Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Big House Speaker and I Don't Agree
National Post, July 12, 2002
I seem to be spending a lot of time in Indian country. Last Thursday, the day the B.C. referendum results were announced, for instance, I found myself sitting in an office trailer on the Tsawwassen reserve, talking to a Big House Speaker and President of the Aboriginal Governance Society. My fascination might stem from the fact that I'm newly back in British Columbia. As evidenced by said referendum results, everyone else is either completely fed up or determinedly ignores the native community.
I'm getting there.
The Tsawwassen band, by the way, last winter, laid claim to the nearby ferry terminal, the busiest in B.C., and the equally busy, Roberts Bank Superport. It's ours, they said. Yup. All of it, past, present, and future revenues. We want our money or tear it down.
Now Willie Seymour, Big House Speaker and President of above outfit, had been recommended to me by one of my new best friends, Meaghan Walker-Williams. Williams is a 29-year old full-blood Cowichan Indian, with the smarts, genuinely creative ideas, and wiliness to become, in due time, Prime Minister. (And admit it, there are very high standards for wiliness in that office.) I like Meaghan, and I want her to like me, so I am, in this long conversation with Seymour really trying to get along. Really. Trying so hard there were tears in my eyes at several points during our argument.
Meaghan had told me that Seymour had new ideas. Creative solutions. Yeah, right. A Big House Speaker, basically, is an advocate with spiritual overtones, an individual who speaks for the family, clan, or tribe who "hires" him. And Seymour, this morning, was speaking for the Indian Nations, all zillion of them.
This is what he said:
1. Minister Nault did not consult with anyone, no native had taken part in proposed changes. No one knows who those ten thousand natives are, with whom Nault purported to consult. There was no consultation in his community. All the leaders refused to. The changes might work if they were consulted. But they refused to be consulted.
2. All the stumpage, all the mines, all the salmon; they are the rightful owners, past, present and future — they want to be paid for it, and then they wouldn't need $10-billion a year from us.
3. Prior to contact their nations were thriving.
4. And that would be Nations, not Nation. Everything must be done nation to nation. They want Chrétien or Campbell at every negotiating table. Never mind that one nation has 30-million people, and the other 3,000.
5. There is no corruption in his community or in his circle.
6. What is democracy anyway, when you have a minority trying to reclaim its destiny? It's not important.
7. Whereas Seymour will admit that there are no longer any formal barriers or discrimination, and their education is paid for, as are all other basic services, cradle to grave, there is gross personal bias. They feel prejudice at many different levels. Specifically? Policing and service deliveries.
Now if you think you have heard this before, it's because you have. Endlessly, from all claim participants for decades. And this newspaper refuted these claims efficiently, rationally, and for all time, in last Friday's lead editorial. Except by the way, the part about the peaceful pre-contact cultures. There is solid evidence to suggest that natives are just as human as every other race, and pre-contact, on the West Coast, there was pre-existing disease and seasonal starvation, some tribes kept slaves, they fought constantly over territory, and in some tribes, women were treated as pack animals.
So, having nothing to lose, I take a stab.
Does Seymour think that the prejudice he feels might have something to do with the fact that natives generally do not educate themselves, get jobs, build careers, stick to them, build equity, and pay for things, like everyone else? Does he think that resentment might flow from the vast, seemingly useless, even destructive, transfers from Canada to the trillion nations? Immigrant group after immigrant group has come to this country with absolutely nothing, zero, zip and built prosperous useful lives, why can't natives? Does he think that the solution might be as simple as their letting go of their grievances and their demands for ever-increasing money, land and royalties, joining the rest of us, and working for a living, side by side, with every other race under the sun, like everyone else in Canada?
The conversation screeches to a halt, while Mr. Seymour searches for his crib sheet: "In 1847," he begins "... there was an Assistant Supervisor of Indian Affairs, who suggested establishing Indian industrial schools, that they be of a religious nature and the idea was not to educate our people, it was two-fold, it was to separate the children from their parents, that caused a lot of inner conflict ..."
"In 1847," I say, "my Irish ancestors were dying of starvation in ditches, or dug into peat bogs, by the tens of thousands. They died, crying out, their arms wrapped around each other. It was not quiet, the whole countryside echoed with the sounds of their weeping, their beseeching, while they watched their children and old people die, knowing they were next. In Scotland, during the clearances, the same thing. In 1848, the whole of Europe erupted in revolution over maltreatment, poverty, starvation and injustice. And that was the civilized world. You were relatively lucky. 1847 was primitive, deeply primitive. But do the Irish petition for money and reparation? They do not. They crawled to the ships, came over here to a, by comparison, empty and plentiful land, and with nothing but their bare hands, built a culture that is the pride of the Irish and the human race."
He looks at me. "Well, I'm glad we could welcome you."
Expensive welcome. The misery and poverty in Indian country is structural, endemic and increasing. Every policy that treats aboriginals as wards of the state, as somehow special, serves only to increase dependence and weakness. The rhetoric is pure Ministry of Silly Walks. Our courts and government must normalize the status of aboriginals so that they have the rights, privileges and responsibilities of all Canadians.
So why don't we have a referendum on that.
here is another one ... not as bad ... but I know for a fact this women has only been to a reserve once in her life .... to meet with Meaghan ... And now she goes and talks with Willy and thinks she now has all the information ....
She tells about her ancestors and thinks we should be doing what they did ...
She left out the part about when they came over here .... they then killed our people and took from us to get what they have today ..... And made sure that we had nothing ....
And now they think cause the government spends 7 million a year we have it all we just don't get it ....
As usual with Nickson, she makes so many grotesque claims that one doesn't know where to start. Perhaps that's her plan: a variation of the Big Lie technique. Tell as many whoppers as you can and some will give up in frustration while others will start believing you.
Willie Seymour doesn't seem to have the heart for a debate with Nickson. Too bad. If I were debating her, I'd kick her butt. A few of the many possible responses:
As correspondent Sharon pointed out, immigrants to the US and Canada "made it" by signing and breaking treaties, stealing the land, and eliminating the residents. Hitler conquered most of Europe with the same philosophy: might makes right. Is that something to be proud of? Should Natives rob and pillage a few white towns to enrich themselves the way the immigrants did?
Demand reparations? The Irish could, arguably, but they've achieved their primary goal: sovereign control over their own land. Is Nickson willing to give Canada's Native people sovereignty—true sovereignty—over their ancestral land in exchange for an end to their demands? Most Native people would take that offer in a moment. I'm betting Nickson isn't willing to make it.
Many people get their jobs and lifestyles because government helps businesses manipulate the system, skirt the rules, and shortchange the nation on taxes. That help is a handout or subsidy for largely well-off, white Americans. If corporations in poor inner cities or on rural Indian reservations got the same government help, we could say the benefits were evenly distributed. But there aren't many corporations in poor inner cities or on rural Indian reservations. The benefit is primarily a white person's benefit.
Corporations, defense contractors, big agriculture, major airlines, the telecommunications industry, energy utilities, the financial community...all wards of the state, weak and dependent, unable to stand on their feet without help. When will it ever end? Are there any white people who can make it on their own as they expect Native people to do?
I've already trashed Nickson's beliefs once. Doing it in detail again would be a waste of time. When someone thinks Natives don't educate themselves, don't get jobs, and don't pay for things, she's clearly a bigot beyond help. Teaching a chimp to type Shakespeare would be easy compared to enlightening this zealot.
Another response to Nickson's column
In the world according to LIZ, I don't exist.
I am educated and hard-working, financed my own education and pay all taxes. And I am Native. Wait, Native? YES NATIVE AND I AM NOT GOING AWAY!
I will not address all of your misinformed statements about my people. Southam has shown its white racist colors within the last few weeks, between you and Ric Dolphin at the Calgary Herald.
Both of you have no clue what you are talking about. The problem is that Southam lets people like you two write about the Native situation through eyes of hate. IT IS HATE.
There are commonalities between your hate. You both claim to know what the problems are and you both claim to know the solutions. You both also make broad-statements that feed the racist white mind in Canada. And you both refuse to accept Canada's hand in the present-day situation with Native people.
Giving idiots like you and Dolphin voice isn't helping any cause. It is galvanizing Natives who will certainly be more radical than our forefathers.
More responses to Nickson
"Natives just want you to stop being so dammed stupid."
Canada's First Nations Governance Act is nothing of the sort
Indians as welfare recipients
The "outdated" reservation system
The myth of Western superiority
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