Mother, Nehiyaw, Metis, & Itisahwâkan – career communicator. This is my collection of opinions, stories, and the occasional rise to, or fall from, challenge. In other words, it's my party, I can fun if I want to. Artwork by aaronpaquette.net
Calling oneself Indigenous or First Nations is equal to calling oneself European or African. Neither of these regions are a single culture. They are a multitude of nations, customs & traditions. So it is for the Indigenous in North America.
It’s often asked in Canada, “what makes someone Metis”? Asked & answered by the Metis Nation in 2002 and received Canadian recognition of it. The real question should be, “what makes one Indigenous”? Who believes a distant ancestor from a generation over 100 yrs ago or more now qualifies anyone to be recognized as Indigenous? You might be surprised by the number in Canada who think they are – in the hundreds of thousands.
When one says they want to connect with their Indigenous culture, but can’t name the nation they’re from, what then? This is where the Metis Nation is often chosen because of the misinformation it’s a culture that accepts any mixed ancestry. That is not the case, as is being spoken about frequently now by design to educate the public.
The Metis Nation has specific unique languages and customs & traditions of its own. There is a verification process in place for this nation. It is being enforced now because of widespread fraud (intended or not) that takes from the Metis Nation reputation and all opportunities meant for them as an Indigenous people.
So, what about those who got lost in the diaspora caused by Canadian policies? I’m well aware of the separation from Indigenous culture by events like residential schools and the 60’s Scoop. I was one of those kids. I’m also aware that I was lucky to know exactly what my nations are and the names of my grandparents, but I had to search for everything from there to know where I came from, including the customs & traditions of my nations.
Re-connection to one’s culture can only be attained by connecting with cultural centres or relations who can help guide anyone who knows at least their nation. Otherwise we’re really only learning about someone else’s nation and customs, aren’t we?
Although the Cree Nation is well known, I knew I came specifically from the Plains Cree. That was important because there are different Cree nations: Plains, Swampy, Woods, Moose, etc. They all have differences in their languages and customs in the same way any European grouping like the Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian do.
So calling oneself First Nations or Indigenous is not an automatic entry into a grand, pan-Indigenous experience. It certainly looks like that from many people’s promoted experiences of doing just that, but there is dishonesty in that; it does nothing in honouring one’s ancestors or culture.
These efforts only sustain and cement stereotypical ideas as often taught by ‘self-identified/proclaimed Indigenous people’ and onto those Canadian promotional materials using the Plains nations tipis and headdresses to depict an entire culture of cultures. This is rather insulting considering these items were never used in most Indigenous nations.
There are millions of people on this continent from Africa. They have no idea where their families originated from there; a continent of nations. They do not and cannot assume to know which nation is theirs. Some have been very lucky to learn their own historical truths, but most will never know. Unfortunately, this is the case for some people of Indigenous ancestry.
It’s criminal that this sad history persists, but no Indigenous nation is responsible for this horrific stain on Canada’s history. Neither are they obligated to let in just anyone who comes knocking on their door. This includes the Metis Nation. This seems to seriously antagonize a lot of people who want to claim themselves Metis regardless of their history. It may be infuriating and heartbreaking, but that is not the responsibility of the Metis Nation and its people.
So, where do people who don’t know their nations go? I don’t have an answer for that any more than I’d be able to tell African Americans what to do for representation. The only thing that can be done is an ancestral hunt to the best of one’s ability with a heap of good luck thrown in. This unfortunate diaspora is Canada’s doing and what they will do to make it right is the greatest unknown. In all honestly, I doubt it will be much.
Last week I had the honour (& brief stomach churning fear) of hosting IndigenousXca on Twitter. As the forum notes: it’s a rotating Twitter account presented by a different Indigenous Host each week. Their hosts have included actors, activists, authors, academics, politicians, teachers, doctors, students, and one Pipisiw – me.
This forum was started in Australia in 2012 and in Canada in 2014 as a platform for Indigenous people to share their knowledge, opinions and experiences with a wide audience which is now a following of several thousand.
As I was getting my feet wet with a few opening tweets, one of the administrators posted a point about clean houses. What about ‘em? Well, let me share my tweets on how a clean house affected my family. No hyperbole, no “other mitigating circumstances”. …
I saw @apihtawikosisan (Chelsea Vowel) post about fears for Indigenous people around a clean house. What that means, as she pointed out, is a clean enough house. As in clean enough to not have your kids taken away. Her post tightened my belly…
It took me back to those moments when I was a child & the air all around us got thick & tight, while my mother would fly around the house with sweat falling off her face from a mix of the physical labour of madly cleaning & terror.
Even as little kids, my sisters & I would instinctively jump to help because we knew this kind of cleaning meant a social worker was coming. We didn’t even know what the consequences of not having “a clean house” really meant, but we knew what it felt like. Breathing was hard.
The government had a power over my mother that terrified her, until it broke her & then we learned “or else” meant we were going to be taken away.
My mother had already lived enough in terror, my father was a broken man & he alone put her through enough by then. She got away from him and what she needed was help – not constant judgement, especially for pittances that kept her on another tight leash.
I remember she was often told she was not to drink. She was not to have any contact with my dad, no men at all, they said, & she needed to keep a clean house. Or else.
Today, I wonder what might have been had any of us been offered a place for our fears then. If my mom had been offered support for coping and maybe even a pat on the back for having got her 6 babies away from an abusive situation by herself.
Maybe supportive, restorative measures weren’t well understood back then, but they are now. All this money poured into employment for provinces in the guise of social work. All the training for foster parents and adoption processes…
All the money given to municipalities in support of those foster parents & restoring municipalities, like the re-opening of schools in New Brunswick because the loads of Indigenous foster kids revived their town to that degree.
Why isn’t this money used for family restorative healing in our communities instead? I feel I answered my own question with my question, because Canada uses the Indigenous not only for land & resources, but constant make-work industries that still terrify mothers (& fathers) to this day.
I hadn’t thought about these particular experiences for years and my visceral reaction to reading Chelsea’s words was very unexpected. What’s still infuriating is that these Indigenous truths are still happening to many families even as I type these words. The stories are noted on Twitter, social media and news media daily.
Yes, it’s all real, and most Canadians remain blissfully unaware of such threats. They can’t even begin to fathom that the dishes sitting in their sink and the dirt on their floor could be enough cause to lose their babies, and in some cases, for good.
Most can’t grasp the depth of Indian Act-induced poverty, and the effects of life under constant judgement and duress and the numerous consequences; the falls into addictions, the escalating abuses in homes, the needs for mental healthcare and on and on and on.
A messy house still terrifies my 75 yr. old aunt. She became OCD about it to this day. My 75 yr. old mom has learned to relax about it – a little, finally. Me? Years of counseling to work out those terrors and I’m now a certified horrible housekeeper – and I don’t give a damn. Of course, my child is now 16; we are reasonably safe.
Two years of dedication to informing, amusing, irritating, or boring! I know how to perform to expectation. At least, I think so, but considering this is the day of green beer again, I won’t guarantee anything through a lens of verdant bubbles.
For 24 months as of today, I have loved meeting new you’s and the pals who’ve stuck around long enough for me to able to call them friend. I am so pleased, honored, and humbled by that; you are the quality of life. You have no idea how you’ve shaped my world, but you have and for the better. Thank you for everything you’ve shared in your own amazing words of wisdom, your creativity, and most definitely your humor.
I’ve also used this past year to write more from time to time about my Indigenous ancestry and the issues that surround it. Yesterday, I came across a story I had no idea about and I doubt many do, but it couldn’t have made a more perfectly timed appearance in my newsfeed. It is about a March 1847 effort by the Choctaw people in Scullyville, Oklahoma, who gathered funds and provisions to help the Irish during their great famine.
This effort was a mere 17 years after the Choctow were among those made to walk the Trail of Tears to great desperation and decimation themselves. This year an Irish town will erect a pretty poignantly designed sculpture in gratitude to those Choctow. It’s quite a story and you can read about it here at Irish Central (March 6): Irish town builds memorial to thank Native Americans who helped during Famine
Memorial sculpture of eagle feathers in Cork, Ireland in thanks to the Choctaw Nation
Happy Green, Happy St. Paddy’s Day, and Happy 2 Awesome Years with Y’all!
I’m not an authority on all things Indigenous. I am only an authority on being one. Despite my great-grandfather, being an Indian signatory on Treaty 8, most of the information regarding our history with government oversight is new to me, as I expect it will be to most of you. What a shame this statement is.
I’ve condensed a huge amount of myth debunking information here, which I sincerely hope you’ll find interesting, enlightening, and worthy of sharing.
If you’ve ever read general media stories on Indigenous issues, coupled with what you likely learned in school, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have very light, usually unfavorable understanding, of First Nations peoples. Too often we’ve been portrayed as drains on society’s purse and guilt strings.
The headlines, commentaries, and letters to Editors that I see daily certainly provide ample evidence of that. We’re at a place now where we can rise to counter the myths and we should.
My son has been in our local school district’s Aboriginal Program since 1st grade and though his lessons have included more cultural detail and none of the talk about Indians terrorizing settlers that I’d learned, there’s wasn’t much beyond that except one disturbing lesson.
It was only 3 yrs ago, within the general curriculum, that he was taught that Indigenous children forced into the infamous residential schools was a good thing because they were able to get an education. For the record, those notorious schools are not ancient history; the last of them closed in 1996.
Apparently, those school lessons remain much the same for the general curriculum and Aboriginal program until graduation. There are no details added such as why the original Indian/Aboriginal/First Nations reserve system was created, what the rules were for living on them, and how they’re funded.
This is mainly what’s behind the long-held misconceptions about what and why things are the way they are. I don’t think this is by mistake. I think we were all misled by early and some current governmental efforts to hide, subvert, and muddy the details of Indigenous history and issues in Canada. I think there was disinterest by most media who, given generous benefit of the doubt, were likely unaware of the full picture too.
As more demands for governing transparency are made and more communications technology becomes available, we’re all learning far more, which benefits the Indigenous greatly by finally being heard in more vast and accessible ways. Government records are being posted online for all to review, including the many Indigenous peoples catching up in education.
As mentioned in my previous post, some of my recent discussions about First Nations were rife with that lack of education and full of bitter assertions, derision and accusations against First Nations. When I contradicted their understandings, barrels of outrage erupted. The chats quickly devolved into calling me names and mentally unfit.
The highlights of the madness that ensued are these:
“Since when do First Nations people pay taxes”?
We give you our taxes!
The majority of First Nations people do, in fact, pay all taxes. Of the 1,400,700 Indigenous as of 2011, which includes registered and non-registered First Nations, Metis, Treaty, and Inuit, all are required to pay income tax and the same goods and services taxes as everyone else.
As for those other often touted ‘free funds for Natives’, I’m a card carrying legitimately recognized Metis and I have yet to find any funding to meet my medical needs or for continuing education outside of the same channels for everyone else.
…“How do all the chiefs get away with taking millions while their band members freeze, with no clean water”?
You’re dense; Chiefs steal
There are 3,000+ elected First Nations officials in Canada. They’re required to turn in over 160 to 200, financial reports per year to the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC, known as CIRNA effective 2018). Chiefs who misappropriate funds exist but number less than the annual mismanagement cases we find in the Senate. How are any bands able to consistently outwit the 4,000+ employee AANDC, when it is literally their job to read & approve the reports they demand of these bands?
Despite the heavy demands of the role, the average band Chief makes an average annual salary of $60,000 (updated in 2015 from a previous average of 36,000). Many are making far less than that, as low as $0.00 to $25,000 annually. They get no pensions nor entitlements as those provided for Prime Ministers, MPs, or Senators.
“When will they finally stop living off of taxpayer’s backs and stand on their own two feet”?
First Nations don’t live off of taxpayers, in fact, quite the opposite, their resources have generously subsidized Canada.
The common misunderstandings of facts
Although, the 1876 Indian Act was used to brutally coerce government control of Indian economic and resource development and land use, Canada was formed through legal negotiations rather than war.
Treaties were agreements meant to sustain Indigenous rights and uses of land and resources equally with European newcomers. They are not invalid ancient history documents; there have been several additions since, right up to the current Harper Government.
The Indian Act outlawed First Nations from acting for their own economic development. This has only recently been somewhat revised and many reserves now generate their own monies in addition to the transfer funds they get from the ‘Indian Trust Fund’ which is overseen by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, (AANDC). They’re often referred to as ‘federal funds’, but that term should really be, ‘federally managed Indigenous funds’.
Must deny facts to retain right to argue
The monies that were/are supplied to this trust fund came from part of the resources taken off of their lands. Note to people who insist it was started with taxes: the Bank of Canada and the taxation system didn’t even exist at that time.
This fund is substantial, billions of dollars, and the Government of Canada still decides how those funds will be distributed to the bands.
The country of Canada, when unable to manage with the rest of the resources from land and taxes, has actually lived off of that First Nations trust fund from time to time, paying for things like general Canadian infrastructure and economic stimulus plans.
This is only part of a rather large story, but writer, Elyse Bruce who regularly covers Indigenous affairs further speaks to the points. If you follow her link, you will also get a picture as to why there is chronic under-funding to First Nation’s people who were made to live on reserves and into the Arctic regions to maintain Canadian territory:
…”the monies due the First Nations peoples from natural resources has been taken into consideration as part of First Nation revenues”.
… “the First Nations Trust Fund isn’t the only money that belongs to First Nations peoples that is handled by the AANDC”.
She’s referring to the fees for the licenses, permits and other instruments to individuals and organizations for exploration and development on First Nations land, and the Indian Moneys Suspense Accounts under the direction of the AANDC.
…”If the resource exploration and development projects weren’t on First Nations property, there wouldn’t be any need for AANDC to involve itself ergo the revenues generated from “licenses, permits and other instruments to individuals and organizations” is First Nations revenues, is it not”?
“In other words, there’s all kinds of money that belongs to First Nations peoples that isn’t part of the First Nations Trust Fund, (and yet) the AANDC controls all of it”.
So where have all those extra funds been going? Could it be, that Canada is in debt to the First Nations Trust Fund? First Nations have been asking for transparency of that account for years.
They’ve also been asking for autonomy in administration of their funds, education, and social services; however this has not been a successful effort. This was very nearly accomplished with an agreement set to be signed in 2007, called the Kelowna Accord. It was cancelled by the then next incoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
One more note that begs sharing, in my opinion:
“Anyone crying that FN’s should disappear from the world and assimilate, might as well be advocating for Canada itself to be dissolved because that is the only way to dissolve the treaties. Like it or not, dissolving Canada puts us directly under international law. Like it or not, under international law, you must prove right of discovery. Like it or not, right of discovery belongs to FNs and Inuit under international law, meaning the lands and resources would revert to FN’s and Inuit, which is worth a lot more. Like it or not, this is why even Harper’s government has entered into Treaty as well as using Inuit right of discovery to secure Canadian jurisdiction over the Arctic’s vast resources”. –David King comment, from the Westcoast Native News, “A Short Note To Correct Canadian Misconceptions About Indians Living Off “Taxpayer Monies”, September 23, 2014.
Most, if not all of this, should be common knowledge to the average Canadian citizen, after all it’s their history too. Given the speed with which we can share information now, I feel cautious optimism that most Canadians will finally understand the issues and the reasons behind them.
These details are a huge missing piece of esteem building block for people of Indigenous ancestry. We don’t all have a full understanding of our own history. We deserve this. We deserve recognition for the stunning contributions of the Indigenous Peoples on behalf of Canada even while being purposely oppressed or denigrated for the consequences of that history. Surely, this is worthy of respect; it’s certainly worthy of placement in all school history books.
Unfortunately, there will always be people who will continue to deny the worst of our history despite its evidence. There are citizens, leaders, and purveyors of history who say it’s time to just to move on. How do they propose successfully moving from point A to C, if we don’t acknowledge the hows and whys of point B?
Knowledge changes everything. All of Canada benefits when her history is fully known. The scars of that history can heal only if they’re truly and fully acknowledged; the fears that hold that back, hold us all back. Those fears are based in the idea of losing something, but the facts show that there is only everything to gain.
How much does Canada owe Indigenous communities for stolen land?
My boy – I will always hope that whatever your challenges are to be, you will always know that you are lovingly surrounded and supported by a thousand of your ancestors. You are a great spirit, with the wisdom of the eagle and the heart of a warrior.
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” -Albert Einstein.