I've always sort of been in the middle when it comes to First Nation issues...at an early age I was very proud of my Cree ancestry. I remember watching an old western at my Grampa's place (a member of the Missanbie Cree nation who was born up in the bush up around the James Bay area where he lived until he was sent to a residential school when he was around 9 years old). In the particular scene that I recall, an "indian" was stalking a cowboy, knife drawn and ready for the kill. I remember cheering for the "indian" only to be gently corrected. I was asked why I was cheering for the bad guy...which led to some confusion on my part. I didn't think he was the bad guy...he was one of us...no?
As I've gotten older and perhaps less wise, I've waffled and wondered if I was "native enough" to claim it as my own. You see by some twist of legislation and bureaucracy I've been denied my status. Between the years that my Dad and my uncle were born, certain laws changed which changed the level of status that each of them had. Therefore, while my cousins are no more native than I am, they have their status but I do not.
It's interesting growing up part-native. Pretty much the first question anyone has when it's revealed that I'm part First Nations is, "yeah, but...how much?" As if my claim needs to be validated by whoever I'm speaking to in order to be considered First Nations. I've had people say to me, "Oh, only a quarter...well, you're not really native then" or, "Yeah, but are you status?" How often do you hear someone being challenged about their ancestral claims? Irish? How Irish are you? Hmm....
I was rather pleased last week when the federal courts ruled in favour of Metis and Non-Status Indians being identified as "Indian" with all the right and entitlement to that name as a status Indian. I felt somewhat validated to tell you the truth. It's not about land or money for me...it's about identity. Even in that moment of validation I felt shame because I felt dependent on some stupid bureaucratic and judicial ruling to bestow upon me an integral part of my identity. I should have been free to claim that identity.
For me the Idle No More has great potential if the participants can use it as a catalyst to rise up and truly become self-determinant. We shouldn't be dependent on the government for our identity, culture, strength or community health and prosperity.
Have the First Nations been treated poorly in the past? Yeah, for sure and in the not so distant past. Does the government have a responsibility to the First Nations and if so, are they living up to it? Yes, I believe it does and no I don't think they're doing their best in this regard. However I don't think all of the First Nations have been good stewards of what has been allotted them either. Moreover regardless of what our rights are and what we feel entitled to...if they are holding us back from becoming something greater, then we need to reassess our priorities.
There's been a lot of talk about rights and responsibilities. The thing about rights is that they don't always have to be exercised. In fact it is usually detrimental to stubbornly hold to a right regardless of the reality of the situation. For example, I am constantly yielding my right of way as a pedestrian because I don't want to be hit by a vehicle. When I see a car coming towards me that obviously is not going to stop, I will yield my right. Simple self-preservation. Would I like to hold everyone accountable to their responsibilities and make everyone grant me my right of way? Sure (not really but for sake of argument I'll say, "sure"). And you know what, I do sometimes take my right of way. I choose my battles wisely and I don't assume that any driver out there gives two hoots about my well-being.
I'm reminded of the wonderful kids book, "Where the Red Fern Grows." In it the grandfather of the protagonist reveals a trick to catch a raccoon, the old brace and bit trick. He says you need to drill a hole in a brace (or something like that) and place the bit (a shiny piece of metal) inside of it. The hole is to be just big enough so the raccoon can fit its unclenched fist through it, but too small to allow his clenched fist to pass back out. Therefore when he grabs the bit, he won't be able to extract his hand and he will be too stubborn to let go of the bit to free himself, and thus the raccoon is trapped.
How often do we stubbornly hang onto something we want or feel is our right to have even to our own detriment?
The government (and anyone else) is only going to do so much for any of us. While it probably is a good thing to continue to hold them accountable to past agreements and fight for equal resources and opportunities (on and off reserve), we need to be upwardly mobile and work to improve our own stead. We need to hold each other accountable and exhort one another to higher standards, accomplishments and dreams. We need to work together and support one another (let us not forget there are many First Nations - not one). There needs to be a vision. And most importantly there needs to be ownership over that vision.
In grade 2 I learned something that has proven to be very useful in many phases of this life of mine and that is very apt in this discussion. A simple little phrase: If it is to be, it is up to me.