No free ride for anyone: ‘proud native man’

“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, you are the same decaying matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.” ­— Fight Club

“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, you are the same decaying matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”

­— Fight Club

I’ve been #IdleTooLong about this whole topic, and I feel like I need to express my point of view without disrupting innocent travellers on highways, and cargo carrying freight trains.

First, allow me to clarify that I am a Cree man with full status. I have family in positions of political power in this province, and should declare that my opinions are my own. While everyone needles over the finite details of the current situation, I’d like to paint my thoughts for you with much broader strokes.

I’m so very proud of my culture. The way the plains Indians lived on this land was a fantastic example of community, art, respect for our environment, ingenuity and spirituality. I’m proud of the native-inspired tattoos that I sport permanently on my body. As a father, I’m teaching my son that same respect and understanding of where his blood derives from, in the hopes that his pride will outshine the prejudice he will inevitably experience growing up, or at some point in his life.

I’m also very proud to be Canadian. Our vast mosaic of cultures, languages, and beliefs make up this welcoming land of opportunity for all. Whether you like it or not, we all have the same citizenship, but some have a different view on the value of it.

I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the government bills, documentation, or policy that is driving the current protests, but I’ve intently watched news stories, read columns, and have regularly monitored the comments being made on Facebook. Based on all of this, I feel the need to break my silence on this issue.

1. It’s embarrassing how the #IdleNoMore protest is being handled.

Blocking major traffic thoroughfares does nothing good to bring support and awareness to your cause. It creates immediate animosity towards you. Protesting freely in parks or in front of government buildings seems like a much more productive way to attract the attention of those you seek — the politicians. Not the regular welder-Joe who’s just trying to get to work. Hold him up and cost him money? See how much support you’ll get out of that guy.

Clarify what you are protesting for, or against. I’ve never seen such a passionate group of people go forward in protest in such disarray, and without clearly stating what it’s all about. If it’s generally about your need to be consulted, respected, justified for being mistreated, or the preservation of your culture, then let’s be out with it and start a constructive discussion.

Understand that you do not need to be consulted for anything any more than the Canadian citizen next to you does. Your opinion on things doesn’t count “more” than anyone else’s.

Respect is earned, not given.

There’s no question that the native people of yesterday were brutalized, hunted, tortured, and humiliated for decades.

It’s awful and no one should ever have to suffer like that. The elders of the time signed those treaties to bring peace, and offer what they hoped would be a leg-up in a new world that they realized couldn’t be held at bay. But those days are long over. It defies logic to have the current population pay for the tragedies committed by people that came so long before them.

The preservation of your culture is your job, not anyone else’s. For example, Polish, Irish and Ukrainian societies thrive all over the country with very little or no support from government coffers. They celebrate traditional dance, language, and food all by simply passing it down from generation to generation. Native communities can do the very same thing (and generally do), but without financial support.

2. “This movement is about the whole environment, its not just about the treaties. The bill that passed now un-protects the rivers, lakes, forests, land, etc., etc., so we need this bill to further protect our children’s futures. . . . Thanks to Harper government . . . rigs and development will pollute the air, waters, etc., etc.”

It’s no secret that our Canadian economy is driven by the oil and gas industry. Yes, there have been some awful environmental blunders due to a plethora of reasons. I heartily agree that we need to protect our natural areas that support wildlife, but I also know that there is aggressive legislation, and powerful government offices in place that already have that very same sentiment at heart. Millions of Canadians support green technology and research, as well as lobby for stronger federal policy. So if that’s what this is all about, there’s no need to blockade anything, as a majority of people would already agree with you.

First and foremost, I’m a human being just like you. I believe in equality. Across the board equality. Our country is so multicultural, that to give any specific group rights over everyone else is completely ridiculous.

I’m not familiar with the particulars of old treaties signed, but I get the gist because I have used some of the special privileges provided to me. I do not pay for health care. I did for awhile in my young working life, but then the government discovered my native status and sent me a huge apology letter, and a cheque for every dime I had put into the system.

Odd. I lived just up the street from my fellow truck driving friends, did the same job, paid the same taxes … yet there I was with this benefit because of my racial background and some papers that were signed all those years ago. I’ve used it for eye wear. This was particularly handy when I was up against it financially, but had broken my glasses welding.

Here’s the thing though: why should I have an advantage on a co-worker who might be in the same situation?

It’s not fair, and it needs to stop.

I move that Canadians start their own march towards coast-to-coast equality, or at least the serious discussion of it.

Our country should offer no free rides to anyone. No help for those who refuse to help themselves. No quarter for those who would inhibit the lives and success of others. No limit to what anyone can accomplish with a steely resolve, and a great idea. It doesn’t matter who built the first campfires and communities on this land, it’s those that work hard to continue to stoke the flames of collective well being that matter.

As a man that stands by his word, I pledge to never again use my native status to further myself in a way that isn’t available to every other Canadian.

I will leave my son unregistered, and will teach him the importance of keeping it that way.

I am a proud native man, and a hard-working, forward-thinking Canadian that believes the opportunities and advantages this country has to offer should be available to everyone equally.

Anthony Sowan

Red Deer