Nelson Mandela was a man closely connected with his tribal roots and the concerns of indigenous people around the world. His death last week and the many accolades for his fight for racial equality and indigenous rights struck an awkward chord in Ottawa.
In his politically expected statement on the life of Mandela, Harper called Mandela the “most powerful symbol in the world for the struggle and success against racial discrimination.”
How ironic is that?
Like most Canadians, Prime Minister Stephan Harper probably doesn’t know himself the role Canada played in the establishment of the apartheid regime in South Africa that Mandela’s outstanding life was set against.
“He demonstrated that the only path forward for the nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness,” Harper continued in his official statement. “His forbearance was legendary: his magnanimity spared all South Africans incalculable suffering.”
But if Mandela happened to be of Onhkwehonh:we decent and was not a half a world away, this same man would have landed in jail here and labelled a terrorist.
AFN Grand Chief Shawn Atleo also published words of accolade for Mandala, but with a decidedly different tone, calling him “a crusader for indigenous rights and human rights who believed in reconciliation and the basic dignity and value of every human life.”
Atleo points out that Mandela was part of the family of hereditary chiefs and was known as Maida by the Thembu people in honour of an 18th-century chief and a clear recognition of the connection among all indigenous peoples and the tremendous leadership they have brought to the world.
The Apartheid movement which the world learned to despise through the selfless life of Nelson Mandela and others of his ilk, was patterned after Canada’s treatment of Onhkwehonh:we people, through the Indian Act, which was designed to eradicate the original peoples language, culture, land and mineral rights — and in many cases, their lives.
By 1948, Canada had that system of “manifest destiny” honed down to a fine art.
Shortly after the Second World War, when the world’s attention was focused on healing the wounds left by WWII, the British and right wing Dutch aristocrats joined together to form the African National Party. Soon, they used their usurped authority to strip the black South African majority of their land and their mineral rights when diamonds were discovered in great abundance. Harper’s single-minded determination to open the oil sands bears a striking resemblance.
The white-African version of the Indian Act protecting their power with hard unilateral legislations, including the implementation of internment camps could be easily mistaken for Indian reserves in Canada.
For Harper to offer his praise to a man that would have been arrested along with the people of Elsipogtog, Attawapiskat, Oka, Gustafson Lake, Ipperwash, or even Caledonia, is enough to turn one’s stomach.
Only a person blinded by the shine of money and power would not see the irony.