Idle No More Myth Busters

Let’s talk about colonialism. Now you may be thinking, “what’s there to talk about? Colonialism is a thing of the past.” The thing is, colonialism is very much still alive in Canada. It continues to be perpetuated today in policies, institutions, media, attitudes and beliefs. When reading the mainstream media coverage of Idle No More, it becomes clear that this is still an issue. The comments section in particular can be incredibly discouraging. We don’t need to look far to see expressions of negative stereotypes, dismissals or dehumanization of Indigenous people, and general misinformation. These reactions are often knee-jerk, and are grounded in prejudice.

Growing up, I would occasionally hear others proclaim their belief in these harmful stereotypes and myths. How do we challenge these beliefs and move forward together? I think one of the most important steps is education. We need to have honest, open discussions with each other, and this begins by clearing up some of the common misconceptions. I recently read a blog post by âpihtawikosisân (I highly recommend checking out her blog) that calls on all Canadians to help combat the lies that are being perpetuated about Indigenous people. She creates a ‘myth-busting list’ with some of the most common ones.  I’d like to highlight some pieces of âpihtawikosisân’s ‘myth-busting list’ here.

Myth 1: Indigenous people don’t pay taxes.
Busted!: Overall, the tax exemption only applies to about 250,000 people across Canada. Most of the over 1 million aboriginal people do pay taxes. The Indian Act First Nations tax exemption is very narrow, and only applies to personal property and income located on a reserve.

Myth 2: Indigenous people get free post-secondary education.
Busted!: Only some Status Indians that live on reserve are eligible for Federal funding for post-secondary studies, although many that do apply are turned down. Non-status Indians and Métis are not eligible for funding. Despite the fact that funding exists, there are other barriers to entry, especially in rural communities. In 2006, only 3% of registered Status Indians had a post-secondary degree, compared to 18% of the general Canadian population.

Myth 3: Indigenous people get free houses.
Busted!: There are social housing units available on some reserves, but this is under a program that is also available to other low-income populations throughout Canada.

Myth 4: Indigenous leaders are corrupt, and that’s why their people are poor.
Busted!: There is little evidence that supports this claim. For example, when Attawapiskat first declared its housing emergency back in October of 2011, there were a number of allegations put forward regarding Band mismanagement. As a response to the housing crisis, the federal government appointed a third-party manager. Attawapiskat First Nation subsequently applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review, and on August 1, 2012, the Court released its findings.  Here’s some of what the Court had to say:

p. 78, “…the [Assistant Deputy Minister] misunderstood the nature of the problem…what was really an operational problem.  While the [Attawapiskat First Nation] were having trouble addressing the housing crisis, what they lacked was not the ability to manage their finances…but the material means to do so.”

p.21, “At no point prior to the appointment of the [Third Party Manager] did department officials indicate there was any problem with Band management.  The Band was already under a co-management regime and no issue of Band management or financial administration was raised.”

This statement, “what they lacked was not the ability to manage their finances…but the material means to do so”, shows that Attawapiskat did not have problems managing its finances, but rather, that they lacked the equipment (such as cots, blankets, and other supplies) to deal with the housing crisis. Furthermore, Ministerial approval is required before any capital expenditures can occur on a reserve. Generally, a Band will pass a Band Council Resolution authorizing an expenditure, and the Resolution is then forwarded to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for approval. One can’t help but wonder how these accusations of Band mismanagement continue to be leveled when it’s the federal government who is authorizing expenditures.

So please, go forward with this information and help put an end to these stereotypes and beliefs. We cannot stand by and allow others to continue perpetuating colonialism. We all need to be idle no more.