An Expensive Farce
So, we just celebrated another National Aboriginal Day in Canada and many pause to ask, “What has changed?”
In Ottawa, the ruling Liberal Party has (allegedly) seven caucus members with Aboriginal family history. Yet, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs is a wealthy white woman from Toronto who sometimes adapts items of native jewelry to adorn her Gucci wardrobe. We have a Prime Minister who engaged in a grandiose photo opportunity wherein he was given a plains (Sioux) headdress and was told to say that he would be making “big” changes. Four hundred years into this project of fair coexistence, one would think there would be urgency equal to urgency displayed with 30,000 Syrian refugees.
The Residential Schools finally all closed their doors in 2014. But not a lot changed there either. We still have kids being forcibly removed from their homes. The new “Residential School” has become numerous Children’s Aid Societies who continue to separate children from family and clan and deposit them in far off into the isolation of far off urban centers. When advocates dare to speak out and advocate for Aboriginal kids, they become targets for police who harass them. Ask Cindy Blackstock (PhD (Social Work). Cindy Blackstock is the Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada) a member of the Gitxsan tribe on Canada’s west coast.
Full and fully equal access to health care, drinking water, housing and education has evolved into a clever word game where “access to” has been replaced by the term “funding” in those cases. The term “funding” does not appear in Canada’s Charter of Rights or “Constitution Act”. And, in any event even the term “funding” has bureaucratic nuances that permit a main stream school near Winnipeg to receive almost 40% more funding per student than a school only 40 km away that exists on a Reserve. In all truth, “funding” does not equate to full and equal access when lavish Indigenous Affairs departmental bureaucracy and exorbitant transportation costs siphon off whatever funding is made available.
One might (dare) to suggest that the workings of those Children’s Aid Societies have are a significant cause behind over 1,200 missing and unaccounted Aboriginal women and girls here in Canada. Similarly, those huge deficiencies in access to full and equal education, housing and even potable water just “might” have a bit to do with youth suicide rates that exceed four times the national average.
Life in isolated regions where hunting and fishing has been destroyed by mineral (mining) and timber enterprise has created shortages in native food stocks while exploiting timber and mineral resources on tribal lands. At the same time, not one cent in royalties is paid by the resource companies to the tribes on whose lands multi-billion dollar fortunes are amassed and royalties paid to provincial governments that disavow absolutely any willingness to take an active financial role in health care or education for the victims.
Are these things acceptable? Are they that much different than the colonial history that is the legacy on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The term, “Trading Post Indian” has a very negative connotation among Aboriginal people. Back as far as early colonial days, there were a few “native” guys who would hang around the trading post, abandoning their culture and their own people in order to do the “white man’s biding”.
A fortunate handful of Aboriginal people happily engaged in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work. I shall not name names but those folks did VERY well financially. Similarly, a miserly scattering of compensation was dispensed. Though, it is tremendously worrisome to hear that these same “trading post Indians” chose to exclude many more. Certainly, the legacy of dysfunctional former inmates who married, had children and dysfunctional family units speaks volumes about trans-generational hardships created by the Residential Schools and those who worked in and ran those schools.
The Commission produced multiple volumes of very well documented CRIMINAL activities. Is it not amazing that not a single criminal charge flowed from this entire extensive evidence gathering? Would that same logic have worked as well at the Nuremberg (Germany) trials where another form of genocide was being tried between 1945 and 1949? I wonder how well the trial judges in Nuremberg would have received testimony that “I was only doing my job”.(Just asking.)
The Galdue Precedent
In 1999, the case of a Métis woman who had been found guilty of killing her spouse led the trial judge to request a pre-sentencing report on causal influences in the life of the convicted person (Jamie Tanis Gladue). The evidence contained in that pre-sentence report was compelling enough to temper sentencing.
In Criminal sentencing in Canada, a court is required to take into account all reasonable alternatives to incarcerations, with particular attention to Aboriginal offenders (s. 718.2(e)). This is not an automatic “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Rather it requires the court to take into account circumstances facing Aboriginal peoples. Where the crime is relatively minor, the court should consider Aboriginal-based sentencing principles such as restorative justice. This incorporates community members and the victim in determining a fit sentence. However, where the crime is more serious, courts will generally find that the Gladue Principle is inappropriate and consider more traditional sentencing objectives such as protection of the public and deterrence. Fairness, be damned,
As many of us suspected, the production of Gladue reports has become a highly profitable “cottage industry” whereby large numbers of career civil servants suddenly became Aboriginal experts and are paid to produce non-sensible Gladue reports for hundreds of courts across Canada.
The process is nonsensical. Not one person in this country can possibly be expert on the cultural differences that exist between various “root tribes” (example between Inuit, Anishanabe and Haudenosauneee branches generally and more specifically between teh individual tribes in each general family – in Anishanabe between even Cree and Ojibwa and in Haudenosaunee between Seneca, Mohawk etc)
In urban centers such as GTA, we (Aboriginals) live in a mixed tribe environment as opposed to insular tribal settings as may be found in the north and north western Ontario.
This fundamental lack of willingness to comprehennd the unique diversities of the individual tribes and cultural under pinnings proves to me that T&R amounts to mainly a”lip service” and a genuine unwillingness to come to “truth” by way of legitimate understanding.
Without that fundamental understanding of tribal differences, any thought of “restorative justice” turns the entire Gladue process into a costly farce.
Having non-Aboriginal civil servants prepare such reports is wrong in too many way to even write about.
A Closing Thought
On Canada’s 100th birthday, (July 1, 1967) Chief Dan George silenced a crowd of 32,000 with his “Lament for Confederation” at Empire Stadium. George’s mournful speech began with, “Today, when you celebrate your hundred years, oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land.”
My own thoughts are that not too much has changed in the 50 years following Dan George’s (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) as today I hold Dan George’s sacred eagle feathers and meditate; I shall close with Dan George’s words.
“When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his (the white man’s) way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority. My nation was ignored in your history textbooks – they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk – very, very drunk. And I forgot.”
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