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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Laws and flaws

BY Will Nicholls Dec 30, 2022

The New Year is already upon us. It seems like it comes faster each time we complete our annual trip around the sun. When you are young you can hardly wait to be a year older. Later in life, the years appear to pick up speed when we wish time would slow down. 

Looking back, we can see some patterns. They tend to respond to what people think, but in mainstream society it’s like a pendulum swinging back and forth.

Growing up as a First Nations person who attended residential school, I experienced the racism firsthand and could see how it harmed everyone. The laws that protected most Canadians didn’t exist for Indigenous people. When the RCMP would come to pick up kids they would go into homes without a warrant. Kidnapping “Indian” children was seen as acceptable in mainstream society.

Ask your grandparents how some kids were hidden away while they still had to make the agonizing decision about which children were to be sacrificed to the laws that the Canadian government applied to Indigenous peoples. RCMP officers would even pick through clothing to check their sizes to ensure kids weren’t being left with their parents and their culture. 

Cree parents would say this was because they saved the clothes since they couldn’t afford more. It was true but they did manage to save a few kids.

That’s the way it was. Despite treaties and agreements what was supposed to be an equal relationship between two peoples quickly changed. At times there would be the guilt over what had been done that would encourage a new outlook on relationships between Canada and its Indigenous peoples.

But most Canadians are not Indigenous and do not know them. Without knowledge of each other we are living in different worlds. As a Cree with a non-Cree mother to my children both of us tell the kids not to go to the police outside of the Cree communities. 

In any society this should not happen, but we know systematic racism is a reality in Canada. Despite Quebec’s Viens Commission and other attempts to create a system that treats us all equally it falls short of its goals.

There are civil servants and elected representatives who sincerely attempt to improve the relationship, but the higher-ups seem to have another agenda in most cases. In some cases, they can slow down the work until the four-year lifespan of a government has passed, but not always. 

Take the new amendment to Bill C-21, which purports to ban assault-style weapons, but will in fact allow the federal government to ban hundreds of gun types. We agree that pistol-grip and automatic weapons are not efficient for hunting. But their ban includes hunting rifles that are used to bring home the food everyone needs.

The exploitation of natural resources in traditional territories in the North creates a real threat to our food security. Then to criminalize the tools Indigenous people use to harvest their food because you do not understand how we feed your families should be a crime. So much for reconciliation.

When someone has never been in a situation of food insecurity, wondering how to feed their children, it is difficult for them to empathize with our reality. The struggle continues to defend our way of life with educating Canadians about the ways we live. 

We are not looking for a hand-out but a real and meaningful partnership in the future of all the peoples of Canada. As a New Year dawns, let’s make that pattern one that all Canadians can feel good about instead of looking at history repeating itself.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.