Friday, 20 March 2015

Finding Home

There is just so much to say about Canada's relationship with her First Nations that it's impossible for me to begin to even address it all here. It is something that S and I are both pretty passionate about though, and something I have been trying to find a way to write about for a while. So here goes - a short primer, a win, and a loss.

A Primer in Parable*
Imagine that you live in a lovely big house, with a clear sweet well and a big garden. It has everything you need to live. You have a pretty large family and while you don't always get along with your cousins, there is generally enough to go around. Life is sometimes hard, but overall it's good.

Then one day a stranger moves in. He doesn't ask permission, he just walks through the front door and decides to stay. He's got quite a few technological gadgets you haven't seen before, and some of them look pretty dangerous, so you cautiously accept him. He graciously offers to let you stay (jerk), but asks that you don't really talk to or come near him and his family. Unless he needs something, of course, like that time the neighbours decided to have a barbeque on your front deck and he wanted your help to chase them off. Or when he didn't know how to get to the attic, but was really curious to see what was up there.

 It all works okay for a little while; not great, but you can manage it. Then you notice that more and more of his family are moving in. It starts to get crowded. Sure, he knows he made a deal with you about who would take which rooms, but the bedroom you are sleeping in has a really nice view. So he one day he bursts in, waves his techie gadgets in your face and tells you to go sleep in the spare room. Which you do- you remember all too well the day that your grandma stood up to him and he turned her into a puddle of green goo. But he still isn't satisfied. Before you know it, his whole family has taken over the best parts of the house, and yet they can't understand why you are complaining about living in the back basement storage room, where there is no bathroom, water, or heat. 

The longer he is there, the worse it gets. He calls you names, and pretends you are stupid. He decides he doesn't like how you raise your children, so he kidnaps most of  them.  You aren't allowed to see them any more, and for all you know may never see them again. You keep getting really ill, too, because he seems to bring every little cold, bug and germ into the house. He gave your wife lung cancer with his relentless smoking, and your little niece died of measles. Not to mention that he wouldn't stop hitting on your sister, and he cornered her more than once in the pantry. She got really scared, so she ran away and now you can't find her. He won't help you look though, he just says it's her own damn fault and whatever happened to her, she probably had it coming. But it's all good, he insists, because, dude, you guys can use his Xbox. Except your family has never owned a gaming system before and now all your one cousin wants to do is sit and play Call of Duty all day - so much so that it cost him his job, his wife, and his health. 

You continually protest this treatment, and your roommate eventually says he's sorry. Which, okay, you hope he might mean it, but nothing changes. You try to get the police and the courts involved, but most of them are his relatives, and they won't do anything to help you. Often it just makes things worse and you are left with a smaller corner to live in than before. In fact, he just moved his garbage can into the storage room where you sleep, the only space you really have left. He says it won't really take up much room, and he'll give you a dollar a month for letting him leave it there.

He thinks that money makes up for everything; for sickening your family and for scattering them, for moving into your home and wrecking it. The place is filthy now, crumbling; the walls full of holes and the appliances missing. The foundation is cracked. The garden has been poisoned and the once-sweet well water catches on fire when it comes out of the tap. He says don't worry, I'll pay for your kids to go to school, because I am such a generous guy. All they need to do is catch the school bus at the corner. But the garbage is so deep on the floors and the rooms so thick with people that your remaining children can't push through to find the way out. He says, I'll give you money for fresh water, for good food - but it's never enough, because he is the one who sells you the food from your own pantry and he's the one who sets the prices. Then when you are cold and hungry, when your children are struggling to read the simplest of books and do the simplest of sums, he blames you. Why can't you be more like me? What is wrong with you? Why does I always have to give you grocery money and buy your clothes -what did you do with the last fifty bucks, buy more Xbox games?

You've both lived like this for long now that he's forgotten whose house this is. He thinks that because he changed the wallpaper and added a chair, it belongs to him. He's forgotten the truth, and his children were never taught it. They are brought up to believe that this has always been their home, and they can't understand why you're so angry. You know he's never going to leave,  but you'd sure as hell like for him to honour the original agreements - you just want your bedroom back. You want him to clean up the garden and get the garbage bin the hell out of the storeroom. Every time you bring it up though, he brushes you off, saying he's misplaced the papers, or that the dog ate them, or that you're clearly crazy because he never said he'd stay out of the living room in the first place. He never listens to you.

A Win and a Loss
Today, a homeless Ojibway woman won the right to live in the small one room home** she had constructed herself on ancestral lands. Not because the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry thinks she actually has the right to live there, mind you, but because the Crown Counsel for this case felt that "in this case the public expense of a lengthy trial does not appear to be justified when weighed against the gravity of the offence." And on that, my friends, I call bullshit. They just don't want to go up against her in court and lose. A landmark decision in the favour of First Nations rights is not acceptable to Canada's government at any time, and certainly not to the  Harper regime.

So Ms. Necan can live in her house, and that is a win. Hopefully others will draw strength and hope from her victory.  But her win, while important, could represent a larger loss; the loss of a judicial decision that would force a long-over-due recognition of First Nations right to govern their own affairs on their own ancestral land. It'd be a start.

*I apologize if this offends anyone in the First Nations communities; it is a parable  and only meant to illustrate the spirit (if not the history) of the relationship between Canada's government and people and the First Nations people. I don't mean to presume to put words in your mouths or appropriate your experience, this is only my attempt to get the larger public to understand some of the issues by trying to get them to a sympathetic place. Please feel free to contact me with constructive criticisms. For those who think I am going overboard with this parable, I encourage you to read Thomas King. 

**I suppose I don't need to warn you about the comment section, but I will anyway. Remember, don't feed the trolls.

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