Dear Canada: You Need A Statement Of Facts if You're Going To Address Indigenous Issues
The other day I accepted an invite onto CBC Radio 1's lunchtime flagship show (in the Ontario region), called Ontario Today. I was invited to speak broadly and answer callers' questions about "What it'll take for Canadians to care & take action on Indigenous issues in Canada?"
Yes it is.
The first question that comes to mind from the original question - what action can Canadians take on Indigenous issues?
Canadians can't really "take action" on Indigenous issues.
The Canadian Government has to take action on Indigenous issues.
The Canadian Government has to commit to working with Indigenous Peoples on the Nation to Nation principles this country was supposed to have been formed on, so Indigenous Peoples can take action on Indigenous issues (oh, by the way, we've been taking action on Indigenous issues for the last 500 years).
Everyday Canadians can't build houses on the rez, they can't prevent the 140 suicide attempts in a month in Pimicikamak, etc. They can however, take to the streets & create the political pressure needed to shame a lethargic Canadian Government system into action. Everyday Canadians can meet in their town halls, libraries or at one of their friends' summer properties and take a long hard look in the mirror and have an open and honest look at how we got here. Canadians can do that.
People thought it was a bad move to open myself up to Canada's largest province (oh, half a million listeners are said to listen to show everyday). I got texts, emails, tweets and more asking me if I was prepared for the fallout from this appearance. Why would people say this to me? Likely, because they know the truth about Canada - anything "Indigenous" in Canada is contentious.
I did my best to answer the questions and keep up with the comments through the hour long program.
Some truths surfaced. Truths that we'll cover further into this post.
I did my best.
You can listen for yourself here, it's the program in its entirety, uncut, and when you're done, keep reading below:
Full disclosure. I'm a comedian. A writer. A media maker. I'm not an academic. I'm no politician. I have no political aspirations - I say fuck too much and White Men in suits creep me out.
WHAT I LEARNED BY DOING THE SHOW
Holy shit do we have a long way to go.
I mean. Wow.
Do we ever need to talk in this country.
There are MASSIVE, fundamental gaps in knowledge, understanding & commitment to making this place better than it is.
Fundamentally, most people do not have a grasp of basic Canadian history. Hell. Who wrote the text books you learned about Confederation and the settling of Canada? Likely, dead White Dudes.
The Treaty history of Canada and its implications are not thoroughly taught to Canadians. Like. At all. There are foundational laws & agreements that need to be understood if you're going to talk about anything "Indigenous" in this country. So, is it helpful to bring ignorance and3rd hand information into a conversation that has real life consequences? I don't think so.
So. What I think.
We need to talk (more). But when we do, it usually takes 5.4 seconds for the ignorance or the racism to show it's ugly head. This gets us nowhere.
Many of us are also afraid to even have the conversation. If you listen to the above audio clip, the words guilty, ashamed and overwhelmed are used throughout the hour long program. We need to get past this.
The best way past these feelings - knowledge. With knowledge, change will come.
WHERE IN THE HELL DO WE START?
We need to agree on some things if we're going to move forward in this country.
We need a statement of facts, if you will, about the history of this place.
This statement of facts is important. We have to find common ground to stand on if this country is going to have any kind of future.
It seems when we try to find that common ground, we get hung up on the silly, petty arguments about silly, petty things like racism, the effects and history of colonialism in Canada, how to f*ckin' give 'err propely, Ford vs Chevy, whether the Timmies large coffee is the same size as the extra large coffee, and why Canada's paternalistic attitudes towards Indigenous Peoples persist to this day when we know this type of relationship has never worked?
The silly shit. Always hung up on the silly shit.
But. Let me propose the following as a starting point.
Minus the silly shit.
A STATEMENT OF FACTS
Let's start with a statement of facts. Fair?
Without playing politics, without blame or judgement, without me playing the Angry Indian, without you pulling out your, "my great grandparents come here with NOTHING" card, can we just agree that the foundation of Canada is ugly?
Before you say anything, let me finish.
Let's go through this together.
Let me finish.
Can we agree there has always been an Indian Problem in Canada.
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, Canada?
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's pretty fucked up.
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 and equal parts strength of character and pure unfiltered love for their families, communities and this land, survived.
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 Treaty founded this country and Treaties are made between Nations (it's the law, look it up).
Can we agree that Canada made a deal 150 years ago and its never made good on that deal?
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 & paternalistic attitudes, stolen lands & 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 provides constitutional protection to the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
Can we agree that when Canada goes to court against Indigenous Peoples, they get their asses handed to them almost every time, as the Supreme Court upholds Aboriginal Title and the need for free, prior and informed consent?
Can we agree that when Canada goes to court against Indigenous Peoples, and they are sure to lose, they're wasting tax payers 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 at only 150 years old as a country, it's not too late 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 2016.
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, when we start to peel back the layers of colonialism, the deep rooted and ugly entitlement created through Settler Colonialism is a cancer on the country's consciousness?
Can we agree Indigenous Peoples know what is best for Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Peoples and top down government will not "fix the Indian Problem."
Can we agree that you don't understand most of what I just said because you lack the knowledge, context and Canadian historical revisionism has kept this from you, your text books and your media?
Can we agree that collectively, we have work to do?
What do you say?
We can't agree on this?
I knew this would be tough.
We'll try this.
LET'S USE WHAT WE KNOW TO BE TRUE
Let's keep me and my ideas out of this.
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 here, right?
SOME LIGHT READING
Read the Indian Act. Seriously. It's hilarious. It's a good place to start. From there, you'll see the deep seeded 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 & territories by adopting fee simple/private land ownership and extinguish lands held in reserve (AKA - extinguish Aboriginal Title).
You can dig into the Red Paper, or the Citizens Plus document, the ground breaking document created by a group of great Indigenous thinkers, community leaders, philosophers and political leaders in 1970. The document fundamentally outlines the opposition to colonial rule and the top down Government approach Canada takes with Indigenous Peoples. Here's the summary - it's a quick read.
You can read the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. A ROYAL COMMISSION. This is in reference to your Queen, Canada. It doesn't get much bigger than this - a ROYAL commission. It's 4000 pages long but it essentially gives you the truth behind the country, it gives answers and solutions, it 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 costs 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 Canadian's forget exists when they talk about the impossibility of moving forward in 2016.
Thumb through UNDRIP. Implementation of UNDRIP 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 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.
WHAT'CHOO SAYIN', CANADA?
I'm saying Indigenous Peoples know what Indigenous Peoples need to do.
There are plans, studies. There have been meetings, accords. Jesus Christ, there has been a ROYAL COMMISSION. Pretending the work of Indigenous Peoples' around these issues has not been ongoing for the last 150 years is ridiculous - had our Ancestors, Indigenous Women, our language keepers, our knowledge carriers NOT done this work - I wouldn't be here.
The "Indian Problem" will not go away until Indigenous Peoples are treated with respect and dignity in our own homelands.
The "Indian Problem" will not go away until Indigenous Peoples are free to be self determining peoples in our own homelands.
The "Indian Problem" will not go away until Indigenous women, Two Spirits, girls & children are safe in this country.
The "Indian Problem" will not go away until the history books are rewritten, with truths, stories & perspectives of Indigenous Peoples.
The "Indian Problem" will not go away until the basic human rights of Indigenous Peoples are met.
The "Indian Problem" will not go away.
We're still here.
We're getting stronger everyday.