Chief Spence on Victoria Island.

Today is December 16, 2012 and Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for six days.

Contrary to what some media outlets are reporting, she is not doing this only to protest Bill C-45 or even the deplorable treatment her community has received since declaring an emergency last year. She has vowed to continue her hunger strike until the Prime Minister, the Queen or a representative, agrees to sit down in good faith with First Nations leaders to rebuild what has become a fractured and abusive relationship. She is staying in a tipi on Victoria Island, which sits below Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Many native people across the country have been fasting to show their solidarity with Chief Spence, including Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus. Just search the Twitter hashtag #TheresaSpence to get a sense of how much support this woman has from our peoples.

(Funds were raised to help 20 jingle dancers and song carriers from Whitefish Bay (where the jingle dance, a healing dance originated) get to Victoria Island to honour Chief Spence.)

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has issued a statement asking for as many people as possible to converge on Ottawa to support Chief Spence, and to demand that action be taken now to deal with long ignored indigenous concerns. The Assembly of First Nations published an open letter to the Governor General and to Stephen Harper to meet with Chief Spence saying:

“The Government of Canada has not upheld nor fulfilled its responsibilities to First Nations, as committed to by the Crown including at the Crown-First Nations Gathering January 2012.  Canada has not upheld the Honour of the Crown in its dealings with First Nations, as evidenced in its inadequate and inequitable funding relationships with our Nations and its ongoing actions in bringing forward legislative and policy changes that will directly impact on the Inherent and Treaty Rights of First Nations. Treaties are international in nature and further indigenous rights are human rights, both collective and individual and must be honoured and respected.”

The Idle No More movement has been busy, with actions occurring all across the country in support of Chief Spence and in support of her message that the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Crown needs serious mending, now. Not all of these actions are being reported, so if you want to know what’s actually going on, it’s worth your while to follow the #idlenomore hashtag on Twitter. People are protesting peacefully and legally blockading roads as well as staging ‘teach ins’. Many more actions are being planned.

Protesters in Halifax on December 16th.

(Protesters in Halifax on December 16th.)

We are not going away. These issues are not going to go away. Canada, it’s time. We have to fix this relationship in our generation.

We all know that reading comments sections can be hazardous for your mental health, but there are some themes that continue to come up again and again any time native people are discussed in the media, and we need to address these beliefs.  I have been trying my best on this blog to refute the myths and stereotypes, but I don’t have all the free time in the world that I’d like, and so my ‘myth-busting list‘ remains unfinished.

Nonetheless, I am asking for the help of Canadians to combat these ugly lies. I make this plea, because these lies allow people like Stephen Harper to ignore a hunger strike. These lies allow people to throw up their hands in disgust and claim that native people are freeloading whiners who need to shut up and go away. These lies allow a nation to ignore its own history, to erase its own volition, to believe that someone else will fix this problem.

Protestors from Morley, Alberta, block the TransCanada Highway.

(Protestors from Morley, Alberta, block the TransCanada Highway.)

Politicians won’t be the ones to fix what’s wrong with Canada and its relationship with indigenous peoples. This is a job for regular people, dealing with one another as human beings, and right now indigenous people in this country have not are not being treated humanely.

So I’ve compiled a list of stereotypes and lies that I think need to stop being spread and passed around as truth. Where possible, I’ve linked information to help dispel these harmful myths. I’d like to call this list the “READ A BOOK!” list, because I know that a lot of us want to scream this when we read those hateful comments saying these things over, and over again.

Here are some of my Read A Book list of things Canadians absolutely need to stop believing about us:

Native people don’t pay taxes omg!

Actually, most of the over 1 million aboriginal people in this country do in fact pay taxes. The tax exemption people apparently know so little about applies to only about 250,000 people in the whole country and is extremely narrow.

Native people get free houses blaaargh!

There are social housing units available on some reserves, but this is under a program that is also available to other low-income populations throughout Canada, and the number of people actually accessing these social housing units are vastly overrated in the minds of most Canadians.

We need Canadians to be Idle No More too.

(We need Canadians to be Idle No More too.)

Native people get free post-secondary education grrrr!

Only some Status Indians actually living on reserve are eligible for any sort of Federal funding for post-secondary studies.  Non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis are not eligible and a great many Status Indian living on reserve who apply for this funding are turned down. As of 2006, only 3% of registered Status Indians had a post-secondary degree compared to 18% among the general Canadian population.

Native leaders are all corrupt and super rich and that’s why their people are poor aaaargh!

This is the most common accusation thrown around it seems, with little in the way of evidence to back it up. Even Stephen Harper let himself rely on this stereotype to point the finger of blame at Chief Spence back when Attawapiskat first declared its housing emergency. The logical fallacy invoked in this repeated accusation, treated as common knowledge is rarely questioned and is tossed out there even when the Federal Court finds no evidence of such. I have no idea what it is going to take to get so many Canadians to stop saying this as though it is established fact, when in fact it is only established prejudice. In a nation packed to the teeth with political corruption, it is staggering to witness the vitriol hurled at native communities when those communities are some of the most highly regulated and Federal controlled places in Canada.  I’d love to go into this in more detail, and at some point I will, but let’s leave it at this: these claims lack evidence and need to stop being presented as established truth.

Native people are lazy, don’t work, cry about things long over and everything that happens to them is their own fault, RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWR!

I’m not even going to try to find a source that can refute this blatantly racist belief. There’s just too much packed into it. Stop. Stop using anecdotes about some guy you knew once. Stop saying you lived by a reserve and you know it all. Stop saying that our concerns are not legitimate. Stop denying the colonial relationship that has never ended in this country. Stop pretending that colonialism is our fault.

Stop pretending you can’t do something to change things.

There are more ugly things being said about us, all of which will become more and more virulent as the days pass and this movement grows. If you need to confront more of these beliefs, the “Sh*t Canadians say to Aboriginal Women” video will quickly bring you up to speed on the kinds of things some Canadians are saying about us right now any time our issues are raised in the media.

Don’t let this continue, Canada. Together we need to make a change. That is what Chief Spence is asking for. That is what indigenous peoples are asking for.

(Indigenous issues affect all Canadians. The relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples is unlike Canada’s relationship with any other group of people, and needs to be better understood, and respected. Artwork: Dwayne Bird.)

Many Canadians have been asking, “what can I do to help?” This is something you can do. Understand the issues yourself, and help other Canadians understand them better too. Don’t let these beliefs remain “common knowledge” any longer. Challenge them, and challenge the politicians who rely on these stereotypes in order to justify ongoing colonialism. Support Idle No More. Demand that Stephen Harper meet with Chief Spence and other leaders. Demand change.

Make change.

Live change.

For all our sakes.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog, âpihtawikosisân.



Chelsea Vowel is a 34 year old Métis from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. She is the mother of two energetic girls and holds a BEd and an LLB from the University of Alberta....