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Native voices from coast to coast

Event casts light on contemporary oppression of First Nations people

The 6th Annual Anti-Colonial Thanksgiving, put on by Le Frigo Vert at the Native Friendship Centre last Thursday, October 29, opened with an abrupt “Sneak-up song”– traditional warrior music. The space was overflowing with people. Concordia’s People’s Potato and McGill’s Midnight Kitchen provided delicious food for everyone.

The evening started off with a film screening of Club Native, by Tracey Deer. The film dealt with identity struggles brought on by racist government policy. Of these policies, Deer targeted the Indian Act, which was enacted in 1876 for the purpose of assimilating and colonizing aboriginal peoples – an agenda it has upheld to this day. This act was also used by South Africa as a model for apartheid and – more specifically – the blood quantum policies that dictate whom is granted native status by blood percentage. Loss of status results in many restrictions, including loss of property ownership, band council voting rights, and school attendance in the Native community.

Deer decided to make this film “to really open up a dialogue and get people thinking about this on a human level rather than on a political level. It affects everyday people, and it’s hurting them.” Club Native also addresses gender inequalities, in that Native men who marry non-Native women are allowed to maintain their Native status, but women who marry non-Native men cannot. The entire bureaucracy of attaining membership goes against all Native norms and customs. “If the whole point of membership was to build or to preserve the cultural identity of the Kanienkehaka people, I have to say that it has failed,” remarked one of the women in the film.

Conflicts between love and tradition were also brought to the fore. One individual remembered being told as a kid, if “you marry out, get out,” a statement that illustrates the tension between the need to keep your community alive and the desire to follow your heart. “If you forego happiness just to be on the list, then where’s your joy in life,” asked Deer.

After the film, Karl Kersplebedeb spoke about health inequality, and the discrepancy between communities. He touched on the fact that health care access often varies between identity groups. “Health inequality – it doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s always the sign of another form of inequality. It’s not bad luck and it’s not genetics. It’s a result of financial inequality. It’s a result of unequal power relations. It’s a result of unequal places in society,” commented Kersplebedeb. He pointed out that the main factors are class and nation. Looking specifically at First Nations, he remarked that health inequalities were the direct consequences of genocide and colonialism.

Billie Pierre, a Nlaka’Pamux/Saulteaux activist living in Vancouver, promoted the 2010 anti-Olympics campaign. The film Quiet Struggle: Sutikalh the Winter Spirit, was subsequently screened. This film focused on Sutikalh, located on St’at’imcin territory in southern British Columbia, whose inhabitants have successfully prevented the construction of a $500-million ski resort on their territory. “My personal concern is that the water system in B.C. comes from the mountains…and once all these ski resorts are in the alpine mountains then whoever has those ski resorts…has control over the water,” said Pierre. Compounding these issues have been ongoing highway expansion, as well as the promotion of mega-tourism. “The Olympics are assimilating and modifying Native culture, and they’re doing it to promote tourism,” said Pierre.

Though the night featured films and talks about tribes twenty minutes from Montreal and from across the continent, it was evident that they all stood in solidarity against a common system of oppression. The night showed that the myths associated with Thanksgiving are misleading, and the racism and persecution that originated with the actual first contact between Europeans and Native people continues to this day.