Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Leadership no joke, native entertainers told
Treaty days festival: Singer banned for poking fun at chiefs' extravagant lifestyles
HALIFAX -- Organizers of a popular native concert in Nova Scotia are forcing Mi'kmaq entertainers to sign a contract forbidding them from cracking jokes, casting satire or singing political songs about their own aboriginal leaders.
Performers have been warned that any who break the prohibition during the annual Treaty Days festival on Sept. 30, won't be paid their concert fees.
Last year, a handful of Nova Scotia native leaders were embarrassed in front of hundreds of their own people when Bernie Francis, a well-known Mi'kmaq singer, surprised the audience with a song that mocked the huge salaries and expense accounts of two chiefs. He also poked fun at the addiction of certain native bands to gambling revenues.
He labelled one such band — the Eskasoni reserve on Cape Breton — "Esk-casino."
Although Mr. Francis's lyrics, sung to the tune of Frank Sinatra's My Way, brought the house down at Halifax's largest concert hall last fall, it also got him banned from the event this year, to the dismay of many fans and native elders.
nie brought attention to the extravagant lifestyles enjoyed by some Mi'kmaq politicians," says Elizabeth Marshall, a member of the Eskasoni reserve, who says Mr. Francis should be applauded for his courage.
"Bernie broke the silence, and now it appears he is living the consequence of this taboo."
When Mr. Francis asked if he could sing again this year, he says organizers told him there wasn't enough money in the Treaty Days budget, which is partly funded by the Department of Indian Affairs.
"The committee later admitted to me that I had caused a ruckus, and there's absolutely no way they were going to let me perform this year," Mr. Francis says. "I am going down in history for being the first native ever censored by another native for singing."
Roy Gould, the concert co-ordinator, says Treaty Days organizers have forbidden him from discussing the matter. But he did admit that this year's performers are being ordered to sign a contract imposing political restrictions.
The contract says: "The intent of Treaty Days is Friendship and Peace and not a stage for political statements be it in song, chant, satire or dance."
Other festival organizers did not return phone calls yesterday.
Treaty Days actually celebrates a political event — the signing of the 1752 peace treaty between the Mi'kmaq and the British Crown. In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the validity of the treaty and the aboriginal rights it ensconced. Since then, native and non-native Nova Scotians have gathered every year at a series of public events, including the concert, to commemorate the anniversary.
Mr. Francis says ordinary Indian reserve members in Nova Scotia have long been afraid to speak out against the wealth and abuses of power of some chiefs for fear of losing their band-owned homes or their jobs in band offices.
Last year, a provincial audit showed some of the 1999 gambling profits earned by the Eskasoni band — money legally earmarked for economic development on the reserve — had been used to fund car payments for Chief Allison Bernard. In 1999, the chief earned about $400,000 in tax-free bonuses, salary and expenses, while his reserve was in debt and roughly half its residents were on welfare.
"People are still living in squalor," says Mr. Francis, who is vowing to give another performance at the Treaty Days concert whether he is invited on stage or not.
Joe Marshall, director of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, says the possibility of new sparks and fresh satire from Mr. Francis means the concert will probably sell out.
"I didn't find anything wrong with his performance last year, I got a good laugh out of it," he says. "There was nothing he sang about that was not true."
I don't know if Bernie Francis's satirical songs are on target or not. But either the two Mi'kmaq chiefs are fat cats living high on the hog, or autocrats who can't tolerate criticize. Either way, their behavior is stereotypical.
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