How much will it take to demonstrate that the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples is broken beyond repair? Apparently it is not enough that an Indigenous community must declare a state of emergency due to a housing crisis, itself a symptom of Canada’s theft of Indigenous lands and ways of life. Maybe the answer is found in the federal government blaming victims of colonialism in a moment of their greatest need.
This month, the Mushkegowuk (Cree) community of Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency. With in some cases 90 people living in a trailer, and with much of the community without running water and buckets of raw sewage being dumped into their ditches, Chief Theresa Spence asked the world for help. The Canadian Red Cross moved in, distributing relief in the form of blankets, food, heaters and the equally important attention so needed to make politicians in Ottawa and Toronto take seriously a Mushkegowuk distress call. Because, lets be honest here, though Canada and Ontario claim Indigenous peoples to be “Canadians” and “Ontarians,” when an emergency is declared they are no longer either governments’ problem; they are left on their own.
Except it just got worse for Attawapiskat. Not only were they left on their own by the governments who lay claim to them (which is really just a show to maintain access to resources in Mushkegowuk territory), but now are being ridiculed and blamed by the federal government, as the Conservative Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan just put Attawapiskat under 3rd-Party Management, a situation where outside managers oversee the management of a Band’s finances on a monthly basis. 3rd Party Management is another form of federal paternalism.
Put it like this: an Indigenous community is taken off its land, which its people used for generations upon generations to take care of themselves; the reserve they’re placed onto is dominated by racist, colonial policy that originated when Canada was a British colony and has one explicit goal: to remove all Indigenous peoples for the purpose of exploiting their natural resources for global imperialism; seeing the people aren’t disappearing as first hoped, the federal and provincial design policies to support the community, but these don’t work and no settler government really cares. Next, as an expression of the failure of those discriminatory and colonialist policies, the community declares a state of emergency after years of specious arguments made by settler governments as to the validity of their policies.
At the end of all this? When the community asks for help? The federal government sends in a few representatives and declares the community incompetent to govern itself by placing it under 3rd-Party Management. This is the colonial mentality at its finest.
Of course, the neo-conservative commentators will say this is the perfectly correct thing to do. Inevitable, perhaps. However, they always conveniently overlook the facts of on-going colonialism and genocide. They fail to see they are important cogs in the colonial machine.
Other politicians argue that Attawapiskat needs to be better included into the Canadian community, screaming “How could this happen to Canadians?!” This is just as damaging as the neo-conservative argument because, again, it over looks colonialism. It overlooks the fact that Indigenous ancestors never gave up their sovereignty; entrenching instead the notion that, somehow magically along the way, Indigenous peoples suddenly became Canadians just because the Canadian state has been kicking around for a measly 135 years.
When will settler society get the picture? The reason Indigenous communities are in crisis is due to the on-going interference by the Canadian state, including the actions provincial governments (e.g. permitting mining in Indigenous lands, the continued use of the Indian Act, etc.). We are in this situation because our lands have been taken, raped and remain occupied by a settler society that acts like nothing is wrong with subjugation. Any solutions proposed by settler politicians that do not include vacating occupied Indigenous territories and leaving Indigenous political systems alone is a re-colonizing “solution.” Its that simple.
It angers me deeply to see the federal government meet Attawapiskat’s emergency declaration with a declaration of 3rd-Party Management. In doing so, the federal government – and everyone who stands by and does nothing is implicated in this – is asserting its racist, colonial dominance over an Indigenous peoples already suffering because of a history that no Canadian or Ontarian wants to admit happened. It was Albert Memmi who said a colonized person is judged as guilty not because s/he deserves punishment, but because they’re already being punished; I see no difference from this in Canada’s actions today.