Category Archives: First Nations

Will Indigenous Languages Survive?

Cultural genocide is an explosive term – but not too strong when applied to the fate of many languages of Indigenous people across North America, Turtle Island.

According to 2016 Canadian census data, the mother tongue of over 213,000 people was an Indigenous language.  In Ontario, it was over 25,000.

In September, parents of Indigenous children enrolled at the Toronto District School Board petitioned trustees to expand the Indigenous language programme.  Board officials acknowledged the need for more.  Seven schools have provided Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) classes for over a decade.  But of the 53 languages taught to 30,000 students during the International Language Elementary Programme last year, none were Indigenous.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action highlights the need to preserve and strengthen Indigenous language and culture.  Clearly, there is far to go.

Gisele Gordon, one of the TDSB-petitioning parents, told the Toronto Star “My mother-in-law is a fluent Cree speaker.  My husband, like most of his generation, is not.  This is a direct result of residential schools.”

On October 5, the Canadian federal government agreed to pay $800 million to survivors of the “60s Scoop” for the harm suffered by an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children who were robbed of their cultural identities when seized by the state and placed with non-native families between 1965 and 1984.  There is no “settlement” on the table for the victims of the infamous Residential Schools programme, which placed more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children in church-run schools from the 1870s to 1996. Many of those children were beaten, sexually abused, and starved for speaking their mother tongues.

Meanwhile, in the secret talks to re-write the North America Free Trade Agreement, the Canadian government’s promise to “modernize” the NAFTA by demanding it include a new chapter on Indigenous peoples, seems to be empty. It is reminiscent of the Jay Treaty of 1794, signed by Britain and the USA, which pledged free cross-border movement of Indigenous people and the goods traded by them, along with protection for Indigenous cultural properties and traditional knowledge.

Can there be “reconciliation” before there is real, substantial restitution, to the tune of trillions of dollars, from the treasury of the corporations and business elites who have profited from Indigenous genocide and the plunder of natural resources?

— BW


Photo: Amnesty International

Big turnout for SA “Celebrate 150 Years of Resistance” on July 7!

A mostly young crowd of about one hundred, including several indigenous women activists, attended the Socialist Action gala “Celebrate 150 Years of Resistance to Colonialism, Genocide, Exploitation and Environmental Plunder” at OISE U of Toronto on the evening of July 7.

They heard seven speakers, including Carrie Lester, Mohawk Land Defender and Water Protector and Idle No More activist. Plus musical performances by singers-songwriters Mama D, Glen Hornblast, and  Mohammed Ali Aumeer of Socialist Hip Hop.

After the presentations, which highlighted the ugly truth about the Canadian state, a lively, at times emotional Q&A took place.  At the conclusion, the meeting chair, leading Socialist Action member and retired postal worker Elizabeth Byce, presented the following resolution, which was approved by unanimous vote:

“Whereas:  There can be no reconciliation without restitution.  No peace without justice.

No shift from carbon fuel to clean green energy without public ownership.  And no democracy without equality.

Therefore, we do not celebrate capitalism and the Canadian state.  We seek to overthrow them, and to build a cooperative commonwealth under workers’ and community control.”

SA recorded the proceedings of the gala.  The video will be posted on  http://www.socialistaction.ca/

Two people applied to join SA at the event.  Another three, by correspondence, expressed a similar interest.

The next SA event is Socialism in the Park, three talks/discussions on revolutionary theory and practice.  It will be held at Toronto’s Christie Pits Park, Bloor St. at Christie Ave., 7 p.m. on July 26, August 2, and August 9.  For more information, respond to this e-message and/or phone 647-986-1917 .

 

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Guest speaker Ajamu Nangwaya on Apartheid Did Not Die

Video of the Socialist Action Rebel Film night discussion that followed the screening of John Pilger’s documentary ‘Apatheid Did Not Die.’  Guest speaker, Ajamu Nangwaya, educator, and organizer with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity, spoke about the role of the ANC and Nelson Mandela in the perpetuation of economic apartheid in South Africa, and the need to build an anti-capitalist, working class alternative.

Ajamu Nangwaya on Apartheid Did Not Die

 

Humour – an unlikely weapon for Aboriginal Rights

by Barry Weisleder  

A review of “The Inconvenient Indian – A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by Thomas King, published by Anchor Canada, a division of Random House, 2013, 314 pages.
ThomasKingThomas King, best known as the creator and star of the hilarious CBC Radio One series “The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour”, is the author of a funny book about the sad tragedy that is the situation of North American indigenous peoples. The book is a best-seller, proving again that a serious message can reach a huge readership through the medium of satire, without debasing the cause.
Born in Sacramento, California, Thomas King is of Cherokee, Greek and German-American descent. As an adult, he migrated to Australia, where he worked for years as a photojournalist. After moving to Canada in 1980, King taught Native Studies at the University of Lethbridge in the early 1980s. He also served as a faculty member of the University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies Department. King is currently an English professor at the University of Guelph, about an hour west of Toronto. King was the NDP candidate for Guelph in the October 14, 2008 federal election, finishing fourth behind the Liberal, Conservative, and Green Party candidates.
“The Inconvenient Indian” is a short, post-modern version of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” King recounts the massacres inflicted by the European colonial powers, records many of the lies, broken land treaties, the physical displacement, and the cultural genocide that still masquerades as education. The author postures as the skeptic, and proceeds to eviscerate the skepticism that surrounds corporate media coverage of aboriginal issues.
Why does he use the antiquated word ‘Indian’ when First Nations is the term of choice in Canada, and Native Americans is preferred in the United States? King calls it “the North American default”. Then he amusingly disparages his decision to name the non-native population ‘Whites.’ “Well, I struggled with this one. A Japanese friend of mine likes to call Anglos ‘crazy Caucasoids,’ while another friend told me that if I was going to use the term ‘Indians’ I should call everyone else ‘cowboys.’”
King identifies three kinds of Indian: Dead Indians, Live Indians and Legal Indians. Dead are the ones that “are the stereotypes and cliches that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears.” Society sees “war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, headbands.” “You can find Dead Indians everywhere. Rodeos, powwows, movies, television commercials.” They pose no threat to power.inconvenient_indian_366x549px2
Live Indians, on the other hand, were an “annoying part of life in the New World.” European diseases killed about 80 per cent of them. The American newspaper mogul Horace Greeley said in 1859, “The Indians are children… the very lowest and rudest of human existence… These people must die out – there is no help for them.” King sarcastically adds: “Problem was, Live Indians didn’t die out.”
The Canadian census of 2006 records the existence of 565,000 Status Indians. The total indigenous population in Canada then, including Indians, Metis and Inuit, was 1.2 million – not counting those living on at least 22 Indian reserves, overlooked according to Statistics Canada. In the United States, federal “recognition” is granted to tribes rather than individuals. In 2009 the U.S. Federal Register recognized 564 tribes, encompassing about 950,000 people. The total number of Indians in the U.S. is around 2.4 million, or a few hundred thousand more or less, given the vagaries of the census.
Legal Indians have certain rights and privileges – because of the treaties both countries signed with Native nations. About 40 per cent of Live Indians in North America are Legal Indians. King caustically observes that “while North America loves the Dead Indian and ignores the Live Indian, North America hates the Legal Indian. Savagely.” He acerbically describes the treaties as an error in judgement that the establishment has been trying to correct for the last 150 years.
Legal Indians are ‘inconvenient’. That’s because their legal rights stand in the way of Private Profit – er, I mean Progress. (Sorry, I’m starting to sound like the author.)
But why can’t indigenous people just melt into the population at large? Sure, they’ve been robbed, kidnapped, displaced, and much worse than decimated. But why can’t they just say let’s ‘let bye-gones be by-gones’, and just ‘get over it?’
Well, should Jews, gays and Roma people just ‘get over’ the Nazi holocaust? Ought Blacks just ‘get over’ the murderous Middle Passage and nearly three hundred years of slavery? Doesn’t the commitment to the idea of ‘Never again’ require an historical memory?
How about the question of Aboriginal self-reliance?
King writes: “I’ve been told any number of times that we have to learn to stand on our own two feet and develop the skills necessary to manage on our own, without relying on government generosities.
“In the same way that Air Canada, AIG, Bombardier, Halliburton, General Motors, and the good folks out in Alberta’s Tar Sand Project manage on their own, without relying on government handouts.
“I suppose I could have mentioned Enron, World Com, Bre-X, and Bear Stearns as well, but these disasters were more greed than incompetence. Weren’t they? Though I suppose the one does not preclude the other.
“So, if I’ve got it right, while North America is reluctant to support the economic “incompetence” of Native people, it is more than willing to throw money at the incompetence of corporations. And why not? After all, if we’ve learned nothing in the last century, we should have learned that government support of big business is capitalism’s only hope.”
That’s a surprisingly radical analysis for a one-time NDP candidate, even if it is not accompanied by a concrete programme for radical change.
Here’s another way to look at the self-reliance idea, as it’s posed under capitalism. Some workers belong to a union. That gives them strength lacked by workers who don’t. Some indigenous people have treaty rights, which gives them a toe-hold, and a bit of leverage on the capitalist state. In the absence of a cooperative commonwealth for all, does it make sense to give up the little they’ve got, however ‘inconvenient’ they may be to big business?
To be sure, “The issue has always been land” insists King. “It will always be land, until there isn’t a square foot of land left in North America that is controlled by Native people.” It’s a sensitive issue, as discovered by 13-year-old Tenelle Starr from the Star Blanket First Nation, 90 kilometres north-east of Regina, Saskatchewan. She was sent home from school in early January tenelle_starrbecause she was wearing a pink hoodie bearing the slogan ‘Got Land? Thank an Indian’. The good news is that now Tenelle’s friends are sporting the slogan, and the social media is all a-buzz.
In the meantime, indigenous land titles continue to stand in the way of corporate resource extraction, even of military training bases (like the one at Stoney Point Ojibway reserve in Ontario where provincial police shot and killed native protester Dudley George in 1995).
Fortunately, indigenous peoples’ opposition to pipeline construction has helped to forge an alliance of farmers, workers and environmentalists concerned about pollution and climate change. This convergence is reflected in the broad public support for the Idle No More movement that arose in late 2012.
The path that capitalists and their governments have taken to remove the native land obstacle to profit maximization is called ‘termination’. If the policy sounds deadly, it’s no accident.
Neither is it anything new. After centuries of dispossession and genocide, ‘modern’ governments stepped up to the plate. Duncan Campbell Scott, head of Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs from 1913-1932 put it bluntly: “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department…”
In 1953, the U.S. Congress passed the Termination Act and the Relocation Act concurrently. It allowed Congress to terminate all federal relations with tribes unilaterally, while Relocation “encouraged” Native people to quit their reservations and move to the cities.
In 1969, the Canadian government tried to do the same thing with its White Paper. Then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau suggested that there is no such thing as Indian entitlement to land or Native rights, and urged First Nations people to assimilate into Canadian society. The reaction was massively and fiercely negative. What do you suppose would happen if Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau advocated that today?
2013-01-02-idlenomorehuffpoWhile the Conservative government of Stephen Harper drags its feet, Tory ideologue Tom Flanagan openly campaigns for the termination of Native status, and for dispersal and privatization of aboriginal lands.
The interest of the working class lies in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. The reasons are clear. One is the practical need for unity between workers and all oppressed peoples against the bosses and their state. Another is based on recognition that the struggle of Indigenous people to preserve their collective land rights constitutes a powerful obstacle to the agenda of Capital – which is to turn all of nature into a commodity, for sale to the highest bidder, subject to ruthless despoliation.
Thomas King’s “The Inconvenient Indian – A Curious Account of Native People in North America” is remarkably witty, often hilarious, and a truthful companion for the important battles ahead. Read it, and use it well.

OCAP Says No to Welfare Merger/Cuts

by John Wilson
On New Year’s day 2014 there’s not much to celebrate for those who are unemployed, low-waged, who rely on welfare, or live on disability benefits in Ontario. To make matters worse, only 35 per cent of the unemployed even qualified for Employment Insurance benefits (which have been reduced), compared to 74 per cent eligible in 1990. Two priority campaigns of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) highlight this reality.
The first is the campaign to “raise the rates”. The rates paid by Ontario Works (welfare) were brutally slashed by nearly 22% bywe're here for our$ the notorious regime of Mike Harris in the mid-90s. Since then, for single claimants, the payments have lost a staggering 56% of their spending power. These rates were frozen since 1995, until the advent of the present Liberal regime, but any increases have been miniscule – only 15% over the last ten years, far less than the rate of inflation.
OCAP demands an immediate 55% increase. It is common knowledge that welfare recipients have little left over after paying rent. They rely on food banks to survive and have almost nothing for other needs. Supplementary benefits have been under continuous attack, despite the laughable “poverty reduction” mantra of the austerity-mongering Wynne government. As OCAP organizer John Clarke wrote in the Bullet (May 2013): “The fundamental nature of the welfare system can be traced all the way back to its roots in the old English Poor Laws. The system has always been there to reluctantly provide enough assistance to stave off unrest and social dislocation, but to do so at levels and in forms that maximize the flow of labour into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer.” “Ontario Works” says it all.
DSCN1663The same approach to disability benefits leads into a second major campaign to prevent the merger of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). At a November 20 rally in Toronto, attended by over 120 people, speakers outlined their concerns. Historically, disability and welfare rates have been separate. If combined, from where will any increases for disability come? With downloading to municipalities, will ‘reassessment’ of disability claimants follow the notorious British model? Rally participants learned about the savage cuts to disability programs by the reactionary coalition government in Britain, which has handed this process over to ATOS, a private company.
Huge numbers of people there have been disqualified on incredibly specious grounds. A video showed a large field of flowers, each representing a disabled person who died within a short period of being disqualified, often by suicide. It is hardly ‘alarmist’ to think that the same could happen here, since the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has already privatized reassessment with a stupefying increase in disqualifications. The austerity agenda, which has particularly targeted disabled people, is international, as is the capitalist system, which promotes it in the interest of ever cheaper labour platforms.
These two campaigns by OCAP clearly merit the unqualified support of labour, the left and social movements. Attacks on welfare and disability benefits will not only further impoverish poor people, but everyone. The greater the number of people desperate enough to accept the most wretched jobs, the more downward pressure there will be on wage levels, and the more intense will be the attacks on unions.nov 5th cap is broken 2 PS