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OPINION Maurice Switzer, Why I passed on the Liberal Lollapalooza

First Peoples don't want to cancel Canadians' birthday festivities, just let them know why they aren't joining in.
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Indian and Canadian flag

So, if you had a neighbour who kept stealing stuff from your yard, and constantly screamed obscenities at your kids, would you attend his birthday party if you got an invitation in your mailbox?

How about if you had a neighbour who stole your yard and kidnapped your kids?

Now you have some idea of how First Nations people feel about all the fuss being made over Canada's 150th birthday.

In the first place, 150 years isn't very long to people who've been around for thousands of years – it leaves one with the same feeling you get when you see some wet-behind-the-ears pup like Justin Bieber publishing an autobiography – TOO SOON!

People need to understand that those 150 years just happen to represent the worst period in history for the first peoples to inhabit these lands. There sure weren't any July 1st fireworks displays in the 100 First Nations who have lived under boil-water advisories – some of them for over a decade.

The $500 million spent by the federal government on Canada's sesquicentennial bash is triple the amount it was ordered by a human rights tribunal to provide for equal funding for First Nations child welfare agencies. This discriminatory gap is literally costing Native kids their lives.

Here are some of the reasons why Indigenous peoples have been less than enthusiastic about participating in the Liberal Lollapalooza. There are many more, but we just want to offer them in dribs and drabs – a trickle -- enough information to rain a little on the parade, not entirely engulf it.

  • The Bering Strait Theory: a harebrained notion that Indigenous peoples trotted across an ice bridge separating Mongolia from Alaska 12,000 years ago to make America their home. This canard is repeated in Canadian textbooks despite being continually discredited, most recently by findings that push the estimate back by over 100,000 years. They couldn't convict O.J. Simpson on DNA evidence, so please don't try to carbon date us with that trick.
  • The Doctrine of Discovery: In 1452 Pope Nicholas V decreed that any lands encountered by the explorers of Roman Catholic countries like France, England, Spain, Italy and Portugal could be considered “empty” if its occupants did not share the same religious beliefs as the so-called “discoverers”. This uber-racist doctrine has never been repealed, and was used as justification for the colonization of most of the world by zealous Europeans who were similarly misguided in their notions that the world was flat and the sun revolved around it.
  • Whenever I drive by that monument to Jacques Cartier on Main St. West in North Bay, I am reminded that the two sons of Chief Donnacona were kidnapped by Cartier in 1534 on the French explorer's first trip up the St. Lawrence River, where he was greeted with great hospitality at the Iroquoian village of Stadacona. Cartier whisked them off to show as trophies to the King of France in what undoubtedly qualifies as the worst example of making a good first impression in the history of European diplomacy.
  • Two Mohawk chiefs were killed by the same musket-ball fired by Samuel de Champlain during a 1609 sortie into what is now upper New York State in which the celebrated “Father of New France” accompanied Huron fur-trading partners. This alliance resulted in the Iroquois virtually annihilating the Huron Nation within the next 50 years. Don't think that episode did much to contribute to Sam's Order of Good Cheer.
  • Seven years was the length of the apprenticeship the Hudson Bay Company required applicants with any Indian heritage to serve if they hoped to get jobs with the greedy multinational fur merchant. At the same time, raw European recruits qualified immediately for employment.
  • Four months – how long it took King George III in 1763 to whip together the Royal Proclamation after Odawa chief Pontiac and a couple of hundred warriors captured nine British forts on what was the western frontier of Canada. Pontiac was not impressed with the arrogant English, who had defeated the French in the Seven Years' War and experimented in germ warfare by distributing smallpox-infected blankets among the Natives. The Royal Proclamation humbly recognized that “the Indian tribes of North America” were nations, who were not to be “molested” in their own lands. This certainly wasn't the only legal promise that settler Canadians would break with their Indigenous hosts, but certainly one of the biggest.
  • The largest gathering of Indigenous leaders in the history of the North American continent – 3,000 chiefs, representing 24 Nations of peoples living around the Great Lakes – convened at Fort Niagara in July, 1764. They heard the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for British North America – Sir William Johnston – pitch the first major treaty on the continent. In exchange for the rights to create settlements and share existing Indian territories, the King's representative offered an estimated 35,000 gifts, the cash equivalent in today's terms of $20 million, a huge swath of the centre of North America to be set aside as exclusive Indian territory, and a sacred promise to the assembled chiefs that “Your people will never be poor; they will never want for the necessities of life.....as long as the sun shines, as long as the grass grows, as long as the rivers run, and as long as the British wear red coats.” Europeans call that “statesmanship”. Indians call it “lying through your teeth”.

On July 1st, 2017, thousands of Canadians squished through puddles on a soggy Parliament Hill to celebrate 150 years of peaceful settlement. They applauded performers on a huge stage,then oohed and aahed at a magnificent fireworks display, all of which lavish cost will be approved by their Members of Parliament as a legitimate entertainment expense incurred by Justin Trudeau. Afterwards, maybe some of them still sober enough to walk strolled along the Ottawa River and heard it roar over the Chaudiere Falls, just as it did 400 years earlier when Sam Champlain paddled through the area. And many posed for selfies beside Mounties wearing their scarlet Red Serge tunics.

The half-billion-dollar party took place on land that has never been legally acquired by the Government of Canada from its First Nations stewards, and was watched on television by thousands of people, some of whom live in homes without a safe source of drinking water, and whose children experience the highest degrees of poverty, disease, and youth suicide in the Western world.

Excuse us for not feeling in the birthday party mood.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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