The First Nations

I was recently having a conversation with a co-worker that again reminded me how just how casual stereotypes and racism is in Canada. I’m not sure how, but we got onto the topic of First Nations and it turned out that this was the very first time that he had heard this label for referring to the Indigenous people of North America. I probably shouldnt be so surprised. Really. I’ve known for years how awfully the First Nations are treated in Canada. Ive also known for years just how misunderstood First Nations issues and realities are (a lot of which is purposeful misunderstanding).

I’m also willing to admit that I was, for years and years, one of the people who consistently downplayed or ignored the current conditions of Indigenous peope in NA. (not to excuse it, but a large part of it comes form the internalized racist story about Asians and the model minority, since the argument went: my dad is/was a poor immigrant and we totally have managed to succeed! They should stop whining and just work harder!)

Even more insultingly, I’ve definitely been one of the people who say, “this, like, happened years ago and they should just get over it!”. Or completely erasing this countries colonial past (not recognizingu it’s continuing colonization) in NA. Failing to see how even my presence in this country perpetuates the continuing colonization of a land that isn’t mine.

Anyway, this post was meant to be about how and why recognizing that the Indigenous peoples of this continent are the *First Nations* if the continent is an important first step towards justice. This applies even if they reject our modern, Western notion of what a nation is. The major point is that their primacy demands that we engage them on whatever terms they choose.

One of the many derailing comments that my worker used was the the old argument that it is because they choose to remain on reservations that continues their continued economic marginalization. Maybe. But saying so without understanding how it is our fault totally misses the point. Saying that they should stop clinging to what little shreds we’ve left for them and finally admit defeat and erasure by total assimilation is not the solution.

However, I did agree that they should get off the reservations. But my vision was of them arming themselves, creating a militia and finally taking back what rightfully belongs to them. (this is of course if this what they want to do — they get to decide what would be the most appropriate way for them to achieve the dignity, equality, and respect that they deserve. Also, because they are not a monolith, a response as diverse as they are is great.)

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