Canada, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wants the global audience to believe that Canada is a country that has been built hand-in-hand with the original First Nations in an ongoing conciliatory manner.
This is not true. The truth is that Canada does not see or understand First Nation people. In fact, Canada has lumped together First Nations, Inuit and Métis into a potent mixture; Canada labels us “our” Indigenous peoples, as if this broad group could ever be possessed by the colonial state.
First Nations and the Inuit are the original peoples who lived in North America before any settler occupants. First Nations greeted the colonial explorers on both sides of the medicine line – the Canada/United States border – without falsehood and with honourable intentions. First Nations have a history of sharing and working with consensus. These methods ensure that the original peoples will caretake the land, waters, plant life, environment and animals equally so that all things can live harmoniously into eternity.
How has this worldview been distorted for settler Canadians?
Canadians tend to ignore any distinguishing information about each distinct group of “Indigenous.” First Nations were always here. First Nations signed the peace and friendship treaties and later the historic numbered treaties with the British Crown.
Because of these international agreements, Canada came into existence. Contrary to the Canadian stereotype of savage, lawless, roaming, fighting Indians, the original First Nations were very cultured.
The First Nations or Indians were following the laws of Creation, so they were very spiritual people. This is why the missionaries or clergy were readily welcomed because their positions as “men of God or men of the Creator” was understood to be similar to our medicine men or women or spiritual people. Please read this again. We had both men and women who were the spiritual leaders for our nations.
First Nations roamed aimlessly, therefore they did not “own” property and were thus considered to be uncivilized or not evolved. Some First Nations were nomadic. Other First Nations built massive villages, townships or cities – some which rivalled European cities in historic time frames. First Nations did form villages because they grew and harvested plants such as wild rice or corn so that a sedentary lifestyle existed.
The other wrongful assumption about the nomadic lifestyle of some First Nations follows the flawed line of reasoning that First Nations over-picked and over-harvested in areas and therefore had to keep moving or starve. It is always good that non-First Nation historic writers can think in our languages with our world-views to tell us about our own histories.
The reasons First Nations were nomadic are numerous. For one thing, it can be so that we did not over-harvest or deplete resources. For another thing, it could be that we had specific sacred sites to caretake or visit and moving camps meant that we stayed together as one people to share in the responsibility of overseeing the land and waters. Still another reason is that we had gatherings to exchange news and to trade. We also formed treaties or alliances with other First Nations to have opportunities for marriage outside our immediate clans.
The fighting Indian stereotype comes from non-First Nations misunderstanding our people. Our First Nations did have warriors, but their role was more to protect or to follow-through on rites of passage – not to cause wars for no reason. In some First Nations, it was more honourable for a First Nation warrior to count coup – that is, to get close enough to touch an enemy – without killing them. In performing this task, First Nations showed bravery and stealth skills which also served the people in our hunting parties.
This covers only the historic stereotypes. Today in Canada, there are still myths about First Nations. Canadians believe that Indians live for free everywhere. They believe Indians receive non-stop money from the government (Oh TAX payer dollars) and the Indians themselves don’t pay taxes.
Indians do not live for free on reserve. Some reserves measure less than an acre or a few miles wide so it is impossible for all members of one tribe to fit on postage stamp reserves of land. Plus, it is Canada who allocates on reserve housing. It is more likely that fifteen people will live in a two-bedroom house or that five or six families will live in a house with five or six rooms.
This fallacy of free housing has been in existence for some time, and does the minister of Indian affairs ever release information that counters this misinformation?
First Nations receive monies from the government. Yes, every year, the historic treaty people in Treaties 1-11 which covers Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta receive a five-dollar annuity for the lands that all other Canadians live on.
First Nation bands may receive monies for health, education and child welfare programs BUT the Indians are given strict instructions on what to do with the money and have to fill out copious reports accounting for every dollar. This is not sovereignty or control – it’s the administration of poverty.
By far, the biggest stereotype is that Indians don’t pay taxes. If you’re in a non-native city, getting gas behind a First Nation person, the amount of gas you get is the same and the tax on the gas is paid at the till. If a First Nation person works off their reserve, they pay the same taxes as every other Canadian. The only place a First Nation person might not pay taxes is on their reserve. I ask you this: how many businesses exist on reserves in Canada?
This is just a primer to start non-First Nations thinking about their own knowledge of First Nation peoples in Canada. We cannot talk about issues like the Wet’suwet’en or any other egregious happenings until Canadians have a basic understanding of First Nation peoples.
Before you think to yourself, “but I know of…” please understand that these examples may not be absolute. There is a mountain of knowledge and understanding of the original peoples and understanding what I’ve written here is only one step along the path less taken.