Ok, so my last blog was a slight departure from my usual serious commentary, but I needed the humour to help insulate my soul from all the negativity. While it was intended as a spoof of the issue, I also wanted readers to see the issue from our perspective. My spoof may have sounded ridiculous, but that reflects the insanity of the situation, not the blog.
Since the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) and others have released various media statements accusing Chiefs of being paid exorbitant salaries while their people suffer in misery, I have been fielding questions from students, the public, media, and others to answer for this alleged injustice. In answering these questions from mostly non-Indigenous people, I have heard endless stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, faced pent-up anger about “special” rights and been asked to accept ludicrous solutions like “doing away with s.35” of the Constitution Act, relocating all reserve residents to the cities, and told that since these alleged injustices to our people happened so long ago, to simply “get over it”.
I consider myself a strong Indigenous woman who has won life’s lottery – I have good health, two healthy, happy children, a large supportive family and my Mi’kmaq culture. I have never taken for granted the power of being able to fall back to a safe place where my brothers and sisters will guide me, support me, and offer a sympathetic ear during hard or stressful times. None of us are rich, but it has never been money that we needed from one another – it has always been the advice, guidance, support, and unconditional love. Not everyone is so fortunate to be in this circumstance.
Many Indigenous peoples were taken away from their families in residential schools, the 60’s scoop or even the current child welfare system. Many others are subjected to racial profiling by the police, and subsequently arrested, detained and imprisoned at a higher rate than non-Indigenous peoples. Still other Indigenous peoples, like our women, are murdered or missing at an alarming rate or subjected to high rates of family violence. Others live in homes without water, sanitation, power or homes which are contaminated with mold and asbestos. They have all been subjected to colonial laws and policies which desperately seek our assimilation.
Despite these similarities and differences, we have some very important factors in common – our Indigenous cultures and identities and the fact that every insult, racist stereotype, neglected community or suicide of one of our own children destroys a piece of our soul. The public telling me that all our leaders are corrupt, hurts me no less than it does one of those accused leaders. Having to defend our people against uninformed members of the public, wears on me just as much as it wears on Maliseet, Cree or Mohawk peoples.
This is the reason why I wrote my last blog as a spoof. Humour is what keeps my family moving forward in this battle that we inherited from the colonizers. If we could not make fun of ourselves and laugh at our troubles, we could not repair our souls. It is never meant to make light of the situation, but to force us to remember that we have an obligation to our children to be optimistic, to be hopeful, and help inspire our people to action. This is a lot to ask of our people, many of whom are forced to manage the kind of poverty seen in third world countries, but our future depends on their hope. Humour has traditionally been our way of moving forward.
But our ability to cope and resist are constantly challenged by Canada’s assimilatory laws, policies and actions. We are forever dealing with broken treaty promises, empty apologies, conditional rights, two-faced politicians, and those who wish to keep us in our position of poverty and submission. This crisis in our communities could have been addressed decades ago. There have been endless research projects, studies, surveys, reports, and commissions identifying both our issues and the solutions.
The solutions that have been suggested by Royal Commissions, Justice Inquiries, court cases and expert reports have largely been ignored. Solutions like post-secondary education which the greatest economists advise would be a solution that would require a relatively small investment now to obtain great returns in the future for our country, are also ignored. Suggestions that we strengthen the use of our culture, traditions and languages in our communities, schools, and institutions are placed low on the priority list. The obvious funding inequities for essential social services like child welfare, water, and housing are ignored in favour of public misinformation campaigns which vilify our leaders. We know what needs to be done to address this crisis in our communities, but the political will by Canada to do it is what is lacking.
This means that for the sake of our people, we have no choice but to address these right-ring fringe groups who constantly help the government detract public attention from the real issues. So, in order to prevent this blogs from turning into a book (as I could write alot about this issue), here is a brief list of points to keep in mind when reading ANYTHING that comes from the CTF and various TV, radio and print media, regarding their allegations of “exorbitant” chiefs’ salaries:
(1) Confirm the accuracy and type of information that is being offered as “truth”. If you look at the information posted online at CTF, the information is related to chief and council – not chiefs. Therefore all the conclusions drawn about chiefs is not necessarily accurate. The same can be said of the print media which contains a great deal of inaccurate and sensationalized reports.
(2) The information they do post is the “taxable equivalent” which means it is not their ACTUAL pay, but a figure inflated by CTF to make the situation look far worse than it actually is. As readers may or may not know, ALL status Indians who live and work on reserve are entitled to not have to pay income tax.
This is not a special or extra benefit given to Chief and Council. This is a legislative right which stems from the fact that Canada stole the rest of our lands and agreed that we should not be taxed on what little lands we have left. So what the CTF and others are doing is comparing apples and oranges. It would be no different than if they added another column and said that Chiefs in Atlantic Canada have more fish than the PM. Well, I hope so – after all they have constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty right to fish.
The real issue for CTF and others is that status Indians have the right to tax free income in certain circumstances and they are using Chiefs as their bulls eye to keep debating the issue. They have never accepted that status Indians have this benefit or section 35 benefits and this is the real issue – not their actual salaries. Even so-called academics like Tom Flanagan are still belly-aching over these constitutionally protected rights.
(3) The comparison of chief and council salaries with that of the Prime Minister (PM) is hypocrisy at its worst. When the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) said that our people should be treated as a third order of government, Canada rejected this. When our leaders demand to negotiate with the PM, we are told that First Nations are no more than mere municipalities. Our leaders are forced to meet with clerks, assistants and low level bureaucrats. Yet, when they want to find a way to exaggerate a situation to make Indigenous peoples look bad, First Nations are suddenly on par with the PM??
This is an insane comparison which lacks any kind of empirical credibility and solely reflects political spin. The PM is a unique position that can hardly be compared with most positions, let alone that of First Nations. The PM’s job guarantees certain benefits not offered First Nations leaders like: long-term disability in the event of serious illness, a pension, business and political connections which are priceless, and long after a PM is finished, he will have no end of paid speaking engagements, consulting contracts and business offers. A point which is often left out is that the PM is supported by literally thousands of well-paid bureaucrats who do all the real work.
Chiefs and councillors on the other hand, have no long-term disability protections, despite the fact that they have higher incidences of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, TB, and other serious illnesses. They have no pensions to support them once they are out of office. They would not have business and political connections which would ensure their financial well-being post-office. Equally as important is that the chiefs are not surrounded by thousands or even hundreds of well-paid bureaucrats, with the skills, training, education and expertise needed to do all the actual work needed to support a community. Justice Canada alone is the largest law firm in this country – there is simply no competing with that.
(4) It is impossible to do any kind of credible comparison between colonized Indigenous peoples and the colonizers. There is a massive power imbalance and laws which both create the current situation and policies which promote it. Any comparison is misleading at best. However, if one were to make a comparison between chiefs and councillors and municipalities, one would find that standards are being imposed on First Nations that are not imposed on municipalities.
For example, if one refers to the salaries of employees, managers, directors and leaders of municipalities, you will find a surprising number of those who make more than $100,000 some of which have a portion of their salary which is tax-free. Yet, many of the municipalities have hundreds if not thousands of homeless people, people living in shelters and increasing numbers of families and children who rely on food banks.
How could a librarian be paid $100,000 when their own community members do not have enough to eat? Those librarians are not even leaders. One Entertainment manager makes over $250,000. How could a municipality prioritize entertainment over a safe place for their residents to sleep at night? Should a director of entertainment make almost as much as the PM when residents are dying in the cold?
(5) The double standards which are placed on our people must be identified for what they are – right-wing reactions to our constitutionally protected rights which they reject and can’t accept. There is no way for us to win in their perverse logic. We are rejected as welfare dependent bums who use up all tax-payers hard-earned taxes, yet when any of us make a living we are demonized as an industry of elite, overpaid, corrupt individuals who suck our communities dry of funds while we leave the rest behind to suffer.
Not all of us are like the rare few who sell their souls for a Senate seat or fame. In our tradition, people like that would have been labelled a traitor and lost his/her citizenship and no longer been considered part of the community. The problem is not that there are people like this, its that we don’t deal with them as we should according to our cultural laws and values. THe majority of us don’t fall into this category and we should not let a few bad apples lead to stereoptypes about all of us.
The fact of the matter is, there should be no double standards. If no leader should be paid a salary higher than its poorest resident, then let that apply to ALL leaders in Canada including the PM.
(6) This public misinformation campaign is nothing more than a strategic ploy engaged to do two very important and dangerous things: (a) to deflect attention away from the current crisis in our communities which was created and extended by Canada and (b) to divide our people and communities irrevocably. Recent reports show that community members are already up in arms and battling amongst each other and their leaders over this issue. This is in addition to the Indian Act which has divided our people into on and off-reserve, status and non-status, band member and non-band member, and men and women. Now, Bills C-3 (Status) and S-4 (MRP) will further widen the divide as those of us who are colonized fight for individual wealth and sacrifice their communities in the process.
We have to rise above this. We have to better inform ourselves against this right-wing misinformation campaign. We have to make our families, communities and Nations our priority over everything else they tempt us with – including money and power. It does not cost a cent to stay united, nor does it require thousands of dollars for us to assert our sovereignty in meaningful and powerful ways. These right wing groups, academics and governments do NOT have our best interest at heart. They all desperately want our assimilation. Why on earth would we accept what they say at face value and help them speed up the process? We can collectively deal with the issues in our communities – we don’t need wealth, greed, and fame to do it. We have everything we ever needed in our own cultures – we just need to have faith in it again.