Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Canadian Tax Payers Federation's Chief-Bashing Campaign

Ok, so my last blog was a slight departure from my usual serious commentary, but I needed the humour to help insulate my soul from all the negativity. While it was intended as a spoof of the issue, I also wanted readers to see the issue from our perspective. My spoof may have sounded ridiculous, but that reflects the insanity of the situation, not the blog.

Since the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) and others have released various media statements accusing Chiefs of being paid exorbitant salaries while their people suffer in misery, I have been fielding questions from students, the public, media, and others to answer for this alleged injustice. In answering these questions from mostly non-Indigenous people, I have heard endless stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, faced pent-up anger about "special" rights and been asked to accept ludicrous solutions like "doing away with s.35" of the Constitution Act, relocating all reserve residents to the cities, and told that since these alleged injustices to our people happened so long ago, to simply "get over it".

I consider myself a strong Indigenous woman who has won life's lottery - I have good health, two healthy, happy children, a large supportive family and my Mi'kmaq culture. I have never taken for granted the power of being able to fall back to a safe place where my brothers and sisters will guide me, support me, and offer a sympathetic ear during hard or stressful times. None of us are rich, but it has never been money that we needed from one another - it has always been the advice, guidance, support, and unconditional love. Not everyone is so fortunate to be in this circumstance.

Many Indigenous peoples were taken away from their families in residential schools, the 60's scoop or even the current child welfare system. Many others are subjected to racial profiling by the police, and subsequently arrested, detained and imprisoned at a higher rate than non-Indigenous peoples. Still other Indigenous peoples, like our women, are murdered or missing at an alarming rate or subjected to high rates of family violence. Others live in homes without water, sanitation, power or homes which are contaminated with mold and asbestos. They have all been subjected to colonial laws and policies which desperately seek our assimilation.

Despite these similarities and differences, we have some very important factors in common - our Indigenous cultures and identities and the fact that every insult, racist stereotype, neglected community or suicide of one of our own children destroys a piece of our soul. The public telling me that all our leaders are corrupt, hurts me no less than it does one of those accused leaders. Having to defend our people against uninformed members of the public, wears on me just as much as it wears on Maliseet, Cree or Mohawk peoples.

This is the reason why I wrote my last blog as a spoof. Humour is what keeps my family moving forward in this battle that we inherited from the colonizers. If we could not make fun of ourselves and laugh at our troubles, we could not repair our souls. It is never meant to make light of the situation, but to force us to remember that we have an obligation to our children to be optimistic, to be hopeful, and help inspire our people to action. This is a lot to ask of our people, many of whom are forced to manage the kind of poverty seen in third world countries, but our future depends on their hope. Humour has traditionally been our way of moving forward.

But our ability to cope and resist are constantly challenged by Canada's assimilatory laws, policies and actions. We are forever dealing with broken treaty promises, empty apologies, conditional rights, two-faced politicians, and those who wish to keep us in our position of poverty and submission. This crisis in our communities could have been addressed decades ago. There have been endless research projects, studies, surveys, reports, and commissions identifying both our issues and the solutions.

The solutions that have been suggested by Royal Commissions, Justice Inquiries, court cases and expert reports have largely been ignored. Solutions like post-secondary education which the greatest economists advise would be a solution that would require a relatively small investment now to obtain great returns in the future for our country, are also ignored. Suggestions that we strengthen the use of our culture, traditions and languages in our communities, schools, and institutions are placed low on the priority list. The obvious funding inequities for essential social services like child welfare, water, and housing are ignored in favour of public misinformation campaigns which vilify our leaders. We know what needs to be done to address this crisis in our communities, but the political will by Canada to do it is what is lacking.

This means that for the sake of our people, we have no choice but to address these right-ring fringe groups who constantly help the government detract public attention from the real issues. So, in order to prevent this blogs from turning into a book (as I could write alot about this issue), here is a brief list of points to keep in mind when reading ANYTHING that comes from the CTF and various TV, radio and print media, regarding their allegations of "exorbitant" chiefs' salaries:
(1) Confirm the accuracy and type of information that is being offered as "truth". If you look at the information posted online at CTF, the information is related to chief and council - not chiefs. Therefore all the conclusions drawn about chiefs is not necessarily accurate. The same can be said of the print media which contains a great deal of inaccurate and sensationalized reports.

(2) The information they do post is the "taxable equivalent" which means it is not their ACTUAL pay, but a figure inflated by CTF to make the situation look far worse than it actually is. As readers may or may not know, ALL status Indians who live and work on reserve are entitled to not have to pay income tax.

This is not a special or extra benefit given to Chief and Council. This is a legislative right which stems from the fact that Canada stole the rest of our lands and agreed that we should not be taxed on what little lands we have left. So what the CTF and others are doing is comparing apples and oranges. It would be no different than if they added another column and said that Chiefs in Atlantic Canada have more fish than the PM. Well, I hope so - after all they have constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty right to fish.

The real issue for CTF and others is that status Indians have the right to tax free income in certain circumstances and they are using Chiefs as their bulls eye to keep debating the issue. They have never accepted that status Indians have this benefit or section 35 benefits and this is the real issue - not their actual salaries. Even so-called academics like Tom Flanagan are still belly-aching over these constitutionally protected rights.

(3) The comparison of chief and council salaries with that of the Prime Minister (PM) is hypocrisy at its worst. When the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) said that our people should be treated as a third order of government, Canada rejected this. When our leaders demand to negotiate with the PM, we are told that First Nations are no more than mere municipalities. Our leaders are forced to meet with clerks, assistants and low level bureaucrats. Yet, when they want to find a way to exaggerate a situation to make Indigenous peoples look bad, First Nations are suddenly on par with the PM??

This is an insane comparison which lacks any kind of empirical credibility and solely reflects political spin. The PM is a unique position that can hardly be compared with most positions, let alone that of First Nations. The PM's job guarantees certain benefits not offered First Nations leaders like: long-term disability in the event of serious illness, a pension, business and political connections which are priceless, and long after a PM is finished, he will have no end of paid speaking engagements, consulting contracts and business offers. A point which is often left out is that the PM is supported by literally thousands of well-paid bureaucrats who do all the real work.

Chiefs and councillors on the other hand, have no long-term disability protections, despite the fact that they have higher incidences of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, TB, and other serious illnesses. They have no pensions to support them once they are out of office. They would not have business and political connections which would ensure their financial well-being post-office. Equally as important is that the chiefs are not surrounded by thousands or even hundreds of well-paid bureaucrats, with the skills, training, education and expertise needed to do all the actual work needed to support a community. Justice Canada alone is the largest law firm in this country - there is simply no competing with that.

(4) It is impossible to do any kind of credible comparison between colonized Indigenous peoples and the colonizers. There is a massive power imbalance and laws which both create the current situation and policies which promote it. Any comparison is misleading at best. However, if one were to make a comparison between chiefs and councillors and municipalities, one would find that standards are being imposed on First Nations that are not imposed on municipalities.

For example, if one refers to the salaries of employees, managers, directors and leaders of municipalities, you will find a surprising number of those who make more than $100,000 some of which have a portion of their salary which is tax-free. Yet, many of the municipalities have hundreds if not thousands of homeless people, people living in shelters and increasing numbers of families and children who rely on food banks.

How could a librarian be paid $100,000 when their own community members do not have enough to eat? Those librarians are not even leaders. One Entertainment manager makes over $250,000. How could a municipality prioritize entertainment over a safe place for their residents to sleep at night? Should a director of entertainment make almost as much as the PM when residents are dying in the cold?

(5) The double standards which are placed on our people must be identified for what they are - right-wing reactions to our constitutionally protected rights which they reject and can't accept. There is no way for us to win in their perverse logic. We are rejected as welfare dependent bums who use up all tax-payers hard-earned taxes, yet when any of us make a living we are demonized as an industry of elite, overpaid, corrupt individuals who suck our communities dry of funds while we leave the rest behind to suffer.

Not all of us are like the rare few who sell their souls for a Senate seat or fame. In our tradition, people like that would have been labelled a traitor and lost his/her citizenship and no longer been considered part of the community. The problem is not that there are people like this, its that we don't deal with them as we should according to our cultural laws and values. THe majority of us don't fall into this category and we should not let a few bad apples lead to stereoptypes about all of us.

The fact of the matter is, there should be no double standards. If no leader should be paid a salary higher than its poorest resident, then let that apply to ALL leaders in Canada including the PM.

(6) This public misinformation campaign is nothing more than a strategic ploy engaged to do two very important and dangerous things: (a) to deflect attention away from the current crisis in our communities which was created and extended by Canada and (b) to divide our people and communities irrevocably. Recent reports show that community members are already up in arms and battling amongst each other and their leaders over this issue. This is in addition to the Indian Act which has divided our people into on and off-reserve, status and non-status, band member and non-band member, and men and women. Now, Bills C-3 (Status) and S-4 (MRP) will further widen the divide as those of us who are colonized fight for individual wealth and sacrifice their communities in the process.

We have to rise above this. We have to better inform ourselves against this right-wing misinformation campaign. We have to make our families, communities and Nations our priority over everything else they tempt us with - including money and power. It does not cost a cent to stay united, nor does it require thousands of dollars for us to assert our sovereignty in meaningful and powerful ways. These right wing groups, academics and governments do NOT have our best interest at heart. They all desperately want our assimilation. Why on earth would we accept what they say at face value and help them speed up the process? We can collectively deal with the issues in our communities - we don't need wealth, greed, and fame to do it. We have everything we ever needed in our own cultures - we just need to have faith in it again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

NEWSFLASH - Bill T-666 to Deal with Exorbitant Municipal Salaries

NEWSFLASH from P.A.M. News:

Today, our official news correspondent for the Official Opposition of the Third Order of Government (OOTOG), Pamela Palmater, has brought to light the extreme abuses being made of First Nation taxpayers and land-holders money. Palmater's informative, yet disturbing report calls into question whether Canadian peoples who sit in positions on municipalities across Canada are accountable for the taxes and income they receive from our traditional lands.

As readers know, the lands in Canada are the traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Our Nations have lived here since time immemorial with their own cultures, languages, practices, traditions and customs. Just as important, our Nations had their own governments, laws, dispute resolution mechanisms, systems of trade and treaty-making with other Indigenous Nations. We were then and remain now, the ultimate governing authority of our territories often referred to as Turtle Island.

The peoples who immigrated here from what we believe to be the Lost City of Atlantis and its surrounding land masses, are now referred to as Canadian peoples. They are more commonly known as Atlanteans, although many take offence to that terminology. Given that they had just lost their city which sank into the sea, our Nations decided to assist them for a short time until they were well enough to find new homelands. Many of them wanted to stay, so some of us signed treaties with these uncultured, violent, and greedy peoples so that they would not one day become extinct from their poor sailing, planning, governance, and other ineptitudes.

For some time now, they have been making claims that they own our lands and the resources on our traditional territories. At the same time, they refuse to accept any responsibility for the protection of these lands and seek only to exhaust of the resources for their own selfish ends. In order to build capacity in their divided and warring communities, they also created many schools in which they would teach their own children; one of which being the infamous Sun-burned Neck Thought School (SNTS). They refused to adopt our Indigenous languages and teachings and instead sought to preserve their dying ways.

At SNTS, their students are taught the backward ways of their primitive thinkers who believe in class systems where some of their people are better than others, homelessness where the sick, poor, elderly, and mentally ill must fend for themselves, individual wealth where individuals looks out for themselves and not the community, and male-dominated systems of governance where women and children are treated like the cattle they brought with them on their ships.

As odd as we all thought these ways of living were, we allowed them to engage in their "traditional" ways for fear they might start sending us blankets filled with small pox in the mail or other terrorist-like activity. Indeed, controlling them has been very difficult. We have had to be very passive so as not to send them into a rage where they might send in their radicals known as the police, armies and tactical squads. We have seen how angry they can get.

Well, today, after reading the latest financial report from their peoples government led by Steven Hypocriseese, it has become evident that the Third Order of Government must take action. I refer readers to the report they call the "Public Sector Salary Disclosure" which can be found at this website:

Here readers will note the extreme abuses to which their peoples have been making of our hard-earned taxes, lands and natural resources. For example, in the municipality of Hamilton, Ontario, their Director of Entertainment makes a salary of $259,113.77!! This is absolutely outrageous! It is dangerously close to the salary of their leader Steven Hypocriseese who makes around $300,000. The manager of Hamilton makes nearly $200,000. Yet, the rate of homelessness in Hamilton is increasing. In 2006, the small municipality of Hamilton had nearly 3000 people stay in homeless shelters and for extended periods of time. Here is a link to their report:

This is an absolute outrage and these incidents are not isolated. From the looks of the report, the abuse is wide-spread and confirms what we have been saying all along. The Canadian peoples' sense of entitlement and claims of special powers has spread to their other communities as well. In Brampton, the city manager makes $254,000 as does the manager in Burlington. Other positions like librarians, mechanics and directors of litter also make well over $100,000. Yet, how many of their children still read books? How many of their children struggle with reading? How much effort did librarians make to inspire their children to read? How many books were purchased? Were these books of value?

There is absolutely no accountability or transparency in these positions. Why have they not brought their librarians before the Third Order of Government to account? These librarians have now become renegades in their own communities. They make thousands of dollars in salaries, work in warm, comfortable surroundings, have more than enough to eat and clothes to wear, while homelessness in Turtle Island is on the rise. How could they possibily justify such exorbitant salaries while their own people live in such abject poverty without food, clothes or a warm safe place to sleep at night?

These peoples are obviously not spending our money where and how they should. How could these so-called leaders justify paying themselves salaries in excess if $100,000 which in Indigenous equality dollars equates to well over $1,000,000 when you include the decades of privilege and control, education and employability, business and political connections, and the use of our lands and resources on a tax-free basis. We will no longer stand for this. The Third Order of Government will bring this situation under control as we promised.

I will be introducing Bill T-666 which will ensure that steps are taken to get the Canadian peoples spending of our taxes and resources from our lands under control. We will start by implementing third party management of their funds which they will pay for out of their own budgets. We will cap funding on all their essential services like schools, child welfare and missing and murdered female Canadian peoples. Then we will force them to publish the addresses of these librarians and litter directors , how many people are in their families, whether their family members benefited from their exorbitant salaries, how many books they purchased, and whether they spent money on travel instead of reading to children. This will be done for every municipal position across Turtle Island!

I urge all citizens of the Third Order of Government to support this bill. I strongly encourage even those from the Canadian peoples communities to support this bill. It is time these Canadian peoples pulled up their socks, started going to regular Indigenous schools like everyone else and got over the loss of their Lost City of Atlantis. I mean, it is called the Lost City of Atlantis for a reason - it is lost - forever. GET OVER IT!! We, the Third Order of Government simply cannot afford to keep giving them all of our taxes and natural resources. If we cannot get support for this bill, our only alternative will be to relocate these peoples to another continent where they will be better able to support themselves on their own lands.

Please write to your local municipal librarian, mechanic or director of litter and demand better for their peoples.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Silent War - Government Control of Indigenous Identity

This blog represents excerpts from the talk that I gave last week on the issue of Indigenous Identity. I realize, however, that many of Indigenous peoples can't access public lectures, conferences, and other similar forums for information and debate. I therefore decided to include this information in my blog, knowing that there are still many of us who do not have access to computers or the Internet.

Canada's cutting off the water supply at Constance Lake First Nation so that the community has barely enough to drink but not bathe, despite Canada's "endorsement" of UNDRIP, is but one example of how many of us are forced to manage our extreme poverty and do not have computers, Ipads or TVs. Thus, many do not have the ability to access the kinds of information found on the Internet which many of us get to take for granted - like blogs.

So, here are some excerpts from my discussion about Indigenous identity:

I wear my Indigenous identity proudly, but have to carry on my back the other identities imposed by government through law and policy. I am forced therefore, to explain my Indigeneity as being comprised of two separate but conflicting sides which are constantly at "war".

The first is my identity as experienced by me internally – within my own heart as an individual and communally with my family, extended family, community and Nation. The second is my "lived experience of Indigenous identity" - i.e. my identity as experienced externally - through relations with both Canadian society and the state.

My own identity has shaped by the histories, stories, lessons, and practices passed on to me by my large extended family. This has shaped my worldview, values, and aspirations – it is essentially what some might refer to as my cultural identity. My experience of identity on the other hand, has been shaped entirely by others – by school mates, teachers, employers, friends, neighbors, historians, judges, politicians and governments.

While my own Indigenous identity is strong and has survived the test of time, it is scarred and bruised by my lived experience of identity and the ongoing attack on my identity through government law and policy designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into the body politic.

So who am I? I am a Mi'kmaq woman. That is my identity, recognizing however that Indigenous identity is a relationship – a two-way street between myself and my nation. What I mean by this is that my nation cannot exist unless its citizens, like me, both recognize it AND support it. Similarly, I can assert my Mi'kmaq identity but it requires my nation to both recognize AND support me as a citizen.

This mutually dependent relationship has been the way of the Mi’kmaq Nation and its citizens since time immemorial. Yet, this relationship is also where Canada has chosen to erect barriers in order to divide, conquer, and destabilize us, with the ultimate goal of reducing our numbers until we are assimilated.

My identity as a MI’KMAQ WOMAN has been in constant conflict with these barriers. My identity as a Mi'kmaq woman means that I am a Teacher who is responsible to pass on our history, language, culture, and laws. I am a Warrior who is responsible to protect our nations, territories, trees, animals, and citizens. I am a Caregiver who is responsible to care for my children, mothers, grandmothers, and aunties. I am also responsible to be a Leader in my own life - to stand up for what is just regardless of the consequences. I am responsible to be a Living Example - to live our values for our young ones to see so that they know how to live in balance. We are not to live in wealth that destroys the earth nor in poverty that destroys our spirit.

Some have discounted our Indigenous values and traditions as being ancient and irrelevant in modern times. In my opinion, these traditional values are more important today than ever before. I believe they are what will inspire our people to action, stand up against the current injustices and reclaim our spirit and identities.

However, despite my own identity as Mi'kmaq, I have been labeled as “ABORIGINAL" by others. This is a legal and social construct of the Canadian state which lumps my Mi’kmaq identity in with the generic terms of Indians, Inuit and Metis as if we were all just one race of people with the same cultures and world views.

Taiaike Alfred, in his book Wasase, explains that "aboriginalism" amounts to little more than "racialized violence and economic oppression meant to bring about a silent surrender" of who we are as Indigenous peoples. I have resisted surrender – but the battle seems to be never-ending and I fear that most Canadians are not even aware of what is at stake for us. They see our identity only in terms of unfair entitlements and special treatment.

Yet, my identity is primarily about my responsibilities and relations with my Nation and my connections with our traditional territory of MI’KMAKI. Mi’kmaki represents the seven distinct districts of Mi’kmaq territory including NB, NS, PEI, NFLD, parts of Quebec and Maine. With the exception of the last two years, I have spent my entire life living within my traditional territory and those lands are an essential part of my identity. My heart aches if I am far from home for too long as I know that my responsibilities to my territory does not diminish when I live elsewhere.

However, the Crown has put limits on my ability to fully enjoy my Mi’kmaq identity through the imposition of provincial boundaries and policies that restrict my rights on a provincial basis. I am considered a NB MI’KMAQ and therefore not entitled to hunt or fish in NS; enjoy my treaty rights in PEI; or have a say in what happens in Mi’kmaq territory in NFLD. Even within NB, the provincial government has drawn an arbitrary line called the Ganong Line telling my Nation and the Maliseet Nation whose territory is whose. These barriers are all externally imposed and designed to divide our Nation.

Within Mi’kmaki, my home community (or band) is EEL RIVER BAR FIRST NATION located in northern NB. Yet this is not even the location of our true community. It is the location to which my original community was relocated, as the lands on which they had originally occupied for their more permanent settlements were considered too valuable to be occupied by Indians. However, my family has now lived at Eel River Bar for many generations and therefore we have strong connections to that specific part of our territory as well.

Yet, despite my own identity as a Mi'kmaq woman and the essential role that my connections to the land play in that identity, INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) has determined that I am a NON-BAND MEMBER and therefore not entitled to live in my home community or have a say in its governance or future. Unfortunately for many Indigenous peoples, our own communities have now taken over Canada's role and exclude our own people on the same basis.

I have learned how to survive in this war against my identity and live my Mi'kmaq identity despite the fact that I am a non-band member. I proudly assert that I am an ON-TERRITORY MI’KMAQ citizen. After all, I have always lived on my traditional Mi’kmaq territory and have acted always in protection of it.

This is an important part of my identity and is really inseparable from it. Even now that I live in Toronto, I still have a strong connection to Mi’kmaki and maintain those connections. This is not easy to do when I am legally excluded from my community, but is necessary to ensure that identity for my children.

As I explained earlier, there is consistent conflict between my personal identity and my lived experience of identity. I may feel like I am an on-traditional territory Mi'kmaq, but am still dismissed as an OFF-RESERVE INDIAN or URBAN ABORIGINAL. Non-Indigenous writers like Tom Flanagan, Alan Cairns and others try to persuade Canadians that because I don’t live on reserve, that this somehow makes me less of a Mi’kmaq person. To them, the movement of Indigenous peoples off-reserve is as inevitable as their corresponding loss of identity which is prophecized.

Yet, there were never any reserves for the many thousands of years that we have existed as Mi’kmaq peoples. Reserves are an artificial creation and imposition of the government which were meant to control us and dispossess us of our traditional territories. The goal was to open up our lands for settlement. Why would I ever define myself in a way which legitimizes Canada’s theft of our lands? What kind of message would that be to my children?

All of that lived experience of Indigenous identity which has been imposed from those outside my Nation ignores the fact that my identity also comes from the many great Mi’kmaq people who have made up our Nation, like my GREAT GRANDFATHER LOUIS JEROME. He is said to be one of the last traditional Chiefs of my home community and dedicated his life to travelling throughout Mi’kmaki to maintain relations amongst the seven districts.

His daughter, my GRANDMOTHER MARGARET JEROME was a well-known healer of our community and had extensive knowledge of the traditional uses of plants and herbs in healing our people. She was so good at what she did that even non-Indigenous doctors asked for assistance in times of disease. Her son, my father, FRANK PALMATER quit school in grade three to care for his large family and then fought in the WWII to protect our territories. To him, the treaties we made with Britain were worth fighting to protect.

Yet external determinations of my identity by the Canadian state ignore those connections. To INAC, because my grandmother married a non-Indian, she was no longer considered an Indian and therefore, not entitled to be a band member – nor were her children or grandchildren. Canadian laws turned my grandmother from a Mi’kmaq to an Indian to a non-status Indian and then back to Indian again in 1985.

They are now referred to as BILL C-31’ers - those who got their Indian status restored in 1985 when the United Nations found Canadian laws discriminatory. My relations are considered lesser Indians than other Indians and often discriminated against because of their Bill C-31 status. As a result, this has meant no membership in our home community, no residency rights, or ability to participate in our government.

All of these external laws create divisions, inequities and injustices that focus our attention on our externally imposed identities. Canada has successfully diverted our attention from our real identities. We are so busy trying to combat discrimination in Canadian laws that some of us have forgotten that that we must put as much energy, if not more, into protecting our Mi’kmaq identities.

Growing up, I did not link my Mi’kmaq identity to my registration status under the Act. My family thankfully protected me from that hurt for as long as they could. I often identified myself as a TREATY INDIAN because the Mi’kmaq signed numerous peace and friendship treaties with the Crown. My family made sure I knew those treaties very well.

These treaties, like those signed in 1725, 1726, 1752, etc, protect many of our Indigenous rights to hunt and fish for example, but are not the source of those rights. I therefore grew up knowing that our hunting, fishing, and gathering activities in which my large extended family participated were an essential part of who we were as Mi'kmaq peoples.

Yet, the assertion of myself as a Treaty Indian is often met by a swift denial from federal and provincial governments. It is their position that I am nothing more than a NON-STATUS INDIAN. Since they only recognize status Indians as having treaty rights, governments tell me I don’t have a right to call myself Treaty Indian.

Why do they call me a non-status Indian? Because there is a preference in the Indian Act for those who descend from the male line versus a female line. Had my grandmother been a grandfather, I would be registered under the Indian Act as an Indian (i.e. have status) as would my children. The changes that were made in 1985 in Bill C-31 did not fully remedy this legislated form of gender discrimination.

Again Canada has directed our attention away from my status as a treaty descendant to one of non-status as an Indian. For every identity I assert in this battle, Canada has created another one to counter it.

So, some say, well that’s OK Pam, soon under Bill C-3 you will be a STATUS INDIAN.
In fact, I will be a section 6(2) status Indian, which is the lesser form of status.
That status cannot be transmitted to my children. Even if my home community of Eel River Bar First Nation "allows" me to become a band member, my children will be excluded. Why? It's not because Canada will exclude them from band membership under the Indian Act - Eel River Bar now controls its own membership and does the excluding for Canada.

Layered on top of that lesser type of status will be the fact that it results from Bill C-3, I will be known as a BILL C-3’er, which is just as bad, if not worse, as being known as a Bill C-31’er. I will be considered a “new” Indian which discounts my lifelong identity and contributions as a Mi’kmaq woman and citizen.

Furthermore, Indigenous women and their children impacted by Bill C-3 will NOT get to make claims for lost treaty, land claim, or other benefits despite the court finding of gender discrimination. Some of us have experienced the same kinds of loss of language, culture, and identity as those is residential schools, but because those affected are primarily Indigenous women and their children, they are treated as less worthy of being compensated for severe breaches of their Charter equality rights.

So, again some might argue that government control over our identities only impacts my Indigeneity and there are many other aspects of my identity on which I could focus. After all, I am the MOTHER of two of the most amazing Mi’kmaq men - Yet even that identity is challenged by the state.

Remember the 60’s scoop? Just as residential schools were being shut down all over the country, during the 1960-80’s, child welfare agencies were empowered to literally scoop up thousands of Indigenous children from their homes and place them in foster homes or permanently adopted them out without the knowledge or consent of the parents. Over 11,000 status Indian children were scooped and that number obviously does not account for all those children never registered as status Indians.

These children denied their identities, languages, cultures, families, communities & Nations. Many Canadians misunderstand that period in our history to be over, which is the reason why it is labeled as the 60's scoop - something that happened in the past. Yet Indigenous children NOW make up 60% of all children in care despite the fact that they are less than 4% of the population. We have HIGHER levels of our children in care now than in the 1960s!!!

Canada and the provinces have continued with their policies of assimilation by TAKING OUR CHILDREN from us. Bill C-3 might not be directly physically removing our children, but will legally, socially, and politically remove them from us. Under Bill C-3, MY CHILDREN will be denied their status and thus their band membership, Mi’kmaq citizenship; and treaty rights. On some First Nations, no band membership means you can’t live on reserve and will be evicted. In that way, my children and many others could be prevented from physically being with their family.

It is like Canada is taking away my right to parent my children and raise them as Mi’kmaq. This is not because they are any less Mi’kmaq than any status Indian person, but is solely because Canada has never shifted its position of assimilation.
Canada is saying that they are not Mi’kmaq, but instead Canadian citizens who must adopt a different culture, identity, world view and even potentially a different place to live.

Canada is ensuring that those children who are not stolen from us by Child Welfare agencies will still be removed from us by the Indian Act. This kind of law and policy which targets our children is one of the greatest threats to our future.

Some of the more superficial persuasion might tell me to ignore all that and focus on my career and professional identity as a lawyer, but even my professional identities are challenged and belittled by state actors and society simply because of my Indigeneity.

As an Indigenous person, my being a lawyer means that I am automatically part of Flanagan’s ABORIGINAL ELITE who are assumed to have never suffered the poverty and discrimination of “real” Indians but take advantage of all their benefits and affirmative action programs.

Similarly, as a lifelong VOLUNTEER AND ACTIVIST, I have dedicated a great deal of my life to advancing our cause and helping to build capacity within our communities. However, in the Flanagan, Widdowson, Gibson, Tax Payer’s Federation and National Post world, I am part of the ABORIGINAL INDUSTRY that is allegedly “sucking First Nations dry”.

With all of these battles, I can see how so many Indigenous peoples become confused about their identities, their relations with their communities and Nations, and with Canada generally. It feels like I have been engaged in this SILENT WAR MY ENTIRE LIFE which began so early that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in it.

Something as essential to our individual and collective well-being as identity should not be part of the spoils of war. Liberal democracies pride themselves on fostering conditions that allow individuals to live the good life – the life we choose for ourselves. Why then can’t Indigenous peoples choose their own lives?

Indigenous peoples have suffered enough with the loss of lands, natural resources, and water ways. They have survived wars against them, relocations, residential schools, the 60’s scoop, overrepresentation in jails, wrongful deaths, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and a whole host of assimilatory laws and policies. Attacking their identities hits us at our core.

What is the solution? There are far too many complexities to get into in this blog, which is already too long, but certainly our Indigenous identities must be clearly and completely within our own hands – no more legislative control over who we are. We will likely still have internal struggles to de-colonize ourselves and rid of the divisions within our Nations, but they will be our struggles and we can work it out.

In the meantime, legislation like the Indian Act simply cannot endorse gender or other forms of discrimination. Any initial cost that there might be to Canada will be far outweighed by the costs saved down the road. Poor health, violence, and suicide that results from people without an identity – people without hope or purpose - cost Canadians far more than healthy, secure communities.

I aspire to be a contributing citizen of a strong, vibrant, inclusive Mi’kmaq Nation, which is self-determining and encourages participatory governance over our land and resources, international and inter-tribal relations, and economies that are based on our traditional values and principles that have evolved to address modern situations. That’s my aspiration for myself and my children so that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will never have to serve in this war against our identities and can instead focus on re-building the spirits and relations of our Nations.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Illusion of Justice in Canada - The Conservatives Conditional Support of UNDRIP

I was having a hard time deciding between several important issues that I wanted to write about in my blog this week. I was really struggling between the injustices against our Indigenous peoples noted in Howard Saper's Corrections report, the fact that Sharon McIvor is forced to take the plight of Indigenous women to the United Nations or Canada's hollow endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). All of these issues are important and deserve far more critical attention than they are getting.

That is when I realized that these issues are part of a shameful pattern on the part of the Conservatives. The Conservatives have created an illusion that they are addressing justice issues faced by Indigenous peoples here in Canada by promoting their pretend platform on human rights and equality. Some readers might think this is an overly critical assessment of what seems to be a very progressive agenda - but I would ask those readers to look beyond the media hype and dig deeper to what is ACTUALLY being promised and what is not.

I have to start with UNDRIP because Canada's alleged "endorsement" of it is the biggest illusion of all. As we all know, Canada was one of 4 states that refused to sign UNDRIP along with the USA, Australia and New Zealand. These are some of the countries with the largest Indigenous populations who suffered greatly under the colonial laws, rules, and policies implemented by these States. Their collective refusal to endorse UNDRIP sent a strong message to Indigenous peoples that their colonial rule would continue for some time to come.

Australia subsequently changed its mind and decided afterwards to issue a conditional Statement of Support for UNDRIP and New Zealand soon followed suit. That left Canada and the United States on the hot seat, so to speak, and their failure to endorse UNDRIP a major political impediment to Indigenous-Crown relations. Therefore, the Conservative government made a commitment in its speech from the throne in the spring of 2010 to endorse UNDRIP:

"A growing number of states have given QUALIFIED RECOGNITION to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our Government will take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws."(emphasis added)

It is now November 2010 and we are only just getting the alleged "endorsement" now. I say "alleged" because words mean everything in the world of politics. We know from our collective experiences with treaty making and implementation, that the Crown does not always act honourably in its dealings with Indigenous peoples. In a letter from T. Bannister to the Council of Trade and Plantations, one European colonist wrote about the shameful ways in which treaties were being "negotiated" with Indigenous peoples:

"Their quarrels and wars were not for ambition, empire or bloodthirstiness but to defend their property and bounds...

Their injuries have been very great, as divesting them of their land by force or fraud, first making them drunk and then to sign what they knew not what...

Ad to this our inhumanity to them ... We vilify them with all manner of names, and opprious language, cheat abuse and beat them, sometimes to the loss of limbs, pelt them with stones and set dogs upon them ... too often an Article of Peace has run in one sense in English and quite contrary in Indian, by the Governor’s express order...".

I would like to think that Canada has moved past some of its double-dealings of the past, but this limited endorsement of UNDRIP by the Conservatives proves otherwise. From one side of their face they promise to make changes to address our issues and from the other side, they rally public support against us and find creative political spin to keep from acting on their promises. Canada did not truly, in letter and spirit, endorse UNDRIP - they issued a "Statement of Support" that does not change Indigenous rights (or lack thereof) in Canada. This is not my own personal opinion that I am espousing; I am taking this straight from the horse's mouth. What follows is a summary of Canada's "Statement of Support":

(1)"The Declaration is as ASPIRATIONAL document..." (the definition of "aspirational" is a "cherished desire"; something for which one "wishes")

(2)"the Declaration is a NON-LEGALLY BINDING document that does not reflect customary international law NOR CHANGE Canadian laws" (emphasis added)

(3)"Canada placed on record its concerns with various provisions of the Declaration, including provisions dealing with lands, territories and resources; free, prior and informed consent when used as a veto; self-government without recognition of the importance of negotiations; intellectual property; military issues; and the need to achieve an appropriate balance between the rights and obligations of Indigenous peoples, States and third parties. THESE CONCERNS ARE WELL KNOWN AND REMAIN." (emphasis added)

(4) "We are now confident that CANADA CAN INTERPRET THE PRINCIPLES expressed in the Declaration in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework." (emphasis added)

Those are the highlights of what Canada ACTUALLY signed. These are the limits under which it "supports" UNDRIP - i.e., so long as it has NO legal affect in Canada. For those who might think that I am somehow misinterpreting what Canada means by their conditional support, INAC's own press release again clarified that:

(1) "the Declaration is not legally binding" and

(2) they are only endorsing it as "an aspirational document" and NOT as a legally binding document.

For those who have any further questions about what this all means, INAC also provides a section entitled "Frequently Asked Questions". In answer to the question of whether a State which originally voted against UNDRIP can change its mind, INAC very clearly says "There is no official way for a State to change its position on a declaration". All it can subsequently do is issue a Statement of Support. Canada knew this when it originally voted against UNDRIP. In answer to the question of what UNDRIP means: "The UNDRIP is a non-legally binding aspirational document". I am not sure how much clearer they could have made their position.

So, at the end of the day, all Canada has done is publicly support the cherished wish list of Indigenous peoples but that wish list will not have any legal application or effect in Canada. Regardless of this striking fact, one might argue that Canada could still make significant and substantive changes to its relationship with Indigenous peoples and take transformational action to address serious social, economic, political, cultural and legal issues impacting on the well-being of Indigenous peoples, the majority of which it caused through its colonial laws and policies.

Sure....Canada "could" do that - the question is will it? Well, let's see what Minister of INAC John Duncan had to say:

You will note in the above interview with APTN, that Minister Duncan re-affirms that UNDRIP is an "aspirational" document only that has NO legal application in Canada. Furthermore, on whether Canada's endorsement of UNDRIP will bring about significant changes for Indigenous peoples in Canada, Minister Duncan responds that Canada has its "own agenda" and as a result does not "anticipate any significant change".

So, once again I am still asking myself what the heck is everyone so excited about? Why on earth would the Assembly of First Nations celebrate this announcement? Why would First Nations leaders appear in the media and praise Canada for making such a significant commitment to the rights of Indigenous peoples? Did anyone take the time to actually read what the Statement said or what INAC said its alleged "endorsement" means?

Here is a brief overview of the state of Indigenous peoples in Canada right now:

(1) Indigenous peoples have the lowest socio-economic conditions of all groups in Canada - meaning the lowest education and employment rates coupled with the highest disease, poverty and violence rates;

(2) Funding for essential social services like post-secondary education, drinking water infrastructure, and child welfare are all so grossly underfunded and unequal when compared to non-Indigenous funding, that even Canada's Auditor General has criticized Canada for its lack of action in addressing it;

(3) Indigenous women in Canada do not enjoy even BASIC equality rights that are enjoyed by non-Indigenous women and now Sharon McIvor is being forced, after 25 years of litigation and struggle, to seek redress at the United Nations for Canada's lack of action;

(4) Hundreds of land claims remain unresolved despite Canada's promise years ago to bring about "revolutionary" change to the ways in which claims were handled; and

(5) Our people are homeless on their own traditional territories, our women are murdered and missing at alarming rates, our children are taken from our families and communities at rates as high or higher than during the 60's scoop, our men and women are incarcerated at a higher rate that non-Indigenous people, and racism is still prevalent within our justice system and leads to deaths while in custody, starlight tours, and utter neglect.

If Minister Duncan is right and Canada will not make any significant changes to how it deals with Indigenous issues and will simply continue to advance its own agenda, then what good does their conditional support of UNDRIP do for us? Why would our political leaders be so quick to praise Canada for agreeing to do literally nothing on our behalf?

At this rate, our reserves will be turned into private property and sold to big business by the Flanagan-Jules plan; those remaining reserves will all be occupied by non-Indians through Bill S-4 MRP laws; and if anyone remains after that, they will all be legislated out of extinction by Bill C-3's discriminatory status provisions.

The Conservative's conditional support of UNDRIP creates an illusion of justice in Canada - it is our choice whether we stand beside them and accept it. If our leaders won't stand up for us then it is time that the people told their leaders to step aside and let our people stand up for themselves.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Neanderthal Politics: Shame on Conservatives for Trying to Disempower Indigenous Women AGAIN

The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) has done an incredible job of both raising the profile of the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and maintaining that profile, both on a domestic and international level. This was work done by passionate, dedicated Indigenous women all over Canada on behalf of those without a voice. There are few in this country who do not know what the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) campaign is all about and even fewer who are not awed by the accomplishments of those who worked on it.

NWAC has shown the families and communities of those murdered and missing Indigenous women that those women were (and in some cases still are) an integral part of our Indigenous peoples and Nations. Without our women, our communities and Nations can't move forward on our collective goals of nation-building and cultural revitalization. NWAC has proved that despite all the assimilatory policies, discriminatory laws, and racist attitudes of police and governments who allowed this to happen to our women, that we, the women, can and will stand as warriors and defend ourselves.

Yet, despite all of the hard work done by NWAC, their provincial and territorial affiliates, and others over the last five years, the Conservatives, in their usual take-no-prisoners style, thought they could "run roughshod" over NWAC and the Indigenous women they represent. The Conservatives, using their token female Minister Rona Ambrose, thought they could hide their treachery under the guise of a grand announcement that was allegedly promoted to help murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada. However, as the details were slowly released to the public, we now know that this announcement had very little to do with murdered and missing Indigenous women and more to do with increasing police powers and capacity.

Parliamentary Secretary Shelly Glover (the ex-cop) very clearly told the press that SIS is "finished" - that we should not "mix apples and oranges" and that we all must "turn a new page" and realize that this announcement related to a new program to which NWAC could "apply". MP Rod Bruinooge (no longer head of the Conservative's Aboriginal caucus) confirmed on APTN that this was in fact the case. Even if NWAC does apply for funds to this new program, it will be in competition with many others and there is no guarantee they will get a dime. Aside from that, NWAC would be forced to change its name to "Evidence to Action", can no longer use the well-known name of Sisters in Spirit, can not do any advocacy work, and even worse, NWAC can no longer maintain a database on the ever increasing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada - which now amounts to 582.

I for one am sickened by this decision of the Conservatives and even more so that the women MPs in the Conservative Party would allow this to happen. They all bear personal responsibility for this Neanderthal decision. The Conservative government might be able to be forgiven for a bad decision once in a while, but not when this decision is one of many which directly attacks the basic equality rights of Indigenous women. Bill C-3 will knowingly and purposefully deny equality to Indian women and their children and Bill S-4 will give them an enpty shell of a legislative promise - no accessible justice.

The way in which the Conservatives tried to hide their actual intentions does little for reconciling the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples and only increases the level of mistrust. Despite all the hype around the Conservative announcement, we now know that the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code have NOTHING to do with murdered and missing Indigenous women, but instead increase police powers which I explained in my last blog does not bode well for our people. In case there was any doubt about what this means for our men and now even our women, I would refer you to the newly released report by Correctional Investigator for Canada, and federal ombudsman for prisons, Howard Sapers:

"The disturbing reality of Aboriginal overrepresentation in Canadian correctional
populations is well-known. Aboriginal people — First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit —comprise less than 4% of the Canadian population but account for 20% of the total federal prison population. On any given day, approximately 2,600 Aboriginal offenders are incarcerated in federal prisons."

He specifically went on to note that:

"In the case of Aboriginal women offenders, the situation is even worse. Aboriginal women offenders comprise 33% of the total inmate population under federal jurisdiction. The Aboriginal women offender population has grown by almost 90% in the last ten years, and it is the fastest growing segment of the offender population. The Office’s work in this area of corrections continues to document the inequitable and differential outcomes for Aboriginal offenders resulting from federal correctional policies and practices."

People really have to think about that. It is not that Indigenous women are more "criminal" than non-Indigenous women, they are over-represented because of "federal correctional policies and practices". We should be very concerned that our wrongly incarcerated Indigenous women as well. The Conservatives have not only failed to take any action on addressing these justice issues for Indigenous peoples generally, but they have taken giant steps backwards in addressing equality issues for Indigenous women - specifically those issues that put their very lives and freedom at risk.

How could the Conservatives think that they could sell their $10 million dollar announcement as beneficial to Indigenous women? Well over half the funding will go to police and justice services which are government services that are already well funded. The police and justice systems themselves are the very reasons why some of these missing and murdered Indigenous women never had their cases taken seriously. They are the very reasons why some of our Indigenous women languish in jail longer than non-Indigenous women. Yet, the government is taking what little funding NWAC had to combat these grave injustices and giving it back to the government which is already well-funded and has significantly more capacity than NWAC.

It wasn't our well-funded police and justice services that did all the research and leg work to identify and raise the profile of missing and murdered Indigenous women - it was NWAC and the SIS initiative. It wasn't the police and justice services that comforted the families and took action on their behalf - it was NWAC and SIS. Now the Conservatives want to take the glory for this work and unceremoniously fund and staff the police and justice services to take it from here. They want to be able to tell the world they addressed the problem - but once again this means taking control over our lives. Assuming Howard Sapers' report is accurate, the very thought of police and justice services "taking it from here" should scare all Indigenous peoples, not just our women.

It is certainly not like NWAC and SIS were politically motivated - what did they get for standing up for the lives of their women? There were no Senate seats to be had or huge contracts for those who marched in the streets for our women. It is almost like NWAC and SIS are being punished for giving police and justice services a black eye on the international stage. It is once again, Indigenous women who are taking matters into their own hands.

All they were doing was standing up as the women warriors they are, to try to save the lives of our women. How very chauvinistic, presumptuous, and ethnocentric for the Conservatives to treat our women as helpless victims and ride in on their "white" horse to save the day. It was Indigenous women who brought this issue to light and did all the work - it should be Indigenous women who lead the way in developing and implementing the solutions.

Liberal MP Todd Russell made a great point on APTN. He questioned the Conservatives for agreeing to a public inquiry when the salmon went missing from the Fraser River in BC, but don't care enough about Indigenous women to have one for them. Given that Minister of INAC John Duncan has been vocal against what he refers to as a "race-based fishery" - or as we know it - the constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty right to fish - it is no surprise that the Conservatives would look to create links between declining fish stocks and Indigenous peoples and ignore the shameful link between police and justice neglect and murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Is it really any surprise that Parliamentary Secretary Shelly Glover came off so harsh in the media forcefully stating that SIS was over and proudly reaffirmed that the bulk of the money would go to policing? Her experience has been largely limited to policing after all. But who is there looking out for Indigenous women? It certainly isn't Shelly Glover. NWAC is, and should continue to be the lead on this issue - so long as they get back on track and stand up for themselves.

The fact that President Jeanette Lavell of NWAC would endorse such a "deal" with the Conservatives knowing that it would essentially kill SIS is the biggest surprise of all. As you know, in my last blog on this topic I was highly critical of the fact that NWAC was losing sight of their ultimate mandate in exchange for a rotten deal from the Conservatives, which, since I wrote my last blog, appears far worse than first reported.

I know that it is not NWAC who is killing SIS or legislating inequality for our women in Bill C-3 and S-4, but standing alongside the Conservatives while they do so is just as bad in my books. SIS has become THE symbol of justice and equality for our Indigenous women. NWAC used to stand for those principles as well. NWAC needs to take the risk we all take when we stand up for ourselves and get back to their fundamental mandate of equality for Indigenous women. NWAC has to trust that people will rally around a just cause and a true leader.

When the fate of our women is in police hands, we have over-representation of our women in federal prisons at a rate even higher than that of our men, longer prison sentences, deaths in custody, starlight tours, and hundreds of murdered and missing Indigenous women. Yet, when the fate of our women is on our own hands, we have Sisters in Spirit, country-wide attention, international attention, support groups for the affected families, awareness campaigns, unity marches, and direct action.

Why the hell should any of us want to "turn the page" on Sisters in Spirit and hand it over to the police and the Conservatives' brand of Neanderthal politics to look out for us?

Stand up for yourself NWAC and your warriors will stand beside you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Slow, Painful Death of CAP: Can it be Saved?


The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) is a national Aboriginal organization that once claimed to represent the interests of status and non-status Indians living off-reserve in Canada. The current national President is Betty-Ann Lavallee who used to be the President of one of CAP's affiliates - the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council (NBAPC).

CAP has recently changed its website and in so doing, has changed the focus of who it claims to represent being "the interests of its provincial and territorial affiliate organizations". The provincial and territorial affiliates of CAP located in the East receive core funding for their operations, whereas those in the west have struggled without much success in obtaining funding. CAP's board of directors are comprised of the Presidents of each of the affiliate organizations - most of whom, including CAP, prefer to be referred to as "Chiefs" - ironic given their anti-Chief stance.

CAP used to be known as the Native Council of Canada (NCC) and in its early years had incredibly dynamic, passionate leaders who advocated strongly on behalf of those Aboriginal peoples who were excluded from legal recognition and equal access to Aboriginal and treaty rights as well as programs and services. Incredible leaders like Viola Robinson, Tony Belcourt, Harry Daniels, Ron George, and Dwight Dorey went on to make other significant contributions to the plight of off-reserve Aboriginal peoples.

The NCC was there at the constitutional talks, they advocated for equality for Aboriginal women during the Bill C-31 era, and were on the front-lines organizing protests when governments were going to reduce housing for off-reserve Aboriginal peoples. The NCC at the time also represented Metis peoples and their struggles for recognition and equality long before the Powley case and the creation of the Metis National Council (MNC). Some may find it hard to believe, but the NCC and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)(formerly NIB) used to work closely together on a wide variety of issues.

Unfortunately, those days are long over. The NCC (now CAP) started its slow, downward descent when Patrick Brazeau (then Vice-President) assumed the position of President when former President, Dwight Dorey stepped down after 7 years in office. There was no election for the position of President by the members of the off-reserve - it was an automatic assumption of Presidency as per CAP's Constitution and By-Laws. Brazeau served less than 3 years as the National President, but in that short time managed to nearly destroy CAP and its reputation.

Some Board members of CAP have indicated that Brazeau served a limited purpose in that he at least raised the profile of CAP and should be commended for his aggressive media agenda. I disagree. Simply raising the media profile of an organization is not an accomplishment if the reasons for why the profile was raised are negative or serve to hurt others. Brazeau used CAP as his "launching pad" to obtain media attention for himself, not CAP; align himself politically with the Conservative Party; and eventually jump ship and land himself a conservative Senate seat all while trashing First Nations and their leaders. That might suit Brazeau's interests, but what did CAP get out of the deal?

If you listen to Board members and various media reports, what Brazeau left CAP with was controversy, destroyed relationships with other NAO's, allegations of sexual harassment, a decreased budget, financial turmoil, and worst of all - a confused and discouraged membership. Brazeau, now Senator Brazeau, has been described in the media as a "loose cannon" and "self-promoting" for spewing negativity against First Nations communities and their leaders at every opportunity. Unfortunately for CAP, this still has repercussions for them given how he used his position at CAP to gain his initial media profile.

But that is as far as my sympathy goes for CAP. Once Brazeau finally agreed to give up his Presidency at CAP (and not obtain both a CAP salary and Senate salary as the he had originally intended) CAP had every opportunity to distance itself from the self-serving Brazeau-legacy. It could have elected leadership which would bring CAP back to its roots and its core mandate to be THE political voice for off-reserve Aboriginal peoples and take the much-needed steps to repair its relationships with other NAO's and more importantly, the grass roots people Brazeau left behind.

That is not what happened. Wisely or unwisely, some voters in the Atlantic region reported difficulty getting the then President of NBAPC, Betty-Ann Lavallee, to do any work on behalf of its constituency and so decided that if they could not get rid of her constitutionally (as she always had her lawyer by her side), then voting her into CAP would at least get her out of NB. I can see the appeal of such an approach. The plan worked, except no one could foresee that no election would held at the NBAPC and that a staff member of the NBAPC would eventually acclaimed as President. This has left many NB members dazed and confused to say the least.

But, that is all just the behind the scenes and media gossip. It will never be confirmed or denied and no explanations will ever be forthcoming as is the case in political controversies. In fairness, CAP should be judged on its record. In the short time that Betty-Ann Lavallee has been President of CAP, she has shown an eerily similar disposition to that of Brazeau, although much less informed. Lavallee has demonstrated that she will flip-flip CAP's position on just about any issue to suit the conservative party line. All of this is done in the name of CAP but without consulting in a meaningful way with its own members (not Board) on issues that are important to them.

By way of example, CAP prepared a submission to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)to put on the record its position on Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act. CAP argued that INAC did not consult with Aboriginal peoples, that the Indian Act's registration provisions were discriminatory, and that section 6(1) of the Act should be amended to include all those born pre-1985 to remedy the full extent of gender inequality in that provision. By the time it rolled around to CAP's turn to present to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAON) on Bill C-3, CAP had changed its tune and was willing to support the bill.

In case there was any doubt about CAP's Brazeau-esque support of the Conservative Government, when CAP appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Bill S-4 Matrimonial Real Property on Reserve, Lavallee specifically endorsed the Conservative Party's suite of legislation. In fact, if you read the transcripts of her submission on Bill S-4, it sounds more like a Conservative Party ad for their initiatives than any sustantive input on the bill. She cited the residential schools apology, Bill S-4, Bill C-3, and the right of Indians to vote as significant evidence of the Conservative Government's commitment to "humanity" for Aboriginal peoples. If anyone was under any doubt about whether Lavallee's CAP would abandon the Brazeau legacy or cuddle up to the Conservatives - Lavallee settled it that day.

Furthermore, in stark contrast to Brazeau's media blitz, Lavallee is almost never in the media on any issue. It is as though CAP has fallen off the face of the earth. CAP used to stand for equality and didn't make deals that were harmful to its members. Now the CAP Presidency is used either as a political launching pad or just a job. Some might say that I am simply being critical of any NAO. To my mind, what I am most critical of is the holier-than-thou hypocrisy started by Brazeau and being carried forward by Lavallee.

When Brazeau accepted his Senate seat, he announced to the public that he would be maintaining his position and salary at CAP as well as drawing a Senate salary. This seems to be a pretty hypocritical position for one who has so vocally criticized any First Nation Chief that only makes ONE 6 figure salary, let alone TWO. Brazeau criticizes First Nations for not respecting the rights of Aboriginal women, yet it was Brazeau who made headlines for having sexual harassment complaints and made disparaging remarks against all the Aboriginal women who offered testimony on Bill S-4. Lavallee has proven to be no different.

It is reported that Brazeau left CAP in financial turmoil, with various federal departments claiming "financial irregularities" and large sums of money that were not accounted for in their financial reports. So, some could argue that he left CAP in a mess. That doesn't prevent Lavallee from taking the bull by the horns and getting the situation under control. Yet, at CAP's recent AGM, many AGM delegates and some Board of Directors reported that CAP showed a deficit of nearly 2 million dollars. Yet despite this fact, Lavallee allegedly requested a significant increase to her 6 figure salary at a board meeting preceding the AGM. While some board members were against a raise until the deficit was addressed, it is reported that she nevertheless ended up with a raise.

Now I don't know about other Aboriginal people living off-reserve, but aside from the obvious hypocrisy, what does this say about the usefulness of CAP? Am I getting any value for the tax dollars I use to pay Lavallee's inflated salary? It would be one thing if CAP was in a deficit because it had accomplished a long list of things for Aboriginal peoples living off-reserve, but I fear my tax dollars are being used to fund her trips to Bolivia and her salary increase, as opposed to any tangible improvements for Aboriginal peoples living off-reserve. Where is the self-restraint or the self-sacrifice? How could a real leader inflate their own salary when she has not even secured core funding for her own western affiliates?

If CAP is not already dead, it is surely in the process of a slow, painful death as years now pass without advancing the cause for off-reserve Aboriginal peoples. Can CAP be saved? I think the better question is should it be saved? Is there anyone in Indian country ready and willing to support another NAO that appears to be more concerned about securing enough funding for consultants and staff to administer programs and services, than it does with making any substantive difference for Aboriginal people politically, legally, culturally or otherwise?

I guess that call is for the grass roots people to make.