May 25, 2012
North Bay Golden Age Club
349 Wigston Drive
North Bay, ON P1A 1X2
Dear Mr. Graham:
I am extremely disappointed and concerned about your unwillingness to provide an alternative viewpoint - as follows --to be published in the Golden Age Club’s bulletin following the publication of anonymous misinformation about First Nations people on Page 53 of your club's March, 2012 Bulletin.
We are all related
There is a great deal of misunderstanding, misinformation, and just plain ignorance on the part of many Canadians about First Nations peoples and their issues. The Union of Ontario Indians, political voice for 39 First Nations across Ontario, takes very seriously our responsibility to respond to any attempts by any individual or group to deliberately distribute information relevant to our 57,000 citizens that we feel is incorrect, inappropriate, or racist in nature.
Unfortunately, it is not as difficult as we would like to find examples of such information in our territory, although most of it – like the example published in your March bulletin – is anonymous, and has its origins on the Internet where propagators of hate speech can thrive without having to identify themselves.
Some points in response to the article in question:
• First Nations people were the first inhabitants of what is now called Canada, a historic fact recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Constitution, both of which make reference to the concept of aboriginal rights – meaning the land rights that peoples retain by virtue of having been original occupants.
• The Bering Strait land/ice bridge theory has been refuted by most members of the world’s scientific community, due to discovery of artifacts in southern parts of Turtle Island – North America – that do not match the theory’s suggested timelines. In fact, a very good case can be made that the traffic went the other way – that people who populated Asia had their origins on this continent!
• First Nations peoples did defend their territories and did occasionally fight with their neighbours, although not nearly with the frequency or to the extent that Europeans did. At the time people like Columbus were landing on our shores, Europeans were being burned at the stake for believing that the Earth went around the sun, or other such “heresies”. By far the biggest killer of the Huron who lived in what is now central Ontario was smallpox and other diseases brought by European settlers.
• Like most nations successful in battle, Indians took captives – surely that was a better fate than being killed? – some of whom actually became adopted members of their new communities.
• There are over 800 unresolved land claims yet to be adjudicated in Canada. It is a credit to this country’s respect for the rule of law that successive federal governments of all political stripes recognize their legal obligation to provide compensation for traditional Indian territories that were wrongfully and/or illegally obtained for settlement, whose original inhabitants were displaced in what amounts to “ethnic cleansing”, and which, in some cases, were actually stolen by government officials acting in concert with private entrepreneurs.
• No Canadian force has ever defeated or “conquered” First Nations in battle. Native leaders often were forced to accept treaties and reserves so their peoples could avoid starvation or death. Europeans may have been more “technologically advanced” by inventing steam engines, but the world has benefitted from such Native “inventions” as canoes, the first cultivation of such major crops as corn, rice, potatoes and tomatoes, and over 500 medicines still being used in modern pharmacology. And Indians willingly shared all these things with newcomers – they did not take out patents and sell them.
• First Nations made hundreds of treaties with settler governments that they understood established a relationship of sharing the use of the land and its resources. In keeping their part of the bargain, our ancestors remained staunch allies of the Crown, playing an instrumental role in fending off an American invasion in 1812, and enlisting in higher per capita numbers than any other identifiable group in subsequent international conflicts involving Canada– despite the fact that they were exempt from military service by treaty right! First Nations warriors were among the most decorated enlisted soldiers ever to wear Canadian military uniforms – Cpl. Francis Pegahmagabow of Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound was awarded the Military Medal for battlefield bravery three times; Sgt. Tommy Prince of the Brokenhead Indian Reserve in Manitoba was decorated nine times in World War II and also enlisted in the Korean Conflict.
• Because Canada has not lived up to its treaty promises, First Nations have endured unacceptable levels of poverty, poor health and sub-standard living conditions. Canadian companies and governments have made trillions of dollars from selling the resources taken from traditional First Nations lands, without fulfilling their treaty promises to share that wealth. First Nations want their young people to have the same education and employment opportunities as their neighbours’ children.
• To refer to anyone’s culture as “nonsense” is, at best, intolerant, at worst, racist. The First Nations citizens who have become doctors, lawyers, artists, and even astronauts, are just as “modern” as any other peoples, and usually credit their cultural values for helping them achieve their personal and professional goals.
• On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood up in the House of Commons and told the world: “The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.” More importantly, he talked about the need for “a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together … to contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us.”
• So far those are just words which need to be put into action by all good-minded citizens of Canada. Otherwise, talk is cheap – as cheap as the anonymous drivel your editor published on Page 53 of your March bulletin.
We are all related.
Director of Communications
Union of Ontario Indians