It’s been more than a few years now since my afternoon Calgary chat with a Kainai (Blood) acquaintance, but I do remember a bit of the history lesson I received that day. One thing I recall above all else is a sensation of correspondence: the Haudenosaunee have the largest population within Canada’s borders, the Kainai the largest land base; the Haudenosaunee are known to be of an independent cast of mind, so too I gathered from my interlocutor the Kainai. (The name is pronounced “Ken-Eye,” and fittingly means something like Many Chiefs.) I left the conversation that day rather feeling a sense of kinship, which is unusual for me in most any social encounter.
I suspect you won’t find this fact registered in any newspaper, and perhaps not either in any blog, but it happens that the front page article on today’s Globe and Mail (“Stephen Harper named honorary chief of Blood Tribe”) was received by a good many Aboriginal people as a betrayal. It isn’t that Aboriginal people dislike the Prime Minister as a person, although I wouldn’t doubt at least some do. The rub is this: not much of encouragement-forming substance has issued from the Prime Minister’s Office since his June 2008 apology for the shameful policy of Canada’s Indian Residential School System. We’ve all noticed for example the funding cuts — to culture and language programs and Aboriginal women and community services. We’ve noticed that, good words aside, there hasn’t been a good deal of concrete action. When the Government has acted, it has been in the familiar manner of de-funding Aboriginal services or reassigning funds to generic programs that better reflect the Conservative crime and punishment agenda. We are still waiting for the fulfilment of Shannen’s Dream (which I gathered from today’s AFN meeting, in Moncton, will at last be realized), and we are waiting for the proper resolution of the Caledonia dispute. Many are waiting for the Government to fill the void left in the lapse of the so-called Kelowna accord. I could go on at length, but you see my point.
The Prime Minister was honoured with an honourary Chieftainship and a Blackfoot name (Ninayh’poaskin) in recognition of his apology for Indian residential schools.In this he joins the company of a previous Pope, the architect of the 1969 White Paper, and former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. This honour was given at the behest largely of the Blood Chief Charles Weasel Head, with whom in the past I’ve had some professional acquaintance. You also need to know that I was in the Centre Block of Parliament the day the Prime Minister of Canada apologized. I sat behind the Conservative cabinet, and directly behind Lauren Harper, during a ceremony afterward. I was unwound by the words of that apology to a degree that quite surprised me, since the fact is I’ve heard a lot of political speeches in this town and thought myself inoculated against them. It was an exceptional speech, deploying just the right words and in just the right tone. But the dangerous thing about a good speech (the Prime Minister must have known this) is that people have a tendency to repose at least some hope in its professed indication of intent. This is the case even with Aboriginal people, whose education in the silver-tongued character of the white man goes well beyond the post-graduate level.
Nonetheless, Stephen Harper has distinguished himself as the politician who withdraws from his responsibility (as in Caledonia) while clandestinely spying on what the Government considers Indian trouble-makers. As I wrote only days ago, his government has done little in the matter of nearly 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women. As the perfunctory Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada goes forth on its tour, stories of suicides and inadequate mental health supports drift upon the empty air. I challenge anyone, including you, my Dear Reader, to have at me with the force of evidence in disproof of my considered claim that nothing of substance has altered since 2008. And in my corner I will have marshalled against you the federal budgets, the unanswered Committee reports, and the media articles all substantiating the conclusion that the Honorary Chief of the Kainai nods at his august helm.