Wednesday, December 10, 2014

INDIAN AFFAIRS AND HUMAN RIGHTS



In the late 1800’s in western Canada, the principal source of food (buffalo) for Indian tribes living on the plains terminated. The white man was beginning to occupy and settle the best land. And the transcontinental railway was being laid to provide the means to making those settlements permanent and comfortable. Recognizing the impossibility of continuing their traditional, desired way of life, and seeing that the white man’s plans could not be resisted, the Blackfeet, the Bloods, and the Sarcees put themselves at the mercy of the queen through her representatives, and signed a treaty. Chief Crowfoot: “I hope you look upon the Blackfeet, Bloods, and Sarcees as your children now, and that you will be indulgent and charitable to them” (Hugh A. Dempsey, Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, p. 103.) Parcels of land were then agreed upon for the Indians to inhabit, to hunt in the midst of, and to work. Allotments of food, money, and tobacco followed, along with a long train of abuses by the mother and demands by her children. The relations between this mother and her brood are far from salutary over a century later. The dealings between the government of Canada and Indian tribes are framed historically by an educated Cree woman, Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. She divides the negotiations into four periods and approaches: 1840’s-1900, assimilation; 1910-1950, segregation; 1950’s-1970, integration; 1970’s-present, reconciliation (CBC Radio, Ideas, Human Rights Lecture, October 16th, 2013.) It is not my purpose to judge the merits of this rough outline, but to consider the nature, and assess the aim and merits, of the present period and approach.

Hostility between guilty parties calls for mutual reconciliation. The white man brought diseases, liquor, and death into Indian territories. Then he began to settle the land that the Indians had been crisscrossing upon unhindered for centuries. The final two singular insults were the attempted obliteration of Indian culture and the multi-faceted abuse of Indian children by vile persons in religious orders and government institutions. Reconciliation must come about through penalties and amends for these wrongs. Because most of the abusers are in the ground awaiting judgment, and because Roman Catholic priests are above the law until judgment, the only recourse left for reparation of injury is financial compensation. Monetary atonement will continue for as long as there are taxpayers to keep the subsidies flowing into reserves. Probably every Canadian agrees that some measure of pecuniary penance ought to continue indefinitely.

We have come to a point in time, however, when Indians ought to be attempting some reconciliation of their own for the wrongs done by them. I know that that time has not actually come. But we have come to such a time in my own mind because I am ahead of my time on this issue. The white man may be making much profit from the resources being drawn from the land once solely occupied by the Indians. But the Indians have been grossly guilty of squandering their share in these profits. When I was a boy, we took a trip to a place called Matachewan, Ontario to do some camping. While traveling through the town, I asked my dad and his friend what the reason was for all the new houses there being empty and abandoned. It may seem impolite of me to relate the reason because the truth is that the Indians were not civilized enough to occupy these homes. They had made their new lodgings unfit for human habitation by using their furniture for firewood and by dismantling the accessories that a modern home depends on in order to work. New houses had become condemned houses in very short order. Monetary compensation made our lives more difficult, says Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond in her speech. I wish that she had elaborated. When money is placed into irresponsible hands, the outcome will always be a tendency toward poverty. “Without the civilizing force of universal moral standards, particularly honesty, trust, self-respect, integrity, and loyalty, the marketplace quickly degenerates” (Warren Brookes, Goodness and the GNP, in Is Capitalism Christian?, p. xvii.) Correct, market degeneration is hastened on by degenerate behavior, as in the ungrateful demolition of gratuitous homes by Indians. “He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Proverbs 18.9.)

Increasing the subsidy supply will be a wasted effort until a greater level of morality is attained by our native recipients. This fact, I think, is well known, but working people are too afraid or embarrassed to acknowledge it out loud and openly. Rather, liberal CBC talkers speak like so about Indian affairs: “There’s a lot more we need to do” (Jian Ghomeshi, CBC Radio, Q, October 17th, 2013 or thereabouts.) By the context in which this comment was couched, it is clear that the more that needs to be done, in Ghomeshi’s mind, comes down to reconciling more by giving more. The reconciliation is always stressed for the one side to effectuate, and this reconciliation that needs to happen always gets reduced to more giving. I recently heard a guest/lobbyist on CBC Radio proposing our mistreatment of the Indians to be labeled a ‘genocide.’ There is no just reason to call it that, which is evidenced by his method of convincing us of his opinion: by ‘engaging the passions,’ he haplessly admits (CBC Radio, The Current, October 17th, 2013.) You see, never mind what arguments might be forwarded in favor of the proposal. Bypass the intellect, fire up the passions, and you may get enough people to ignorantly agitate and to press the government to acquiesce! About a second after the man presented his exaggerated label idea for native mistreatment, it flashed upon my mind that money must be in it somewhere for someone. And about a second after that, he stated that a certification of the new label could involve treaty rights and finances. If certain persons believe that our ill-treatment of aboriginal people amounts to an essay to exterminate, why do they not call it genocide amongst themselves and leave it at that? It is because a political ratification of the lie would be tied to payments to back up the sham-like shame. A ‘hyperactive guilt reflex’ (Franky Schaeffer, Is Capitalism Christian?, p. xxiii) will cause persons to admit more guilt than they are responsible for, and they will give a great deal more than they ought in order to alleviate the sense of guilt that haunts them. Or, a lobbyist who forwards a jacked up confession may be looking to how he, not just the wronged, might gain by a ratification of it.  

When human rights are spoken of in the context of Indian affairs, responsibility should be the connecting link between the two. Any rights that are accorded, either by God or government, must be connected with responsibility or else anarchy and shame will result. Because Indians enjoy so many privileges without the stability that responsibility would impart, reserves are disordered districts descending further and further into moral degradation. Money cannot counteract immorality. The imposition of responsibility can. And a Christian ethic will take responsibility upon itself. In her speech, Doctor Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has a lot to say about native history and culture, and she throws in some anecdotes that are calculated to elicit compassion for her people. But she says absolutely nothing about the native responsibility that should coincide with Indian rights. Her anecdotes, moreover, prove the opposite of what she alleges: that aboriginal women are poor. Some of them have to raise their children in motel rooms, they are so poor, she pitifully exclaims. The truth is, anyone raising kids in a motel room has more than enough money to do it in an apartment, for motel rooms are let at dearer rates than apartments are. I know this from personal experience. Do you see how out of touch some academic types are with reality on the ground of common life? Without checking their facts, their anecdotes, and their expressions, they parrot whatever string of words that they think will most fire up the passions of their listeners. “I know you’re not going to be able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” she says to an imagined abused native, as if to suggest that one should be able to do so if only one had more money to attempt it with. Reader, get yourself some boots that have bootstraps on them, put them on, and then pull them on by pulling down hard on those straps. Then, after your feet are driven downward and you are not pulled up, look up the expression to find out its meaning, and you will discover that the figure of speech was never intended to illustrate a possibility. We can’t expect judges to judge aright these days. Why should we expect them to speak reasonably? Again, aboriginal mothers are such good caregivers, she says. Well, I would not go so far as to generalize like that. How many of these mothers are on something like OxyContin unnecessarily? How many of them are addicted to Scope? How many of them slept around, got pregnant by donors-unknown, continued to drink alcohol while pregnant, and then brought forth babies afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome? Is a biblical lifestyle not a better ideal? “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her” (Proverbs 31.27, 28.) I have an Indian aunt who may come close to the ideal stated there. Sadly, I believe that she is an exception. Here is a personal anecdote from second hand, not just a general anecdote like the one the judge gave out. I once had a friend who shacked up with a native woman who had visiting rights with her son. My friend had to resist her efforts to have sex with him on the couch in front of that son, who was about ten years of age at that time. Why doesn’t Judge Turpel-Lafond mention a similar story in her speech? If, in spite of my limited associations with natives, I know of one such story, how many stories just like that might she come up with? The immoral, irresponsible side of Indian affairs in Indian communities must be met, not with augmented allowances, but policies of accountability. Not making chiefs of Indian bands account for the money they are given does no good for the members of Indian communities who are lower down on the totem poles. As for those who do see some of that money, how about some accountability for how that money is spent? How about some penalties for wasting money? 

The Crown holds land in reserve for the First Nations. Several years ago, the Nisga’a people were given actual possession of a large tract of land in the Nass valley in British Columbia. Along with this deal, this tribe was given 200 million dollars outright, with a promise of another 33 million per year indefinitely. The Nisga’a president then said this about it: “We are no longer wards of the State!” (CBC Radio, The Current, This Land is my Land, Laura Lynch, November 4th, 2013.) Oh yes you are, Mr. President. As long as you receive money from the State, you are a ward of the State. You cannot be autonomous and a ward at the same time. Genuine self-government must be self-sufficient. Your statement is more infantile than presidential. Like an ungrateful teenager, you want power but you want someone else to provide the fuel for it. Revealing sound bites from other persons occur on this program as well. A squaw wanting to build her own restaurant complains about the money having to come out of her own pocket, for instance. What a shame! She might have to pay something out of her own pocket like a real taxpayer does! In the late 1800’s, Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot Nation “made an impassioned plea for more rations for his destitute people and more help to make them self-sufficient” (Hugh A. Dempsey, Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, p. 137.) Over a century later, after billions and billions of dollars in aid, peoples who want to be called Nations are not even close to becoming self-sufficient! Self-sufficiency is not their goal.   


When was the last time you saw an Indian at Tim Hortons at seven in the morning? And if you did, was he on his way to work? Those who line up there before the workday begins are working people, too few of which are from the Indian community. I’m not into promoting Tim Hortons. This coffee joint is highly overrated by Canadian citizens who are blindly patriotic to some degree. But seeing more Indians there at the break of dawn would be a good sign. We may be a long while waiting for that sign, however.

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