Indian Act: Police state, 1876 and 2011

| October 17, 2011
Indian Act: Police state, 1876 and 2011

Ever since the deplorable events took place last year at the G20 Summit in Toronto, a notable term has continuously been "in the air" among circles of fellow political activists, orators, journalists, contrarians, and those concerned with the general well-being of our communities.

Before Queen Street had even cooled from the concentration of kettled bodies and crimson-drips from busted lips (compliments of a Blue and Black wall of silence with an inflated budget), the term Police State began circulating more frequently and ferociously... perhaps with more acknowledgement and awareness of its looming existence than years prior.

With good reason and well-deserved concern.

However, since the growing acknowledgement of an increasingly restrictive and repressive authority has found its way through the pens of writers, the lips of orators, and upon the placard signs in Ottawa and Toronto this year, I can't help but wonder, "Where has this same enlightened attention, same awareness, and same progressive public been in years prior?"

One hundred and thirty-four years prior, in fact.

Why is a longstanding and toxic tyranny, which has been nothing less than a venomous antique binding the wills and lives of many indigenous people, being acknowledged only now as something which sprouted horns in the last decade and only recently decided to build steam?

Whether or not it is because some are seeing it for the first time bumping up against their worlds, wilful ignorance, or possibly because many are still travelling along the learning curve of such issues (which we all continue to do);

With all due respect, truth be told today.

For many generations, my family (and many First Nation families alike) have been all too familiar with the reality and implications of a Police State under the Indian Act enacted by the Parliament of Canada in 1876.

Ironically prefaced as "An Act Respecting Indians", this legislation (serving as a rigid, repressive set of controls over the social, economic, political, and cultural lives of countless of our People) was thrown upon us with zero consultation or involvement in the process and continues to manipulate, command, restrict and regulate our lives, families, and communities from the moment we are born until after we pass.

Restricted, repressed, controlled, imposed upon, and currently manipulated we are; the way we govern our sovereign communities, our very identities in relation to our sovereign communities, how our sovereign lands are to be utilized, how our sovereign reserves can and must operate, how the flagrantly imposed chief and council system must function and under what regulations decisions can be made and approved, and who is recognized as an Indian with treaty right and who is not under Ottawa's definition and enforcement of who we are -- never our own.

And this is only the beginning.

Canada represses and restricts a sovereign people through this very mechanism far more than its very own citizens.

In a country that claims to honour and respect our sovereignty; "the preach" does not align with "the practice" and there are more reasons (countless that a single article could not contain) to solidly make the case.

Perhaps the most alarming may be the systematic process of dwindling our populations of who are "recognized as Indians" to zero with each generation of intermarriage with "non-status" and non-indigenous individuals: essentially placing a pedigree, a thoroughbred rating, or a pseudo-scientific blood percentage upon an entire people. This process is currently steaming along within a system where both our recognized population (and access to numerous political and treaty rights) are blatantly designed to erode to zero... not to remain or to continue for coming generations.

And the authors and subscribers to this tenant are well on their way to realizing the intention. I recall viewing a black-and-white film about policies where racial purity and pedigree was a prime criterion in determining an individual group's prerequisite access to specific political and human rights, but I couldn't really understand much of the dialogue because the film-reel was in 1930s German.

Are you alarmed?

Or is a more alarming aspect the process of conditioning we have undergone (and continue to undergo) to accept this imposition of control without question or critique because "that's the way it is" -- accepting colonization's end-game of changing who we are, how we practice who we are, and manipulating our choices and decisions by which we are defined?

The Indian Act also has a very damaging history in which we still witness the falling of subsequent dominoes in the distance such as our deepened divides within and between communities, between criterions of indigenous people who are recognized by Ottawa and who are not, manifestations of Diane Hill's Ethnostress, as well as massive restrictions of our own choices, our own aspirations, and our sovereignty.

This archaic piece of legislation is not only destructive, but it is in direct, full, and absolute opposition to the empowerment and benefit of our communities.

Above all, this contrived system of total control, disempowerment, colonization, and assimilation called the Indian Act must go. It is true that it has been amended upwards of 20 times with our People still feeling the tsunami-style ripple effects of past elements of the Indian Act, but the central tenant is still the same with the very same endgame in mind; an endgame which many have been patiently waiting for the designed outcome to unfold unto its conclusion.

Those finding illusions of benevolence in the "Act respecting Indians" should examine the strings attached to such elements and to be certain to understand what the endgame of this legislation was (and remains to be today and tomorrow) if left intact.

At a time when claims of "reconciliation" adorn our times, cultural and political genocide is alive and well.

However, this time through stealth and legislation rather than overt force.

No matter how many amendments may slightly file down the teeth of colonization's grin and grasp, its strong hold and the punctures left behind, each day, remain a damaging force until an all-out repeal detaches the instrument that closes the jaw upon generations and allows us to truly start to heal.

Fiduciary responsibility CAN be honoured without the present intergenerational grip and control mechanisms over Indigenous peoples as legislations that affect and impact our lives as First Nation people should be developed and applied through terms and dynamics we are instrumental in constructing.

Look to the Nation-to-Nation relationships of the Treaties upon which our shared history is built.

Leaders, familiarize yourselves with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Before peaceful activists found their rights being stripped on Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, we knew firsthand repressive and restrictive social controls.

Before mainstream communities began to awaken to topics such as imposition and increasing control, our elders were telling us stories of how the Indian Act (and subsequent policies) have negatively impacted our families generation after generation after generation. Many, behind years of wisdom, are instructing us not to pass the responsibility to confront this issue onto our children and grandchildren who may be far removed from the direction and stories of our elders today.

Before chemical-mace and tear gas blinded countless in crowds at urban intersections, millions of tears fell from blurred eyes onto the lands upon which (under the Indian Act) we could not legally hold ceremony, could not argue land expropriation, as it was illegal for our communities to hire lawyers, could not direct our own community governance and decision making without imposition of Indian Agents, and as we could not pass down hereditary leadership while a foreign system was implanted and put in place to stifle progress in the long term.

And most importantly, before George Orwell put his pen to the paper to forewarn about the very real threat of a Police State looming in the distance, indigenous Peoples in such places as Canada under the Indian Act (not to mention the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the U.S., as well as New Zealand, and Australia) were well aware of end-games, agendas, and the imposition of overt control over the social, cultural, economic, and political lives of populations of entire peoples.

"Sovereign Peoples", right Canada?

The Police State isn't coming.

It's here.

And for countless of our families, it has been here for generations.

Robert Animikii Horton, "Bebaamweyaazh", an Anishinaabe member of Rainy River First Nations of Manitou Rapids and from the Marten Clan, has built a reputation as a progressive and outspoken activist, contrarian writer, and respected orator on an international scale, speaking on topics such as community organizing, political/social/economic justice, and youth empowerment. He is a sociologist, social and political activist, and spoken-word poet.

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