Canada is baking and burning. Afghanistan is self-destructing. Haiti is in ruins. The game show Jeopardy! has still not found a host. And our beloved prime minister feels this is the time to have an election, halfway into his last mandate!? To some, that’s like wanting to renegotiate your mortgage before it comes to term. It doesn’t make much sense but hey, he’s the boss.
I remember the feeling of excitement, youth and vitality when Justin Trudeau swept into power just six years ago. He was, after all, once a drama teacher. The man knows an entrance. Stephen Harper, the economist who was about as exciting as you would expect an economist to be, made a graceful exit.
Let’s face it, politics is drama. It’s all timing, choreography, dialogue and motivation. Sometimes wardrobe, sometimes good lighting helps. And all the candidates have their hour to strut upon the national stage, as a fellow playwright once said.
Part of Erin O’Toole’s strutting seems to involve the raising of flags lowered in May to honour those lost in the residential school tragedy. Regardless of its colonial past, the man feels Canada is still a country worth looking up to. For many Indigenous people, it’s like deciding whether they should talk to an ex-girlfriend who once — or many times — broke their heart. There’s some bad history there for sure, but there were some laughs.
Each party’s position on topics like foreign policy and climate crisis is very important to comprehend. But it’s been said all politics are local. In the Indigenous community, everything is local. In a community that has one degree of separation, and maybe three on a more national level, politics takes on its own shape and form.
When I was growing up during the Trudeau Pere era, a good chunk of the Indigenous population voted Conservative. This was primarily because it was a Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who defied Canadian political tradition and gave us the vote. Technically, that simple act made us citizens… in our own country. As a result, that created a sense of gratitude for a decade or two. Indigenous people tend to remember things like that.
Today the Indigenous winds blow more towards the Liberals, followed distantly by the NDP and Conservatives. Oddly enough, the Libertarians and Stalinist/Leninist party frequently have had little traction in our communities.
You listen to the mainstream media and it’s full of politicians saying “Canadians want…,” “Canadians need…,” Canadians deserve…” and the list goes on.
But conversations on the Rez, or in particular my Rez, are more or less silent on the election. There’s not much being discussed, as I’ve noticed. We’ve danced this dance before. Many times. In our language, we call this time the Moon of Many Promises. Lots of promises. There will be the traditional dangling of clean water… so close we can almost taste it. Promises of adherence to Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. And, most recently, promises to address the discovery of unmarked graves of residential school children.
That’s the irony. Just prior to the election call, for a brief moment, it looked like Canadians were on their way to reaching a cathartic moment as they were forced to deal with further evidence of the country’s genocidal policy. An oddly appropriate line from The Simpsons came to mind, when Marge found her way onto the internet, and Lisa exclaimed, “Mom, you’re just like Columbus. You’ve discovered something millions of people already knew about.” In this case, maybe not millions, but such a tragedy was no secret to those whose offspring went off to become good white children and didn’t come back.
Again, Indigenous people tend to remember things like that.
Despite the tragedy, there was the beginning of some meaningful conversation developing. Most of the country even was willing to accept a muted Canada Day in respect.
Then the election was called and the discussion suddenly became muted. Residential School Interruptus. However, at a press conference, we did get to see Jagmeet Singh have an emotional moment over the issue, a moment I felt was sincere, though opportune. Trudeau and O’Toole have yet to shed a tear on Indigenous Canada’s behalf. But there’s always tomorrow. There is a box of tissues ready.
Coincidently enough, the “All Children Matter” movement, which spun off as a protest against generations of buried children, has adopted orange as its colour of protest. I have such a T-shirt. For us, orange is the new red. And it should be pointed out, it’s a colour that’s no stranger to the NDP. I hope they don’t accuse us of colour appropriation.
So where does that leave us as the party signs start going up on lawns, lawns where historically Indigenous people would put up political signs for thousands of years until the buffalo migrations would trample them under? Business as usual. The cool thing is Indigenous people are being recognized as a sizable and important voting block. In some ridings, they may even control the balancing vote.
And for whoever loses, there’s always that job opening on Jeopardy!.
Drew Hayden Taylor is an Anishnawbe writer from the Curve Lake First Nation. You can catch him on the documentary series ‘Going Native’ airing on APTN. His new book, ‘Me Tomorrow,’ will be released in October.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.