Treaty Rights

Tax Exemption

Today I went into Shoppers Drug Mart, a place I frequent a lot (because it is close to where I live), and a place that I enjoy going to.

I enjoy going to this Shoppers Drug Mart for only one thing: tax exemption. No, I am not here to brag and wave in your face, screaming, “I got tax exemption na-na-na-nah!” No, because that would be rude. I am not writing this to stick my nose in the air, give you evil looks for not being “tax-exempt.” No, because that would be condescending. Am I writing to talk about the stigma and embarrassment that sometimes comes with presenting my “tax-card” (which is a right to “Status Indians”) to certain cashiers? Maybe.

Working in retail, I know how most cashier systems work and can generally figure out how one works just by looking at it. When it first came into effect on July 1, 2010, there was uproar among First Nations. Roadblocks were put up. Protests arranged. The government later allowed First Nations to continue to be tax-exempt coming September 2010. The first time I asked for tax-exemption at retailer, I was scared. I was nervous. I was worried, would the retailer allow me? Would the retailer say “Sorry, no we don’t do that”? Would the retailer roller her eyes, sigh annoyingly, and pound the keys as if she is doing 20 more steps in the transaction process (but really its a matter of only pressing a few extra keys)?

Staples was my first store. They did it. I looked at my receipt and asked her why HST was still on there. She said, “because we take it off as a discount.” I did the math. It worked out.

Later in the month, I went to Metro grocery store. It was late in the night. Nobody, well barely anyone, was in the store. In fact, I only saw two other people, which just happened to be the cashiers. I asked for tax exemption. The cashier, rolled her eyes, grunted, and said, as if this could have been the most annoying thing to happen to her all week, “I have to call the manager.” I said, “ok.” I waited, for about 10 minutes. The manager came, did the exact gestures and made the same noises as the annoyed cashier. They joked together and laughed at “how stupid this process is getting,” as one of them said. I felt belittled and quite uncomfortable. I thought to myself, “Well, how annoying would it be for a company to have customers feel belittled while at the cashier?”

I have been to Metro on several other occasions after that. I always ask for tax-exemption (well, if it’s a few pennies/cents, I just let it slide). Each time, my experience is the same: uncomfortable. One visit was so bad that two different employees came to help the other one out. The one employee left her till (which had a line, when I knew she didn’t have to leave her line and that the manager had to be called–I knew she wasn’t the manager because of my frequency here) to help out at the till I was at (which by the end of the transaction there was a line, 8 people long). They continued to joke around and say things that made me not feel so great to be Native with “a cool tax-exemption card” (something that is my right).

By the end of the 20-minute transaction (yes it took 20 minutes), at about 2:30pm, the one cashier said, “Sorry, we see so many of these cards that we don’t know how to use them.” I don’t know why she said that but it didn’t help her reasoning for the 20-minute transaction. My reply, “Well, if you see so many of these cards, why is it that you don’t know how to do this type of transaction?” I walked away, upset, shaking, almost wanting to cry. I called my mom instead (she made me feel better and more relaxed). I feel it’s essential to know the time these transactions happened at because grocery stores are usually busy, before work, lunch time, and after work on a business day (which I was there on Wednesday); I was there at a “non-busy” time.

Shoppers Drug Mart. I am amazed at this store. They make presenting my “cool tax card” so simple. In fact, their process for doing tax exemption hasn’t changed since the HST changes. I was relieved, and I would go to Shoppers any day for things I need (even if it’s for some food that I know can be bought at Metro).

The one thing that I did want to say to the cashier tonight was this (after she talked about how “cool” it must be to have one), “It may be cool to be ‘tax-exempt,’ but it’s not cool when I feel uncomfortable and belittled by certain cashiers or businesses who give me a fuss over something that is a right.”

This “tax-card” isn’t just any card. It is a card that tells me who I am. It tells me that I am a Native Canadian, more specifically a “Status Indian.” It tells me that I have another number attached to my name, one beyond SIN. It tells me what my rights are under the Indian Act. It reminds that I am Native. It reminds me that some businesses don’t like “us” because of the transaction process. It reminds me that I will sometimes be annoying by a few extra buttons, a few extra minutes. It reminds me that I will never be treated equally, even if I am just a customer.

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Treaty Rights

A friend on my FB today shared a link relating to a personal diary of a government official, where he recorded personal accounts of treaty negotiations. Click here to read the article.

This article is the essence of what I have been trying to say to people around me relating to First Nations and the Canadian Government and their use of the term “fiduciary.” The part in the article that sticks out to me is, “ The government thinks it has the final say. These treaty diaries suggest otherwise.”

Sometimes when I read an article about the lack of government consultation with First Nations and their resources, sometimes I see the word “fiduciary.” This word is used in a sense that the government has a fiduciary relationship with the First Nations. First Nations leaders sometimes say: “But the government and the First Nations have a fiduciary relationship!”

A fiduciary relationship is one where it involves trust, one with a beneficiary and one with a trustee when looked up in a regular dictionary. However, last year, I did some further research into the term fiduciary and what outlines the power one has over another.

What I found: as a fiduciary, one can make decisions that they see best fit for the non-fiduciary. This meaning (in simplest way possible): if the government thinks it knows what is best for the First Nations, they can and will make that decision without their consent because they have the “power” based on that they think they know what is best and it is in the best interest for the fiduciary (because as a fiduciary they have a legal responsibility over the non-fiduciary). Simply put, and the way I see it, is that the government, as a fiduciary, will make decisions without First Nations’ consent. They will make these decisions because it is the government’s knowledge that they know what is best because they have an “interest” in First Nations. This interest is only for the benefit of the government and the rest of Canada (which sometimes fails to include the interest of First Nations).

This what I think that makes using this term quite difficult for First Nations.

Here are some questions I think of when I see this term and read about Canadian Government/First Nations dealings. Based on the basic dictionary definition: Who, in the relationship between government and First Nations, is the beneficiary and who is the trustee? Do we really trust one another? Also, if one is allowed to make a final decision without input from another because they feel that they are the ones that know what is best: how does one determine who knows what is best for one or the other? The case that this term was defined in will most likely continued to be referenced if and when Canadian Government/First Nations dealings land in court. Meaning, First Nations need to stop using this word in their defence. Hopefully, the discovery of this personal diary will be able to help assist First Nations in situations where Governments fail to consult or receive consent.

Nevertheless, terms like these that are used in the dealings with the Canadian Government and First Nations need to be changed, if First Nations really want to move forward. When First Nation leaders keep using this term and making reference to this term in their own defence, and having legal cases defining what a fiduciary really is, severely limits the First Nations rights and the items they agreed to during creation and signing of treaties.