Canada’s New Policies Toward First Nations Are Racist, Embarrassing, F*cked


This Tuesday marked the seventh day that Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nations has been on a hunger strike. She has spent the past week drinking only water (once in the morning and again in the evening) and staying in two teepees, one on Parliament Hill and another on Victoria Island. Canada has a reputation of being a fair and pleasant place to live. When people, including Canadians, think about Canada, it’s usually along the lines of “Sure, it gets real cold in the winter, but overall, what a wonderful place full of kind people who say ‘sorry’ a lot, full of equality and devoid of the kind of racism that exists in the United States.”

I’ve talked to many people who, under the “Canada is nothing but wonderful” delusion, think things are getting better for First Nations. These people need a reality check: things are only getting worse, which is why Theresa Spence, and other Indigenous people across the country, have gone so far as to deny themselves food until things get better or someone listens.

On December 14th, the Harper government passed Bill C-45, effectively cancelling treaty rights that have been around for over a hundred years. What this means is that if a company wants to, say, build a pipeline through an Indigenous community, the people whose community the pipeline disrupts, whose well-being will be most affected should anything go wrong, don’t get to have much of a say. Historically, corporations and the government have had to consult Indigenous groups before engaging in activities that could potentially affect them. Of course, this “duty to consult” has often been ignored, but now, thanks to the passing of Bill C-45, ignoring it is perfectly legal! This is confusing to me because treaty rights are written into the Canadian constitution, and I didn’t know the constitution could just be waved away to suit Harper’s colonialist agenda, which is to silence Indigenous people so that companies can do their thing and build pipelines, expand tar sands, and cause cancer without contestation from the people they’re most affecting, the people who were in this country first.

In a press release from the Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations, Grand Chief Craig Makinaw stated,

“Harper’s government is not acting in good faith and is acting in a way that brings dishonour to the Crown. The Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations Chiefs call on the the Government of Canada to bring back the honour of Crown to the process and fulfill the legal duty to consult First Nations prior to any legislation or enactment which would impact on First Nations Treaty, Inherent and Aboriginal rights.”

A new movement, recently named Idle No More, has been drawing attention to the unjust, abusive relationship between Indigenous people and the Canadian government. Idle No More is affiliated not only with Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, but with Bill C-45 protests across the country, in cities including Vancouver, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Toronto, and here in Edmonton. Last Monday, thousands of people gathered in Edmonton’s Churchill Square, and it’s not often that thousands of people gather in Edmonton in wintertime. As a protester told my brother, “I’m risking frostbite, but this is important.”

The Idle No More manifesto states,

“The Treaties are nation to nation agreements between Canada and First Nations who are sovereign nations. The Treaties are agreements that cannot be altered or broken by one side of the two Nations. The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources. Instead, First Nations have experienced a history of colonization which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing.”

But that’s only a small fraction of the manifesto. I suggest you go to Idle No More and read the whole thing, because Indigenous rights are important.

Yet even with this importance, there hasn’t been enough mainstream media coverage of the devastating effects of Bill C-45 or of the protests. As a Canadian, I feel ashamed and embarrassed by the institutionalised racism of my government and media, yet I’m not surprised, and I’m sure Chief Theresa Spence, as she fasts on Parliament Hill, isn’t either.

Last year it took her declaring a state of emergency on Attawapiskat First Nation reserve for people to start paying attention to the injustices happening in the Northern James Bay, Ontario community, where people were living in dire housing conditions because the infrastructure on reserves is not a priority for the Canadian government. In freezing November temperatures, 2,000 people were living in mouldy shelters and wood frame tents, some without proper insulation or plumbing. What’s scary is that third-world living conditions on reserves isn’t the exception; increasingly, it’s becoming the norm.

Charlie Angus, the NDP member of parliament who represents the area said, “This whole crisis was a real moment for Canadians. It was a moment that Canadians were shocked, first of all, that these conditions exist, and it’s not just Attawapiskat.”

Indeed, Angus criticized the Conservative and former Liberal government for its handling of infrastructure crises on reserves: “We’ve had perhaps 13 states of emergency over the last eight years in three communities I represent. Most have to do with collapsing infrastructure,” he said.

“(The government) never once said, ‘We need to make a medium and long-term plan for these communities, we need to deal with the infrastructure crisis.'”

a mother stands in the tent she has shared with her husband and 4 children for 2 years via

a mother stands in the tent she has shared with her husband and 4 children for 2 years

People living in mouldy homes with no running water or insulation – this is what racism in Canada looks like; but it doesn’t end there. Racism in Canada is also violence against Indigenous women. Amnesty International reports that if you’re an Indigenous Woman in Canada, you’re five times more likely to be murdered. As I explained the last time I wrote about the disastrous effects of another Harper Omnibus bill, there are far too many missing and murdered Indigenous women, and nothing much is being done about it. On the contrary, as things for Indigenous people in this country get worse, Indigenous women are being made even more vulnerable, with government funding cuts to the First Nations Statistical Institute, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and the National Aboriginal Health Organization. For some of the racist stereotypes on Indigenous women, watch the Sh*t Canadians Say to Aboriginal Women video.


Blogger âpihtawikosisân, who has written what I think are some of the best articles on Bill C-45 and the many injustices facing her people, says that negative stereotypes about Indignous women, and Indigenous people as a whole, are part of what’s allowing the Harper government and mainstream media to ignore Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, even though she’s right there in front of them on Parliament Hill. The government and the media can be as silent or as sparse in their reporting as they want, but people are still going to find out about the blatant colonialist racism towards the Indigenous people of this country. Chief Theresa Spence is not going on this hunger strike for nothing; there is a movement behind her — people are marching and blogging and tweeting and fighting. Canadians are waking up to the injustices and are increasingly becoming Idle No More. I’d like to end by quoting âpihtawikosisân writing about why Idle No More is so important:

“We are dying.

No one should expect us to stay quiet or polite about this. We have done what has been asked, we have played along to the constantly changing rules. It hasn’t worked. It hasn’t saved us. Idle No More is about saving ourselves.

We will continue to talk, and meet, and submit hundreds of thousands of reports each year…but we will also rise. We are rising. You will find that you have many issues in common with us, as Aaron pointed out. This is not us against you. This is hopefully all of us. Together.

Let’s move past chats in cafés, okay?”

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Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for posting this.

    The lack of mainstream coverage is appalling, but this is so important.

  2. Thanks for posting this. We’re causing a ruckus in Vancouver, and it’s great to hear voices from other cities.

  3. As a Canadian, I’m so happy to see this issue getting attention. It drives me crazy when people say that Canada isn’t racist, when there is so much of it right under our noses that people don’t want to admit.

  4. I’m ashamed as an American that I didn’t know much about this, and ashamed of both American and Canadian press for not covering Native issues much, if at all, in general.

    We have a lot of these same problems in the States. Living conditions on many reservations are terrible, and most non-Native people know very little about the prejudices faced on a daily basis by Native people. Not to mention that whole thing where Republicans blocked the Violence Against Women Act because it included a provision that would have closed a loophole that basically gives permission for non-Native men to sexually assault Native women on reservation land without fear of legal repercussions.

    So. Fucked. Up.

  5. Thanks for this, hopefully the actions of the hunger strikers will generate momentum towards meaningful changes in Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada. Institutionalized racism is the norm here in Canada.

  6. Thank you for posting this. The pipeline situation in BC is particularly scary now, and this stuff needs to get more attention.

  7. I’m disgusted. I’m taking a Canadian current events class, and this wasn’t even brought up once. I have never seen a single thing about this on the news, the only reason I found out about this was because of Tumblr. No one is really aware of the struggles that indigenous people face in Canada, most people think they just get no taxes and free land.

  8. I’ve actually heard a considerable amount about this in the “mainstream media”. Do the people who say ‘This hasn’t been on the news’ even watch or listen to the news regularly? I just think there’s no point acting like a movement isn’t getting attention when it’s been successful in getting attention and deserves praise for doing so.

  9. Thank you for posting this. I love Canada and everything, but it bothers me the illusion many Canadians have of this country as being superior the the U.S. when it comes to human rights and such. I have seen friends directly affected by this, where family members living on the reserves literally live with the assumptions that they have no future and fall into drug and alcohol abuse.

    I just don’t understand how the Canadian government can overlook these people.

  10. This article irritates me because it just shows the stupidity and the fuckery of the Harper government. And mostly makes me angry. I immediately forwarded this to friends and people who can spread this.

    And whoever thinks Canada is less racist than the US…they have sorely misinformed. Just because we negotiated for land and independence didn’t mean our hands weren’t less dirtied.

  11. This is happening in the US, too. In fact, only recently a federal courts judge allowed a lawsuit against the Cherokee Nation, ignoring the Nation’s sovereignty. As an enrolled Cherokee (albeit of a different tribe), things like this make me LIVID. Especially when people outside of the tribe try to comment on it, justify it, and just have no idea what they’re talking about because of cultural differences.
    Fun times, fun times.

  12. thank you for writing this. the conditions that exist on many reserves, especially northern manitoba, literally sicken me as it is. and harper is doing NOTHING about it, of course.

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  14. Thanks for posting the article. I’m home for the holidays and every time I return to my small isolated native town I’m just reminded of the deep despair that exists here. The federal government can claim all they want that they’re working with aboriginals but every thing they do says otherwise.

  15. stop your own racism! All you guys ever do is play the blame game and any time you don’t get your way extorting more money from innocent tax payers, you play the race card. This woman is mentally imbalanced, a cheat and a liar and instead of being accountable for her wild expenditures, which left her own people without, she is going to teach the kids in her community that you go kill yourself, before you ever take accountability. STOP taking our money. It’s enough now. Other people’s from around the world have histories way worse than yours and all you ever do is take money off those very people who suffered more than your culture did. How come the rest of us can get up and do this, and you can’t? It’s your own racism, your own inability to accept and take accountability, and it’s your guys nurturing resentments, still drinking alcohol when you know you have a serious problem with it, while we all pay for it and get blamed for it, when we don’t even know you. This is bull and it has to stop. That Chief should be locked up either in jail or a mental institution. She spent all the money and now wants to pretend she is on a hunger strike for her people, when she is only on it to be a bully and get her way and not have to take responsibility. Those are the lessons being passed on. You should be so proud to be willing to die in order to extort money off innocent people because of your own racism.

    • Please read my article carefully and note the following article I conveniently linked to:

      Read that article. Then read apihtawikosisan’s entire blog.

      Also, it’s unacceptable to use mental health as an insult. Never do that on any of my articles, or on any article, ever. It’s also not at all okay to stereotype a group of people as alcoholics. Nor is it okay to insult a woman who is risking her life for her people.

      Maybe in some ways you are a nice person who likes puppies…I don’t know; but it doesn’t matter. There are comments that are just not acceptable in a safe space like Autostraddle, and yours is one of them. I hope you do read the blog I”ve linked you to because you’re not alone in your views/opinions of Native people. Many people think exactly like you do, which is why it’s important that you read, read, read the writing of Indigenous people and then participate in a meaningful, RESPECTFUL (no assumptions based on race, no name-calling, no using mental health as an insult) discussion on Indigenous issues, racism, and colonialism. Good luck and happy reading! If you would have questions, comments, or would like some more interesting articles to read, feel free to message me (respectfully) and I will def. be willing to talk to you.

    • Michele,
      Please open your mind and open your heart. I’ve read your FB page. You delete anyone who questions your hateful tirades. A true sign of cowardness and insecurity of your stance. No one benefits from hate and you are hurt the most. Such deep hatred leads to disease and dispare, evident in your writing. Please take a deep breath and get to know the people you speak I’ll of. Truely listen. Read some different books. I am not native, nor are the people who informed me of your page. It’s not only natives who disagree with your statements.

      Beautifully written Malaika!

  16. Michele Hitler Tittler is a hypocrite she had made a website on hate comments towards all aboriginal people she has repeatedly said history is a lie & said that aboriginal people should be happy for being SAVED. Michele believes aboriginal people are like Jews & we try launder money & place blame on tax payers. She has theory’s not truth on what aboriginals get or recieve.
    For Shame Michele FOR SHAME……
    Hope one day you can let go of the hate in your heart & start living a happy life.

  17. So… It’s not ok for a pipline to be built through an indian’s land… but it’s ok for one to be built through a white person’s land? Yeah… because that is fair. If we are going to call people ‘equal’ they should be equal and not have their own laws. One law, no matter what color of skin you have. Trappers, ranchers, farmers and other white people that make a living of the land have to follow the Canadian law, aboriginal people should have to do the same. I know quite a few indian and part indians that live by Canadian law and have good, full lives. Seems to me its the ones that fight adapting to the way the world has evolved that are the ones who have a crappy quality of life. EVERY “race,” society, country and civilization has had to adapt to the changes around them in order to thrive. Why should Canada’s aboriginals be any different?

    • I really don’t care about no pipeline & like you we all pay the same taxes we all work & make a living & already are assimilated the only people that don’t pay tax are people that have jobs on reserve & honey jobs are few & capped on reserve so there are more First Nations living off reserve making a living paying rent & tax just like the next white person. In fact we make a living off oil money, who doesn’t? What I have a problem with is people like Michele calling history a lie & saying ALL First Nations are incest, drunks that don’t pay there own way your tax dollars don’t go to First Nations & Michele should do her homework & look up the government page on Canada’s finances & you will see that tax dollars goes to debt, Cpp, health care etc…. Look it up its a legitamite gov web site. I think the lady that was starving herself was ridiculous & don’t understand why people were standing behind that? I think it’s shameful how leaders of First Nations want to destroy there own people by being crooked & destroying the people & the reputations of so many First Nations that work & try hard.
      Our history is true! The reason treaty’s were signed was because we were put on reserves our good source was taken & we relied on rations that consisted if rotting food, then kids were put in residential schools & were abused for speaking there language that is now nearly extinct.
      We migrated & had our own territories that we migrated in because we followed a food source which was the buffalo. All First Nations had there own territories & yes like any white history Indians fought over lands & food sources. Nowadays we know that this is not relevant because this was the past but doesn’t the past make history for future? As far as I know past makes the present. All we ask us to be recognized & respected. Because of so many misunderstandings with tax dollars that’s what everyone’s mad for?
      The reasons there are protected lands is because there are lands that represent ceremonial grounds, national parks & traditional lands that are parts of our history. We can’t move the rock in Okotoks? Or the medicine wheel in Medicine Hat, then there’s others for the kootanii that are to the west or the Souix to the east or Cree to the north, the greed for oil has made people sick up north & contaminated water. Cancer is like diabetes there & they been paid off. Harper doesn’t want people to know about sickness, death & contaminated water he wants to keep it all hush hush for money. China took over & can do what they want including not abiding by Canada’s environmental laws. Do say whatever you want, find out facts first some where along the way.

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