Speaking for or about native peoples

Joseph Boyden is an author who has written historical fiction about Canadian and American indigenous people.  He has a little native blood in him and some media people have treated him as a spokesperson on native issues.  He has been challenged in this role on the grounds that he does not have enough native heritage. (Link onelink twolink three)

This blogger has difficulty with the idea that any one person can speak on behalf of indigenous people because they are individuals and represent a wide range of viewpoints.  Who speaks for Americans?  Obama, Clinton or Trump?

However, there are some who are qualified to speak about native people with varying degrees of knowledge and a lot of caring.  Boyden is one and the author of this blog is another.  Beware of natives who claim to speak for their people.  A lot of them are what I call “professional Indians.”  These are people who make careers, if not a living, by serving white people a lot of bull manure about some aspects of native life or culture.  Boyden is qualified to speak about natives because of the research for his books and I am qualified because my wife is a minister in the United Church of Canada and for four years we lived on a British Columbia coastal Indian Reserve.  Also I have an Indian name.  When I commented that there was a lot of teasing in the giving of Indian names to white people I was told it was a great honour to be given a name by the band’s hereditary chief.

Shortly after we arrived in the village they held a nomination meeting for chief and council.  Not being familiar with the concept I decided to attend and was surprised when three or four people, community leaders, joked about nominating me for elected chief.  After being there for a while and observing band politics I could see there might be some appeal to having a chief who was an outsider.

This band had an elected chief and council and four hereditary clan chiefs who took their positions seriously even though the clan system was getting weaker. The chief of the beaver clan was considered the village chief.   We were told chief and council make most decisions but the chiefs had the right to call a meeting and overrule them. The hereditary chief complained his children did not get jobs in the village because he was sometimes critical of council.  Ten years later we returned for a one-day visit to find the village was divided because the chiefs had tried to exercise this power.  During the day we visited two of the chiefs and were seen as being on their side.  That evening there was a dinner organized by chief and council and while most of the people at the dinner gave us a hug and said “welcome home” the organizers did not acknowledge our presence.  For four years they seldom held a dinner at which my wife was not asked to say grace and I expected she would be asked again.

Us Canadians are forever struggling with division of powers between federal and provincial governments.  Back in 1992 our leaders negotiated some revisions to the balance of power and these revisions were put to the people in a referendum. Under the accord, an aboriginal right to self-government would have been enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. Moreover, the accord would have recognized aboriginal governments as a third order of government, analogous to the federal government and the provinces. In other words, aboriginal governments would have been granted their own order of government, which would have been constitutionally autonomous from the federal and provincial levels of government.

I remember the native leadership were excited about this and insisted the results the native vote be published separately from the white vote.  There are several explanations as to why Canadian natives, as well as Canadians in general,  did not support this accord.  Having since lived four years on a reserve I think native leaders do not speak for their people and Canadian natives certainly did not want more native self-government. Nepotism is found everywhere but on reserves it is blatant.

For the record I am very happy neither I nor my children were raised on an Indian reserve.  I also see natives as being and remaining a conquered people. Treaties are and were a fiction which allow us to, with a clear conscience, hold indigenous people in prison camps. Those people who take a politically  correct approach to native issues are making them into scapegoats.  Forget about the evils of residential schools.  What we are currently doing is much worse.

 

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Treating natives as scapegoats or with equality

The following is a comment posted to an article on The Economist about Canadian natives in the Nov. 17, 2011 issue. This may not be about economics but having lived on a reserve for four years it is something about which I have strong feelings.

http://www.economist.com/node/21538794

 

The way in which us Canadians currently  treat our native population is mostly nasty and much worse than anything which happened in the past.

If we are to treat them humanely we must come to terms with two things.

First, they were and still are a conquered people. When the Europeans came to North American,  they conquered the natives with the help of smallpox. The royal decree that they had to negotiate treaties was a fiction to cover the reality.

The second is that the way we currently treat natives is working to make them into scapegoats.  By allowing them special privileges other  Canadians are developing a lot of resentment.  As the economy goes down it will be convenient to be able to blame natives rather than ourselves.  This is already happening with respect to parts of the West coast fishery where natives are being blamed by some people for a decline of the Fraser River salmon run.

The most important thing to do to for natives is to treat them with equality.  They should have the same rights and responsibilities as every other Canadian.

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