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#Ottiwapiskat takes on stereotypes

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The stereotypes of First Nations Canadians which flood newspaper website comment sections, Twitter, my email inbox every time I write a story about First Nations, and very likely, dinner conversations across this country, are rampant.

The stereotypes are also ridiculous: all chiefs are crooks living high on the hog while their people suffer, First Nations people are all lazy and would rather live in poverty on welfare than get an education and a job, etc.

While nobody can dispute there are some bad apples among chiefs, there are also some great ones. And there are lots of bad apples among non-aboriginal leaders as well. How many Canadian mayors are facing charges in this country right now, as just one example. Or how many cabinet ministers from various governments have been slapped on the wrist for ridiculous expense claims or hotel stays (yes, I'm looking at you Bev Oda and Peter MacKay.) These stereotypes and comments are not helpful to the conversation and serve only to further the chasm between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

Well, aboriginal artist Aaron Paquette had had enough, and over the weekend started a Twitter hashtag that seems to have caught fire.

He started with a simple tweet Saturday night:

"So much corruption in Ottawa-piskat. We need more transparency and accountability."

Which a few minutes later led to the creation of the hashtag, #ottawapiskat.

"Can we get #Ottawapiskat going? As in, Parliament sure is wasteful in #Ottawapiskat ;) just some good natured satire," Paquette tweeted.

And then a little later he used it again.

"Why does the leader live in a mansion while members of the community are homeless?" he wrote, with the hastags #ottawapiskat and #idlenomore.

And so it began. The hashtag has been trending off and on in Canada over the last day.

The idea, clearly, is to show that the same accusations made against chiefs and band councils can just as easily be made against the federal government. The new hashtag #ottawapiskat is a play on Ottawa and Attawapiskat, the latter being the northern Ontario reserve led by Chief Theresa Spence, who is refusing solid food in a bid to get change from the federal government.

An audit released last week which showed her band couldn't account for more than 80 per cent of financial transactions between 2005 and 2011, caused a furor, with many non-aboriginals seeing it as proof all chiefs are crooks, and many natives seeing red at an attempt by the federal government to smear a chief.

Other tweets recently under the hashtag:

"In Ottawapiskat, chief's friends like @theBrazman get appointed to lifetime job, only need to show up 3 days a year, get 6-figure salary."

"Why does the Leader of the #Ottiwapiskat community get all sorts of free entitlements, many of which his own people don't receive."

"Residents of #Ottiwapiskat sit in cubicles in their band offices all day playing Solitaire. They should get real jobs!"

It likely - make that absolutely - will not stop the torrent of stereotypes. Just look at the comments below which will surely fly shortly after this is posted. But maybe it will be food for thought for a few Canadians.


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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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