The only good Indian . . .

FTLComm - Tisdale - Tuesday, December 17, 2002


I read through the Star Phoenix story Sunday after some one sent me e-mail alerting me to what clearly is one of the biggest stories in some time and this one involves one of the most respected names in Saskatchewan Indian politics. David Ahenakew is just one of several prominent members of this family who set out to make it as Canadian aboriginal people in the real mixed cultural world that we call Canada.




The nature of Canada's reservation system has been to restrict the aboriginal people of the country to living and making their lives on the "res". You may not realise this, but most of a person's treaty rights evaporate when you attempt to make your way in Canadian society. In a society where money seems to be the measure by which we value things, an aboriginal RCMP office does not have to pay tax on his wages while patrolling on a reservation, but if in the course of his duties he has to work off the reserve, or if he makes his residence off reserve, his wages off reserve, are taxable.




The affect of this tightly defined world, has been to see Canada's potential Indian leaders simply forgo the trials of attempting to make it in the non-aboriginal society. The exception was the Ahenakew family. Each of the members of this family set out to make their way integrated within the Saskatchewan society as a whole. Each of them have had distinguished careers and each of them have suffered incredibly from what those people who stayed on the reserves were avoiding.




After I read David Ahenakew's remarks, I dismissed the whole thing as my wife and I talked it over, as I said they guy must have been drunk. My wife told me not to put anything in Ensign about the story because she felt reported, or commenting on the remarkable lapse in appropriate behaviour, by a man of such respect and stature was unseemly, and I had to agree with her thinking that the reporters present during his speech, perhaps should have just put it down to an incoherent rant and forgotten about it.




As things have evolved, everyone from the Prime Minister to everyone's next door neighbour has reacted to what were clearly blatant and totally unacceptable racist comments.




But here I am Tuesday afternoon, writing about what I originally felt was best forgotten. He was either drunk, or for some unusual reason, just ran off at the mouth feeding off some eager reporter who smelled blood, or was getting off on the gore of a car crash.




As I listened to his apology this morning, where he refuted what he said and gave no excuse for what clearly was inexcusable behaviour, it seemed to me that I was peering into a mind with an open infected wound. My first desire to avoid this topic was out of respect for a man, who had clearly embarrassed himself, but now I can see that there is a drastic need to talk about the feelings, the content was most likely relevant ,only to those who believe that content is important and who fail to look deeper. That infected and open wound in this man's emotional make-up is the pain and torture of ill will, yes folks that is what hate looks like.




Please do not mistake this explanation as some excuse for this man, or even consider it an explanation that sets forth some plausible possible reason for a sane man, respected and having conducted a lifetime of struggle on behalf of his people. What you will read here, is just a model constructed, to help me fathom this gushing forth, of what amounted to emotional vomit.




Now let us consider, who among the inhabitants of this great and diverse country of ours would be the easiest target for racial slamming. Canada's Jews, they are the perfect target, they as a group have continued to be financially successful and one of them owns most of the newspapers and TV stations in the country. On top of all that, they are the absolute classical scapegoats of all times. With a little stretching one could find some way to blame Jews for everything from global warming to the GST. In Europe, they were picked on consistently for more than a century before Adolph Hitler discovered them.




In the 1920s the winners of World War I were grinding German under their heels, inflation was so extreme that any real reference to it here would be laughed off as utterly impossible and the German people were really feeling hopeless. Adolph Hitler was a vehicle, not the driver of the development of the NAZI movement. The rich right wing of the time funded the party and Hitler and his associates needed some explanation for Germany's plight. There was nothing they could do about the fact that German had lost the war and was paying the loser's price, so a quick look around and there they were, Jews and Gypsies, everyone already thought they were a bad bunch, so let them be blamed for everything.




After a career of fighting for treaty rights, fighting a complete and total losing war on Ottawa's bureaucratic strangle hold on the lives of status people, one could imagine a sixty-eight year old leader feeling hopelessly bitter. He was attending a meeting dealing with yet another hopeless cause, coming to terms with health care for the people with the lowest life expectancy, highest infant mortality and largest incarceration rate of all people in the country. Anger often leads to rage and rage is based in deep seated hate. These unfocused emotions rise in ones mind to the point that every thought is filled with resentment and disgust for what is, has been and most surely will be.



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He began his speech on topic referencing the health care issue but the emotions were not under control. The Star Phoenix reported described the speech as being filled with inappropriate language (swearing) and finally comments of anti-Semitism




Self control is a harsh reality one imposes upon oneself, but when the emotional part of one's personality gets loosened up, alcohol will do that, fatigue with do that but the weight of sadness will also do that and the first sign that you are losing it, is you will be unable to control your speech. Harsh emotionally laden phrases that are labeled by all as extreme, swear words, religious nasties, creep into ones thoughts and out one's mouth. As your emotions build, the thoughts become less related, less controlled, as you seek something that will tell others just how badly you feel.




Aboriginal oratory is loaded with complex metaphors, catch phrases and whole illusions that bear no connection whatever to literal meaning, or literal context. A string of thought evolves that portrays the emotions, the literal meaning is of little, or no importance, and listeners who are themselves aboriginal would quickly move with the speaker, absorbing the emotion, feeding on the feelings.



knife of

So if an aboriginal speaker wanted to tell his listeners that he is saddened and disgusted with the conditions he perceives, he might simply dive into his memories and select a condition which saw people suffer, and then be exterminated. And if really worked up, one could easily see among the listeners non-Indian reporters who haven't a clue about what it means to struggle and struggle and face racism every day of your life and know that your grandchildren and their grandchildren will have the same experiences you have had to endure. Time to draw a knife of nasty words.



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It is absolutely remarkable the effect of David Ahenakew's speech and post speech comments to the press had. The events of World War II are far behind us and the conflict in the Middle East is far from understandable whereas racism, vulgar institutional racism, is the order of the day in this country coast to coast. Have you heard Jewish organisations speaking out about the Indian Act, treaty rights, Nipawin's crime rate? Do politicians and provincial legislatures pass motions about racial oppression of Canada's First Nations people?



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If David Ahenakew consciously, or even unconsciously, wanted Canadians to think about racial problems perhaps he will not ever know, but the results of his outburst was the flash point that could well produce some true awareness in this country. He knows full well, as he said in his apology that what he said was wrong and that racial hatred is appalling But what he didn't say, for indeed, it was not the time for him to say so, was that his comments about Jews evoked such a huge reaction, yet the genocidal actions of the government of British Columbia, Alberta and the Federal government are ignored. The Canadian Alliance party talks openly of disregarding treaty rights, the Saskatchewan government ignores all treaty rights unless hauled into court and you, citizens of this country, must examine carefully your thoughts and words about First Nations People. You must recognise the participation that you as a member of society have allowed to continue, a society that sees aboriginal poverty, deprivation, unemployment and widespread alcohol and drug abuse to be the norm.


Timothy W. Shire

  Parker, James, Ex-FSIN chief praises Hitler in speech, (pdf) December 14, 2002, Saskatoon Star Phoenix
  A hateful outburst, A native leader's anti-Semitic remarks demand swift action, (pdf) December 17, 2002, Ottawa Citizen
  Chabun, Will, Ahenakew's legacy left in tatters, (pdf) December 17, 2002, Regina Leader Post
  Ahenakew apologizes for anti-Jewish remarks, (pdf) December 17, 2002, CTV news



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