The new federal Indian Affairs Minister has promised to "modernize" the Indian Act. He knows, and Canadians have been trained to know, that this won't involve natives having the rights you and I have, but will grant natives lucrative land settlements and segue them into sovereignty. For all of which you will pay. Because, ridiculous as it should seem, the multitude of bands hold up on reserves; each sometimes numbering only a couple hundred people, consider themselves, and in turn are considered, full-fledged nations. Can a small group be a sovereign nation while being funded by taxpayers at large? Yes. Never before has nationhood meant so little -- never before has it come with such a price.
You should care; no you should be up in arms with outrage. Mostly because your elected government does not represent your interests in the matter of native issues. How do you explain the plan to create a new native-directed and elected court in place of the current courts? Modeled on the time-honored judicial tradition of the fox guarding the coop, judges will be selected by natives and "bestowed with powers equal to federal courts". This court may also be entrusted with finalizing land claims. And why not? In British Columbia, a militant Haida leader and activist now serves as Chief Treaty Commissioner. The same man is on record for saying he does not consider himself a Canadian. Still, with your tax dollars you will pay obeisance to these processes; with your tax dollars you will fund bureaucrats and lawyers and activists to further take your money to support a self-perpetuating, incestuous Wheel of Fortune.
You pay for land deals and you pay the $7 billion or so a year that goes towards aboriginal affairs. And still your generosity is abused. You are told that despite the huge sums of money apportioned to natives, the poverty on reserves is because you don't give enough, because of the sins of your forefathers, or because of your Eurocentric origins. This, your children learn in the schools you fund.
But why would natives need another court system? The courts, mostly The Supremes, seldom rule against natives. In "Delgamuukw" the Supreme Court of Canada decided that to prove title on land, natives do need some evidence of continual occupancy, but the evidence can consist of myths, stories, legends and oral hand-me-downs. So, to lay claim to vast resources and huge swaths of land, natives need rely on no more than folklore. What a deal. Can any court do better? Why mess with a good thing?
The SCC has recently upheld a 1760 aboriginal treaty, giving natives "unlimited year-round fishing rights". The seabed along the Maritimes is now being voided---off-season---of its lobster. Unfolding on the Fraser River is a scene of another native triumph over Department of Fishery officials. Silly sorts, instead of sticking to their instructions to document only, but not stop, illegal fishing, DFO officials got carried away, and actually removed the illegal native-owned nets. You won't be seeing the officials on the Fraser, but in court. Neither will you be seeing too many returning salmon. The illegal logging operations in south central B.C. are gaining momentum with more bands jumping on board. Why not? Implicit in the law of the land is that natives are exempt from its strictures.
Indeed, the creativity of the courts has been remarkable. Can you get more creative than mandating that a person's "Indianness" be considered during sentencing? Thus an Indian woman recently walked after six months for killing a spouse, and another native got rapped on the knuckles for doing a Hannibal Lector on someone's finger.
Native sexual abuse industry is also forging ahead courtesy of the taxpayer. Will there be an examination of the merits of each case of alleged abuse of native children? Don't be silly; experts say all were abused. Besides, the government knows it can't win. It lay the grounds, after all, for native legal invincibility. It will settle with the aid of $1.2 billion of your money. Just for good measure, it will throw in another $350 million for a "healing fund".
So set aside the romantic misty eyed notions of Indian activism; the kind the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. parlays with close-ups of bandanas and fatigues; the kind that suggests that in his natural state the native exists in harmony with nature; his spirituality of a magnitude you cannot attain. Listen closely to the cant of native militancy, and what you hear are demands borne of petulance; demands borne of never being told: ENOUGH. Lay the sugarcoated mythology of the Nobel Savage to rest. Take a good look. Where do you see natives existing in harmony with mother Gaia and communing with the Great One? Sadly, what remains of native culture is a powwow-type admixture; what remains of native nationhood are economic fiefdoms funded by you.
Heed what cultural critique Robert Hughes writes: "Historical evidence shows that the people of the Americas had been doing very nicely for centuries and probably millennia when it came to murder, torture, materialism, genocide, enslavement and sexist hegemony". In our silly view of native Americans we have, says Hughes, perpetrated a stereotype in which European man has become the demon, and the native has been canonized. Now, drop the eternal mea culpa. The truth about the social decay among natives is to be found in the cradle-to-grave arrangement with you the Canadian taxpayer: It's like manna from heaven, but it is deadly, breeding nothing but more of the same.
©1999 Ilana Mercer
The North Shore News