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Bob Rae

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This Land Was Their Land

Posted: 01/07/2013 3:19 pm

Canadians like to think of ourselves as living in a peaceable place, where the values of caring and sharing are hallmarks of who we really are as a country. This cheery self-image fails to face up to some harsh facts about our history and current reality.

Prime Minister Harper once said that "we have no history of colonialism." This is simply false. When Europeans came to these shores centuries ago, they did not find an empty wilderness, a "terra nullius" where no one lived.

Quite the contrary. Aboriginal people had been living here in vital, complex communities, for thousands of years. For millennia before the European settlement, this land was their land.

The encounter between these two civilizations was brutal and violent, and we live with its consequences today. Many Canadians have been baffled by the decision of Theresa Spence, the Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation to carry out a hunger strike to demand that Prime Minister Harper meet with her and other aboriginal leaders.

Why not just follow the accepted channels? Why upset the normal ways of communicating?

Let the social scientists try to explain how deference has disappeared in our increasingly divided society. The great American writer James Baldwin once wrote of the growing demands of American blacks for justice as The Fire Next Time.

Chief Spence's hunger strike, carried out with dignity and determination, and the broader Idle No More campaign, which has gone beyond the traditional politics both within and outside the Aboriginal community, are based on a deep sense of frustration, of promises broken, of conditions that no people in Canada should have to accept. Federal and provincial governments face a fire of resentment and anger not next time, but this time. To ignore it, as the Conservatives and some provinces have done, is to court disaster.

It is a universal in life that people want recognition and respect. The deeper meaning of last year's summit, and the Prime Minister's eloquent apology in the House of Commons, is that there is a hunger for this respect, and appreciation when it is offered and followed with effective action. The Prime Minister faces a deep challenge. Many in his party are opposed to the recognition and constitutional protection that Aboriginal people have achieved, and to its implications. At the same time, the old bromides of assimilation and "let's concentrate on education and the economy" completely ignore the aspirations for self-government, autonomy, and a real transfer of power and resources that have the deepest roots in today's aboriginal politics. Mr. Harper's apology in the House of Commons, and the summit he called last year, have simply not been followed by effective action.

Mr Harper has wisely, if belatedly, agreed to a meeting next week. But the confrontations will continue unless meetings are followed by substantive change. Mr Harper has to come to terms with a difficult truth -- the political doctrines of the Reform Party have nothing to contribute to what needs to be done. His decision to cancel the Kelowna Accord, signed with the aboriginal leadership and every Premier, was a sign of profound disrespect as well as a massive cut in investment in housing, education, and self government. It was worse than being dishonourable. It was a mistake. He needs to accept that change starts with him and his government.

In November National Chief Shawn Atleo sent a letter to the Prime Minister complaining that by any measure the plans set out last year after the much touted summit were not being met. The letter was ignored. A year ago Chief Spence's community was forced into third party administration, a clear sign that those who complain will be slapped down -- and this was followed by a sustained media attack against her by the Conservative propaganda machine that believes the only good defence is to attack, attack, attack. But the courts found that there was no basis for the government's decision, and that a continuing lack of money, not any alleged "maladministration" was the real cause of the housing crisis in Attawapiskat.

The issues Chief Spence is raising -- issues of terrible living conditions, of deep neglect, of poverty and powerlessness -- will not go away, and will not disappear in the face of attack. They are the shame of our nation and they must be addressed.

The Conservatives have rejected replacing the Indian Act with a real transfer of power, and the implementation of the self government agreements which all Canadian governments agreed to do in Charlottetown twenty years ago. They show no understanding of the significance of treaties and the meaning of a "nation to nation" relationship.

They have offered nothing that even begins to address the issues, and we shall all pay a heavy price for this lack of leadership.

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  • A native dancer looks on during an 'Idle No More' gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Native dancers rally during an 'Idle No More' gathering on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • Idle No More Mall Protest

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/630755180/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell">LJ Henshell</a>:<br />A First Nations Drummer plays during a protest at Intercity Shopping Center in Thunder Bay, Ontario

  • It's about the future

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/630755180/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/LJ_Henshell">LJ Henshell</a>:<br />A child protests in Thunder Bay, Ontario

  • United we stand

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Doug_Cleverley"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/805699678/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Doug_Cleverley">Doug Cleverley</a>:<br />At the #IdleNoMore rally in Owen Sound (Saugeen Ojibway Nation territory), during a spontaneous round dance at the main downtown intersection.

  • Killer Whale Dance

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Idle No More actions, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Idle No More #J11

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Idle No More #J11 March

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • Tla'Amin Prayer Song #J11 Idle No More

    Tla'Amin Prayer song on #J11 2013 Idle No More, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River BC

  • Tla'Amin Killer Whale Dance, #J11 #IdleNoMore

    Tla'Amin Killer Whale Dance, #J11 #IdleNoMore, Coast Salish Territories, Powell River, BC

  • C45 affects all Canadians! Join the fight.

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Eleanor_Kure"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/840875359/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Eleanor_Kure">Eleanor Kure</a>:<br />At the Idle No More protest in Halifax Nova Scotia. with an eco-justice article in pocket, spreading the word that Bill C45 affects every Canadian, not only First Nations. Thank you FN, for beginning this movement.

  • Piyesiw Awasis

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mizzren"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/3183681.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/mizzren">mizzren</a>:<br />Thunderchild First Nation @ Lloydminster Flash Mob. January 16, 2013

  • <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/16/idle-no-more-queen-elizabeth-2-highway-blockade-alberta_n_2490009.html">Idle No More supporters jump onto a truck</a> as they are pushed by a driver trying to pass, as the protesters block Highway 2 as part of a planned national day of action, in Edmonton, Alberta on Wedneday January 16, 2013.

  • Aboriginal protesters march down Huron Church Road towards the Ambassador bridge in Windsor Ontario, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. About 1000 demonstrators disrupted traffic to the country's busiest border crossing for several hours.

  • Aboriginal protestors pray at the end of their blockade of a CN railroad track just west of Portage La Prairie, Man., on Wednesday, January 16, 2016. They ended their protest without incident.

  • Aboriginal protesters demonstrate at the base of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor Ontario, Wednesday, January 16, 2013. About 1000 demonstrators disrupted traffic to the country's busiest border crossing for several hours.

  • Idle No More demonstrators block a CN east-west track just west of Portage La Prairie, Manitoba Wednesday, January 16, 2016.

  • Mississaugas of the New Credit support INM

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Vicki_King_Jamieson"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/750500023/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Vicki_King_Jamieson">Vicki King Jamieson</a>:<br />New Credit Youth supporting INM

  • Montreal Idle No More

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Caillum"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Caillum">Caillum</a>:<br />Thousands of people, both Native and Canadian, show their support at an Idle No More protest in Montreal on January 11th, 2013.

  • #Denendeh #J11 #IdleNoMore #YZF #NWT Yellowknife "Northwest Territories"

    Video of the Global Day of Action rally in downtown Somba K’e (Yellowknife)on the Akaitcho territory of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in Denendeh (Northwest Territories).

  • #IdleNoMore March and Round Dance in Yellowknife Denendeh NWT

    "Today (Friday, December 21, 2012) in Denendeh and across the globe, we made an impact, a statement for true justice to be brought forward and acknowledged. But it will not stop, for the 8th fire has been lit and will only grow. Mahsi for all who showed up and united, we felt the support....we felt the fire!! And there's more to come in the new year." On Facebook By Lawrence Nayally, Melaw Nakehk'o and Eugene Boulanger https://www.facebook.com/events/112403725595655/

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, wearing a headdress, takes part in a drum ceremony before departing a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, centre, departs a Ottawa hotel to attend a ceremonial meeting at Rideau Hall with Gov. Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa, Friday January 11, 2013.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 11, 2013.

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with First Nations leaders in Ottawa on January 11, 2013.

  • Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence makes a brief statement on Victoria Island near Parliament Hill Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa. Spence is speaking out for the first time about how her reserve spends government money, saying most of what flows to her isolated James Bay reserve actually gets spent outside the community.

  • Aboriginal Chiefs stand at the main gate to Parliament Hill during a protest Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa.

  • Idle No More protesters listen to speakers during a rally on Parliament Hill Friday January 11, 2013 in Ottawa.

  • Gordie Odjig of Wikwemikong stands at the west gate to the Langevin Block during the aboriginal meeting in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Idle No More at UBC Vancouver

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001602753648/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray">Randall Gray</a>:<br />

  • Idle No More at UBC Vancouver

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001602753648/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Randall_Gray">Randall Gray</a>:<br />

  • Los Angeles Rally In Solidarity with First nations

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Melinda Gopher"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/contributors/melinda-gopher/headshot.jpg" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Melinda Gopher">HuffPost Blogger Melinda Gopher</a>:<br />Brock Conway, Blackfeet activist, with Saulteaux Actor Adam Beach and companion. Photo: Morning Star Gopher

  • Native protesters march up Wellington Street in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Four-year-old Phoenix Sky Cottrelle,from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, holds a sign as aboriginal protestors gather on Victoria Island before they march to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Aboriginal protestors hold signs as they march from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Gordie Odjig, an aboriginal protestor from Wikwemikong, shouts as he marches from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, January 11, 2013.

  • Woman's Voices

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4441016.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Courtney_Harrop">Courtney Harrop</a>:<br />Idle No More event Dec 30th,2012. Tla'Amin Nation Coast Salish Territories Powell River, British Columbia.

  • Idle No More Edmonton

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AUPELOCAL6CHAIR"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/twitter_profile_img/4411530.png" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AUPELOCAL6CHAIR">AUPELOCAL6CHAIR</a>:<br />Planned overnight and what a turn out!

  • IdleNoMore March, Dauphin, Mb

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Phyllis_Racette"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1354341984/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Phyllis_Racette">Phyllis Racette</a>:<br />#IdleNoMOre Dauphin, Mb

  • Chicago Idle No More @ the Canadian Consulate

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Jolene_Aleck"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/644015258/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Jolene_Aleck">Jolene Aleck</a>:<br />Chicago's Idle No More 1.5.2012 rally @ the Canadian Consulate

  • VancouverC Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • A man waves a flags as aboriginal protesters and supporters in the Idle No More movement block the Blue Water Bridge border crossing to the United States in Sarnia, Ont. on Saturday, January 5, 2013.

  • VancouverA Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverB Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverD Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverH Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC, January 2, 2013.

  • VancouverF Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverE Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • VancouverG Jan 2 2013

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/gerrybates">gerrybates</a>:<br />Idle No More at Waterfront Station, Vancouver, BC

  • Flag Planting

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/seawaytoday"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/seawaytoday">seawaytoday</a>:<br />Akwesasne Idle No More att Cornwall, ON

  • Dec 21st 2012 Idle No More Ottawa: Berdine

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Gail_Chicky_Gallagher"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/535670179/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Gail_Chicky_Gallagher">Gail Chicky Gallagher</a>:<br />

 

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