Another challenge of reconciliation is sharing truth, especially if it is a truth that you did not know before. Desmond Tutu is quoted in an article Truth and Reconciliation published by the Greater Good Science Centre at the UC-Berkely in September 2004, “True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confessions, and confession based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done… Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth…In the act of forgiveness, we are declaring our faith in the future of a relationship and in the capacity of the wrongdoer to change. We are welcoming a chance to make a new beginning.”
Dispelling Common Myths about Indigenous Peoples: 9 Myths & Realities by Bob Joseph, President, Indigenous Corporate Training is one of the many things I have read this year in my attempt to learn truth. Mr. Joseph writes: “I believe that by sharing knowledge and information through our training, blog, and free resources, such as this ebook, we can make the world a better place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.” He suggests to share the eBook with colleagues or visitors, and while I can’t reprint the entire manuscript here, I can summarize each myth and reality check and challenge each reader to continue searching for the truth.
Mr. Joseph starts by defining a myth as he sees it in relation to the topic of this eBook. He states, “There are many myths out there about Indigenous Peoples in Canada,” and although there may be an element of truth in the myth, there are also exaggerated untruths, some of which have existed for generations and have become “deeply rooted” in the public perception.
Myth #1: Indigenous Peoples are all the same.
“Recognition of the uniqueness of each community is a fundamental first step non-Indigenous Canadians can take to respect Indigenous Peoples.” The First Nations of Canada are comprised of over 600 bands and over 2000 reserves with distinct languages and cultures, economies, strengths and challenges, stories and beliefs, and worldviews. Indigenous peoples fall into one of three groups: First Nations, Metis, and Inuit. Each group is as distinct and different from the other as Russians are from Ukrainians,
Myth #2: Indigenous People already have ample reserve lands and resources.
While treaty territories may represent vast stretches of land, these are not the same as reserve lands which were set apart under the Indian Act for the use of the respective band or First Nation and are, in essence, still the property of the Crown.
Myth #3: Indigenous People can do whatever they want with their reserve lands and resources.
Until the 1960’s life on the reservations was for the most part dictated by the comprehensive powers wielded by the Indian Agent. It was not until the 1940’s that the “pass” system was laid to rest. It required all First Nation people living on reserve to get written permission from an Indian agent when they needed to leave their community. If caught without a pass, they were either incarcerated or returned to the reserve. In 1893 the North-West Mounted Police protested the pass system noting that in the treaties Indians had been granted freedom of movement, but the Indian Affairs commissioner Hayter Reed overruled the police and the practice continued although it was never a law. The Indian Agent also managed the permit system, which remained part of the Indian Act until 1995, and through this system the Agent had control of the sale of goods off the reserve. Without a pass and a permit, Indigenous farmers could not leave the reserve to sell produce.
Additionally, First Nations do not own the land nor the resources underneath it. At the turn of the last century, the Canadian government passed legislation allowing governments to expropriate parts of reserve land for use as public utilities right-of-ways, and mineral rights have remained the property of the province. The treaties may have been signed with the representatives of the Queen, but the government which represents her has not always followed through with the best intent.
Myth #4: Indigenous people living on reserves get free housing.
Housing programs for Indigenous people are mainly designed to give low-income families access to rental housing. First Nations that meet CMHC lending criteria apply to a bank for mortgage funds to finance housing, usually with CMHC providing loan insurance. The band builds and rents the housing units to its members. The housing shortage on-reserve is estimated to be between 35 – 85,000 units across the country. (Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples)
Myth #5: Indigenous people don’t pay taxes in Canada.
This myth has existed for so long that it is difficult to counter it, however the truth is that only income that is earned on reserve is exempt from federal and provincial income tax and that only applies to “status” Indians. Inuit, Metis and non-status Indians all pay the same taxes as non-Indigenous people do. Goods and services purchased off-reserve but delivered to the reserve, are also tax exempt and this is true for most provincial sales tax. Less than half of all registered status Indians in Canada live and work on reserves which therefore translates into less than 1% of the total population of Canada not paying certain taxes.
The total amount of tax dollars not collected from status Indians is far less than those from corporations who utilize loopholes found throughout the Income Tax Act.
Myth #6: Indigenous Peoples receive free post-secondary education.
Only status Indians can apply for funding for post-secondary education through the band office of their home community and each community has its own criteria, for example some may require that applicants live within the community. Often the number of applications exceeds the money available and as a result not all who ask actually receive.
Myth #7: Residential schools are ancient history.
The last residential school actually only closed less than 25 years ago. “The impact of the residential school system is multi-generational, current, and is considered one of the primary contributors to the social problems of many survivors, their families, and communities. There are approximately 80,000 former students, or survivors, alive today.”
Myth #8: There’s no connection between Indigenous unemployment and Indigenous health and social problems.
The opportunity for employment on reserves varies greatly from one reserve to another, and one region of the country to another. In areas where employment prospects are poor, large proportions of the Indigenous population live in poverty, and study after study has linked health and social problems to poverty.
Myth #9: Missing and murdered Indigenous women brought it upon themselves.
Decades of government policies and actions designed to separate Indigenous people from their culture, traditions and history have destroyed family relations and communities. “Prevailing antagonism and enduring racial stereotypes that sexualize Indigenous women and girls denigrate their dignity and self-worth and sets the environment for some men to feel they can get away with violent acts of hatred against them.”
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder