Straight Talk
LORNE GUNTER - 'Two canoes'? Uh, no: Non-aboriginals largely paid for both canoes and do most of the paddling in each, too

People from the Six Nations Reserve stand on the disputed land in Caledonia, Ontario, about 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Toronto October 15, 2006.

Credits: REUTERS/JIM ROSS

LORNE GUNTER | QMI AGENCY

Once, after I'd written about the standoff at Caledonia, ON - in which a group of Mohawk squatters took over a subdivision, intimidated local residents, blockaded roads and assaulted police until the Ontario government bought them the subdivision and gave it to them - an aboriginal activist wrote to my editors insisting I didn't understand the relationship between First Nations and the rest of Canada.

Aboriginals were not like other Canadians, she insisted. Their communities were not just ordinary communities. "We are like two canoes together in the same stream, each separate but sharing the same current."

That may sound meaningful, even poetic, but it is largely rubbish.

If aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians are like two canoes, how come we non-aboriginals largely paid for both canoes and do most of the paddling in each, too?

This separate-but-equal notion is one of the two misconceptions behind the Idle No More movement. Indeed, it is one of two misconceptions - the other being that aboriginal treaties are with the Queen, not Ottawa - behind most long-standing aboriginal grievances. Both assumptions, frankly, are silly, even if, during the 1990s, the then-ultra-liberal Supreme Court hinted that at the very least the special status of aboriginals and their communities existed.

Unfortunately, though, thanks to political correctness and the fear among non-aboriginal commentators of being branded as racists if they disagree, these misconceptions have been allowed to flourish unchallenged for 40 years. So now hundreds of thousands of aboriginals believe the myths to be true and are increasingly angry that the federal government will not act on them.

The "two canoes" theory is behind the misconception that Canada's 630 aboriginal bands are not communities but rather sovereign nations. As such, they should be dealt with by Ottawa not as any other collection of villages and small towns, but rather nation-to-nation. Their chiefs are to be treated as heads of state, not just so many other mewling mayors and reeves with their hands out.

One of the biggest reasons so many chiefs boycotted last Friday's meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Assembly of First Nations was the absence of Canada's head of state, Gov. Gen. David Johnston. If Canada's head of state would not be there, then the heads of state of scores of First Nations felt slighted and refused to attend.

The largest aboriginal reserve in Canada, on which a valid census has been conducted, is the Blood band in southwestern Alberta with just over 4,000 residents. Most have fewer than 600 souls. Still, for a second, let's treat this nation-to-nation, two-canoe theory as if it were sensible.

Canada spends $5 billion a year on foreign aid. By contrast it spends $8 billion on aboriginal programs. If First Nations insist on being treated like nations rather than hamlets, villages and towns, then let's give them foreign aid rather than dropping about $13,000 per aboriginal per year, as the federal government does now.

Equally, in Canada the Crown means the federal government legally and constitutionally. Idle No More radicals may insist the Crown means the Queen, but it hasn't meant that since long before 1867. However, if Idle protesters and leaders believe their treaties are directly with the monarch, let them ask her for the $8 billion they get from the federal treasury.

Aboriginals in Canada are badly divided. In one camp are the pragmatists, such as AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, who want to bury the myths that feed a sense of victimhood and get on with practical solutions to raise education, employment and incomes. In the other camps are the "two canoeists."

The future development of aboriginal Canadians depends on the pragmatists winning.

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