Funky indie music plays in a funky indie music shop on Queen West. It's the moment of decision.
Thirty-seven dollars' worth of CDs in my hand, a capable-looking young woman at the cash, and no lineup. It's a go. Quick dip into the wallet and out it comes - my Indian status card. No PST for me.
At the sight of my card, the friendly cashier musters a trifling tone and says, "Oh, we don't take those any more."
Um. This is not in the script.
"Pardon? How can you not 'take' them?" There are few perks to being a card-carrying minority in this nation of so many nations. Can this 20-something part-timer really deny me this one?
This question harkens way back to the inherent rights of First Nations - rights that existed long before the Crown or Canadian laws, rights that were recognized in Section 35 of the Constitution Act, passed in 1982.
A century and a half of legal battles with Crown reps later, here I am in a CD store trying to stand my ground.
The tax question is much clearer on reserve land. The personal property of an Indian or an Indian band is exempt from taxation on reserve. Period.
This would be palatable were it not for the Indian Act, Section 2, which gives non-Indians the right to decide which of us are and aren't allowed to have status. It is by the grace of Her Majesty that Indians are acknowledged as a people at all.
Every treaty Indian living on reserve land does so with Her permission. Her Majesty holds title to reserve lands and holds Indian band monies in trust for the common use and benefit of Her wards. In effect, tax exemptions as stipulated in the Indian Act tell us that Her Majesty will not be taxing herself. The right to ownership of reserve land is another issue altogether for this urban Indian. The issues appear as smaller symptoms of a greater problem.
My mind skids back along the long path of scar tissue I carry from earlier attempts to use my PST exemption. There are those innumerable clerks who look at my status card, back up to my pale, freckly face and say, "You don't look like one." True, I bear little resemblance to a cartoon Pocahontas, but by Hollywood standards these clerks don't look like bigots either. To be fair (pun intended), there are rare cashiers who process the sale with ease and grace. Sadly, it's usually at the big stores. They're versed in every function on their computerized systems. Where does that leave those of us who want to support the little guy?
That wish has brought me into this indie music store, face to face with a cashier who knows too little to engage. I'm urged to return when the boss is in.
I take the next hour to fume, and phone one of my favourite Indians. Michaela, a non-status Métis, offers to stage a one-woman blockade for me in the doorway of the shop. Given that I'd rather not have the McGuinty government buy the store and call the dispute resolved, I opt to find some other solution.
I return for a powwow with Boss Man. It seems he agrees in theory that status Indians ought to be exempt from the PST. He thinks it small compensation in light of how much was taken, but has been advised by his auditor that he can only exempt the PST if he can prove delivery of goods to a reserve.
He's clearly got it wrong. He's confusing the rules around the GST with the PST. Clumsily uninformed. Status Indians are exempt from the Ontario PST. It's true, this has rarely been an issue in his store - but it has been an issue throughout my life.
I explain that I am pushing this because I would rather not shop at a franchise or have to advise my status Indian friends not to shop at his store. He calls me down, ridiculing me for making such a protest for the sake of saving a few cents. He says there is more at stake for him. But I'm fighting for the principle, not the cash savings. He has missed the point entirely.
Well, even the well-meaning missionaries inadvertently spread small pox, after all.
I return to the shop a few weeks later to look at the handout he has taken the time to get. It says clearly: "At the time taxable goods or services are purchased, status Indians... may claim an exemption from RST [meaning PST], provided the items will be used on reserve."
The latter point is very slippery. The document does not state that they must be used exclusively on reserve. Does this mean I can save the PST if I play my CD in a car stereo visiting family in Coldwater, but as soon as I drive beyond the borders of band land I must eject it? Or can I continue listening now that the CD has had some on-rez time? Suppose we were talking about panties here?
This is the type of ludicrous scenario that governments seek to avoid debating by neglecting to come to a place of clarity. When NOW phones the local Ministry of Revenue office for info, the woman at the other end clearly says goods do not have to be used on reserve.
Clarification of all tax questions, it appears, has been avoided because exempting status Indians from any form of taxation would be akin to acknowledging that First Nations people are separate, unique nations. An absolute acknowledgement of our autonomy pre-colonization would, of course, necessitate an overhaul of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and swift settlement of a crapload of land claims.
Our brothers and sisters at Caledonia can tell you how likely that is.
Back at the CD store, Boss Man asks me quite plainly to tell him how I want his staff to deal with this issue in the future. We conclude that the simplest way to accommodate our mutual desire to honour the agreements made long ago between his ancestors and mine is to keep the forms handy and have his shop keep thorough records of every sale made to a status shopper.
As a humbling bonus, both of us know a little more about how little we know.
On the eve of the National Day of Action, I feel this is a fitting conclusion. At the end he says the very thing that drives me to continue these kinds of skirmishes: "I just want everyone to be happy." Out of respect for his willingness to slog through this with me, I haven't used his store's name, but I'll tip you off: his is the one you'll see me shopping at.
Tara Beagan is Thompson River Salish of the Coldwater Band on her mom?s side and Irish Canadian of PEI on her dad?s side. email@example.com