Hypocrisy & Human Rights
By Michelle Stirling-Anosh
The concept for a Museum of Human Rights in Canada is naturally appealing to Canadians. Our national identity is imbued with the cultural mythology of globe-trotting as peacekeepers, a long tradition of welcoming refugees, and generally being nice, polite people.
But this self-serving picture of virtue is tragically laughable in light of the reality of the past and present treatment of Canada’s First Nations by the so very ‘humanitarian’ majority white population. It is an even greater tragedy that we all think Manitoba is the ideal place for such an edifice – a prairie city emblematic of the downward spiral of life for the plains and woodlands natives that followed the signing of the treaties.
Until 1960, Status Indians could not even vote in a federal election unless they first gave up their right to be registered under the Indian Act, their treaty rights and their statutory right to property tax exemption
Guess Canadians are only concerned about human rights in a more contemporary context. Like Maher Arar, the unfortunate Syrian-born immigrant Canadian who was deported to his native land by the Americans where he was reportedly tortured for 10 months and subsequently received some $10.5 million from Canadians for his pain and suffering.
If this is the restitution for a non-native born Canadian for less than a year of suffering, what shall we pay out to our aboriginals who suffered and many were tortured as children here in their home and native land?
Aboriginals in Canada were "systematically dispossessed of their lands and livelihood, their cultures and languages, and their social and political institutions," the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples documents. The result was the creation of a Third World underclass with poorer health, housing, water, education and greater poverty than the majority of Canadians; a life expectancy that is still five to seven years shorter; a rate of incarceration that runs roughly six times higher than that of the general population.
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Changing Native History
How can we justify building a Museum of Human Rights on the Canadian plains when First Nations people did not have a right to vote until 1960, could not leave the reserve without written permission until the ‘70’s and had to be back by 7 pm upon penalty of imprisonment, and until 1985 lost their treaty rights if they went to university?
What shall the compensation be for these human rights violations against the generosity and naivety of a people who agreed to terms of a treaty negotiated in a language they did not understand? And how come it took us only about 100 years to notice this discrepancy of treatment of peoples?
Yes, I see in the mock-ups of the Museum of Human Rights the Sihks in their turbans, Jews in kippahs, Muslims in hijabs and Scotsmen in kilts – how very multicultural and tolerant.
But honestly, would you hire a ‘red man’ to work for you in your store or industry? Or is it hiding in the core of your Canadian sense of fairness that this person and all like him or her are ‘lazy, ignorant, alcoholic and just plain bad news.’
Have you ever been grateful that their ancestors were willing to share this land with our forefathers so that you could live the life of freedom, prosperity and dignity that you enjoy today? Ever said ‘thanks’?
Or do you assume that the natives were a conquered people like in Custer’s Last Stand? So, their claims are not just.
Sorry. Canadian natives were not conquered in war. They freely negotiated with the Mounties and Queen’s representatives. The First Nations chiefs made their treaties with the Queen as equals not as her ‘red children’. They did so without bloodshed then, or retribution now.
Until we rectify over a century of injustice to our First Nations, we shouldn’t delude ourselves by building an edifice to hypocrisy in the form of a Museum of Human Rights.
Are some of your ‘best friends’ aboriginal Canadians? If not, maybe its time. Human rights begin where individuals encounter each other as people. One on one.