Hasty notes on Elsipotog, Rex Murphy, and Hope

I love Canada.  I love Canadians.  I love Canada’s fairly recently developed culture of tolerance and multiculturalism.  I love that, as Chris Hadfield says,

Canada has solved the riddle of how to set up civilization better than just about any country on Earth. (Maclean’s Magazine, October 14, 2013, p. 14)

I love the fact that, as Melissa Fung quotes former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Hoffman,

Girls not being able to go to school, music not able to be played, women not being able to work. These [are] anathema to Canadians.
(The Walrus, October 2013, p. 104)

And I really love the fact that, as a general rule, in the words of Rex Murphy in the National Post

Most Canadians, genuinely, and in depth, wish better for their co-citizens, are not just open, but intensely eager to the right thing by them and with them — if only one or many right things can be seen and finally agreed upon.

But, I have a nagging problem with Canada and Canadians, and Mr. Murphy unwittingly highlighted it in his piece.  Most immediately troubling is that Murphy ignores the fact that when the RCMP launched its paramilitary action against Elsipogtog, meetings were ongoing in hopes that “one or many right things can be seen and finally agreed upon.”  At best, this was a demonstration of Canada’s hamfistedness.  At worst, it was simply bad faith.

Of deeper concern to me, however, is that Murphy, like too many Canadians, is quick to draw a bold line between “Now” and “the Canadian past,” and ” not to acknowledge that, further, not to act on the great benign difference between the two, is willful blindness and reckless distortion.”  Murphy is quick to condemn (and inflate) alleged molotov cocktails, shots and vehicle torchings, to ignore the present day reasons for such incidents, and to pretend that present government generosity when confronted with an emergency or crisis somehow negates the present day legacy of “the Canadian past”.  This is nothing other than denial of history, recent history as well as that old history of a generation or two ago.  A generation or two ago, aboriginal Canadians had their lives controlled by the Indian Agent.  A generation or two ago, Rex Murphy was a student at Oxford, tuition paid by the founder of White Rhodesia.  “The Canadian past” is uncomfortably close.

But, if I may mention, what I find most troubling, offensive and egregiously in error is Murphy’s dismissal of suggestions that Canada’s actions constitute “genocide”.  This umbrage taken is far more absurd than Turkish upset over laying the Armenian Genocide at the feet of present day Turkey.  At least Turks can claim their state is not the Ottoman Empire.  Today’s Russians can blame the vanished Soviet state for the Holdomor.  Even modern Germans can with some legitimacy claim that their state didn’t light the Holocaust.

But Canada is still the same state that vowed to kill the Indian in the Child.  Canada is still the state that was model to South African Apartheid.  And, as I’ve explained elsewhere, Canada’s actions in the Residential Schools are incontrovertibly acts of Genocide under International and Canadian law.

The fact that, like Murphy, most Canadians dismiss this crime is something I very much dislike about my country and its people.

Murphy talks about the high regard the majority of Canadians have for aboriginal peoples.  But, just a few days before the events in Elsipogtog to which Murphy responds, the Governor General, in the Speech from the Throne, referred to “our aboriginal people” while the Quebecois were simply “The Quebecois”. No paternalism. No Colonialism. No subtle reminder of 1759.  But the First People are verbally placed just a rhetorical step away from “Queen Victoria’s  Red Children”.  In the Speech from the Throne!

There is a duality in Canada’s and Canadians’ attitude to the original people of this land.  They have an honoured place as a sort of absent myth, but when they are actually met, face to face or in the news, they are drunks, bums, and ungrateful leeches.  The honour evaporates whether the aboriginal person encountered is a great artist, an urban working woman, or an actual down and out fellow at a soup kitchen (where most of the clients are White, by the way).  A White man lying in the gutter may be a damn drunk, a dirty panhandler, but he’s also “down on his luck”. A native man in the gutter, whether Metis, Inuk, Innu or First Nations, is “another drunk Indian.”

What Murphy points out most clearly to me, although he doesn’t seem to mean to, is that Canadians are very adept at holding two contradictory images of the aboriginal person, but they are unable to reconcile them.  If the native person they meet doesn’t fit (and accept with gratitude) the mythic image, or at least try, he’s an ungrateful pawn of the academic (probably Marxist) ethnic-victim game and probably drunk and ready to set fire to a police car.  Murphy seems unaware that there are huge numbers of urban, educated, employed, working class, ordinary tax-paying aboriginal and non-aboriginal supporters of Elsipogtog and Idle No More who really don’t want to see anyone hurt.  They just want their fellow Canadians, including you, Rex, to recognize that there are actual, real, legal issues here that cut to the complicated, ugly and beautiful heart of our nation.

Many, maybe most non-aboriginal Canadians haven’t a clue about their aboriginal brothers and sisters, about history or legality.  Do they need to? Really? Maybe not. But what they need to know is a person. An individual.

All white Canadians know a white Canadian they like or admire.  That one individual makes the countless White crooks, bums, television talking heads and politicians somehow tolerable.  White people have absolutely no problem accepting the existence of White people who commit the most heinous of crimes without deciding that White people are an irredeemable horde of genetically criminal miscreants.  But, somehow, it’s possible to suggest in polite company or even during an election campaign, that aboriginal people have a genetic addiction to drugs.  This bigotry comes from ignorance bread of a cultural apartheid.  Most non-aboriginal Canadians have an acculturated blindness to all actual native Canadians except the mythical ones and the down and out.

I find hope in the fact that it is possible to see the obscene, ignorant bigotry directed against aboriginal people, including Rex Murphy’s shameful condescension, and still realize that White people have good ideas, do good things, live fine helpful lives and make the world a better place.

Just like the people of Elsipotog.

I find hope in the fact that far more meeting, talking, teaching and learning is going on between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians than fighting.

My hope comes from the certainty that as they learn and lose their blinders, most people will come to realize that the vast majority of people around them, for all their flaws and errors, have their hearts in the right place.

Mr. Murphy, too.

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3 comments on “Hasty notes on Elsipotog, Rex Murphy, and Hope

  1. Myra Valcourt says:

    I’m of Ani’shinaabe-Metis descent on my mother’s side, 100% European on my dad’s. My mother lived with the abuse and prejudice of being raised in a Metis community in the 50’s. She’d be the first to tell you it wasn’t just non-Metis abuse, she also lived and witnessed the residual effects of a damaged, fractured ancestry post Riel Rebellion, and of course, post-European contact. My roots go back to Red River colony, I am a direct descendant of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodiere and Marie-Anne Gaboury, a 1st cousin removed of Louis Riel, and my grandmother was the grand-daughter of Ambroise Lepine, great-niece of Maxim Lepine, adjutant-general in Louis Riel’s provisional government. I am PROUD of my Metis and Indigenous ancestry. My mother, however, seemed to think my chances of being accepted in society would be better if I was ignorant of my heritage. With white skin, and no obvious connection to Indigenous peoples or even, the Metis people of Batoche/Riel’s Provisional gov’t, she hoped my siblings and I would escape the vicious cycle. We have, for the most part, to the extent I was unaware of my ancestry into my mid-20’s, and I am not a survivor of sexual abuse or racial prejudice. I am fully aware of how abusively and despicably the Metis were treated by the Canadian government in Manitoba and in Saskatchewan. It’s so surreal on the other hand, to see how my Dad’s white European family by and large swallowed the myths you describe, that indigenous people by reason of their birth are/were somehow deserving of the belligerent, abusive, overbearing, patriarchal system and prevailing attitudes they are/were forced to accept.
    It’s incredible in 2013, that a greedy non-CANADIAN oll company can walk onto non-ceded Aboriginal land and, with the RCMP’s FULL co-operation, engage in destructive behaviour that will most assuredly pollute the aquifers and release dangerous contaminants into the atmosphere! AND, get this, BE EXONERATED by the mainstream media. I can hear what most Canadians think right now, ” SERVE THOSE D-N INDIANS RIGHT, how DARE they expect CLEAN SAFE DRINKING WATER!”

    • Thanks for the comment and the fascinating genealogy. Canada needs such sharing. Part of what I love about #IdleNoMore has been the powerful visibility of Native culture in the hearts of cities, where it’s been too long

  2. […] its anti-Chinese history, in this centenary year of the Komagata Maru tragedy, and in the light of Murphy’s previous bilge spewing about Elsipotog, I don’t for a moment believe that Murphy is worried about rampant “political […]

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