The First Nations

I just finished a quick, high-cholesterol early morning breakfast at McDonalds in downtown Vancouver ready to throw my plasticware into the trash can when a haggard, unkempt North American native male in his late thirties abruptly interrupted me and said – sir, can I have your coffee? I was stunned, shocked that someone has the guts to ask for the quarter-filled plastic cup I’ve been sipping coffee from for about half an hour while reading the daily paper. He must been observing me I guess, absolutely certain that what was in the cup was only coffee and nothing else. I retorted – how about I buy you one, pal? I grabbed a toonie(2 dollar coin)and bought him a medium. He almost blushed and thanked me for the generosity, as if the coffee was the potion he had been waiting for so his lungs can start breathing again. When I exited the door, a middle-aged woman, dressed in a spring overcoat hurriedly met me at the door and expressed her thanks. She might have been one of them homeless folks once upon a time but had managed to get over the hump. My heart bled. To beg for loose coins is lowly but to ask for left-over coffee is downright deprecating, a true sign of hopelessness. Such is the predicament of many native North American Indians today . Once glorious and strong in their dominion in the great white north, today a displaced people, unable to cope up with the challenges and trappings of the modern world. They now belong to what is called the First Nations, an association of Indian tribes with a population in a steady decline over the last two decades.

When me and my fishing buddies trek up northern Ontario, an hour before reaching our destination, we see along the highway the sign board “ You are entering Mohawk Country”. One gets a feeling that whatever symbols of western amenities we see as we head on, the English sounding names of towns we come across, we are technically in Indian territory . After reaching town and negotiating many turns of rural roads leading to the interior we have to cross a single lane wooden bridge to fish inside the reserve. The bridge is watched by a single sentry who coyly demands the entry fee of 6 bucks per person. The native gentleman calls us brother, very friendly and a permanent fixture in the bridge, as we see him every time we cross on weekends. The man looks like one of us, brown complexioned and dark-haired. A typical crossing routine would be a few minutes of casual , light-hearted conversation about directions to the best fishing spots, the bait to use, the weather.

I have always wondered at these people, their simplicity love of nature that for centuries of white domination of their land, they always clung to their ancestral way of life . They prefer to live where their ancestors once roamed as if their spirits are still around them. Hunting and fishing is almost sacred, something that the gods are providing them on a daily basis. Some of those that left for the big cities end up confused, unsure of their identity and place in society and end up homeless or addicted to drugs. This dilemma has gripped the First Nations with such severity that a generation is being threatened compelling the government to draft and fund emergency measures to alleviate the situation.

When I was a little boy I remember my fondness of western movies, my adulation of the cowboys, the good guys and my hatred for the savage and wild Indians often portrayed as bandits and plunderers. Little did I know that the reverse is true, that the Indians, a proud and brave people were fighting gallantly to defend their land, their homeland, from the invasion of the white people. The Indian struggle may have been immortalized by Kevin Costner’s Academy award winning movie Dances With Wolves. Upon accepting his award Costner said “ When I was a little boy, I always played the Indian”. Whether Costner’s statement was publicity crap or truth or is immaterial. The movie he made was in a nutshell a depiction of historical truth.

We Filipinos bitch and moan about the mess that Spain left us after 400 years of repressive colonial rule. We blame Spain for the years of exploitation and the subjugation that left us purportedly paralyzed, unable to muster the resolve and discipline to bring our country to the level of prosperity we desired for so long. The irony is Spain left for good and we have a sovereign nation, free to carve out our destiny as a people. In the native Indian’s case, the white colonizers stayed on permanently, grabbed all of their land and turned it into a country much different than theirs. We have a country – they have reserves which are nothing but land concessions for them to live and be themselves.

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29 Responses

  1. Are you saying then that the Muslims should be granted their own “reserve” like the Indians? Maybe this is the reason why Muslims in Mindanao are fihting with the government for so long.

  2. The deal with the Indians is a bit complex. Other than the reserves, and those that were land-grabbed, some areas are being leased and some purchased by the Canadian govt.

    Autonomy – Why not? If I remember the RP govt wanted to provide the Mindanao Muslims autonomy except that the Muslims were asking for 13 provinces including Palawan. In many of these provinces, they are minority. It just didn’t make sense so the negotation has stalled even up to now.

  3. Very inspiring read, BW. But I tend to think of it another way. When Europeans colonized America, they took for themselves the Native Americans’ lands, but left their culture intact (more or less). But when the Spanish colonized us (then the Americans, then the Japanese), yes, they “returned” the land to us, but left very, very, drastic effects on our culture.

    The mess we are in now? It’s not the physical colonization that led us to this predicament but more of the psychological one.

    My 0.02

    Angelo
    http://jangelo.i.ph

  4. Tks JAngelo. Your observation dovetails with the general perception of people. Europeans came to claim their share of the new world – the English, Irish and French predominantly and in the praire region of Canada, the Germans, Ukrainians and Slavs came to settle as well.

    The natives weren’t converted by a single power, like what Spain did to us. However, it is not quite true that the colonizers did nothing to convert the natives. There are documented horror stories of children being separated from families, forced in missionary schools and brainwashed for conversion. This wasn’t only prevalent with the native Indians but with the Innuits, a major arctic tribe of the far north as well. There were some conversions but in general the natives were more resilient than us in that they were able to resist and preserve their distinctiveness.

    This goes to show how powerful Spain’s strategy of subjugation through religion was. Or it could be that our pre-Spanish culture was weak that we were easily brainwashed.

  5. The Native American Indians are to the American Anglo-Saxon Colonizers as the Native Aboriginal (Aeta, Agta, Negritos, etc.) Filipino groups are to the Filipino Malays think about it.

    Spain is kinda like just the Javanese and Indian empires of old that our islands had to pay tribute to. Some opposed, some collaborated. In 200 hundred years nobody would feel ill about the Spanish, just as nobody felt animosity towards the sub-continent Indians when the Spanish came. 200 hundred years from now, Filipinos would be more pissed off with the Tagalogs than any other group. They will be the new Spaniards.

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  11. Hello fellow fisherman,

    Did you know that 16% of the U.S. population goes fishing at least 16 days a year?

    Did you also know that over 75% of the nations fishermen do not fish during “prime time”; fish feeding hours?

    Those precious few moments before twilight can be absolutely magical. Even up until 11pm at night, the largest predators of any species feed ravenously.

    Don’t believe me? Check out Daniel Eggertsen’s story, and a picture of a couple of his catches here : “Evening Secrets plus more”

    I want you to do me a favor and try it out so I can see what you think of it, and if it works for you as well as it did for me.

    You will be one of the first to try it out.

    Gone Fishin’,

    Neil

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