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Indigenous Nationhood

Pamela Palmater's picture
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.

Land wars 2: Attack of the fringe

| August 27, 2012

The right-wing fringe are in full swing these days. From He-who-shall-not-be-named's racist, hateful tirades about First Nations on TV to the fringe right's fave policy institutes' lowly insults and name-calling of First Nation academics and activists on Twitter -- they are working hard to spread their venom to a vulnerable public.

I say vulnerable, because a large segment of the Canadian public is uneducated about Indigenous issues. This means they are open to be persuaded by the well-funded, flashy right-wing propaganda that has infected much of the mainstream print and TV media.

What has got all the fringe right-wingers all abuzz recently? It is the Harper government's plans to divide up reserve lands into individual parcels of land (fee simple). The idea comes from Tom Flanagan's book: Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights.

As I wrote in my last blog, the act is to be called the First Nation Property Ownership Act (FNPOA) and has the potential to destroy First Nation communities, but is being promoted as the answer to our woes.

The person behind the idea, Tom Flanagan, who was also an adviser to PM Stephen Harper, now uses Manny Jules (head of First Nations Tax Commission) to do most of the public promotion of FNPOA. Why? Because Manny Jules is a First Nations man, who is the former chief of Kamloops First Nation and the idea is that it will be easier to sell assimilation to First Nations if a First Nations person does it.

The idea itself is not new. It's the same idea Flanagan promoted in his book First Nations? Second Thoughts, except in his first book, his overt racist depiction of First Nations didn't gain his ideas the support he had hoped. He has not given up on his idea to assimilate First Nations, he is just less overt about it now. In his mind, resistance to assimilation is futile.

His idea is copied from Hernando de Soto, who has travelled the world trying to convince Indigenous peoples that endless riches can be found in giving up their communal lands in exchange for individual fee simple holdings. It appears from all the research to date that these communities are far worse off after they have divided up their communal lands. So, naturally, this sounds like a great plan for Harper.

In fact, some reports have shown that increasing the level of westernized legal concepts of property rights in communities with extreme poverty, "can actually lead to greater exploitation." Other reports note that the impact of De Soto's idea ranges from ineffectual to very "harmful." But, we have to get real about what this idea is all about. The plan is not to create super wealthy, powerful Indigenous communities -- it is for the maximized economic benefit of the political and corporate power-brokers all over the world.

The very objective of this plan is to open up Indigenous communal lands for mortgaging, credit, loans, liens, seizures, taxation and for economic development in the form of mining and pipelines. This "unlocking" benefits banks, investment companies, the extractive industry and government -- not Indigenous peoples. A few low-end labour jobs and a couple of education scholarships are the new beads and trinkets of today, especially when you consider that the corporate industry takes home trillions all over the world.

This proposed bill (FNPOA), like the many others being drafted, introduced and debated without First Nations' review or approval, is the core part of this assimilation plan. It will disperse First Nation communities faster than a police riot squad hose can disperse environmental protesters. Similar legislation has devastated Indigenous land holdings in the United States, some of them irrevocably. Canada's magic key (also known as the land claims negotiating policy) is that once Indigenous lands transfer to "third parties" for any reason, they are gone forever.

You will hear a great deal of media on this subject. The right-wing fringe literally drools at the thought of finally assimilating Indigenous peoples once and for all -- more money, land and control for those who already have more than they need. They can't wait to impose their pipelines across any territories they wish. Instead of informed, educated, fact-based discussions, they have and will likely continue to engage in their usual name-calling, smearing, belittling and taunting of Indigenous academics, community members, leaders and activists.

We must keep in mind those Conservative right-wing fringe groups are the 1 per cent mega-rich of settler societies who can buy and control just about anything -- newspapers, TV stations, research, conferences, policy institutes, think tanks, economic institutions and politicians. They have large think tanks and private strategy meetings to discuss and implement their own plans. The closer we get to the truth about their activities, the more frantic and desperate will be their attacks. They will cowardly threaten, defame, ridicule and misinform -- and it will be relentless.

On our side, we have our communities - -who, for all the hardships, difficulties, tragedies and poverty, still have our identities, cultures, languages, beliefs, spiritualities, practices, traditions, laws, economies and governments. We are so much stronger than those who wish to assimilate us. Even in our suffering we find the strength to hold on to who we are, we defend our sovereignty, treaties, lands, waters and skies and we refuse to give up. Our Indigenous Nations have thrived here since time immemorial and we will thrive again. Our ancestors left us everything we need to guide us and protect our future generations.

We can do this. Don't get distracted by the noise and drama of the right-wing fringe groups who seek to profit on our suffering. Many of them only do so because their media ratings (i.e. salaries) and "online hit count makes it worthwhile." We have to focus on the issues before us, work together, help build each others' knowledge and capacity and empower one another. We all have skills we can use to help better our families, communities and Nations.

Make no mistake, this bill is a modern form of land war that will be waged on our Nations. I for one, will do everything in my power to stop this legislation. I will keep researching, publishing, speaking about it, answering questions and dispelling myths. I am often criticized for the volunteer work I do for First Nations. One prominent B.C. chief once said publicly that that "you get what you pay for with volunteers -- they are worthless." I hold the opposite view.

I have a strong Mi'kmaw identity and attachment to my culture and Mi'kmaw Nation. I am blessed with a supportive extended family and strong, healthy children. I worked hard as a single mom to earn an education (four university degrees) and was lucky enough to find a good paying job. I am grateful to the Creator for my warm house (on traditional Indigenous territories) and access to healthy food and clean water. Coming from a situation where I lived on welfare with my two babies in a flooded, mouldy Aboriginal house which made my babies very sick -- I appreciate what we have now.

None of this makes me any more or less Mi'kmaw, but it does highlight my responsibility to do the most that I can do for our peoples. I have certain blessings that put me in a position where I am obligated, according to Mi'kmaw ways of being, to give back and help build up the Mi'kmaw Nation and other Indigenous Nations and peoples in Canada. So I will continue my volunteer work -- regardless of the threats, slander or attacks from the fringe who just can't comprehend our Indigenous collective loyalties to one another and our lands, waters and skies.

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