PHOTO CREDIT TENELLE STARR
The controversial shirt.
What in the world would ever possess a middle-aged woman to openly harass a young teenager to an alarming level of intimidation? I have my theories, and not only are they unflattering, they are downright disturbing.
It was early last year when I had first seen one of those "Got Land? Thank an Indian!" sweatshirts at a local sporting event. Recently, however, this undeniably thought-provoking statement, on a simple article of clothing worn by a 13-year-old girl, seems to be lighting up national news outlets, social media websites and coffee shops across Canada as individuals discuss and debate the merits of a topic infused with multiple layers of political controversy.
What was not expected, however, was the preposterous and inexcusable behaviour by 52-year-old Michele Tittler of Vancouver in response to the publicity surrounding young Tenelle Starr’s creative statement.
When Starr, a member of the Star Blanket First Nation in Saskatchewan, had returned to school after her Christmas break a couple of weeks ago, she opted to wear a bright pink sweater with the words, "Got Land? Thank an Indian!" emblazoned upon it. Unimpressed, school officials initially deemed the message on Starr’s sweater to be offensive and demanded that she change her attire. Although officials eventually relented, enough publicity had been drawn to Starr’s experience to deem it newsworthy.
Discussions and dialogues were sparked from coast to coast involving treaty rights, race relations, the feasibility of the proposed Alberta tar sands project, and the freedom of expression. What was most impressive, however, was not what each individual party believed in most passionately, but the mere fact this little pink sweater had brought so much attention to the proverbial white elephants that seem to continue roaming freely in our country.
How is Tittler, a self-proclaimed political activist, involved with Starr’s sweatshirt incident? Tittler has admitted that it was her own unsolicited and racially inflammatory comments on Starr’s Facebook page that prompted the terrified teen to temporarily deactivate her account.
Tittler has justified her decision to troll a teenager’s Facebook page by insisting that it is a public space.
While Tittler’s family reportedly renounced her disturbingly offensive behaviour, is it quite possible that their own business interests are fuelling Tittler’s campaign against anything and everything that appears remotely associated with First Nations peoples.
Even though Konrad Tittler, Michele’s 81-year-old father, has expressed his deepest regrets at his daughter’s behaviour, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he and at least one of his sons have built their careers within an industry that the majority of First Nations staunch oppose.
Konrad Tittler, Senior and Junior, have both made their livings in the industrial sector, with Diachem Industries and Diacon Technologies, each of which involve the environmental recovery of land, water and lumber after they have been stripped and polluted by various mining methods. One might argue the virtues of their apparent consideration for the environment’s well-being, through their chosen ventures, but they still remain clear beneficiaries from the final product of such a controversial industry.
Now, let us try to approach Ms. Tittler’s motives once again. Should the First Nations people one day prove successful in their opposition to an under-consulted construction of an oil pipeline in the western provinces, then maybe the likes of the Tittler’s family services will no longer be necessary or profitable. The First Nations’ protests of the proposed tar sands’ project could be perceived as a threat to the energy industry’s direct investments and any tertiary service providers within the supply-and-demand chain.
It is quite possible, that Michele Tittler’s outrageous attacks upon an innocent young teenager are rooted more in greed and ignorance than in her alleged concerns for racially balanced justice and the restructuring of Canada’s treaties with First Nations groups.
After all, Tittler is just one of many who stand to benefit in some way through the construction of any sort of pipeline ... and Tenelle Starr is just one of many who is willing and ready to speak up and to stand her ground.
» Trish Cullen-Watt is a Carberry resident who performs freelance research in genealogy, local historical events and First Nations issues. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 1, 2014