Saturday, October 30, 2010

Funding for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A Let Down by ALL Parties

This blog is a very difficult one to write. While I will be dealing with a current political issue, it is about more than that. It does not give me any sense of pride or accomplishment to bring to light serious problems within our Indigenous Nations. I consider myself an advocate for Indigenous peoples and Nations in North America. Their struggles for cultural revitalization, strong identities, the healing and empowerment of our peoples, and our collective goal to re-assert our sovereignty are absolutely fundamental to our survival and success as Indigenous Nations. Part of this means recognizing where we are going wrong and having the courage to shift paths.

In this battle that must be waged between our peoples and our colonizers (Canada and the provinces), there can no deal-making, settling, or backroom political deals for less than what is necessary to ensure the well-being of our peoples now AND into the future. There is no job, grant, contract, position, or level of public fame that is worth giving up our rights and responsibilities as Mi'kmaq, Cree, Mohawk or Maliseet peoples to our future generations. There was a time when we as Indigenous peoples knew this instinctively and wouldn't give all the colonizer's enticements a second thought.

Today however, the bright spirits of our peoples have been dimmed by the dark cloud under which our generations have lived for a very long time. Multiple generations of our peoples have been living under colonial rule and suffering the losses of our lands, identities, traditions, values, and world-views, as well as our sense of responsibility to ourselves and each other. This has been compounded by the historical and current physical and emotional harms imposed by our colonizers. These actions are well-known and include assimilatory laws, policies, and state actions like residential schools, day schools, the Indian Act, discriminatory laws, the 60's scoop, overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care and our men in prisons, deaths in police custody, starlight tours, racial profiling, and many other CURRENT state actions.

Taiaiake Alfred, an Indigenous scholar and thinker speaks about the various stages of de-colonization in which we find ourselves in his book Wasase. This makes our collective recognition of systemic colonizing forces and assimilation much more difficult to counter, but not impossible. He stresses the fact that we MUST "move from the materialist orientation of our politics" and act to restore the "spiritual foundation" of our peoples that will restore our strength and unity.

Alfred explains that the underlying problem today is that: "We are separated from the sources of our goodness and power: from each other, our cultures, and our lands." Further, he argues that by "emulating white people" in order to gain acceptance and meet colonial ideas about success has not brought our peoples or our Nations peace, happiness, well-being, or any sense of the "good life" espoused by liberals.

It is in this light that I have considered the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada and the relevance of the funding announcement that has been made. Some have celebrated this announcement by the Status of Women Canada for $10 million dollars over two years, which in fact has now been made 3 times, by different politicians without a single dime being spent to date. Now that Canada has provided more specifics about where this funding will be allocated I am, quite frankly, shocked that NWAC would support such an announcement.

NWAC was originally formed to advocate on behalf of Indigenous women in Canada with a specific mandate to "enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Metis women". Equality was one of their main focuses. In fact, if you read their submission to Parliament on Bill C-3 (status) they indicated that this Bill needed to be amended to address the full extent of gender inequality in the Indian Act. Their submission regarding Bill S-4 (matrimonial real property) advocated for much more meaningful legislation that would provide real access to justice for Indigenous women.

Even NWAC's latest report on the murdered and and missing Indigenous women in Canada highlighted the fact that "Violence is perpetuated through apathy and indifference towards Aboriginal women, and stems from the ongoing impacts of colonialism in Canada." Specifically, NWAC noted that the Indian Act "has created ongoing barriers to citizenship for Aboriginal women and their children". Yet, despite an acknowledgement of the actual sources of the social problems currently experienced by Indigenous women, NWAC stood publicly in support of this $10 million dollar funding announcement which did more to fund police services than any root causes of violence against Indigenous women. According to those involved in the legislative process for Bills C-3 and S-4, NWAC has flip-flopped and now also supports those bills.

While none of the print or TV media services have provided an exact breakdown of where the funding dollars will be distributed, it appears from what I have read that the majority of the funds will go to "law enforcement and the justice system". This includes a new National Police Support Services Centre for Missing Persons, a national tip website, enhancement of the Canadian Police Information Centre, amendments to the Criminal Code (no doubt without consultation), and the development of a list of best practices for police. An undetermined amount of funds will go towards culturally appropriate victim services, awareness materials for schools, and community safety plans.

The Parliamentary Secretary Shelly Glover (not surprisingly given her extensive police background) explained that the funds were meant to "address issues of crime and safety". Even Minister for the Status of Women Canada, Rona Ambrose repeatedly characterized Indigenous women as "victims" and their communities as "unsafe" during her press statement. The Conservative government's solution to that situation is increased criminal laws and expanded powers for police.

As with all issues currently facing Indigenous peoples, the state reduces them to one of criminalization. Whether it is equality for Indigenous women, the treaty right to fish in Mi'kmaq territory, protecting land claims in Caledonia, or standing guard for the sacred resting places of our ancestors in Oka - Indigenous peoples are characterized as criminals, forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money in the courts, and are constantly portrayed in the media as welfare-dependent deviants that pose safety and financial concerns for Canadians.

This funding announcement amounts to little more than the promotion of our Indigenous peoples and Nations as criminals and by providing funds to police for services - as if this will bring the problem under control. Indigenous peoples are already over-represented in prisons and I don't know how many more can fit into our current prison system - but then again - the Conservatives want to spend millions building new prisons, so that may help silence the rest of us.

Some readers will find this blog harsh and may even suggest that my comments are naive or out of touch with reality. Some will even say that in politics, some deal is better than no deal. I can assure you all, I am far from naive and I can see enough "reality" to know that what awaits Indigenous peoples and their Nations on the other side of this colonial fog is never-ending compromise and eventual assimilation.

Some will say that something better than nothing - but why? Why is something better than nothing and how do you define "something" and "nothing"? If "something" is defined as funding for a staff position at a national organization for one year, a research project that will end in another report, or school materials that will promote a negative view of Indigenous peoples, then how is "something" better than "nothing"? This is especially true if "nothing" is defined as our dignity, our pride, and respect for both our rights and responsibilities to both our ancestors and future generations?

To my mind, what it means to be Mi'kmaq or Mohawk has been defined as nothing, worthless, criminal, and even pagan for far too long. Out of our "nothing" has come brave battles to protect our lands, treaties to protect our rights, and the survival of our peoples against all odds. Our "nothing" has spawned generations of passionate volunteers and advocates who work day in and day out to effect change for our peoples. Our "nothing" has resulted in the Oka stand-off that was televised all over the world and was a source of extreme pride and revitalization for Indigenous identities in North America.

I would rather have lots of that "nothing" to share with my children than all the "somethings" that would lead to their eventual assimilation. Our children are not committing suicide, becoming involved in gangs, and relying on drugs and alcohol to drown their pains because they are concerned about whether they will get a management job at Irving Oil, a labourer job at the Tar Sands, or a seat in the Senate. These children are lost because they have no sense of who they are, their vibrant history, their special languages, their unique cultures and worldviews or how important their roles are to restoring the power of their Nations. They have no idea how incredibility special they are as Indigenous peoples.

Our children have seen enough sell-outs in their time. They need mentors, visionaries, and real leaders to stand up for them and help guide them along so they can lead the way for our future generations. Our ancestors made incredible sacrifices so that we could get through this long, dark period. They foresaw that the seventh generation would lead their Nations out of colonization and revitalize our systems of government, laws, practices and beliefes in ways which have meaning in modern times. We have a responsibility to stand on our traditional values and principles and stop trading our children's future for trinkets.

NWAC is not the only national Aboriginal organization to have lost sight of what was envisioned in the 1960's and 70's for these organizations. While NWAC's actions in bringing this issue to the forefront are commendable and indeed necessary, their follow-up actions don't match their words. It is of no value for NWAC to opposed BIll C-3 for lack of equality and then accept it later on. Similarly, there is no amount of funding that will affect real change in violence against Indigenous women if it is all directed towards policing and not at the root causes of this inequality (like those noted in NWAC's report).

Our collective reaction to and rejection of the 1969 White Paper which called for our assimilation once and and for all is a testament to the real collective action of which we are all capable. Criminilizing our Indigenous men will never bring about equality for our Indigenous women. Shame on Canada for continuing to criminalize our peoples and on NWAC for settling for it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Update to Bill C-3 - October 28, 2010

I have noticed over the last several weeks that there have been a large number of hits on one of my earlier blogs entitled "Updated - Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act". I was wondering why so many people were reading that post all of a sudden and then I realized that it is likely because readers are looking for an actual update.

Anyone who wants to read about any of this can go online to the "Parliament of Canada" website and click on "Government Bills", then "C-3", then "Legislative Summary" which will provide a good overview of the bill. To the right hand side, if you click on "Status of the bill" it will provide all of these dates that I am giving you. By clicking on "Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development" you can see when the committee met and obtain the minutes of the meeting as well as the transcripts of what was said.

For those of you who'd prefer a brief overview, here it is:

The bill had its First Reading in the House on March 11, 2010. This was followed by the debates about the bill and the second reading on March 26 and 29, 2010. The bill was then sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAON) where they heard from a wide variety of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal witnesses who gave evidence before AAON on their concerns about the bill. These meetings were held on April 1,13,15,20,22 and 27, 2010.

On April 29, 2010 the AAON submitted their report which included a variety of amendments they had adopted to ensure that the bill remedied all gender inequity instead of just a minor part of it. This report was presented and debated in the House on April 29 and May 25, 2010 before Parliament recessed for the summer. Parliament has since resumed, but had other bills they considered more important to address before getting back to this one.

On October 26, 2010 the report was debated again in the House and three motions, which had been introduced on May 25, 2010 were voted on. In one of my earlier e-mails I had explained what these motions were:

(1) Motion #1 dealt with minor amendments to the wording related to how INAC would report on the effects of the bill once it has been implemented;

(2) Motion #2 would restore the previous section 9 which had been deleted at AAON. This section provided Canada with an insulation from financial liability for claims which would come from women and children who had been wrongly excluded from the Act.

(3) Motion #3 essentially was to approve the bill as amended by the previous two motions.

All three motions were approved. This means that the bill will go forward for Third reading and debates as amended. Assuming this bill passes third reading (and it will), then the bill will go to the Senate and go through the same process all over again. There are a good number of people who hope that the bill will not be rushed through the readings and that, at a minimum, the Aboriginal Affairs Committee or the Human Rights Committee will study the bill before voting on it.

Keep in mind that Canada sought and obtained an extension from the BC Court of Appeal to enact Bill C-3. Canada now has until January 2011 to make these changes. In all likelihood, the Senate will be under considerable pressure to pass the law prior to this deadline. Given that the majority of Senators are Conservatives, I fully expect that no matter what I or anyone else says, this bill will be passed. The writing is clearly on the wall and we helped put it there.

That is all the official stuff, here is my take:

I fully expect that the bill will pass third reading at the House because the amendments passed so easily. The parties that originally opposed the restrictive version of the bill (Liberals, NDP, and Bloc) have flip-flopped and now support the bill. The Bloc indicated that "sleeping on these issues helps" and that over the summer Aboriginal women's groups in Quebec decided that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".

The Bloc and in fairness, the NDP and Liberals, have decided to ignore all of the legitimate legal, social, cultural, and economic concerns which were presented before it at Committee and change its vote to support the bill because Aboriginal women in Quebec don't want to take the chance of never being registered. Aboriginal women and their children have been excluded from recognition, been cut off from their communities and essential programs and services for so long that they are desperate to be registered. In any other forum, this would considered undue duress.

None of these groups want Bill C-3 - but Canada is playing hard ball and has implied that if they don't take this "deal" they won't get any deal. I can understand how difficult that situation is for those who stand to be impacted. If one thinks only on an individual level, then yes, some deal is better than no deal especially when we are already at the lowest end of socio-economic indicators and Canada is not negotiating in good faith, but its sharp dealings are ruling the situation.

However, we cannot forget that the very reason why we are even in this situation is because of the "deal" that was crafted in 1985 where only Indian women would get section 6(1) status and not their children. People were thinking on an individual and immediate gratification level. This is the very reason why Sharon McIvor spent the last 25 years of her life, time, energy and resources to try to undo what has now been laws for decades.

I am one of those individuals who stands to gain by the current Bill C-3. I will be registered as a section 6(2) Indian. Great. The House recently approved the no liability clause, so that means the 16 years I went to university will not be paid, nor will my treaty benefits, land claim benefits, health benefits, or other benefits reserved for "Indians" like certain tax advantages. But all of that is just money when it comes right down to it.

What I can't get back is my right to have lived on the reserve all my life (if I had wanted to), the right to learn my own Mi'kmaq language from my community's elders, and the right to be a band member and belong somewhere. As important as these things are to my identity, my overall well-being, and my right to live the "good life", these factors are all focused on me. Again, that is only if I think about myself. As a Mi'kmaq woman, it is my responsibility to think about more than just myself, but in fact think about my two children, Mitchell and Jeremy, as well as my large extended family, my future generations, my community and Nation.

I do not have the right as an individual to settle for a deal that benefits me and not my children. What good is status and band membership if I cannot transmit that to my children, so that they can transmit it to theirs? All of our rights as Mi'kmaq are communal rights and meant to exercised in ways that protect and promote our culture and way of life. While status has not been part of our culture since time immemorial, it is now the legal and political key to accessing it.

With all due respect for any native organization, they do not have the right to make deals after the fact, and behind closed doors that impact the future of our children. Sharon McIvor testified that there can be no "deal" on gender equality for Indian women - you either have it or you don't. We would not even be having this conversation if the situation was about non-Indian women. In fact, one of Bill C-31's main objectives was to protect the entitlements that non-Indian women received when they married an Indian man. In Canada's opinion, it would be unjust to take benefits way from those who enjoyed them.

However, Canada had no problem taking away these exact same benefits from Indian women despite the fact that they enjoyed them their entire lives. Even now, Canada has rationalized that their discriminatory treatment of Indian women and their children is NOT deserved of compensation. So the question is less about whether we have gender equity and more about whether we believe in Indian gender equity -which clearly, as a country we do not.

We are so caught up in getting whatever we can for ourselves, that we have forgotten that as warriors, we have an obligation to stand up for what is right and just, regardless of the consequences. Our ancestors made significant sacrifices for us, and we were not even born yet. They all could have taken the easy way out and settled for what would be good for them at the time. Thank goodness for us they thought farther ahead and more selflessly than that.

Taiaiake Alfred, an Indigenous scholar, who thinks far beyond his young years, has managed to come out on the other side of this ongoing colonization process and can see the future that we will create if we don't make sacrifices now for the future. In his book "Wasase", he writes: "Pushing the colonial tyrant to his limits takes both strong words and courageous blows against his coercion". He poses the question of how we get ourselves out of this cycle of asserting our rights on the one hand, and then being co-opted by money, benefits and power on the other hand?

I would like to think that I am on my way to decolonizing myself and will be able to consider these issues at the level of Taiaiake Alfred at some point in the future. In the meantime, I know enough to realize that it's time we walked the talk - we either put up and shut up now or we finally stand up for what we know is right in our hearts. I am not saying that fostering an Indian Act identity is what is most meaningful to our peoples, but not standing up for the equality of our Mohawk, Mi'kmaq and Maliseet women and children is beyond neglectful of our responsibilities and will only sink us further into assimilation by our own doing.

So, as far as I am concerned regarding Bill C-3: NO DEAL. I will not sell the rights of my children, my family or my Nation for my own immediate needs.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Racism on a native reserve? Try Racism in Our Media!

I am always torn whenever I read low quality, uninformed, and unresearched editorials, commentaries, and/or special columns written in print media that promote negative stereotypes about First Nations. My first instinct is to write a reply, but that would become a full-time job in and of itself. Then I wonder whether giving any attention to such blatant racism is helping or hurting the goal of helping to educate the public. Amongst my peers, there seems to be a difference of opinion on that issue.

However, at the end of the day, given that so many Canadians obtain their "information" about Aboriginal peoples from the media, I as an educator, simply cannot sit by while media outlets, like the National Post, misinform readers and malign First Nations. Yet, despite my attempts to address the misinformation, I still have a serious issue of exposure. Similar to gossip rags like the National Enquirer, the National Post has a loyal following that includes those of the right-wing persuasion.

My responses to such articles, on the other hand, only reach those who happen to read my blog. None of my comments to the National Post have ever been published, nor those sent to other newspapers to whom I have written - so what is the result of my efforts? Some individuals get the benefit of another perspective.

An incredibly bright professor once told me that images shape our aspirations. So, if all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people see in the media are negative stories about First Nations and uninformed print media which spreads negative stereotypes about First Nations, then our children - yours and mine - continue to see First Nations as inferior. A vision that is no better than the racist views of colonial days supposedly long-past.

It is absolutely ludicrous for a newspaper to take a story about an ISOLATED incident of ALLEGED racism on ONE First Nation of the 633 First Nations in Canada, and somehow use that as proof positive that ALL Chiefs of ALL First Nations are not accountable and prefer instead to "do things behind closed doors". This is categorically false and perpetuates the very kind of "hate" about which this National Post article critiques.

The Assembly of First Nations itself has long called for and made requests of Canada to meet and talk about ways to modernize First Nation accountability measures. More than that, the Auditor General (AG) Sheila Fraser has reported on more than one occasion that First Nations ARE accountable for the funds they receive from the federal government. In fact, all First Nations submit audited financial statements to Canada and according to the AG, First Nations fill out so many reports about their funding that it averages out to one report every three days.

Nothing in First Nations related to federal funding happens behind closed doors. In fact, most learned commentators have noted that of all the groups in Canada - political, religious, cultural or otherwise - that First Nations' activities are so closely monitored that they often feel as though their whole lives are "under a microscope". Yet despite the plethora of research, reports, studies, commissions, and considerations of First Nations issues, none of them have ever shown that all First Nations leaders are corrupt or that First Nations are more likely to abuse their residents than Canadian governments.

Yet, we continue to be bombarded by uninformed and unsubstantiated allegations against First Nations in the media that serve only to misinform the public and malign First Nations. Rarely are Aboriginal commentators asked to submit their own views and most issues are not covered in any balanced manner that would give the public enough information to make up their own mind. For example, the National Post printed a comment in today's newspaper entitled: "Racism on a native reserve". Here are just a few of the unsubstantiated or incorrect items presented:

(1) "Canadian taxpayers pay close to $10-billion a year to finance on-reserve programming for natives."

In fact, almost HALF of that amount goes to Indian and Northern Affairs and/or other government departments to support their bureaucracy and ever-inflating salaries. The taxes used to pay for some of the First Nation programs come from taxes submitted by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. Furthermore, the privileged position of non-Aboriginal Canadians in relation to First Nations is the DIRECT result of them benefitting directly or indirectly from the theft of First Nations' lands and resources by their ancestors.

(2) "Whenever it is proposed that we IMPOSE some accountability...the AFN... complains that its members are being mistreated." (emphasis added)

In fact, the national Chief Shawn Atleo was interviewed by APTN last night wherein he reinforced the fact that the AFN and First Nations ALL believe in accountability to their citizens and that they have called for discussions with Canada on how to improve those accountability measures. What he did not agree with was the "imposition" of laws by Canada on First Nations without so much as even consulting with them first (as is required by law).

(3) "...even in 2010, natives are still waiting to enjoy the full protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

In fact, Aboriginal peoples have ALWAYS the full benefit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms like all Canadians since 1982. What some Aboriginal peoples did not have was access to the complaint process under the Canadian Human Rights Act, but this was remedied in 2008. Now complaints relating to the Indian Act can be brought against Canada and in a little over 6 months, they can bring complaints against individual bands. Bands simply wanted an opportunity to amend their laws to make sure they were compliant with both human rights and their traditional laws.

But it is not even these obvious pieces of misinformation that is the worst part. It is the fact that one solitary example of alleged racism on one reserve could be used to say that all Chiefs and First Nations are corrupt and that their only goal is to "circle the wagons in defence of their cash and powers". This is little more than a discriminatory remark meant to stir up racist images about Aboriginal peoples so as to deflect readers from the real issues. That kind of blatant racism should not be tolerated, nor should it be published by our national media. This kind of comment does nothing to add to the debate nor does it inspire collegiality amongst citizens or offer mutually beneficial solutions.

The vast majority of First Nations Chiefs are tireless, hard-working, passionate leaders who carry the weight of every single community member on their shoulders. Many Chiefs don't make a great salary, but regardless of the pay they go far above and beyond their role as a political leader. They often find themselves mediating marital disputes, helping students find text books, volunteer as cooks, firefighters, pow wow emcees, hunters, fishers, babysitters, chauffeurs, and mentors.

While managing social conflict within their communities, they must also negotiate with federal, provincial and municipal governments, manage the same programs as provinces, stay on top of developing laws, and monitor private activities within their territories. Many of the Chiefs I know literally work 20 hours a day and carry the weight of community ills as their own personal failings. Chiefs are trashed in the media as often as we hear the weather forecast. They are vilified and disrespected by federal and provincial governments and their triumphs are overlooked by the media in exchange for scandal and hardship.

I would suggest that the National Post and any other "mightier-than-thou" media outlet try walking in the shoes of First Nation leaders for a day. Instead of berating them and spreading hatred against First Nations, they need to finally recognize that section 35 of our Constitution Act, 1982 is there for a reason and just as Canadians are not going anywhere, nor are First Nations. Despite the assimilatory goals of the past, First Nations have survived and are here to stay.

The supreme law of the land (Constitution Act, 1982) and the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes the special place of First Nations in this country and the democratic obligation we all have to ensure their continued existence. Reconciliation is a two-way street - we can't expect to move forward as a country if we respect all our laws except those that relate to First Nations. We have an obligation to respect our First Nations as we would each other and racist stereotypes have no place in that relationship. It seems ironic that on the one hand, the National Post comment advocates for greater human rights for First Nations, and then on the other hand, uses racist comments and stereotypes to demean them.

I would suggest that the National Post and others like it should reconsider their roles in educating the public about important issues related to First Nations and better represent the public which it serves - including First Nations. Here are some tips for moving forward:

(1) Hire some Aboriginal reporters, columnists, and commentators who are knowledgeable about the issues;

(2)Hire some Aboriginal people in management at your paper/station who are knowledgeable about the issues;

(3)Include more Aboriginal people on your advisory committees who are knowledgeable about the issues;

(4)Make a concerted effort to offer more balanced and informed perspectives which are based on fact, not sensationalism. Try practising what you preach.

For more information about these issues, please read my previous blogs.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bill C-575 - First Nations Financial Transparency Act - or is it the - All Chiefs Are Crooked Act? (updated)

Well, the witch hunt has officially begun. If conservatives scream loud enough and persistently enough that all First Nations Chiefs are corrupt, then eventually people will start to believe that. Add to this the right-wing voices of academics like Flanagan, Gibson, Widdowson, and Helin; organizations like the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and Canadian Taxpayers Federation; and the strategic media use of isolated examples, and the anti-First Nation movement is reborn complete with its own Aboriginal spokesperson - Senator Brazeau.

Now, the focus on alleged corruption and lack of accountability of First Nations which Bill C-575 is meant to combat, helps to deflect the real issue - Canada's shameful neglect and inequitable funding of basic social programs for First Nations like child and family services, post-secondary education, housing, and water. It also helps focus attention away from the other paternalistic legislative reforms which are being advanced against the will of First Nations on the basis that Canada knows what is best for them.

Perhaps more importantly, this proposed bill turns the attention away from our federal politicians and away from the issue of MPs not wanting to divulge THEIR OWN expenses to the Auditor General. If that is not the ultimate in hypocrisy, I don't what is! You will recall that the Auditor General Sheila Fraser (AG) informed Parliament that she wanted to review the detailed expenses of federal MPs. After taking nearly 10 months to consider the matter, their answer was categorically "NO!" The only option left to the AG was to take them to court which she indicated she was not willing to do.

If you search the Internet and read through back issues of various newspapers you will hear endless excuses from these MPs about why they should not divulge their expenses - including that their expenses are audited by an outside firm. If you take this issue and apply it to a First Nations context, First Nations ALSO have their federal funding audited by firms and report all of this information to INAC in great detail. The issue is not whether or not MPs and First Nations "account" for their money, it is whether the details of this information should be made "public".

Despite the fact that a deal was subsequently reached between the AG and MPs which would allow the AG to do "spot checks" on MP expenses, the National Post reported that her audit would NOT look at the spending of individual MP offices, nor would any report name the names of MPs who had problematic expenses. This is a far cry from an audit of each and every MP's set of expenses being made public. How then could any MP, liberal, conservative or otherwise, demand that the expenses of each and every Chief and band councillor be made public?

Thanks to the questionable conduct of conservative senator Brazeau, even some First Nations community members are starting to believe the conservative hype about unaccountable First Nations, absent any hard facts. On what other issue would we ever ask Canadians and politicians to support legislation to address a stereotype? What is next? If I allege that all Indians are drunks, will Senator Brazeau create a YouTube video from the Senate asking that First Nations be banned from liquor stores?

While conservatives can easily sell a bill with the unassailable message of accountability, the real message is much more insidious: it asks Canadians to conclude, without any proof, that First Nations are not accountable for funding they receive from the federal government and that the ONLY way to address this is for the conservative government to ride in on its "white" horse and save the Indians. Meanwhile, the government can preach about values that it does not respect itself.

Of the times that former Minister of INAC intimated that First Nation elections were fraught with corruption, we never saw any reports or research to back that up. Senator Brazeau's YouTube video implies that First Nations are not financially accountable, but he does not offer any credible proof of this. Even the Frontier Centre for Public Policy made incredible claims this week about the depth of First Nations corruption without referring to a single study, report, or statistical analysis.

What evidence is out there? You could try reading the reports of the AG where she explained that First Nations experience the extreme version of accountability with regards to federal funds and in fact account so much and so often that they submit reports on their funds no less than once every three days. If there are any problems with these reports, First Nations run the risk of being subjected to co-management or third party regimes imposed on their communities to manage their funds. The conservative government has incurred billions of dollars of debt - where is its third party manager?

If you read those AG reports and watch some of the AG's presentations to the House or Senate, you will hear her describe how she has attempted to have INAC address its own problems and lack of progress on social programs and services. She has asked repeatedly that INAC make improvements and commented that INAC has made little or no improvement. She even cited the cap on the funding of First Nation programs and the outdated, problematic funding formulas for funding such programs as child and family services. As we all know, the latter issue is now before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

It is Canada that has dropped the ball here on its own obligations. Trying to deflect attention onto First Nations represents both a promotion of a negative stereotype against First Nations and a hypocritical position given MPs' refusal to do what they are asking of First Nations. Furthermore, the proposed Bill C-575 asks that First Nations NOT receive the benefit of various information and privacy protections under ATIP legislation to which other governments are entitled. Another inequity advanced under an apparently closely held democratic value.

I challenge all Canadians to look behind the hype and get the facts; to look beyond the headlines and see the real message; and to think twice before they impose legislation on First Nations which represent values they don't require of their own governments.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Conservative Flip Flop or True Stripes?

This blog is somewhat related to my last one in that it involves another look at Conservative Party mentality and specifically that of Minister Duncan, Parliamentary Secretary Glover, and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau.

On Tuesday, September 21, 2010, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, held a press conference explaining that the current gap in educational and employment rates between First Nations and other Canadians is not only unfair, but could be addressed by proper funding in education. He argued that a more equitable level of education funding, if invested now, would lead to $179 billion in return to Canada in terms of Gross Domestic Product. Liberal and NDP leaders added that it was a matter of fundamental justice.

Atleo later appeared on Parliament Hill as part of the national week of action of First Nations education. His call for reconciliation and proper investment in First Nations education was cheered on by various First Nation participants. He highlighted the atrocities of the residential school system and how education had been used as a tool of oppression. He called on Canada to help First Nations access education as a tool of freedom and empowerment.

The core message is one that has even been echoed even by right-wing thinkers like Calvin Helin, Tom Flanagan, Allan Cairns and others: education is empowerment and would address a great many social issues in First Nations. So, then, what is the problem? Atleo has explained that the current funding cap on education, which causes great inequality between First Nations and other Canadians, is not only unjust but prevents First Nations from furthering our genius, intelligence and greatness.

On the same day, Senator Brazeau responded with a "Senate of Canada" YouTube video from the Senate Chambers on Parliament Hill which some claim has portrayed First Nations as unaccountable and discriminatory. He further calls for a stop to all funding to First Nations and Aboriginal organizations until they can account or prove that they are achieving measurable outcomes. From his position of privilege in the Senate chamber, Brazeau argued that the current system favours "Aboriginal elites" and fosters a "sense of entitlement".

The response which followed was not surprising. First Nation leaders called Brazeau's comments unfounded and insulting. The talk amongst some academics seemed to question whether his video criticizing First Nations was an appropriate function of the Senate. I personally question whether or not he has gone too far this time. The video he posted was highly critical of First Nations, although obviously carefully worded. It was shot from the Senate Chamber, which to my knowledge, is reserved for Senate business. Also, the video itself used the Senate namesake and symbol, and all copyright belongs to the Senate.

While I am aware that there are a good number of Senators who work with Canadians and social groups to advocate for positive change to the environment, law, justice, and other social issues, I am not aware of any Senator who has used Senate resources to publically attack or criticize specific groups in society, like First Nations. I am not the only one who wondered whether this was appropriate. In a recent APTN article, APTN noted that Minister Duncan had "distanced" himself from Senator Brazeau and his remarks. APTN reported that Mnister Duncan said that Senator Brazeau's call for a "freeze" on funding to First Nations and organizations does not represent the views of the Conservative Government.

While this clarification on behalf of the Minister was well-received, it was unfortunately, very short-lived. As part of a political panel held on APTN News on Thursday, September 30, 2010, the Parliamentary Secretary Shelly Glover was asked about Senator Brazeau's comments on accountability. She was very clear in her response that she was in agreement with Brazeau's comments.

Not only was she in agreement with Brazeau on First Nations accounting for INAC funds, but for "all funds" which come from the government as it is comprised of "tax payer" funds. She also stated that there were "some indications" that the Conservative government has to take steps to make sure accountability is achieved - the implication being that they are not. Her comments are reminiscent of those of the former Minister of INAC, Chuck Strahl, who often made comments which insinuated that First Nations were plagued with corruption and a lack of accountability.

Of course, the implication in Glover's remarks are that First Nations are not accountable. MP Todd Russell said Senator Brazeau's comments were "outrageous" and explained that these comments only serve to paint all First Nations with the "same brush". He further explained that Senator Brazeau was a "mouth piece" for the Conservatives and that Brazeau was not accountable for his own inappropriate actions and statements made against First Nations and individuals who appear as witnesses for the Senate committees.

NDP MP Jean Crowder agreed and added that Senator Brazeau's comments promoted a "stereotype" against First Nations which is not true, as the Auditor General herself has found that First Nations DO account for their funding. First Nations themselves, including the Assembly of First Nations have said they have no problem accounting for their funds and have called for even better mechanisms by which to do so. Crowder also highlighted the fact that when Brazeau left the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples it was investigated for its own serious accountability issues. CAP's upcoming Annual General Meeting in November may well reveal even more issues left behind from Brazeau days.

So, which is it? Do Senator Brazeau's comments reflect the position of the Conservative government or not? If they do represent the conservative position, then the Duncan-Glover flip flop shows a serious lack of transparency on the part of the Conservatives and raises trust issues let alone a revelation of their true stripes. If they do not represent the conservative position, then the Conservatives better reign in their new Parliamentary Secretary. They can't have it both ways.

I guess we'll have to wait and see...