Canadians: please understand

By Thomas Deer

In my mailbox recently there arrived a flyer sent by the Government of Canada with the headline, "The Canada We Want." It was an "update" of "developments of interest to Aboriginal people." It was composed of many articles that desperately attempted to demonstrate the willingness of "Aboriginal Canadians" to join the Canadian mainstream.

The flyer provided various articles on progress in Reserves, veterans' information, and finally ended with a pleasant reminder of the impending virtuous First Nations Governance Act.

Nowhere in the flyer was anything negative.

I instantly identified the literature as propaganda, only later realising the effectiveness of this type of campaign -- not only upon Indigenous people, but also on the non-Native population.

The flyer serves two purposes. The first is obvious. It targets Native people with a constant barrage of subliminal information, designed to erode their resistance towards assimilating into Canadian society. The second objective is to paint a pleasant picture -- to both Natives and non-Natives -- that the "Indian" situation in Canada is going just great and that the Indegenous want nothing more than to take their rightful place in the Canadian mainstream.

After many discussions with non-Natives -- who have been raised to adopt this false image of Indigenous integration -- I found that such people have no idea what Native people desire.

This is one person's view of the objectives and world view of the Indigenous Peoples in North America.

I am not Canadian; nor do I seek to be. This adequately defines my political world view.

I am a citizen of a country that existed long before the conception of the Canadian state.

Many non-Native people believe otherwise, which is simply not true. Others understand the truth of the matter but are somewhat confused about why a Native person would not want to be assimilated, since Canada supposedly has a universal reputation of cultural freedom and humanitarianism.

What, then, do Indigenous people want?

Like most civilizations in the world, they desire such great things as freedom, liberty and justice. However, history and logic will ultimately prove that these great concepts cannot be achieved within the political fabric of the Canadian state.

The Haudenosaunee constitution, which has indisputably inspired the United States constitution, contains a more direct and efficient method of democracy than that of Canada. Why should we settle for less if we are entitled to so much more?

This is why the People of the Mohawk Nation choose to remain faithful to the sovereign sphere of their ancient and democratic government and fight to maintain it. Ours is a better way, in terms of realistically attaining freedom, liberty and equality for our citizens. Indigenous nationalism and resistance against assimilation is the only way for Native people to acquire true freedom and liberty.

One may notice that justice is not included in these elements. Indeed, the restoration of justice is the responsibility of those who commit the injustice. While Indigenous people are themselves capable of administering domestic justice, it is the governments of Canada and the U.S. that are inherently responsible for the countless injustices committed against the Indigenous people in North America.

Murder, robbery and degradation are as much a part of Canadian history as the maple leaf.

What can Canada do to make right the wrongs it has committed, and continues to commit, against the Indigenous people? I will outline only some of the many reparations that the Government of Canada must cede to Indigenous people to correct the long list of injustices.

A substantial portion includes continuing Canada's fiduciary responsibility to Indigenous Peoples who continue to have their land and resources commandeered by the Government. Also, international treaties and compacts must be honoured and respected, and their legal interpretations must be subject to nation-to-nation dialogue in an international arena -- as opposed to the subjectivity of Canada's biased domestic judicial system which has yet to demonstrate anything but injustice towards Native issues.

The Government of Canada must formally recognise the right of statehood and sovereignty inherent to Indigenous nations here in North America. The definition of such sovereignty would be subject to international standards as opposed to mere self-government powers, which seems to be Canada's perception of Indigenous nationhood.

International sovereignty includes political autonomy and economic independence, with exclusive jurisdiction over every domain within their homeland.

Following such, unpopulated traditional homelands should be surrendered by the Canadian Government and repatriated by the appropriate Indigenous nation, while those areas that are inhabited by non-Natives should be repatriated in title, leaving that nation with a taxable constituency of non-Natives.

If such reparations are made, what then should Canada's relationship with Indigenous Peoples be if not a ward of Canada?

The Two Row Wampum Treaty is the first international compact between the Haudenosaunee and the first European colonists of North America. It is a foreign policy that establishes a code of non-interference and a mutual respect for the independence and sovereignty of both parties. This includes, among others, all social, political and economic activities of that party and its constituents.

As it is portrayed in the Two Row Wampum Treaty, each nation will travel side by side along the river of life, each in its own vessels. Never shall one cross into the path of the other. Thus is established a code of non-interference. Furthermore, each vessel shall contain within it, its various institutions, customs, beliefs, and so on. Never shall one vessel impose such items upon the other. Thus is established a policy of mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and independence.

The Two Row Wampum Treaty demonstrates the simplicity of what we view Canada's relationship should be with Indigenous people -- ensuring peace, stability, and mutual co-existence.

Many Canadians defensively argue that the plight of Indigenous people is not their responsibility, since they were not directly involved in the genocidal and assimilative activities that were so prevalent and obvious in the past. I've also heard mention of how Native people should "get over it."

I think these types of comments are made out of fear by some who are worried that eventually some Natives will come and violently evict non-Natives from their homes. Others are simply jealous of a Native's tax exemption.

In any case, it should be made clear that our fight is with the Government and not with individual citizens of Canada -- despite the racism that continues to exist within Canada.

It should be noted that, throughout this article, it is only the Government of Canada which receives this reprimand and not the individual citizens of Canada. However, if any Canadian believes in what George W. Bush calls "infinite justice," then these people should lobby their public officials to do the right thing.

This article was first published in the Dec. 13, 2002, issue of The Eastern Door, a weekly newspaper serving the needs of the Mohawk Nation, Kahnawake, Quebec. It is reprinted here by kind permission.