Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bieber's 'free gas' doesn't exist

Comment highlights need for awareness

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OTTAWA -- A stupid comment by a Canadian pop star to a U.S. magazine has sparked a push for a national discussion to end numerous misconceptions about aboriginal Canadians.

Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone magazine last month because he was "part-Indian" he was entitled to free gas in Canada.

"I'm actually part-Indian. I think Inuit or something," he said in the August issue of Rolling Stone. "I'm enough per cent that in Canada I can get gas for free."

The problem for Bieber is that it's not true aboriginals in Canada get free gas. The problem for aboriginals in Canada is that Bieber has millions of fans -- 26.3 million Twitter followers alone -- and when he says things a lot of people listen.

A lot of aboriginals reacted in anger and wanted Bieber to visit a reserve so he could see for himself what reality is.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples' national chief Betty Ann Lavallée said she didn't get angry when she heard about Bieber's comments, but she does see it as a chance to set the nation straight on a whole group of common misconceptions about aboriginal peoples in Canada.

"He did us a great service," said Lavallée. "He's highlighted an important issue."

Lavallée said one of the most common beliefs about aboriginals is they get a free ride on everything from housing to education to gasoline.

"We don't get a lot of free breaks," she said.

Some bands help students pay for tuition at post-secondary education out of band funding for schooling, but there is seldom enough money for everyone to get all of their tuition covered.

Housing on reserves is not free and rent is charged.

There is no such thing as free gas at all.

Due to treaty agreements, aboriginals also don't pay income tax if they live and work on a reserve, but the 60 per cent of Canada's aboriginal people who live off-reserve are required to pay taxes the same as everybody else.

Lavallée said the Congress is working on setting up a series of roundtables and panel discussions with media, politicians, educators and young people, hoping to shed light on the realities of aboriginal culture and life in Canada.

She said aboriginal history isn't taught very well, if at all, in schools, and generations of Canadians have grown up with huge misconceptions about aboriginals, including some aboriginal youth themselves.

"(Bieber's comments) just sort of drove home something I have witnessed myself... even within my own family," said Lavallée.

"This is a good time to start this discussion."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 A4

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