Tag Archives: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

after the gold rush

residential-school-pic[editor: I changed the title from “education or gold rush?”]

I remember going to school board meetings in Regina and Ottawa (not exactly as shown) in my past life as a reporter.

Boring affairs. Lots of empty seats. A few iffy stories. Mostly, I thought to myself, folks seemed more concerned about everyone else’s kids than their own. Not that different than rez parents.

I was therefore surprised at the amount of jabber-jabber among non-Indigenous types about the First Nations Education Act (FNEA).

First, it’s about (yawn) education.  Second, it’s about (double yawn) First Nations’ education. So why all the online chatter?

Right now, the topic’s just-a-popping especially after last week’s shocking, surprising, and dare I say (yes I do) historic resignation of Shawn Atleo as head of the Assembly of First Nations. He said he wanted to remove himself as a “lightning rod” for opponents of the FNEA.

So what, you say. Why should non-Indigenous types think this concerns them at all?

It doesn’t. But they love to tell Indigenous peoples that they’re a bunch of stubborn, misguided arses and that they’re ruining their own lives and those of  blah blah blah.

Maybe this compensates for frustration, deep feelings of anxiety, impotence and inadequacy at their own lack of control over their own politicians and governments. They got daddy issues, y’see.

If they were half as concerned as they claim, wouldn’t they have asked why First Nations students get about a third less money for education than their own kids? Or why so many FN schools sit on contaminated land, make kids sick from mold and other poisons, don’t provide classes in their own languages, or teach their own histories?

Sorry. I almost put you to sleep, didn’t I? But isn’t that the point?

Knowing all that stuff presumes non-Indigenous folks even care about news from Indian country. Of course, they don’t. Why should they when they got Rob Ford, Mike Duffy and Pauline Marois to entertain and enthrall.

Yet, so many non-Indigenous types get their knickers in a twist about FN education on the rez when their preferred teaching method is apparently provided by Canadian prison guards.

I mean… really? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Choose one or the other. Education in schools? Or longer prison terms? Focus, people!

I’m being cheeky. Still …

I don’t think them hosers are really concerned about FN education or FN students at all. I think they’re really upset about losing control over Indigenous peoples. They’ve a lifetime of comforting stereotypes pounded into their noggins, after all, that “natives” are inferior in nearly every way including how to raise and teach their own children. And ain’t that the very foundation for residential schools?

Face it – there are a lot of hosers who think those schools weren’t all that bad. Eh?

My point is this. The FNEA and a string of other “historic” accomplishments passed by the Harper Government™ since it took power has been less about First Nations’ fiscal accountability, financial transparency, fair elections, matrimonial property rights, or education.

It’s been about the Federal  government blocking, limiting, undermining and avoiding at all costs the recognition of some fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples to control their own lives.

It’s about centuries of White privilege, and fear of losing a tiny bit of that, should Indigenous peoples escape those legal handcuffs so effectively applied by the Indian Act and other government policies.  I mean, just look at the amazing job the Canadian Government’s done so far? Need I say more?

Indigenous peoples already have legal recognition of their inherent rights; in the Aboriginal rights sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights, various decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada and other Canadian courts, in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and under international law.

The problem isn’t legal recognition. It’s Canada’s amazing, technicolor, hypocrisy.

One the one hand, Canada claims: “we respect Aboriginal rights”.

On the one hand, it does its darnedest to tear up those same Aboriginal rights in lengthy, expensive court cases.

Even when it’s been handed very clear, definite judicial smackdowns, the Federal Government’s lawyers will appeal almost with malicious intent.

There. I said it. I believe government lawyers can be petty and malicious. I hope you’re happy.

There seems an unwritten memo floating about the PMO (regardless of political occupant) that says: Deny, deny, deny.

Maybe this is why the Harper Government™ is in such a rush to cut Indians off at the pass. It’s a different kind of “red scare” these days.

Blogs, reports and studies, and headlines rally the troops to plant flags and stake claims before it’s too late. Do it now – before Indigenous peoples get there and demand a share of the wealth. Or at least a seat at the negotiating table.

Sheesh!  I mean, the nerve?! Google shows “about 21,700 results” with the words “Canada”, “Aboriginal rights” and “resource development”. A sizeable chunk warns governments and corporations that snoozers are losers.

It’s the Harper Government’s™ version of THE AMAZING RACE with oil and mining companies scrambling over themselves to get there before the courts step in. “Thar’s gold (oil and other precious minerals) in them thar hills!”  Yee-haw!

Doncha think maybe, just perhaps, that could be why so many chiefs are upset at all the backroom deals and private talks going on between the Assembly of First Nations and the Harper Government™?

The AFN and PMO can use all kinds of fancy blah-blah about “historic” this and that, or yadda-yadda about saving souls, but we know it’s always been about used car salesmen and Indians getting the sh***y end of the stick.

Politics and Indigenous rights – not education or fiscal whatever. Anyone who says different is zoomin’ ya.

Yes, there are fundamental differences – that Great Native Divide; “comprised… of native people who think of themselves as Canadian citizens [and] those who regard themselves as citizens of their respective nations.”

But can that excuse those who think it must be one or the other – all or nothing – with no common ground? Are these the only choices: assimilation or Indigenation?

There are, after all, common Aboriginal rights at stake for adherents of both camps. Protecting and advancing those rights is — and should be — Job # 1 at the AFN. The question is whether this organization of chiefs has been doing that or jumping at carrots dangled by the Harper Government™.

Interesting sidebar: more and more people outside Indian country are becoming interested, learning about and debating these issues. Always a good sign. Welcome to the party, y’all.


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Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canadian politics, Indigenous rights

fool me twice, shame on me

Idle No MoreIf you want to understand Idle No More, listen hard to what people don’t say. Listen to the emotions that emanate from them when they gather. Listen and hear everything from joy and pride, to anger and shame. And great disappointment too, for believing government promises time after time.

The shame I’ve heard seems to come from peoples’ sense of helplessness, of being told change and improvement are hopeless – and believing it.  They’re fed up at being sucker punched by the Government time after time, and having shame pressed upon them by society. They don’t like feeling that way. They don’t want their kids to feel that way. Not anymore.

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Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism

mouse chronicles (interrupted)

I was smack in the middle of writing about my misadventures with live mouse traps and female overlords when my morning was sidelined by an unwelcome intrusion. The incident caused me to re-examine my reasons for writing some of the things I do. It also made me consider yet again whether my blog is doing what it should. The internal debate continues whether Shmohawk, the personna and the blog, are heading in the right direction.

This I know: a lot of people, and a lot of journalists, will never understand or agree with my views on public affairs or life. It’s a free country. There are lots of people who prefer safe confines and walled communities to exploration. It’s easier to reject something than to put yourself out there and try to understand other peoples and their perspectives. Believe me, because I find it so hard to get out of my realities and attempt to understand yours.

As a journalist, I found that other journalists read less about life, and more about what they needed for that day. They don’t make time or feel the need for grand ideas which tend to be shoved out the back door while bureaucratic reports jam the front one. It isn’t that they don’t want to be better informed, but daily journalism is insular. Lost focus and intellectual wandering may lead to fuzzy thinking. This, I think, is why so many try to negotiate time to tackle larger issues with bigger stories. These are gross oversimplifications, stereotypes which are the stock-in-trade of journalism.

I know as well that the body reacts, at first, to anything it considers foreign or even dangerous. Ideas, for example, especially powerful ones, can be infectious. Some ideas may be beneficial but new ideas are almost always attacked. The body may eventually use the idea to develop an immunity to more destructive illnesses. At least that’s how I like to think about information, and journalism, and why I decided to get into the game. That’s right. I wanted to infect as many people as possible with ideas. I wanted to use them to counter racism; the dreaded “r” word that shall not be spoken in polite company. But I know racism to be a destructive illness that needs to be confronted. Ignored or avoided, race hatred can infect and even destroy the host.

It isn’t completely selfless. I’m just as worried about my welfare as anyone else’s. You see, racism is an everyday fact of my life. Race and racism are unfortunate side effects of being an Indigenous person today. I cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. I can try to pass, and hope no one notices. I can dye my hair, bleach my skin, insert tinted contact lenses to change the colour of my eyes. I have friends who have been told to change their accents. Cut their braids. Stop being so damn Indian! I know some Mohawks who have done it all in order to try to fit, to escape, to survive. But I know a whole lot more who are prepared to stand and fight, if necessary. Bring it.

Getting back to ideas, I’m going to post Article 8 of the UN’s Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I sense that most people in Canada haven’t a clue what it states, what it means or might mean for the average Canadian. I suspect it’s because they’ve depended on news people to explain the Declaration to them. Never a good plan.

I hope anyone reading this gets a little more curious about why Canada is one of only four nations in the world that refuses to sign it. Go, find it and read it for yourself. A Canadian mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I hope this helps explain a little behind Shmohawk, the personna and the blog. It won’t reveal everything, but it may help me decide whether to continue down this path or, as Bugs Bunny put it, take that left turn at Albuquerque.

Article 8 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples deals with assimilation and forced integration:

  1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
  2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
  • Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
  • Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
  • Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
  • Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
  • Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.


Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, racism, writing

canada’s 19th century policies

The United States may be moving toward recognition of the United Nation’s International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Australia has already announced it will do so. New Zealand may be re-considering its opposition the the Declaration as well. If so, this will leave Canada the only member in the UN voting against it, because Canada (as usual) is hoping to legislate Indians out of existence before that’s necessary.

The fact that Canada will be alone in its refusal to recognize Indigenous rights should not surprise Indigenous peoples, nor should it anyone else. Canada has maintained hypocritical, illogical and ridiculous positions on Indigenous rights all along.

  • Canada says it respects the right of self-determination while making sure its legislative leghold traps remain firm, keeping Indigenous peoples in a system of internal colonialism.
  • Canada says it wants to resolve disputes about Indigenous rights to land and resources by honouring existing treaties and land agreements, but continues to be the main reason for the huge back log at land claims, wasting millions of dollars each year, and provoking legal bar fights over resource issues. 
  • Canada says it supports Indigenous rights, but does not seem to have a clue what that means. Or if it does, Canada seems to be stuck in 19th century attitudes and legal opinions about Indigenous peoples and their rights.

So here’s a suggestion. Follow this link and read. Canadians really need to educate themselves about the Indigneous peoples that their governments deny even exist. They may need to drag their country into the 21st. century.

The critical point here is that nation states assume their citizens accept the government and the political and cultural rules of social and political process. This, however, is a main point of contention between nation states and indigenous peoples, who have their own cultures, forms of government, economies and communities. Indigenous peoples live in communities or nations that are organized differently than nation states and many indigenous peoples do not recognize the authority or power of nation states, although they are often compelled to abide by their rules.

Indigenous peoples are often not, if ever, consensual citizens within the nation states that have assumed power and territory surrounding indigenous communities. Immigrants are asked to become naturalized and take an oath of allegiance to the nation state. Indigenous peoples, however, have been legislated into citizenship, and have not voluntarily taken oaths of loyalty or willingness to uphold or recognize the constitutions of nation states. Indigenous peoples generally are not parties to, did not consent to, and often did not participate in the constitution formation of nation states. While many indigenous peoples are loyal to their nation states, they at the same time want recognition of their political, cultural and territorial traditions.

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principle, or willful denial


WCAR 2001: Durban, South Africa

WCAR 2001: Durban, South Africa

The headlines around the world say it all. US boycotts UN racism conference, says BBC World. US boycotts racism conference, says Al Jazeera from the Middle East. Australia, Netherlands join U.N. race meeting boycott, says Europes’ Reuters. Western boycott grows against UN racism conference, writes Canada’s Globe and Mail which reports that Canada was an early boycotter of this international conference. Significantly, Britain is sending a delegation if not any government officials.  


The reasons? Unease with criticism of Israel seems a common theme among the boycotters as well as a strange reference to “defamation of religions.” There has been a lot of discussions, some countries dragging things year after year about about the wording of a working document, a step toward an international covenant for the elimination of racism. It comes from conferences beginning in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. That was where most of the world’s post-colonial, non-industrialized, non-European population – that part of the world that the West claims to want to listen to – began to walk out because they didn’t like hearing their own Indigenous populations given vent to centuries of racism by their national governments. The excuse then, as now, is criticism of Israel and the possibility of anti-semitism.

Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the review conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views,” Stephen Smith, Australia’s foreign minister, said.


some issues Canada will boycott

some issues Canada will boycott

But listening to criticism from the rest of the world, including criticism from their own Indigenous populations, is precisely why they should attend the UN’s racism conference, to review Durban and other conferences. I fear the rest is a convenient excuse to continue willful ignorance and denial. 


Years ago, I taught a course in diversity in journalism that, by necessity, touched on racism. Race wasn’t the focus of the course because diversity deals with issues of gender, sexual orientation, age, social status, poverty, ethnicity, physical or psychological condition, religious belief, and a lot more including race. In other words, this course on diversity in journalism tried to find out what topics journalists tended to avoid almost as much as where they failed, and where they might improve in their everyday jobs. The students wanted the course cancelled. 

Every year, they wanted the course cancelled. I joked that they wanted to burn me in effigy, to erect barricades, to boycott my class. In fact, I was half-joking. Many of the course’s students signed petitions asking the university to kill the course if not the teacher. The reason for the petition, which the petition itself didn’t spell out, was racism, or reverse racism, or aversion to discuss racism, depending on which student you asked. The other topics (physical ability, religion, etc) were apparently non-issues.

Although I didn’t take the rejection personally, I was left confused for a long time after I left the university about what sparked this student revolt. None of the people who came in to help teach the course were flaming ideologues or given to flinging about accusations of  racism. They were not all people of colour, female, or advocates of one group or another. They were, however, all then- or former-journalists who were concerned enough by Canadian journalism’s appalling lack of diversity, its blinkered view of Canada and Canadians, that they felt compelled to try to help improve things. 

The course materials had been produced by other journalists who felt their own work had failed in certain respects, or who found blatant examples of exclusion that defied easy explanation. Other material identified trends in words, phrases or the misuse of words as well as offering possible alternatives for discussion. In other words, the course wasn’t designed to hit anybody over the head with racism, nor to point fingers. I thought it was actually a very tame course that didn’t go far enough, given examples of diversity courses at the many schools of journalism in the United States. Canada, by comparison, had no other course in diversity in journalism anywhere. 

So what ticked them off? What got the students so averse to discussing issues of diversity, and in particular those issues surrounding race? First, how could I be so sure that it was about race, beyond what some students had told me? 

A simple assignment: within a clearly and strictly defined area of the city, pick one of the various areas of diversity, research and focus story ideas, present them to the working group in that area of diversity, and begin work on a feature article about this issue for publication. At least, it seemed like a simple assignment.

All kinds of things went wrong. The defined area surrounded the school of journalism and even the furthest point was within easy walking distance. It contained many if not most of the diversity issues discussed in the course with a significant mix of religions, ethnicities, nationalities, rich and poor, vibrant cultural neighbourhoods – a microcosm of the city and the country. The students were not nearly as mixed. About 60 percent could be described as middle-class whites, with more females than males. 

It shouldn’t have surprised me then – but it did – when about two-thirds of the class chose to head to the gay village. Of 300 or so students, only about 10 (about 3 percent) ventured into the significant immigrant and refugee communities of mostly Caribbean and African Blacks. Most of the remaining gravitated to gender, reilgious or social status stories but within fairly safe and familiar boundaries – essentially with people who looked pretty much like the students themselves or reflected similar backgrounds and values.

I was appalled. And confused. Why would so many students choose the gay village? Why would almost all of them avoid the other neighbourhoods and stories?  Were the 60 percent or so students heading to the gay village because it was mostly white? Was it that simple? Did the majority of students find gays more familiar or less threatening and therefore more comfortable than Black, Middle Eastern, South Asian peoples and their neighbourhoods? That might be the easy answer. But would it be the right one?

It took a long time for me to figure out that the students weren’t rebelling against me, against the course, or against what it was trying to do. They were pulling back from what they might find or need to confront within themselves. This feeling was later strengthened, for me at least, when one of the other teachers who stayed after I had left the course said that some students confided their fears to him. They feared they would come to see their own families, their mother or father or uncle, perhaps their siblings, as bigots or racists if they took the course to its logical conclusion. 

Of course, this wasn’t at all what the course had intended to do or was designed for. At best, and as simply as possible, the course was supposed to encourage people to begin a journey of exploration; to widen personal and professional horizons, to get people to step outside comfort zones and introduce themselves to other people in Canada and get to know them better. In the process, the course would make better-rounded students and hopefully get better journalists and journalism. 

What does any of this have to with the boycott by Canada, the U.S., Australia, and the Netherlands (so far)? I’ve read their stated reasons but find them empty. Where officials of these nations say they are all standing on principle, I hear denials and fears similar to those of the students I once had. They’re avoiding self-examination of their own policies and actions.

Significantly the three main countries so far boycotting the UN’s International Conference on Racism (Canada, U.S., Australia) are also three of the four nations in the world that have also refused to sign the UN’s International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Aotearoa (or New Zealand) is the fourth and it will be interesting to see if it will boycott.

Nuff sed.

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Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, racism, South Africa, United States