BY DOUG CUTHAND, THE STARPHOENIX
This month we witnessed the very simple act of wearing a sweatshirt blow up to become a national news story. The reaction was both embarrassing and disturbing.
Tenelle Starr, a Grade 8 student in Balcarres, had the temerity to wear a sweatshirt with the slogan, "Got Land? Thank an Indian."
Reaction to this innocent bit of youthful exuberance has revealed the depth of racism in Saskatchewan. It's clear that this province has a long way to go to face the reality of the 21st century. Many of the province's people are trapped in the racism of the 19th century, refusing to pull their heads out of the sand and accept the new reality.
We live in a new province where our people are becoming educated, entering the workforce, and establishing businesses in record numbers. Treaty Land Entitlement and land claim settlements have seen our land base more than double in the past couple of decades. Anyone who thinks we will go away or be assimilated is badly mistaken.
The sweatshirt message was merely a statement of the truth. Saskatchewan and Canada are built on Indian land acquired under treaty. It should be an understood fact of life for Canadians.
Sadly, Canada is still in the grip of a social phenomenon known as settler racism. This is a worldwide byproduct of European colonialism where countries of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and others have internal populations of indigenous people who live in poverty and social dysfunction.
The original inhabitants of settler states are pushed aside, and all the changes wrought by the settlers are credited to them. The indigenous people are marginalized, confined, and seen as primitive and unable to govern or take care of themselves. They are openly regarded as having wasted the land and its potential. They play no role in the new state, and often are the objects of fear, scorn and derision.
First Nations people in Canada see the treaties as binding agreements made between nations, but many Canadians consider the treaties as an unconditional surrender. Which brings us back to Tenelle Starr, whose sweatshirt brought on a deluge of racist reaction against the simple notion that Canada is built on Indian land.
Perhaps other shirt slogans should be developed. Why not turn it around with statements such as "Got Smallpox? Thank a European," or "Got tuberculosis? Thank a European." You can see where this is going.
A myth perpetuated by settler racism is that the indigenous peoples had nothing to offer but the land, and that they didn't develop the land to its potential. In reality the European colonists have a lot for which to thank us.
When the Europeans plundered the new world, they got much more than land. In fact, the treasures of the new world transformed Europe and enriched its people both materially and in terms of their health.
The Spanish stole tons of gold from the Aztecs and Incas. Got gold? Thank an Indian.
They sent shipload after shipload of silver from the Andes and Bolivia in particular. The local Indians were enslaved to mine the silver and quite literally worked to death. Got silver?
Thank an Indian.
Indigenous farming in the Americas was equal to or greater than that of Europe. The fields of the Americas revealed a treasure trove of grains, berries and vegetables that included corn, which went on to feed much of the world.
Got corn? Thank an Indian.
In the Andes mountains, the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire and discovered a rich variety of potatoes among other vegetables. They took the potatoes over to Europe and changed their diet. Got potatoes? Thank an Indian.
In fact, to put everything on a sweatshirt, it would take a pretty big one: Got corn, potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, vanilla, beans, pumpkins, cassava root, avocado, peanuts, pecans, cashews, pineapples, blueberries, sunflowers, wild rice, cacao (chocolate), gourds and squash? Thank an Indian.
What about some of our inventions? Got a canoe? Thank an Indian. Got snowshoes? Thank an Indian. Got a kayak? Thank an Inuit. Got a boomerang? Thank an Aborigine. Lacrosse has been declared Canada's national summer sport. It is a game that was played by the Mohawk and other woodland tribes. Got Lacrosse? Thank a Mohawk.
Newton's third law of motion states, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." This also works in a social context.
The infantile reaction to Tenelle Starr's sweatshirt slogan had an equal and opposite reaction in Indian country and around the world. Australian Aboriginal people are now posting on Facebook, "Got land? Thank an Aboriginal," and in New Zealand it is, "Got land? Thank a Maori."
Back in Canada, the sweatshirts are flying off the shelves. It's taken on a life of its own, and you can thank an Indian for that.