Alexis Van Bemmel: Racist responses to Idle No More tied to misinformation about Canada's past

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      Canada has shown quite a racist attitude in its response to the Idle No More movement. Blatantly racist comments that I would certainly not expect in 2013 abound, such as “Indian giver”, “Playing victim…waiting for a handout”, and “This is Canada…the point is for everyone to have equal rights aka no special native rights…move on and get over it. You ain’t special. You are no different than any other Canadian even if you don’t want to call yourself one. These feel like a slap in the face, and I’m a white Euro-Canadian. And then Don Olsen’s letter was published in the Nanaimo Daily News. I can sit idly by listening to this racist hatred no more.

      Canada prides itself on having created a tolerant and inclusive society, one where we accommodate diversity. We are internationally recognized for reconciling subnational identities; we have legislated and even constitutionalized our practices of accommodation. We like to believe that this is an important part of our history and a defining feature of our country, but is it really? Responses to the Idle No More movement suggest otherwise.

      These comments are based on negative stereotypes and misinformation that deprecate First Nations. The acceptance of them by the public only fosters conditions that allow the uninformed to discriminate further against First Nations. No other group in Canada is subject to these sorts of comments.

      With constructed superficial multiculturalism, we allow our selective memory to ignore our colonial legacy and current racial issues, imagining ourselves to be an accepting, tolerant nation, binding together all different peoples. We then question the position of First Nations, and spout that they should “join the rest of Canada” to be afforded the same rights and privileges as every other Canadian.

      Within our “multiculturalism”, many ethnicities have retained their culture under Canadian governance. We wonder why this isn’t working for First Nations, and that the answer must lay with equality. The problem is, this notion of equality blankets the real issues, letting us forget the history and injustices committed. It is important to remember that Canada was not an empty land discovered by Europeans; it had already been settled for millennia. The early colonialists knew this, and that is precisely why the Royal Proclamation of 1763 identified respect for the lands of the “Indian nations” that inhabited them.

      The aboriginal peoples living here before British colonialism had settled these lands, and had developed their own cultures and languages. This is why we cannot classify First Nations alongside those who have immigrated here. First Nations are the ones who suffered the involuntary incorporation of their homeland. Unlike immigrants, they did not make the decision to move here for a new life. This is exactly the reason why Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act upholds aboriginal rights. When Europeans arrived, First Nations had been living here for centuries.

      Special legal and constitutional status has been mandated for First Nations because we are supposed to recognize their rights, and identify them as the original inhabitants and keepers of this land. In all its idealism, the Canadian government acknowledges that First Nations have their right to a distinct society. They must have land claims, treaty rights, cultural rights, and self-government in order to sustain themselves as distinct societies. This is why the White Paper on Indian (assimilation) Policy of 1969 was repudiated, and aboriginal rights were included into the Constitution Act of 1982.

      Public focus rests heavily on monetary handouts and accountability, reducing a complex and sordid history of colonialism, paternalistic governance, and residential schools down to entitlements and rights. Many Canadians feel First Nations are taking an unfair advantage with tax exemption benefits and other programs. The only tax exemption is limited to those who are situated on a reserve, as stated under Section 87 of the Indian Act. The courts maintain that this exemption reflects the “unique constitutional and historic place of Aboriginal people in Canada”. What happened to the relationship between Aboriginals and settlers that began with treaties of shared land and resources, exemption from the Queen’s taxes, and peaceful coexistence?

      These treaties were broken as more and more land was sought for profitable exploitation of natural resources, of which the Canadian economy is based on. Indeed, removal of First Nations and their rights and lands has been essential in Canada whenever they proved to stand in the way of exploitation for profit. Colonialism introduced European conceptions of what society is, and became the dominant way to think of progressive development. Time and again, First Nations have been denied in the sharing.

      We need to be educated on the history of this country and to stop spreading misinformation and fostering hatred. We need to recognize that the land we currently inhabit has been inherited from First Nations at a great cost. The Government needs to be restructured to return to the relationship of respect and equality, as nation to nation sharing this land, before treaties were broken and European ideals were presented as the only concept of society and progress. Lastly, and most importantly, First Nations need to have the choice to be able to govern their own affairs, whether it be traditional hunting and fishing or resource extraction and development.

      Alexis Van Bemmel is a geography student at the University of Victoria. Van Bemmel has a degree in history and First Nations studies.




      Apr 1, 2013 at 4:00pm

      As one Indigenous person, I would prefer the hunting and fishing over resource extraction and development...just sayin'

      Ken Lawson

      Apr 1, 2013 at 4:10pm

      Just because you disagree with them does that make you a "RACIST" is the question?


      Apr 1, 2013 at 4:28pm

      I agree that there is far to much racism, but as unfortunate as it is it goes both ways. I went to a protest to give my support and was told "whitey go home", it upset me terribly as beside me was my native daughter. How do I tell her that her white mother is not welcome there?

      Chris Miller

      Apr 1, 2013 at 5:57pm

      I agree with this article. The Natives are not merely one more "multiculture" that decided to flee to here from some other part of the world they didn't want to stay in. The history of Canada is 99.9% Native, as they have been here for 40,000 years, and the newcomers only for at the most about 400 years. The fundamental culture of Canada is still, I argue, Native, if we look at the foods we eat (corn and potatoes, chocolate and tomatoes,) our sports, our distinctive Canadian cultural practices, and even attitudes and life events, like sending off our kids to camp, paddle, and fish as teens to "find themselves" and go on a "dream quest" or whatever. "Confederation" is a term coined from the 18th Century translation of the Iroquois Great Law. Most of us non-Natives are really the descendants of refugees. Even the Loyalists were refugees. They came and settled, and the influence of the Natives on them was pretty strong, particularly in the formative, early years. The rhythms of life here have very ancient, Native roots. I'm not disputing the impact of the British and French cultures here too, but we're talking of a meeting, globalizing, and blending of things, not of a wipe-out of the Indigenous ways. Not at all. If this was Europe, we would all be learning the "Ancient Languages" of the land, like they do in Ireland, where they learn Gaelic on school, or in Greece where they all learn Ancient Greek. Here we would be learning and taking pride in the ancient languages and cultures of our land. Instead, we still keep some kind of aloof mindset, where we don't respect the culture of our new found country. We don't value the 40,000 years of heritage and pride right here. This is just not healthy. We had better recognize that we are Canadians, and that Canada is thousands of years old, not 100 years old!


      Apr 1, 2013 at 7:52pm

      people arent always supposed to have to beg to get what is status quo harper et al. send your ambassadors lying around the world saying how great canadas infrastructure is, and then this, its like, you lie canada, you are caught in a lie, and you will hopefully always be wisely judged as precarioius to do business with with this legacy of avoiding pertinent humanity issues and making people beg for what they are already to have received. canada the shameful, is why you are losing your grip on this nation, after the exposure of the human traficking, the corruption of your municipalities, the counterfeit stamps that bankrupted the postal service in 2013, it is so you would pay more attention to what you were doing wrong at home, becoming lawless, shameful and continuing in not providing what you have guaranteed every community of this nation, its putting you dangerously close to being lawless in the full, and that, is when your nation is voided, like greece, italy, egypt, syria, india, england, france et. al. it is always that way, now see it that way. you are falling apart because of this maltreatment and you inability to lawfully provide what your laws have said you would, that, is lawlessness, lawlessness=void of your nation, then it can be given to any one else.

      James B. Bandow

      Apr 1, 2013 at 8:00pm

      Some of these posters still don't get it! The issues are about Political jurisdiction (section 35, Canadian Constitution), political boundaries, resource control and royalties, and treaty rights. It's not about "race" at all.

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      K Ender

      Apr 1, 2013 at 8:37pm

      I agree with Don Olsens report. I think most people do. But I was taught that if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.
      So let me tell you about 'native americans'...

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      W Card

      Apr 1, 2013 at 11:20pm

      Wow, I read the letter by Dan Olsen, wow.

      I would say that most people would agree that native people did not discover.

      Global warming,
      Mercury in fish,
      Clear cutting,
      UV rays and increased skin cancer,
      Melting Artic Icepacks,
      Nuclear weapons or meltdowns,

      The letter he wrote is pretty silly if you think about it.

      Mr. Bemmel's article here is pretty good and I agree with his main point that people should be educated in how things work in Canada and it's First Nations.

      Sarah Junkin

      Apr 2, 2013 at 12:42am

      I got an idea. Why don't we go to italy and tell the Italian people the Romans were here once and they should leave. Is this what we are doing?

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      Apr 2, 2013 at 3:56am

      i am an immigrant to canada and i think it is a two way street. I did a course in university about the history of the first nations people and i remember quite distinctly that there were times i supported the natives and at other times i supported the government of Canada...

      There needs to be equality and the treaties need to be upheld...but accountability is also important....canadians feel like so much money has been invested in the reserves with very little to show for it and a lot of people are frustrated....there is no reason why people should not have the basic neccesities of life in a country like Canada

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