Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Peace Pipe Dream

Just finished reading "Peace Pipe Dreams," by Darrell Dennis about two years after reading "The Inconvenient Indian."  They both should prick our conscience, but will probably only reach us "bleeding hearts liberals."

Descendents of Europeans don't spend much time worrying about the dilemma of modern day Indians.  For most of us the biggest concern is getting the politically correct title.  Native American, Native Canadian, aborigine or indigenous.  Legally speaking the original natives are split into First Nations, Inuit and Metis (which are really part European).

Darrell gives a bit of history of the image.  At one time Indians were seen as survival agents and then necessary allies and then backward and now just in the way.  They have been painted as strong and noble and also drunk and lazy.  Too many Canadians when they think of Indians are resentful of the "advantages" the Indians have.  The truth is they are unique individuals, that have and are contributing to our society.

Darrell Dennis is articulate with a comedic touch as he deals with several misconceptions regarding his fellow Indians.  He researched the historical background that developed these myths and makes them understandable.

When we (us non Indians) read about Indians demanding various things we often think it is pitiful they feel entitled and are so unreasonable.  We forget there was a reason for the treaties and they have not always been respected.  We resent they should feel they need control of more land and that apparently they aren't burdened with taxes.  Overlooking the fact that we have encroached on their land and used their knowledge, talents and bravery to help us get a toehold.  It wasn't long in our history before our European predecessors took advantage however they could with their technology and legal understandings.

Without the Indians the first Pilgrims would not likely have survived.  Trappers would not have prospered without the co-operation of Indians.  Different tribes were recruited by the British, the French and the Americans to help them tip the balance of power.  Many small events and more notable ones like the American Revolution and the War of 1812 involved deals with Indians to get their support.  Indians were tribal and considered themselves sovereign over different areas.  All sorts of things were promised and many of them not delivered.

Naomi Klein pointed out in "This Changes Everything" that some of the treaties are the best hope for environmentalists, but also warns that Indians often do not have the resources to fight for their rights.

In Canada, status Indians living on reserves are tax exempt.  But in fact most Indians do pay regular Canadian taxes and even status Indians do pay some taxes.  Darrel points out there are strict rules on qualifying.  We forget what the Indians did that we all benefit from.

Indians are too often pictured as wife abusers.  Darrel points that most tribes were actually matriarchal and respectful of women's opinions when Europeans first came to America.  It was actually the Europeans who kept women in their place.  For years the Indian Act discriminated against women so that if they married anyone other than a status Indian they lost their own Indian status and their children were ineligible.  Meanwhile if Indian men married outside their wives gained Indian status.

Alcohol is closely associated with views of Indians and in a negative way.  Many assume that there is some genetic defect that turns Indians into alcoholics.  Darrel sites research that disproves that theory.  He does go back into history into fur trading days when alcohol was very effective at inducing Indians to bring in more furs.  Most of the Europeans they dealt with tended to be binge drinkers and many Indians copied them.  After centuries of abuse many Indians find themselves as unwelcome outsiders and alcohol abuse is one outlet.  On the whole, Darrel points out most Indians are not extreme drinkers and there are many that avoid alcohol altogether because of the negative image.

Still another concern is that tribal politics are usually painted as corrupt.  Darrel concedes as with every group there are always some who take unfair advantage of their power.  But much of Indian elections is supervised by the government.  In fact much of the money that is supposed to be for the benefit of Indians ends up in bureaucratic politics.

In summary mainstream Canadians are mis-informed and inclined to believe negative stereotypes.  Part of it seems to be guilt, but we have to admit we are pretty ignorant about the realities and for some we don't want to think about the issues.  Darrel has done an excellent job going back to historical facts, making analogies and uncovering reality.  Indians were critical to our survival and we owe much to them, but more importantly they deserve to be part of a prosperous future.  This book raises many good points that Canadians (and Americans) need to understand.

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