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Aboriginal activists highlight importance of education

Idle No More teach-in held at Thomson House

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“How can this happen in a developed nation?”

That was the question posed by Chelsea Vowel, a Métis writer, at the teach-in on Friday.
Since the passage of the Harper government’s controversial Bill C-45 in November, teach-ins nationwide have tried to address difficult questions surrounding the situation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

A poll conducted by Forum Research for the National Post indicated that Canadian support for the movement is highest in Quebec. Demonstrations in solidarity with the movement, however, have been held across the country.

The First Peoples’ House and the Centre for Society, Technology and Development at McGill (STANDD) hosted the teach-in, with help from the Indigenous Students Alliance (ISA).

“[This is] a huge teachable moment in history right now,” said Jessica Dolan, a PhD candidate studying anthropology and one of the event’s organizers.

The importance of educating Canadians, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, about the movement was a central theme.

“A teach-in is what can mobilize us…it is [the basis] which will give us the background to know what were talking about when we go out to rallies and to round dances,” said Tiffany Harrington, a U1 Anthropology major and vice president of the Indigenous Students Alliance.

The teach-in featured three speakers who addressed issues relating to Bill C-45 such as indigenous law and misrepresentation of Aboriginal peoples in the media and in society.

Focusing on tax exemptions, free housing, and free education, Vowel explained how these apply only to Status Indians (about half of Aboriginal Canadians), and even then with great limitation, or in the case of housing, not at all.

The second speaker was Jameela Jeeroburkhan, a lawyer who has worked on cases concerning treaty and Aboriginal rights across Canada. Jeeroburkhan discussed the three changes imposed by Bill C-45 that are likely to have the greatest impact on Native people.

Amendments to the Fisheries Act will reduce the ability of Aboriginal fisheries to partake in commercial activity; changes to the Navigation Protection Act (formerly the Navigable Waters Protection Act) will drastically reduce the number of sheltered from industry and development; and changes in the Indian Act will expedite the leasing of band property for commercial purposes, Jeeroburkhan said.

All of the speakers and organizers agreed on at least one thing: non-Aboriginals have an important role to play in the Idle No More movement, and getting educated is the first step.

“[One of the] best things settlers can do is seize this momentum and learn,” said Dolan.

The next step, she said, is writing letters to our provincial and federal representatives.

“Our governments in North America are supposed to be democratic and are supposed to represent us, so it is up to us to say, ‘Don’t make this law that doesn’t represent how I want to live.’”

Harrington, like many others, is happy that Canadians are having these conversations.

“It’s about realizing that we need to start privileging the ideas of Indigenous peoples…so that we can start talking…on own terms, with people instead of against them.”