Idle No More – A White Man Speaks
At the time of this writing, I am 81,000 words into my upcoming anthology of short horror stories and near to the point of finishing the last story in the anthology. Soon will come the laborious process of revising and proof reading, and then the pre-launch activities.
It’s a very exiting time, and a very tense time. People who write will tell you that whenever you write, never mind when you are entering the final lap of the race, you should do it in private, free from distractions, so you can concentrate and apply the full amount of your attention to what you are doing. After all, though readers derive a lot of pleasure from reading, writers are writing not only for the pleasure of it, but to make money. It’s a job, and as with any job, it needs a considerable amount of concentration, effort and devotion to do the job right.
Be all that as it may, I find it necessary to pull myself away from the writing process to address a topic that is much more important than my job and also, I daresay, the pleasure of my fans.
I am talking about the rights of North American Indigenous People.
Human rights in other words.
Thanks to our media, which really only airs, prints, and transmits what sells, most people are not aware of what’s been going on in Canada with Bill C-45, the Idle No More movement, and Chief Theresa Spence. And so if you are ignorant of what’s been happening, it may not entirely be your fault.
What is going on?
Well, on the one hand, it’s complicated. Trying to understand what’s happening -especially if you are white like I am- means understanding not only what is going on now, but also understanding what has happened in the past. One has to understand things like treaties, land rights, residential schools, missing Native women, and many more important issues. One has to understand the relationship between Native people in Canada with their government, how white people in Canada perceive Natives. One needs to understand the relationship between Native peoples and government approved Chiefs. One needs to have a grasp of what a Governor General’s job is and how the pen in the hand of such a person can determine the optimistic future or pessimistic fate of so many people. One needs to know the perspective the relationship between Native people in the US with their counterparts in Canada, and one would do well to understand how worldwide government bodies view the rights of indigenous peoples.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t need to know all of that to understand the fact that human rights have been violated in Canada.
If I was going to oversimplify the dichotomy of views as I see them, taking only one issue as an example, imagine how you would feel if you were told your land was your land for all time, and at a later date, a bill was passed into law which stated that your land could be taken away from you by the government any time and sold to someone else? Further, what if this bill voided all previous agreements which certified that your lands would never be a subject for disagreement again?
I think everyone in the world can relate to how indigenous people in Canada must feel.
A treaty is an agreement between two parties, and is meant to be honored. It would seem, however, that treaties are only respected by parties with good intentions.
Let’s look at when the US bought the land that we call Alaska from the what we now call Russia. The US got the land for a paltry amount. Years later, it’s been found that billions of dollars worth of oil have been discovered beneath the surface of Alaska. But did Russia ever go back and demand additional compensation from the US for the US getting this land at such a steal? Not that I recall.
For some odd reason, it now seems that the Canadian government believes it’s time to void the terms of many treaties struck with indigenous people. The government may have reasons, but it really doesn’t matter what those reasons are. The treaties were signed long ago and the terms of those treaties must be honored now and forevermore.
When we go into a store and buy an item for a dollar, and then see later on that some other store is selling the same item for fifty cents, do we go back to the first store and demand fifty cents? No. And unless the store has a price match guarantee, we should not expect the store to pay us anything. When the money we pay for the item we are purchasing is accepted by the cashier, we have made a contract. That at some later date we do not like the contract is not the store’s problem. The item is ours for the amount we paid for it. Let the buyer beware.
Likewise, so should the signers of treaties beware.
At any rate, setting treaties aside for the moment, there is a larger issue here: How indigenous people are treated generally.
To digress for a moment, in 1965, segregation between blacks and whites was ended in the US, but discrimination persisted afterwards, and continues to this day. From any way you look at it, the egregious violations of human rights that have been committed against African Americans (and -prior to that- Africans) cannot be made up for. What amount of money does one give for every lash of the whip upon a person’s back? How do we make up for denying an entire population of people the right drink out of the same water fountains as whites did for so long? How do we tally all the times the N-word has been used and make amends? And what should be given as compensation? Money? Goods? Services? An apology?
The task is overwhelming.
We can try to make up for what’s happened in the past. And we should try. But while we are doing that, we have to respect those in the present with whom the disagreements lie.
It gives me great pain that I should even have to write this blog entry because I would have thought that civilized countries would have made more progress towards respecting the rights of their own indigenous peoples.
I am in my forties now, and many of the same prejudices toward indigenous peoples that were drummed into my head in elementary school are still in existence today – decades later. In reality, no significant progress has been made in terms of how those in charge relate to those who are subjugated, and no significant attempt has been made to reverse the ignorant misconceptions perpetuated by inaccurate textbooks, and, yes, even government propaganda.
I have tweeted extensively in support of the Idle No More movement and Chief Theresa Spence and will continue to support Idle No More and Chief Spence in whatever ways I feel will be most impactful. This blog entry is an example of that.
I hold little hope that we will see any kind of resolution in the short term, however, because it seems ignorance is stubbornly preventing any coherent solutions to the situation from presenting themselves. For example, I was watching the news the other day and saw that some white shopkeepers in a mall were shutting their stores, fearing violence or shoplifting on the part of the indigenous flash mob participants.
If you looked at the participants, you saw men, women, and children. Good people in other words. Many of the dancers were whole extended families. These people were doing nothing to impede the flow of shoppers. They bore no weapons. They used no foul or provocative language.
Had the shopkeepers succumbed to their curiosity instead of their fears, they might have learned something about native culture. Had they taken the time to see who it was that was dancing, they might have learned that -gee whiz!- these people weren’t thugs. They were good, upstanding citizens who -like everyone else in the world- wanted to live according to their own morals, values and ethics on their own property (whether that property lies among the whites or on a reservation), legally, and without interference from government.
In another instance, a security guard -and I am paraphrasing here- told flash mob participants that the mall in question was not a reservation, and that if they wanted to dance, they should dance “there.” As if all Native Americans live on a reservations. It’s a prejudicial statement pronounced by an ignorant person.
I am not going to presume to pontificate at much more length about the Idle No More movement because, not being Native American, I cannot say that I know what it is like to feel what indigenous people feel, but I will say this: There needs to be some understanding on the part of whites for any of this to be resolved.
Many Native Americans believe that there are four colors of man: Red, White, Yellow, and Black. But in terms of white Christian spiritual beliefs, there is only Adam and Eve, and the presumption is that Adam and Eve are white. Go to any church in Europe and Jesus will be white. In Italy, he’ll look a little Italian. In South America, he’ll look Spanish, thanks to the influence of the Spanish explorers and their foisting of Christianity on native peoples. Sometimes in Africa, Jesus will look black, but one gets the sense that this is a sop to Africans to get them to believe in the Christian God.
What religious white Christians would do well to remember, however, is that men were made in God’s image, and, -guess what- there ARE four colors of man. That means God is a little bit red, a little bit white, a little bit yellow, a little bit black. Therefore, when we mistreat a fellow human being, we are, in effect dishonoring the God in whose image all human beings are made.
What other religious and non-religious whites would do well to remember that it doesn’t matter whether there is or isn’t a God. All that matters is that all human beings have certain inalienable human rights, and when the rights of even one human being are denied, it means that a statement has been made: All people are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Now, given that at present, some of humanity has been allowed more rights than others, the question is, if you -whether you are white, black, red or yellow- have all of your rights, will you use the rights you’ve been given to help those whose rights are in jeopardy, or whose rights are being taken away?
Don’t know where to start?
Begin by learning more about the Idle No More movement, and learn to about what Chief Theresa Spence is doing, and why.
Feel free to leave any comments.
Racist ones will not be put through in order to demonstrate to bigots what it’s like to be suppressed, and left without a voice.
Thomas D. Taylor
Co-Creator of Midnight In Chicago, and author of “Geo-213: The Lost Expedition,” “Evil Creeps In: A Tale of Exorcism,” and other books.
(This post has also been published on Elyse Bruce’s blog. )