Last month, a slew of national mainstream newspapers published articles criticizing the CAS decision not to interfere with Makayla Sault using Ongwehowe Onongwatri:yo: instead of chemotherapy. I groaned with repulse every time I read one.
Before you head off to “the Google” and look them up, do yourself a favour and just don’t. I can give you a pretty good synopsis because they all used the same formula. It goes like this. First, quote officials whose entire knowledge base on this case comes from second-hand inaccuracies. Next, make sure to include some asinine statement about how this is “not an Indian issue” paired with a Jehovah’s Witness reference. And finally bring it home by accusing the CAS of “not doing their job” and quote a random doctor repeatedly saying that “the poor child is going to die”. These so called “critical hard looks” at the Makayla Sault story are truly nothing more than ‘Spam’.
We in the indigenous world are so familiar with mainstream media ‘Spam’-flavoured framing on stories dealing with indigenous matters, that for the most part we don’t even take mainstream news seriously anymore. How often are indigenous truths spun out of control from the work of a network journalist? When was the last time network news covered an indigenous story and you walked away going, ‘Wow! What an accurate portrayal of what is going on with my people’?
The fact of the matter is that it’s easy money for the mainstream media to frame stories for the enjoyment of that certain ‘newspaper purchasing’ segment of the Canadian population who get bwoot-lipped and cry injustice when indigenous people get additional consideration because of our indigenous heritage. Remember the phrase, ‘two-tiered justice’? It is absolutely laughable and highly embarrassing for indigenous people to watch these public tantrums go down. When indigenous heritage plays a part in the decision making process of officials regarding indigenous people, and when non-indigenous people get all salty about it – it only serves to reveal the shame they bear regarding their own Canadian identity.
I can’t say for sure what drives the attitude problem. My best guess is that it’s jealousy because they feel that everyone should be treated equally irregardless of race. Notwithstanding that the lives they lead today were built upon the sturdy foundation of Canada’s racist legislation and displacement of hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples. Correct me if I’m wrong but, weren’t indigenous people the original inhabitants of this land who were conveniently moved out of the way to make room for the financial security and dominion of white settlers and their descendants? A security and dominion that those settlers descendants receive to this day while indigenous descendants struggle to reconcile generations of abuse and punishment for being ‘Indian’. How’s that for equality?
The bottom line here is that the CAS officials who were consulted in Makayla’s case weren’t wimps, chickens, or half-wits. These were experts with years of understanding both the Missisaugas of the New Credit First Nation and the Child and Family Services Act. These workers are in touch with indigenous healers and have respect for the Onongwatri:yo: process that Makayla is on. This case is unprecedented because for maybe the first time in history, an official Canadian institution like the CAS is saying right from the get-go, “we recognize your medicine, and we acknowledge it as valid.”
It was not the job of the CAS to decide if chemotherapy was better or greater than indigenous medicine. That would be paternalism. It was the job of CAS to see if Makayla Sault was a child in need of protection. In addition to their professional expertise, these social workers had full medical details directly from paediatric oncologists who treated Makayla, they had full contact with the Sault family, and a positive long-term working relationship with the political leadership of the New Credit First Nation. Armed with a full understanding of this case from all involved parties, the CAS determined that Makayla is safe.
What public service do mainstream media think they are providing by bringing in outsider “experts” with partial details in a closed case, to speculate that this child “will die” because of taking indigenous medicine? What credibility can they even lend to the discussion when they don’t have a willing voice from an indigenous healer to respond? It’s embarrassing to watch the mainstream media flounder around like fish out of water, hoping to spark a paternalistic debate with the indigenous community. I for one, and countless others in the indigenous community, are not going to engage in the fruitless work of taking sides on whether indigenous medicine or pharmaceuticals is better for this child in some cheap attempt to raise newspaper sales and get more traffic to a website. I will however use my skills as a writer to hand over a megaphone to those of us stuck in the margin, wherever and whenever possible.
If a patient diagnosed with cancer wants to take chemotherapy then maybe they should, but if they are indigenous and they want Onongwatri:yo: they can also choose that way. It is a birthright to us as indigenous people. It’s not a battle over who is right or wrong, just one of the treatment options in the journey of an indigenous girl living and working to keep her disease in remission. Mainstream media can pay to bring in all the experts they want and spend energy speculating the night away – but the decision is made. Makayla will live her life taking Onongwatri:yo: and the rest lays in the hands of the Creator.