As an outspoken activist, I'm often confronted with the question by people from a multitude of backgrounds, as well as my fellow First Nation people: why do I feel the need to talk about, speak about, and write about activism and political and social justice.
"You're not in poverty, why do you care?"
"I really don't think you should talk about it so much."
"Why can't we all forget about it and just live and let live?"
"Rob... why is it SUCH a big deal?"
Why is it such a big deal? And why do I care?
Activism matters to me as First Nation person because the "powers that be" continue to impose their unjust and capricious legislations on me and my family in the form of laws and acts.
For example, the recently enacted Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) would undermine my and my family's rights to the tax exemption for which our leaders had to organize and fight to protect - not to mention the current capping and underfunding of education which one can justifiably question due to our living, historical treaties rooted in sharing our traditional lands and territories.
And the 1985 Abocide amendment in the Indian Act cuts our future generations out of access to whatever honoured Treaty Rights they retain by bottlenecking and dwindling our status-recognized populations to zero, contingent on intermarriage as we move further towards zero hour: the clock is ticking towards this reality and the only substantial efforts to challenge this have been in the form of passing the fight to our children or grandchildren rather than dealing with it in our time. Not to forget that we still fight to hold onto uninfringed hunting rights, fishing rights, and the 1794 Jay Treaty (which does get forgotten).
Let us not forget that the opposing forces that give steam to these infringements and freedoms, and who benefit by us forgetting about our freedoms, are, of course, Federal and Provincial institutions. They are institutions which don't face the same sort of social inequities that over 600 First Nation communities experience such as abject poverty, suicide, and political and cultural genocide significant on a global scale, aspects that numerous studies have been interlocked with a history of colonization. Such victimization is given wings to the future with legislations that continue to infringe upon us and our families every day.
And what happened to Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, protection to the "Aboriginal" and Treaty Rights?
If they wish to fix the Canadian Constitution (specifically Section 35) to make it more accurate and truthful they'd have to put a Disclaimer at the end: "Must be 18, Void where prohibited, Some restrictions may apply."
I guess I missed the memo where honouring a Treaty was optional rather than guaranteed.
Activism matters to me as First Nation person because of the long history of subjugation done by legislation in our collective past, and continued in the present; one needs to look no further than the deplorable history of the Indian Act.
Here is a long list of transgressions worth knowing:
- The 1884 legislation prevented elected band leaders who have been deposed from office from being re-elected.
- The 1885 legislation that prohibited religious ceremonies and dances.
- The 1895 legislation outlawing of more ceremonies or giving away of funds or goods.
- The 1905 legislation to allow all "Aboriginal" people to be removed from Reserves near towns with more than 8,000 residents.
- The 1906 legislation to allow only 50 per cent of the sale price of Reserve lands to be given to band members following land surrender.
- The 1911 legislation to allow municipalities and companies to expropriate portions of reserves, without surrender, for roads, railways, and other public works, which was further amended to allow a judge to move an entire reserve away from a municipality if it was deemed "expedient" (Also called the Oliver Act).
- The 1914 legislation that required "Western Indians" to seek "official permission" before appearing in "aboriginal costume" in any "dance, show, exhibition, stampede or pageant."
- The 1918 legislation amendments that allowed the Superintendent-General to lease out uncultivated reserve lands to non-aboriginals if the new lease-holder would use it for farming or pasture.
- The 1920 legislation that allowed the Department of Indian Affairs to ban hereditary rule of bands and later amended to allow for the involuntary enfranchisement (and loss of treaty rights) of anyone considered unfit by the Department of Indian Affairs, without the possession of land previously required for those living off reserve. This was repealed two years later, but was reintroduced in a modified form in 1933.
- Let's not forget the 1927 legislation of the same Indian Act that prevented anyone (Aboriginal or otherwise) from soliciting funds for Indian legal claims without a special license from the Superintendent-General. This effectively prevented any First Nation from pursuing aboriginal land claims.
- How about the 1930 amendments to prevent a pool hall owner from allowing entrance to an Indian who "by inordinate frequenting of a pool room either on or off an Indian reserve misspends or wastes his time or means to the detriment of himself, his family or household" as the owner could face a fine or a one-month jail term?
- Not to mention the 1936 amendments that allowed Indian agents to direct band council meetings, and to cast a deciding vote in elections.
- The 1951 legislations to allow the sale and slaughter of livestock without an Indian Agent permit, as well as the realities of disenfranchisement and enfranchisement causing women to lose their status (access to Treaty Rights) and denying such status to any children from the marriage with non-indigenous folk. This was later amended to end the compulsory "enfranchisement" of men or bands.
- The 1985 Abocide and Pedigree (still with us) that was imposed similar to the blood-quantum-to-not rights push in the United States. According to Thomas King, around half of status Indians are currently marrying non-status people, meaning this legislation will accomplish complete legal assimilation in a matter of a few generations.
Many amendments have been swapped and traded, some ended, some continued; the fact of the matter is our communities still exist under this shadow.
Importantly, we still cannot determine who our own recognized citizens are on our own terms. And encroaching infringements, acts, and legislations in the Treaty #3 region alone?
I ask our leaders to open their eyes and examine such infringements of acts and legislations that have been imposed upon us, and how numerous modern acts have impacted us by such impositions.
They include: the Indian Act, Unemployment Insurance Act, Labour Code of Canada, National Housing Act, National Museums Act, National Parks Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Environmental Protection Act, Migratory Birds Act, Fisheries Act, Excise Tax Act, Customs Act, Income Tax Act, Statutory Instruments Act, Financial Administration Act, Department of Indian Affairs Act, Youth Offenders Act, Criminal Code, Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadian Bill of Rights, Canadian Bill of Rights Act, Federal Court Act, Canada Health Act, Citizenship Act, Estates, Death Registration, Economic Development, Cultural Development, Social Development, Monies: Capital and Revenue, Property, Reserve Boundaries, Marriage Registration, Birth Registration, Indian Status Number, Government Structure, Elections, Term, Titles, Recall and Impeachment, By-Elections, Procedures, Duties, By-Laws, Band Council Resolutions, Referenda, Public Lands Act, Police Services Act, Ontario Water Resources Act, Education Act, Wild Rice Act, Environmental Protection Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Ontario Labour Relations Act, Human Rights Act, Social Services GWA, Game and Fish Act, Parks Act, Mining Act, Cemeteries Act, Heritage Act, Public Lands Act, Planning Act... and on... and on...
And how about the newly pushed-for Far North Act?
Activism matters to me as First Nation person because of the heavy push to stifle progress for our communities by the co-opting of leaders and organization by those who benefit from political, legal, and cultural assimilation and bottlenecking and eviscerating access to our own Treaty Rights for lands and resources we continue to share in agreement.
Activism matters to me as First Nation person because in 1928 a government official predicted Canada would end its "Indian problem" within two generations.
Church-run, government-funded residential schools for native children were enacted to "Kill the Indian and Save the Man" where the aims of assimilation meant devastation for the thousands upon thousands upon thousands who were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Canada made a "historic apology" about this past victimization, but weeks later was one of four Nations on the planet who voted "No!" to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People because it was "fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework" and described as "unworkable in a Western democracy" and a constitutional government by INAC's Chuck Strahl.
The United States, New Zealand, and Australia, countries with the highest population of indigenous people joined Canada in saying "No!" to this declaration; where indigenous people (in our GLOBAL community) face the same as we. Only one of these nations has currently reversed this decision.
Activism matters to me as First Nation person because so many of us have internalized the homogeneous, state-sponsored term "Aboriginal" before we defined and reclaimed ourselves by our diverse, unique, and very alive and individual Nation names: Anishinaabe, Sto:lo, Cowichan, Songhees. By internalizing the homogeneous, state-sponsored term "Aboriginal", our population grows, but our cultures and nations begin to die.
Activism matters to me as First Nation person because in one breath, Canada demonstrated to the world its "cherished diversity" and how much it respected First Nations, while at the same time attempting to hamstring Treaty Rights and Privileges by means of the Harmonized Sales Tax taking place in Ottawa to the East during the planning stages of the 2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony in the West. The dancing grounds hadn't even cooled before INAC told many of our education counsellors in Ontario about education rights being undermined so they fall miles short of what was intended.
How many times do we wrap ourselves in that nice, warm gift blanket before we realize that what is going on gives us coughs and chills anyway?
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because I realized very early that the aim of assimilative policies is still with us today, only appearing to be different.
Whether by being physically force-fed a pill that knowingly harms us (such as the Residential Schools), by abuse of power and financial coercion (such as funding cuts to programs), sweetly telling us that pills are good for us and the doctor is here to help (such as INAC shares from a friendly tongue), or using those who we have come to trust to dispense pills to those around them (such as co-opting of Chiefs and Councils)...
...in the end, are we not swallowing the same pill?
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because of the recent pushes to privatize our sovereign lands in the same vein as the 1887 Dawes Act in the United States.
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because if we continue to accept an abusive relationship with Aboriginal Affairs and Canada, defined by control, devaluation, and coercion, how can we possibility tell our youth, our men, and our women that abuse is "wrong" and expect them to listen?
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because of massive cuts in programs such as health and education, where we as First Nation people face crisis in disproportionate numbers.
Activism matters to me because of 500+ (and growing) missing and murdered indigenous and First Nation women, which both media and mouthpieces have buried in the basements of memory while Canada refuses to search.
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because the reach for the lands we have left are being targeted for nuclear and other such hazardous waste that organizations claim is "safe", but refuse to bury it in their own backyards.
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because cuts to education have an effect on our non-First Nation brothers and sisters as education cuts continue to influence the outcome of massively low graduation rates (52 per cent in 2001), and even lower university graduation rates of 8.9 per cent, despite growing indigenous populations throughout Canada.
Ottawa's Centre for the Study of Living's study concludes that not only would two of the most significant dilemma's facing the economy of Canada (slow labour force and productivity growth) be addressed, if the problems of First Nations education were addressed, but Canada's gross domestic product (GDP) would grow by $71 billion if indigenous and First Nations people had the same graduation rate as the rest of the Canadian population.
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because of the many leaders who have sold out their own, our generations and future generations for personal and monetary privilege, leaders who have remained motionless in times of crisis or those that have ceded who were are and what we have left by enacting decisions without our voice, but in our name.
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because of responsibility to my family, those that came before, those that share this time with us, and those that have yet to join us.
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because as an amazing Metis singer and songwriter sings, "I saw a child look up and smile at me as if to say 'It's for me you've got to pray, it's for me you've got to stay. It's for me you've got today. And something tells me that I'm born at the right time.'"
Activism matters to me as a First Nation person because I have a responsibility to those I may never meet. It's 2010. Nobody ever says anything. Everybody wants to sit back and let problems work their way out. It's been how many years and this problem still isn't fixed.
It's time YOU do something.
I'm not only talking to certain individual federal and provincial assimilationists, unsupportive apologists, or those who champion strives and projects "for us" which pave many roads with good intentions, but with solutions that remain greatly on terms that are not our own.
I'm talking to you too, my fellow First Nation and indigenous people and nations, who continue sit there and let yourselves be trampled on convinced that "that's just the way it is."
That's not the way it is unless you let it be. Open your mouth. Use your voice. This is delusion on a massive scale. Delusion that affects you every day whether or not you realize it.
Why Do I Care?
Here's a better question:
Why Don't You?
Robert Animikii Horton, "Bebaamweyaazh", an Anishinaabe member of Rainy River First Nations of Manitou Rapids and from the Marten Clan, has built a reputation as a progressive and outspoken activist, contrarian writer, and respected orator on an international scale, speaking on topics such as community organizing, political/social/economic justice, and youth empowerment. He is a sociologist, social and political activist, and spoken-word poet.
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