It was interesting to us to read another perspective on Idle No More in the letter to the editor by Larry Johnston last week, that is different than our own.
It is difficult to assume, but we felt that the letter seemed to play on the stereotype that aboriginal people of Canada are idle; don’t work and therefore should receive no working benefit like free health care that some First Nations receive. In the least, the letter implied, the Treaty deals between people certainly should be broken.
Both of us work and volunteer lots. As people who have worked in public education, we often hear that we don’t deserve benefits, either. So sometimes, we don’t think it’s really how hard that we work, or what we pay for our benefits, it’s probably something else.
Many of us, like ourselves, hold “individual” private property rights, which we call our title. We work hard to pay for them. Whatever our industry, our wealth comes from the land ultimately.
This titled land is released for sale or lease based on our collective ownership of our country.
So how did our country get this land? The answer is rarely taught in our schools or passed down. Our country got this title by negotiating treaties (or ignoring aboriginal rights in BC, NWT and Yukon). Simply put, we collectively said, if First Nations stop being nomadic and live and stay on these smaller parts of Canada called reserves, this will turn most of Canada into free title to do what we wish as a whole country. First Nations actually paid for their free benefits by selling most of Canada to the Crown. Treaty rights are the social tax our country pays for getting free title forever. This deal continues to make us nearly the richest people in the world.
In Alberta, Canada offered immigrants homestead titles for farming, ranching and town sites; a deal to work hard and, hopefully, prosper. This title process also includes oil/gas leases that weren’t imagined at the time of treaty signing. For this treaty exchange of title, we all agreed to live up to a deal, which hasn’t always been lived up to.
Let’s not forget that from the time of the Treaty signing, First Nations went through a period of immense challenge, but are now are asked to be the same.
Within our two families there are many stories about how aboriginal people were not, and are still not treated the same by fellow Canadians. First Nations has been actively blocked from participating in the same economy. Yet now, some ask, in utter frustration, that we all be the same.
Canadians collectively treated First Nations people differently for generations. We all made a deal that just can’t be broken by this generation, because some think the First Nations should not get the treaty deal they got, while the rest of Canadians keep the individual land title they obtained.
However, maybe we should all be open to negotiations. We both feel Canada could be better. We don’t believe it will happen by forgetting how we got here. As one family kitchen table debate about ‘Idle No More’ ended in our house, “I guess it’s not all black and white.”
Debbie and Ian Oostindie