“Nelson is operating on the premise that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ He is doing a disservice to his own people as this will not garner any sympathy to the plight of the aboriginal people.”
— Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Iranian-born activist and wife of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, in a recent interview with the National Post
Former Roseau River First Nation chief Terrance Nelson continues to make national headlines for his trip to Iran.
On Monday, the Winnipeg Sun reported that the former chief took to Iran’s state-run television network to complain of Canada’s continued attempts to “exterminate” his people.
Only a few days earlier, Nelson had sent a letter to the National Post in which he blamed the “Jewish media” for dehumanizing and demonizing the people in Iraq and Iran, much in the same way that news media — like the National Post, he said — have published articles “filled with hate against indigenous people.”
And earlier this month, he also gave an interview to the Post in which he acknowledged Iran’s brutal human rights record, but suggested that Canada was guilty of similar abuses against First Nations.
He is, of course, correct in that respect. Many First Nations people continue to live in conditions that much of the rest of us would never want, especially in northern parts of the country and a great number of reserves in Canada also have high rates of unemployment and suicide.
These are simple facts, backed up by numerous studies and statistics. And don’t get us started on the residential school debacle, which affected thousands of people across this country and caused many of the social ills that continue to plague Canada’s aboriginal people.
There are, of course, a few silver linings to the lingering dark clouds on Manitoba reserves.
The Sioux Valley Dakota Nation has taken the first promising steps toward self-government and a new future for its people.
Birdtail Dakota First Nation is pursuing the construction of a railway spur on its territory, and efforts are also underway to drill for oil on the reserve.
And just last year, Roseau River First Nation — Nelson’s home community — won a lengthy court battle against the Canadian government, and received $80 million in compensation for the 1903 loss of 60 per cent of its land, when the reserve was forced to open up 7,700 acres of land to farmers and settlers.
But the point here is that First Nations people are no strangers to suffering. They know it all too well, and there continues to be an unhealthy divide among reserve communities and the rest of Canada. As it stands, First Nations and our federal and provincial governments disagree as to how to move beyond our mutual past and fix some of these festering problems, but that is not a good reason to stop trying to improve that relationship.
Nazanin Afshin-Jam is quite correct when she says that a leader from a community of people who have suffered through poverty and neglect should understand the suffering of Iranian people under the repression of the current Iranian regime.
“Freedom-loving Iranians would hope that the First Nations people would stand in solidarity with them,” Afshin-Jam told the Post.
We’ve said it before on this page — men like Terrance Nelson cannot claim injustice for his own people while condoning it for another. This is just common sense.
By allying himself with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime, which has an oppressive government that has used deadly force against its own people, he has condoned that injustice. Knowingly, or unknowingly, Nelson is being used by Iran to further Ahmadinejad’s interests, under the notion that this will raise his public profile. It has certainly done that, but not in a positive light.
Unfortunately, enough Canadians could think that Nelson speaks for all First Nations people in this country, that aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations stand to be further damaged.
As an educated man, he should know better. As a human being, he should be ashamed of himself.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 16, 2012