The issues are simple:
The Government of Canada is not living up to the spirit of the Treaties and the Indian Act and in many cases not even the letter of the law when it comes to these agreements and legislations. This leads to resource and land rights issues, chronic underfunding for all social programs, and lack of adequate housing, water, etc.
Let’s be clear: these are not handouts. These are agreements. First Nations agreed to allow the Government of Canada to develop and settle certain lands – lease them in essence – in exchange for compensating the Nations fairly. The deal was that the people’s needs would be taken care of and this was decided to be a fair exchange.
These days, the common meme in most of Canadian society is that First Nations are welfare nations unfairly using up a portion of land and taxes. Of course, this viewpoint has been encouraged and rarely corrected.
And the Government of Canada under the Conservatives is continuing the process of chipping away, eroding and belittling the concerns and rights of First Nations across the land.
This is why the Chiefs say we are at war.
I tell you: the war is lost.
There will not be a day when the Harper Government does an about face and decides to do the right thing. Let us remember their roots are based in religious and economic dogma and it is no secret that many of their members previously espoused racist views. They are ideological players who curry votes from the fearful, the elite, immigrants and those who think they are voting for common sense. This is just politics, folks, nothing surprising.
What is surprising is that First Nations leaders believe there is still a system to save while it is being dismantled under their very feet.
There is no war. The battle is one of how long it takes to assimilate First Nations and gain control of their remaining lands and resources.
Now, there are those who would argue my viewpoint and that’s fair. There are those who think the Treaties (for those Nations who have them) are ironclad. But to have them honored you must be dealing with honorable women and men. You must be dealing with those who put doing the right thing ahead of doing the profitable, expedient and easy thing.
Those attributes do not describe politicians very often.
The war is over.
Well, I have long been a champion of becoming self sufficient. I am also a believer in the concept that if you are perpetually asking everyone permission to live your life you will never get past the first step.
Let them win their war, it’s the prize we should be after. While they are celebrating their victories and sneering at First Nations demands behind closed doors, take action.
My stance is that the youth need to be educated. There have been seven generations of deep and terrible abuses laid upon our children and it will take seven generations for that to heal.
But healing and choosing to start doing the right things right now are two different things. You can have almost your entire spirit beat out of you but you can still walk out the front door with your head held high if you pray for the strength to do so.
So let’s win the prize.
And what is the prize?
Complete control of our lands.
Look, are we Nations or not? Is it feasible to imagine that by rejecting the benefits of modern thought, education and practices that our Nations will survive? People have said to me that we need to reject all of that and return to traditional ways.
We can have both. We can honour, live and respect all our traditions and still be the best of the best in this world at any discipline. Our ancestors used European ships and established their own trade routes. They utilized every tool that came their way. Were it not for disease they would have retained control of this land and hence history and the environment would look very different.
I usually tend to write things that are inspirational, but tonight I am writing to encourage anyone who reads this to think about what it means to be First Nations, Metis, Inuit, a halfbreed, a non Status Indian. Aren’t you tired?
Aren’t you tired of the pause on the other end of the phone when you give your last name and it sounds “Native”? Aren’t you tired of being looked down on as a second class citizen when your people helped form this Nation and preserved the beauty of it?
Aren’t you tired of being worried about your children?
Are you not exhausted by the daily grind of living in your own land and not being welcome?
Chiefs, this is for you: think bigger. Play the part you must play but start planning more. Start creating the real plans, the plans of independence. There are resources enough on reservation land to create an economic bulldozer. There are enough resources to put everyone to work, create wealth and develop long term, sustainable, environmentally friendly energy alternatives. There are resources enough to get out from under the paternalistic hand of a Government that despises you and give our generations a real life, a real place, a real hope.
But greed will destroy that possibility.
Many Nations, many Leaders, many different motivations and viewpoints. While some work together, others would go to the government to work out their own deals. That’s history. That’s what happened. That’s how they divide and conquer.
There is no need for anger, outrage, disappointment.
All that is required is a willingness to begin. If the Government doesn’t respect it’s own laws, why would they respect your demands?
Stop demanding, start acting. There are legal ways to do everything I said. At first there may not be a lot of money, but some development will have to take place. Once that development begins the money will be there.
With money comes temptation and no man is completely immune. There is enough acculturation in place that everyone wants a new truck, a nicer home, a better vacation and nicer toys.
Return to tradition.
Reject the Feudal European system of government. Return to tradition. Can you do it? Are you able to lay aside power for the people you serve? Can we trust in the wisdom of our ancestors and determine our own methods of self government?
The truth is, there is so much damage in our people from colonization I don’t know.
In fact there are so many complexities involved – that are solvable! – that it would take more than a simple article to address.
What needs to be said is that the time is urgent. We need this to start now. Why? Because this is a generational plan. We’re talking 20 years or so. Youth today need to know why they are going to school, why they are learning traditions, and why they must succeed despite the many many obstacles in their path.
What else is there to know?
I’ll be frank, and I know there are those who will tell me I shouldn’t say this next part, but I will anyway.
If you are prone to any addiction get help. Heal your spirit. Change your friends. Find a purpose larger than yourself. I have seen many people succeed. You are no different.
If you are a criminal or in a gang then get smart. You have the most power to make a difference. If you are angry, be angry. Then find out why by reading and learning.
If you just don’t know enough or think it’s someone else’s problem then ask yourself this: don’t you want your grandchildren to have something special? Don’t you want them to be able to do anything they dream of?
My step dad learned to read despite all the blocks put on his road and in his brain, despite abuse and frustration. He is my hero because as a grown man he achieved what people told him was impossible.
He instilled in me a belief in myself that has carried me through the hardest times. Be that person for your child.
Our children must inherit this future and they must also be capable enough to be the stewards of it.
They need a purpose.
They need to know that they are literally the future of their people and that this is the best thing that could have ever happened to any generation.
What resources we have now must be used for our youth. They need every opportunity to succeed as they will be the ones who are capable of making the transition to independence as I described.
Yes, this is just my vision. But what could be wrong with giving our youth their own destiny? What could be wrong with having Canada’s delegates visit our own Nations to ask favours and deal with us instead of our leaders going east, hat in hand?
Make no mistake. That’s how it is seen. “Native leaders are asking for more”.
Well, now the people are asking for more. They are asking for a dream. They are asking for a purpose. And their hats are not in their hands, no.
Their fire is in their eyes.
The people are ready for change. Who will be the first to step up and lead?
Who will be the first to say, “No more war. No more fighting.”
Who will listen to the needs of the young and make the decision to follow a new path? A path that leads to peace, equality, a clean land and a strong people?
The truth is, we all need to step up.
And we need to step up now.
The war is over, the revolution has begun.
A revolution the likes of which the world has never seen.
A revolution where we join with each other, with all Canadians, and march to a brighter tomorrow in unity, love, determination and peace.
Can our leaders envision that far ahead? Can you?
For the sake of our world tomorrow, we must.
For the sake of the children today we must.
For all our sakes, it’s time.
Aaron is a Nationally recognized First Nations Artist who has taken the lessons of his art and life and begun to share them as part of his social responsibility and desire to be a positive agent of change and good role model.