In most conflicts between white folk and aboriginal folk we are usually presented with quite the bit of rhetoric that someone isn’t following the rules. In the recent situation at Ipperwash where Kettle and Stony Point band sent in trucks and workers to remove barriers that had been there for forty years there was an uprising of angry residents with lots of comments to make and some of them even took to erecting their own makeshift barrier.
Both sides refer to deeds, treaties and agreements that the other side is seemingly not adhering to. Both sides feel like their rights are being trampled on, like the other side isn’t hearing their voice and isn’t taking their rights into consideration. The Ipperwash situation is a highly complex issue. This is where Dudley George was murdered if it wasn’t already volatile enough. The basics of it though is that the Canadian government took their land for the war effort, promised to give it back and is still, 70 years later having a really hard time getting around to it and taking care of unfinished business. One of the owners of the properties in question here say that he “has lived here all his life and will fight for his deeded property. His family has owned the home since the 1950s and the deed has gone back to 1898.” Both sides got some serious paperwork! To me this isn’t really a question of who has the legal ‘right’ to uphold a barrier or not. Rights don’t give us any information on what is just or the “right” thing to do despite how much we want the law to uphold our safety and protect our possessions for us. I don’t wish to enter into the debate of who is right or wrong in this specific situation that is arising though but rather some perspective.
In land mass, Canada is approximately 998,470,000 hectares and the total land base of the 2267 reserves is approximately 2.6 million hectares or 0.2 percent of the total land area of Canada. So it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that our attempts to negotiate peaceable co-habitation with other people groups over the past few centuries has landed in our favour in a ridiculously lopsided ratio.
What I am fascinated by is the lack of empathy or understanding coming from the white folks or settlers in this situation. To hear a comment like this: “I informed one (band member) if he wants to claim all Canada as his land he can go for it, but this is my property and he will have to go start somewhere else“ is just disheartening. If you feel like your rights are being trampled on for a situation like a barricade coming down – can you stop for one second and try to imagine what it must feel like to have your land taken from you completely and being displaced and being able to do nothing about it? Can you imagine what it would feel like for your entire family and community to be robbed completely of their livelihood and forced to move because their agreements and rights were being violated all because the government didn’t want to disrupt some farmland nearby? If you are so upset about a barrier coming down – you have to be able to imagine how upset they must be. Right?
I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying that if we had to create a “how unjust and unfair is this” scale – that barrier coming down would roughly sit at 0.2 our of 100 and their situation would sit at 99.8 of 100. Maybe, just maybe we can see where they are coming from a little bit and settle down and have some conversations and ask some questions and learn about someone else and what makes them tick and how they’ve been oppressed and what it has done to them, and what it has done to us. Maybe we can take our small self-proclaimed atrocity and try really hard for it to give us a tool to some empathy for once. We are emotional now, so maybe it can change us a little bit, but let’s let it change us into more compassionate people rather than more hateful and entitled ones.