On September 13, 1976, I became one of the "Disappeared" in Argentina's Dirty War and I became a witness and a voice for those who could no longer speak. The search for truth, justice and memory can be a painful one and it is never easy work but I have seen the rewards. This is why I passionately believe in the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The reparations of relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples need allies. Allies that support and respect differing worldviews. This is about nation building.
Canada's colonial reality means Aboriginal people here face challenges where non-Aboriginal people enjoy opportunities. But I believe that through the hard work of many activists, leaders, and thinkers, Canada is slowly decolonizing. In the spirit of optimism that rings in a new year, I'd like to focus on some of the events that signal this gradual shift, even while recognizing that, in the words of Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this work will not be completed in our lifetimes.
According to new research presented at the first Indigenous Health Conference last week, colonialism causes diabetes. Colonialism is alive and well throughout Canadian society, and the health care system is no exception. In fact, the health care system broadly speaking is a principal way that Canada continues to colonize Indigenous people.
Inuit live among polar bears. So it baffles me when well-meaning people who have never seen a polar bear outside a zoo or cruise ship or glass-walled buggy seek to impose rules to govern how Inuit interact with bears, to determine how we should engage in a cycle of life that has allowed both Inuit and polar bears to survive for thousands of years.
The Admissions Committee Law, for example -- which was recently upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court -- legalizes racial segregation. According to this law, 43 per cent of Israeli residential areas are legally entitled to deny entrance to Palestinian Arab citizens of the Israeli state. Most of this land, to which the Palestinians are not welcome, was originally confiscated from Palestinian refugees.
At its core, the book Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit captures Inuit worldview. It is a holistic way of living in an increasingly interconnected world and is based in four big laws. It is critical in preserving wisdom and cultural practices at risk of being lost in the next generation. I'm grateful to have spent the last four days in Arviat, Nunavut (Northern Canada) participating in a fascinating roundtable dialogue with Inuit Elders from across the territory about maintaining their traditional culture in a rapidly changing world.
There are a group of people often overlooked in the fight against climate change and they can be one of our greatest allies as we figure out how to limit the damage from extreme weather, rising seas and threats to food security. They are the millions of indigenous people who live in the world's remaining forests. Often overlooked, ignored, marginalized and attacked, they stand at the heart of a global solution on climate change that all of us, whether we live in big cities or remote villages, can benefit from.
Respecting differences is rightfully Canada's claim to fame in the world, but that is not enough to guide this place to its fullest potential. Canadians cannot -- and should not -- embrace any particular race, language, or religion as their national marker, but they can and should embrace their country. Such an embrace constitutes a commitment to the people who share this land and, indeed, to the land itself. Canadians can put aside the fear that flying the Maple Leaf too high may yield a sudden intolerance in the ship's hull. It won't.
There is no discussion of the fact that part of the reason Mandela was sent to prison was because he was responsible for bombing a power plant. Though we seem to like to imagine that Mandela brought change to South Africa with nothing but wise words and a kind, grandfatherly smile, the truth is very different. Mandela fought for his freedom, tooth and nail.
The kind of stories I learned in Mi'gmagi will never make it into the mainstream media, and most Canadians will never hear them. Instead, Canadians will hear recycled propaganda as the mainstream media blindly goes about repeating the press releases sent to them by the RCMP designed to portray Mi'kmaw protestors as violent and unruly, in order to justify their own colonial violence. So we are faced with a choice. We can continue to show the photos of the three hunting rifles and the burnt out cop cars on every mainstream media outlet ad nauseam and paint the Mi'kmaq with every racist stereotype we know, or we can dig deeper.
We have been collaborating on finding ways to bridge the gap between the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities. One of the greatest ways we have found is hip-hop music and culture. If one takes the time to look, they would see that the Indigenous community and the hip-hop community both share a lot of the same experiences.
Many Canadians hold the misconception that First Nations are against any form of development or resource extraction within their traditional territories. But the simple truth of the matter is that First Nations are very cognizant of the bigger picture and forward thinking in terms of sustainable development.
When Elijah Harper passed away on May 17, 2013 I felt as though an arrow had pierced my heart. The man who inspired me to become what I am today was dead. In my childhood, there was only one Elijah Harper. Today, because he inspired an entire generation of First Nations youth, there are thousands of us.
The situation Canadian Natives face is not befitting of Canadians' genuine compassion and sense of fairness. But Canadian Jews have, like American Jews during the civil rights struggle, a special duty born of shared experience to actively support First Nations' efforts "to be a free people in their own land" (from the Israeli anthem).
It comes as no real surprise to those who have witnessed Tom Flanagan casually call for state assassinations or defend the very civilizing project that led to the abhorrent Indian Residential School system to learn that he made flippant comments regarding child pornography while giving a talk on the Indian Act. So when Flanagan, a former adviser to Stephen Harper, was summarily dropped as a commentator by the CBC and labelled a persona non grata by the Alberta Wild Rose Party and Conservative Party of Canada, the reaction among many in academia was: What took you so long?
The four founders of Idle No More didn't start out famous. Until flash-mob round dances, prayer circles, and blockades spread across Canada, few people knew Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson. But today, Idle No More is emerging as a powerful movement for the rights of native peoples to protect the lands and waters.
I feel strongly that as non-indigenous people living here in what we now call North America that we all have a lot to learn from those that were here long before we were. Working together, we need to find ways to heal from the history of colonialism and find new ways to work together to make healthy alternatives to dangerous tar sands oil, a reality. There are very real energy, housing and transportation solutions already readily available.
If a mega corporation wanted to build a ski resort in your most treasured forest, you'd raise your voice. If a little girl in your community was standing up to big oil because she wanted to save sea otters, you'd raise your voice. If a thoughtful group of First Nations said to you "how can we understand the total impact of all these development projects unless we are working together?", you'd raise your voice too. Well, this is your chance. B.C. is facing unprecedented environmental challenges.