It’s Indian Time

Contrary to popular belief (and usage) “Indian time” does not mean late. Nor does it mean early. In the times before clocks, things never happened according to fixed and consistent schedules because, as I’m SURE every Calgarian knows, nature doesn’t work that way. When seasons come and go, when buffalo move, when plants grow: none of these things follow a rigid schedule. Any farmer will tell you that harvest isn’t October 14th every year. It changes. And people adapt to those changes. Just as farmers will harvest their crops when they’re ready, or hunters will hunt when the meat is best, traditional understandings of time are such that things will happen when the time is right. That is “Indian time”.

Odd way to start a blog, I know. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. For over a year, actually. For whatever reason, however, I didn’t. I kept putting it off. In the context of the protests against bill C-45 and the Idle No More movement, I started to felt like now was the time for me to speak. That said, I probably would have continued to put it off were it not for a bitter Facebook exchange.
These are the kinds of views that exist in “multicultural Canada” today:

I deleted u from facebook because I am sick and tired of ur posts about natives I am a paramedic and 90 percent of my calls are about drunken passed out aboriginals

And I’m sick of people not asking how we ended up in that situation in the first place. I’m a Native and 90% of the things I hear about my people involves us being drunk and lazy. And 90% of that is from people who don’t know the history or think that somehow it doesn’t affect the present. It does. We didn’t choose to be in this situation. I’m sick and tired of hearing that it’s our own fault from people who have never experienced any of it.

It is ur fault u dumb a** ok honestly the government should stop paying you guys and let u guys work 90 percent of natives don’t work a day in there lives all. Of u can go to hell

Hate to break it to you buddy, but the only money I’ve ever seen from the government was my student loan. And it’s funny you should say that, because the unemployment rate among natives is actually only about 5.6% in Calgary. Meaning about 94.4% ARE employed. Check your facts first.

But people don’t pay attention to those of us who work hard. They only choose to see the ones who reinforce the stereotype of the “lazy drunken Indian”.

I hope they stop doing anything and kick u out the land belongs to everybody not to u go to hell plus ur what 10 percent native u certainly don’t look native so go f urself

Yes, the land DOES belong to everyone. That’s what the treaties are: land SHARING agreements. Not land TAKING agreements. But to the extent we are excluded from the benefits of the land, we will continue to speak against this exclusion. That simple.

And the idea of nativeness being based on how much native blood you have is a European one. Traditionally, and even today, culture, not genes, are what makes a person native.

F*** you go to hell don’t send me a other message

I know, I know, I’m not supposed to feed the trolls. And maybe I shouldn’t have been so belligerent, but can you blame me? That said, ignoring people like this won’t make them go away. What’s more, their opinions and beliefs have a very real impact on the policy that affects OUR lives. It can’t just be ignored. So I decided this was MY “Indian time”. I’m sick of being silent or only engaging in personal or academic debates. It’s time that WE start to speak up.

I can’t claim to speak for all Aboriginal Canadians. I’m just one individual. I am Métis, not First Nations. I am urban. I have never lived on a reserve. I don’t have federally recognized status, and my knowledge and views are constrained by this. That said, I have witnessed first hand many of the issues that Aboriginal peoples in this county, be they First Nations or Métis. The majority of my cousins in this city, with whom I was raised, are status (some Stoney and others Blackfoot). Growing up, I have seen how policy, class, race, colonialism, and marginality have affected our family in different ways. I have seen the real life implications of these “academic” concepts. And this is where I choose to take my stand.

Bill C-45, which has ignited nation-wide Aboriginal protest, is not contested because it is different from other policies dealing with Aboriginal peoples. It is contested because it is the same. Once again, we find that we have no say in policies that can and most likely will directly impact our lives. What’s worse, however, is that, as noted above, we are often decried for speaking out against injustice.

It seems to me that contemporary Aboriginal issues are often seen as anomalous, as if they’ve emerged out of some void. In the conversation above, the guy who messaged me treats Aboriginal alcohol consumption as universal (which, of course, it is not), but never stops to consider the context in which alcoholism, and for that matter, poverty, have come to be equated with nativeness. This is a HUGE error of omission, and confounds one’s ability to fully understand the issues we face. As Shawn Wilson (2008:99) notes, “the closer you get to defining…an idea, the more it loses its context. At the same time, the more the context…is explained, the further you get from its definition and focus.” One can define our problem as alcoholism, poverty, residential schools, or a thousand other things. At the end of the day, these are all part of the larger context of colonialism. Colonialism, therefore, should not be understood as an idea or a concept in and of itself. Rather, it should be seen as a context within which policies, propaganda, and other forms of violence have been leveled against us. This context must be understood in order for any redress to take place. A friend of mine summarized it well:

I find it interesting how different the views of the statistically average Canadian differ from those of the first nations people with regards to how well reparations have been made for the damages we did to them in colonial times. I find it more interesting that they feel like we are still doing them damage. Not trying to say I disagree with that, but it is a vastly different viewpoint from what I think most of us have. I think part of the issue is we offer reparations on our terms and not theirs. We assume our values and perspectives are their values and perspectives and based on everything I have read about the subject that just doesn’t seem to be true. I’m not sure what the “solution” to the issue is, as I don’t really understand the native viewpoint well enough to really even guess what is a fair middle ground, I do think however that we should make it our job to at least try and understand things from the other point of view. At least then if we say we are not willing, or that its not reasonable, to give up the time resources and effort to required to satisfy first nations we can know what it is we are unwilling or to give up. (Emphasis added)

I urge any and all non-natives reading this, therefore, to consider context. To take the time to learn about the background of the issues that have led people across the country to “Idle No More”. And don’t worry. I’m pretty sure many (maybe most?) Aboriginal Canadians would agree that it’s unreasonable to expect 96% of our population to pack their bags and leave the country. But in order to move forward, we must understand how the past has come to impact the present. Otherwise, mistakes like bill C-45 will continue to be made. We have given much. Our languages, cultures, and ways of life have all been compromised as we have tried to reach a middle ground. But the middle keeps moving. We need to have redress on equal terms, not phony “partnerships” where the only recourse available to us is compliance. For that to take place, however, non-Aboriginals, those who are not affected by these policies, need to take a step forward too. They need to be willing to learn about context. And many are. But it can’t just be scattered individuals. Until the society accepts responsibility for its role in the continued exclusion of Aboriginal peoples, conflict will continue.

To me, Idle No More represents the need for dialogue between Aboriginal peoples and dominant society. After all, these aren’t just “Native issues”; they’re Canadian issues. So this is my “Indian time” to step forward and say something. This is the right time, OUR “Indian time”, both for Aboriginal peoples and Canadian society at large, to clear the nation’s conscience. I hope a time will soon come when Canadian society will finally consider the context of the issues we face and, in doing so, allow our values and perspectives to be heard. I hope they will take these to heart so that we can solve our problems on our own terms. And I hope that someday the peoples of this continent will be able to live together in peaceful, equitable terms.

(copyright 2012 Tipemisiw)