If Chief Theresa Spence thought she could bring Canada to its knees by her diet verging on a hunger strike in the shadow of Parliament Hill, she was mistaken. But she’s certainly got its knees jerking.
Usually, Canadians infected by the twin viruses of Enterprise and Haste reserve their venom for people whose fortunes or misfortunes set them apart — like politicians and the unemployed.
Now this venom, borne on the fetid currents of the blogosphere, is being directed at the chief of the Attawapiskat band who was cheeky enough or naive enough to think that her effort would bring a prime minister and a Governor General and the chiefs of aboriginal tribes and bands together to solve a problem that began when Samuel de Champlain sailed up the St. Lawrence River in 1603.
And that venom has spread, as poisons do, to all whom most of us have come to call First Nations.
All this is fed by the professional zeal of columnists in the mainstream media who have been reporting details of mismanagement of bands like Attawapiskat, and the six-figure salaries of band chiefs and councillors on other reserves. They have also drawn our attention to the fact that Spence lives in a “well-heated” house on her reserve, drives a substantial vehicle, has stayed in a hotel, not a tent, while in Ottawa, and her “boyfriend” has been making $850 a day as band manager.
The columnists’ change of focus is understandable. For too long, they’ve had to dwell on the distresses and depressions that are a heritage of First Nations — on conditions that are as commonplace as they are cruel, so not really news to anyone.
If there’s financial mismanagement, if chiefs live high off the hog, if taxpayer largesse is squandered, this is encouraged, if not caused, by successive governments that have tried cautious, arms-length stewardship and failed so spectacularly.
“They” don’t want to be equal to the rest of us if that means casting off identity, status and rights that pre-date the Charter, and abandoning land that is sacred.
“They” claim ownership of the resources of this land, equal say in how they shall be exploited and a share in what they earn.
“They” reject a system designed for colonials, the supposed benefits of which are imposed unilaterally by colonizers. “They” cling to pride; “they” cling to “their” place. “They” demand pride of place.
The quotation marks are a result of my reading of last week’s decision by Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan. He said that the federal government has the same responsibilities for Métis and non-status Indians that it has for Indians qualifying for benefits and services under the 1867 Constitution Act.
In doing so, he described a historical classification of aboriginals based on race, on responsibilities and powers being exercised according to bloodlines.
After the election of Brian Mulroney in 1984, the government began to back away from its traditional claim to jurisdiction over all aboriginals, including Indians without status and Métis — for what Phelan said were “policy and financial concerns.”
Thereafter, the powers conveyed by the Constitution over Indians and their lands were exercised according to whether they could be justified by marriage, descent or intermarriage.
“There is no principled reason to make that race-based constitutional jurisdiction more balkanized by emphasis on degrees of kinship nor degrees of cultural purity,” Phelan declared.
This racist approach, continued to this day, would be not tolerated for any other group in our society.
When the bishop of Newfoundland came across mixed-blood “Anglo-Esquimeaux” in 1848, he wrote in his journal that over time “the Indian characteristics very much disappear, and the children are both lively and comely.”
Would that satisfy today’s nasty bloggers?
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