Posted by on Jul 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

Canada’’s Chokehold on First Nations

Have you read or heard about one of the methods of how they train elephants? What they do is when the elephant is a baby; they tie its leg to a stake. The baby elephant fights and struggles to get away from stake but soon learns that freedom is hopeless. As the elephant matures and grows enormous, the only thing the elephant trainer needs to do if the elephant gets out of line is wrap a rope around the elephant’s leg. The elephant, without realizing that its strength can rip any stake out of the ground, is conditioned to believe freedom is hopeless.…

Canada’s Chokehold on First Nations

By: Colby Tootoosis

July 18th, 2012- The Chiefs within the Assembly of First Nations have re-elected National Chief Shawn Atleo to represent their voice. This article is not about the voice of the Chief’s. This article is about the voice of the people, and reflecting on what happened to it. Never has it been more imminent to question the current realities of the First Nations north of the colonial border. Not because of the re-election of a National Chief, but because of the repeated cycles and limited momentum within the movement of Indigenous Liberation.

When my brother Mylan was going to school in Santa Fe at the Institute of American Indian Arts, focusing on Indigenous Liberal Studies, he would call home with his realizations and awakened perceptions of our current nation state. One day he called and asked me a question. “

Colby! If a man comes to your house, threatens to burn it, burns it anyway, takes your children away and even rapes and murders your women- and then leaves but later comes back and asks you, do you want to be like me? I can teach you… would you learn from him?” He asked me. “

No?!” I curiously responded. “

Well, the current system your involved with, working for and participating in, stems from that very ideology.

”At the time I was working for a Tribal Council that was responsible for services to eleven surrounding communities. I was male co-chair for the Assembly of First Nations Youth Council, and part of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Environmental Youth Council. Despite the fact that these systems were originally established to affirm our independent statehood, they have weakened their foundation by conforming to the very system that has implemented policies of detribalization. After the call from my brother, this is what was realized.

Colonial fist grips on Indigenous Movements

In the early 1900’s, the League of Western Indians established their movement geared towards strengthening the Treaty rights and Inherit Rights of First Nations– they later became known as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. The National Indian Brotherhood was also born later in the midst of Canada revealing its policy of assimilation known as the 1969 white paper. The Indigenous strive, and momentum was empowered by commitment, volunteers, and Chiefs appointed by the people based on character and merit. One of the strong intentions at the time was ensuring this movement and the ‘National Indian Brotherhood’, which today is known as the Assembly of First Nations, along with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, was to NOT become funded by the federal government. However, Chiefs compromised and accepted external financial support for these organizations. To this day the government of Canada funds the very regime whose responsibility is to advocate the Crown in which Canada represents in ensuring Treaty Rights are maintained. In this circumstance, if a nation does something that doesn’t seem to fit the objectives of Canada, Canada simply pulls or cuts funding. It’s apparent that the mentality and accepting of this compromising, this conforming style of leadership, has diluted the stronghold in which profound indigenous movements can manifest. One of my uncles worded it nicely where he stated, “You can’’t go hunting for moose and expect the moose to supply you with the bullets to kill it. ~ Eric Tootoosis.

To understand how this chokehold came to be, we have to reflect on the relationship between First Nations and Canada.

The relationship between Canada’s representation of the Crown and the First Nation’s is an abusive relationship. Treaties were made, and contracts were signed, just like a marriage– a nation-to-nation relationship. Let’’s reflect on an abusive spousal relationship- specifically between a man and woman, in order to have a clear reflection of the relationship between First Nations and Canada. Though dynamics differentiate in relationships, this example is just to give a template for our circumstance.

If a man has some clarity within his insanity when he is abusive to the woman he walks with, he will know how to be so others will not notice the dynamics of the relationship. He knows where to hit her and how to hit her so others won’t see the bruises she carries.

Canada has a gloss-covered mask as one of the best living countries in the world. The international community has little knowledge of Canada being founded on the genocide, detribalization and diluted/broken Treaties with the Indigenous people.

In an abusive relationship, a man knows how to communicate with her to psychologically break down her self-esteem and independence.

First Nation children were forced to attend residential schools where sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental and spiritual abuse took place. This broke down and created a distance from our spiritual lifecycles and protocols- specifically in conscious leadership.

A man in an abusive relationship even controls the finances so the woman becomes dependent on him and even dictates how she’s allowed to spend her money.

When the woman breaks and cries, and even in some circumstances attempts to leave the relationship or take control NOT of the man she walks with– rather her own life!– the man knows exactly what to say or do to keep her “in line.”

With First Nations funding already limited along with requirements on how to spend it- when leaders talk about the truth of strengthening our sovereignty, and stand firm against the colonizer, our funding gets pulled away and cut down to size.

An abusive man will even apologize afterwards, weep, and beg for forgiveness.

Canada announced and apologized for their actions and what took place with residential schools.

He will even give her money and encourage her to spend it on herself.

Canada gave money to the victims of residential schools based the extent of the abuse.

He will treat her nice for a while and openly talk to her about it. He will attempt to work towards improving the relationship by requesting her perception on what he has done and what he needs to do differently so it won’t happen again.

Canada initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that addresses what happened by recording the stories of the abuse from residential schools– “so that this will never happen again.”

This cycle of victimhood and persecution in many circumstances repeats itself in abusive relationships.

In our circumstance funding continues to be limited, and our Treaty Rights continue to be diluted. Many leaders today are still stuck in the reality of adopted limited perceptions stemming from residential school.

A woman in an abusive relationship will sometimes go to her girlfriends and talk about how shitty the relationship is. Her friend’s responses will be something along the lines of, “what are you complaining about? You have it good! He supports you! You have a house! You don’t have to worry about your livelihood! He takes care of you! Pays for your living!”

Many ignorant responses from non First Nations tend to be along the lines of, “You people get everything for free, why do you live in such poor conditions? Our taxpayers’ dollars go to your alcoholism. All you Indians do is complain about what happened to you, get over it already.”

Soon the woman accepts her reality and if her children witness and grow up in this reality, they accept it as normal and grow up feeding this unhealthy cycle. It may even get to the point where the only way out of the relationship is suicide.

First Nations, Inuit and Metis have the highest suicide rates out of any other ethnic group. To understand what feeds this unhealthy relationship we have to look at the emotional drives of choices that are being made within our current structure of leadership.

Canada implemented policies of detribalization with the Indian Act, with residential schools, and other policies of Assimilation. If I were a child who grew up in residential schools exposed to every type of abuse, and in some cases in one room shacks during the summer, with sometimes up to 12 siblings, in poverty, with a struggle to survive– what beliefs about my life would I adopt as my reality? Maybe something along the lines of, “life isn’’t worth living, I hate my people, I hate my parents, I hate God, people can do whatever they want to me, there is never enough to go around, I will always be taken advantage of, I can only take care of my own, every man/woman for him/herself, I need to always be in control, my way is the safer way, you can’t trust white people, you can’t trust your own people, trust no one, I am ashamed to be ‘Indian,’ I am ashamed to be a man, I am ashamed to be a woman, children are dumb, young people are empty headed.

” If these examples of adopted beliefs become crystalized within the mind and body, one can only reflect on the emotional instability that can manifest itself in the realms of the heart. What happened is our support systems, our ceremonies, and our protocols- that prevented such an unhealthy identity from being created, were distant from this generation.

If I were a person who grew up in this type of environment, and matured witnessing conscious leaders organizing and leading the revolution of the time, and with no support systems in place to dissolve these limiting beliefs that were adopted in my young life- even though I heard the respected old people who were the founders of these organizations strongly encourage NOT to go under federal funding- as a person who grew up with ‘nothing,’ would I have the strength to be able to say NO to the government representative who comes to the table stating something along the lines of, “if you govern yourselves like this model we are showing you, it will guarantee the funding that is your right, govern yourselves according to how we tell you and you will get your funding, here is a cheque to get you started, and because it is your right to govern yourselves you can do whatever you want with it”?

Many nations signed onto an Indian Act electoral system, which gave the Ministry of Indian Affairs (today known as Aboriginal Affairs) under Canada jurisdiction on how these Nations are governed. Some nations however refused this and stated our nations have governed ourselves in accordance to the land since the beginning of time and we will continue to do so– and they were termed “band custom” under the Indian Act. There are only a small number of nations who are band custom nations. Almost every provincial organization with the role of advocacy for First Nations and Treaty Rights has become federally funded.

Peace. Liberation. Resurgence.
You know that nervousness you feel in the pit of your stomach just before you’re about to do something out of the ordinary? That’s the greatness. That’s the internal epic preparing itself to be expressed….

The First Nation citizens loved the reality of a high number of women running for National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations. If the people had the power to choose their National Chief it would most likely be a guaranteed female spokesperson. One feminine voice that stood out with the 2nd highest votes right through the ballots was Pamela Palmater; a lawyer, professor, author, and vibrant speaker who stated reality and provided crisp solutions to the current state of First Nations. If Chiefs authentically listened to their people, Palmater would most likely have been the newly elected National Chief.

I wanted to highlight this because the presence of women in political leadership is an uncomfortable experience to the old school male dominant regime– that has been deciding the fate of First Nations in the last 40 or so years. This regime is consistent and rests comfortably under a blanket of per diem based thinking and decision-making. I would sometimes half jokingly declare that we live in a per diem based world! Mind you, no revolution in the history of the world was ever driven by per diems. Consistency has become dangerous to our people. The comfort zone domains of our political causes need to be dissolved.

New blood, new faces, and attitudes are becoming more and more noticeable in our nationhood movements. Soon the “elephant” will realize itself as an embodiment of freedom and liberation. There will be a day when the resurgence of true consciousness will emerge in the midst of the communal chaos lead by our young people. There are countries in the womb of Canada that will become born not only in the form of a waving flag– but rather as an awakening of consciousness that has always existed since the beginning of time. This day is a guarantee. It would be wise for the young settler/Canadian citizen to pay attention and realize that the liberation of indigenous people is the only option to ensure a future for everyone and everything. How far are we all willing to go to defend the land?