The utility of debate to Idle No More is beyond dispute

“We are stronger together”
– Shawn Atleo

“[Many] remain silent in keeping with
older non-confrontational
of the Ojibwe”
– Anton Trueur

“You want to talk about god and hippies 
and not do a god-damned thing”
– Saul Alinsky

Recently, the University of Victoria hosted a panel discussion on how the Idle No More movement could potentially serve as the foundation for an Indigenous Nationhood Movement. And while it was an interesting discussion with dynamic speakers, I found what stuck with me the most afterward was what was going on “off-camera.”

As many of these sorts of discussions are these days, this forum was live-streamed. To the immediate right of the video, there was a window where viewers could simultaneously chat in real-time. And, for a brief moment, that conversation addressed the utility of debate among those in the Idle No More movement. More specifically, it was suggested that we shouldn’t criticize our leaders or each other, that it’s disrespectful. I’m not sure how fully the point was addressed then but, to me, it’s worth exploring more in depth now, especially at this moment of transition (or transformation) for the movement.

This concern over critiques seems to have emerged with growing anger directed at the Assembly of First Nations and National Chief Shawn Atleo for their perceived failure to effectively push-back against federal policy. Many have also criticized Chiefs and band councils generally, so much so that Chief Isadore Day of Serpent River began tweeting multiple times a day using the hash-tag #DividedNoMore (indeed a very good blog of the same name later emerged). And Atleo and his supporters echoed the calls for unity. The argument was that we’re all in this together and should direct our energies towards Canada, not each other.

I thought then, and continue to think, that this anti-critique perspective is misguided. Indeed, I’ve written about the impossibility of unity among nations and the problematic nature of the AFN (and band council chiefs generally), so it’s no surprise that I feel we need to re-think (even replace) our institutions in order to do a better job at holding our leaders accountable. That means public debate and public criticism, and not just of the AFN or chiefs and councils.

That disagreement exists at all, or that perspectives on goals and strategies vary, is a reality that requires exploration and inevitably leads to much needed debate and critique. Some of that work is already underway in the academic community. As Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel write in Being Indigenous: Contemporary Resurgences Against Colonialism,” there are “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous” people. The former pursue a legal relationship with Canada and couch their demands within the political and economic discourses of the state (since those legal, political and economic discourses are unlikely to change). The latter, Indigenous peoples are rooted in the land, bound together by spirituality and united in struggle against colonial psychosis. They act on the basis of rights and responsibilities that derive from sources independent of (and pre-existent to) Canadian institutions.

More recently, Scott Richard Lyons addresses the same issue in his book, “X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent,” although he distinguishes between Indigenous political groups as being either “traditionalists” or “modernists.” According to Lyons, conservatives aspire to decolonization via a “new society,” one rooted in real or imagined Native nations, while progressives reject this pure or essentialist view, and instead seek to navigate Canadian and American societies in hopes of finding a place that accommodates the unique nature of contemporary Indigenous identities.

Without reducing the discussion to such terms, it is nonetheless important for us to acknowledge that there are significant political differences in Native politics (and within the Idle No More movement as well) with correspondingly divergent strategies for action. Where do we fall on questions about: whether to vote in Canadian elections; physical reclamation of land; patriarchy in our ceremonies; blockading road and rail lines; the role of allies; the importance of the Indian Act; resource development, and on and on and on?

While these discussions go on within academic circles, they have not yet seemed to penetrate the Idle No More movement to any significant degree. This may be partly due to an unwillingness to critique or confront each other. Indeed, these debates can be difficult when we say things like economic development means ‘selling out,’ or that people who vote are ‘assimilated,’ or that the notion of an Indigenous nation is a ‘fairytale.’ These are heavy issues, after all, and there can be a tendency to be… unpleasant (though hopefully still respectful and constructive).

So non-confrontation or abandoning the discussion when it gets too heated is the easier path to take, one many in fact take by citing the need for unity (and maybe the fear of hurt feelings as well). But the hard truth is that refraining from attempts to address and answer difficult questions in the quest to find solutions to challenging problems effectively endorses stasis.

An even harder truth is that promoting and pursuing such artificial notions of unity and its corresponding implication of muted debate will ultimately mean the death of the movement.


Ghosts of Indigenous activism past, present, future: #IdleNoMore’s transformative potential

Earlier this week, from Goose Bay to Yellowknife, thousands of Nehiyaw, Dene, Metis peoples (joined by Canadians supportive of them) gathered in front of provincial legislatures, constituency and Aboriginal Affairs offices. They sang honour songs, danced jigs, and waved their flags and homemade protest signs out in the cold and the wind.

This hash-tag movement known to some as #IdleNoMore (#NativeWinter to others) is challenging manifold issues in the Indigenous-Canadian relationship. Among the more critical:

  • the move to strip environmental protections from most of this country’s waterways
  • a lack of consultation on amendments to the Indian Act
  • the chronic failure to maintain and uphold treaties
  • the continued refusal to acknowledge the rights of those still without treaties
  • repeated calls for a national inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women

We’ve protested before; in fact, we do it often. At the very earliest origins of Canada as a country, Mississauga leaders (concerned by continued European encroachment) diplomatically expressed their frustration:

“You came as a wind blown across the Great Lake. We received you, we planted you, we nursed you. We protected you till you became a mighty tree that spread  throughout our Hunting Land. With its branches you now lash us.”

When diplomacy failed, protest gave way to active, physical resistance throughout the late 1800s by Metis and Cree peoples on the Plains, the Tsilhqot’in and others in B.C., and the aforementioned Anishinaabe in Ontario.

With incidents of violence followed by more heavy-handed government suppression, appeals were made directly to individual Canadians. In 1923, Cayuga leader Deskaheh would complain,

“We are tired of calling on the governments of pale-faced peoples in America and in Europe. We have tried that and found it was no use. They deal only in fine words — we want something more than that. We want justice from now on.”

The pan-Indian political organization The League of Indians was formed soon after, sharing some of the same goals as Deskaheh. The Canadian government responded by banning the League: in fact, the time would soon come when all such Indigenous organizing would be prohibited under the Indian Act.

Eventually, returning World War II vets and victims/survivors of residential schools did get organized. They forced changes to both the school system and the Indian Act throughout the 1950s in what was becoming the so-called ‘Red Power’ movement. Their efforts culminated in a powerful response to the White Paper in 1969-70. And yet it wasn’t enough to prevent ongoing dispossession. Once again, Indigenous forms of protest evolved into more provocative confrontations, at places like Gustafsen LakeOkaIpperwash and highways and rail lines during the 2007 National Day of Action.

The efficacy of these movements should not be discounted. They are directly responsible for the fact that our peoples still have some semblance of culture and lands remaining today, as well as legal rights (however limited). Still, those earlier movements also failed in many ways. Ultimately, we’ve been largely unsuccessful at wholesale, widespread change. This outcome is partially a consequence of the effective suppression by AANDC, obfuscation by the mainstream media, and appropriation of these movements by do-nothing leaders.

But I think the most significant factor, especially in more contemporary efforts, is our reactive posture, leaving us always on the defensive. When Canada introduces policy, legislation, or funding changes, we respond with outrage that the mediocre status quo might be upset. In the best-case scenario, the offending legislation is shelved. The danger of this reactive activism is that it can actually serve to solidify some of the institutions we’ve come to accept, despite the fact that it is those very institutions that make up a large part of the problem. For instance, while rallying against the First Nations Transparency Act or the potential First Nation Land Ownership Act is important, it also means defending the existing Band Council system and/or land tenure arrangements on reserve — even though we know that both are extremely problematic and require fundamental change. But instead of working out the shape of that change, we inadvertently entrench an inherently flawed system. So as we move one step forward, we also effectively take one step back, mistaking inertia for movement. Such unwitting, stubborn idleness allows Canada to push its agenda.

So this new and compelling movement presents a unique opportunity. Firstly, it allows us to build on the momentum already created in creative and committed ways to continue raising our collective consciousness (the hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence as an active example). Secondly, it offers the chance to channel energy into considering alternatives. Speaking recently with Anishinaabekwe writer Leanne Simpson about where we go from here, she advocates that we bring together Anishinaabe academics, activists, community members, leaders, etc. to talk about what we want and how we’ll achieve it. Generally, this means spending genuine time together to foster national movements and re-assert a real concrete plan, not just repeat rhetoric.

When the League of Indians, Deskaheh and Great War veterans started causing trouble in the early decades of the 20th century, Indian Agents responded by calling it “annoying” and “advising Indians to have nothing to do with it.” When the current Aboriginal Administrator John Duncan was asked about Idle No More, his curt response — “That’s social media, so we’ll just have to see where that goes” — echoed the same dismissive and arrogant tone of his predecessors.

Canada expects (and hopes) this movement will melt away. Making it sustainable and meaningful requires reflecting on past and current trends in activism among Mushkegowuk, Algonquin and Lakota peoples. That means honoring and being thankful for them, but also absorbing their lessons.

Originall Published:

Why it’s only right to retire relics like the Redskins

The recent debate about the Nepean Redskins is getting tired. Frankly, it’s a debate we’ve had over and over again, both in the U.S. and in Canada.

Despite the very real fact that the term Redskin is nearly universally understood as offensive, White sports fans loyal to their high school, college or professional sports mascots insist they are ‘honouring’ Us. Prompting Us to write articles and letters, create petitions and polls, and, more recently, use Twitter and Facebook to express our dissatisfaction. And I suspect we’ll continue to do so, so long as football players need savage beasts to emulate on the field. So for our ever-forgetful, sports-loving dogmatists, here’s a refresher on why “I’m not a mascot,” as Simon Moya-Smith puts it.

The last time the mascot issue came up in a serious way was the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. It was hard to miss the omnipresent headdress-wearing, painted-faced, ancient Indian warrior mascot of the ‘Hawks. I cheered for the Flyers that year (even though as a Leafs fan, I hate the Flyers). And a few years before the Blackhawks yipped and scalped their way to victory, the Cleveland Indians nearly made it to the World Series, inspiring inebriated beer-bellied men to do their best “Chief Wahoo” imitations — “tomahawk chop” and all. Indeed, they became the red-faced and smiling buffoon “Indians.” Of course, to many actual Pottawotami and Delaware people, these fans’ war paint and nylon feathers were embarrassing and humiliating.

While the Cleveland Indians make the Blackhawks look progressive by comparison, both mascots — really, all mascots claiming to honour First Nations or Inuit peoples — do nothing of the sort. It is also puzzling why this “honour” is reserved nearly exclusively for Lakota and Cree peoples. The Redmen or the Braves are so commonplace, there is one in every division. But of course one sees never team names like ‘the Chinamen’ or the Moors who, in very general terms, have just as storied military histories to be “celebrated.” Granted, teams like the Vikings and Fighting Irish do exist, yet they exhibit but a fraction of the scope or absurdity with which “Indian” teams proliferate and are ‘celebrated.’

And if this is really an honour, should we not expect Blackhawk fans to at least know who Blackhawk actually was? I suspect very, very few actually do. In fact, he was a Sauk leader named Makataimeshekiakiak (right) who vehemently opposed American encroachment into, and annexation of, his people’s lands. So much so, he fought alongside the British to repel the Americans in the War of 1812. But he was captured, imprisoned, and then forced to tour the United States as a demonstration of the new country’s power while White onlookers often burned him in effigy. Is this what the Chicago Blackhawks honour?

But this issue goes well beyond Makataimeshekiakiak and the Blackhawks. Take any Redskin or Indians fan, or, take those of the Nepean Redskins, and ask them what they know about Native peoples outside of the image of the naked, tomahawk-wielding savage of their prized mascot and the response will be a blank stare. So not only is the ‘honour’ a farce, the Indian mascot phenomenon can actually contribute to perception that Native peoples are not actual living people with culture, language, economies, art, politics, and so on. The image traps Indigenous peoples in an archaic and doomed state. As long as Native peoples are depicted as ancient and primitive warriors, they’re not real. They’re relics of a bygone era. They don’t exist in contemporary times (part of the reason we have to deal with the near ubiquitous “Funny, you don’t look Native” comments from Canadians).

Moreover, and particularly problematic, this is an image that been used historically by colonists to justify the slaughter of Native peoples (the savage, ruthless, raping, murderous Indian who circled the wagons and presented a threat to civilization generally). In fact, if it weren’t for the constructed image of the Redskin, Americans would have had difficulty raising militias to fend off the British in the Revolutionary War. Without the image of the Redskin, Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison wouldn’t have run for president and won, based on their record of killing Indians. The Redskin trope permitted/permits all manner of horrors against Creek and Comanche peoples because it rendered/renders them inhuman.

Remarkably, the past few years have increasingly seen discussion over the use of Indian mascots. In the United States, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has adopted policies against their use in college sports (the Fighting Sioux being the latest casualty). More recently, here in Canada, the Vancouver Board of Education as well as the Toronto District School Board have voiced their concerns over public and high school Indian mascots. And, of course, there is the renewed campaign to “change the name” of the Nepean Redskins led by Ian Campeau (aka DJ NDN) of A Tribe Called Red, with support from the AFN, TRC, Ottawa CitizenLeanne SimpsonPam Palmater, among others. A campaign that has been partially successful. At the time of writing, the President of the Club has told APTN that he’ll take the name change discussion to parents. Whatever that means.

Critics will continue to cry foul and claim political correctness on the warpath. But this isn’t about misplaced over-sensitivity. It’s about being socially and morally responsible. It’s about respect. It’s about recognizing that there is no such thing as an “Indian” — rather, there are Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Mushkegowuk people — and they don’t wear war paint or throw tomahawks (well, most don’t). They are not savages devoid of humanity, but real people: real, living, breathing people, not caricatures to be trivialized. But the fact that we still have to write articles and letters, create petitions and polls to remind Canadians (and Americans) of these basic facts, year after year, well demonstrates the invisibility sports mascots ultimately confer.

Shameless Scapegoating: A catty critique of how Canadian media cover Indigenous people

Yesterday marked the United Nations’ International Day of Indigenous Peoples. This year’s theme for the Day: “Empowering Indigenous Voices.” As the UN noted, the aim was “to highlight the importance of challenging stereotypes, forging Indigenous peoples’ identities, communicating with the outside world, and influencing the social and political agenda.”

And while we should take this opportunity to celebrate outlets likeAPTNAnishinaabek NewsIndigenous Waves, and MEDIA INDIGENA, among others, I’m not sure the Canadian media got the memo. In fact, I could hear, read or watch more coverage of this week’sInternational Cat Day than of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. But I guess cats are cuter than Crees.

Reflecting on this coverage, or lack thereof, I recalled a 2008 Canadian Journalism Foundation conference entitled, “The Greatest Media Failure in a Century: Reporting on Aboriginal Issues.” The event was a response to a series of news stories that led to the most sustained media coverage on Native issues since 1990. Along with Parliament’s apology for residential schools and the newly-released report of the Ipperwash Inquiry, the conflict in Caledonia was in the papers daily (not to mention the United Nations and its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). The conference concluded, not surprisingly, that newspapers and broadcast journalists were doing a very poor job.

Allow me to preface what follows by noting that not all mainstream media are unfair to Indigenous peoples… just most of them. Take the case of Ipperwash, where, as Ryerson’s John Miller would write, “the coverage was not based on the facts of the occupation, but on crude generalizations about First Nation people that fit many racist stereotypes.” Here, the primary stereotype was of the savage or lawless Indian, a stereotype that would once again be promulgated in later coverage of Caledonia. As evidence for the latter, I submit the following headlines, which ran in the Globe and Mail in the Spring of 2010:

The “strong” in this latter case were Native thugs immune from law enforcement; the “weak” were peaceful, persecuted White homesteaders.

Then there is the stereotype of the lazy, taxpayer-leech Indian. This notion was apparent even at a time like the residential school apology. The National Post editorial that same morning — “Six reasons not to apologize” — argued that an apology would encourage dependence and discourage Indians from getting jobs. This stereotype has never been more apparent than in the media coverage of the housing crisis in Attawapiskat late last year. Stories revolved around the salary of the Chief, corruption, sustainability of isolated reserves, wasted taxpayer dollars — all of it without a modicum of context. Most media outlets uncritically toed the government line, messaging now confirmed asshameless scapegoating.

This stereotype is even more pervasive in on-line editions, in particular, within the comment sections that typically follow articles. In any given story on any subject relating to Cowichan or Dene peoples you’ll find comments such as “money, money, money, that’s all these lazy freeloaders want,” which was the first comment upon the Reuters article, “Canada reopens its ‘most disgraceful’ act” — an article that you’d expect would evoke compassion. It’s gotten so bad that newspapers have begun to actively monitor these comments. As a consequence, the most frequent (and perhaps most telling) comment onGlobe and Mail stories about Oneida or Salish peoples is “This comment has violated our Terms and Conditions, and has been removed.”

At the same time that Canadian media perpetuate such stereotypes, they also cultivate a culture of indifference. There is no better example of this than the widespread use of the term “Aboriginal.” Canadian lawyers adopted the word to be inclusive of the three recognized Indigenous peoples in Canada: First Nations, Métis and Inuit. It was then included in the Canadian constitution. More recently, the Department of Indian Affairs dropped the ‘Indian’ in favour of ‘Aboriginal,’ thus becoming the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, a move lauded by most in the media yet despised by those so-called Aboriginals themselves.

As Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinaabek Nation pointed out, “the history, cultures and contemporary issues facing First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples are entirely different. The best way to [deal with them] is not to call us all by the same name.” For Madahbee, among others, the result of employing the term “Aboriginal” is homogenization rather than inclusion. And for the media to miss this most basic of facts by using the term ‘Aboriginal’ almost exclusively — even when the specific subject of a story may be Dakota or Tlingit — speaks to reporters and editors’ lack of qualifications to cover Dakota or Tlingit peoples. By contrast, a correspondent in Europe would surely be expected to know the difference between Spaniards and Swedes as well as Europeans generally.

And yet, the media keeps on keeping on. Amidst this international day of empowering Indigenous voices, you’ll see, hear or read very few of those voices (and nearly none in the mainstream media). Earlier this week, the Globe and MailNational PostToronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and the Winnipeg Free Press were just some of the newspapers to publish multiple articles and editorials on the potential privatization of reserve lands. Collectively, they tended to include just a single perspective from a Native person, Manny Jules, one of the architects of the plan. That’s it. Little critical investigation, faithfully toeing the government line, and even employing a few stereotypes (notably, “the taxpayer leech”).

The perpetuation of stereotypes, a culture of indifference and a lack of Indigenous perspectives — endemic across Canadian media — all amount to an uneducated public. It means that Canadians know very little about Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Mushkegowuk peoples, or the differences between them, or even how to pronounce those words. As long as ‘aboriginals’ continue to be defined as lawless or lazy on the one hand, and rendered nameless, faceless, and invisible on the other, Canadians will never appreciate Indigenous perspectives. They’ll never even hear their perspectives. And the next generation of Canadians will still be wondering who these Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mushkegowuk peoples are.

But there is some good news to share: a ton of cats got adopted this week.

Originally Published:

A new Assembly of First Nations for the people? Second thoughts on a ‘One Indian, One Vote’ AFN

Last month’s election for the Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief has once again stirred calls for change.

On election eve, for example, fellow MEDIA INDIGENA contributorWaubgeshig Rice published an op-ed on entitled, “How to make the AFN more relevant.” Then, in the midst of the election, authorRichard Wagamese wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mailentitled “We want an AFN of the people.” Both articles captured a broad sentiment among Ojibwe, Cree and Lakota peoples: a desire to participate in First Nations politics beyond the Band. Indeed, this AFN election garnered considerably more attention than any in the past, a clear testament to that desire for engagement. In both cases, Rice and Wagamese eloquently identify the problem — the Assembly’s issues with political representation (or lack thereof) — and a potential solution — in effect, a new “one Indian, one vote” AFN. But in considering this idea over the past few post-election weeks, I’m not so sure it’s the answer.

In the first place, such a new ‘AFN of the people’ could lead to an even more unhelpful pan-Indianism than the current AFN perpetuates. Despite working hard to keep Metis and Inuit peoples out (and avoiding Aboriginalism), as well as “respecting our diversity as First Nations peoples” (as noted under the AFN Charter), National Chiefs have nonetheless had a tendency to claim unity among First Nations. This presumes, or at least results in, a sort of homogeneity across nations, thereby stripping away our regional, cultural and political distinctions. (In reality, the only unity that probably exists among First Nations lies within our near unanimous resentment of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada). An AFN of the people would therefore see even more diversity disappear under one umbrella, both magnifying this perception of sameness and stretching the AFN to something far beyond what it could realistically represent. The result could be a general, simplistic, and generic voice.

Alternatively, instead of striving to represent everyone, an ‘AFN of the people’ could come to suffer from issues of skewed representation, specifically, an Assembly in danger of capture by particular interests. We already see this to an extent: First Nations who lobby for treaty rights versus those who lobby for Aboriginal rights. But the potential concern here is the growing urban First Nations population (more than half of us live outside our communities already). While urban peoples are in desperate need of political representation, their significant numbers could lead to an erosion of advocacy for the very communities AFN was created to serve, and who would still require an active and focused coordinating and lobbying organization into the future.

Moreover, an ‘AFN of the people’ would effectively endorse the structural conditions that currently bedevil the organization. In other words, and I say this without irony, a completely transformed AFN along one Indian, one vote lines would maintain the status quo. The AFN is a very bureaucratic, process-oriented organization, steeped in Western-inspired legal and policy discourse. It mimics Canadian electoral politics, voting by majority (often very slim majorities). And it’s funded nearly exclusively by Canada, rendering it subject to AANDC discipline. An ‘AFN of the people’ might placate Algonquin, Pottawatomi and Dene peoples, even convey empowerment, but it seems more likely that we’d merely entrench mediocrity and stasis.

Finally, an ‘AFN for the people’ would constitute a de facto new order of government, a move which would malign actual nations. And while we’re voting once every three years for a National Chief — a superficial conception of participation and democracy Canadians have come to accept — we might see ourselves forgetting about truly solving the problem of political representation. Of course, that would mean investing in the revitalization of authentic forms of Indigenous governance, e.g., the clan system, the potlatch, the Great Law, adapting them all as needed to contemporary circumstances. It would also mean getting involved in community and nation re-building. Not least, it would mean honoring our differences and re-establishing international relations and international confederacies between and among unique nations.

The thoughts expressed here are in no way an endorsement of the AFN in its current form. Like Rice and Wagamese, I think we do need change in a serious way. I also agree that we need an outlet for the desire for political engagement that’s so apparent among Mohawk, Wet’suwet’en and Maliseet peoples. While an option to directly vote for the AFN’s National Chief is appealing (reallyappealing), it could lead to more harm than good. In fact, the whole discussion makes me think about the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins; while they’re really bad images of Native people, they’re often the only representation that exists, so we find ourselves supporting images and icons like Chief Wahoo. But it’s probably time to start cheering for another team. Rather, to start playing for another, and in a whole different league.

The National Media and the AFN’s “Angry Indians”

It’s an auspicious week for the Assembly of First Nations. The AFN’s Annual General Assembly will either re-elect Shawn Atleo as National Chief or select one of seven challengers to lead the organization through the next three years.

Today’s vote is the culmination of a relatively short and mostly unexciting campaign, yet it is one that has nonetheless caught the attention of some in the national media, in particular, the two Johns: John Ibbiston of the Globe and Mail and John Ivison of the National Post. Each have filed a number of stories. Interestingly, both writers share a remarkable and disappointing similarity: a very apparent tendency to cast the field of candidates as angry, ungrateful militants.

Rather than mask some kind of agenda, Ibbiston’s inaugural AFN-related piece (“Shawn Atleo appears unchallenged in push for native-education reform”) on June 18 perhaps demonstrates the writer’s lack of qualifications to report on First Nations politics. The Globe veteran illustrated this sophomoric understanding when he confidently asserted that, “barring an unexpected last-minute challenger, Shawn Atleo will be acclaimed for a second three-year stint as National Chief to the Assembly of First Nations.” Not only was Ibbitson very poorly informed at the time of his assessment that Atleo would go “unchallenged,” but the field vying for the National Chief position actually became the largest in the organization’s history.

Ibbitson’s second article (“Native leaders risk missing their moment of greatest influence”) a month later was an outright endorsement of Atleo and marked the beginning of this trend. For Ibbitson, Atleo was the wise decision because his opponents are “militant.” More than that, Ibbitson employed some awkward demographic analysis (the First Nations population will flat-line at some point and increasing immigrant populations will have little ‘guilt’ to compel justice for first peoples) as a veiled warning to Chiefs that they should “bear in mind a future of steadily diminishing influence as they choose the next leader of their Assembly.”

While Ibbiston’s third piece (“Atleo’s second term as AFN chief hinges on 250 votes”) on July 18 largely offered an overview of the AFN Annual General Assembly’s Day One proceedings, as well as some soft predictions on voting, he yet again managed to frame Atleo’s challengers as “determined to set Canada’s native people on a more emphatic path of confrontation with the federal government,” and “(speaking) repeatedly about colonization, occupation, victimization.” In these latter two articles, National Chief contenders Gabriel, Kelly, Nelson, et al. continue to be cast as angry, perhaps wrongfully so. In that sense, they are unappreciative as well.

The National Post coverage has been equally problematic. Leading it has been John Ivison, who has won few fans over the past week. At the end of Day One’s proceedings, he joked to the Toronto Star’s Tanya Talaga via Twitter, “my security detail should have arrived by [the morning], leaving me plenty of time to don my body armour before entering the breach.” Ivison’s remark is an apparent reference to the general disdain accumulating among Mi’kmaq, Mohawk and Ojibwe peoples for his reporting of the leadership contest, candidates and commentators alike, calling his writing “right-wing propaganda” and “ignorant.”

Like Ibbitson, Ivison is squarely in the Atleo camp. In “The fight for the soul of the AFN” (July 16), Ivison notes that “only in native politics could securing the Prime Minister’s undivided attention for a day, and hooking hundreds of millions of dollars at a time of austerity, be considered a sellout.” Moreover, and not unlike Ibbitson, Ivision depicts many if not all of Atleo’s seven challengers as radicals who discuss issues like sovereignty, which he deems to be “only a recipe for gridlock.” This perspective encourages two assumptions; firstly, the notion that Dene, Cree and Cayuga peoples are currently well treated, and secondly, that only those issues that the federal government is interested in talking about actually matter.

While Ivison happily provides candidates his advice, he has tremendous difficulty listening to them in turn. Following his July 16 column, leadership candidate and professor Pam Palmater criticized the writer for twisting her words and the facts; subsequently, in his July 18 piece, “Candidates talk of anger and injustice,” Ivison persisted with his theme. Quoting candidate Bill Erasmus,

“I’ve travelled across this country and what I’ve seen more than anything is anger. We have angry people.”

Ivison then goes on to use the sentiment as a way of framing the candidates as threatening to Canadians. But, in fact, Ivison cut Erasmus off. Had he included the full quote from Erasmus,

“I’ve travelled across this country and what I’ve seen more than anything is anger. We have angry people but we have to contain that anger. It’s not the way (forward) [emphasis mine]”

one would readily see that the speaker’s full intent and implication are very different from what Ivision would have his readers imagine. Clearly, the foundation of Ivison’s entire article is built on a butchered quote, one originally pleading for reconciliation, not confrontation.

But it would seem what Erasmus actually said — what any of the candidates actually said — doesn’t really matter to Ibbitson or Ivison. Investigating the anger that does exist in any earnest way (as opposed to excusing it) or covering the candidates’ many expressions of love and hope and sadness (instead of solely frustration) is outside the already constructed narrative of The Angry Indian. Whether the narrative is naturally transposed onto this situation or is being exploited to strategically support Atleo is unclear. Still, a partial answer may be found in Ibbitson’s most recent column (July 18: “Native leaders ponder the path of most resistance”) where he notes “the AFN inhabits a world not easily recognized by those outside the Native community.”

In Ibbitson’s case, truer words were never written.

Christie Blatchford’s “Helpless” is hapless and historyless account of Caledonia conflict

About six months ago, the Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford filed a series of courthouse dispatches from Hamilton, ON regarding the case of a Caledonia, ON family and their $7 million lawsuit against the Ontario government for failing to protect them from “the natives” (of Six Nations) as a result of the Caledonia land conflict.

With column titles like “A reign of terror, a trail of OPP inaction,” “In Caledonia the weak finally have a voice against the strong,” and “A couple terrorized in a ‘war zone’ while police stood by,” Blatchford bludgeoned readers with hyperbole and sensationalism. Her pieces pitted faceless native thugs against a decent, law-abiding, salt-of-the-earth Canadian couple.

This fall, Blatchford turned those articles into a book with the correspondingly obnoxious title, Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy and How the Law Failed All of Us.

I haven’t read Helpless, but if it’s anything like her Globe articles, I already know the story: savages circle the wagons while innocent homesteaders valiantly fight against overwhelming odds when, at the last minute, the cavalry arrives to vanquish the heathen warriors. But in this case, they don’t show up (or so Blatchford claims) and the noble frontiersmen and women suffer all manner of horrors at the hands of their terrorizers.

But this week a group of students at the University of Waterloodecided to interrupt that narrative. They prevented Blatchford from speaking at a scheduled speech on campus, taking the stage and challenging the way she tells this story. The students asserted that the land dispute has been taken out of context by Blatchford’s book and that it fails to examine the history of the situation.

And, in fact, Blatchford has admitted to looking at the conflict through “a very narrow prism.” Ultimately, the students felt that Blatchford should not have a forum to spread views they believe amount to racism.

Indeed, the frustrating aspects of the articles that precipitated the book revolve around the endemic usage of “the natives” — some abstract and homogenous ‘others’ who are all inherently prone to violence — a conclusion arrived at without any in-depth examination of their actual motives.

It seems Blatchford harbours an ongoing ignorance as to the perspectives of those Mohawk or Cayuga activists whom she indicts. But after the protest at the University of Waterloo, perhaps she can finally sympathize with them.


The likely consequences of ‘Truth in Sentencing Act’ for Indigenous people

There are apx. 20,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit inmates housed within provincial jails at any given time in this country.

And according to StatsCan, while Indigenous people represent 4% of the population, they make up 24% of the general prison population. Incredibly, Aboriginal women are 28 times more likely to go to jail than non-Indigenous women.

One of the most significant statistics amid this disastrous data revolves around remand custody. That’s where people who can’t receive or afford bail are held in jail from the time of their initial arrest right up until their trial.

Data from the Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers shows that from 2001 to 2007, the number of remanded Indigenous people increased by 23%. In fact, that research suggested that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people “in pre-sentence custody are more likely to be denied bail, more likely to be held in higher security conditions and serve longer periods of time in remand custody.”

All of this would be exacerbated by the Conservative government’s new law and order legislation, the Truth in Sentencing Act. At least, that’s the implication of an internal Justice Canada report made public by the Canadian Press and the Globe and Mail last week.

Also known as Bill C-25, the proposed Act would, if passed, restrict the ability of a sentencing judge in how they assign credit-for-time-served in remand to an offender. As a result, because Indigenous people have been shown to spend disproportionate amounts of time in pre-trial custody, they would easily be among the hardest hit by this new legislation, say critics quoted by the Globe. In effect, they’ll serve even more time in jail than they already do now.

Critics believe Bill C-25 would also rapidly increase the prison population. So in addition to longer sentences, even more First Nations, Métis and Inuit men and women would find themselves incarcerated under this law.

Considering the mountain of research dating back thirty years on the estrangement of Indigenous peoples from any semblance of justice in Canada, this legislation is all the more maddening. Between 1984 and the present, there have been dozens of reports, inquires, and studies on this over-representation: from the 1999 Supreme Court Gladuedecision (which noted a “crushing failure” of the justice system) to Howard Sapers’ 2006 Report finding of “systematic discrimination.”

Not only is it impossible for the current government to be ignorant of this consensus, but, the Globe article noted, it was aware of the Justice Canada report before introducing the legislation. In fact, they kept it secret!

So considering all of this, it becomes clear that the ongoing reality for Indigenous people vis-a-vis the Canadian justice system continues to be one stubbornly characterized by injustice.