It's an expression in our English lexicon, albeit a crude and pejorative one whose usage is usually restricted to a discussion between parties in reference to a third party they consider inferior: The Natives are Getting Restless. The five words, so drenched in disdain, yet so flippantly employed, developed meaning in a language whose speakers' world view was largely coloured by colonialism for over 200 years. And when an occasion was given for this expression to be used, as it inevitably was sometimes, we turned our guns or whips or economic system or cultural superiority or whatever on them to put them back in their place. Because what would happen if they got too restless and we just stood idly by?
I haven't written for a long time, and I'm not too fond of this subject because it's really complicated and touchy and I think it just caused me to use a bad pun. I am glad that natives have forced themselves on the front page for several consecutive days and seem to be finally, really, genuinely fucking pissed off over all the fucked up shit we did to them. Yet I know I don't have a hope in hell of being taken seriously writing this column, because I have already liberally used careless ethnocentrism - by lazily saying "we", I betray my white, middle-class, male, european-origin, urban, educated, bourgeois parasitism. The days people like me could swagger around the world telling people what was up are over. The natives of Canada, North America, who stood idly by while this country, as it exists today, was created without them, are idle no more. They are demanding to have a conversation.
And for that, you have to commend them. The first step to being relevant is refusing to be ignored. Just like you had to commend Occupy Wall Streeters for their persistence, when faced with the reality of perpetual shit-eating grin sporters like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein strutting around New York with their 8 figure salaries thinking they deserve every penny while 99% of the nation was eating real economic stagnation shit. Of course, 16 months later the campout is long gone and these two individuals are still running the banks they were then, but that's beside the point. 99 and 1% permanently entered the vocabulary. The conversation was, if not changed, nudged in a direction where something was acknowledged that wasn't before.
But will that happen here? Only if three questions can be clearly answered; as of yet, from what I've seem, they haven't been.
What do Canada's natives want?
Who speaks for them?
What can change?
My thing is, I don't see how anything can change because it cannot come from Stephen Harper. It cannot come from the Canadian treasury. It has to come from them. The natives.
All over the world, things are getting better. That doesn't mean that they're going to go well enough soon enough to stop the whole thing from going to complete shit, but people are starting to move around. Go to school. Get on the computer. Start businesses. Unless were talking about some last few hellhole countries where poverty is endemic, women have no rights, and people still use livestock as currency and decapitation as law enforcement (I'm looking at you, Somalia, Niger, and Afghanistan), modernity is sweeping the planet and nations are taking charge of their destiny. If I could, I would invest in just about any country on earth (other than the three above where my money would disappear in a cloud of assault rifles and beards) before North America, Japan, or Europe. Why? It's 2013, and everyone pretty much understands, suddenly, all at once, what we are supposed to be doing. Making something of ourselves, whatever that might mean.
I'm reading a book right about how Japan, a country that in 1945 had two nuclear bombs dropped on it and more than half of its major cities firebombed into ruins, became the world's largest industrial powerhouse and 2nd largest economy. Today India, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Tunisia, Egypt, and Uruguay are all on their way. Even North Korea and Cuba are moving forward, glacially. It doesn't matter if you were mismanaged, brutalized, or just not with the program for decades. No better proof exists of that than China. Look out for Iran and Syria if their poor citizens can ever overthrow the awful regimes that control them - the cultural richness and deep know-how of these populations is enormous.
My point is that all the citizens of earth have lived through trauma, death, suffering, disease, poverty, shame, backwardness, and shit. A record number of people on earth, I believe, have decided to leave behind these pernicious forces that so severely restrain the human spirit. It is time for native Canadians to stop focussing on the past, and start focussing on the future. The future that they will define, what they want it to be. But it cannot be the past.
What it will take is bravery and ingenuity on the part of aboriginal peoples to decide what part they want to play in this country's destiny. Demanding to be heard is a commendable first step. I'm for anything that embarrasses Steve Harper and gets him out of that smug, complacent "managing the economy" comfort zone which is all bullshit anyways. But now that you've got him at the table, what do you think he's going to do for you? What are any of us going to do for you?
I'll tell you one thing - we're not going to build brand new ugly-assed, depressing houses in the middle of nowhere at prohibitive costs so we can continue a multi-generational cycle of poverty, misery and abuse. I don't think it makes sense to live on the "land" of your "ancestors" because your ancestors didn't take planes to go the the doctor (or anywhere other than your isolated community) or pay $3.99 for 1 red pepper or $20 for tropicana orange juice. Were your ancestors drinking 2 litres of coca-cola while they watched 42 inch Samsungs? I mean, people are living in communities you have to fly to, for christ's sake. No roads. No railroads. And no economy. And we are surprised there is no opportunity for "jobs, training or opportunities". The nearest cities to these communities are also buttholes. No wonder everyone goes back to the reserve.
I'm talking about an extreme example. I'm referring to Attawapiskat, whose famous chief has been on hunger strike. What about the natives living near Winnipeg, or Hamilton, or Thunder Bay, or Tsawawssen? It's not so extreme there.
Let's get down to the brass tacks. 80% of the Canadian population lives in 9 metropolitan areas, add three more and I think you're up to over 90. There are hundreds of thousands of first and second generation Italians, Iranians, Indians, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, Arabs, Filipinos and just about anyone you can think of from anywhere in these cities who control diverse business interests making up massive swaths of the Canadian economy and control enormous amounts of wealth. Why can't the natives be part of this? What is impeding them from sharing in our countries success?
Is it free health care? Free university education? An advantageous tax regime?
Or is it being isolated in ethnic ghettos, themselves dating from a time where a false sense of racial superiority led the white man to believe he could segregate what made him uncomfortable on a "reserve"? Is it being fundamentally unable to confront the demons that fester in such an environment and rationalizing them as okay? Why don't native people "idle no more" in the face of domestic violence, teenage preganancy, substance abuse, sky-high high school drop out rates, and communities that are so fucking depressing, barely a single non-native Canadian has ever set foot in one unless it was to buy contraband tobacco? Because if all of the social ills I mention also plague all Canada's communities to varying degrees, the isolation and monotony of reserves can only continue to exacerbate them to the degree that it already has.
Of course white people know that we f------ the natives over worse than anybody. But we can't go back to 1700 to try this again knowing what we know now. We want to natives improve their lot and I am fine being reminded of my oppressive ancestors every day. Disputes, however, only get resolved when collective responsibility is taken by both parties (ask a married man with a young child). Until inconvenient truths about the way natives live in Canada are admitted and meaningful steps are taken by natives for natives to deal with them, this Idle No More thing is just going to be a lot of blown smoke. Demanding to shove more millions down a rabbit hole with no strings attached is just going to play into Harper's hands and probably contribute to a 2nd majority. We all have to change but natives, especially, have to change, by coming and joining society which will force them to change and us to change. Banishing themselves to isolated, ethnically homogenous communities will only continue to the cycle of ignorance and misunderstanding - the Canadian urban majority building the nation, chasing its dreams while a dependent, embittered native population suffers, forgotten by people who want to see them succeed, and f----- over by their self-aggrandizing, crooked "leaders".