Tyendinaga Territory - Canadians are rarely treated to such a sustained outpouring of media attention to Aboriginal issues as they've seen over the past year and a half.
It's uncharacteristic of the press to lavish so much time, in so many areas of programming, on a demographic that until now has been so ignorable, so avoidable, so on the bottom rung for so long.
The obvious questions are why and why now.
Tomorrow's National Day of Action (Friday, June 29) has everything to do with it. In mid-May, the media began to take notice when Chief Terry Nelson of Roseau River First Nation, Manitoba, made this now famous (or infamous) statement in a TV interview: "There are only two ways of dealing with the white man. Either you pick up a gun, or you stand between the white man and his money."
Until then, neither the media nor the government had taken Nelson's National Day of Action very seriously, even though Nelson had managed to get a resolution passed by a majority of chiefs late last year; it was renewed at a special assembly of the Assembly of First Nations last month.
The chiefs were angry that the federal government scuttled the Kelowna Accord, ignored their pleas for more support in this spring's federal budget, refused to move on issues such as contaminated water and substandard housing, waved off an official apology on residential schools - and, of course, there's the ever-frustrating backlog of more than 800 specific land claims.
According to Paul Barnsley, senior writer at Windspeaker, a monthly national newspaper covering Aboriginal issues, the mood at this spring's AFN special assembly was "weird, especially when Terry Nelson sounded downright statesmanlike compared to everyone else."
A couple of weeks before, Shawn Brant and others occupying a gravel quarry near Deseronto, Ontario, had parked an old school bus across rail lines for more than 30 hours.
The chiefs saw how quickly Ottawa could move on an issue when surrounded on all sides by angry Indians, angry passengers and angry corporations throughout eastern Canada.
While Brant's blockade angered many, it also forced the feds to put Tyendinaga's land rights file near the top of the mountain of claims. The national news media, just like the federal government, was dragged back into the story.
Seventeen years ago, months before the botched (or successfully defended) raid by the Sûreté du Québec on Kanehsata:ke Mohawks near Oka, the SQ was increasing its use of force against the community. A Mohawk activist asked reporters what was needed to get the average Canadian to pay attention. The advice was short and to the point: "Get some guns."
This quote usually elicits two immediate reactions: shock, closely followed by disgust. That's natural until you consider the cold, hard truth behind that answer. The fact is, Aboriginal issues consistently and repeatedly fade from public attention until the next terrible situation or confrontation explodes onto the scene.
The public response to this episodic reportage ranges from anger at the injustices perpetrated against Aboriginal peoples to pity at the never-ending despair, frustration at the lack of improvement in living conditions, disgust that people would choose to live like that, impatience that tax dollars are wasted, disdain for anyone with "special rights" and, finally, a belief that the ultimate answer lies in forced assimilation or cultural eradication.
Most people, including many First Nation folks, express one or more of these reactions. Some responses are just excuses for inaction and further abuse. They are reasons to give up and walk away. If asked, reporters often explain they've moved on to other stories because there's never any progress or resolution. It just goes on and on.
The narrative this time is somehow different. The coverage has gone beyond one community or one incident; it has evolved into a pan-Canadian story. As the reportage morphs, it defines the deep fault lines that exist between these internal nations and the myths of one Canada, one law, one culture and one history for all.
These stories, though, are not uncovering separatism - nor separateness. Instead, they are confirming that entire industries are feeding off the misery of native communities and that this is a product of conscious, deliberate decisions by those in power.
Canadians may be forgiven for missing this crucial point, since much of the coverage has become hysterical. Many of the media images conjure up, by subtle or deliberate means, a countdown to domestic terrorism, an easily recognized stereotype playing to prejudices about Indians. What if there's another story going on, though?
What if the Day of Action isn't really about the fears of average Canadians? What if the day is meant to shock Indian political leaders out of their collective coma? Or convey to the average native person that he or she can tell that all-powerful, know-it-all government person to go to hell? What if that's the real meaning behind this Day of Action? That raises another question: would the media have covered that story?
Taiorehonte Dan David, a Mohawk from Kanehsata:ke, Quebec, was a journalist for CBC Radio and TV, TVO, Vision-TV, and a former news director at APTN. He teaches at First Nations Technical Institute at Tyendinaga Territory.