Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Natives getting short shrift in War of 1812 bicentennial planning, groups say

Natives getting short shrift in War of 1812 bicentennial planning, groups say

Posted By: Anthony Jay Henhawk Jr.
To: Members in First Nations & Aboriginal Rights
OTTAWA -- Natives need to play an important role in celebrations marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812, say Parks Canada documents obtained by Canwest News Service, but First Nations groups say that isn't happening yet.

There are myriad references in 166 pages of documents to making sure natives and their "pivotal role" in the war to repel American invaders are properly recognized at historical 1812 sites and in interpretation centres.

"Address weaknesses in aboriginal interpretation at those related sites - involves enhancing relationships with First Nations communities," the documents note under a "strategy" heading.

The documents, obtained under access-to-information law, also say Parks Canada "want(s) to bring about a significant increase in aboriginal interpretation and presentations of national historic sites.

"The role of the First Nations in the War of 1812 is generally not well understood. Canadians in general are not aware of the fact that without the actions of aboriginal allies, Upper Canada and the West would likely have fallen to American arms. A number of historic sites have a very important Aboriginal War of 1812 story to tell."

It also notes that during "the lead-up to the bicentennial, there is an opportunity to work with aboriginal communities to develop better presentations of their history at our sites and on the web pages and in educational material."

But native groups say that is precisely what hasn't happened so far.

"Even if it's overdue, we welcome this,'' said Maurice Switzer, communications director for The Union of Ontario Indians, an advocacy group for 42 member First Nations across Ontario.

"The one thing that's important is that we do be engaged in the process. We don't want a bunch of non-native academics or civil servants deciding on what's the best way to do this. It's our history. Ask us."

Switzer says a perfect example of what is wrong with how the native role in the war has been underplayed is the famous Niagara-area memorial to British officer Sir Isaac Brock, who died resisting an American advance at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812.

"One of the most memorable monuments in Canada is the one of Sir Isaac Brock overlooking Niagara River," he said. The statue is 56 metres high. "I knew there was a little marker somewhere on the park grounds," for the native role in the battle. "I couldn't find one staffer that could identify that location for me. Way down a hillside, all overgrown with moss and weeds, was a little teeny marker that acknowledges 'harassment' by Indians of the enemy. No specific names."

Switzer wonders if the government is reluctant to play up native involvement in helping build the country because it might strengthen land rights claims.

"It just sort of seems to take a long, long time to get around to admitting First Nations peoples (and) Aboriginal Peoples have played a big role in contributing to Canada being the successful country it is," he adds.

"It's quite likely that if it wasn't for the First Nations' support of leaders like Tecumseh . . . the flags that are flying over our public buildings in this country would probably be stars and stripes."

Sherry Huff, a spokeswoman with the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, representing 20,000 people, says there has been some "discussion about how we are going to respond to the commemoration of the War of 1812.

"Our communities have expressed concern that we haven't been included. I don't believe there has been any meaningful consultation at all. You would think we would be at the table now," she added.

The Assembly of First Nations, the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada, has not been contacted by federal government organizers of the 1812 events in the works for 2012.

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee told Canwest News Service that he has heard that Parks Canada will be commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, but "we've been minimally involved. . . . We haven't heard of any details."

Jim Prentice, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, said: "Well, certainly they will be included. I'm not aware of the criticisms that you are referring to. Aboriginal Canadians will definitely be part of those celebrations."

Parks Canada maintains that it is still committed to having natives play a key role in the commemorations.

"Making sure that our First Nations can participate in the bicentennial and are in a position to tell their stories related to the War of 1812 is quite important," said Doug Stewart, director general of national parks at Parks Canada.

"It's important for Canada and it's important for the First Nations to be able to do that."

While the documents show that Parks Canada has been discussing the bicentennial since at least 2008, Stewart said native groups haven't been snubbed so far, it is just that Parks Canada is ramping up its planning now

"There may have been some identification of these things as early as 2008, but it really wasn't until the spring of 2009 that our own activities geared up in any sort of real planning context.

"June 2012 will really be the launch (of the bicennential) - that's when the war actually began - there's a lot of work yet to come with respect to the planning of events and activities."

The documents, thousands of pages of which were withheld for various exemptions allowed by the access-to-information law, also make it clear that Parks Canada sees the bicentennial as a key opportunity to draw attention to its mandate.

"Considerably boost awareness of a number of our national historic sites," and "increase sustainability of our sites through increased revenue," the pages note as some of the perceived benefits to Parks Canada.

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