I have a confession. I advise people never to read the comments on newspaper websites. But I do read them. I can’t take my eyes off them. They are a train wreck of logic and hate and contemptuous entitlement.
Lately however, especially the comments on stories about First Nations, they seem entirely predictable. In fact they seem almost too predictable. Every article on the Globe and Mail website for example contains hundreds of comments, a huge majority of which repeat some basic themes:
- Nothing should change until First Nations are accountable for their money
- First Nations get a free ride
- The chiefs are corrupt and bad fiscal managers.
- Treaty rights are a joke: there should be one law for all
- The sooner Aboriginals merge with the rest of us the better.
So let me address these in brief, one by one.
First Nations are accountable. In fact the Auditor-General of Canada said that First Nations are TOO accountable. Too much is spent reporting on funds and not enough time is spent actually using them. But just because you can’t be bothered to look up the financial statements from publicly funded governments does not mean they are not accountable.
First Nations do not get a free ride. All governments receive tax dollars for services. First Nations are no different. And on top of that, First Nations are eligible for special programs and services because of the nature of the treaty relationship and the entrenchment of Aboriginal and treaty rights in the Constitution. But this is not a free ride. This is the result of agreements that asked First Nations to trade away rights to land FOREVER in exchange for some farm tools a few dollars, some new clothes, a reserve owned by the Queen and a school. That isn’t exactly a free ride. If someone invited you to a similar deal, would you take it?
Chiefs are not any more corrupt that anyone else. People are people . When people commit crimes they go to jail and do the time for it. Many, many, federal, provincial and municipal politicians are criminally corrupt as well. There is no greater number of Aboriginal politicians in jail for corruption. Also, there is no federal or provincial government that is not in debt. Having said that, in December 2011, only 12 out of 633 First Nations were in the equivalent of bankruptcy protection. This means that, according to the federal government’s own policies, and based on overly onerous reporting requirements, 98.2% of First Nations are run fine.
In Canada there is one law for all. That law is the Constitution. It protects treaty rights and Aboriginal rights. It also protects free speech, privacy, freedom of assembly and so on. It also allows for laws to be made that are different for different groups of people in order to ameliorate conditions that lead groups of people to have social disadvantages. Anyone who argues that First Nations are not currently disadvantaged in Canadian society has simply not done the research.
Aboriginal people have merged with Canada. And the mechanism for doing so was treaties. And where treaties don’t exist, outstanding issues of Aboriginal rights and title still exist and Canadians and First Nations are compelled to figure this question out. The problem for assimilationists is that they don’t like the terms of this merger. Well it’s too late for that. When the ancestors of settlers arrived in this country they inherited the treaty benefits accorded to all Canadians, which allowed them to own land, start businesses, reap the resources, poison the waters, and profit profit profit. Obviously settlers aren’t giving their benefits back, and clearly First Nations aren’t getting exclusive title over the land back. We are merged. And this is Canada. And it benefits settlers enormously.
The comments I am seeing online have a strange hollow ring to them. They parrot these objections ad infinitum and you see these lines everywhere. No one is really thinking about what they are saying, just reacting. Perhaps in some cases there are coordinated communications strategies to keep repeating these lines over and over until they seem true. But they aren’t true. You might have opinions, you might have a view of the world and how you want it to work, you might have an agenda, but it’s probably not what is really going on.
Straw man arguing has risen to the level of hollow social contempt. It seems funny now. But where it seems real, try a few of these alternate views on and see if you can have an actual conversation.