For whatever reason, I’ve chosen to write to an audience outside of Canada about Canada and First Nations. About Chief Spence. About poverty. I have no well-developed reason, other than I hope to drum up further support for my people, for Spence’s people, for Canadians, and the environment. I hardly expect to teach anything. I may not even be correct on particular facts, but in everything I write, I will be sincere. I will be writing from a more personal perspective, as well, because even if you, my reader, disagree with me, you’ll at least understand why I say what I say.
Before getting to Chief Spence’s hunger strike, and the Idle No More movement, I’ll briefly describe myself, and my people, because whom I am is from where and whom I come. I am Secwec, of the Johnny family, of the Kinbasket family, who have lived on our lands for millenia. I used to say I am Secwepemc, but I have come to believe I hardly pemc, or proper. I am a man without true Secwep identity. I wear a white mask over my red face. All my personality has been invested into this mask. Without this mask, I would hardly be able to properly function in white society. Chief Spence, she inspires me to remove this mask….
I have no identity, because of Canada. For over a hundred years, my people have known the white man. We knew the French man, and then the English man, and then finally the settler. The French man came to learn, to explore, and did not stay, but we enjoyed their company. The English man came to trade, and built forts, but we tolerated them, for they hardly bothered us, and were of some benefit. However, finally, the settler came, and we were overwhelmed. When the settler came, they already rivaled us in number, but this didn’t last long, for the settler brought with him smallpox and yellow fever, but neglected to share his treatment. Diseases that already had a thirty percent fatality rate, treated, were absolutely devastating to us, untreated. We were nearly rendered extinct.
And the settler brought him a nearly industrialized policy of dealing with First Nations. In the East, the English man had made treaties with First Nations, but perhaps the settler had found these contracts signed to be too inconvenient, for he signed no treaties with any people on this western side of the Rockie Mountains. Besides, why would he sign any treaty, when he already knew what to do with the red man? In the East, the settler had invented the policy of assimilation, which is….
Assimilation is a most vile and racist policy. It is predicated on the belief in an “Indian problem“. The “solution”, reasoned the settler, would be to strip the red soul from the red man’s body, and replace it with a white soul. However, they had to start early in a red man’s life. And so, they took (through coercion or kidnapping) the red children, and brought them to big red brick buildings called residential schools.
Technically, these were meant to be trade and technical schools, because red skin people would never fit into academic society, right? Also, the government had no interest in creating public schools for the red man, and so entrusted the residential school system to various churches, in an effort to save money. And that was that. The Indian problem would be solved in two years!