November 18, 1994 Halifax Herald
Can First Nations shake off the legacy of hopelessness and despair created by the centuries of mindless discrimination and oppression Canada subjected them to? In my opinion, this cannot be accomplished without Canada first emulating the actions of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, which have, after acknowledging their parts in the debasement and oppression of American civilizations, given unqualified apologies. A simple, straightforward apology delivered by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, in front of First Nations Chiefs, would go a long way towards healing the wounds left by past unsavoury practices.
Itís Afterwards, a relationship fostering respect and trust must replace the old. The evils that begot the Indian Act and other modes of discrimination must be consigned to the trash pile of history and not be permitted to sour future prospects for reconciliation and reconstruction.
Itís Canada's racist laws and policies, which governed for centuries its relationships with our peoples, were not without cost. The cost in human terms are incalculable and are still being borne by our peoples. Young people are committing suicide or turning to drugs and other substances for relief from what they foresee as a dismal and hopeless future.
Itís Racist and stereotypical views about us are still rampant in Canada and are impeding our push forward. Exclusion from almost every facet of life in this country still predominates our daily lives and will continue to do so until such time as drastic attitudinal changes are made in the dominant society, and the ignorance associated with it is effectively dealt with.
Itís As Canada, from its own experience, can vouch for, racism is a very expensive luxury. The financial cost of impoverishing and segregating our peoples, and then leaving them without education or employment opportunities for centuries, is costing this country a bundle and will continue to do so for many moons to come.
Itís Throughout my adult years, no one can ever know how repugnant it has been for me to have had to sit and watch when a Prime Minister or a Minister of Indian Affairs went to the news media to becry the financial cost of maintaining what I knew they and their predecessors had created. These PR efforts were always conducted in a manner that left in the public mind an impression that our peoples were the architects of their own misfortune and were unwilling to make the effort to leave their self-induced state of poverty.
Itís On an ongoing basis, I have had to deal with the misinformation left behind by these ministers. Their unqualified statements to the effect that we are tax-exempt, get free housing, etc., have created a false impression in the minds of many. The truth is that our tax exemptions are very limited and free housing does not exist, nor do we have access to unlimited benefits in other areas. If space permitted, I could spend quite some time examining this subject alone.
Itís There are those among the dominant society, including MPs, who simplistically think they can wake up one morning, snap their fingers and - presto! - the "Indian Problem" disappears. These people should wake up to the fact that the psychological and physical damage done to First Nations by centuries of discrimination will take decades to undo and will exact the expenditure of vast amounts of money. They should also know that, in the long run, it will be far more expensive to continue with the status quo than to undertake the long-term expenditures needed to make First Nations into participating and financially viable entities.
Itís The foremost problem impeding efforts in this direction today, besides racism, is the lack of expertise and professional experience in our communities. Although, in the recent past, things have improved, the average level of education among our peoples still hovers somewhere around the grade 6-8 levels. This does not bode well for the prospects of those who try to compete in the job market, or for those who try to take advantage of business opportunities. A concerted effort by First Nation and federal governments is needed to overcome this drawback.
Itís Another thing that must disappear from our relationships with other levels of government is paternalistic racism. Over the passage of time, this "father knows best attitude" has been one of the worst insults that we have had to endure. I'll be the first to admit that we need loads of help but, for God's sake, don't extend it on a dictatorial, we-know-best basis!
Itís Perhaps the province can do its share in our movement towards financial independence by helping us establish an industrial park in proximity to Halifax? This could be the start of building the financial base we need for self-reliance.
Itís If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the information provided in past columns about First Nations, please feel free to contact me personally.
Daniel N. Paul