A Response to Anthony Sowan’s Rant Against #IdleNoMore

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The following is my response to Anthony Sowan’s rant against the #idlenomore movement.

One big mistake within that rant is the idea that this is about preservation of culture. It is about preservation of political rights. If a person marries outside the tribe their children will have a different claim to membership and then if they marry outside the tribe their children won’t membership? So even a native chief’s children and grandchildren can be considered non-native by the government. If a native women doesn’t get the father’s name on the birth certificate, the father is presumed to be non-native, so women who are raped and women whose ex-partners want to avoid child-support end up unable to give their children native rights. A woman needs a man’s signature before she can pass on to her children her political rights.

The rant mentions different cultural  societies managing without government funding, but many of those societies would have government funding – if not Canadian government, then foreign governments. (The German government sends books as prizes to the top students in German university classes here in Canada. I’m pretty sure governments fund cultural things in other ways too.) But none of this matters because what those involved in #idlenomore are after goes far beyond funding for native language classes or dance costumes. Schools on native reserves receive less funding than provincially funded public schools, for the teaching of basic curriculum like math and science. We can recognize that those are the responsibility of the federal government, right? What about improved access to health care and clean water? The United Nations and Amnesty International have both been highly critical of the way in which the Canadian government’s failures in its treatment of our first nation people.

The idea that blocking the roads makes people dislike native people not proof that they should stop doing them. In 1961 57% of Americans thought that sit-ins at lunch counters and freedom busses were going to hurt the black cause. When it comes down to it, what options do people have to make their point heard?

Individual native people do not necessarily get extra consultation, but it is an issue for the courts whether or not native tribes, as governments we are in a treaty-relationship with, do get extra consultation. The Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Frog Lake First Nation are taking the government to court to establish whether or not the government’s omnibus bills reduction of environmental protection is breaking its treaty obligations to protect traditional aboriginal territory.

In point two Anthony Sowan argues that since millions of Canadians are already in favor of good environmental policy, there is no need for the first nations to protest on environmental issues. This ignores the fact that many first nations are fighting tooth in nail to protect their own territories from environmental destruction. Canadian’s general desire for green energy does not protect individual tribes from having their sacred lakes turned into tailings ponds. Mr. Sowan’s statement that there “is aggressive legislation, and powerful government offices in place that already have that very same sentiment at heart” is completely unsubstantiated. Bill C 45, the Bill that helped to trigger the #idlenomore protests, substantially weakens environmental protections and Elizabeth May has recently brought to light plans the government has to merge Environment Canada with the department of Natural Resources, a move that will likely remove even more environmental protections. But Mr. Sowan doesn’t think that relevant as he acknowledges that he doesn’t know the “ins and outs of the government bills, documentation, or policy that is driving the current protests.”

In points three or four Anthony Sowan creates poorly worded strawmen and then knocks them down. Sure, its silly to argue that politicians can’t read the huge omnibus bills. They can. The real argument is that reading it doesn’t matter because they don’t have any power to make any changes to it as debate has been limited and our electoral system assures that only the party in power can do anything.

With regards to “if there were truly earth shattering implications in the bill in question, the opposition would be whistle blowing and bleating into any available microphone available so fast it would make your head spin” my response is that the opposition is trying to get the word out. Those of us who choose to be aware know there are huge implications, and those who choose not to be aware are trying to use their own ignorance as proof that it doesn’t matter.

That some native people do not experience racism against them does not mean others don’t. I remember a classmate at university talking about how her school teachers treated her and her brother differently, because her brother appeared native and she didn’t. Even people within one family have different experiences, imagine how different experiences are going to be across a country, with people in all different situations.

That there are non-native people who need financial assistance means we should increase assistance to all people, not decrease assistance to native people.

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