This slogan has stirred up a lot of controversy and one of the creators of this slogan, Jeff Menard, has been featured in the news several times because of the reactions it has received from mainstream society. But first, little background on what happened.
In mid-January 2014, 13-year-old Tenelle Starr, a First Nations student in Saskatchewan, was told not to wear the “Got Land? Thank An Indian” hoodie to school after some parents, students and school officials took offense.
Starr, a member of the nearby Star Blanket First Nation, goes to school in Balcarres about 90 kilometers northeast of Regina. “ I wear it proudly around the school,” she told CBC News, even though some students told her the message was “cheeky” and “rude."
The controversy was eventually resolved through meetings between the school and Star Blanket First Nations’ leaders, leading to greater understanding and acceptance about Star’s sweatshirt, and its message. I still find the whole situation infuriating on so many levels.
The first issue is the right to have the fundamental freedom to express oneself. According to Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there fundamental freedoms we Canadian citizens are allowed, including: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of peaceful assembly, and lastly, freedom of association.
I believe that all Canadian citizens should have freedom of expression in a manner that is conducive to invoking discussion and proactive action. I don’t condone harmful words, but that’s another story. The key question I have is why was mainstream society so troubled by a 13-year-old girl wearing a hoodie? The slogan on her hoodie is not the only slogan on other merchandise that can be seen as “cheeky.” Just conjure up the infamous image of Geronimo on the T-shirts labeled “ Homeland Security, Fighting Terrorism since 1492.” No one has been getting up in arms over that slogan.
I find it most disturbing that the fiasco was created by the actions of Vancouver-based Michelle Tittler, 59, who runs End Race Based Laws (ERBL) that was created a year ago in reaction to the Idle No More Movement. Tittler had the nerve to go on a 13-year-old girl’s Facebook page and leave such harassing posts that the girl’s parents felt the need to shut down her account in order to protect her.
According to CBC, Tittler is known for aggressive online trolling, and for posting inflammatory comments about Aboriginal issues and people that led to at least two police probes.
An ongoing investigation of this woman found that Tittler has a history of harassing people. “In 2006, a criminal court judge in B.C. granted a peace bond against Tittler after a neighbor complained of harassment,” according to the CBC. Yet this hasn’t deterred Tittler from harassing people through BRBL, a not-for-profit organization.
ERBL’s Facebook page has 3,330 likes and Tittler told the CBC that “she is unemployed and spends most of her time online denouncing Aboriginal treaties, posting rants on YouTube, and engaging in caustic debates with vocal critics.”
She also has registered several domain names containing the words “Idle No More” to intercept web traffic from the group’s actual site, and has filed formal complaints against people on Facebook and other sites alleging they are promoting racism.
Well, I took a brief look at her page, and I found it quite disturbing that her most recent post says, “Treaties ALL broken by the natives.....all. Canada has more than fulfilled the Treaties by billions and billions EACH AND EVERY YEAR, it's the natives who haven't, so IT'S A LIE when they say Canada has not fulfilled the treaties....a total 100 percent lie. Not even one bit of it is true.”
Without making an effort to know or understand our histories and treaty rights as Indigenous peoples, this woman is promoting racism and hatred—and it needs to be stopped now.
Lastly, I would like to know how Michelle Tittler feels it’s her right to harass a young girl over the Internet. If this person were doing this to my nieces, I would be extremely infuriated and would do what I could to stop her actions! Boycott the ERBL and do not give into this vitriolic hatred being spread by an obviously racist woman.
Tennelle Starr deserves to be applauded as a young person taking a stand about First Nations land and treaty rights. It’s good to see her assert a stance on something as pivotal as First Nations land and treaty rights because when one youth takes a stance, other youth are encouraged to do the same.
Jeff Menard, the creator of this hoodie, said, "I found it unbelievable that this is happening here in Canada because every Canadian should have the right to freedom of speech and be able to express their opinion.”
Menard said he started the “Got Land, Thank An Indian” line in the summer of 2012. “At first I sold it out of my girlfriend’s home, but then as the news of the hoodie started to spread like wildfire, I started selling it online, and out of the city and at the gas station by Roseau River Band Line.”
Menard said, “By creating this hoodie, I wanted to create awareness and bring back pride to the Native communities, and help bands with land treaty rights. I also want to see our Prime Minister Stephen Harper wear this hoodie, because if he wants to deal with Natives, it would be a show of good faith.”
The “Got land? Thank an Indian” slogan goes a lot deeper than just words on a hoodie. It speaks of the many injustices that the First Nations of Canada have faced since European contact. I'm talking about racism, discrimination, land theft, and First Nations peoples being uprooted and placed on lands that are prone to flooding and are unsustainable when it comes to living the way we were traditionally taught.
It speaks of the assimilationist policies put in practice by the Canadian government, and its outright denial to respect our treaties and treat us as the original stewards of the land.
It speaks truth to power.
For more information on Jeff Menards “Got Land, Thank an Indian” line, please click here.
Christine Smith (McFarlane) is a First Nations freelance writer based in Toronto, Ontario Canada. She writes for Anishinabek News, New Tribe Magazine and various other First Nations media outlets. She is a contributing editor with Shameless magazine and a contributor to The Toronto Review of Books. Click here to read her blog.