Wednesday, August 23, 2006

They're called "First" Nations for a reason

I've had a number of conversations recently about the Caledonia land claims dispute, and more recently the Melancthon claim.

I want to be careful, because the other side in some of these conversations might be reading, and I don't want to offend friends. So let me be clear: The vast majority of people I have talked to about this stuff (which isn't a large group) are sincere and genuine in their desire for fair solutions. That said, in a not-small-enough percentage of the discussions I've had to walk away from because people begin engaging in ugly, offensive stereotyping of First Nations. I truly wonder if anti-indian racism is the last "acceptable" form of racism in Canada.

Lost in this whole discussion is the very simple fact that all of us in Canada - and the rest of the Americas, and Australia - profit immensely from a crime of enormous proportions. These continents were stolen from their original owners. Did I, or you, personally hand out smallpox blankets or anything like that? No, but that's really beside the point. We have extracted enormous amounts of wealth from land that is only ours because it was taken violently. Our current standard of living exists only because we deliberately subjugated the original inhabitants of this land. (Make no mistake - in Canada, impoverishment and isolation was the government's deliberate policy for some time.) We continue to extract wealth from this land without any national effort to remedy this situation. Indeed, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is criticized even by voices within it for obstructing First Nations' efforts to help themselves.

Do I agree with the tactics of the Caledonia protesters? No. Do I think the Melancthon claim is a valid one? Not qualified to answer. But we whose ancestors didn't cross the Bering land bridge are treating First Nations like we stopped causing their problems a long time ago, and it's simply not true.

This is going to be the only thing I write about the whole Thomas Hubert affair. For those who didn't know, a Liberal blogger wrote the following:
One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. At one point, George Washington was considered a terrorist by the powers that be. History will remember Hezbollah as an organization that stood up to the most vile 'nation' in human history.
Note that Thomas used the word "nation" (synonym for "people", "tribe") not state. To me, it's impossible to argue that this utterance - admittedly in a comment thread, and probably written in haste - is anything but explicitly, repugnantly anti-semitic. I'm going to extend Thomas a modicum of charity that his words, frankly, don't deserve. I'm going to assume that he is not, in fact, slandering the whole Jewish nation, but rather the policies of the state of Israel regarding Lebanon (the context of the quote.)

Even so, the statement is morally blinkered and stupid. No matter what you think of the war(s) in Lebanon, or for that matter the whole occupation of the Palestinian territories, Israel has vastly less innocent blood on its hands than, say, Canada or the United States.

Make no mistake: I condemn the occupation of the Territories regularly, because I believe it's unjust, illegal, immoral, and bad for Israel to boot. Moreover, I don't believe that Canada or the United States are "vile" nations today, despite our vile pasts. But on any list of nations guilty of oppression, theft, and brutality, American nations beat Israel by a long shot. And, while the solution to the palestinian occupation is clear - um, end the occupation - the solution to the social ills facing First Nations people is not nearly so clear, and we've been participating in this occupation a hell of a lot longer. Just because we've moved injustice off the front page, doesn't mean it isn't still happening.

Motes, eyes, logs, etc.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

As American I have heard this argument before. I have never seen it defeated as an argument - ignored yes, defeated no.
But I also have the strong sense that this argument does not help anyone. As a way to shock Americans and Canadians out of pre-60s ignorance, it was effective, but after that it provokes guilt or resentment but shines no light on the question of what to do.
As the argument is presented, is there anything non-First Nation people could do that would make it ethically appropriate for them to remain in Canada or the US? No matter what they would do, the fact of the Original Sin would remain.
And as long as there is nothing they can do, then that is exactly what people will tend to do.
I think that long-term, it will be more effective to base improvement of the conditions of First Nations people on our common humanity rather than on the unredeemable moral stain on non-First Nations people.