Racism, hunger and laziness: A First Nations youth perspective on Idle No More media coverage

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As Chief Theresa Spence has demonstrated since December 11th, there is supreme hunger in this country. For too many First Nations people, that hunger is literal, as they struggle to find a way to feed themselves despite the wealth that is being extracted from their lands. For others, this hunger is more abstract.

As a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishinàbeg woman (that’s Mohawk and Algonquin) who was raised off-reserve, I have been sustained throughout my life by strong connections to my home communities and my First Nations identity.

I have followed the Idle No More movement ravenously, consuming online Canadian media coverage, as well as the commentary section following every article. In these comments, it is clear that, in a purportedly enlightened country like Canada, racism against First Nations people is everywhere.

In particular, I'm struck by the repeated accusation of the laziness of First Nations people.  The hypocrisy of such a characterization is astounding. In fact, few Canadians have taken any time to find out the facts, preferring instead to regurgitate the racist stereotypes that we've been fed by the media and the mainstream education system for generations.    

As one commentator pointed out, it's 2013 and it's time for us to collectively grow up: Canadians, do your research and educate yourselves about the gross injustices, oppression, colonization, and frankly illegal activity perpetrated by the Canadian government against Aboriginal people for centuries.

Educate yourselves first about Treaties, how they were signed between Canada and First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis.  In these Treaties, First Nations agreed to give up immense tracts of land and submitted to the Reserve system in exchange for certain rights, like education and resource sharing.  

These Treaties are legally binding agreements and are protected within Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. Some of the Treaty agreements stipulate that First Nations fight for Canada, which they've done in record numbers in every major war since the Seven Years War in the 18th century.  

Yet, many of the Canadian government’s Treaty obligations have been ignored, and resource exploration and exploitation is often done on First Nations lands without consent, despite the Crown's common law duty to consult. Still, every single Canadian continues to benefit exorbitantly and passively from the wealth generated from exploiting the lands that were meant to be shared.

You'll see that to ignore the Treaties is to violate the Constitution.

Next, educate yourselves about oppressive legislation like the Gradual Civilization Act, the Gradual Enfranchisement Act and the Indian Act, which made it illegal for First Nations people to engage in many types of economic activities, to go to university, to join the armed forces, or to even learn how to read, without giving up their Indian status.  

It will quickly become clear that the dependency you sometimes see in Aboriginal communities, what you short-sightedly identify as laziness, was in fact deliberately created by your government through policy and legislation.

Finally, educate yourselves about Residential schools -- you'll soon understand the depth of physical and sexual abuse experienced by the over 100,000 Aboriginal children who were forced to attend these schools, in addition to the feelings of worthlessness and shame these children were made to feel towards their culture, their traditions, and the colour of their skin. You'll come to realize that the type of education given at these schools was intended to create a poor labouring class. You'll quickly discover that the last residential school was closed in 1996, a mere 17 years ago. And you'll understand that the intergenerational effects of the horrific traumas experienced at these schools are the reasons for the social problems you see now in many Aboriginal communities.

Hopefully, once you've done this research, you'll feel compassion, and you'll realize that centuries of abuse and oppression don't merely go away in the blink of an eye. It takes time -- some might even say it takes seven generations.  

It also takes work, and generations of Aboriginal people have undertaken this work every single day of their lives.

Yet unfortunately we still live under the oppressive and paternalistic mantle of the Indian Act. We are still not given equal access to the benefits of resource exploitation. We are still not engaged in meaningful consultation with the government when it comes to resource exploration and development on our lands. We are no longer treated by the Canadian government as nations, as we once were when we were powerful and strong and Canada was in need of important allies. And, sadly, because of your lazy, uninformed opinions, we still face the ire of Canadians like you.

Nobody is going to spoon-feed you an education on these issues -- just as you have told us that government and taxpayers should no longer spoon feed us.

So my message to you is simple.   

Stop being lazy, get off the couch and educate yourselves.

All my relations,
Sasha Chabot Gaspe
Toronto, Ontario, Turtle Island

Sasha Chabot-Gaspe is a young Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishinàbeg (Mohawk and Algonquin) woman who grew up in Toronto. She recently graduated from the University of Toronto and is active in the Idle No More movement. She works with Canadian Roots Exchanges, a project that brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youthin order to establish a dialogue, break down stereotypes, and facilitate reconciliation. For more information please visit www.canadianroots.ca

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