Clearing the Air for Dialogue

Mainstream Media, Money Myths and Aboriginal Affairs

  • Graphic Flora Hammond

The words aboriginal, Native, Indian and First Nations come across as four-letter words.

The average Canadian hears them, and is faced with strong emotions.

Anger. Sadness. Hate. Disgust.

These attitudes can be chalked up to an overwhelming ignorance, with the average person simply not knowing enough—or anything at all, aside from what is often merely vicious lies disguised as truth—about Native issues and why they are important to the entire country.

The cascading ignorance that has come from the mainstream media after the massive Idle No More awareness campaign was launched late last year is, quite frankly, appalling.

The ugly writing by mainstream newspaper columnists, such as that displayed by Terry Glavin, who trivialized the issue of suicide among Native teenagers, and Christie Blatchford making fun, in a childish way, of Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, is sickening—but the fact that it has been accepted by a large number of readers is gut-wrenching.

Jumping on the bandwagon and attacking whole ethnicities seems to be the accepted form of expression when it comes to Aboriginal Peoples.

To their credit, some mainstream newspaper columnists and editorialists have chosen to take the high road and actually comment on the Idle No More movement like they would any other—with an objective outlook that weighs both sides of the issue.

After all, that is what good journalism is.

So, why is it so easy for some to flout those rules and push forward an agenda that is not based on social change or the benefit to the collective, but rather the continued spread of hatred and venom, aimed directly at aboriginal people?

Very little is know about Native people in general, and it is the media’s duty to help dispel myths, not encourage them.

For example: money.

Why do we “get” money from the government? In a nutshell, our land and access to our natural resources were “exchanged” in the name of treaties.

We lost access to 95 per cent of our original land bases, including hunting and fishing, trapping and farming, in exchange for the “privilege” of not having to pay tax to a country called Canada that still remains, to our sovereign nations, a foreign government.

Meanwhile, that pittance of $6 billion that goes through Aboriginal Affairs, a huge portion of which is eaten up by consultants, lawyers and administration before it even gets to our communities?

Trillions of dollars are extracted from our lands annually in the name of development, which we get little or nothing from. You do the math.

Does this sound fair?

This is the best way to describe it: Someone comes to your house and decides to plant a garden in your back yard, eating and selling the vegetables, but giving you nothing in return.

They then decide to take over your bedrooms, your kitchen and your bathroom. Then they decide that they want to charge you for the privilege of living in “their” house.

Ridiculous and unacceptable, you say? This is why Idle No More and collective Native movements are so important.

Native people helped fight in every war for Canada. We helped to defeat the Americans, beat back the French and stand up for a country that continues to push us around to this day.

Bill C-45—which targets land usage on reserves, eliminates the protection of most waterways, and was shoved down the throats of Natives and non-Natives alike by a majority government that simply flouts democracy at will—helped to spur the Idle No More movement.

Idle No More is a non-violent, peaceful movement that is gaining momentum by hitting universities and bringing real knowledge on Native issues to the forefront, to the students who will one day make a difference in the House of Commons, in court, on the street—tomorrow’s professionals.

If you don’t know about an issue, especially something as important as the history and current reality of the first inhabitants of this land, it is up to you to learn more until you form an educated opinion.

The future of the country depends on your ability to ask questions and not be blinded by agendas motivated by racism.

And be careful where you look for knowledge—because it is clear you won’t learn tolerance and acceptance from “leaders” like Stephen Harper.

Steve Bonspiel is the Editor and publisher of Kahnawake’s community newspaper The Eastern Door. An award-winning journalist from the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, Steve’s work has appeared in the Montreal Gazette the Calgary Herald, the Toronto Star, Windspeaker and Nunatsiaq News.

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