I feel compelled to write this letter because of all the negative feelings toward the natives that are being expressed in the letters to the editor in recent papers — animosity that I feel is based on lack of understanding.
Round one was all about Chief Spence being impertinent in requesting to meet with Stephen Harper.
Harper is the leader of whites. Chief Spence is leader of her tribe. She has no superior native authority that she can appeal to. Therefore I see it as natural that she would desire to meet with the leader of the whites. It was the whites who partitioned the land and gave the natives some of the less arable land to live on. As long as they live quietly on their reserves, we can forget that they are there. We can forget and enjoy the benefits of all that we have taken from them. We won the war, didn’t we?
We forget that we were the aggressors. English imperialists encountered a primitive people and overwhelmed them. Many of these were peaceful people with a gentle lifestyle.
I believe that Spence is an honourable woman and I admire her greatly. She is giving up her life for her people. I have read criticism of the ways in which money is spent on the reservation. The native culture did not include money. The natives lived on a barter system. Has anyone suggested teaching the natives how to budget and how to spend the money they receive, what can you buy for $10 or $50, or how to make choices in spending? Criticism is not going to help the situation. Is there any way in which we can offer understanding and help?
Now I see that attitude cropping up that Spence’s hunger strike was an attempt to manipulate Harper. They did not see, even after more than a month of her hunger strike, that she was giving her life in loyalty and support of her people. How many whites would go that long, isolated in a teepee with no solid food in order to get what they wanted?
Many years ago I was working in a truck stop in Medicine Hat when an inebriated native came in and wanted to take the place apart. Everyone got very quiet. I poured a coffee and took it over to him, and asked him to sit at a table so that I could serve him. Then I sat down with him while he drank it. He left peacefully, having forgotten his antagonism for the whites. It makes a big difference if we respect and care about the natives — if we try to understand them or if we choose to ignore or criticize them.
If you are treated as an inferior for long enough, you begin to believe it. The whites have treated the natives as inferiors ever since they took over North America. Very few of us have sought to know and understand them. I firmly believe that God created all men equal but different.