Walrus Magazine 15th Anniversary Speech: The Future of First Nations

My name is Robert Jago, and I’m an occasional contributor to the Walrus Magazine and other places. I write on First Nations issues. I come from BC and I’m a member of the Kwantlen First Nation – part of the Salish people.

Which I mention for context.

I’m going to be talking about what Canada will look like with respect to First Nations, in the coming decades.

But before that I think I should step back and talk about where my thinking is coming from on this.

This past week has been bad. I’ve been in and out of hospital with my mother, and had to help bury two uncles – and for Salish people that’s bury in a literal sense.

One of the 6 steps of our funeral rights involves a shovel.

Queuing up to bury your relative is 3 steps after we burn all their stuff. You ever hear the expression, ‘you can’t take it with you?’ We don’t have that expression. In our culture, you take it with you.

Which I think might sound strange to some people, the image of burning books and photos, and food on a funeral pyr. But increasingly for me and for my people it’s not weird. It was at a point, but the dominance of our culture in our lives, the normalization of it, has been on an upward trend since the early 90’s.

In the 90’s the first post-residential school generation came of age. They were born without the stigma of being Native, and they sought to reclaim their roots, they rebuilt, they built new houses of worship, they resurrected the long repressed festivals and ceremonies, they fought to reclaim our rights. These are the people we buried this week – people who as they lay dying could – rest – assured in the tangible progress of their work – secure in what they’ve made.

I was young when these things were brought back, and learned many of these as if they were a foreign culture.

But after Oka, we were all open to finding pride in who we were.

Today, these cultures are practiced as the natural state of affairs among the young. My nephew is 8, he drops words from our language into sentences, he makes our sign of prayer – he ‘raises his hands’ when the moment calls for it. This is the culture he has been born in to – he lives it more than I could hope to, more than my parents could dream of, and in a way that my grandma – who went to residential school – would be shamed to her core over.

My nephew will grow up, he will have children and as the generations progress the scope of our resurgence will only expand – and as it expands, it will move from faith, more and more into politics, and ultimately the thing we Natives all see as the end points – land and sovereignty. This is the only thing you can universally generalize about Natives, we all want the land back.

I want to paint you a picture of what that could look like. This future Native Canada, circa 2068, when they’ll be burning my stuff on a funeral pyre.

This is a Canada where the map has changed – drastically. We have moved beyond treaties, there is no Department of Indian Affairs, but there ARE 10 or so provinces, 3 territories, and 2 dozen Indigenous Republics.

Each Republic in total control of their territory, entirely self-governing with all the powers of a province – and more – and an integral part of a new Canadian Union of peoples. With no blockades or blocked pipelines, but where we all develop and build together.

This is a Canada that has been re-founded, re-born, re-started back where it actually began in the battlefields of 1812 and in fact in every war before then. Think back to that war to 1812 and not about who or who didn’t burn down the White House, but think about who was there on the border defending Canada. French militia, English militia, and sovereign Native nations and their warriors. Without the latter, this wouldn’t be Canada today.

The Canada of 1812 was a partnership between 3 peoples. The English, the French, and the First Nations. This is the union that made Canada, this is the only structure that can make Canada whole, and this is who we are in 2068.

I recently asked non-Native supporters of Indigenous rights what they want from First Nations people in return for their support of our cause. They told me, in effect, they want to be forgiven for everything that happened. They want to get to a place, where all of us, including us Natives, can look at our flag, our anthem, and our institutions and say this is good – Canada is good. A lot of Native people hold out hope for this too. Last year on Canada Day I met protesters in the Tipi on Parliament Hill. Most told me they can envision a Canada they could be proud of.

This is possible, this is what we all want.

And looking back from 2068, where it has been achieved – we can see that it began in our time with reconciliation, we began it with the nation to nation relationship.

We know the state of affairs on reserve, the poverty, the poor housing, the paternalism of federal authorities isn’t spoken about enough. But in this future, this changed, right around now. Everything that the Trudeau government promised they followed through on.

We began by fixing the problems, not by diktat from Ottawa, but by placing the tools back into the hands of my generation. And with those tools, and with more and more of the money produced by the resources taken from our land, we began to improve things. We patched up the roofs, we wiped out rules that prevented people from fixing their homes, we created water systems, education systems, child welfare systems, and developed an environment conducive to real entrepreneurship.

And we began to expand. Success is popular and rising property values in the big cities, the presence of jobs on reserve, new found safety and pride, looking back again from 2068, we can see that in the 2020’s, 2030’s, these things brought people home, which spurred even more growth. And with growth and the return of many of our best and brightest came pressure.

Lift First Nations out of poverty, and as we see all over the world, the new middle class will demand more – that is the child of reconciliation. More political freedoms, more rights, more land. It is a universal rule that Canada is not immune to. And this critical mass will push us over the Rubicon and into uncharted territory for Canada – territory where big concessions must finally be made.

As our Reserves grow, the pressure for more control of land and resources will create a crisis for Canada. But this is a Canada that would have seen the success of Reconciliation, that would see booming reserves and aggressive young leaders of First Nations who are open to a final settlement. This is a Canada of 2040 or 2050 where its own leaders grew up knowing nothing but equality and progress for First Nations. And so the next necessary steps will be far easier for them.

Ending the Indian Act, moving past the treaties, a new constitutional round that recognizes vastly expanded first nations lands, and where they join as full members of the new state, with their own senators, their own members of parliament, and where in partnership with Quebec and English Canada, they, together set the national priorities.

These new First Nations republics in Canada will have everything they need to succeed.

The children of 2050, couldn’t imagine that the poverty of today could be so near to them. They know only success, they see their flags flying, they live and work in Native towns and cities. They grow up healthy, and secure, protected from things like suicide, and murder, and so at last, they’re just kids.

And it’s from them – from the reconciliation of today which led to the development of tomorrow, which led to pressure from a new Native middle class in the 2030s, from the great compromise of the 2050’s – that we come to these kids in 2068. It’s them that can give you what you want. That young woman in the centre, smiling, and living a full Native life for the first time in 2 centuries, a woman with a certain and positive future – that’s the person there in 2068, who will be able to say that the past isn’t forgotten, but it is forgiven. She will be able to say that this country, Canada – is – good.

[long pause]

But of course, she doesn’t exist, and really, if we’re honest with each other, she can’t exist. A truly reconciled Canada? That’s science fiction.

And it’s fiction, because this young woman can’t exist without this young woman.

She can’t exist without this young man.

Because to be a Canada where Reconciliation was real, where it could lead to progress to a middle class, and to a final settlement between our peoples, where we could all live together happily –

We would have to go back in time. Because you can’t have that Canada without Colten Boushie, or Tina Fontaine, or any of the –

dozens of other names we’ve seen over the last few years, and the many more forgotten names we should have, but didn’t see in the many years before.

No mother wants her child to grow up to be a hashtag – but that’s the reality for too many Native women, and that reality has been beaten over our heads for the last few years, making us know that reconciliation is a fairy tale told to put Liberal voters to sleep, that it’s PR for others, and not meant really for us.

Canada has no respect for our national rights, the recent pipeline debacle tells us that if you didn’t know it already.

These Republics, to come to be, and to give you what you want – real absolution – Canada would have to be a different country.

And it isn’t.

this is what it is.

and so what does that actually mean for the future?

Our numbers will still grow. Our cultural and politics will still advance. But unlike in the Canadian union model I just proposed, we won’t be building things together. *We* will be pursuing our path, and you yours, and when they come into opposition there will be conflict, as we have today on the pipeline, and tomorrow, in the Ring of Fire here in Ontario.

It’s clear that we’re not welcome in your politics, like the pipeline, like Nafta, like marijuana legalization. When issues of National importance come up, we don’t even get a spot at the kids table.

But my generation, and those younger, aren’t content to sit on the sidelines and be spectators in our own lives. And so all over, what we see are people taking charge. Taking care of each other, and this can mean things like the Bear Clan Patrols – patrolling the streets to take care of Native kids at night

Or like the Crazy Indians Brotherhood feeding the homeless, helping the poor, and when needed, taking on the role of the justice system when Natives don’t want to call the police.

At a very small cost, you could have had a more prosperous, and more just future, without this guilt hanging over you.

Instead what you’ll get is something messy, and confrontational. With the civil society of an entire people directed against you.

The Canada of 2068, will be hostile, will be poorer than it needs to be, and the Native youth in it will have grown up knowing nothing but opposition and conflict.  And just as our faith and ceremonies have become second nature to my 8-year old nephew – conflict and opposition to Canada will become second nature to these children of the future, and this is what they will build upon.

At a point these things gain a momentum that can’t be stopped. Or maybe it just seems that way. After all, how many times in the last 50 years have we seen systems of government and societies that seemed cast in stone, change completely in just a matter of a few years.

If Canada is to survive to 2168, that type of systematic, unthinkable change is what needs to happen. Should we ask that young woman of 2068 to do it? To take the decades of resistance culture and turn it on its head and what? assimilate?

Or should we ask you to do it – here in 2018, when the cost isn’t yet too high. And what is change? It means working to understand that reconciliation as it’s presented to you is a lie. Understand that the Assembly of First Nations that your government negotiates with has no support among regular Native people – it is the equivalent of a rat union. Understand that your wealth comes from Native lands. Understand that your government continues today, through the systems of control under the Indian Act,  to treat Native people like they were children.

Understand that and then decide that changing it is more important than appeasing foreign oil interests, more important than lowering the unemployment rate from 4.5% to 4.4%. It’s more important than lowering the deficit or paying down the debt. After all, none of these things matter if you don’t have a country.

And if there is to be a Canada worth living in, someone has to make a change.

The Walrus: The Story Behind Jordan Peterson’s Indigenous Identity

Jordan Peterson is a University of Toronto psychology professor, bestselling author, culture warrior, YouTube celebrity, and a growing presence in Canadian conservative politics. The one thing he is most certainly not is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw people of British Columbia. That claim, however, has appeared several times in Peterson’s bios—which state that he has been “inducted into the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe.” It appears in social-media posts, and it was referred to again this week, when Peterson tweeted at Pankaj Mishra, who wrote a critical piece about him in The New York Review of Books:

You say “Peterson claims that he has been inducted into ‘the coastal Pacific Kwakwaka’wakw tribe’ Just what do you mean by “claims” you peddler of nasty, underhanded innuendo, you dealer in lies and halftruths?

Peterson’s connections to the Kwakwaka’wakw people derive from his friendship and traditional bonds with the family of Charles Joseph, an accomplished Kwakwaka’wakw carver from Ma’amtaglia-Tlowitsis tribe. Earlier this year, I spoke to Charles Joseph—who confirms that Peterson is not a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw people nor the Ma’amtaglia-Tlowitsis tribe.

Continue Reading

Unpublished: Yet another article about quitting Twitter

When in the course of inconsequential events it becomes expedient for one person to delete the social media profile that has connected them to a large group of other people, a decent respect to the opinions of those readers requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Well, ‘requires’ might be a bit strong.

I recently deleted my twitter account – but I’ve not deleted my account forever. Just for now, and for the next while. I didn’t delete it because of right wing harassment.

It’s more this – when you get a twitter dm, and you have the app installed on your phone, your phone vibrates when the message is received. Shouldn’t you be at least a little discriminating about who can make your pants vibrate?

I’ve not been. And as a consequence a lot of people have been able to send me messages, privately, subtweet about me, send me facebook messages, voicemail even – and a certain percentage of that is really critical.

And I’m OK with most of the criticism and the attacks and the loser hatemongers. If you only knew how thoroughly soul crushing a Walrus editing session is. US special forces are trained to withstand torture by being tortured during their training – waterboarded, sleep deprivation, all that. The point of it being that if they’ve been through torture, they can be better prepared for it, and last a little longer. Walrus editing is like that. Which isn’t a criticism of Walrus editing mind you, it’s a feature of it. But there’s nothing that Christie Blatchford can say that’s quite as brutal as seeing 4 of 5 paragraphs deleted in editing.

So those critics I can handle.

It’s the other critics that get to me. It’s the people saying that I’m taking up too much space, centering myself too much, saying I’m too full of myself, that I should be careful how I speak, that I shouldn’t try and rep anyone, or write on other FNs, the Metis, the Inuit.

The criticism stings, because it’s feeding into something I’m already worried about. I turn down a lot of stuff, to keep my small niche over here, I avoid speaking about Native politics as much as possible, and try to focus on a couple issues I know. In my writing lately I’ve cut myself back to only writing when I can contribute new information, not just opinion (with 1 exception), but new info.

So when I hear that criticism, it carries some extra weight, and makes me reluctant to write, makes me question what I’m writing or working on.

A strain within that criticism is also telling me that I’m too soft on things. Too bland, and compromising. I don’t accept that. But it does stay with me when I’m writing. Chirping away, making me think about punching up the text a bit. But that’s not writing, that’s performing.

I see myself as a didactic writer. And when I sound harsh, it’s a tool I’m using to make a point that can’t be made another way. But it’s not angry for the sake of angry – angry as ‘venting’.

Besides all that, there’s the baseline awfulness behind the concept of social media more generally. With Twitter, the retweets, and likes are addictive. And when your phone chimes with more, it’s like Pavlov’s bell – feeding the addiction. Naturally you make a connection between which tweets get more feedback, which get less – and you change the way you tweet in order to keep the bell ringing.

I’m thinking too much about the response, and not enough about what I’m trying to produce.Twitter is making me evolve as a writer in a way that is maladapted to the type of writing I want to do. It’s an island ecology, and those produce stunted, runt animals that don’t have the robustness needed to win over the 90% of people who live in the real world.

Most writers on there became who they were as writers before going to Twitter, so it doesn’t affect them as much. But that’s not the case for me, and so I can try and work with it, or I can leave the room and shut the door.

My mother was just here for a visit – that’s us at the top of 30 Rock. I’ve got a couple talks I’m preparing for. I’ve got a big interview that I’m reading up to prepare for. I’m taking a last shot at this summer article – and I hope to have another piece out in April. That’s what I’m doing for the foreseeable future.

I’ll likely eventually return to Twitter – if you want to write, you can’t avoid it.

But it bugs me that people talk about me like I’ve been harassed offline, or need some time to recuperate, or are in some way damaged. If you want to feel why I’ve gone offline, really – take a bus a 1am on St Patrick’s Day. If you say – ‘screw this’ – get off the bus and walk, that’s not you being broken, that’s you avoiding a headache.




Media Indigena: In the trial of Gerald Stanley, an all-white jury runs from justice


There is a video from outside the courthouse in Battleford, Saskatchewan last night. It shows a screen which is split in four and displaying the courtroom, the jury box, the judge, and the accused in the Gerald Stanley case.

As the verdict is announced, there are gasps and shouts; Colten Boushie’s mother cries out. Bailiffs grab Gerald Stanley and run out of the frame, and to a waiting truck under heavy RCMP protection.

In the jury box, a dark-haired woman in a short dress, and long hooded sweater jumps up as Stanley passes, and runs off camera herself—getting away from the family and the assembled Indians in the courtroom.

I would like to think that she ran because she was ashamed of what she had just done. But the likelier answer is that she ran for the same reason that she and her fellow members of the all-white jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of killing 22-year-old Colten Boushie. They were afraid of Indians, especially angry Indians.

And let’s dispense, for a moment, with those words “First Nations” and “Indigenous,” because those imply respect, and progress. Today, it is clear that we’re still “Indians.”

“Fights with Native kids were a too-common part of [my friend’s childhood] experience … It’s no overstatement to point out that such kids were, on average, rougher than the white kids, or that they were touchier…”

That is a quote from the best-selling non-fiction book in Canada this week, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Natives are rougher, touchier. The Indians are restless—run.

Some people in this country are worried about schools engaging in social engineering to manipulate children into holding certain political views. They’re right to be worried. It is school that taught that woman when to run. It was newspapers, TV, films, it was books. It was every comment and joke that taught her to run; it was the Premier of her province urging “calm” after the verdict. It was what her boss told her at her part-time job—’Watch that Indian over there, I think he’s stealing.’ She was taught to run, and to think that Indians, especially young male Indians, are scary—subconsciously, it sunk in, that they’re wild and dangerous animals.

If a fox is stealing chickens, it’s not enough to chase it away, you need to put it down. Gerald Stanley put Colten Boushie down at point-blank range, and because these jurors were raised to see us as scary animals, to think of us as wild “wagon burners”—a slur you hear on the Prairies—it was easy for them to see why he was justified. ‘It could have been me and my family,’ they undoubtedly thought—and who wouldn’t do anything to protect their families?

Gerald Stanley had a family, and one that looked like those of the all-white jury. Colten Boushie didn’t have a family. Indians don’t have “families.” They have braves and squaws, chiefs and papooses, bitches and thugs—but not a mother and father like the Stanleys are.

When you hear the mother of a deceased child wail in agony for the verdict you’ve brought down, you hang your head, and quietly and respectfully leave. On the other hand, when you get between a wild animal and its mother, you run. That woman in the jury reacted like Colten Boushie’s mother was a charging bear, not a grieving mother.

Don’t say that this is about Saskatchewan, or the defence, or those racists over there. And don’t say that Canada failed Indigenous people—Canada just failed. It wasn’t a mob of racists that released a killer onto the streets—it was 12 regular Canadians.

These are Canadians who have lived their entire lives hearing excuses for why they don’t need to care about Indians. Why care about tainted drinking water on reserves? ‘Those greedy chiefs are probably taking the money, those Indians need to sort themselves out first.’ Why care about the crisis in Thunder Bay? ‘It’s Indians killing Indians, Indians drinking too much and falling in the water, what are we supposed to do?’ For every problem that Indians face in this country, there is a ready excuse, a fig leaf, to shield Canada from blame.

The defence presented a case that centered around a magic bullet. It is a hard story to believe, but you don’t have to believe it. You don’t need a hard sell to get an addict to buy your meth. And you don’t need a hard sell to push a fig leaf on people who don’t know how to live without one.

If you don’t know how it is that so many reserves live in poverty, or why the prisons are full of our people, or why there are so many suicides, boil-water advisories, why there are so many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, why any of the dysfunction and failure and tragedy that is the “Indian Problem” in this country exists, look for your answer in the Gerald Stanley verdict.

To find Gerald Stanley guilty, would be to find him responsible for his actions—actions which resulted in the death of Colten Boushie, an Indian. But we don’t do that in this country. White Canada is not to be held responsible for what has happened to Indians.

The school that teaches you to run, also teaches you that you’re the good guys in this story, and that everything that has befallen our Indian race was inevitable, it came on us like a force of nature. Who can blame you for a flood or an ice storm? Who can blame you for tainted water, or blame Gerald Stanley for just doing what any of you would do in the same situation? The jury decided that blame, as always, belonged to the Indian, for trespassing on this farm and putting himself in harm’s way. The best of you will shake your head and pity him, the poor animal, for not knowing better—but what can you do?

I feared that the jury would come down with a manslaughter conviction instead of the murder conviction that was due. No part of me thought they would let him go and believe this story. I honestly thought it was hyperbole to think that Stanley could get away with what he did, because as bad as some people say it all is, people claim to have good intentions, and things are better, aren’t they?

But they’re not. That’s what the verdict shows. That’s why she’s running.

The Walrus: Why Is Senator Lynn Beyak Publishing Racist Letters on Her Website?


Conservative senator Lynn Beyak has published dozens of letters on her official Canadian Senate website, some of which are overtly racist to First Nations people and express white-supremacist sentiments. Beyak, who made news throughout 2017 for comments about what she saw as the “good” done at Indian Residential Schools and for her call for First Nations people to “give up their status cards and become Canadian,” published letters from supporters on her website between June and August 2017 and added more letters in October.

While there has been significant news coverage of Beyak’s statements about First Nations people, the letters she published on her Senate website have gone unnoticed. In preparing this article, I reached out to Senator Beyak and the Conservative Party leadership in the Senate for comment. They did not reply, but over the past day, letters have begun to disappear from her website.

Among the letters that were deleted was one dated March 10, 2017, and titled “Respect for You,” by a writer listed only by their first name, Paul, that stands out for its overt racism:

If you took a bunch of Amish farmers from Southern Ontario and banished them to a reserve in Northern Ontario, within a year they would have built all of their members a new home, a new church and barns for every homestead. Within a year they would have dug wells and built a water treatment plant even if it was a simple sand, gravel and charcoal facility. Within 2 years they would be exporting lumber and furniture to Southern Ontario. At the same time the aboriginals relocated to Amish country near Kitchener would have burned down the house and left the fields to gully and rot.

Continue reading

The Walrus: The Deadly Racism of Thunder Bay

Screenshot-2018-3-25 The Deadly Racism of Thunder Bay

If things had gone differently this summer, you might be reading an article by Marlan Chookomolin right now. The twenty-five-year-old First Nations man from Thunder Bay, Ontario was due to begin his studies in communications at the local Confederation College in September. Ron Chookomolin, Marlan’s father, describes his son’s ambitions: “he will go into journalism,” he says, still using the simple future tense before he corrects himself. “He was excited. Marlan believed he was the only person who could communicate with Indigenous people under the bridges and in the bushes, because he knew how to talk to them.”

Instead, on June 25, Marlan Chookomolin was discovered badly beaten on a trail in the north end of Thunder Bay. According to Ron, there was bruising around his son’s neck and evidence of blunt force trauma to the back of his head. His organs failing, Marlan was put on life support by the hospital to allow his mother to fly in to see him. Desperate for his son not to be forgotten, Ron invited the media into the room. They took a photo of Ron beside the deathbed, with Marlan connected to machines, unrecognizable. Marlan died the next day, surrounded by family. The scene brings to mind a photo from 1955 in which the parents of Emmett Till—a fourteen-year-old black boy lynched after a white woman in Mississippi said he whistled at her—pose over his mutilated body. The photo shook America and made it impossible to deny the humanity of the lynching victims. “Let people see what I’ve seen,” explained Mamie Till Mobley, referring to her decision to have an open-casket funeral for her son.

Continue reading

Unpublished: A Tale of Two Tipis

Two tipis, about a kilometer apart, marked Canada Day in Ottawa. One tipi represents the relationship white Canadians want and expect with First Nations. The other tipi represents First Nations as we really are.

The first tipi, which we’ll call the “teepee,” as it is most often spelled by non-Natives, is located in Major’s Hill Park, next to parliament, this teepee was run by Chad, a First Nations man, dressed in traditional Algonquin clothing, and stationed at a small canoe with a variety of local crafts around him. Chad was soft-spoken, unfailing polite even in the face of offensive questions, and presented his culture well and with patience.

A few hundred metres away was the other tipi — the one you may have seen in the news. We’ll call this one the “tipi,” as it is most often spelled by First Nations people.

The tipi was erected on Parliament Hill itself by a group of Anishinaabe activists, along with non-Native student supporters. They did so in order to ensure that the original residents of the Ottawa area – the people for whom the city was named – wouldn’t be overlooked and forgotten during the celebrations of Canada 150.

The people in the tipi spoke loudly, were polite where possible, and in their words, they were “sh*t disturbers” when required. In the face of offensive questions, the tipi people didn’t turn the other cheek, but instead shouted: “stop”.

Unlike Chad’s teepee – which as far as I can tell didn’t generate one news story in the last ten years – their tipi protest was widely reported, with much of the attention focused on the press conference they held on the eve of Canada’s 150th birthday.

The press conference was led by Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, from Attawapiskat First Nation and culminated in this series of questions from CBC reporter Julie Van Dusen: “Most Canadians feel that Justin Trudeau is making an effort, I gather that you don’t feel what he’s doing is worthwhile?”. A representative of the protestors replied to mention the current crisis of Native deaths in Thunder Bay. Van Dusen shot back with: “How can [Trudeau] be blamed for that? You don’t think anything he’s doing is helping the situation, is it, is he an improvement over Stephen Harper,  what – talk about his record –”

Wabano-Iahtail responded to Van Dusen firmly saying:“Excuse me? did I just hear you correctly? How can he be blamed for that? Excuse me, don’t speak to us that way. Step out. I don’t want to hear from you.”

Glen McGregor of Global TV followed Van Dusen and re-asked her question. Which ultimately led to this: “You know what, white people? You’ve had your voice here for 524 years. 524 years we’ve been invisible, white lady! Invisible for 524 years. Look how fast your white man comes and steps up for you. Where is everyone else to come and step up for us?”

The media quickly spun the disagreement as a racist attack on Julie Van Dusen. Writing in iPolitics, Martin Patriquin wrote: “What Wabano-Iahtail said was both racist and sexist — and I don’t use either term lightly.”

This view was echoed by Alt Right Media figures like Milo Yiannopolous, as well as in the pages of the National Post, and on nightly news broadcasts on Global, and CBC. The conclusion was also heard strongly on social media, where media figures such as Warren Kinsella chimed in with “This “white lady” & “white man” crap is just as deplorable, and arguably as racist, as what they came to protest.”

The controversy reached a peak of condescension with an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, in which David Reevely commented:

“That news conference didn’t go smoothly, erupting into a confrontation between one of the speakers and the CBC’s Julie Van Dusen, who asked a very ordinary Parliament-Hill-type question about comparing Justin Trudeau’s record on indigenous issues to Stephen Harper’s and got yelled at to leave. Apparently the question added to 524 years of “holistic genocide.” Indigenous people have been bearing with us for a good long time already, it’s true, but explaining what’s wrong with an apparently straightforward question asked in good faith seems like it would get us farther than trying to evict the person who asked it. Don’t assume malice if correctable ignorance would do just as well.”

The media personalities so quick to defend the integrity and professionalism of Julie Van Dusen confirm one thing about her above all – that she has spent her life in political Ottawa. If that life in Ottawa testifies to her professionalism, it also testifies to the extraordinary feats of ignorance displayed by Van Dusen in not having learned the difference between a group like that led by Wabano-Iahtail and a “very ordinary Parliament-Hill-type” group.

Van Dusen appeared to be expecting someone like Chad and his good natured teepee banter. Her shock and the media’s outrage appears to stem from the fact that instead they got Wabano-Iahtail and the urgency and authenticity of the tipi group. Chad would undoubtedly have answered Van Dusen’s question in the way that Reevely proposed, and without any uncomfortable comments about genocide.

Wabano Iahtail on the other hand told Van Dusen to stop. But stop what? Look at the question she was asked before she exploded: “How can [Trudeau] be blamed for that [the crisis in Thunder Bay]? You don’t think anything he’s doing is helping the situation, is it, is he an improvement over Stephen Harper?”

Had Van Dusen or any of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery understood the difference between the teepee and the tipi, they would have known to take a minute to learn more about who they were talking to – not just what they wanted, but why they were there. They would have known to treat the people they were speaking to as people, not as ‘spokesthings’ they can batter answers out of like a half empty ketchup bottle.

I visited Wabano-Iahtail at the Tipi on Canada, and asked her about the press conference – here’s how she described herself on that day:

I’ve got bruises on my body because they [the police] tackled me, and thank God because my colonial settler friends who are my allies, it was my Caucasian friends I need to say that, I’ve got friends from all walks of life and races […] they shielded me, I was getting pulled one way and pulled the other, and they were literally shielding me with their own bodies, you know


If you’re going to throw terms like ‘you’re being racist’ because you call out a person for rolling their eyes for a whole half hour, like the rest of Canada didn’t get to see that right, but those of us that were in the front, that’s what we were contending with. They were damn lucky that we lasted as long as we did. But the grandmother had enough, and then when the grandmother said something, they kept doing that – you know (sighs) – we’re talking about our children dying.

You know, Marlan Chookomolin that was killed in Thunder Bay they had to remove him off life support just two days before our press conference, that was my cousin’s son.

He was on a bike at 12.30 in the afternoon and then they found him behind a hotel at night. And then the doctor said it was too late to save his brain.

Wabano-Iahtail buried a daughter. Each day she cares for her son, a young man, who suffered brain damage while in state care, and here just two days before the press conference another young relative dead in Thunder Bay – in what the family believes is a murder.

Thunder Bay looms large in the Indigenous imagination. Indigenous media has been focusing on the city as a hotbed of racism and dysfunction for years.

To First Nations people, the mainstream media’s indifference to the crisis in Thunder Bay – their failure even to recognize it as a crisis – is a sore point. Van Dusen took that indifference one step further, by speaking directly to a family member of one of the many First Nations dead from Thunder Bay, and suggesting that things have been getting better under Trudeau.

Under Trudeau the police chief in Thunder Bay has been arrested, the mayor has been arrested. The city’s police force is under investigation by the provincial government. Barbara Kentner, a First Nations woman was murdered by a white man who shouted “I got one” from his truck as he shattered her internal organs with a trailer hitch. The dysfunction is so severe that a month after Marlan Chookomolin’s death, the police have not only not declared the death a homicide, but they’ve stopped communicating with the family entirely.

Julie Van Dusen appeared on CBC Radio’s “All In a Day” political panel to discuss the tipi. During the interview she proposed two possibilities for the tipi on Canada Day: “Who knows how this is going to end – will it be peaceful on Canada Day? Will it be as they’re saying it is, an educational tool?”


Van Dusen went on to describe something like Chad’s teepee, where people can come and ask offensive questions and be greeted with a smile and information. But Chad’s teepee hasn’t got any messages out, and it’s not about that – it’s about silencing us, and putting us in our place. Wabano-Iahtail and the protestors at the tipi understood what white Canada wanted and rejected it, saying: “you didn’t hear us when we were kind, when we were compassionate, we’ve been giving and giving and giving, we’ve been giving so much, that you don’t even see us, you just want more and more”

There was no violence at the tipi on Canada Day, nor was there any hint of it outside of Julie Van Dusen’s imagination. But there were also very few questions. At Chad’s teepee there was a steady and long queue to talk to him. In the two hours I spent at the tipi, in the midst of a crowd of 25,000, I didn’t see a single non-Native speak to the protesters.

When non-Natives set the stage and the rules for the encounter, like at Chad’s teepee the answers won’t be too challenging. At the protest tipi though, where First Nations people control the encounter, the answers are harder and more pointed.

Chad’s teepee is a comfortable fantasy for non-Natives. It gives the illusion of Reconciliation with the Indigenous fact in Canada, like reading a Joseph Boyden book, or buying a dream catcher. It’s an Indigenous experience made by and for non-Natives. But authentic indigeneity is more challenging.

First Nations Canada, as it really is, can be found in the tipi whose people Van Dusen and her defenders didn’t try to learn about. Our Canada is made up of ideas, and accusations, and aspirations clearly and powerfully expressed by the people the 25,000 Canada day revelers didn’t speak to.

Fortunately, and unlike Chad’s teepee, you don’t need to wait in line to hear what the people in the tipi have to say because they’ll bring their message to you. On Parliament Hill, in the heart of our cities, and in your homes. The people in the tipi don’t ask permission to express who they are in their own country, and they no longer care if you think they should act more like Chad – in their words: “I know what my truth is and I don’t care what you think of me at this point”