Former Thunder Bay Superior North Progressive Conservative Party candidate
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.