Why Play the White Man’s Game?

From taiaiake.posterous.com

Led by the Assembly of First Nations and Aboriginal media types, there are many people calling for First Nations men and women to vote in the upcoming federal election. All sorts of reasons and arguments are being put forward to justify the position that First Nations should, must!, become players in the Canadian electoral system. I think people who advocate this position are wrong, and that anyone who believes that it is in the interest of our people and our nations to vote in Canadian elections is deluded by the effects of their own assimilation into the mainstream. They have forgotten who they are. But rather than adding more words to the debate, I will put this piece forward, an opinion column I originally wrote for the Windspeaker newspaper and which was published in October 1999. I believe the arguments I made then are still true, and trust that it will give heart to those people in all of our nations who are “keeping it real” and refusing to become white-washed imitations of Onkwehonwe, the original peoples of this land.

Where I come from, voting in the white man’s elections is taboo; only four people from Kahnawake voted in the last federal election (and word is that they were non-Indians living on the reserve). The reason for this taboo is clear: as Iroquois people, we do not participate in the white man’s government system because we are Rotinohshonni, not Canadian. But I have noticed a different opinion among our brothers and sisters in some other parts of Turtle Island where voting, supporting political campaigns and even running for federal or provincial offices is accepted as a good thing. I often ask myself why is it that some Indian people participate in federal and provincial elections?

It seems so clear that participating in the white man’s political system goes against the basic idea that we are nations. An Indian giving a vote to a political candidate in a Canadian election is the same thing as giving an “OK” and smiling high five to the whole system that’s been created to control us and take away our rights. If one chooses to validate their rule over us in this way, it becomes hypocritical to claim distinct nationhood as “First Nations,” treaty Indians or Indigenous peoples. One of the strongest arguments we have against the legality of the white man’s Indian Act is that we have never agreed to be subjects of that authority. Our ancestors never signed treaties of surrender, yet by participating in the white man’s politics, we are caving in and surrendering and in effect giving the Canadian government the consent it so desperately needs to justify the situation it has created. By casting a vote or taking part in Canadian elections, what Indians are really saying to Canada is “I hereby agree to be part of your system, and accept the authority of your Constitution and your laws over me.”

Read the rest at taiaiake.posterous.com

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About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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