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What Does Rex Murphy Know About Aboriginal Peoples? Nothing

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This is a response to an op-ed that Rex Murphy published in the National Post, October 19, 2013.

Not surprisingly, like so many other commentators on Aboriginal issues from non-Aboriginal national media outlets, noted climate change denier Rex Murphy conjures up an entirely fictional vision of Canadian-Aboriginal relations in which racism no longer exists, not understanding that doing so is the very enactment of racism itself.

He imagines that colonialism is something that happened 100 years ago and couldn't possibly be happening or even be relevant today, especially because of "the almost manic efforts of companies and governments to work toward inclusion" of Aboriginal peoples. (He must have dug hard and deep to have revealed such generosity, since I've never actually heard of such "manic" efforts unless they've been forced through the extremely hard-won authority of a document like the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.)

According to Murphy, when people talk about the issue of one people occupying and dominating the land and resources of another and call it colonialism, it's not because colonialism is a force with any power in the modern world. Rather, it's the result of whiny, spoiled NDNs who can't appreciate their mould-infested reservation buildings or their traditional lands being sold to American oil companies to poison through fracking, and who therefore attempt to "force-frame every dispute in the tendentious framework of the dubious 'oppression studies' and 'colonial theory' of latter-day universities."

No, for Murphy, Canada is full of loving people who deeply respect Aboriginal people and cultures (like Christie Blatchford, who argued last December that there's no such thing as "Native culture or traditions"--she's got an article in Sunday's Post too, but I'm not going to bother reading that).

These are loving and respectful people, like those who read the National Post and the Sun, who are sick to death of ungrateful Aboriginal people with shortened life-expectancies and higher likelihoods of living in poverty being ungrateful for their generosity. "When [they] hear 'settler' or 'colonialist' or 'genocide' tossed scornfully at them, quite reasonably ask themselves whether everything done to right our historical wrongs has been for nothing."

Murphy doesn't offer a lot of examples of "everything done to right our historical wrongs" (no wrongs have been committed in the last 50 years, obviously), except the "august and dignified ceremony" of the 2008 IRS apology, which he claims (!) "was the real public window on how Canada feels towards its native peoples."

Really! The millions of dollars in cuts to Aboriginal organization funding since then, the Omnibus legislation forced through in violation of First Nations' constitutional and treaty rights, the aggressive push for dirty oil and pipelines First Nations strongly oppose -- what kind of public window do those offer?

The lack of a single dollar offered toward reconciliation without WINNING A COURT CASE AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT, the Federal Government's continued attempts to stall or slip by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, while spending $1.5-million to spy on and challenge in court child-welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock's attempt to get the same funding for Aboriginal Children as white kids get, rather than 20 per cent less -- these real-world issues with real-world consequences of continued poverty, continued addiction, continued lack of drinking water, and continued murders and disappearances of Native women, to old Reactionary Rex, aren't expressions of "how Canada feels towards its native peoples."

That's something only a cornball parliamentary ceremony -- with no promise of further spending -- could express. It's almost like Murphy deliberately avoided listening to what thousands of Idle No More activists who've made the news over past year had to say so his slack-jawed awe at the government's "august and dignified" curtsey toward Native People would remain unperturbed.

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Of course, maybe his information-free reference to the complex Davis Inlet issue, in which a community was moved (because "If governments had not acceded to this request, they would have been branded as monsters") but "result[ed] in no significant betterment of conditions" is a better indication of "how Canada feels towards its native peoples," with its tacit assumption that Native peoples are corrupt, incompetent drunks who need the stern parenting of a white father like Rex Murphy.

To Murphy, only namby-pamby bleeding-hearts (like the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples) would imagine that Aboriginal Nations are the living and deeply traumatized survivors of a "genocide" (oops -- Murphy says we're not allowed to use that word, even though Paul Martin did at the TRC in Montreal this April) who require a series of exceedingly complicated moves toward sovereignty and self-government that absolutely begins with honouring treaties and making possible in EVERY Aboriginal community ALL REQUIRED FUNDING for post-traumatic, addiction, and family counselling resources. All of which would cost Canada a LOT of money, which it has no intention to spend. Isn't that lack of intention, too, a better indication of "how Canada feels towards its native peoples"?

Rex Murphy's opinion piece isn't just ignorant, it's totally vacuous, the product of someone who literally seems to know nothing about the subject he's railing against. And as such, the piece is a prime example of the way that any Aboriginal news turns Canadian journalists into self-styled experts on Aboriginal issues they know nothing of beyond their own prejudices.

In these instances, the expertise of Canada's journalistic luminaries always seems to be founded on what they righteously believe is a deep understanding of how much Canada and Canadians love and respect NDNs (if only they'd shut up, die off, and make interesting museum pieces), and how in spite of white people's love for them, NDNs are all a bunch of spoiled children who throw tantrums because they're tired of living in mould-choked housing with water poisoned by mining, despite the Supreme Court upholding their treaties. (See, for example: the Peace and Friendship Treaties of which Mi'kmaq Nations are signatories, which guarantee them right and title to their traditional lands.)

I've honestly become so sick of hearing non-Aboriginal opinions on Aboriginal issues, because they are almost guaranteed to come from people who know absolutely nothing about what they're talking about. Yet in times of conflict, all across the country talking-white-heads imagine overnight that they've become experts on treaties, on Aboriginal governance, on the history of moves made by the Canadian government (both Liberal and Conservative) against Native populations, as well as the history of documents (notably the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which I'm guessing Rex Murphy hasn't read) that might have improved some aspects of life within Aboriginal Nations but have been roundly ignored by the Canadian government.

Murphy asks "Can Canada be accused of willful neglect, even [even! - ed.] racism as some radicals portray it, when every government -- and I keep insisting the majority of citizens -- really has made efforts to end poverty on reserves, to offer programs to rescue youth from the perils of drugs and addiction, to keep basic services working?"

This question makes it clear how little an idea he has about any of what he's talking about. Sadly, this is the kind of depth and insight we can expect from the primarily-white national media in this country, whether it's Murphy, Blatchford, Terry "Theresa Spence doesn't know how the modern world works" Milweski, or Michael Enright.

They'd do well to back away from an issue they haven't spent enough time learning about, but of course, as the mouthpieces of white Canada, they're not going to do that. Though it should be an opportunity to spotlight brilliant Indigenous commentators like Chelsea Vowel, Pam Palmater, and Russ Diabo, an Aboriginal crisis is instead the non-Aboriginal media's time to shine, and the saddest thing about it is that most people reading or hearing their gormless opinions -- possibly the only information they'll receive from the media -- will believe they've become better informed as a result.