians. Our family spent two weeks one summer on Vancouver Island. My children were hoping to see the people who made the wonderful totem poles of Stanley Park. We didn't see a single Aboriginal person in our travels.


I understand better now, after a frustrating drive back and forth on the same highway this summer looking for the Nanoose Band Reserve near Lantzville, B.C. There aren't many off ramps for reserves.


Reservations aren't on the best land or best locations. Many are difficult to get to and from and Ms. Wadden seems to think that may be by design. I do too, although there are two Maliseet reserves in Fredericton, NB (St. Mary's & Kingsclear) and another nearby (Oromocto). This is more of the exception than the rule since these areas were also traditional "towns" for Maliseet for centuries. I also think that the white folks didn't plan on Fredericton growing so large that it would eventually encompass these reserves.
I drove past prosperous middle-class homes. The source of wealth — a large paper mill. Alongside it are railway tracks. On the other side of the tracks is a long line of cookie-cutter CMHC bungalows stretching as far as the eye can see.


I knew I was on the reserve because I'd also run out of pavement. This was the pattern wherever I travelled and I began to see the lack of pavement as a metaphor for neglect. Neighbours to reserves have told me over the years, "pavement isn't a priority for them." Or, "I guess they've got other priorities." The assumption is, Aboriginal people choose bad roads.

White people got rich harvesting our resources while our people are living in CMHC shacks, um bungalows. And of course we like it that way and the dirt roads too. *sarcasm*
The Aboriginal community has been fighting assumptions for more than a century, most of them about the money — "our money," as one friend pointed out — being spent on their welfare and problems. This year, it is about $9 billion, out of Canada's total budget of $227 billion.


Sometimes the money doesn't make it to them. In 2005, $700 million was allocated for Aboriginal health care, but the money never left Ottawa. The bill to free up this money was not passed before the Liberal government fell. Yet that same year, $2.6 billion was fast-tracked for Newfoundland after Premier Danny Williams insisted on getting a fair share of offshore oil and gas revenues. The message: There are twice as many Aboriginal people in this country as there are Newfoundlanders, but they don't count as much.
"Our money", meaning white people, meaning their taxes. I'll get back to this in the next post. Can't let the white Newfoundlanders go without, but the damned savages? They don't need any healthcare. On my reservation, the post secondary (college/trade school) money was held up last year, which means that students do not get their scholarships and living expenses, no groceries or rent money for months. Nice.
The United Nations Human Development Index equates the Aboriginal standard of living in this country with that of Brazil, well below the Canadian norm.
Nice.
In 1978, I was in the Labrador community of Davis Inlet, where the people lived in shacks. "Indians don't know how to live in houses," I was told. Inside I found walls built without struts, sheets of drywall installed without proper framing, a single lightbulb to light a three-bedroom house. The "Indians" didn't build these houses; some southern contractor profited from the construction.

This year, I met Phyllis and Andy Chelsea, a Shuswap couple in B.C. whose house is rotting with mould. Statistics Canada says 50 per cent of reserve housing is like this.

I was so wrapped up in writing their story, I missed an event at my child's school. Later, when a parent asked where I'd been, I told her about the Chelseas' predicament. Her husband works for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and has told her the houses on reserves are mouldy because "they leave their water running."

I lived with the Chelseas for a couple of days at Alkali Lake and their water wasn't running. Neither was the electricity. Huge trucks piled high with timber routinely knock out the power lines. To add insult to injury, the truck drivers are not Aboriginal. And the timber is going off the reserve, to enrich someone else's life.

Contrary to some taxpayers' perceptions, Aboriginal people don't get their housing free. It is provided through loans to band councils that are repaid by charging rent. In B.C., I heard many stories of people being evicted by band councils because they couldn't afford to pay their rents. Taxes? Only goods purchased on reserves are tax-free — most reserves have little to sell. The Inuit pay all the same taxes we do and more because of the higher costs of goods shipped north.

Aboriginal people have another way of looking at the issue of "our" money. They believe "our" money is being made off their land. Some Canadian judges have agreed.

You see the pattern? Indians don't know how to live like civilized people, they like living like animals. And we're leaches living off welfare and paying no taxes, while white people come in taking the resources, not even hiring our people for menial jobs, and ruining things in our lives. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
In 2000, the Canadian Institute of Child Health reported 126 out of every 100,000 First Nations people has committed suicide, compared with 24 per 100,000 in the rest of the country...

...I was reeling from this when I checked my emails before going to bed to find this, from Allan Saulis of the Maliseet Reserve in New Brunswick:

"There was another suicide this weekend in our community. ... This will be the third. ... How many more will it take for the authorities, governments, and the media to take affirmative action once and for all?"
Allan is from Tobique (my reserve) and a distant cousin. Two of the suicides are my first cousins, Gabriel Perley and Darren Perley. Gabe died in his father's home right next door to my mother's house. Darren was raised in the home on the other side of my mom. Politics are extremely divisive on Tobique and there was a man who laughed about these suicides and said something along the lines of, "Let all these Perleys kill themselves, who cares." In a terrible irony it was his son who was the third suicide.

One of the reasons I was glad to find this is because recently someone said there isn't any racism towards Indians anymore. As you can see this isn't true, there are several misconceptions and bigotted attitudes out there, and don't think that just because this is the way it is in Canada that it has nothing to do with the US. It is worse in the US.

12 comment(s):

Sometimes it boggles my mind that so many Americans have this fantasy of Canada as some kind of political utopia.
The UN and Amnesty International have both slammed the Canadian government for its terrible human rights record on First Nations issues.
And of course 500 missing First Nations women in the past 20 years with no response from the police or the government.

By Anonymous debbie, at 1/23/2007 12:45 PM  

I am sorry for your loss, Donna.

By Blogger antiprincess, at 1/23/2007 1:29 PM  

I've heard similar stories about Odanak and Wolinak (the Abenaki reserves in Quebec), though I don't think to as great an extent, due to their proximity to Montreal and QC.

Don't you just love how the Supreme Court deemed that Canadian Indians (First Nations/Aboriginals) are economically static - that is, you're trapped in the 16th/17th century if you want to be covered by treaty law. Can you raise wheat and sell it without being taxed? Hell no, Indians only grew corn and beans, and certainly didn't use tractors! Want to use a fishing boat and nets? Not if you're a Micmaq - though spears and weirs are fine. What a crock.

Yes, in many ways it is worse down here (the whole way all tribes have to pretend they're Western tribes in order to get recognized) and the notorious swamp known as the Interior Department. But Canada is enlightened on so many other issues relating to race and ethnicity - how is it she's so fucked up on her when it comes to her indigenous peoples?

My your nad8gwsisak find peace and their parents a way forward.

By Anonymous MB, at 1/23/2007 8:29 PM  

I'm also sorry for your loss, something I should have mentioned in my previous comment.
As for Canada being progressive on other racial issues, I'm not so sure, although First Nations people definitely get the worst of it. I think that official policies of multiculturalism handily sweep a lot of nasty stuff under the rug. And the fact that we're right next door to the US? Of course we look good by comparison, but that's only because things down there are so extreme.

By Anonymous debbie, at 1/23/2007 9:23 PM  

The topic of Native American rights makes me so angry I can't speak on it intelligently. I'm grateful you blog about it Donna. Thank you.

By Blogger HopeSpringsATurtle, at 1/24/2007 1:19 AM  

Thank you for your words of sympathy. It's been nearly 2 years since my cousins died, so it's been long enough for it to sink in but at the same time suicide is so hard to accept. You always wonder if there is something you could have done to stop it and wish you could have seen it coming to at least try. When I lived on the reserve I couldn't see something like this happening, I'm not saying things were hunky dory, they never have been, but we still seemed like a community that mostly hung together and helped each other through hard times. Now the level of animosity is so high because corruption in politics has gone out of control. It divides people along the lines of who is stealing money and has an advantage. and wants to keep that advantage, over who is being stolen from and at a severe disadvantage. The brazenness of it is breathtaking. (Just like US politics, isn't it?) I think this kind of hatred eats away at people and creates more dispair than some can handle. In the past some hardships you may have found compassion and support but now people will use it against you instead.

You might be interested to know that Allan Saulis found my blog and emailed me! I hope he will jump in on some of these conversations since he is right there where the action is and I am so far from home and don't really know how it is anymore except for the little bits and pieces I pick up.

Canada has always been a bit better than America in it's treatment of Indians, but saying that reminds me of the jerks who say things like "Not all slave owners beat their slaves, some were kind of nice." I suppose paternalism is better than outright hatred but neither is exactly good or acceptable for the people who are living under it. And the level of hatred towards Indians by average people in Canada is way worse than it is in the US. Indians are more visible as modern people over there, in the media, and in politics. Over here people can pretend we don't exist and some really do believe we are extinct because you mostly see or hear from us in western movies.

mb, you brought up another misconception about Indians, the one that says that we have to live in the past and that we never adapted to new people or situations. It works to the power structures benefit to see us this way on so many levels. Funny how that DOESN'T work regarding the 4th amendment. They don't tell gun nuts (my husband is one) that it only applies to muskets for instance since that is what people had back then and no one had automatic or semi-automatic weapons or hollow point bullets either. See the law evolves and adapts with white people, but not the rest of the world.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/24/2007 10:25 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/24/2007 10:25 AM  

Well that was weird, blogger decided to post my comment twice.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/24/2007 10:29 AM  

Thank-you for your wonderful writing and keep up the Great work.My country at times makes me very sick.My home is near the Six Nations reclamation site,they make me proud to be a neighbour,their fight is just.Nya:Weh.....JB

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/24/2007 8:02 PM  

Sometimes it boggles my mind that so many Americans have this fantasy of Canada as some kind of political utopia.

every time a friend of mine hears people say this, she always responds with the story of how her sister was captured by the canadian mounties and held in some random persons garage for over 36 hours without food, water, access to a phone or anything. It was during the oka crisis and native peoples were being disappeared by the canadian government all over the place. My friend always jokes that the canadian government made her an activist.

oh, and don't forget that one arab guy who was deported to syria (i think) where he was tortured with nary a protest from the canadian government.

I think this kind of hatred eats away at people and creates more dispair than some can handle. In the past some hardships you may have found compassion and support but now people will use it against you instead.

I couldn't agree more.

By Blogger brownfemipower, at 1/28/2007 3:26 PM  

JB, do you know anything about the Wabanaki Confederacy and Six Nations as well as Kanawake? The Mohawks were our traditional enemies, but we somehow managed to make peace with each other because we had bigger fish to fry and used to meet at Kanawake once every 3 years or so. I've heard a little about this from the Wabanaki perspective but would like to hear from some of our Mohawk friends too.

BFP, there aren't enough blacks in Canada for the white supremacists to hate so they turned towards the Indians for that. I know that sounds racist, but it really seems to me that if there are enough black people in one place that white people find reasons to hate and fear them. The horrible things you hear of the cops or ordinary Americans doing to blacks, you will find the counterpart of cops and ordinary Canadians doing to Indians. I do find that the Canadian government is better than the American government on Indian issues in general. I think Canada is more concerned about it's appearance to the rest of the world compared to the US. So they generally do the right thing lest they look bad, but drag their feet while doing it. This does seem to be changing with alot of the politicians from the western provinces taking a pro-American stance, and with it that same, "to hell with what the world thinks, we'll crap on whoever we want!" attitude.

I still think that a protest march in Ottawa or Toronto will have a bigger impact on their government and media, than one in Washington DC or NY will have on ours. It's like you feel that you might have an impact where here it's barely a ripple and so discouraging.

By Blogger Donna, at 1/28/2007 11:21 PM  

We walk through the snow, follow our trail out to the traplines by the willows.
I lead, sleepy. Bitter air. Sharp in the lungs. Elijah walks in my tracks. The sun is coming.
I break through the crust with each step. Too cold last night. Elijah tries to be quiet, but his feet sound heavy.
Elijah and me, we are the same age. We have lived twelve winters.
The trees moan and crack. The sound is like dying.
"Do you think we have snared anything?" Elijah asks.
I stop, look back at him. "Stay quiet."
Tracks everywhere around us here. Footprints in the snow. Shallow prints. Scoops of shadow in the white.
Up ahead, the dark line of it hangs in the air. My heart beats faster.
"Have we caught something, Xavier?"
A marten has sprung our willow trap. It dangles above the snow as if floating. Up close I see the rawhide noose around its neck. Its fur is thick. Auntie will be proud.
Elijah pushes past me, reaches for the marten, grasps the long body in his mittens. He turns to me and smiles. The marten begins to twist and snarl. Elijah lets go, shocked. We did not realize it is still alive.
We stand back and stare as the marten struggles in the air. The black eyes focus on me. It does not want to die.
"What do we do, Xavier?"
"You must club it."
Elijah finds a stick and approaches the animal. He looks back at me.
"Do it."
He hesitates, then swings the stick. The animal screams out. The sound frightens me.
"Harder!"
Elijah swings again, and again the marten squeals. My stomach feels sick. I pick up a heavier piece of wood, step up, and give it a sharp blow to its head. The hide noose snaps, and the marten drops to the ground. It doesn't even move. I club its head once more.
Elijah stares at me.
"We had to do it," I say.
"We had to," he repeats. "Our first night out alone and we have already taken an animal. Your Auntie will be impressed."
I nod and smile.
I untie the noose from the marten's neck, take out my knife and begin to skin it. I make sure to be careful, to not damage the fur, to keep the body intact. I want Auntie to see that I do not waste.
Elijah watches. His eyes miss nothing. He takes off one mitten and bends down to touch the marten's naked body. "We are great hunters, aren't we, Xavier?"\
Yes, Elijah, I say.
"We are great hunters and best friends, yes?"
"Yes," I say.


Three Day Road
Joseph Boyden

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/30/2007 7:10 PM  

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