Thursday, 7 July 2016

I Support Native Pride

From my parents' house, you can hear the Esquimalt Nation pow wows. For days, the pounding of the drums and droning chants would echo across the water and through our backyard. These summer festivities (we couldn't hear the winter ones because they were inside) were my first introduction to living native culture, and not just something I read about in books or saw in the museum. While pow wows are not my culture and I have never attended one, the sound of a pow wow is comforting to me. It reminds me of summer evenings on the back patio.

I assume that the vast four of you reading this are white, so I will begin by saying we have not done right by the First Nations of Canada.

Yes, even us who were born and raised in a more enlightened, politically-correct time. (I'm being a bit facetious here, just so we're clear.)

But that all happened so long ago!

1. The last federally-run residential school in Canada closed in 1996. That was only 20 years ago. At best (and I use that term very loosely), the schools provided free education in exchange for removing (often forcibly) children from their families, their culture, and their language. At worst, these schools were hives of physical, mental, and sexual abuse.

2. Actions and events have repercussions that ripple down through generations. The Indian Act of 1876 can be boiled down to this: the only good Indian is a white Indian. To allow natives to participate in our society, we wanted them to go to a white church, speak English or French, and dress like Europeans. If they didn't want to do these things, we "gave" them land (reservations), usually on the fringes of their traditional lands, and pretty much hoped that we'd eventually shame them into wanting to change. 

What are the repercussions of this? The Esquimalt Nation has one fluent speaker of SXIMEȽEȽ. Let me repeat that for the people in the back.


The Esquimalt Nation has one fluent speaker of SXIMEȽEȽ.

I'll be honest, that the statement might seem misleading to some people when you learn there are about 80 additional people who speak some SXIMEȽEȽ or are actively learning it; but linguistically, I can also be classified as speaking some Irish. I can say hello, introduce myself, ask how you are doing, tell you to kiss my ass, and say goodbye. While that would be an entire conversation in an Irish pub, it's still a long way from fluent.

3. We are systematically setting them up to fail. A Native offender is 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than his or her white counterpart. Six times! In the past 10 years, Native incarceration has risen by over 50% to where they now make up 23% of the of the inmate population.

And this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. 

All of this is to explain to you why on the weekend of FernFest Car Free YYJ, and Father's Day, it was much more important to me that I attend the Aboriginal Cultural Festival. It's why for National Aboriginal Day, I encouraged my friends to visit Our Living Languages at the Royal BC Museum. It's why I will gladly support First Nations artists in anyway I can, whether it be loading A Tribe Called Red on my music list, buying a print, sharing their pages on social media, or even just simply attending a cultural event.

The least, and I mean least, we can do for First Nations is support them in reclaiming their culture. Allow them the respect and freedom to be proud of who they are. It is their choice if and when we are apart of it.

But they don't pay taxes. But they get federal handouts. But they get [insert special thing here].

There are conditions around everything the governments, Federal and Provincial, do/give/etc for Aboriginal, Metis, and Inuit populations. Yes, some of them don't pay taxes, but neither do churches. I'd argue that religion has done a good deal more to muck up our country than any Native. Yes, Federal money is given to various First Nations tribes, but Federal money is also given to provinces. Yes, they may be exempt from paying for university, but two thirds of reservations don't have continuous clean running water so I'm okay with that. You should be too.

In the words of Chief Dan George:
Let no one forget it. We are a people with special rights guaranteed to us by promises and treaties. We do not beg for these rights, nor do we thank you. We do not thank you for them because we paid for them, and the price we paid was exorbitant. We paid for them with our culture, our dignity and self-respect. We paid until we became a beaten race, poverty-stricken and conquered.

 Just so I don't end on a downer, A Tribe Called Red's newest song, Stadium Pow Wow.

No comments:

Post a Comment