Racism and Attawapiskat

Racism towards First Nations people seems to be on the rise in Canada, as it is elsewhere across the world.

The major print media in Canada are awash in commentary I believe reads as racist, whether or not it is intended to be. Take for instance the following concluding paragraph in an editorial by Tasha Kheiriddin in the National Post:

“what is the answer to improving the lives of those aboriginal children in Charlie Angus’ video? It is scrapping the Indian Act and putting a stop to aboriginal apartheid. It is getting them and their families out of Attawapiskat to places where they can access opportunity and make something of their lives. Their land may give aboriginals a past, but unless it also gives them a future, it should not yoke generation after generation of kids to a life of poverty and despair.”

Or this from Jonathon Kay (also via the National Post)

“I’m not the first to say this. Five years ago, in response to similar problems at the Kashechewan First Nation reserve on James Bay, in northern Ontario, a brave government-appointed expert named Alan Pope produces a report urging (among other recommendations) that the community be closed down and moved to the outskirts of Timmins, Ont., 450 kilometres to the south. But the community rejected the recommendation, politicians moved on from the issue and nothing much happened.

Nor do I expect any similarly bold solution to be acted on — or even put forward — in the case of Attawapiskat. If he wanted to do something, Mr. Harper has the political capital to create a truly new and helpful policy for dismantling the most hopeless and remote aboriginal reserves. But like all Canadian politicians, he is beholden to the myth that one of these days — just wait! — places like Attawapiskat will take a sudden turn toward prosperity after rediscovering their ancient culture in some mystical way that defies everything we know about economics and human nature.

Canada’s aboriginal policy is based on magical thinking. But instead of casting spells, we just spend more money. Misery on reserves: Your tax dollars at work.”

This, of course, smacks of the forced movement of Native Americans from homelands and reserves into the cities during the middle decades of the last century, a policy that destroyed many Native lives and much culture. There are few Natives in the U.S. who would argue that the policy aided Native people. It should be no wonder “the community (Attawapiskat) rejected the recommendation.”

Also, apparently, Canada owes Native people nothing, or if it does, it can no longer afford to pay its treaty obligations. There seems a total lack of understanding that the country of Canada exists only because Europeans stole land from First Nati

One wonders whether the short memory and revisionist history of the American apologists for the Native American  genocide (also known as Manifest Destiny) is now gaining a strong hold in Canada.

Could all this discussion about ending the reserve system be just another colonial land grab.After all, there are lots of “resources to be exploited” underneath reserve lands. All of this says nothing about the history of taking Native children away for “their own good” and the generations of suffering that caused. But then, how often have those who use colonial means to destroy Native people and culture care about suffering?

Our extended family has both Jewish and Native heritage. Reading and listening to the rhetoric from the U.S. and Canadian apologists for genocide brings back harsh associations. After all, these remarks are reminiscent of the language used to justify sterilizations, residential schools, forced relocation,  and the theft of farms and ranches from Native Americans.  They are also the language that supported the disenfranchisement of European Jewry, setting the stage for the Holocaust are all echoed in the above quoted writing.

For a full discussion of racism in the discussion of First Nations poverty in Attawapiskat, see this blog post by âpihtawikosisân

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