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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Opinion Piece- Got Land? Thank An Indian!

Image Courtesy of Jeff Menard)

Got Land? Thank An Indian!!

By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)

This slogan has definitely been stirring up a lot of controversy, and the creator of this slogan Jeff Menard has been featured in the news several times because of the reactions it has received from mainstream society. First I’ll give you a little background of what happened.

On January 14, 2014, CBC News reported that 13-year-old Tenelle Starr, a First Nations Saskatchewan student was told not to wear the  “Got Land? Thank An Indian” hoodie to school, after some parents, students and officials took offense to it.

Starr, who is a member of the nearby Star Blanket First Nation goes to school in Balcarres, which is about 90 kilometres northeast of Regina. She told CBC News “ I wear it proudly around the school,” even though some students told her the message was “cheeky” and “rude”. (

Though the controversy has been resolved, and additional meetings that were held between the school and leaders of the Star Blanket First Nations led to the understanding that Star’s sweatshirt, and its message, were acceptable after all, I still find the whole situation to be infuriating on so many levels.

The first issue is the right to have the fundamental freedom to express yourself. According to Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there are the following fundamental freedoms, we as Canadian citizens are allowed:

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 of us as Canadian citizens should have the freedom to express ourselves, in a manner that is conducive to invoking discussion and proactive action. I don’t condone freedom of expression that may be harmful, but that’s another story altogether. The question I have out of this whole situation is why was the wearing of this hoodie by a 13 year old girl seen as so troubling to some members of mainstream society. The slogan on her hoodie is not the only slogan we have seen on other merchandise out there.

And they can be seen as “cheeky” also.  Just conjure up in your mind the infamous image  of Geronimo and the words “ Homeland Security-Fighting Terrorism since 1492.”  People wear these t-shirts and from what I know there has been no one getting up in arms over that slogan.

Another issue that I find disturbing about the whole fiasco of the “Got Land, Thank An Indian” is the actions of Vancouver based Michelle Tittler, 59, who runs "End Race Based Laws."(or ERBL Inc) End Race Based Laws was created a year ago in reaction to the Idle No More Movement. This woman had the nerve to go on a 13 year old girls Facebook page and leave such harassing posts that this young girls parents felt the need to shut their daughter’s Facebook page down in order to protect her.

According to CBC, Tittler has been known for aggressive online trolling, and is also known for posting inflammatory comments about Aboriginal issues and people, which has led to at least two police probes-although this, most recent case has been halted by the RCMP.

CBC has been doing an ongoing examination of this woman and have found that Tittler has a history of harassing people. They say “In 2006, a criminal court judge in B.C. granted a peace bond against Tittler after a neighbor complained of harassment,” but this hasn’t deterred Tittler from what she is doing with her so called not-for-profit organization ERBL Inc., or End Race Based Law Inc.

With ERBL Inc, the facebook page has 3,330 likes and Tittler has stated in an interview with 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 has registered several domain names containing the words “Idle No More” to intercept web traffic from the actual site of the group and has also filed formal complaints against people to Facebook and internet providers alleging that some sites 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% lie. Not even one bit of it is true.” (

And without making an effort to know or understand our histories and/or treaty rights as Indigenous peoples, this woman is promoting racism and hatred and it needs to be stopped now.

Lastly on my opinion regarding Michelle Tittler, I would love to know why she feels its alright to harass a young girl over the internet. If this person was doing something like this to any of my nieces, I would be extremely infuriated and would do what I could to stop her actions!

I say boycott this End Race Based Laws Inc. and do not give into this vitriolic hatred that is being spread by an obviously racist woman. Tennelle Starr deserves to be applauded because as a youth she is taking a stand about First Nations land and treaty rights. It is good to see a youth assert their stance on something as pivotal as First Nations land and treaty rights because when one youth takes a stance, other youth are hopefully encouraged to do the same.

In speaking with Jeff Menard, the creator of this hoodie, I asked him how he felt in regards to the controversy that has been stirred, and he 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.”

On the success of the hoodies with “Got Land, Thank An Indian” and how it got started Menard said “I began the 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 stop by Roseau River Band Line.”

Got land? Thank an Indian 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 have been taught.

It speaks of the assimilationist policies that have been put in practice by the Canadian government, and the outright denial by the Canadian government to respect our treaties and treat us as the original stewards of the land.

There has been several uncalled for reactions by a lot of the mainstream society when it comes to First Nations peoples and their desire to practice their culture, or to state the obvious unrest in relations between Canadian First Nations and the Canadian government.

In closing, Menard says “ By creating this hoodie, I wanted to create awareness and bring back pride to the Native community, 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, he will in a good way adorn the hoodie. It would be a show of good faith.”

For more information on Jeff Menards “Got Land, Thank an Indian” line, please visit

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