Imagine someone stole your $1 600 laptop.
You know who it was, but the cops won’t pursue charges. You question the thief. He says he took your laptop because you weren’t using it as much as he does, and that he has a right to it. You made your living using that laptop, and now you are broke. The thief now uses your laptop for his living and is doing very well. You are suffering dire poverty without your work tool.
It was your laptop a few weeks ago. Will it be your laptop still next month? Next year? When will it become not your laptop? Would it ever be so long ago that it doesn’t matter anymore? Do you think you would ever get to the point where you would think, “He was bigger than me, so he had the right to take my laptop?” Probably not.
So why do so many of us European-Canadians use these types of justifications to rationalize our government’s illegal expropriation of indigenous lands and resources?
Indigenous Canadians have suffered through a legacy of abuse through the growth of this nation, from residential schools to the Orwellian legislation of the Indian Act and beyond. But acknowledging the abysmal treatment of indigenous peoples is not the same as saying all non-indigenous people should pack up and leave. Nobody on any side of this dialogue is saying that.
We have to be honest with ourselves about the history and the current situation and move forward. It’s high time we change the way we think about indigenous people. I welcome any Idle No More-type movement that pushes our government to let indigenous people have their rightful seat at the table, a stake in the game and a strong voice. A designated number of seats for indigenous people elected or selected by their own indigenous nations in our national and provincial legislative bodies, proportionate to the percentage of indigenous people in the population, would be a great first step and is already in place in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia. Indigenous access to traditional land and resources must be guaranteed.
Rather than municipal, regional, provincial or federal entities, indigenous nations are just what they sound like: nations. History shows what happens when one nation tries to eradicate another under the guise of “progress.” The outcomes are never pretty, and we’ve had enough of that in this country. We are better than that. We need to be better than this.
Indigenous people across North America are raising their voices as one and speaking in the only way we can hear them. Let’s keep our ears, minds and hearts open to this opportunity for long overdue true dialogue to begin. When it comes to respecting the dignity and rights of indigenous people, the Canadian government has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Our leaders are capable of doing the right thing, but they need to be pushed from below to do it. This conversation needs to happen today in our homes, schools and worksites. As Winston Churchill once said, “To jaw jaw jaw is always better than to war war war.”