An Open Letter to Tamara Johnson

Tamara Johnson

Former Thunder Bay Superior North Progressive Conservative Party candidate

Dear Tamara,

In the past few weeks, you’ve made a number of comments publicly regarding First Nations, the tax system and the Ontario legal framework as it pertains to Indians.  Even though these comments have been incendiary to the point of you losing your candidacy with the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, you continue to argue your points in social media.  Worse, the points you are so fervently upholding about First Nations are largely misguided.  I assume that you will read this letter and try to turn everything around, but I am writing it anyways so at least you cannot say you are not informed about the basics of neo-colonialism, white supremacy and racism – all of which you are clearly protecting.

But first, I should introduce myself.  I am from the community you wish to attack; I was adopted into Fort William First Nation as a toddler.  I grew up on the reserve.  After witnessing for years the types of racism you are now projecting at my community, I decided to do something about it.  To make a long story short, I am now in the final stages of my PhD in Native Studies, where I focus day-in and day-out on unpacking various types of racism affecting Anishinaabeg.  Let me assure you, even though you may think otherwise, your comments as of late fit squarely within classic white-Canadian anti-Indigenous sentiments that by now are well-patterned and even boring to read each day.

That said, I have read some of your posts on Facebook about the so-called unfair advantages you feel First Nations benefit from in the country currently known as Canada.  You’ve made a number of accusations, including the argument that  First Nations are getting “illegal” tax breaks, that First Nations should follow Ontario law, and, most recently, that gas stations in my community price gasoline based on race (these are, for the most part, sufficiently summed up in your March 1st, 2014 Facebook post).  Such points tell me that you have not reviewed the legal history of the First Nations-settler Canadian relationship in the very territory you live in.  They show that you haven’t read Supreme Court of Canada decisions regarding First Nations tax immunity.  Most of all, they show me that through some very weird logic, you think that Indigenous peoples have an unfair advantage even after surviving generations of attempted political, cultural, linguistic and physical genocide.  So, maybe you should take some of your own advice and #RelaxTamara.  To ease your anxiety, here are some basic facts that anyone can find using Google:

1. Lets start with the most tricky element first: namely, your claim that my community sells gas based on race.  To understand this, you need to read the Indian Act, and its history.  The Indian Act determines who is an Indian according to what white people think about Indigenous peoples.  “Indians” in Canadian law were largely men; women and children were Indians only so long as they were connected to an Indian man, either through marriage or birth.  Historically, the Government of Canada used this as a method to exterminate Indians, because intermarriage results in less and less so-called Indian blood over time.  It has been estimated that between one and two million Indigenous peoples lost Indian status through intermarriage precisely because of the racist, gendered logics imbued in the Act.

Yet, you are trying to label business owners in my community as racists simply because they are abiding Canadian and Ontario law.  To receive the benefits of tax-exempt gasoline, one must acquire a Certificate of Exemption from the Ontario Ministry of Finance.  As you will note in the application for the “gas card,” Indian status under the Indian Act is a pre-requisite.  Please note that while Indian status is indeed a race-based idea, in practice it is not based on race at all: many people with non-Indigenous biological ancestry hold status cards legitimately under the Act.  At the same time, because the logics of Indian status have been used to exclude millions of Indigenous individuals from obtaining a status card, there are many people who should receive tax exemption because of Indigenous ancestry, but do not.  So, if gas was priced based on race, businesses at Fort William First Nation would be able to sell tax-free gas to any one of the millions of people who lost Indian status through legislation that penalized marriage to non-Indians.

Clearly, your accusation that FWFN gasoline dealers are breaking the law is misguided because we are, in fact, upholding Canadian tax law by selling tax-free gasoline to only those with a Certificate of Exemption.  Such businesses are, in fact, selling tax-free gasoline only to status Indians, which, according to law, now includes individuals of many so-called races.

2. Your whole argument that First Nations should follow Ontario law is misguided to the point of idiocy.  It demonstrates that you have zero understanding of the basic political-legal tenets of your own country.  As someone with political ambitions, I find it scary that you haven’t read the Canadian Constitution for how it divides political powers and jurisdictions between federal and provincial governments.

There are two very famous sections of the Constitution Acts 1867 to 1982 that you might want to consider before saying anything else publicly about First Nations.  Sections 91 and 92 of the Acts clearly divide the settler governments’ jurisdictions.  Check this out:

Section 91(24) states that the federal Crown has jurisdiction for “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.”

Section 92 states that provinces have a whole bunch of law-making/enforcement powers, none of which pertain to “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.”  In other words, the Province of Ontario has no basis in Canadian law to enforce its laws on Indigenous peoples.  This is Canadian Politics 101.

Now, don’t get me wrong; the Constitution Acts 1867 to 1982 is as racist towards Indigenous peoples as your recent public remarks have been.  This is because it re-makes Indigenous peoples into “Indians” (read my first point above again as to why this racist), and because it presumes the settler state has jurisdiction over sui generis Indigenous political and legal systems.  But I reference the Acts here because they demonstrate a key point for you to consider in future public banter: Fort William First Nation does not have to abide Ontario law as per the most basic law of your country.  And while First Nations do abide some provincial laws, you would do well to note that this is only because certain sections of the Indian Act make it mandatory to do so, or else – and most First Nations in Canada regard the Indian Act as an attack on their existing sui generis legal orders that gave rise to this country in the first place.

3. Finally, as might already be clear in point #2 above, your misguided arguments targeting First Nations tax breaks and so-called illegalities speak to a deeper misunderstanding about treaties.  Tamara, I don’t know where you’ve lived throughout your life, but it is safe to say that you currently live in what is commonly referred to as the “Robinson-Superior Treaty” territory, which we call Anishinaabe Aki.  You cannot understand tax exemptions at Fort William First Nation without putting them into the context of treaty law.

Treaty law is complicated, but there are a few basic things that are easily rendered for conversations like this.  First and foremost, treaties permit settlers such as yourself to live in Indigenous territories.  This is the backbone of Canada’s state-building, and has been upheld throughout Canadian law.  One of the basic principles underlying this body of law is that First Nations are based in polities that exist outside of Canada in a political sense – indeed, the nation-status of Indigenous peoples is the reason the Crown was obligated to enter into treaties in the first place: treaties are nation-to-nation agreements.

In terms of taxes, First Nations are exempt from paying certain taxes because Indigenous nations allowed settlers to live in their territories.  It was part of the agreement in a meta-sense.  If you think about it, you will see that its true: why would an individual from one nation pay into the tax system of another?  Would you pay US taxes just because they asked you to?  I doubt it, but this is basically what you’re saying First Nations must do.  It makes no sense at all.

And yet you perpetuate the myth that First Nations are getting an “illegal” break on taxes.  It is racist to for you to live in this treaty territory and then claim Anishinaabeg are getting a “free ride” on your tax system.  “Your” taxes come directly from the exploitation of resources in Anishinaabe Aki.  If you had any understanding of the basic treaty history, you would know that First Nations have already paid dearly: they agreed to share their lands through treaties with settler governments that chose to interpret those treaties in a specious manner (i.e. government says the lands were surrendered, whereas First Nation law shows the treaties were meant to be an on-going partnership…but thats another topic).  Tax exemptions are the legal manifestation of the recognition that First Nations have already paid for the upkeep of Canada, through (stolen) land and (stolen) resources.

Anyhow, those are just a three points for you to consider in your future tirades.

Please note that while you claim not to be racist, you are in fact inciting racist sentiments by perpetuating age-old settler anti-Indigenous arguments.  The claim that First Nations should be subject to all laws/taxes of the settler society is a white-supremacist argument; it is steeped in the notion that Indigenous peoples have no laws or political orders of their own, and that they should assimilate into the Eurocentric way of doing things.  That was the basic idea behind the residential school era, yet for some reason you want to align yourself with that wrong side of history.  But I guess its your choice.

All that said, I’m not trying to change your views.  I get that you are making a name for yourself by personifying the sentiments of the extreme Right, just like Ezra Levant and Sarah Palin have done before you.  I get that such radical remarks get you some traction in the media, and maybe someday even a spot alongside those egregious personalities.  But at least now you can’t say you didn’t know about the very basic tenets of First Nations history and law as described above.  Likewise, you can no longer claim that your public arguments of late are not racist, white-supremacist or neo-colonial.

Damien Lee (@damienlee)
PS: If you found this Open Letter of interest, you may also be interested in my follow-up post: “#RelaxTamara and Beyond.”

96 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Tamara Johnson

  1. Leslie

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I started writing a letter to the paper in regards to the very misguided ideas of Tamara Johnson, and honestly started getting overwhelmed with it all. I appreciate that you took the time to write such a great open letter, I support the FWFN and support a better Canada through education and understanding. I’m ashamed that our city has been so openly racist in recent years but am confident that it will lead to change for the better.

    1. auntiethis

      I suppose if you view it that way, you’ll have to acknowledge that in exchange for lack of discounted gas, you get discounts on a whole range of services like education and medical care. Before you start arguing that you pay taxes, remember that doing so is a right given to you as a Canadian citizen and remember that very little of those services are actually paid for with taxes as they are largely funded (and subsidized by) the revenues from resources on land we are supposed to be sharing with other Nations.

      So yes, you are correct. Canada is racist. We live in a state of apartheid with policies that are genocidal and oppressive.

      You want everyone to recognize racism? That’s difficult to do when you’re not being honest about who the privileged group is, and who is disadvantaged because of it.

      1. confusedexstudent

        I’m sorry but what discounts on education to people get? As somebody who has completed post secondary school twice, I have never received a discount on my education. Please explain.

      2. Tim Gleason

        Last time I checked I paid out of my own pocket for my books, education, and living expenses.

      3. DeerLakeFN

        We pay 10.00 a gallon where I’m from. Be glad you pay what you do! We’re isolated, which means all our goods all brought in by planes. It makes all our goods go up in price by A LOT. We deserve what we have, while you all can go to the supermarket & buy a carton or milk for 2.99.. we have to pay almost $7.00 for a carton!

      4. S-kw'etu'?

        This is in hopes of enlightening confused student, every public post educational institution receives funding for each Canadian student attending the institution which lowers the over all amount that you end up paying for. This can easily be verified if you compare the tuition rates between public and private post secondary education institution, or in the public institution you will find the foreign students paying a considerably higher amount. Your education is subsidized, the amount varies province by province with the students in Quebec receiving the highest subsidies which they fight for. You are aware of the student riots in Quebec and the politics and reasons behind it, at least one would hope, because it concerns me that you claim to have completed post secondary education yet are unaware of how your education was funded as well as the systems designed around and behind your own education. I have not completed a post-secondary education and even I know that, your education does not have to end when you step out of the class room.

      5. gupdawg

        Thank you Dom – what is truly pathetic about her racist ignorance is that the monies paid for the Gull Bay stay would not have been tax payer money – it is the monies held in trust that are used – it is the royalties paid to the government for the resource extraction in whatever traditional territory the resource is being extracted – the government is supposed to be holding the monies in trust but it goes into the general revenue fund and thus is reported out as tax payer money – we are never told the truth about that because each successive government wants Canadians to hold the contempt we have been taught to have for Indigenous people…I am incensed by Tamara’s latest stunt – I can’t even imagine the impact on the children and youth exposed to this racist violence on their own lands…
        You would think Tamara would do her own research before paying all that money to expose her ignorance in such a blatant way – unfortunately there are people who will vote for her – stupidity should be illegal and painful…

      1. wcda1994

        yup nice retort. i take great comfort in knowing obtuse generally don’t procreate or die early deaths due to their own short sightedness

      2. Michele

        I believe what he is trying to say…is that he paid for his education out of his own pocket. Without the help of family, government loans etc. Is education subsidized? Absolutely, yes. I think that the biggest thing people struggle with is, why are the Natives getting things that the rest of us don’t? To say that I fully understand it would be a lie. However, I do understand, from being a Political Science Major, that there were laws made far before any of us were here that give the Natives some rights that the rest of us don’t have. Will we ever agree that this is fair to us all? Never.
        I do think as a community, we need to stop all of this badgering back and fourth. We need to concentrate on education and communication amongst one another. To try and get everyone to understand the exact details of this discussion is impossible. People will always have varying opinions. Hopefully with those opinions will come somewhat of an understanding of the history and culture of our country. We live in a great country with great people. Let’s all work together to make our communities stronger by working together not against one another.

      1. Solange Garson

        I thought we are all this day anyway, finally got accepted as humans like women finally were equal. Go figure on how others think with small minds.

    2. Candace McDougall

      The whole Indian Act is racist, so complain to the feds. P.S. Last time I checked, there was no Indians or Indian treaties in Europe. Go live over there.

      1. peoplearestupid

        hey candace, your comment is so stupid i dont even want to reply. When the europeans came over and settled land, they typically killed the existing people there and TOOK over the land. So i believe there has been a pretty good friendship…..If you look into the viking settlement in Newfoundland, and the amount of first nations murdered to TAKE over the land…I believe the europeans were quite friendly

    3. sara ducharme

      Tim… I feel sorrow in the lack of genuine understanding that you and many people like you do not fathom to embrace. Be happy as awhole … Not an a-hole…. Nonetheless,accept yourself and the country your ancestors decided to BECOME apart of.

      1. Cathy

        Well said Sara. It breaks my heart that after all the work that has been done in explaining the circumstances surrounding this issue that people like Tim still don’t get it.

    4. Brian

      Actually you do get discounted gas as well if you were to fill up on the reservation you would be paying about . 15 cents a liter less than in town

    5. TheHat

      Confused ex student must not have passed post secondary. Obviously cant read so its impossible…auntiethis said nothing about post secondary lol

    6. Lisa

      Tim, check the price of gas in town, compare it to the non- Indigenous (that’s you) price on the rez. You will notice there is a difference. Many of my non native clients go to the rez because they save $15-$25 with each fill up. You do get a discount compared to in town gas prices!!!

    7. michelle

      Funny fact that seems lost on some – we do….I pay tax on the gas I buy there, they are just kind enough to sell it to me at a lesser price (discounted) than say Shell. Who, by the way, determines what you pay for their gas at their pumps in the interest of the shareholder…and then charges us accordingly. Why do I hear everybody complaining about the reserve and not the Corporations that keep the prices high and the consumer desperate for a break? If people spent this much time attacking Shell we probably would have cheaper gas. I don’t get it. Anyone can choose where to buy their gas, you are welcome to be overcharged by any company you want. Me? I like good customer service, friendly staff and fair pricing so I’ll go there.

  2. Lynda Banning

    Now that’s racist Tim Gleason….because at the end of the day you are making a stereotypical comment about something of which you truly know nothing. Just because Damien was adopted in to FWFN you jump to this conclusion. How many people have you defamed based on your incorrect assumptions?

  3. Frank Fiddler

    The problem Tamara Johnson has is she says it out exactly what the Progressive Conservative Party’s frame of thought is and will never say stuff like that out in public. Their policys reflect what Tamara is saying and that’s a no no…

  4. Lisa

    This is a great, well-written and informed post. I am shocked and horrified at Tamara’s words, and so many viewpoints that I see time and time again when I pay attention to politics in Thunder Bay. For some reason, it is still a place where people feel no shame in reducing complex law and history to whether or not people “pay tax.” I am frightened of these people, and I applaud your patience in educating and correcting such views.

  5. Lmj

    Here here Damien, well said. However remember that a leopard cannot change its spots. But at least people who have taken the time to read your letter are better informed.

  6. Joyce

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to post this info…. unfortunately too many non-natives simply do not get the whole picture of being Native and the treaties that was signed and all they want to do is forget the very treaties that were signed to their advantage!!!

  7. darlene

    An extremely well written response Damien. I read the comments here and I will not even dignify some of them with wasted energies. However, I will point out I am currently a student and like any other student I apply for, and receive plenty of scholarships, bursaries, and/or awards. Anybody who is doing well academically is entitled to apply for these to pay for or help fund their education and those who do not apply are either (a) unaware of the opportunities for these sources of funding, or (b) not motivated to have their education funded or quite simply not applying themselves to qualify for these merit based sources of funding.

  8. Travis

    Hold on everyone, Tamara is smart business woman. Surely her business does not depend on maintaining a good relationship with First Nation people in Thunder bay.

    Where is her business anyhow?

    1. Alicia

      Their family used to own/manage the Landmark hotel. Knowing the attitudes displayed at that establishment, I am not surprised it was her making these comments.

      1. gupdawg

        Then her family made a lot of money from Indigenous patrons – that hotel has been the ‘go to’ place for many Indigenous people coming to Thundery Bay …

    2. Dominic

      Her family made a great deal of money from natives that were evachuated when the family owned the Landmark…..the same money that Tamara believes the natives should not have…Tamara believes that the band money that paid for the stay..1 1/2 million dollars for 3 months.”her math in one of her threads”. are just handouts to natives and tax money that belongs to “Canadians”….non native…I’m sure Tamara and her family had no problem enjoying the benefit of “our tax money”….her words….hypocritical?…of course..

  9. Stacey Hanton

    So if you save 15 cent filling up on the reserve from town….where does that 15 cents go in the pocket of the reserve or the does that get collected as tax for being non status and given to the government???

  10. Vera Ann

    I am an elderly first nations woman, and I thank you for this post. We as seniors do not get free medical as you have assumed, our burials are not paid for and neither are our cultural activities paid for. We as a culture must fight to keep our heritage and identity healthy and respectful towards all creeds and nations. I sometimes find this difficult, when I hear what is assumed about us. We are people, just like you. We hurt, we endure, we survive. I live 3000 miles from my band and they cannot help me here. Please don’t think of me as First Nations, think of me as a person, just trying to get thru the trials of the day. Just like you.

    1. Lisa

      Thank you as well Vera Ann. I agree with you that we are all just people and have more in common with each other than differences. Which would be easier to see if both sides would stop putting up their smoke screens of outrage at perceived wrongs and start looking at each other with acceptance to work together.

  11. gupdawg

    Thank you for taking on this response Damien. People like Tamara live in all walks of life in this Country choosing to believe the lies perpetrated by one Colonial government after another. As a White settler currently living, playing, working, and learning on unceded territory in British Columbia, I have also lived on the stolen lands of the Anishinaabeg in Thunder Bay and area. Canada’s sovereignty as a nation is based on the treaty relationship with Indigenous people. If Tamara wants the treaty’s to be null and void, then Canada ceases to be a nation and all non-Indigenous people’s leases will expire. We will be deported to the countries our ancestors originated from. The truth of what Indigenous people experience in their own lands is not entitlement – it is oppression, marginalization, racism, violence, imposed foreign rule, etc. etc. etc. If Tamara (and Tim) want what Indigenous people have then they can start by relinquishing their children for ethnic cleansing; their women for rape and murder; their men for jail; their languages, religions, wants, desires, hopes, dreams…we White and other non-Indigenous people enjoy a great deal of advantage and privilege at the expense of our Indigenous hosts. News flash – Indigenous people fighting to have what you already enjoy is not reverse racism Tamara. GET OVER IT!!!

    1. loey

      change will come when enough settler descendants recognise the depth of the injustice that our so called civilisation is built on . Recognition is spreading in rainbow waves.

  12. Caroline

    woooohooooo….thanks to all who posted positive comments…only way to live life…positive outlook and accepting who you are!!!

  13. Olivia Pelky

    wow…very well said!..but all in all who cares who get’s discounted gas, smokes or whatever!!….there is no need to say the stuff she did and @tim…i too am aboriginal and i too paid for my own education and books and own living expenses!!’s a shame this world still lives like this!! 🙂

  14. loey

    change will come when enough settler descendants recognise the depth of the injustice that our so called civilisation is built on . Recognition is spreading in rainbow waves

  15. Tressa

    Damien you perpetuate hate when you accuse people of being racist. Where did that word become the catch all for ever time someone says something mis-informed or when someone is mean? Tamara might act like a bully but I find the distinction that she is a white supremist really hard to take. Damien you have an entire degree based on being able to find racism in your world and to be honest it is quite interesting to see you wield the acts in your defense of calling Tamara a racist. Honestly, if you dont open dialogue with her and get to know her you have NO right to call her a racist. That is a blatant bully move.

    More and more I see bullying being tossed about especially with the new form of communicating, social media. Its easy to make your point with open letters that are well thought out and I appreciate that because we get to see just exactly where your mind is at. Damien I would say someone like yourself who spent all his life and his schooling educating himself in the arguments of your race could clearly be called a Native Supremacist.

    Does that offend you Damien? good because it offends every single white person when you call them racist when they start talking about differences in our races. You and all of the First nation people and even the PC party should have argued with Tamara until she saw your opinion. Educate her before you call her a racist. Every baby born in this world would be racist by your definition. Once she is educated and still does everything in her power to cut down the Native People, I will agree to you calling her a racist and white supremacist.

    Now to address the comments. Seriously? The attack on Tim is just plain racist…..oh you dont think so? ok well lets agree it is bullying. Also something our society should not stand for. Tim asked questions. I didnt see him say “Dont have babies Tim” or how he must have had to go to school twice. Seriously? either your argument is bullying or your argument is how in the past your people had to endure genocide of the residential schools. Yup that really sucked that the religious groups thought the way they did about your culture. Yup you are doing a very good job of ensuring everyone knows about this but I can tell you it has less and less meaning for people who are generations away from even knowing someone that made those kinds of decisions. I dont look at an Indian and say ohhh look at that poor person whose people had to endure so much. I look at the Indians around me and judge their worthiness to be in my life with the exact same measurement that I do the Italians or the Finnish people etc. In fact personally I dont look at someone and segregate them into a label. I get that there are people out there that do and I can assure you they are the minority.

    You want to point to the comments when the bridge burned and say look all white people feel this way when it was a few very young kids who are more bullying then they are racist. Sure it is inherent in bullying that race plays a part but its more about the differences that are unknown.

    Seriously every person in this city said to themselves “oh shit that is going to add 20 minutes to my three trips a week to the reserve”. Be they white, black, brown or red. Yet the Native people jumped on that as a clear indicator of racism. How about the comments to Tim above? You feel vindicated in saying those things to him? You seriously think that is going to educate Tim in your view point?

    We all need to walk through this life with grace and with kindness. Something I thought was a tennant of the Indigenous peoples teachings. The only one that I saw post with grace and kindness was Roy and for that I thank you Roy. You didnt say much but at least you offered to help Tim understand your point of view.

    I see so much restraint from non-native peoples. For the most part they just dont talk about things that come to mind. This is because you will bully them into never doing that again.

    Damien, I do hope that at some point very soon you embrace a tone of grace and kindness instead of blame and throwing the racism card around. I know its favourable these days to do so but its not right. We have to coexist together or we will become an apartheid country. We have to understand and teach and love each other. Not blame and call each other names.

    Lets say it this way. Tamara could have been educated in your point of view and everyone else that came across your words would have been educated and instead you threw a label at her that just shut her down. People are sick of the labels and for immediately called a racist if you have an opposing view.

    I challenge you Damien to think of all peoples as races that should be perpetuated. I also would like you to do something. Find another person, your partner, kid or friend. Put your hands up in front of your face with your palms facing out. Have the other person put their hands facing yours. Now push your hands toward them. Dont give them any idea what you are doing, just push toward them. What happens? they push back. Try that same thing with a stranger or someone who aready notices differences between you and them and guess what? big push back.

    Open your heart Damien…..Open your mind…Don’t quote the acts. Did you know there is such a satisfying skill involved in turning an “enemy” into a ally? it never happens by pushing it always happens with openness and acceptance.

    I also dont know Tamara at all. I am not political minded and I have worked on reserve and for many years in Native organizations. I am English and French by heritage but heh I prefer to think of myself as Canadian. Just like I think of all of the Native people.

    1. Damien

      Tressa – a couple of points:

      First, I haven’t replied to Tim. In fact, this is my first post in this comments section.

      Second, I am phenotypically white. I was adopted into my reserve and Anishinaabe family. I don’t speak for “my race,” for such a concept doesn’t exist. I am, however, an Anishinaabe nationalist. I find it funny how many people assume I’m racially “Indian” just because I speak as an Anishinaabe nationalist. It suggests that most people see Anishinaabeness as a racialized identity (i.e. the “Indian” we’ve been told exists as a result of Canada’s Indian policies and the movies).

      Third, as you might have seen in Tamara Johnson’s continued posting today (March 8th), she will never change her views because I or others ask her to. And that was never the point of my post (as I say in it). She continues to incite racism against Indigenous peoples by asserting that they should be “equal” to Canadians. This is a very classic “termination” argument (e.g. check out the federal government’s White Paper of 1969, and Harold Cardinal’s response, The Unjust Society). In fact, I would challenge you to read more generally about how “equality” has been used as an assimilation tactic in Canada. And I say this to make an ally out of you – as you’ve suggested I do regarding Tamara.

      1. Tressa

        Damien are you suggesting that you believe “Indian” as you refer and Native as I refer to those individuals who have status, is not a race? is it therefore impossible to have racist feelings toward them? I think we can agree to semantics here.

        As for you not commenting, that is the thing about owning a blog, especially one with your opinions and name all over it. It comes with a big responsibility to monitor the comments. You are explicitly guilty of everything posted. You are equivalent to the group that forms around the school yard fight or laughing at the bully as he/she wields her meanness over another person. You cannot just let peoples comments stand and say you were not part of them. This is your blog. Its your open forum.

        You also miss a point about how to gain an ally. You don’t ask people to change their views. That is so similar to telling people to change their views. You teach them, guide them and educate them. Do so with a peaceful heart and an understanding of someone less educated. Be a follower not a bully. Don’t tell and don’t ask her anything. You cannot stand by and let her bully you, but your response is everything. It either fuels her power or it takes the wind out of her sails. Think about it. the very existence of your open letter and the common flinging around of bullying words gives her another 10 minutes in the spotlight. It gives her opportunity to say she wont stop talking about this because she has been told too.

        And so you know Damien, I am an ally. Of both you and Tamara. I want to bring both sides to the point of trust, openness, understanding. As for equality, did it hurt women or black people to ask for equality? It is only the person who might have to give up something that resists equality. Anyone who has something to gain welcomes it. Men resisted, women welcomed. etc. So there you have it, Tamara feels as though the people she represents are now the repressed ones. Does this fact make you feel as though your side has won? that now somehow there is justice for decisions made by people so long ago that no one can even fathom the logic? Its a different day, look to the future, do not call upon the past.

        As for how to navigate equality, equality does not mean sameness. You certainly can argue that there is not another nationality in Canada that is made to conform. Canada is a showcase of what is right (and what can be precariously wrong) with multiculturalism. I am proud of that. I think we got something right. I would dare say we learned from our mistakes. Beyond unfortunate mistakes. We live side by side with many different kinds of people. It makes us so unique. Just as we embrace gay people and rejoice at their desire to have families and get married and to have kids. We let women do everything men can do….based on merit. We let black people live just as equal a life as the rest of us. Nothing is perfect of course.

        Tamara’s point is, that in giving rights to one group its gone too far and now the rest of the multicultural people of Canada do not have the same equality (benefits, treatment) as the Natives. She asserts that its unfair treatment of the non-natives. Your letter does do a good job on rebuffing her points this but you dont stop there, you throw in labels and name calling and even suggest ulterior motives to get her name out there. You slung what ever crap you could. I am just calling you on it. I could say you too were using this topic to get your name out there but lets just let that one lay there as a thought….

        You wont find a post from me on Tamara’s board because I choose you. I believe you are intellectual enough to see my points. I am not asking you to reply to any of this. Just to think from outside the circle from time to time.

    2. gupdawg

      This is a little like ‘shooting the messenger’ Tressa – dominant colonial narratives perpetrate and perpetuate a racist ideology with respect to Indigenous people and Tamara is indeed being a racist when she chooses to repeat those narratives as though they are TRUTH. Your wish for everyone to be homogenous Canadians is another side of the same coin – the colour blind approach to denying the impact of the colonial agenda on Indigenous people. Equality is not the aim – equity would be great but Indigenous people should not be having to accommodate settler needs and wants any longer.

    3. Damien

      hi again, tressa,

      this is in reply to your march 10th comment.

      there are a few problems with your comment that prevent us from moving forward. you’ve made a number of points, but i have only enough time/energy to address the following.

      there is no such thing as race. it is a construct. no one is born “indian.” they are assigned that label (by stereotypes and the government). i think you’re confusing the matter with racialization. colonialism needs a hierarchy, with white, heterosexist, able males at the apex. Indigenous peoples are racialized as Indians to fit into this hierarchy, on a lower rung. racialization is different than “race”, as it is the process of dehumanizing people in ways that suit, in this case, the historical and on-going project of settlement in canada.

      the same might be said about the term “settler.” but this is not a race-based term either; it is an ideology, and one that many people – regardless of skin colour – can be complicity with. the settler ideology works similar to racialization: it places the colonizer (the settler) at the topic of a power-hierarchy that works to maintain asymmetrical power relations.

      second, im not here to make allies. lets get that straight. im not here to build bridges. im hear to stand up for my family, community and nation. i couldnt care less if i make an ally out of you or tamara. nothing personal. but the past 400 years have shown us that settlers are not willing to give up their power. those canadians that are willing, go through a process of unsettlement and, in my books, exist in a continuum of anishinaabe-ness, for they are willing to live by the legal and political orders of the Indigenous peoples in whose lands they reside. bridge building in this day and age – where indigenous women continue to go missing and settler colonial land theft continues – is the equivalent of singing kumbaya. it changes nothing, and in fact works to prevent unsettlement. multiculturalism is a similar joke, because it too prevents unsettlement. i doubt the far right as personified by tamara johnson, ezra lavant, sarah palin, and frances widdowson will ever unsettle their privilege. and so i focus my work on demonstrating what (my) resistance looks like for a specifically anishinaabeg audience.

      as for your point about me being responsible for what other people say on my blog. fuck that. i edit out comments that are pathetic. but if someone like tim wants to say something incredibly stupid after just being schooled by my open letter to tamara, fine. its his choice. they are his words. not mine.

      i find it worrisome that you confuse bullying with calling out racist behaviour. tamara is inciting far right racist sentiments. c’mon. and whereas we all agree racism exists in canada, we cant seem to find any racists. well, my letter to tamara points out how some of her behviour and thinking is racist. dont confuse that with bullying – its basically been the only direct correspondence i’ve had with her.

      and about your passive aggressive argument that im in this for the popularity, you couldnt be more wrong. im a writer, and this blog is one outlet for me to work through ideas. if i were looking for cheap popularity, i would have run for political office years ago.

  16. Brady Gurney

    First things first, I just wanna point out that I don’t follow politics as I personally have no faith or hope in our government or our city council for that matter when it comes to the decisions they make. Secondly I come from a European decent.

    To start off I’d like to say thanks to you Damien for this post, it is very informative and has shed a bit of light on my already basic understanding of indigenous rights and I applaud you for speaking out. I have plenty of indigenous friends so most of my knowledge regarding this topic is based on the information I get from them but I must say that it has always intrigued me and I’m always trying to learn more and keep an open minded and unbiased perspective.

    It’s a shame that so many people within our government are so ill-informed and I do understand that the arguments of “equal rights” (as some would call it) against indigenous people are unwarranted and completely unguided which in fact leads to a lot of racial sentiments. This kind of segregation needs to stop. I get tired of people always pulling the race card no matter how big or small the situation, I for one am not racist and have absolutely no use for the word at all. As it was said before, being labeled because of your cultural background is the first step in dividing a persons humanity from one to the next and allows for racial attacks or comments based on those differences. People need to learn to see past that barrier.

    Damien you’re not wrong for addressing the slander in your initial letter. I support what you’re doing and I hope the best for you as you continue to try and educate and bring change to the obvious racism that still grips this country today. Good luck in everything that you do.

  17. Lisa

    Wow!! Reading the comments were far more interesting than the actual letter from Damien… I also believe that Tamara’s RIDICULOUS comments are inciting hatred aimed at us First Nations peoples and I feel sorry for her because she doesn’t seem to really know and understand our history. I am happy that Damien’s letter was abrasive enough to receive so much feedback… Meegwetch, Damien…

  18. Kelsey

    Hi Damien, I am wondering how one, of extremely mixed cultural heritage including European and First Nation decent, would go about formally unsettling? Although my partner and I both have European and First Nations heritage, we connect with our European heritage. You stated that you are encouraging of ” those canadians that are willing, go through a process of unsettlement and, in my books, exist in a continuum of anishinaabe-ness, for they are willing to live by the legal and political orders of the Indigenous peoples in whose lands they reside” and I am wondering how you deem this to be possible? I am interested in what can specifically be done and changed to make this city and nation a better place. What is anishnabee-ness? What does that look like? And, how do I participate? But, is it naïve of me to be proud of my Finnish heritage and also want to continue to participate in that? I honestly feel like some of your comments make me feel ashamed of that heritage and I wonder if asking all Canadians to participate in anishnabee-ness is asking them to assimilate? However, I will admit, that I do not see assimilation as negative. I know this is a bunch of questions and thoughts, but I am trying to understand and share my views. Please be gentle.

    1. Damien

      hi kelsea – thanks for your great comment.

      its complex, but there are a couple of things that can be done. the first is to not let feelings of guilt shut down the process of unsettlement. unsettlement is necessarily an emotional process. so if my letter made you feel unsettled, i think thats a good thing – but stopping a process of transition solely because of guilt is one way settler colonialism reproduces or protects itself.

      second, its key to learn and live by the laws and politics of the indigenous ppls whose territory you live in. settler colonialism in canada is in partly an issue of the state asserting its ideologies onto indigenous lands (in the form of its laws). what are the laws in anishinaabe aki? are they only federal and provincial? or, do they include anishinaabe laws? anishinaabe political orders? by living according to these laws, you not only expose canadian law as being based on ethnocentrism and terra nullius, but you also support their resurgence and presence. anishinaabe laws exist, even tho marginalized or invisiblized. unsettlement is thus also a process of learning them, and deferring to them.

      third, participation in unsettlement in canada demands not only supporting indigenous resurgence, but that this be done in a way that accounts for whiteness and how we all may be complicit with it. participate by asking yourself how you might be complicit – knowingly or unknowingly – with eurocentrism, patriarchy, industrial capitalism, colonialism, etc… im not saying you ARE intentionally complicit with these things (i dont know you, not accusing you :). but unsettlement in canada, where white supremacy is deployed to protect settler colonialism, can only be done by diagnosing how one may uphold the problems without knowing it, and then working to discontinue upholding these “isms” so that they dont work their way into your unsettlement (because, as discourses, they work to uphold colonialism even in actions meant to dismantle it).

      this is just a quick reply. im on my phone at a cafe… id be happy to discuss this more with you 🙂

      PS – there is also a lot written on unsettlement. would be happy to suggest books, such as paulette regan’s “unsettling the settler within,” or michele carey’s phd dissertation:

  19. Nish Dish

    of course Tamara Johnson’s rants are inciting hatred towards natives , she is after all >> E.R.B.L’s ( End Race Based Law inc. – hate page against 1st nations in Canada ) newest recruit

  20. B. Hamilton

    I have an issue with this passage
    ” The claim that First Nations should be subject to all laws/taxes of the settler society is a white-supremacist argument; it is steeped in the notion that Indigenous peoples have no laws or political orders of their own, and that they should assimilate into the Eurocentric way of doing things. “, yet you claim that both sides should be treated as equals in a nation to nation type of relationship, so under that statement, does that mean when traveling to any other nation, anyone of any nationality should choose which laws to follow? If it had been written in the proper context of “The claim that First Nations should be subject to laws/taxes of the settler society that conflict with treaty agreements” then i wouldn’t have any issue, but this makes it seem that all laws that are in society are not binding to First Nations

    1. Gupdawg

      Hello B. Hamilton – the statement is about colonialism, not tourism. Indigenous people had their own laws, protocols, languages, economies, governance structures, medical systems, trade agreements, etc when White explorers and then settlers arrived and chose to completely invalidate and usurp those systems. I am always amazed that non-Indigenous settler Canadians continue to believe that their ways are superior and that Indigenous people need to make accommodation for us by assimilating to our ways. Indigenous people owe me nothing – I am sure they are wishing they had an immigration policy…

  21. rob

    Very nice open letter. Your assumption was that Tamara can read. Misguided without any facts that’s Tamara. She thinks she has put her “finger” on the pulse of the community and is willing to openly speak her mind to help her political ambitions. The fact she even had the PC nomination in Northern Ontario really scares me. Maybe in another 120-200 years in this nation called Canada everyone can learn to get along, who am I kidding. Racism is a learned behavior, we are not born as racist.

    1. gupdawg

      OMG have you seen Tamara’s full page ad in the Chronicle Journal? Talk about a hate crime! How is that not promoting hate? Why is there a ‘special’ tolerated racist violence allowed when the topic is about Indigenous people? Can you imagine something like that being printed if you substituted Aboriginal for any other group – esp. “White” – never, it would not be tolerated. Thunder Bay’s citizens need to send a clear message on voting day!!!! And vote with your feet and wallet by refusing to patronize the Landmark Inn or any other family holdings…sheesh!

      1. Jeff Macleod

        The federal party in power has included legislation that relaxes the laws protecting Canadian’s against hate speech….obviously the their party protocol/theme.

  22. Bree

    I’m tired of everyone hating. We’ve been through so much already. :/

    I’m so glad those schools ended. I didn’t go and my children don’t have to. Who wants to get raped while attending “school”?!?!?! Perverted priests and evil nuns. Lol.

  23. Dom Besignano

    I posted earlier today up in march dates..ill briefly post again as idon’t want my msg missed..Her Dad/family owned the Landmark a number of yrs back..Gull Bay had an ongoing mould problem..The band stayed 3 month at the Landmark under her family ownership…She did an estimate of what the hotel made on her site the other day..Im blocked from her site but I can still read her threads.Anyway in 3 months Gull Bay would have pd 1 !/2 million for rooms and food..She used top price for rooms and deals..$100 a room..3-4 ppl in a room…no deals..Anyways considering she has stated that natives should not have this money…”handout”…her words…”our tax money”..her words…tamara didn’t seem to have a problem her family and her reaping the benerfits of native money….”our taxes”..In fact no one on her group seemed to see a problem with this.. Im sure she has a closet full of spike stiletto heels and many otherb shoes from her take in her closet..Her family has since sold the hotel to a native group..She still had a 10 yr lease I belive she was obligated to.I believe 1 of the problems that may have occurred with many others was she went from being a bully to native all of a sudden ..some became her bosses.Some ppl I know knewe her and family since she was a kid.THe word was she was treated like princess and she had a big appetite for her own entitlement…Being a sociopath shes having a hard time adjusting..Your right Damien her and her gang will never change her racist ways..In fact its got worse.I expect to see a big blowup in all this fairly soon.

  24. Cylene Marie

    I cannot believe how uneducated some people can be on this topic! I support this letter. This has only scratched the surface of the genocide and corruption in our communities today. I have yet to make my own website on this woman and have already contacted many organizations and my media resources to get this story heard. TAMARA JOHNSON has only made this a opportunity for aboriginal to show the world the misunderstanding and how politically uneducated some can be this day and age.

  25. Cynthia

    I applaud all those who that have made comments on this issue, it is obvious that the History betweent the Canadian Government and First Nations People are not informed enough.

    Medical Services, education, tax-exemption, reservations, farming implements, annual payments are all based on the Treaty agreements that have been signed between the Canadian Government and First Nations People. They are not “free handouts” from the government, there is more to this and people in Canada should be educated on this topic.

    Its funny to see, how little so many people know about Canada’s history, The First People of this land is not taught in most schools, the impact that Europeans have had on them..If people knew about the history they would know that First Nations do not receive free handouts, they would understand how much they sacrificed for what little we have.

    One thing people should keep in mind is, Anishinabec are the First People of this land, yet we are the poorest, most of First Nations are in children’s aid, in jail and are unemployed.

    Throughout the healing journey, First Nations People are using the advantages of education and learning the ways of the European government system and now are standing together to unify as a nation…to stop new bills the government are trying to put on us.

    First Nations people are the only group of people in the world governed by an act, the Indian Act

  26. sashykins

    this is INCREDIBLE!! Thank you so much for writing such a well researched, well articulated letter dispelling so many of the disgusting stereotypes about First Nations people. I can think of many others who would benefit from reading this and I will be sharing it with everyone I know. Beautiful. Miigwetch!

  27. Carol

    How do you respond to racism ? Take pride in your rich culture and the fact we are still strong!
    How do you forgive racism? Take pity on those who hate, it is easier to hate than to love.
    How do you overcome racism? Alone you can’t united we can!

  28. alanna

    The Indian Act is racist. Un-equality is what causes this racism everyone if huffing and puffing about. How does no one see this! Its not going away talking about it. Its going to go away when everyone feels equal.

    1. Gupdawg

      By “equal” I am going to assume that you mean “like White people” and that Indigenous people should not have “entitlements that White and other non-Indigenous people don’t get. I urge you, Alanna, to study the Treaty agreements that provide Canada with it’s status as a sovereign nation. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have treaty rights and entitlements – perhaps you aren’t satisfied with only having the land and resources? I am pretty sure Indigenous people are’t very satisfied with the arrangement either. The Indian Act is a racist document made by and for the benefit if White people. It has been done to ensure that Indigenous people have no legal recourse to fight the ongoing theft of land and resources. There is so much that Canadians don’t know about our own history. Instead of asking for equality, please spend time looking at the inequities in the standard of living between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in this country. – the social and health disparities – these are not caused by any failing or flaw in Indigenous people – they are caused by the ongoing colonial agenda…fed by false beliefs…and misplaced resentments…start by learning the truth of how the land you reside on was acquired.

    2. Carolemay

      Good letter, off topic a bit..everyone here is paying for this bunch with their bash sites that are giving us the reputation of the second most racist city in Canada. We have a wonderful, beautiful area with so much to offer but regardless of this natural beauty, our many facilities, waterfront, dining, sports and tournament centers, shopping etc. who will come if they feel we are judgemental, racist, and our city unsafe? Regardless of your opinion, living in this area we are somewhat dependent on visitors to prosper and support jobs. We pay to advertise to bring visitors to this area, these sites are costing you money… no visitors and the economy suffers and that can impact your job, again costing you money. I have no idea what this group are trying to accomplish, it seems to be just bullying, a game? entertainment? The group leader seems to thrive on attention and perhaps if Canadian laws and treaties are not to her liking there are alternatives. People need to realize it is better for everyone to be successful, cooperate in ventures so some of the social problems solve themselves and all Canadians prosper. Many have tried to educate, explain things to this woman but unfortunately she is unteachable because hate and her problems blind her to the benefits we can give one another. Thanks for allowing me another point of view while completely agreeing with all you have said. Thank you, miigwetch. Just your average non aboriginal who abhors this social bash scene and participants.!

  29. Pocahontas

    Tamara is prejudiced, remember French and Indian are the back bone of Canada. My roots stem back to Canada. Does yours? I am shocked that the Government, is condoning Tamara’s uneducated statements when they preach against racism. Maybe the First Nations should take Tamara to court and sue her for slander.

  30. Pingback: Canada’s New Settler Solidarity Movement | PopularResistance.Org

  31. Suzie Kimball

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this piece. Seeing the comments siding with Tamara Johnson, it worries me that my peers could be so naive to agree with her. Being a member of FWFN it can be quite uncomfortable to read these statements, but seeing this article has given me hope that there are well-educated people out there. I commend your work, and hope that you will continue sharing your knowledge.

  32. John


    While I respect your comments I believe you are missing the point here. Most that support Tamara are not suggesting that laws, acts, treaty, whatever, are not being adhered to. What people are recognizing is that what we have is NOT working. Are your people happy? High suicides, atrocious living conditions, horrible crime rates, an attitude among non aboriginals that is getting worse, and a city dividing more than ever, yet rather than discuss how we can improve conditions for your community, you site law? It’s almost to the point that it is irrelevant. It seems you have the strong educational foundation you now need, may be time to admit that what we have now is broken. It’s time your people work with the Canadian Government and start to come up with real solutions and you too may find yourself with many, many followers from both sides of the pond.

    I believe it’s easy to throw around the word racist at everyone who doesn’t see the world you do, how about digging into what they really want, change! Rather than toss around more quotes, do you have ideas to improve this situation? Time to stop protecting how the books say it is – and start looking at how it should be!


    1. gupdawg

      Sorry Dave, I believe you are missing the point – it is non-Indigenous Canadians who need to speak out and let their Government know that the ongoing colonization of the First Peoples is an outrage! What you are advocating is total assimilation for crying out loud. Why should Indigenous people have made any concession for any immigrant group? Canadians are always going on about how new immigrants should learn the language and culture here – which Indigenous language are you fluent in? Indigenous languages and cultures were not respected or learned. Indigenous people are living exactly the way the Government and other Canadians want them to be living. Any change would mean sharing the wealth and so many have already been very vocal about how they feel about that. Non-Indigenous Canadians collect their treaty entitlements every single day (in those areas where treaties were signed) and take anything they want in those areas where treaties were not signed; complain about their tax dollars going to Indigenous people; but never once stopping to wonder what the cost is to Indigenous people…no, it is Canadians who need to step up to the plate. Treaties are working just fine for non-Indigenous people here in Canada.

      1. Carole

        Just a suggestion that there be a component of immigration be a history and explaination even in simple form of why and what rights were given to aboriginals. How can we expect those not familiar with our history to understand these things without some understanding of exactly what is involved? So much misinformation abounds on the subject of rights, taxes, etc. and if repeated often enough it seems to be believed as fact. It is easy to see what someone else seems to have that you don’t but you don’t see the price they pay for it either. It is always easier to take advantage of someone if you somehow feel they are less deserving. Equal for some means you get something others have BUT it can also mean you get less than you have. Would you be willing to go live in a place where because a large group of people living on one side of a lake have good, clean, easily accessible water for drinking, bathing even washing your car if you wish but the other side has had about an 18 year boil water advisory.In an emergency or even to just get groceries or mail you had to cross a dangerous stretch of water because it is too expensive to put in a road? The government made the decisions which left these people in this situation. Would you send your young teens away to a strange place where they have no family or community support and trust the people there would treat them well? It seems strange to me the person who seems to have caused the most stress to us all comes from a family that owned a hotel. Seems to have been schooled in the USA and took a course on Mexican Indians according to her interview feels that the aboriginals have more benefits than she and wants us all to be equal confuses me. I sincerely wish that the energy she expends on negatively impacting our city could be channeled to doing supportive, compassionate things. She likes the attention and this would provide that for her as well and would solve the problem of her perceived bullying as well. Understanding and compassion as well as co-operation would go a long way to all of us being happier and more successful.We are all in this together and regardless of your experiences, each of us is responsible for our own actions, regardless of what group we come from or are associated with. Some of our circumstances we can control others we can’t and we have no idea what others have or are dealing with so best not to judge and help where we can. We always respond to others in need

        so how about just helping all Canadians . Thanks for listening to my thoughts and feel free to respond with yours, possibly I could learn something.

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