Monday, December 19, 2011

Brave Leadership Spreads Hope: Attawapiskat Takes on the Ultimate Bully

There have been countless blogs, reports, media stories and commentary on the crisis Attawapiskat First Nation located in northern Ontario on the James Bay. So many of these stories report on the current situation and few provide the historical context from which it all evolved. The purpose of this blog is simply to provide a little context and show how grass roots community members have the power to spread hope to all First Nations by their brave leadership.

Attawapiskat is a First Nation community of approximately 2000 of its 3335 members live on reserve. This community is part of the larger Cree Nation and the current Chief is Theresa Spence. Attawapiskat is part of the Mushkegowuck Council (a tribal council representing eight Cree communities which is currently headed by Grand Chief Stan Louttit and represents about 10,000 First Nations people.

At the regional level, Attawapiskat is represented by the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (formerly known as Grand Council of Treaty 9). It is headed by Grand Chief Stan Beardy and represents over 45,000 First Nations people. This organization is affiliated with the Chiefs in Ontario which is the provincial co-ordinating body for the 134 First Nations in Ontario.

All of the issues surrounding the current situation in Attawapiskat did not turn up over night, nor can Canada or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) legitimately claim that they had no idea what was happening in the community. The significant challenges faced by Attawapiskat can be traced back to the diesel spill in 1979 that was never remedied by INAC. (Although INAC purported to change its name to Aboriginal Affairs, the act still says Department of Indian Affairs).

In 1979, the largest diesel spill in northern Ontario occurred from underground pipes which leaked under their reserve lands. INAC did not remediate this environmental hazard, but instead, INAC built a school for the community on these contaminated lands. The school itself ended up acting like a cap for the nearly 30,000 gallons of diesel just underneath the surface. The toxic diesel fumes made both teachers and students so ill that the school had to be closed.

In 2000-2001, the band closed the school and also declared a state of emergency in order to get INAC to build a proper school on lands that were not contaminated. INAC refused and left children to attend school in cold, moldy, run-down portables. This is how the world came to know Shannen Koostachin - the brave little girl who would not give up on her dream of a safe, clean school for her community. Her campaign came to be known as Shannen's Dream.

When NDP MP Charlie Angus was elected in 2004, he too joined the cause and advocated strenuously for Canada to act immediately and address the lack of a school in Attawapiskat. Despite all the efforts, promises made by former Ministers Nault, Scott and Prentice all went unfulfilled. This lead Shannen and her fellow community members to meet with then Minister Chuck Strahl to explain how important a school was for their community. It was this Minister, under the newly empowered dictatorial "Harper Government" (also known as Canada) that finally confirmed that NO new school would be built.

Minister Strahl, being too busy to meet for long with Shannen, he said that he did not have any money for a school. This did not deter Shannen or her supporters. Despite her subsequent tragic passing, grass roots members at Attawapiskat, Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS), MP Charlie Angus and others have continued to lobby for a school.

In May 2011, after much domestic and international pressure and political embarrassment, INAC seemed to reconsider its position and issued its fourth promise to Attawapiskat to build the school. There was a great deal of public celebration over this victory, but it is now 8 months later and construction for the school has not been started. INAC claims it will break ground sometime in 2013, but time will tell.

The school has not been the only issuing plaguing Attawapiskat. In early 2005, the De Beers Mining company decided to dump their sewage sludge into Attawapiskat's sewage pumping station. As a result, the system was overwhelmed and sewage backed up into community homes. A subsequent engineering report noted that Canada knew about the situation and did not take steps to address the immediate crisis or to remediate the environmental hazard.

Because INAC refused to offer emergency aid to this community is crisis, the struggling First Nation was forced to evacuate its residents and pay the bill itself, thus resulting in a major debt. NDP Member of Parliament Charlie Angus explained that the band ran up a debt from flying people out of the community and putting them in hotels. Residents simply could not stay in homes full of raw sewage, and the First Nation was forced into a tough decision given INAC's refusal to assist them.

They declared a state of emergency in early 2009 to refocus attention on the nearly ten years without a school. At that time, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Chuck Strahl, was shocked by the declaration of the sate of emergency: "...they've issued this (state of emergency) and I'm not sure what it means or why it has been done." The declaration was made not just because of the school, but also because of the water infrastructure needs and the major environmental and health issue associated with the De Beers sewage back-up in their community.

Strahl went on to express that there were no health issues, that he was aware of the situation on the ground and that "Every indication is it's all good". He went on to guarantee that INAC would ensure that everything would be fine: "I'm not sure what's going on there, but we'll work with them to make sure it's all fine," said Strahl. An interesting promise given the reaction by Minister Duncan and the "Harper Government" to Attawapiskat's third declaration of emergency on October 28, 2011.

At first, this declaration received the same amount of attention from INAC as the previous ones - no attention at all. Chief Theresa Spence, MP Charlie Angus and others were in the news nearly every day trying to bring attention to the worsening crisis in Attawapiskat. Now, given all the past disasters with diesel, sewage back-up, evacuations and no school, the community saw some of its members living in sheds and tents, and some houses were so over-crowded that they had up to 20 people living in one house. Yet for three weeks INAC did not act. It was not until the Canadian Red Cross stepped in and provided emergency services to the community that the "Harper Government" was shamed into responding.

However, the response was not what anyone expected. Instead of empathy or compassion, the "Harper Government" came out swinging and accused the community of "mismanagement" of their federal funding.  Unlike the political reaction to any other community in Canada that has suffered a crisis like flooding or fire, the Conservatives turned their backs and decided to blame the victim for the many crises in their community.

The reaction from Attawapiskat, other First Nations and thousands of Canadians was outrage that the Conservatives would turn a situation of human suffering into a political battle complete with a smear campaign against the community's leadership for daring to show the world how disgustingly Canada treats its First Nations. The media swooped in and covered all the drama as usual focusing on the simplistic headlines pitting tragedy against alleged corruption - until something happened and people started asking different questions.

We had all heard the old right-wing denials of injustice and their racist focus on the alleged corruption of all First Nation leaders, their 'exhorbitant" salaries being the cause of poverty on reserves and the solutions being - be more Canadian by paying taxes, owning your own fee simple land and mortgaging your house. Yet, few had ever asked the relevant questions of how did we get here, why is there no action being taken to redress human suffering and how do we move forward. The fact that the media quickly shifted to these important questions may well have shaped the response.

Dec.2, 2011 – APTN InFocus
Part 1

Part 2

 Dec.3, 2011 – CTV’s Question Period

Dec.3, 2011 – Let’s Talk Native with John Kane

Dec.4, 2011 – CBC Radio’s The Current
Part 1

Part 2

Dec.8, 2011 – CTV’s Power Play with Don Martin

Dec.11, 2011 – CPAC’s Goldhawk Live

 Dec.15, 2011 – CTV’s Canada AM

I think however, that the biggest issue is the level to which the grass roots people in Attawapiskat said enough is enough and started to advocate on their own behalf is what made the difference. Our people have been suffering for so long and have been controlled and beaten down by ongoing colonial laws and policies that resistance has been difficult. How can one stand up for themselves if they have no home, food or water and the risk to standing up could mean retaliation from INAC or Harper?

The children of Attawapiskat, led by Shannen Koostachin showed the world that the well-being of our people are worth the risks. They showed the true spirit of our Indigenous peoples and made their ancestors proud when the stood up for their people. They have inspired a generation that has learned what colonization is and are working hard at decolonizing themselves and their communities and strengthening the grass roots resistance to federal control and forced poverty.

So too did Chief Theresa Spence who risked everything to continually highlight the injustices in her community. In most political realms, the squeaky wheel often gets the grease - but in a "Harper Government" which is all about control and domination - the squeaky wheel is more likely to be removed and replaced or thrown out. Judging Harper's actions in Attawapiskat, it is obvious that they were punished for their advocacy efforts and vilified in Parliament and the media until a wiser Canadian public wanted to know more.

The sustained efforts of Chief Theresa Spence and her councillors, the leaders before them, their community members and youth, have been nothing short of heroic. They stood in the face of criticism, unfounded allegations of mismanagement and the most racist and heartless political response ever to a crisis in Canada and stood firm on justice for their community. Canada's response to impose further colonial controls on the community through a third party manager at $1300 a day to be paid from the band's overwhelmed budget is yet another attack on the community in an effort to subdue them.

While Canada has been critiqued, so has the Assembly of First Nations for their lack of advocacy for the most impoverished communities in Canada. Where was Shawn Atleo when Chief Spence was declaring her THIRD state of emergency? Why was he not screaming from the steps of Parliament to raise awareness and demand action? Atleo's political strategy of "playing nice with the Conservatives" has only brought woe upon those First Nations who are most in need. He has set the stage for non-resistance which does not bode well with most First Nations.

But we all have hope and have been inspired by the efforts of Attawapiskat to refuse to give up - to refuse to believe that they are not entitled to justice and basic human rights. Strong grass roots youth like Shannen Koostachin and strong Indigenous women leaders like Chief Theresa Spence have shown the world that resistance is now at the heart of our identities as Indigenous peoples and that we - the grass roots - have the power to change our future. We do not have to wait for elected leaders to act on our behalf. True leaders step in when there is a void and take real steps to address it.

Attawapiskat has done more to raise awareness about our issues than many leaders who are paid to do just that. But they took a risk in acting. There will always be risks associated with decolonizing and resisting federal control over our Nations. We could have our leaders discredited or removed, we could lose valuable funding or be publically vilified by Harper's thugs. There are even risks associated with the inevitable change that comes with something other than the "status quo". But these risks are worth taking on behalf of our communities who expect and deserve so much more than what they survive now - lack of housing, water, sewer, food, education, employment and for some, a lack of identity, culture, language, history, context and pride.

This is not to say there are no good leaders - there are many and I have the privilege of working with some of them who also believe that things need to change. My main point is that the most vulnerable in our communities - Indigenous women and children - are also a source of strength and leadership for our people. Our grass roots Indigenous people know a better life is possible - one that honours the sacrifices of our ancestors and protects our culture, identity, land and resources for our future generations.

Let Attawapiskat be an example of hope - one that proves that brave leaders, who are prepared to take risks can come from anyone, at anytime, under any conditions. Our people will rally around these kinds of leaders and collectively we have the power to change our futures and take back control over our Nations.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Justice Minister Vic Toews' Wilful Blindness to the Ongoing "Crisis" in Justice System

Please tell me that I am not the only one who is shocked by federal Justice Minister Vic Toews' idiotic comments tonight on APTN News. Did he actually say that there is nothing wrong with our justice system and that our justice system does not discriminate? I can't even think of a proper descriptor for his comments - ignorant, racist, wilfully blind, pitifully stupid, unprofessional, and irresponsible don't seem to convey the depth to which his comments are offensive.

It is as if he has ignored every single justice report, inquiry, and Supreme Court of Canada judgement that has found, based on overwhelming research and evidence, that our justice system does in fact discriminate, especially against Indigenous peoples. However, we all know that as Minister of Justice he knows about all these reports - he has simply chosen to ignore them because it suits the Conservative party's racist assimilatory policy towards Indigenous peoples.

I hardly know where to start.

The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) published in 1996 is one of the most comprehensive studies on the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

In the same year, they released a report entitled: Bridging the Cultural Divide: A Report on Aboriginal People and Criminal Justice in Canada was released which highlighted the numerous problems with the justice system as it relates to Indigenous peoples. Both reports found the fact of over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system to be due in part to ongoing discrimination.

Prior to that, in 1989, there was the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Prosecution which you will recall was brought about because of the wrongful imprisonment of Donald Marshall Jr simply because he was Mi'kmaq.

The inquiry found: "The criminal justice system failed Donald Marshall Jr., at virtually every turn from his arrest and wrongful conviction for murder in 1971 up to, and even beyond, his acquittal by the Court of Appeal in 1983." They further found that everyone involved, from the police, Marshall's lawyers, the judges, prosecutors, and appeal judges all failed Marshall because he was "native".

Minister Toews would be shocked to learn that their actions "amounted to a defence of the criminal justice system at the expense of Donald Marshall Jr., in spite of overwhelming evidence that the system itself had failed." Toews might also be gobsmacked to hear that this inquiry made recommendations to "reduce discrimination in the justice system".

There is also the Report of the Manitoba Justice Inquiry in 1999 which made significant findings in relation to the level of discrimination in the justice system as it relates to Indigenous peoples.

They found that there are two primary reasons why Aboriginal peoples are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and both are the result of systemic and ongoing discrimination against Aboriginal peoples. First of all, they found that Aboriginal peoples are more likely to be confronted by the justice system, not because they are culturally pre-disposed to criminal activity, but because of the long history of "discrimination and social inequality that has impoverished Aboriginal people and consigned them to the margins of ...society."

However, the Inquiry found that the more serious issue was the ongoing discrimination within the justice system that assumes all people are the same. A system which assumes equality exists "can't help but discriminate against Aboriginal people". Just in case there was any doubt about the fact of discrimination in the justice system (which Toews denies), the Inquiry further found that: "Discrimination against Aboriginal people has been a central policy of Canadian governments since Confederation" and "represents a monumental symbol of intolerance".

Aboriginal peoples have been, and continue to be victims of "the openly hostile bigot" and the victims of the systemic discrimination found in our justice system. For Minister Toews to say otherwise is an outright lie according to these legal inquiries, the Supreme Court of Canada and even the Office of the Correctional Investigator. This alone is cause for Minister Toews to submit his resignation because he obviously no longer represents the public interest if he can so openly deny the sickness within the justice system.

Most of you will recall the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Gladue.

The TOP COURT in our country found that in addition to Canada being "a world leader in putting people in prison";  the "serious problem of aboriginal overrepresentation in Canadian prisons is well-documented", the "excessive imprisonment of aboriginal people is only the tip of the iceberg" because "Aboriginal people are overrepresented in virtually all aspects of the system."

The Supreme Court of Canada goes on to explain (so READ carefully Minister Toews), that "there is widespread BIAS against aboriginal people within Canada" such that "this widespread RACISM has translated into systemic DISCRIMINATION in the criminal justice system." (emphasis added) They also highlight the fact that the drastic level of discrimination and overrepresentation should be considered "a CRISIS in the Canadian criminal justice system".

But, just in case numerous reports, inquiries and court cases from the top court in the land don't convince you, what about the research and observations of a federal official like the Office of the Correctional Investigator who has been saying for over 15 years that the discrimination at every level of the justice system against Aboriginal peoples is a full-blown CRISIS.

I invite anyone to read any report from any year and you will note that report after report highlights the discrimination, the suffering of Aboriginal peoples by discriminatory laws and policies and the fact that the problem is getting WORSE not better. These reports call the situation:

- "discriminatory" (2001);
- a "continuing crisis and embarrassment" (2003);
- it is a "grave" situation which prevents Aboriginal people from enjoying equality (2005);
- the "inequitable results" stem directly from federal policies (2008);
- the situation is getting much worse (2009); and
- "inequitable outcomes" are the direct result of federal policies and practices (2010).

What does this all mean in terms of numbers? Well, Aboriginal peoples are only 4% of the population, but in places like Manitoba Aboriginal men can make up 79% of the prison population. Aboriginal women fare even worse making up to 83% of all prison admissions.

However, the situation is getting much worse for Aboriginal women and are expected to have significant increases. In fact, over a 10 year period, the imprisonment of our Aboriginal women rose by 151%.

This of course, ONLY reflects what is happening in criminal justice. This does not include all the overt discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples in the justice system by way of:

- murdered and missing Aboriginal women left to die without adequate police attention;
- our people who are taken on Starlight tours and left to freeze to death;
- our people who are shot to death, beaten to death or tazered unnecessarily; and
- the use of CSIS, RCMP, military and now INAC to spy on our people - even those of us who have never committed a criminal act.

No one in their right mind could stand before all Canadians and claim that our justice system is not broken and does not discriminate against anyone. Only a right-wing extremeist, drunk with "white privilege" and power would even have the nerve to say something like that and ignore all the evidence to contrary - including evidence that comes from the very justice system he defends.

This controversy all comes about over his defence of Bill C-10 - a massive bill that would make numerous amendments to numerous acts - many of which will have devastating consequences on Canadians. It will make minimum prison sentences mandatory and will take away the discretion of judges to find alternatives to prison.

It is widely opposed - by organizations like the Canadian Bar Association which represents lawyers in Canada. Their 100-page submission against the Bill highlights the speed at which this omnibus bill (one that makes many changes to many acts) is being considered, the lack of time for study and comment and the overall dangers of the bill.

The following link is to a radio interview where I first talked about Bill S-2 (matrimonial real property on reserve) and then Bill C-10 and how they both relate to the oppression and assimilation of Aboriginal peoples.

I know I ask a great deal of my readers - to read such lengthy blogs, access numerous links and write e-mails to express our concerns regarding endless bills, policies and actions against our peoples. But, most of us have the education, access to internet and computers and ability to do this. Think of all those who can't, but who will no doubt be the ones to suffer from this ongoing oppression and assimilation of our people. Please write to Minister Toews and tell him to get real, submit his resignation and NOT pass Bill C-10.

Thank you for all your support and for continuing the battle for real justice and equality. For rabble fans, see my blog on

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I am moved to write this blog because of Minister Duncan's outrageous remarks that residential schools were NOT cultural genocide. This has led to discussions about whether or not the murder, torture and abuse of Indigenous peoples in this country "qualifies" as genocide, given the more recent, and much more distant atrocities committed in countries like Rwanda. Rwanda gained international attention because upwards of 800,000 people died in less than a year by brutal means. The Srebenica genocide resulted in the murder of approximately 8,000 Bosnian men and women in 1995. The holocaust of millions of Jewish people is likely the most famous of all.

These events all took place far away from our shores in North America and allowed Canadians and Americans to point across the sea and shake their heads in horror and disgust. North Americans have been able to rewrite their own histories so that they don't have to face the atrocities committed here at home. They have the benefit of majority power which means that their teachers speak of peace and friendship with the Indians, their priests speak of saving Indians, and their politicians speak of things like reconciliation. Meanwhile, the horrors committed against our peoples, which resulted in the largest genocide in the planet's history is a story that never gets told.

As a lawyer, a professor and someone who does alot of public speaking about issues impacting our peoples, I am often faced with the question of whether genocide really happened here in North America (a place we call Turtle Island and includes Canada and the United States). When I answer unequivocally yes, the first reaction is usually - "You can't seriously compare colonization with the vicious murders in Rwanda"? I agree - there is is no comparison. It was a different place, at a different time, with different methods and results. What I am saying is that what happened to our people on Turtle Island fits EVERY criteria of the international definition of genocide.

In 1948, after the atrocities committed against the Jewish people in WWII, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Convention declared that genocide was a crime in international law regardless of whether it was committed during a time of peace or war. Any punishment is NOT limited by time or place and there is no immunity for public bodies, government officials or individuals. They defined genocide as follows:

"The Convention defines genocide as any of a number of acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group:

- killing the members of the group;

- causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group;

- deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

- imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and

- forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

That is not my definition - that is the definition by international law standards for which ALL nations are bound and Canada and the United States are no exceptions. Canada signed this Convention on November 28, 1949. The United States signed on December 11, 1948.

Thus, in order for an act to be considered genocide, it does not require that all components be present, nor does it require that the entire group be eliminated. However, in both Canada's case and that of the United States, ALL components of genocide are present. Specifically here in Canada:

(1) killing members of the group

- the deliberate infecting of blankets with small pox and sending them to reserves;
- the enacting of scalping laws which encouraged settlers to kill and scalp Indians for a monetary reward;
- the deliberate infecting of Indigenous children with infectious diseases in residential schools which led to their deaths;
- the deliberate abuse, torture, starvation, and denial of medical care to Indigenous children forced to live at residential schools which resulted in as many as 40% dying in those schools;
- the killing of our people by police and military through starlight tours, tazering, severe beatings, and by unjustified shootings;
- the killing of our people resulted in severely reduced populations, and some Nations completely wiped out;
- in the US, some groups were exterminated by up to 98%;

(2) causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to the members of the group;

- think of the torture and abuse inflicted on Indigenous children in residential schools like sexual abuse, rape, sodomy, solitary confinement, denial of food and medical care, and severe beatings for speaking one's language, etc;
- imagine the mental harm to Indigenous families and communities when their children were forcibly removed from them and left to die in residential schools;
- even when residential schools were starting to close, social workers in the 1960's onward stole children and placed them out for adoption in non-Indigenous families;
- the torture and abuse of Indigenous peoples in order to force them to sign treaties and agreements;
- the loss of language, culture, traditions, practices, way of life, beliefs, world views, customs;
- the imposed divisions in families, communities and Nations through the Indian Act

(3) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

- think of the deliberate and chronic underfunding of essential social services on reserve like housing, water, food, sewer and other programs fundamental to the well-being of a people like education and health;
- the theft of all the lands and resources of Indigenous peoples and their subsequent confinement to small reserves where the law prevented them from leaving and providing for their families and so were left to starve on the rations provided by Canada;
- or the relocations of Indigenous communities from resource rich areas to swamp lands where they could not provide for themselves;
- Indian Affairs who divided large nations into small communities, located them physically away from one another,
- the Indian Act led to the physical separation of Indigenous women and children from their communities through the Act's assimilatory registration provisions;

(4) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

- the forced sterilizations of Indigenous women and men, most notably in Alberta and British Columbia;
- the Indian Act's discriminatory registration provisions which prevent the descendants of Indigenous women who married non-Indian men to be recognized as members of their community thus keeping their births from being recognized as part of the group;
- the discriminatory INAC policy which prevents the children of unwed mothers from registering their children as Indians and part of their communities (unstated and unknown paternity);

(5) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

- the long history of residential schools which had an express stated purpose - "to KILL the Indian in the child" and to ensure that there were no more Indians in Canada;
- the 60's scoop which saw the mass removal of Indigenous children from their homes and adopted permanently into non-Indigenous homes;
- the prevention of children from being members in their communities due to the discriminatory Indian Act registration provisions;
- the current high rate of children removed from their families which out numbers residential schools and 60's scoop combined.

Unfortunately, I could provide many more examples, but there is no need to do so when what is listed above more than meets the definition of genocide. So, when the Minister of Indian Affairs says that residential schools were NOT a form of cultural genocide, he is not only undoing what good the public residential schools apology did, but he is denying all of the horrors committed by Canada on our peoples - in essence, he is denying our lived realities.

Watch the clips of Minister Duncan on APTN's InFocus show that we just did on Nov.4, 2011 on the issue of assimilation and genocide in Canada:

Part 1 of APTN InFocus:

Part 2:

I find it hard to believe that while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is going around Canada, that the Minister of Indian Affairs would be so disrespectful. Not only were residential schools "lethal" for some languages, cultures and family relations, it was literally "lethal" for almost half the children that attended. How much more lethal would he want it to be? 60%, 70%, 80%?

The Prime Minister should immediately remove Minister Duncan from his position. That won't happen of course, because the Conservative government STILL has a policy objective of assimilating Indians. The Indian Act's registration provisions are modern day evidence of that.

I invite you all to watch the documentary entitled: The Canary Effect. It is only one hour long, but is very difficult to watch. It hurts the spirit in so many ways and I imagine will be difficult for uninformed non-Indigenous people to accept. While it relates primarily to genocide against our Indigenous peoples in the United States, much of what is said applies equally in Canada.

We are in the fight of our lives and we need to turn the tide of this war around. We have to stop blaming ourselves and believing the lies that we were told. We are not inferior, we are not genetically pre-disposed to dysfunction, our men are not better than our women, and we certainly did not EVER consent to genocide against our people. All the dysfunction, addictions, ill health, suicides, male domination and violence is all the result of what Canada did to us. We are not each others' enemies. We have to forgive ourselves for being colonized - none of that is who we really are as Indigenous peoples.

Our people are beautiful, proud, strong, and resilient. We honour our ancestors by surviving. Now we have to honour our future generations by thriving. Our children carry our ancestors in their hearts and minds. They carry the strength, honour and passion of our ancestors in their blood. Our generation must find a way, despite all the barriers in our way, to love, support and nurture our children so that we can rise up and take back our sovereignty, our honour, and our future.

Our children will still go through the pain of knowing what has been done and is currently done to our people by Canada, and all the dysfunction that it has created, but maybe they will finally know where to direct the anger and stop turning it inward and hurting themselves. That anger can be focused into passion which can then be channelled into action for our people. 

Our future depends on our children loving themselves and having hope. We can't ever let them lose that. Canada may want us to disappear, but we don't have to let it happen.

All my relations...

P.S. In case you want to express your concern to Minister Duncan, his e-mail is

Friday, October 28, 2011

Authoring Our Own Demise? NAOs Must Stop Propping up Conservatives

I keep wondering, why is it that some of the national Aboriginal organizations (NAO's) continue to look the other way when the Conservatives show their true colours? There is a saying that goes: when someone tells you who they really are, you should listen. So, if a guy tells you on a date he doesn't want to settle down, you should not be surprised if after dating him for several months that he does not want to get married. Why then do our leaders pose for photo-ops shaking hands and smiling with the government that wants our assimilation?

In Canada, the Crown has not only shown its true policy objectives through its legal and political actions, but it has made them very explicit in speeches, cabinet papers and written documents. Canada's underlying objective in Indian policy is to "rid Canada of the Indian problem" and to free up land for settlement and development. Even the joint action plan between Canada and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) focuses on freeing up land to "benefit Canadians". If anyone thinks that federal Indian policy has changed - one need only look at the second generation cut-off in the Indian Act's registration provisions to realize time is ticking.

To date, ndian law and policy has been based on the fact that Canada still sees the "Indian problem" as temporary and that, despite apologies to the contrary, it views First Nations as inferior and incapable of handling their own affairs. This is why Canada controls access to our own lands & resources, why it still has the Indian Act and why they control nation-building tools like education. The age-old solution to the Indian problem has always been assimilation - by whatever means. Historically that meant scalping laws, small pox-infected blankets, starvation, preventing hunting and fishing or leaving reserves, outlawing culture, residential schools, and today it means legislated extinction in the Indian Act registration provisions, trying to change reserve lands to fee simple to be sold to non-Indians and imprisoning our men and women at alarming rates.

We often criticize PM Harper for visiting countries that violate human rights or for shaking the hands of war criminals. Yet, how many times in the last 5-10 years have we seen our national "Aboriginal" leaders pose for photos while smiling and shaking the hands of federal officials while our people starve to death, freeze to death, go murdered and missing, or be taken on Starlight tours and are over-incarcerated at rates as high as 100% of the inmate population. Seriously, our ancestors would be disgusted that we would shake the hands of the enemy that plots our demise. Not a single "Aboriginal" leader should ever shake the hand of Minister Duncan or PM Harper again until the suffering of our people at their hands is eliminated.

Indian policy has not changed over time, although we may have seen some political dancing around the individual issues. Yet, none of us should be fooled or distracted by the dance. Canada's progress on relations with First Nations has taken a draconian step backwards with the Conservatives (Cons) in power. Some might say I am biased, but seeing as I don't belong to any political party in Canada, nor do I make a habit of voting, I think my views are less biased than most. I call it as I see it based on the Cons' individual and collective actions, decisions, positions and submissions. The Conservatives have all but spelled it out - yet we refuse to see the writing on the wall. Why? Because it means we have to make hard decisions - take some significant risks and substantially turn the relationship on its head.

When I talk about the signs, I start with the Cons's appointment of John Duncan as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC now AANDC). Duncan had a history of being vigorously opposed to what he called "race-based" fishing. He saw First Nations as a races that did not deserve to have their Aboriginal and treaty rights respected, despite their constitutional protection. So, the Cons made sure that they appointed someone who dislikes First Nations and denies their constitutionally protected rights. Should anyone be surprised that the Cons have as their "sessional" plan to finally eliminate all, what they call "special rights" for First Nations?

Then of course there is the fact that Tom Flanagan, the guy famous for advocating for the assimilation of Aboriginal peoples, was Harper's campaign manager and then his Chief of Staff. For anyone who has not read First Nations? Second Thoughts, Flanagan sees Aboriginal peoples as "primitive" and that "assimilation" has to happen. Imagine the influence he would have had over the PM or his staff regarding Aboriginal peoples. That might explain Harper's comment on the international stage that there was "no history of colonization in Canada".

It might also explain why the Cons have funded research and activities into singling out individual First Nations to support their plan under the guise of economic development. Flanagan's latest book: Beyond the Indian Act looking to turn reserves into individual plots of land to sell to non-Indians was supported by the First Nation Tax Commission. The information I received through ATIP provided hundreds of documents showing how much time and effort has gone into promoting the privatization and taxation of reserve lands. We would never have stood for that 100 years ago, but now they use "Aboriginal" faces to do the promoting.

Then, there was MP Pierre Poilievre who, on the day of the residential schools apology, questioned whether the settlement was "value for money". One might think he is just a lone radical, right-wing voice in the Conservative government were it not for Minister Duncan's statement yesterday where he said that residential schools were NOT a form of cultural genocide - it was just negative to culture, not lethal. If that was not bad enough, the RCMP release their report wherein they investigated their role in residential schools and no surprise - relived themselves of any wrong-doing. Yet, somewhere this week or next - our national leaders will pose for another photo shaking the hands of those who advocate our assimilation.

Wow. Really? Do the Conservatives think we are all stupid? Upwards of 40% of the children who entered residential schools never made it out alive. The express purpose of residential schools was expressed by superintendent of Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott:

"I want to get rid of the Indian problem… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada."

Even when residential schools became too controversial, they switched over to what is now known as the 60's scoop where children were taken from their parents, and instead of being put in residential schools, they were adopted out permanently in non-Indian families. Today there are more children in care than totaled residential schools and the 60"s scoop put together. To believe that Indian policy and assimilation is a thing of the past is to be blind to the current reality. To believe that it is not genocide ignores our own Criminal Code and the United Nations own definition of genocide.

The Criminal code defines genocide as not just the murder of an identifiable group, but also includes the creating of conditions that lead to their physical destruction. The purposeful, chronic, well-known under-funding of First Nations has created the extreme conditions of poverty and, as the medical evidence has shown - the pre-mature deaths of our people. The United Nations includes the theft of children from an identifable group as also being genocide. Canada's habit of defering issues to study, deflecting issues by blaming First Nations or denying issues like genocide are all strategic ways of allowing assimilation to continue.

This brings me back to my point. Some of our NAOs are working with the Conservatives under the hopes of changing their minds. This reminds me of that saying again - if someone tells who they are, you should listen. If a man continually beats his wife, the wife can expect, with some certainty, that the man will beat her in the future, that the violence will likely get worse, and may even result in her death. Why should we expect anything other than what the Conservatives have promised? We are in an abusive relationship with Canada. If we don't get out of this relationship now - it may be too late.

Look at the Conservatives election platform - what was offered for Indigenous people except adult training in the north, the chance to sit on a hunting advisory panel (of mostly non-Indians) and to have input on a park in Rouge Hill. Who the heck asked for any of that stuff? The core issues of sovereignty and jursidiction, treaties, land claims and equitable funding were all off the list. What they were saying is really: "We, the Conservatives, are promising you nothing - absolutely nothing, but you better be our willing partners or maybe things will get worse". Thus, some of the NAOs have stopped representing our interests, and have made decisions based on fear and organizational self-interest.

This is really frustrating for me as a grass roots person. These organizations were all created to represent our interests politically and some of them have failed to do so by being co-opted by the endless funding dance where the Conservatives essentially say "play nice with us and we give you minor funding to keep your organization alive, but play against and lose your funding." Ok, that is a reality that sucks as we could really use some coordination, research and representation at all levels. However, acquiescing to our own extinction - legal or otherwise, is hardly a viable alternative. No funding for any national organization is worth the continue deaths of our children from starvation or our legalized assimilation or loss of our treaties. If forced to choose, I'd choose our lands and people any day.

We are all too mesmorized by the Canadian ideal - work, debt, mortgage, cars, more debt and prestige. I am not against someone working hard and providing for their family but not the outright ext=change of our future for a temporary job as a miner or a oil worker. Things like ec dev projects, consulting contracts & project funding are all short term gains that will result in long-term pains like the destruction or loss of lands, legislated assimilation, and provincial education and that is not in anyone's best interest.

Playing nice may win individuals Senate seats, Porsches or media fame, but it does little to protect our people - those who are suffering the most. Just because the Conservatives think it is ok for our PM to live in luxury and travel the world, while poverty and homelessness is rising in Canada, that does not mean that we as Indigenous governments should emulate that form of society. We cannot put the interests of NAOs over the future of our Nations. I think our NAOs need to watch the constitutional talks again. Watch some real leader in action - those who refused to settle for anything. How many times I have heard NAOs say - well something is better than nothing - no it's not.

Yet, time and again, some of us are shocked when we hear unbelievably racist comments come from the Minister of Indian Affairs or PM Harper. Why the shock? They have told us many, many times who they really are and how they really feel about our issues. Our wishing it wasn't so won't change that. What we can change is whether or not we continue to prop up the Conservatives and their ludicrous ideas, or whether we stand together against it. There are other Canadians out there who see the benefit of a more equitable and just society that lives in harmony with nature - we have allies both home and abroad. We have to stand up against our continued oppression and assimilation before the Cons have empowered every right-wing radical in their Cabinet and legislate away our rights - without any fear of retaliation from us.

Our power has always been in our unity and our unity is what defeated the White Paper, what defeated the the First Nations Governance Act and many other assimilatory plans and policies. Nothing has changed in the Conservative government except how they are going about our assimilation. Instead of proposing massive and immediate assimilation, they now have a more insidious plan which accomplishes assimilation over a longer term through many different measures which appear neutral, but spell our demise. They also use our people as their spokespeople for assimilation under the guise of "progress" and they distract us with red herrings so we don't see what is really happening. Stop wasting time and money posting news releases congratulating this federal bureaucrat or another and start highlighting the facts - put our situation front and centre.

Perhaps one bill won't result in our extinction, but if you look at the entirety of their plan - disappearing Indian status, non-natives occupying reserve lands, turning reserves into fee simple for sale, provincially controlled education, loss of funding for languages, non-existent land claim resolution and delayed self-government, you see a very clear pattern - one that has not changed since Duncan Campbell Scott, the White Paper or Flanagan. Their new goal, supported by their arrogant view that they'll be in power for at least 8 years - is to eliminate special entitlements for First Nations. What are you going to do about it NAOs?

If they wait long enough, there will be no Indians left to negotiate self-government, exercise treaty rights or live on reserves. Reserves will all be used for mineral development, Walmarts, or residences for non-Indians. When our children look back at how this all happened, we will see the smiling faces of our national leaders shaking hands with Canada, promoting these things as "good for us". What our children will also see are organizations that used to exist until Canada accomplished what it intended to do and then finally cut off funding for those national organizations.

In the words of Canada's own demographic expert, we will "author our own demise". So, instead of relying on the naive hope that the Conservatives will do something good for us if we play nice and act as "willing partners", it's time our national leaders grew a backbone and started representing us like our ancestors did - with a sense of realism, foresight, and self-sacrifice. Otherwise, every time one of us, like Sharon McIvor, wins a small victory in the ongoing battle against our assimilation, we will all lose when our national leaders make deals on her behalf and let the world know our rights are for sale.

I see a great future for our children if we take action today to protect them. I know it is possible to save our languages and cultures if we refuse to submit to federal control. I see larger, stronger Nations if we make some short-term sacrifice. I also see more empowered leaders if they would start relying on their people - the grass roots citizens who have a great deal to offer. Leaders were never meant to go this alone, nor were our women, our children or our men. We can turn around the number of Indigenous kids in care, murdered and missing Indigenous women, over-incarcerated Indigenous men and grass roots Indigenous people who are disconnected from their communities and Nations.

Canada through the Indian Act and its various Indian policies divided our Nations into small communities; divided our communities between on and off reserve, member and non-member; and divided our families into Indians and non-Indians. This is called divide and conquer and it is designed to make us think we are all alone in this struggle against oppression - when in fact we are all in this together. There is nothing wrong with us as Indigenous people. We are not genetically inferior. This is not about a great system that once used to work and is now broken. The system is working exactly how the colonizers designed it - to facilitate our assimilation. While the worst culprit is the Conservative Party today, all Canadian governments have had their hand in Indian policy at one time or another.

We are strong as peoples and we are even stronger when we all work together. Every single one of us has a responsibility to stop the destruction of our people and our way of life.  Our future is not for sale.
Write to your NAO and let them know how you feel. It's time they started taking their mandates from the people again.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

More than Empty Promises: Canada's Military Still Fighting Indians Today

Why is it that Indigenous Peoples are always accused of creating an us vs. them dynamic in Crown-First Nation relations, when in fact it is the opposite that is true. Our treaties were negotiated so that we could move forward cooperatively, yet Canada (which includes Canada includes ALL federal departments, agencies and commissions as well as the provinces and territories) has broken every promise it has made. Given that our treaties were to maintain peace and friendship, Canada has breached the treaties at every step.

We wanted to maintain our connections to the land and Canada wanted to assimilate us. When we exercise our "Canadian" right to peaceful assembly and protest, Canada sends in the military to take us down. It seems that no matter what we do, Canada's answer always seems to be to "get rid of the Indian problem" and it does so by very strategic military means.

Canada has long used military tactics against us to accomplish its goal of taking our land and resources. In the beginning, it was blankets filled with small pox and scalping laws. Even the treaty "negotiations" consisted of brutal force to sign treaties:

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... (T. Bannister to the Council of Trade and Plantations, Calendar, vol. 28).

We all know what happens when a First Nation protects its traditional lands from destruction - we have the RCMP, the police and the military come in and take our people down - even to the point of shooting and killing us. In between military maneuovers against us, Canada has adopted an ancient military tactic of starving us off our lands. Our people are the poorest in the country and thousands of us die pre-mature deaths directly related to the chronic and purposeful underfunding of critical and essential life services like food, housing, water and health programs.

Of course, there is also the other military tactic used around the world - that is to jail the political opposition. No one can argue with the current incarceration statistics highlighted for many years by Canada's own Correctional Investigator. Our people are arrested, detained, and jailed far more often, for longer, and with less rehabilitation programs or likelihood of probation than non-Indigenous people. In some prisons out west, the women's detention centres can be 80-100% filled with Indigenous women.

How is it that all this happens in plain sight and with the passive acquiesence of democracy and equality-loving Canadians? It is because it is in their vested interest to criminalize every aspect of our lives so that Canadians can continue to enjoy the benefits of stolen lands, resources and power. Hunting and fishing has been our traditional means of providing for our communities since time immemorial - now doing so can land us in jail, or worse risk being shot at or run over by enforcement officials. Similarly, preserving the balance on our territories and making sure the land is cared for in such a way that it continues to sustain us and our people seven generations into the future - can land us in jail.

Why then, does Canada continue the facade that it wants to "reconcile" and develop a better relationship when we all know that its actions speak otherwise. Why bother apologizing for the assimilatory foundations upon which residential schools were developed if the plan is to continue assimilation under the Indian Act? Why does Canada promise to apologize for calling us terrorists or spying on us whenever it gets caught doing so, when we all know those apologies will never happen - nor will the spying ever stop.

When news of any of this hits the media, there is usually some uncomfortable word-smithing by federal representatives and occassionally a promise to apologize at some point in time in the future. Always in the future... Yet, treating us like domestic terrorists and spying on us continues. Don't bother making more empty promises, just admit you are at war with us and let the chips fall where they may. If you are going to be our enemy, have the backbone to admit it.

Why am I ranting about this today? Well, it's because once again Canada got caught spying on us.

And that made me think back to the promise by the military to offer us a now long overdue apology for calling us terrorists - which has never happened.

And because despite Canada agreeing to support but not endorse or implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Conservatives have ramped up their spying efforts with INAC (now AANDC) as the lead.

Canada seems to have a great deal of time and money to spend spying on our people and keeping us in poverty. Since I will no doubt be labled a "radical", I guess there is no harm in sharing some of my radical ideas: why don't we put that extra money into providing lawyers for those granted standing at the murdered and missing Aboriginal women inquiry? Or perhaps invest some in First Nations schools to close the education gap? Or, even more radical, why don't we provide equitable funding for child and family services, housing, water, and sewer on reserve...

I think it's time we all got real about what is happening here and stop promising to make future apologies for military actions against our people when we all know it will continue. It is no longer other distant countries we can point to and sit in judgment over how their militaries treat their citizens. It's time to put the focus back on our own country and stop the war against our people once and for all.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Murdered, Missing, and Still Excluded: Indigenous Women Fight for Equality

If there is one thing that the Pickton Inquiry has proven to Canadians is that gender discrimination against Indigenous women is not only a present-day phenomenon, but that it is systemic at all levels of government. The unique problem for Indigenous women is that the gender discrimination they face when dealing with one group, like the police, is multiplied many times over top of the gender discrimination they face in all other aspects of their lives. These Indigenous women who were murdered at the hands of Robert Pikcton or who remain missing have never truly been treated as human beings worthy of care and protection.

In many Indigenous Nations, their concept of citizenship or belonging was a relational concept that provided both rights and responsibilities on the parts of individuals and Nations. So, an Indigenous Nation required the recognition, loyalty and contributions of their people, and the people required the recognition, protection and contributions of their Nation. For many, there was no such thing as a person who was dispensable.

We also know that in many Indigenous Nations, women were not only considered "equal" as human beings, but many societies were matriarchal. In some Nations, it was a council of women who decided who would be the next leader and that same council could remove a poor leader. For others, while the men may have tracked down and killed a moose for the community, it was the women who had to dress it and drag it back. There is not a single Indigenous Nation that I have ever studied where their women were not valued as life-givers and care-takers of their Nations.

This is a far cry from the European laws, rules, policies and values imposed on our Indigenous Nations. I wish I could say that colonization was a thing of the past, an issue for which we should all just "get over". Sadly, the reality is that Canada is still in the colonizing business - trying to assimilate Indians once and for all and our women have always been the primary targets. Today, our women face gender discrimination on all fronts, from all levels of government and society, and many have paid the ultimate price for being an Indigenous woman - they have lost their lives.

When the colonial governments in Canada realized Indians were not dying off fast enough, they enacted provisions in the Indian Act to assimilate them faster. The first people to be tossed out were Indigenous women and their children. Jeanette Corbiere-Lavell (now President of the Native Women's Association of Canada) took Canada to court to challenge this blatant discrimination, but our Supreme Court of Canada said there was never any intention that the equality provision in the Bill of Rights would effect legislation.

Sandra Lovelace (now a Senator) was then forced to take Canada to the United Nation Human Rights forum to protect her equality rights and Canada was found in violation of international laws by preventing her from enjoying her culture with her community. Canada was supposed to get rid of ALL gender inequality in the Indian Act - but Bill C-31 not only did not remedy all gender inequality, but created new forms for Indigenous women and their children to suffer.

Sharon McIvor then took the lead and sued Canada for continued gender discrimination in the Indian Act and won. However, Canada's response was to amend the Indian Act in such a limited way that more people will be excluded than included. Moreover, Bill C-3 did not fully remedy gender inequality and once again created new forms of discrimination only applicable to Indigenous women. Adding insult to injury, the preferential treatment of non-Indian women remains in the Indian Act today.

But this is not the only issue faced by Indigenous women. The proposed Bill S-2 (previously Bill S-4, Bill C-47 and Bill C-8) is supposed to provide equitable divisions of matrimonial assets upon divorce for Indians living on reserve. It is touted by the Conservatives as legislation that will also protect Indigenous women from violence. However, this Bill not only does NOT address violence against Indigenous women, but creates once again, an illusion of justice in that any rights must be accessed through Canadian courts and expensive lawyers - assuming any courts and lawyers are available in many remote communities.

Bill S-2 also creates NEW rights for non-Indians to have life interests in reserve lands. Given the high rates of out-marriage in many communities, this could mean whole scale occupation of reserve lands by non-Indians. That is in addition to all the homes already occupied by non-Indian women who got to keep their privileged Indian status because Canada thought it would be too unfair to take it away from them once they had it. That kind of injustice is only suitable for Indigenous women.

So, Indigenous women continue to fight for equality, which has turned into a fight for their identities, their right to be part of their communities and now their very lives. The fact that hundreds of Indigenous women could go missing for so long, over so many years, without anyone in power batting an eye, is a testament to the less than human status assigned to Indigenous women. The police, Crown lawyers, and federal and provincial politicians have created this situation. The least they can do is allow Indigenous women to finally exercise their voice in a safe forum with the same protection afforded to police - lawyers paid for by the Crown. As it stands now, any Indigenous woman who testifies must face a firing squad of no less than 13 lawyers who will interrogate these women at length.

Just like all the "non-status", "non-band member" and "off-reserve" Indian women who have been excluded at every turn, we now have a new negative descriptor - murdered or missing Indigenous women. Our women can be murdered or go missing in frighteningly high numbers without society caring enough to even wonder why. How much more inequality must Indigenous women endure before society at large will stand up and say enough?

British Columbia needs to step up, stand up and give these women the same chance afforded the already too powerful police force. Anything less is a complete sham.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Bill S-2 - Family Homes on Reserves: Protection or Threat?

On Wednesday, September 28, 2011. Minister John Duncan introduced Bill S-2 An Act Respecting Family Homes Situated on First Nation Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights in or to Structures and Lands Situated on Those Reserves in the Senate where it had its First Reading. The short name for this proposed legislation is Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. The full text can be found at this link:

As some of you may recall, this is the fourth attempt at passing federal legislation that would address what Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is referring to as a 'legislative gap' in relation to how property gets divided upon the break up of a common law relationship or marriage. The previous bills, Bill C-8, Bill C-47 and Bill S-4 all died on the order paper, but not before Aboriginal organizations, First Nations, Indigenous women, and other groups like family law lawyers and the Canadian Bar Association all unanimously testified against the bills.

Now, with a majority government, the Harper Conservatives plan to ram this legislation through Parliament against our will. INAC has again introduced this legislation without engaging in formal legal consultations with those First Nations whose constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights may be negatively impacted. Given that this is national legislation that will apply to ALL First Nations and given that reserve lands are protected in the Indian Act, the Constitution Act, 1982, and various Treaties, land claims and self-government agreements, there is no doubt that this legislation requires formal legal consultation as envisioned in the Guerin, Delgamuukw, Haida, Taku and Mikisew decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The majority of my concerns in relation to this legislation were explained in earlier blogs in relation to the previous Bill S-4 by the same name. My previous blogs were entitled:

Bill S-4: An Empty Shell of a Legislative Promise

Bill S-4: Backdoor Assimilation and Land Grab

Bill S-4: A Step Back in Time

Letter to editor of Globe & Mail re Bill S-4

In these previous blogs, I explained the history, the development of the bill, my main concerns with it and my recommendations to amend it. These are the same concerns I brought forward when I testified as an independent expert witness before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on June 7, 2010 in relation to Bill S-4. I am not sure if I will be called again to testify in relation to this 'new' bill, but I hope so. The following is a link to my official submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights in relation to Bill S-4:

I have read through the new bill in its entirety and while some amendments have been made, the core essence has remained and will have a significant impact not only on the nature and legal status of reserve lands generally, but specifically in relation to who can hold, occupy, use and benefit from reserve lands. Given that most First Nations have medium to high rates of out-marriage (marriages to non-Indians), the exclusive 'benefit' of reserve lands to which Indians are entitled could be significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated in some First Nations.

If there is any right of First Nations men, women, and children that demands full and informed consultation, accommodation and consent, is that of their constitutionally and now internationally protected rights in their own reserve lands. The current lack of consultation is criminal and any attempt to pass this legislation will not only breach our treaties, land claims, and self-government agreements, but will create an additional significant and substantial harm to Indigenous women who have only asked for justice - not a loss of their collective Aboriginal rights.

If Tom Flanagan's and Manny Jules' plan to privatize reserves does not eliminate our reserves, this bill surely will. Stand up, make your voice heard and protect what little land we have left for our future generations!

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First Nations Sign Agreement with Federal and Provincial Governments in NB to Negotiate Self-Government

It was reported earlier this week that 10 out of 15 First Nations in NB signed an agreement with the federal and provincial governments to negotiate self-government. It was then subsequently reported that all 15 First Nations in NB have signed on. However, after speaking with several First Nations, I understand that only 10 First Nations signed, and only one was Maliseet.

I don't have an original signed copy, but I have been provided with the text by one of the First Nations. Many people have been emailing me and asking for a copy of the agreement which I have copied below. Please always refer to the original as the official document:



 THE MI’GMAG AND WOLASTOQIYIK PEOPLES IN NEW BRUNSWICK, as represented by the Chiefs of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik First Nations in New Brunswick (“the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick”)


 THE PROVINCE OF NEW BRUNSWICK, as represented by the Minister Responsible for the Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat of New Brunswick (“New Brunswick”)


 THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA, as represented by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (“Canada”)

 Collectively referred to as “the Parties”:



 The Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik Peoples assert that they have used and occupied their Traditional Lands since time immemorial in accordance with principles of stewardship and responsibility given to them by the Creator; and

 The Parties wish to renew and strengthen their government-to-government-togovernment relationship; and

 The Parties are dedicated to the principles of good faith, openness, mutual honour and respect; and

 The Parties are committed to formal tripartite discussions in order to address outstanding issues among the Parties; and

 The Parties recognize that the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick have not enjoyed the same standard of living as other New Brunswickers; and

 The Parties have a shared desire to work in partnership with the shared goal of improving the quality of life outcomes of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick; and

 Page 2 of 7

 The Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik Peoples and the British Crown entered into sacred Treaties. Those Treaties established a relationship based on peace and friendship; and The Parties intend to negotiate and implement agreements on Aboriginal and Treaty rights, including the right to self-government.



 1) This Umbrella Agreement is designed to guide tripartite discussions with the aim of concluding a Framework Agreement on inter-governmental relationships and Aboriginal and Treaty rights and the self-government of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick.

 2) The Parties have targeted December 31, 2012 as the date by which they wish to have negotiated a Framework Agreement.


 3) The Parties shall establish a Coordinating Committee comprised of representatives appointed by each of the Parties to oversee the work undertaken under this Umbrella Agreement. In particular, the Coordinating Committee shall:

 a) Identify the subject-matters that are to be addressed under a Framework Agreement, such as, but not limited to:

 i. Lands and Resources;
ii. Governance and Jurisdiction;
iii. Economy Development and Sustainability;
iv. Health;
v. Education; and
vi. Social and Cultural Development;

 b) Negotiate a tripartite agreement on consultation;

 c) Identify whether a sub-committee for any agreed to subject-matter should be established;

 d) Develop terms of reference and strategic work plans for itself and any proposed sub-committee;

 e) Propose interim agreements on issues of concern to the Parties and develop methods for their implementation;

 f) Coordinate, monitor and evaluate progress made on the work undertaken under this Umbrella Agreement;

 g) Ensure that its representatives report on an ongoing basis, and at least quarterly, to their respective principals on work progress; and

 Page 3 of 7

 h) Ensure that annual budgets, work plans and any reporting requirements related to funding agreements are completed and processed in a timely manner.

 4) Upon consideration of an annual work plan and the funding resources available, Canada and New Brunswick will cost-share funding under this Umbrella Agreement.


 5) Except for sections 5 to 14, this Umbrella Agreement and the work undertaken pursuant to this Umbrella Agreement do not create any legal obligations which are binding on the Parties unless otherwise agreed in writing by the Parties.

 6) This Umbrella Agreement and the work undertaken pursuant to this Umbrella Agreement shall:

 a) be on a “without prejudice” basis with respect to the legal rights or positions of the Parties, including the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick;

 b) be deemed not to create, define, alter or affect the legal rights or positions of the Parties, including the Aboriginal and Treaty rights of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick;

 c) not be construed to be, or deemed to be, consultation for the purpose of justification by Canada or New Brunswick for the infringement of any Aboriginal or Treaty rights of the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick; and

 d) not preclude any other discussion or initiative between:

 i. the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick, or individual Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik First Nations and New Brunswick, or

 ii. the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick, or individual Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik First Nations and Canada on matters of mutual concern.

 7) Except for the purpose of enforcing sections 5 to 14 or unless otherwise agreed in writing the Parties undertake not to tender or seek admission of this Umbrella Agreement or the content of meetings, discussions, negotiations, documents generated or positions taken in or during the process contemplated hereunder as evidence in a court of law or before any administrative or regulatory tribunal or board. This undertaking shall survive the termination of this Umbrella Agreement unless otherwise agreed in writing by the Parties.

 8)8) Notwithstanding any other provision of the Umbrella Agreement, any Party may refer to publicly and may lead evidence regarding the Parties, date of operation, existence and purpose of this Umbrella Agreement and the frequency of and participants in meetings held pursuant to its operation before a court, regulatory tribunal, board or similar body.

 Page 4 of 7

 9) This Umbrella Agreement shall come into force and effect on the date of its signatures by Canada, New Brunswick, and the First Nations’ Chiefs in New Brunswick provided:

 a) A majority of the First Nation Chiefs in New Brunswick execute this Umbrella Agreement; and

 b) The Chiefs who execute this Umbrella Agreement are leaders of those First Nations whose members constitute at least fifty per cent plus one person (50% + 1) of the federally registered Indian population in New Brunswick.

 10) Any New Brunswick Mi’gmag or Wolastoqiyik First Nation, as represented by its respective Chief, may upon three months written notice to all the Parties, hereto join, withdraw, or rejoin this Umbrella Agreement.

 11) If one or more of the Mi’gmag or Wolastoqiyik First Nation(s), as represented by the respective Chief(s), decides to withdraw from this Umbrella Agreement pursuant to section 10, this Umbrella Agreement shall not automatically terminate.

 12) If, at any time, the First Nation Parties to this Umbrella Agreement fall below the majority of Chiefs or the majority consists of Chiefs representing less than fifty per cent plus one person (50% + 1) of the federally registered Indian population in New Brunswick, the Parties will consider whether to terminate this Umbrella Agreement.

 13) Notwithstanding section 12, Canada or New Brunswick may withdraw or rejoin this Umbrella Agreement upon three months written notice to all the Parties.

 14) Notwithstanding sections 10 to 13, the agreements, understandings, undertakings and commitments set out in sections 5 to 9 all continue in effect unless the Parties otherwise agree in writing.

 Page 5 of 7

 Signed at _______________, New Brunswick, the _______day of ___________, 2011.
Representing the Mi’gmag and Wolastoqiyik in New Brunswick

I am told that the last two pages are just the signature pages. A special thank you to my friends, family and colleagues in NB First Nation who help keep me informed on what is happening back home. It is hard being so far from home, but you all make it easier.

Hope this helps. Please e-mail if you have any more questions.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ontario's Invisible People - Where are Aboriginal Issues in the Ontario Election?

So in case you didn't know, the Ontario provincial election is happening in 4 weeks on Thursday, October 6, 2011. There is lots of election activity happening in Ontario and lots of confusing political messages and attack ads on tv. Elections can be very confusing, especially to our younger population who may be voting for the first time.

The contenders for the top spot of Premier are: (1) Progressive Conservative Party's Tim Hudak; (2) New Democrat Party's Andrea Horwath; (3) Green Party's Mike Schreiner; and (4) Liberal Party's Dalton McGuinty. McGuinty is the current incumbent (i.e., he is currently in the position of Premier and hoping to be re-elected).

You are entitled to vote in this upcoming election if: (1) you are at least 18 years old, (2) a Canadian citizen, (3) you reside in an electoral district and (4) have not already voted. This means that for those Aboriginal people in Ontario who want to, you can vote in this election.

However, if you do vote, I STRONGLY suggest that you read the election platforms (i.e., promises made by politicians about what they will do if elected) of each party beforehand. It is not because I believe that most contenders will fulfill all their election promises, but if they are not making ANY promises in relation to key issues that concern you, then this should act as a major red flag.

As a Mi'kmaw woman who now lives in Ontario, my primary concern is for the First Nations living in Ontario and how their views, concerns, needs, rights and interests will be addressed by each party. I don't vote in elections, so I won't be voting, but I participate in other ways, like helping to inform others about who and what they are voting for - if they do.

It is for this reason that I have gone through all of the election platforms, including the Liberal Plan which was just released today. The first thing that struck me was that not a SINGLE plan mentioned Aboriginal peoples at all. There was no mention of First Nations, M├ętis, Inuit, or their rights, interests or needs. The solitary reference to Aboriginal peoples was in the Conservative's tough on crime section of their platform where they made a reference to "illegal" activity on reserves.

Tim Hudak and the Conservative Party of Ontario's election platform is called the "Changebook" and can be found here:

Andrea Horwath and the NDP's election platform is called "The Plan for Affordable Change" and can be found at this link:

Mike Schreiner and the Green Party's election platform is called: "It's Time: A five point plan for Ontario's future" and can be viewed here:

Dalton McGuinty and the Liberal Party's plan was just released today and is called: "Forward Together" and can be accessed at this link:

In all of the platforms, there are lots of nice pictures of happy white people riding bikes, taking strolls in the forest, holding hands, or working hard mining, farming, or assembling vehicles. All of the contenders for Premier themselves are all white people. There is not a single picture of a First Nation community, celebration or leader in all of these platforms. It is like we do not exist in Ontario.

The province of Ontario has the LARGEST population of Aboriginal peoples of all the other provinces and territories. There are almost 300,000 Aboriginal people living in Ontario, which means that 21% of all Aboriginal people live in Ontario. Even more astounding is that 80% of the Aboriginal population living in Ontario lives OFF-RESERVE. There are also 133 First Nations within Ontario, making it the province with the second highest number of First Nations after British Columbia.

So why have we become invisible to Ontarians? Is Pikangikum's child suicide crisis not visible enough?

Or what about Attawapiskat's deplorable school conditions?

Or how about the long, unresolved land claims in Six Nations?

I am sure that most people remember the senseless murder of Dudley George at Ipperwash:

What about the First Nations that live in the Ring of Fire and their Aboriginal and treaty rights?,-rail-project-510.aspx

I could literally go on and on about the numerous Aboriginal issues and concerns in Ontario, but that is not the purpose of this blog. My point is to highlight that our issues have been completely ignored in this election. The only party that took any notice of First Nations was the Conservative Party, but not in a good way. True to right-wing form, they only mention First Nations is in the crime section of their platform. (see page 33)

There, the First Nation traditional tobacco growing, manufacturing, and trading activities are characterized as "illegal",  "criminal", and "dangerous" because it is run by "organized crime that uses it to fund their drug and weapons trades". The Conservatives racist attack on First Nations is bolstered by their view that "honest businesses who are robbed of revenue, and every Ontario family, as we lose at least $500 million each year in tax revenue."

We, as First Nations people are invisible when we are dying of starvation, our children kill themselves at alarming rates or our schools are condemned. However, if there is even the most remote chance that we might be able to benefit from using OUR land or OUR resources, then they crack down with all their police, military, and legislative might to ensure that we stay where we belong: living in extreme poverty on reserves out of the hearts and minds of "honest", "hard-working" Canadians.

Even the Liberal platform, which labels Dalton McGuinty as the "Education Premier" brags for pages about the education levels and achievements of Ontario residents. Sure, Ontario can boast about 85% graduation rates, 75% of students exceeding provincial testing standards, and how they have invested $4 billion in new classrooms, libraries, buildings and labs.

I guess it would not look very good for the Liberals to talk about Aboriginal education statistics. They will fall back on the jurisdictional argument that Aboriginal people are federal jurisdiction. Well, in fact, as the province knows very well, the only Aboriginal group that is definitively federal jurisdiction is First Nations living on reserve. Given that 80% of Aboriginal live OFF-RESERVE, this means that Ontario has at least some role to play in ensuring that EVERYONE who lives in Ontario has access to all these wonderful educational benefits.

None of these candidates deserve our vote, but they do deserve to called on their lack of honesty and failure to stand up for EVERYONE who lives in Ontario. Speak up and call them on it.

I know I will!