I should be working on Christmas baking and my paintings but I got thinking this morning as both The Current and Q on CBC Radio got around to #IdleNoMore and I felt like getting some of those thoughts down. Please forgive the impressionistic disorder.
Remember South Africa under apartheid? I do. Well, I don’t remember it in the sense of “I was there”. What I mean is that I was an adult when Nelson Mandela was released, and the events were a bit close to me because a dear old friend from my University days lived and worked and fought apartheid and spent time in jail in South Africa for her activism. Christina Scott was a journalist who, after the end of apartheid worked tirelessly for the education, particularly science education of girls in Africa until her untimely and absurdly tragic death in a traffic accident a little over a year ago, shortly before a new edition of her biography of Mandela came out.
My family’s business accountant in those days was a South African ex-pat who once told us the story of what spurred his families departure from his birthplace. As a young man, our accountant said to his family’s Black house boy “If the revolution comes, would you kill me?”
The servant looked shocked and answered “Oh, no, Sir!” and paused before finishing “I would ask my best friend to kill you.”
At the same time that Chris was marching against White Rule, a number of years after our accountant’s house boy’s honesty, I had a customer who happened to be a South African ex-pat, a very polite, gentle-voiced white fellow. The one thing that sticks in my mind about that gentleman is the one time we discussed the situation in South Africa. “The thing you have to realize, John,” he said, “Is that those people will never be able to govern themselves . . .” I didn’t know what to say.
But I do now.
It doesn’t matter whether you think they can or can’t govern themselves. They have the legal and moral right and duty to be a part of the government of their nation, for better or worse. Apartheid was an abomination, whatever came after it. When Nelson Mandela walked down that road from prison, historical wrongs began to be corrected, whatever the pain and turbulence the people — all the people — of South Africa faced and still face in their new adventurous experiment.
I know White people who routinely refer to First Nations people as “savages” and tell stories of the drunken Indians he’s encountered, who think the Government “gives stuff” to the First Nations and then it all gets pissed away in corruption and booze. When I hear these people, I hear “The thing you have to realize, John . . .” nervously calling from the wrong side of history.
There are street people in my neighbourhood. Some are native, many are White. When I think of White people, I don’t think of the bottle picker we affectionately call “The Old White Guy”. I think of Leonard Cohen, or Stephen Lewis, or my sadly missed friend Chris. When I think of Metis, First Nation or Inuit people, I don’t think first of the native bottle pickers in my back alley, I think of artists Aaron Paquette and Alex Janvier, of actor Lorne Cardinal and his political activist brother Lewis, of musician Lucy Idlout. I think of the thousands, the millions of aboriginal Canadians who are just as successful or as unsuccessful, as hard-working or as lazy, as happy or as desperate as their non-aboriginal neighbours.
And, when I think of Canadians of all ethnic backgrounds, I think of #IdleNoMore.
#IdleNoMore is a call for all Canadians to move forward together into a truly shared future, a future founded not on bigoted stereotypes but on the very clearly laid out shared responsibilities and rights protected for us all by our shared country’s Constitutional documents. When I stand with the others at a rally, I’m not calling for the release of some Canadian Mandela. I’m calling for the release of so many ordinary Canadians from the bondage of stereotypes they’ve been taught, stereotypes which isolate us from each other. I’m calling for people to educate themselves. And I’m hoping they can imagine the future we could have in the Canada envisioned by the Treaties.
And I call back through time to that gentle-voiced man saying “Yes they can govern themselves! And no one has the right to say they can’t! It is their fundamental right!”
And I say to all Canadians, we all have obligations and rights under our Constitution and as members of the human family. And the Governments are bound to certain obligations by our Constitutional documents. It is time for respect, time for Governments to respect our rights, time for Governments to respect their obligations and responsibilities And it is time for us to respect each other and the sharing agreements, the Treaties on which Canada is founded.
Let’s move forward together, idle no more, with the sadly interrupted experiment that is the Treaty Nation of Canada. It’s our fundamental right, and no one can say we can’t do it.