by Sara Mai Chitty
I wanted to let people know a couple things about my heritage as a First Nations woman, about what is being said about the Idle No More movement (and there is much more to be said), and what I feel is EXCEEDINGLY DISTRACTING from the other VERY potent issues at hand regarding First Nations politics.
First of all – my life, like yours, is not easy. It never has been and probably never will be. I got good grades in high school and applied to a grant offered (not entitled) to me through my reserve. I want to remind you that you had every opportunity, every chance I had up until that point (If you want me to elaborate I can; I possibly had less opportunities than you, depending on who YOU are). I applied for university, much like you might have. And much like you could have, I applied for a grant. I keep up good grades and apply for the same grant every year, but there are no guarantees. I understand there are thousands of grants and scholarships for kids who work hard in high school, be it sports, grades, writing, drama, etc. Lots of people are happy to send kids to post secondary school. Other kids have rich parents that pay for it. Regardless, the most important thing is that there are more young people of any race or religion attending post secondary school today than ever before who are now gaining higher skill levels. This is great!
Second of all, I pay Government Sales Tax (GST) and, for the most part, Provincial Sales Tax (PST). I like taxes (when I know what they are paying for). I also approve of what they are being used for, just like every other Canadian. The only things I haven’t paid PST on are a few “big ticket” items. I don’t whip it out to buy tampons at the drug store. Yes, I guess I am “entitled” to — but that’s not how I feel about it. And it’s not just because I am actually really embarrassed to use it because of people who say we don’t deserve it; that they pay for me to go to school, pay for me to live and pay for my stuff because they pay taxes. I have never had anything in my life paid for by social services – native or otherwise, except school (see above). I pay for rent, food, clothing, with my own money that I work for. I shouldn’t even have to justify this because it’s part of a treaty agreement that is older than Canada’s constitution. I don’t just get a “hand out” from the government; I work hard for my money, just like you.
I also want to point out there are tax breaks for people in the military, single parents, parents who put their kids through sports/arts, elderly seeking to renovate their homes for accessibility etc.
It’s arguable whether any tax “breaks” should occur at all if we are all to be equal right?
Thirdly, First Nations people are not all system abusers. A lot of us are veterans, entrepreneurs, educators, etc. There’s not as many of us as there are you, so it’s really easy to see the ones that fell through the cracks and point them out as failures who are draining the system. What you fail to recognize is there’s a lot more people of various ethnic backgrounds who surpass the level of “system abuse” seen in First Nations populations, or have also succumbed to vice - be it welfare, alcoholism, obesity, unemployment, etc. They just happen to be scattered all over the country. Regardless, pointing the finger and saying “it’s your own fault, deal with it” does not a) solve the problem nor b) make First Nations populations feel like we would get it if we were to seek help.
Paradoxically, if we seek help for these issues we are proving YOU, the hegemony, to be right.
First Nations peoples didn’t screw up. We all screwed up. We let people of all nationalities fall through the cracks of the system, all kinds of people. We ignored the issues and we are all paying for it now.
Lastly, no one in this country is paying for the actions of their ancestors in the sense so many imply. We are indeed all paying for the actions of the Industrialists and the Capitalists. However it is us, the young, who will continue to pay for the detrimental actions of the Canadian government after the baby boomers have all passed on, the irresponsible consumption of non-renewable resources in our unsustainable economy.
In fact, if your grandparents weren’t even living in this country when it was being colonized I don’t give a flying fuck.
Because the last residential school closed in 1996. Because within the past six decades there were forced sterilization programs of indigenous women and other marginalized cultures. Because there are First Nations people who are being kicked off of land they were told was theirs, that they have made their home, and they are not being given another option.
Because there are laws being passed to diminish not only First Nations rights, but YOURS as well.
Let’s make Canada OUR home and native land and stop this racist bullshit. Inform yourself. Educate yourself. Revitalize democracy. Care about YOUR environment. Protest for ALL government transparency, including that which is under First Nations control. It is so easy to pretend like none of this affects you — but it does, and I do not know how to stress that enough to you. By telling me that I am “so lucky” because I get to go to school for free and don’t have to pay taxes is an attempt to diminish and stigmatize my pride in my heritage.
NO – I am lucky because I AM a First Nations woman living in Canada, with a voice and a heart to protect what Canada means to me. I am lucky because I got to grow up under the care of my own mother, unlike the hundreds who grew up in residential schools. I am UNLUCKY that my grandfather lost his ability to speak Ojibwe when he was forced into an English speaking school – but I AM lucky he got in touch with his roots again and is still alive to teach me about my heritage.
I am lucky because I live in a First World country where I have access to clean water and food. I am lucky because I had an upbringing that kept my mind open and gave me the hope I could strive for infinite possibilities. I am lucky because no matter what you say, “free” education and tax exemption WILL NEVER EVER define who I am and where I come from, what my culture is all about. I have the teachings of my elders to respect this Earth and the people that walk with me upon it.
I would be more than happy to teach you too.