The Honourable Chuck Strahl, MP
Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs
607 Confederation Building
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
AINC-INAC Ministre-Minister Minister@ainc-inac.gc.ca
12 March 2010
Dear Chuck Strahl
Thank you for your correspondence of March 12, 2010.
I understand the feeling of being fed-up with a group or situation that does not seem to be progressing along the lines of one’s expectations, this is of course a situation that is very familiar to me. I spent a decade co-facilitating Unlearning Racism workshops at universities and for business and community groups, and nonetheless, the shocking level of ignorance at all levels of our collective Canadian community continues to be deeply distressing to me. I do understand that your decision comes after much trial and much error, and further, I understand that your “cut the crap/cut the funding” decision in relation to First Nations University of Canada is popular with a certain contingent of Conservative supporters, as is evident in the “comments” section of the Globe & Mail website.
I am deeply frustrated that Canadians tolerate such a high level of racism in public spaces, and that leading figures such as yourself are content to make use of the disconnect between indigenous and mainstream Canadians, the “reality gap,” rather than work toward a fuller understanding of one another and a greater level of respect and mutual support. While a Canadian police force recently issued an apology to Muslim communities for mistreatment of Muslim women, the far harsher treatment of indigenous women has yet to be addressed effectively. Still, all mothers are expected to support their children, both culturally and economically, and the supports to do this in a meaningful way lag dramatically behind for Aboriginal women and families. I am happy to submit to you my tax information, and copies of all of my books, if you need further enlightenment on the real-time impacts of violence on the economic and educational aspirations of indigenous women.
I would like to suggest again that the current situation calls for creative and unexpected solutions, and outside-the-box problem-solving initiatives. I would like to suggest that you personally involve yourself in supporting change at the university, first and foremost by re-focusing your perspective away from the longstanding frustration with the host organization, and toward the current and future needs of living and breathing Aboriginal scholars and students, both current and future generations.
The Apology and the Olympics/Four Host Nations are recent, high-profile notes of collaboration that begin to offset historical abuse and current abnegation of indigenous Canadians, and the Throne Speech spin evoking possibilities of justice in the realms of vicious violence and public neglect focused on indigenous women, as well as movement toward redeeming international standing by considering the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, are all to the good.
However, a substantial recognition that all forms of historical and current abuses impact, in a visceral and a cumulative and an ongoing way, all indigenous people in Canada, continues to elude both political decision-makers and those who applaud the gutting of the First Nations University in the country’s newspapers. While the Auto-industry bail-outs were found to be worthwhile, the international and national development of Aboriginal leadership in all spheres of life continues to be an easy-to-dismiss national irrelevance.
I have appended below four letters by four authors, including my original letter to you, in the event that you have not yet had the opportunity to read the words of the scholars who have been based at FNUniv. More can be read at Edward Doolittle’s blog, http://fnuniv.wordpress.com/.
If you are interested, I am happy to speak with you about my own experiences as an intelligent, passionate, and completely uneducated Canadian, who found such an intensity of abuse in Canada’s mainstream universities that I would rather slit my own throat than re-engage with any of those well-funded, much-lauded institutions. I can tell you about an indigenous PhD who gave up on ever gaining tenure at the mainstream school at which she taught, and relocated out of the country, to do volunteer work at a small US community-based indigenous organization, and other anecdotal evidence that while current supports are improving, the situation is not altogether in hand.
While it is true that increasing numbers of indigenous people are responding to the positive supports that are increasingly available in mainstream institutions, and smaller private colleges, and the relentless ad campaigns funded to drive us all back to school, the need for a non-racist environment in which to go about one’s work in a positive way remains unaddressed. While increasing numbers of First Nations scholars do find a home in mainstream organizations, a sure and stable, highly visible base continues to elude us. The collective permission to abuse and dismiss First Nations people, as individuals and as collective identities, continues to have ongoing impacts on all of us, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
I am writing to request again that you find a way through this stand-off, by re-focusing your view upon supporting current and future Aboriginal scholars based at First Nations University of Canada, and thereby promoting Canada’s international standing as a nation of integrity, rather than the schizophrenic creature exposed in Honouring the Spirit of Modern Treaties: Closing the Loopholes (Interim Report, Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples) and in countless other documents, reports, and press releases by national and international organizations of excellent repute. http://www.landclaimscoalition.ca/pdf/080515%20Senate%20Cttee%20Report.pdf
The life histories of indigenous people both as individuals and collectively speaking have been marked deeply by predecessors in your role in government, and the most outstanding indigenous families continue to feel the onslaught of day by day violence by those who have permission to treat any and all indigenous people with scorn, and worse.
Tolerating the dismissive view of First Nations attempts to “get things right” by promoting historical amnesia and neglecting the roots of longstanding hardship and shame is, I continue to hope, well beneath you. It is not only the Treaty Indians of Saskatchewan who will feel the impact of your lack of compassionate imagination. It is not only the Treaty Indians who will benefit, should you choose to exercise your power correctly, in supporting a useful and visionary initiative despite your impatience with and dislike of former governors who failed to meet the schedule of reform that was hoped for. The FSIN has agreed to stand back, the head of the University of Regina has expressed confidence in the current working plan, and the opportunity to do the right thing continues to exist.
First Nations Bank of Canada and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network are two examples of local initiatives which made the successful change to nationally useful supports for all Aboriginal Canadians, regardless of cultural origins and political definitions, and I see no reason why the First Nations University of Canada cannot also be allowed to continue to grow and change, to become increasingly broadly based and a high profile, inspirational option, not only to indigenous youth, but to all Canadians. If I may put it so bluntly, Canada does not need another snuff movie starring indigenous Canadians.
Rather than continuing a path that feeds on racism and encourages despair, promoting Canada’s interest in the North by courting the Inuit while continuing to ignore the rife racism experienced on the ground in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, and elsewhere, all across Canada, why not sit back and consider the overall good that you can do, in your few years in office, to make longstanding and genuine impact on all of Canada, and for the good. There is a time for spin, and a time for substance, and I am really personally quite tired of the spin.
Cc: Stephen Harper
Aboriginal Multimedia Society
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
The Globe & Mail
The Vancouver Sun
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
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