Respect is a two-way street, not “my way or the highway”

IndigNation  by Bev Cardinal

I think it’s safe to say that most of us — Indigenous, non-Indigenous, original peoples, settlers, newcomers, visitors — understand the teaching of “respect”, which, according to The Google, is “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others”.

Respect is a common principle in religions, spiritual practices, belief systems, families and civil societies. The word also appears in many corporate mission statements (say what?!).

But while we all say we understand and value respect, the big question we must ask ourselves is: “Am I actually practicing and demonstrating respect?”

As you’ve probably guessed, I think there’s a lot more talk about respect going on than there is actual respect.

A Simple Seven-Letter Word

Why am I being so preachy? Perhaps I’m just fed up with all the widespread disrespect for Indigenous concerns.

For starters, there’s Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s ongoing fight against Coastal GasLink — I’m not seeing a lot of respect for the Wet’suwet’en, who have inspired protests and blockades across Canada. Then there’s the Chippewas of Saugeen Ojibway Nation standing up to Ontario Power Generation, which (not very respectfully) wanted to bury nuclear waste near Lake Huron. In Alberta, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation had to fight for their views to be respected over the (now cancelled) Teck Frontier mine.

Do you remember the stand-off between the Mohawks of Akwesasne, Kanesatake and Kahnawake and the Club de golf d’Oka in 1990, or is that too long ago? Not very respectful building golf courses on sacred ground, is it?

How about the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp on the Legislative grounds a couple of summers ago? They didn’t get much respect from Saskatchewan’s government, despite strong public support. They couldn’t get even one meeting with the premier!

And let’s not forget Kettle and Stony Point First Nation member Dudley George, killed by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper’s bullet, or the Red River Métis resistance, brutally crushed by John A. MacDonald’s government. You can visit a plaque in downtown Regina marking the spot Métis leader Louis Riel was hanged if you want to see an example of Canadian “respect” for Indigenous people.

It’s not just Canada. Indigenous people in Brazil, Bolivia, The United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Columbia and many other places are constantly battling for respect, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

So much conflict, all because mutual respect was not valued, considered or practiced.

The Long View

Canadians are allowed to protest, and yes, that includes us NDNs, Métis and Inuit folks since we’re (finally!) considered citizens. Protest is not illegal. Protest is our democratic civil right.

But between the ever-increasing seepage of conservatism into the social fabric of our hard-fought-for democracy and slimy, going-on 40-year slide deeper and deeper into neoliberalism (Wexit, yellow-vesters, refinery worker lockouts — anyone, anyone?), I predict protest will continue to be around for a long time to come.

And while Conservative leaders like Andrew Scheer have the right to weigh-in and politicize recent disruptions by Indigenous protestors and their supporters, it’s wise to remember that this soon-to-be-forgotten Paw Patrol fan has literally no fucking skin in this game. Resolutions will only come from genuine, respectful, ongoing and authentic dialogue and relationship-building between the parties.

Back To The Future

History has shown that acts of protest and the response they elicit shape our social and moral fabric, one way or another (as in, be careful what you wish for). We’re wise to remember this the next time there’s a round dance on the Albert Street bridge, or a tipi village assembled in Wascana Park, or a convoy of semi trucks driven by yellow vest-wearing drivers disrupting our navigation, or when tantrum-throwing little boys posing as Western Canadian politicians try to frighten us all down a Wexit rabbit hole to distract attention from their failures.

As long as protest is peaceful, non-destructive and non-violent, we are all privileged to have these rights.

To all the parties involved: save yourselves a bit of time and a lot of money, and start showing respect.