September 28, 2001 Halifax Herald

Coon Come speaks truth about racism

Since Matthew Coon Come, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, stated at a racism conference in South Africa that systemic racist attitudes are still held by a great many Canadian whites towards the country's First Nations Peoples - an assertion that very few knowledgeable people would contradict - there has been an outcry of denial.

Most prominent among the deniers - inappropriately so because of his position - is Robert Nault, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

This quote from a Canadian Press item, reported on the front page of the September 6 edition The Sunday Herald on , says it all: "Over the years, indigenous peoples in Canada have been told many times by Canadian Governments that if we persist in telling our story internationally, or in court, we may suffer consequences,’ Coon Come said in remarks faxed to the Canadian Press. ‘Some governments in Canada have then actually withheld social spending from our peoples,’he added.

“ ‘I fear that the Canadian Minister of Indian Affairs is now making such a veiled threat, using the vulnerability and dependence of our peoples on his government to try to silence me.’

“Coon Come was responding to published remarks...from...Bob Nault, who strongly rejected allegations of racism in modern-day Canada by the National chief...

" ‘With this kind of language and talk, I believe Matthew Coon Come is going to set the agenda back for many years," Nault said Friday in an interview with the Toronto Star.

" ‘He's going to find it very difficult for people to do business with him if he's going to make those kind of serious accusations, which we all take very seriously. People like myself...are not just annoyed, we're just beside ourselves."

Nault's refusal to acknowledge that racism exists in Canada is incredible. Both the United Nations and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, plus many private human rights groups, have annually expressed concern about the continued exclusion and oppression of First Nations Peoples in this country. Are they also fantasizing as Nault believes Coon Come is?

A reality check:

In the Atlantic region, no First Nations person, out of a population of approximately forty thousand, has ever been elected an MLA or MP, appointed to the Senate or any other position of substance. A colonial proclamation for Mi'kmaq scalps remains valid which Nault has declined to ask the federal government to revoke. Edward Cornwallis issued two proclamations for Mi'kmaq scalps, with the stated intention of exterminating the people; yet the country continues to honour him with statues, places named after him, etc. The Federal government, when it decides to appoint a First Nations Person to a power position, makes every effort to find one it perceives to be a "good Indian" with a vocabulary of "Yes sir!"

Then these: I n Ipperwash, an unarmed First Nations man is killed. The incident is marked by alleged interference involving the highest level of provincial politics, yet a full-fledged inquiry is refused. The per capita imprisonment of First Nation's Peoples in Canada far outstrips the number of whites imprisoned. There is seventy to eighty percent unemployment. Professor Tom Flanagan, in a book entitled First Nations Second Thoughts, advocates the assimilation of Canada's First Nations Peoples, a proposal that is contrary to Article 2 (b) of the UN Genocide convention. For this, the Donner Foundation awards him a $25,000 prize. Where is the outcry and condemnation, especially from Nault?

The list is endless. However, because the Department itself is the chief architect and cause of the marginalization, exclusion, and poverty of First Nations Peoples today, its failures must be mentioned. The racist assault it undertook over the years against the people it had, and has, a constitutional responsibility to protect covers the spectrum - forced relocations to medical experimentation. For its past failure to perform and fulfil legal responsibilities, Canada is paying out a bundle to First Nations and will continue to do so for years to come. This, any fair-minded person would agree, is poetic justice.

Resulting from Departmental neglect of duty, and demonization from colonial days and after, First Nations Peoples have been negatively characterized as being brutal, lazy, short changed in intelligence, etc. Yet Indian Affairs has failed to allocate even one cent towards helping to root out from the Canadian mentality this absurd ,false stereotypical image. Unquestionably, this burden of debasing lies must be overcome by us if we are ever to take our rightful place in this society. Where is the help? Where is the acceptance of responsibility by Canada for its complicity and neglect?

Chief Coon Come, I commend you for having the fortitude not be bullied into silence by threats. Speaking out as you did about racism, and how it has impoverished our communities, must become a normal practice by First Nation's Peoples because racism will continue to impoverish our Peoples until its expunged. I, for one, am firmly in your corner. May the Great Spirit guide your leadership!

Daniel N. Paul


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