COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — July 27, 2012

Jessica Iron Joseph
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Where do I begin with Justin Bieber? I’ve never really cared about his music either way, in fact I’m pretty open-minded. However, his recent comment in Rolling Stone magazine left me shaking my head. I went on a mad search for this article, but it’s in an August issue, so I couldn’t find it anywhere on the shelves yet. I did find it online though as it has been generating a lot of internet buzz lately.

Here’s what Bieber said, in reference to the Chicago Blackhawks cap he was wearing during the interview: “I’m actually part Indian. I think Inuit or something? I’m enough per cent that in Canada I can get free gas.”

There are many things wrong with his statement, and before any “Beliebers” out there become brain-washed by his profound ignorance, allow me to set the record straight. What Bieber deems “free” is actually a tax exemption. Further more, Inuit people are not tax exempt from gas purchases because they do not have status cards. Métis people don’t have status cards either, as a matter of fact. Some “Indians,” as defined by specific criteria in the Indian Act, have status and are exempt from paying taxes on reserve, but not all Indians.

Why do Indians have a tax exemption anyway? The tax exemption has existed since before Confederation, as a way to honour and preserve the special relationships between First Nations people and their reserve lands, and to prevent the erosion of this relationship by way of taxation. Taxation and Indians is always a hot topic, so there are often myths floating around that people incorrectly accept as truths. There are many different topics on taxation, such as property, income tax, sales tax, etc. I can’t cover it all right now, but for the purposes of this column, I’ll focus on Bieber’s ignorant comment.

If you are a status Indian, as defined by the Indian Act, you will have a status card. This status card enables you to make purchases on a reserve without paying the tax (GST and PST). Certain things sold on reserves are taxable, according to the government, so for instance if you are a white person and you buy gas or tobacco on a reserve, you will be taxed on those purchases. A status card exempts someone from paying these taxes — on reserve only. If you forget your status card or misplace it, you’ll pay taxes on a reserve just like anybody else.

I have a status card, and I’ve bought gas on reserves and I swear I have never had free gas in my life. If I fill up my tank, my status card eliminates the GST on that gas purchase, which makes my bill a little cheaper, but not much, and none of that gas was free. I still had to pay for every drop poured into my gas tank. So, if you calculate what the tax would be, and deduct it from my final bill, that’s the discount I get. On a regular fill, starting out with a bone-dry tank, I might get a discount of about $3 to $4 — hardly anything to write home about. Honestly, most of the time I skip the lineups and I go to a regular gas station and pay the tax like everyone else, especially those days I’m short on time.

I just wanted to clarify all that because it frustrates me when people (including Justin Bieber!) think Indians get everything for free, and others like me have to go around separating truths from fallacies.

In the meantime, will I ban Justin Bieber from my house, imposing my irritation on my children — who might actually like his music? No, I’m not nearly that dramatic. However, I will sit my kids down and correct any ignorant assumptions they might have formed by his quote. I’ll tell them that it is sad that Bieber doesn’t seem to know his roots, and he should probably study his family lineage better. Then I’ll tell them all about Indians and taxation on gas, as I just did in this column. Finally, I’ll mention that it is downright pathetic that someone who has a net worth of $100 million still believes he deserves free gas.

I will definitely tell them all these things and I suggest you tell the same things to your kids too. Maybe after my excruciatingly long lecture my kids will think it just isn’t worth the trouble to listen to someone’s music if it sets mom off on a tirade. Or maybe they’ll look at someone’s words a little more critically from then on, and question them — which would truly be the best scenario of all and would make their mom incredibly happy.

In fact, if my boys became critical thinkers as a result of Justin Bieber’s ignorant comment, I might even thank him for it.

Organizations: Rolling Stone magazine, Chicago Blackhawks, First Nations

Geographic location: Canada I

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