Sunday, February 3, 2008

Today's Province Column

It's high time that Canada ended its tokenism towards its native people

David Berner
Special to The Province
Sunday, February 03, 2008

Like many of you, I was horrified by the death last week of two young children at the Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan.

But let's hope the image of tiny bodies frozen in the snow -- because their father was a falling-down drunk --forces us to confront our national disease of tokenism towards native people.

Nothing better illustrates this issue than the 2010
Winter Olympics.

VANOC, the Olympic organizing committee, will spend $31 million -- much of that underwritten by Coca-Cola and RBC -- to highlight
aboriginals in the torch relay.
A virtual map of aboriginal artists will be created to include "history, sports, economic development and tourism, arts and culture and other unique stories."

How patronizing! We spend years destroying a people, its culture and its language. And now we're supposed to shout to visitors from around the world that aboriginal folks are our most cherished citizens.

How about spending some money instead on running water, electricity and schools for the native reserves?

And the Scots, Jews, Ukrainians, Germans, Irish, Chinese, Punjabi and others who had a bit of a hand in Canada's nation-building -- where will they be? Waving to the torch from the sidelines?

To add insult to injury, First Nations people did not design the Inukshuk, the
official 2010 logo or any of the adorable little mascots. As usual, all these "authentic" souvenirs will be produced overseas, not by aboriginals or any other Canadians.

Gail Sparrow, former chief of the Musqueam band in Vancouver, says it's not what you know; it's whom you know. She says her sister is a master weaver and can't get past the 2010 front door.
Of course, Sparrow is not easily daunted.

"We're setting up our own bed-and-breakfast, all run by Musqueam women, shuttle buses, dinners, dances. We're not asking anybody, we're just going to do it," she says.

Behind the pageantry and the noise, you see, the festering problems continue. And Sparrow says it's time natives took some responsibility for their own.

Eventually they will have to put down that Olympic torch, go back to their communities and struggle with alcohol and drugs, teen suicides and unemployment -- and
rescuing their relatives from the dead end that is the Downtown Eastside.
Sparrow herself has brought three people back from Canada's most notorious postal code, including her own cousin. And they are now all clean and sober.

"We need intervention with care and treatment, not parades," she told me.

The B.C. government, meanwhile, is asking First Nations people to write in and tell their stories about B.C.'s 150th birthday.

But again it smacks of tokenism. "Hey, we're thousands of years old," says Sparrow. "You'd think they'd know the history by now."

You'd also think that by now our governments would put some money and thought into solving the real
problems of native people, instead of simply adding to the pile of window dressing.

1 comment:

Gary said...

David, reading Gail Sparrow's quote " We're not asking anybody, we're just going to do it," it made me think, SHE would be an appropriate Symbol of the 2010 Games! No Government crutch, just good old personal commitment. Gee, what a foreign concept! A far better role model than those Gumby like creations on crack.