What does the Fall of "Darth Harper" and the Galactic-Canadian Empire Mean for First Nations?
For those of you who don't already read the blogs from "Galloping Beaver", I would highly recommend that you start. They are often insightful, critical, and sometimes even humorous. Their most recent blog was a video of Stephen Harper being compared to the evil Sith Lord, otherwise known as Senator Palpatine from Star Wars.
While the video is humorous, it is also scary, given that Stephen Harper ruled very much like a dictator while praising the virtues of freedom and liberty. Here is another one along the same lines:
He will no doubt be known as one of the most dictatorial leaders in Canadian history. I have also been critical of Harper's contempt for democracy and have spoken against his autocratic-type rule:
Now, the whole world knows that Harper's style of rule led to the defeat of his own "empire". The Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee found Harper's Conservative government to be in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the real costs of "big ticket" items like the stealth combat jets, the corporate tax cuts and the infamous law and order plans to build and staff more jails.
The report which was released on Monday, March 21, 2011 held that: “the government’s failure to produce documents constitute a contempt of Parliament” and that “this failure impedes the House in the performance of its functions.” The Conservatives demonstrated a serious lack of honesty that could have seriously hurt many Canadians.
Based on this report, a vote of non-confidence was held and Harper lost. The vote was brought by the Liberals and supported by both the NDP and the Bloc. The next step in the process was for Harper to speak to the Governor General and ask him to dissolve Parliament, which he did. This means that Canadians will have an election on May 2, 2011.
This should be no surprise to anyone who owns a television, as we have now seen all the attack ads start. I am quite sure that for the next 6 weeks, we will all be exposed to very little campaigning and a whole lot of attacking. I can also predict that there will be no ads which speak to the third world conditions of First Nations in this country, or the lack of action on our land claims and treaties. I also doubt they will run their elections on removing the 2% funding cap in First Nations or designing legislation to officially recognize our sovereignty.
What does all of this mean for First Nations in this country? That is a good question. A leading Indigenous academic scholar, Taiaiake Alfred, argues that there is nothing to be gained by First Nations voting in federal elections. In his view, voting in their elections is akin to accepting their assumed sovereignty over our Nations.
There are other Indigenous scholars, like John Borrows in "Landed Citizenship: Narratives of Aboriginal Political Participation", who argue that we should not only put significant efforts into rebuilding our Nations, but that we should also participate in federal and provincial government processes as a means of extending our influence.
While I can see the merit in both arguments, I can't help feel that at this point in time, with the current power structures and laws we now have in Canada, that our influence in Canadian politics is negligible at best and harmful at worst. None of the federal parties have our best interests at heart. At the end of the day, our interests are just another commodity that can be bartered away for a bigger piece of another pie.
Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act was a prime example of the vulnerable nature of our rights. Indian women and their descendants are still - to this day - treated blatantly unequally as compared to Indian men and their descendants in Canadian law. Yet, despite Sharon McIvor winning in both levels of court, our right to equality was bartered away by national Aboriginal organizations and federal political parties for an undefined "joint process" with no clear mandate, structure, authority or funding. This left Sharon McIvor staring in disbelief before the Senate when near unanimous opposition to the bill in the House, became a trade item for a joint process in the Senate.
Perhaps I am just feeling defeated? Maybe, but when I look at the process for Bill S-4 Matrimonial Real Property, Bill S-11 First Nations Safe Drinking Water, Bill C-575 First Nations Accountability and so on, a theme emerges - non-First Nations peoples and governments are designing laws and policies for our Nations based on their own priorities, not ours. In fact, there was not even any legal consultation and accommodation of our "interests" in those bills. Were it not for the dissolution of Parliament, we may well have been stuck with many new laws that would detrimentally impact our communities and Nations.
Could voting in federal or provincial elections change any of this? No. We simply do not have the numbers to make a change. Sure, in some ridings, if all Aboriginal people voted, we could add a few more MPs, but these additional folks would not change the make-up of the party itself. My father once told me that politics is about making deals and trade-offs. MPs are often required to vote with the will of their party, not based on what is just. If something like our basic equality rights are up for auction, then I don't want to be any part of that.
However, I do support those rare few who participate in the Canadian process who also stay true to their Indigenous values and teachings and don't allow others to bully them into siding with the majority vote on issues. These individuals are not the mouth-pieces of government trashing their own people, nor are they the Aboriginal faces needed to promote a new government policy that will hurt First Nations. These individuals are the rare few who stand out on committees and in the media highlighting the need to respect inherent First Nation jurisdiction.
That being said, I think we have a far better shot at making real change by healing our communities with our cultures and languages, rebuilding our Nations, securing our lands and resources, and asserting our sovereignty instead of asking others to recognize it. We have to start from a position of power which means our focus should be on our Nations first - and we have a lot of work to do there. I think that our inherent sovereignty is our real power and that we need to step up our game in that department.
No one is going to "give" us our sovereignty - that is something we have to believe in and do ourselves. We have to protect our jurisdiction over our people, lands, governments, and laws - or it will continue to be eroded under the guise of "reconciliation".
We also have to make sure that this next government knows we mean business - our sovereignty is not for sale, politically or otherwise. Our sovereignty is the very core of who we are as Indigenous peoples and our ancestors were willing to die to protect it. I think we have an obligation to honour their sacrifices...