week I went to visit a peaceful protest where my daughter Loryn attends
university here in British Columbia, Canada. According to their Facebook event page, it involved "various
students and community members speaking to Idle No More topics as well
as traditional drumming and singing throughout the day."
The Simon Fraser University (SFU) press release stated, "
Idle No More movement may not be front-and-centre in national media
coverage right now, but that doesn’t mean Aboriginal students, staff and
alumni at SFU have forgotten about it. The global grassroots movement aimed at getting the Canadian government
to resolve longstanding Aboriginal economic and social issues movement
came to life last fall."
A lot of people I talk to seem to think Idle No More is part of the Occupy movement. It's far from it. I think the Occupy movement got to ride on the coat tails of Idle No More as it was gearing up when the Occupy was losing steam, however Occupy gave wings to so many other movements like Idle No More. I am almost offended that people compare them, as Idle No More is connected to the First Peoples of Canada, who should be treasured out of respect, and it relates to the well-being of the ecological nature of Canadian lands and natural resources. As the Native proverb goes, "Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children."
An attendee of the rally at Simon Fraser University for Idle No More Photo: Robbin Whachell
My children all grew up in The Bahamas after being born and spending some early years in Canada. They love that they have had the opportunity to enjoy another country and to return home, claiming memories from both worlds. One thing they continually tell me is that they feel richer by the experience, as it gave them a perspective unlike those that grew up solely in Canada or The Bahamas. They now have a deeper appreciation and awareness of both worlds.
It was while living in The Bahamas that we learned of our Native status as "Métis." In those thirteen years away, much had changed in Canada, and so coming home was like resuming an even more meaningful identity. Through her own volition, her studies and family influences, my daughter Loryn embracing her cultural roots in a big way.
I also find it interesting, and significant, that The Bahamas is where Columbus started his annihilation of the Indian.
At the rally at SFU I enjoyed the many interesting speakers, the powerful drumming circle and voices in Native tongue, the fresh fry bread, and some wonderful regalia (costume); most of which I had expected.
However what I had not expected, was the powerful and educational speech my 23 year old daughter Loryn delivered.
Loryn Blower, an environmental geography student and board member of the First Nations Student Assocation speaks at Simon Fraser University Idle No More rally on April 8th, 2013. She is support by Pam (left) and Jason 'Rocky' Carter (right) Photo: Robbin Whachell
This is what she said:
I would like to respectfully acknowledge that we are on unceded Coast Salish territory. My name is Loryn Blower, White Turtle Warrior. I am from the Métis nation, my ancestors are Lakota and Cree. I am an environmental geography student at Simon Fraser University. A board member for the First Nations Student Association and Public Interest Research Group here at SFU.
From 9-19 years of age I grew up in The Bahamas, a country of islands east of Florida. As I did not attend post-secondary education in Canada I cannot speak about its ability to educate the public on First Nations issues, but I tell you – talking to my friends, family, etc. I am not impressed.
What becomes apparent when investigating my heritage is that that people do not know much! That is one of the reasons we have organized this event here at the university - to try to teach others about the cultural assimilation and subjection. We are Idle No More and we want to 'know more' and we want others to know more.
The outlook is not good though - every time I look deeper, it gets more and more upsetting. Like a car crash – sometimes you just want to look away! Here are some of the things that I think are important to know when we are discussing the subjugation of indigenous people. I could not begin to sum up all the histories but I attempt to place some perspective to the issue.
In 1763 King George III Issued a Royal Proclamation that recognized Indian ownership of lands in their possession and ‘reserved to them all unceded land’. It was made clear that Indian lands could only be transferred to the Crown, that aboriginal title is held as collective, and Crown has a fiduciary responsibility for First Nations.
The British North America Act was passed in 1867 ushering in legislative powers that marked the end of legally presumed First Nations Sovereignty.
The Indian Act was created in 1876 that outlined the control and enforced cultural assimilation that still dominates First Nations people in Canada.
“An Act Further to Amend the Indian Act”, passed, 1880 Section 3 amends the act to include a Potlatch ban. This holds any person participating in the festival, or encouraging it, liable to six months in prison. The potlatch is of particular importance to Pacific Coastal people. The potlatch consists of many cultural practices and ceremonies. Integral socio-political activities. Banning the potlatch is a clear attempt to split established political structure in order to enact cultural assimilation. This law prohibited weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies, dancing, and religion. The law was not revised until 1951, only 62 years ago.
The Oceanside Dakota Drum Group at Idle No More SFU rally on April 8th, 2013. Photo: Robbin Whachell
In 1885 a Pass System was introduced, in which Natives could not leave their reserve without permission from an Indian Agent or Farm Instructor that specified the purpose and duration of the travel. This lasted as an informal practice until 1930. Does this sound familiar? In 1902 a commission from South Africa visited Canada to study the pass system.
The Indian Act among many defined a ‘person’ as ‘an individual other than an Indian’...
Under this Act indigenous people became wards of the state. This means that the State is the person’s legal guardian even in adulthood. Status Indian’s are still wards of the State. Yes, we are still under this colonial, apartheid style law.
This, among many other pieces of information regarding the history and assimilation of my people, stunned me. Does anyone know!? Are we all living under a rock, sheltered by our own denial? Did this system of colonial assimilation work so well? It must! People are still disgustingly racist. It may not be apparent in day to day life, or maybe it occurs as the norm, and we take it for granted? Take a look at the comments section of online news articles today – it is quite revealing of peoples true thoughts and intent where harsh words are felt with ‘ordinary’ Canadians saying things such as, "all natives should be shot."
Journalist Marko Sijan, while stuck on a VIA rail train from Montreal to Toronto delayed by an Idle No More blockade wrote down things he overheard and recorded comments from passengers on the train. A middle-aged mother observed, "The only reason they're out there is because they don't have jobs." Her husband offered a solution to end the blockade: "Just give them a bushel of tobacco." Laughs. "And a box of glue." More laughs. A male student suggested, "If the train moves real slow, they'll have enough time to get out of the way and we can pass without running them over." His friend asked, rhetorically I hope, "Why can't we run 'em over?"
Maybe people who say that natives are lazy should understand that in 1955 Status Indians had their status enfranchised upon gaining a profession or a post-secondary degree. Thus they could no longer remain on reserve and effectively support their communities.
Children, forcefully taken and segregated into residential schools were taught a sub-standard education. Just enough education to assimilate into the dominant culture but not enough to empower individuals to improve their political situation.
The Canadian public seems to believe that First Nation's people get free hand outs. But, I assure you, First Nation’s people have not been privileged after first contact.
Regarding the idea that “Natives don't pay taxes” - Tax exemptions specifically apply to Status Indians who are doing work ON RESERVE or buying something ON RESERVE. The second their work involves transactions OFF RESERVE they are paying the same taxes as everyone else. Also if they purchase things OFF RESERVE. There is also a tax exemption for personal property for land on reserve. When subtracting children aged 0-14 from the tax base this leaves only 272,000 First Nation's people to qualify for such exemptions.
What is a reserve? One would hope it would be a land in which First Nations could exercise their unceded political, cultural and economic autonomy, but the Indian Act still defines it as, a “tract of land, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, that has been set apart by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of a band”. Few reserves have economic advantages (in order to gain large non-taxable revenues) and if they have economic advantages, they are held in trust by the Minister of Indian Affairs.
What Canadians must understand, is that this is a civil rights issue. It’s an issue of apartheid, legislated racism and subjugation. There will be a right side of history, and there will be a wrong side. Racist, stereotypical, biggest commentary will be the WRONG side of history. We need to put this into perspective with American Black Civil Rights. The segregation of people based on race is unacceptable. First Nations need to be autonomous in order to control their own lands and resources and be charge of their own membership, not a patriarchal enforcing status, non status system.
This Idle No More Movement is a push for human rights under the Constitution of Canada. Just the same as the Civil Rights Movement in America, this is our own Civil Rights Movement. It needs to be respected as such. First Nations deserve their own land, which they can be respected as the equal founders of this country. First Nations deserve constitutional rights that protect their autonomy and respect their civilization, their way of life, and their right to govern themselves.
I will leave you with one last point. Millions of bison used to roam Turtle Island. What happened to them? The herds were slaughtered in order to leave the First Nations with no food source, and to force them onto reserve. If you do not hear the need for social justice in the content of these speakers today – please try to understand the ties between First Nations Rights and the rights of water, air, forests and non-human animals.
All my relations,
Idle No More!
Friends of Idle No More; fry bread, speakers, and educational material - All the makings of a peaceful rally at Simon Fraser University Photos: Robbin Whachell
When my daughter Loryn was only 8 years old, I was tucking her in to bed one night, and as I went to turn out the light she asked, "Mom, why I am here?" I asked her what did she mean exactly, and she said, "Why am I here, on earth?"
I told her she was here to fulfill her destiny and to make a difference on the planet.
I can't say how
proud I was to hear my daughter speak that day, so connected to her homeland, and so
wise in her words. I shook the elk skin rattle she made me for my last birthday with pride as others in attendance cheered and beat on drums.
My white skinned, dread-locked beautiful girl has felt the stings of racism, in her own country as well as The Bahamas, yet she seeks to understand it and make change. I know she is one step closer to fulfilling her destiny. She is a gift to those around her and cares so much about the planet and its people.
I feel blessed to have birthed her. I am proud to
About the author: Robbin
Whachell is a publicist, writer, photo-journalist; and co-founder/
editor of one of The Bahamas' leading news sites, TheBahamasWeekly.com.
Ms. Whachell is a successful entrepreneur and pioneer in online
marketing. Aside from being a recognized media personality and community
builder, she is known for her networking and social media skills, and
has a background in information management and film.She can be
found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype. Reach Robbin by email at Editor@thebahamasweekly.com