Yesterday, in solidarity with the Idle No More movement and following Naomi Klein’s lead, I respectfully declined my recently offered Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal. I’d like to explain my actions here. And to those sending derisive comments about my lack of world fame – this was not an attempt to wield any imagined cultural stature, this was a personal decision and I stand by it.
This was also not a gesture of disrespect towards anyone, and I wish to hereby publicly thank my hometown MP who nominated me for this honour. It was to express my support for Canada’s native communities in their quest for justice, both social and environmental.
I love this country passionately. As I said on Twitter I love what I believe it stands for: democracy, negotiation, respect, and peaceful stewardship. Are these values not reflected in our Charter? Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982? I believe the Idle No More movement is fighting to uphold these values, which are currently threatened by Bill C45.
Reading John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country” several years ago gave me a new perspective on native issues in Canada. So did being on the Huron Carol tour with the amazing, inspirational artists Susan Aglukark (Inuit) and Tom Jackson (First Nations) very recently. Before becoming informed, I confess I thought along the lines of some Canadians – “What’s the problem here? Why can’t they just …. etc.?”
Canada’s shameful history in this regard is not unlike many other colonialist tales. Aboriginal communities have endured generations of disgraceful abuse, broken promises and betrayal. But as Saul puts forth in “A Fair Country”, in spite of this, they have maintained a presence and a spirit that has profoundly and positively shaped our nation. As I understand him, Saul submits that Canada’s “triangular reality” of three founding peoples (anglophones, francophones, aboriginals) fostered an aptitude for negotiation, an ability to consider multiple viewpoints, a tolerance for complexity, and a tendency to avoid squaring off into two diametrically opposed camps. As soon as a third person is involved in a debate, face-to-face opposition opens up into a circle. Yes it’s messy. Yes it takes longer. But could this be the reason we have not (yet?) fully degraded into a left-right binary stalemate similar to politics elsewhere in the west?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the erosion of our democracy and the erosion of our environment have occurred in tandem with the breakdown of native sovereignty and the escalating crises within their communities. I think the intimate Aboriginal connection to the land and environment has made them, symbolically, the spiritual conscience of Canada.
I can only imagine the rage they must feel at being considered a peripheral “issue” in this, the land where their ancestors lived generations before European arrival. And with Bill C45, that peripheral consideration has now turned into being flat-out ignored. We can’t continue to dishonour the covenants made in our most cherished documents and still believe in something called Canada.
I must add that I don’t think this protest is about ‘assimilation’ in any way. Aboriginals are participating mightily in our most prized cultural institutions, the halls of government, and in our universities. Native youth are becoming educated lawyers in droves. They are and have always been part of the fabric of this nation. It seems to me that this protest is about conflicting world-views. The Western colonialist mindset tends to look at land as property and potential for profit extraction. It increasingly looks at people as units of an economy. The Aboriginal mindset looks at the land as the source of life itself, a sacred public trust, and at people as its stewards. I think the reason that so many non-Aboriginals support this protest is because they can see the western colonialist way of thinking endangering or destroying the basis of life itself. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for jobs and growth and prosperity! I am all for people working to create the life they want for themselves. But at what point do these aims become a cannibalistic frenzy? At what point does this quest become self-annihilating? Like any of the freedoms we enjoy in this great country, they must be tempered with consideration of the greater whole. There is a balance to be achieved between the individual and the community – and native communities are calling on all of us born within the Western colonial mindset to think about this deeply.
I’m not intending to paint Aboriginal communities with one idealized brush here. Certainly, as in all forms of government, there are flaws, corruption and inconsistencies.
But as Tweeter @waneekhm so eloquently noted, before criticizing Native election discrepancies we need only recall one word – robocalls.
And before criticizing mismanagement of funds on native reserves, may I offer these two words: fighter jets.
I’m not a politician, an activist, a historian or a lawyer. I’m just a musician. But I’m also a Canadian, a thinker and a human being.
I am not a blanket left-y either. I actually have many conservative views. I don’t agree with everything the NDP puts forth, and I don’t automatically disagree with everything the Tories put forth. I think each issue deserves un-biased consideration. And me posting my views online doesn’t mean that I think you should care about them in the slightest! But let me just say that my earliest impressions from grade-school history class of what Canada was trying to represent – what it was trying to mean - those impressions affected me powerfully. The fact that there IS a protest happening, the fact that we are discussing conflicting views openly – these are rights that millions of people the world over would lay down their lives for. I guess my feeling is, that this vision of a progressive, democratic nation must also include honouring treaties, honouring each other, and honouring the land and water we all share (regardless of how property lines are drawn). This, as native lawyer Tanya Kappo points out, is in the interests of ALL Canadians. Just my opinion, and I offer it humbly.