“You know what they say. If at first you don’t succeed, try the same thing again. Sometimes the effort is called persistence and is the mark of a strong will. Sometimes it’s called perseveration and is a sign of immaturity. For an individual, one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way and expecting different results. For a government, such behavior is called… policy.”
Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America
I can’t think of a better title or a better quote than the above, which comes from Thomas King‘s 2012 prize-winning book. Probably best known for The Inconvenient Indian and Green Grass, Running Water, Mr. King currently teaches at the University of Guelph and has, over the years, become one of our country’s leading writers about Canada’s Native people.
However, the impetus for choosing today’s Quote of the Day comes not as much from the book as it does from an article that the Toronto Star fronted with on March 4, 2017, “Families divided after Ottawa tells thousands they’re not indigenous.”
Why this article and why now?
Because now it’s personal. For reasons that escape me, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada issued a letter on January 31, 2017 to about 83,000 people claiming Mi’kmaq ancestry (of a grand total amounting to about 101,000 people) saying that they were being denied membership on the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation registry based on a point system that some have called flat-out “idiotic.”
For the record, I have seen this letter myself, and the point system to determine someone’s “genuine” band status is nothing short of a cruel joke. More to the point (legally, that is), Canada’s Indian Act does not have a point system to determine how “Indian” someone is; that, yet again for reasons that allude me, is unique only to the Qalipu of Newfoundland.
So, in May 2018, four of my family/extended family members will have their Native status withdrawn from the official Qalipu registry when it’s made public “once and for all.”
Well, isn’t that convenient.
In one fell swoop, the federal government has done away with 83% of an entire band’s membership (saving Ottawa a ton of money in benefits and related costs), which – I might point out – is the only recognized Native band on the island of Newfoundland.
Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, may not have been in charge in 2008 when this debacle began unfolding, but she is now and doesn’t seem to be in any rush to slow this train down as it approaches Trainwreck Central.
Today, filmmaker Michelle Latimer, a senior programmer at Toronto’s ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival, is in development on a project through the National Film Board tentatively titled The Inconvenient Indian (based on Thomas King’s book). Plus, one of my old classmates, Jesse Wente (@jessewente), Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox and columnist for “Metro Morning” on CBC Radio One, will be serving as one of the project’s producers. Hopefully it, like the book, will help shed more light on a subject that is still far too often dismissed, ignored or – as is the case with the 83,000 former Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation band members – blatantly shunned.