Opinion

Last week, former Pennsylvania Republican senator and current CNN political commentator Rick Santorum told an audience of young conservative Americans that “there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

Last week, former Pennsylvania Republican senator and current CNN political commentator Rick Santorum told an audience of young conservative Americans that "there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture."

Speaking of the "birth" of America by immigrants, Santorum said: "We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn't much Native American culture in American culture."

There is so much factually wrong, racist and lacking in this statement one doesn’t know where to begin.

The United States is built on Indigenous lands and resources, a fact even the Supreme Court acknowledges.

The American economy is built off Indigenous-cultivated products such as chocolate, corn, cotton, rubber, tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco.

Former Pennsylvania Republican senator and current CNN political commentator Rick Santorum.

RICHARD W. RODRIGUEZ / FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM FILES

Former Pennsylvania Republican senator and current CNN political commentator Rick Santorum.

States, towns, highways and parks have Indigenous names. American cities are built on former Indigenous settlements. And so on.

The best criticism from these parts surrounding Santorum’s comments came in a tweet from former Manitoba Treaty Relations Commissioner Jamie Wilson, who reminded everyone that the United States is "a country that based their constitution on the Iroquois Confederacy Great Law of Peace."

So, no, Mr. Santorum, the United States was not a "blank slate" with "nothing here."

Without Indigenous peoples there is no American land, economy or identity.

In fact, virtually everything "American" is Indigenous at its core, like a branch off a tree — even if elected officials don’t read, check "facts" or even understand the spaces they govern.

Which brings me to this place.

Tories called out for naming areas after men

Click to Expand
A portion of the Little Saskatchewan River will be named after Roy Greer. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun files)						</p>
A portion of the Little Saskatchewan River will be named after Roy Greer. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun files)

Posted: 5:27 PM Apr. 27, 2021

The Manitoba NDP has questioned a government decision to name or rename eight provincial wildlife management areas after men.

To call the decision an "oversight" in 2021 would be kind, New Democrat MLA Nahanni Fontaine said..

Read Full Story

On Monday, the province announced it will be naming eight wildlife management areas after "prominent Manitobans who have been instrumental to enhancing Manitoba's wildlife resources." Funds for this renaming will come from $225,000 of taxpayers' money in Budget 2021.

It was Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen who made the announcement, but if there is anything we know about the provincial government, it’s a one-man show that begins and ends with Premier Brian Pallister.

So, with little surprise, the list of eight Manitobans being honoured is made up of Conservative-supporting rural outdoorsmen and bureaucrats from Pallister’s political base.

They’re people such as former Filmon cabinet minister Don Orchard, farmer Roy Greer and former deputy minister for Northern and Native Affairs, Energy and Mines and Rural Development David Tomasson.

Virtually everything “American” is Indigenous at its core, like a branch off a tree — even if elected officials don’t read, check “facts” or even understand the spaces they govern.

Governments honouring their buddies and supporters isn’t new, of course, but while these individuals have done interesting things to support conservation, the selections raise a few questions.

Orchard banned medicare coverage for abortions while he served as health minister. And the numerous allegations of sexism and bullying against him uncovered in a 2018 Free Press investigation should raise at least an eyebrow, for example.

The biggest question of all though, is how a government representing a province where women are the majority, 15 per cent of the population is made up of minorities and more than 20 per cent are Indigenous peoples can do anything that honours Caucasian men exclusively.

Reading this list of conservationists, one gets the impression white men did it all. Isn’t this renaming initiative about who honours the land? And, if so, how can you exclude Indigenous peoples?

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, left, and Blaine Pedersen.

JOHN WOODS / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, left, and Blaine Pedersen.

Indigenous peoples literally taught settlers how to live here. Indigenous contributions are the basis for absolutely everything Manitoba is. The very names Manitoba and Winnipeg refer to the teachings found in the land and water of this place and how we must protect them.

If we’re being precise, treaty and Indigenous rights are the only things that actually conserve the lands and waters of Manitoba, not some white men volunteering on a board or sitting in an office.

Section 35 of the Constitution forces Canada to consult with Indigenous communities to obtain "free, prior, and informed consent" before land and resource projects take place.

If environmental laws get in the way of governments, they just cancel them — but you can’t cancel treaty and Indigenous rights.

Also, when was the last time you saw a climate march, land-protection demonstration or pollution petition involving just white men? In fact, the last 50 or so marches I have attended in this province have had the participation of far more Indigenous peoples than their provincial population percentage.

If we’re being precise, treaty and Indigenous rights are the only things that actually conserve the lands and waters of Manitoba, not some white men volunteering on a board or sitting in an office.

Still, the Manitoba government — claiming to represent the highest proportional Indigenous population in North America, a place built off Indigenous lands and resources, and where Indigenous peoples are at the front lines of fighting for the land and water — can "honour" conservationists and rename places without using one Indigenous name.

At least the Pallister government and Rick Santorum can agree on one point: "We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here."

The problem is they’re wrong, and the rest of us have to deal with the erasures they make and the facts they refuse to see.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

   Read full biography