Monday, October 15, 2007

"Westward the Course of Empire Goes Forth"

A few weeks ago while shopping at the Bay Centre in Mituunii, I noticed a rather large and ornate clock suspended over the happy shoppers. I've seen it before of course, but this time something else caught my eye. Written on the side, so that you can see it quite clearly from the third and fourth levels is the phrase, "Westward the Course of Empire Goes Forth."


Last month the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada appointed former provincial court judge, BCTC Chief Commissioner, and Skowkale elected chief, Stephen Point as the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia. Point is the first indigenous person to be selected as the Queen's personal representative. Some hailed this an historic moment worthy of celebration. The last time I remember such Aboriginal-Settler goodwill was shortly after Premier Campbell announced the $100 million New Relationship fund, and Stephen Point spoke to the Summit chiefs about how much progress we've made "since 1969."

I guess it couldn't get any more appropriate than to have Stephen Point round out this little narrative with an LG appointment. In 2005 I disagreed with Mr. Point and now in 2007 I find myself uninspired again. Of course, you may ask, "who is he? (meaning 'me'). What has he done?" Not a lot, I must confess, but I do feel entitled to an opinion. And I am more than aware that I possess the luxury of my dissenting views because people came before me who fought for recognition against a much more overtly racist society. I respect the experiences and efforts of my elders. I respect it so much in fact that I am compelled to tell the truth as I see it. I believe that we owe that much, and if my opinions are indeed dissenting opinions than so be it.

I want to bring up a few points that came up at a meeting I attended last night in Tsartlip. The meeting was called by local community members concerned about the impending Tsawwassen Final Agreement. Two things really stood out for me. First, the passionate appeal of speaker after speaker that what is happening is not right. Being a guy like me (fairly reserved and guarded), and a student I was reminded of how visceral these issues are for people - especially as they relate how the generally esoteric matter of indigenous-settler relations impact their lives on a day-to-day, in your face basis. I struggled to hold a tear or two back several times. My chest swelled, and a very real real feeling emerged again - the need for us to stand up and fight, our duty to defend our ways of living and being in this world.

One speaker remembered a call-in radio program that was discussing the issue of Aboriginal Rights, and caller after caller, all settlers echoed a common message, "The Indians need to become more Canadian." Really? You mean like pro-actively participate in the legal system? Vote in elections? Run for the Liberal party? Learn to do business their way? Open a fish farm? Mine the earth? Help build an oil rig? Open a casino? Learn to Dance with Dollars? Dance for wealthy tourists at the Olympics? Represent the Queen, an imperial institution that has killed millions and made trillions on our own lands? Is that Canadian enough for you? After all, Canadians are so nice and polite and loved worldwide, right?

It's hard not to be sarcastic. It's hard not to be cynical. It's hard not to be angry, but should we apologize for it? Should we swallow our dignity along with everything else? Another sentiment that was shared last night by a prominent indigenous leader was that we've lost our way. In the fight for equality and respect, we gradually lost sight of who we were, are, and what we want to be. My father said that he is old enough to remember a time when all our families were self-sufficient, when everyone worked and not one person wanted for the basic needs in life. It wasn't that long ago. And after decades of court battles, political accommodation, and economic acquiescence what have we gotten for our efforts?

I realize that I do come across as angry and I have raised more questions than answers. First, I will not apologize for my anger under the guise of respect. Respect, for the self and for others demands that we speak the truth. Second, as I've said before, perhaps it is enough to say "no" and ask questions. If indeed we have lost our way, it might make sense to stop, gather ourselves, and move in a new direction. I've also said this before: Some say a bad deal is better than no deal. I disagree. If this is a game, it is serious and for all time.

Tsawwassen elected chief Kim Baird spoke in the BC legislature this morning. I could not bare to listen to it all. Disingenuous platitudes (especially by government ministers) make me ill, but I did overhear one fact that rings true. She outlined the "traditional territories" that the Tsawwassen people did not surrender.

That is, until now.

Westward the Course of Empire Goes Forth.


At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very often surprised at the blatant racism focused on First Nation peoples. This is more often than not the result of pure miseducation, or education by stereotypes which people think are a reflection of reality.

What is happening is that people are seeing a culture of poverty, and misinterpreting it as a culture of a Nation. See what I mean?

Not all, though, white folk (Samah?) are that way, and they as individuals cannot be blamed for their misunderstandings as it's a product of their environment.

I am white and I have a deeper understanding than most about these clashing cultures. I grew up a minority, a Caucasian in Asia, and so learned to be stared at (and looked down upon as an evil Westerner). But I understood, as our cultures were growing in parallel. They too will soon understand.

On the other hand, the settlers and aboriginal peoples in Canada did not have parallel development, and still do not.

Would you believe that a move to grow (and work) in parallel would ever be achieved?

I do not agree, and really can't see who would still think that Aboriginal people need to be MORE Canadian? There is no mention of that in any newer documents (just to say it's no longer official), and the only people you should hear uttering such nonsense would be highschoolers, or people who are not yet ready to understand cultures. They can and should be ignored as ignorant; their ideas are undeveloped.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Jan said...

Thank you for reminding me of some stuff that I was so passionate about as a young person and have very often pushed to the back of my mind in the recent past. It is good to be reminded that for many it is still the overriding substance of their current filter and we (the white canadians) should not forget this or dismiss it.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Gannyaa said...

Luv your blog, and this one in particular.
Business or trade with the world will not change, our attitudes will.
Self-sufficiency is a matter of choice, many people do not understand the concept anymore because of modern day convenience stores and the dependency on money buys happiness.
But still Indigenous peoples can defend their land, receive compensations, and have a country that in the end will protect them from Eastern Terrorists?!
Only Indigenous peoples can reclaim their wealth, ie culture, language, art, business relationships, family relationships, measurable only in spiritual values. Of course, wealth is a matter of perspective, anyone can be fooled into thinking that money is wealth.
Regards, Todd Gannyaa


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