Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Occupation" Caledonia

So the "Occupation" in Caledonia has ended.

By "Occupation", of course, we're referring to the bit where the natives were blocking off bits of the land that we took from them. Their argument was that, though they ceded many of their lands to the Canadian government via treaty, this particular piece of land was still theirs and the city had no business building a subdivision on it.

Acrimony and enmity followed. A bit of miscellaneous violence (how did a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle get hijacked?) ensued. Eventually, with no help from the federal government - which should be handling Indian Affairs, after all - the province bought off the developer while the land dispute issue is being settled. It's an eminently sensible thing to do, given the amount of economic damage the whole blockade was causing. No one has to get shot, or run over, or beaten up. We just handle it like civilized human beings.


I'm usually impressed by the civility of the general Canadian populace when it comes to issues like these. We can accept gay marriage. We'd rather pay for education with taxes than with cash. We're against capital punishment etc. etc. I was pretty shocked, though, when I started reading online commentary about the standoff.

Native Indians are apparently a bunch of lazy welfare bums leeching off our tax dollars. That's not very intelligent. Let's move on to the next post. "There go those liberals again, throwing money at the problem". I see, moving on. "Indians are just a burden on our government. Make them work for our money." Right. "Send in the military and kick these 'warriors' (louts) out of there".

I went along looking for some intelligent response. Something about "land claims" and "treaty violations" or maybe "apartheid", "racism" or "assimilation". I had to wade through 30 ignorant posts before I hit on a guy who pointed out that, perhaps, the Indians had a legitimate claim and were pressing it through the time-honoured democratic tradition of public protest. That poster had, if I may stereotype, a very foreign sounding name. Perhaps he came from a place where people are more aware of their political surroundings. Perhaps he had experienced some form of discrimination.

But ignorance can only be cured with education. So here's some education for all those who wag the "lazy Indian welfare bum" finger. Indians aren't allowed to work. They're allowed to farm. That's it. They could conceivably run 1-900 phone sex lines, IT consultancy and legal firms, and a few other types of businesses. But they're not allowed to manufacture anything on their reserves. The industries that provide the soul of most cities are forbidden. That's part of the Indian Act. If you're going to accuse them of "not working", you'll have to remember that it was us, Canadians, who decided to tell them what type of work we wanted from them and then confine them to lands that wouldn't necessarily support such work.

Agriculture or nothing. That was deal for our Indians. It's 1840. Here's a cow, here's a plough. If you want to do anything else, you'll have to leave the reserve (which was our real goal). Once you've all left the reserve, we can have your land. Meanwhile, we'll let the water get poisoned, move you around at will, and slowly take the land away from you anyway.

This system is broken. Generation after generation of natives are being punished but have committed no crime. They teach their children to treasure the land they still have and so those children cling to it, but we give them no way to maintain that land and have employment, opportunity and dignity. The rules and regulations which we have historically used to deny them their status on the reserve only make the situation worse.

As for the rest of you: if you're going to start levelling accusations at our native population for their laziness and dependency, you'd best start reading the history of the Indian Act. Dependency is a two-way street, and we've done more than just "enable" this situation. Our governments have historically encouraged this misery in order to seize even more of their land.


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