Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To Vote or Not to Vote - A Question of Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples

The issue of whether or not to vote in the fast-approaching federal election has been a hot topic in the last few weeks. There are Indigenous peoples on both sides of the argument and sometimes the debate can get pretty heated. Taking into account the vibrant diversity within our Indigenous Nations, a wide variety of opinions is to be expected. One thing is for certain, we all seem to want better for our  families, communities and Nations - the only difference is how we go about achieving it.

Ways of Thinking:

I am one of those academics, lawyers, volunteers, activists, mothers, and bloggers that likes to think about these issues on multiple levels - from legal, political, social, historical, philosophical and practical mindsets. This way of thinking and considering issues comes from my Indigeneity - my Mi'kmaq way of seeing, contemplating and navigating this world. I have often had problems giving legal opinions that did not include a consideration of political and social considerations, or looking at a policy issue without looking deeper at the philosophical ideology from which it stems.

I have often found that part of the problem in considering issues which impact our peoples is that the decision-makers look at it from a one-dimensional viewpoint. So, addressing chronic poverty in First Nations is seen as a matter of economics - it costs too much up front to deal with, ignoring that investments now have far bigger pay-offs later. On top of that kind of limited thinking, federal and provincial politicians are still saddled with their very ethnocentric, westernized ways of seeing the world and our place within it. The overall goal of assimilation and paternalism seems to cut across political parties and be a common theme in federal and provincial policies and laws relating to our people.

So, how does all of this relate to voting? I think the underlying ideology from which you consider the issue affects the factors that are considered relevant in deciding whether or not to vote. I am also trying to say that I appreciate all opinions and ideas and learn a great deal from the diverse Indigenous world views shared with me on a regular basis. Since this might be a little too "heavy" for some readers and out of consideration for my younger followers who might "unfollow" me if I get too boring, I'll get straight to the issue - I am against voting in federal and provincial elections. However, I am not against Aboriginal people exercising their right to vote. How are these two positions compatible? Let me try to explain...

The Right to Vote:

Aboriginal peoples have the right to vote in Canada. Canada considers Aboriginal peoples in Canada to be Canadian citizens and as such have a right to vote. "Indians" achieved the right to vote in 1960 when those anachronistic provisions of Canadian laws were repealed. Given that the Canadian system, with all of its laws, policies and governing structures were imposed on Aboriginal people against their will, I think having the right to vote is the LEAST Canada can do. So, given Canada's assumption of sovereignty in our territories, I clearly believe that Aboriginal people should have the right to vote - I am just not advocating that they do.

Some of you might be saying "How does that make any sense"? Like I said, since Canada imposed their systems on us, then the option of being a citizen with a right to vote is the least that Canada can do for Aboriginal peoples. Some feel that we are "dual citizens" - i.e., citizens of our Indigenous Nations and (for some) citizens of Canada. Therefore, there is an argument to be made that those who vote do not prejudice their real citizenship in their Nations because of this duality. While there is some merit to this argument, I think the issue of sovereignty is a bit more complex.

We must keep in mind that the right to vote is directly associated with being a Canadian citizen. Being a Canadian citizen has been historically tied to having to give up one's Indigeneity, language, culture, laws, governance, ways of being and adopt Canadian ways of life. Canada has a long history of promoting its perceived cultural superiority that this ideology found its way into Canadian laws, policies and decision-making. The Indian Act used to require that anyone who wanted to vote had to give up their Indian status and that of their wife and children. This meant forgoing all connections to the land and dispensing with Treaty rights. Even today, government laws and policies are all geared toward assimilation and extinguishment - not the protection of Indigenous Nations. It is no suprise then that the centuries old association of being Canadian (and the right to vote) with the loss of our identity, culture and rights is one that looms large in many of our minds and why many refuse to vote.

Dual Citizenship:

Let's assume for argument sake that we are technically dual citizens - citizens of both Canada and our own Indigenous Nation. Just because we have it doesn't mean we should use it - especially if it won't give us what we want. Does having a couple of Aboriginal MPs help strengthen our sovereignty or Nation-building efforts? Does it fundamentally shift the relationship between our treaty partners? Does it fulfill and enrich our sense of being Mi'kmaq, Mohawk, Cree or Maliseet? I would argue it does not. It gives us (if we are "successful" in the vote) Aboriginal MPs. What does that do?

We had Elijah Harper, who thankfully stopped Meech Lake, but those laws have since been changed. We could not do that again. The colonizers quickly learn from their mistakes and change laws,jury pools or even election ridings to suit their own interests - never ours. That is why we see so few of us on juries and why we are on the receiving end of the cruel justice. What we would end up with even if we did get a few more Aboriginal MPs, is more people who would be forced to tow the party line.

I no more want an Aboriginal Minister of Indian Affairs imposing the Indian Act on me and my family than I would a non-Aboriginal one. Nor am I comforted by having an Aboriginal Fisheries officer arrest my family for fishing or prosecuting my family for hunting. In my eyes, that is far worse than when a non-Aboriginal person oppresses our people because we have an inherent obligation to stand up for our people - something for which our ancestors felt was worth giving up their lives - if necessary.

I am also concerned about the equality of the "duality" of citizenship - is there a point where the more dominant form of citizenship, i.e., the "Canadian" one, overcomes our traditional citizenship? By voting as Canadians, while our Indigenous rights, cultures, languages and lands slip away, is there some point where the Flanagans and Harpers of the world pronounce that we are finally assimilated? If we don't act to recognize, assert, protect and act on our sovereignty and indigeneity - NO ONE ELSE WILL. No one act of sovereignty will make a difference - it is our collective mindset, teachings and actions that will bring about the change we want. Not voting is one of many, many actions we need to take to assert our sovereignty


In simple terms, sovereignty means that our Indigenous Nations (Mi'kmaq, Cree, Maliseet, etc) have the right to be self-determining and free from interference or control by another Nation - like Canada not just because they were "here first" - although this is a pretty compelling argument even in Western legal traditions. It is far more than our occupation of this land since time immemorial, it is, as the Supreme Court of Canada put it:

"In my view, the doctrine of aboriginal rights exists, and is recognized and affirmed by s. 35(1), because of one simple fact: when Europeans arrived in North America, aboriginal peoples were already here, living in communities on the land, and participating in distinctive cultures, as they had done for centuries.  It is this fact, and this fact above all others, which separates aboriginal peoples from all other minority groups in Canadian society and which mandates their special legal, and now constitutional, status." (emphasis added)

We were (and are) sovereign peoples with our own lands, histories and cultures, but also our own laws, trading systems and networks and governing systems. None of this was replaced or nullified on Canada's assumption of sovereignty. This is one of the reasons why our inherent right to be self-determining has been protected in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Sovereignty can never be given - it is something that is asserted and that may or may not then be recognized by others. Anyone who asks Canada to recognize our sovereignty is not acting sovereign. When communities and Nations take a stand and act on their sovereignty by fishing, hunting, enacting our own laws, living by our own cultures and traditions, pr by preserving and promoting our languages - that is real sovereignty. Kahnawake knows what it is like to act on their sovereignty - so does Esgenoopetitj, Six Nations and many others.

It Makes No Sense to Vote:

So, if that is the case and we are sovereign Nations with our inherent right to be self-governing recognized as protected, then why would we vote in another sovereign Nation's election process? If you look at it in reverse, would you want Canadians to vote in OUR elections and governing processes? Of course not - even saying it sounds ridiculous. I think we have suffered enough by Canadian control over our affairs, we don't need any more micro-managers in our communities.

If you look at it from a treaty perspective, we signed treaties as sovereign Nations, not as the wards or subjects of the Crown. If this were the case, there'd be no treaties as Nations never sign treaties except with other Nations. This is one of the very fundamental aspects of who we are as Nations that makes us different from those who have immigrated to Canada. We owe it to our treaty ancestors to live our sovereignty everyday so that our future generations enjoy the same freedom to be and live Indigenous.

What are We Voting For?

So, let's say that none of this has even slightly given you pause for thought. When we do vote, what are we voting for? We are voting for political parties who have been responsible for:

- physical and sexual abuse, deaths, cruelty and torture & loss of language and culture in residential schools;

- wanting to completely eliminate "Indians" through scalping bounties, small pox blankets, White Paper, Indian Act, exclusion of our women and children from our communities through status;

- chronic under-funding and caps on our essential social services like water, housing, health and education;

-over-representation of our men and women in prisons, starlight tours, deaths in police custody;

- hundreds and hundreds of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls and even more subjected to violence and sexual exploitation; and

- the theft of our precious children during the 60's scoop and now many more through Child Welfare Agencies.

This is just to name a few.

So, what then are we voting for when we vote for one party or another? We are voting for more of the same but hoping for something different. What we are voting for is who will be our next Indian agent.

We are voting for the next Minister of Indian Affairs who will manage and control us through the Indian Act and keep us so pre-occupied with such extreme poverty than we are too sick, uneducated, depressed or dead to rise up and re-assert our sovereignty. Our expectations are managed so that we will chase the small hope that maybe this time will be different and maybe we will get a few hundred more dollars for a program or project. We deserve better than this and we are responsible to our Nations not to be complicit in this.

Our Veterans:

I have heard many raise the issue of our Aboriginal war veterans in this debate. I have a great deal of respect for those who fought to protect their territories as they have done since time immemorial. As individuals, I am sure they all had their own reasons for enlisting in WWI and WWII and other wars. That being said, I don't like when people make the over-generalisation that our veterans were fighting for the right to vote. That may be true of some war vets, but not all.

Indians did not get the right to vote until 1960 - decades after WWI and II. My father was a WWII war veteran who came back home disabled, with no land or compensation and no educational opportunities. He did not fight in Canada's war for the right to vote in Canada's governing system, he fought as an ally of Britain with whom our Nation, the Mi'kmaq Nation, had signed various treaties. In our treaties, we agreed to be allies and protect our territories. It was his hope that by living up to his obligations under the treaties, the Crown would live up to its obligations. There are many war veterans who felt the same way.

Political Engagement vs. Apathy?:

Nothing makes me more upset than when I hear others categorize our First Nations who refuse to vote in federal or provincial elections as being apathetic or uninterested in political engagement. The majority of us may not vote in federal or provincial elections, but did you ever look at our participation rates for elections, land, treaty and other votes in our Nations? The participation rates are unbelievably high and put Canadian voter participation rates to absolute shame. Our people are engaged at the grass roots level as activists, volunteers and professionals and care very much about our governing systems - both traditional and band governance.

The issue is NOT voter apathy or political disengagement, it is about who we feel will best advocate for tour Nations and communities and (with exceptions) right now it is our own leaders (traditional and band) that give us that best hope - not Canadian politicians. The AFN has said that of the 308 federal election ridings, less than 60 could be impacted by Aboriginal peoples. That presumes, of course, exceptionally high voter participation and also presumes that once elected, their favoured MPs will be able to make the fundamental changes required to address our long outstanding issues. I think those are unrealistic expectations if we go by:  past practice, the empty election platforms; and the arrogant lack of attention to Aboriginal issues by most of the parties.

That's just my opinion. I honestly enjoy engaging in the debate and hearing the opinions and arguments of others that maybe I have not yet considered. I am encouraged that so many of us care about our sovereignty enough to talk about how important it is - even if we differ on which path we should take to get there. Here are some recent radio interviews I have done on the subject:

All this being said, I have heard and considered all the arguments for why we should vote and they are very good arguments. I also see the strategy in voting not "for" someone, but to rise up against a dictatorial regime. So, voting then becomes less of a civic engagement exercise in Canadian governance and more of a strategic political tactic to guard against further intrusion into our Nations. These are all good points. Thank you all for sharing and let's keep talking.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Praying Darth Harper and his Death Star Pass Us By: Making Sense of Election Platforms

Over the last few weeks, many Canadians, Aboriginal people and media types have been discussing the upcoming federal election. People have been trying to analyse the platforms and see which one promises the most for Canada as a whole and for Aboriginal people specifically. I have also provided information in my previous blogs for those so inclined to vote. However, I think it is important to remember that in addition to comparing platforms, one must also compare actions.

It is often said that there is no better way to predict future results than by considering past actions. This blog will be a combo of the two - a brief look at each platform as well as some highlights of past actions for each party. Given that there are literally dozens of federal election parties in Canada, I can only deal with so many in the short space of a blog. Also, seeing as the Green Party does not have any seats and the Bloc is only relevant to a certain percentage of Quebec'ers, I will only deal with the Liberal, NDP and Conservatives.


(1)  a partial removal of the funding cap on First Nation post-secondary education with an extra $200M in the first 2 years;

(2) stable funding for First Nations University of Canada;

(3) $5M  per year (for 3 years) for a Metis scholarship;

(4) $300M for k-12 education in year 2;

(5) Will continue support for Aboriginal Headstart;

(6) Will create a First Nation Auditor General;

(7) Will have an inquiry into the number of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women; and

(8) "Retain lessons and spirit of Kelowna process".

The Liberal Party obviously sees the huge importance of education for Aboriginal peoples. Education is a priority for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and naturally the Liberals have included an education package in their election promises. However, if you look at this more closely, you will see that they only plan to spend $100 million a year for two years on the grossly underfunded post-secondary education program. The AFN estimated that what is needed is well over $450 million right now.

The Liberals will provide much needed funding in the k-12 education system but only $300 million in year two. I am not sure how effective a one-time influx of funding can be when construction projects, renovations, upgrades and hiring can and often does take several years to complete. Then what? What about operation and maintenance? These are some of the concerns First Nations have raised in regards to their schools.

The other commitments are relatively minor in nature. The Liberals would provide stable funding for the First Nations University of Canada and Metis scholarships. With regard to Aboriginal Headstart, a critically important program for the development of very young pre-school-aged children, which is underfunded and in danger of collapse in many areas - they only promise continued support. That is simply not acceptable. They can't say on the one hand that they want to respect the principles of Kelowna, while on the other hand allow critically important programs to continue to be inequitably and chronically underfunded. The Liberal platform is supposed to be about "families" - what about Aboriginal families?

So aside from limited education funding, what do the Liberals offer? Very little I'm afraid. They will introduce a First Nations Auditor General that no one but the First Nation Tax Commission and Manny Jules wants. How will this improve the lives of grass roots Aboriginal people? Where is the commitment related to treaties, land claims, and First Nation governing jurisdiction? What about a serious commitment to poverty reduction?

The Liberals also promise an inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, which to me is a very important commitment. I honestly believe that part of the problem is that the Conservatives quickly moved to silence NWAC when their advocacy efforts brought this serious issue to light. As soon as questions were asked about the lack of police action, funding was cut. I think there are still issues that need to be investigated and facts that need to be brought to light. I am disappointed however, that the Liberals did not offer continued funding for Sisters in Spirit in addition to an inquiry.

It was the Liberal Party who introduced the 2% funding cap on First Nation funding to begin with - so they have at least a moral obligation to remove it. In fairness though, the Liberal Party was the one which participated in the negotiations that led up to the Kelowna Accord which would have seen billions of dollars in funding flow to First Nations for education, housing, water and other vital programs and services. The goal was actually to eliminate poverty in First Nations. The former Prime Minister Paul Martin made it his personal mission to continue to advocate for First Nations and the goals set out in the Kelowna Accord. I am more than a little disappointed then that they are now only promising a "partial" removal of the cap.

Overall, the Liberals have a good start on the education part of their platform, but the rest is sorely lacking in any real substance. Many other key Aboriginal issues have simply not even been mentioned. So, then the question is how likely are they to fulfill their commitments if elected? Well, that is always a hard question, but if I look at some of their past actions, I am reasonably comfortable (65%) that they would follow through - after all, there is not a great deal promised in their platform.


(1)  Increase Canada Student Grants by $200 million, with focus on Aboriginal people and others;

(2) Legislation to target poverty reduction in consultation with Aboriginal and other governments;

(3) Recruit Aboriginal and other medical students;

(4) Lower carbon future in partnership with Aboriginal governments and others;

(5) New partnership with Aboriginal people on nation-nation basis;

(6) End discrimination faced by Aboriginal people - access to capital, improve housing and drinking water, remove 2% funding cap and increase education budget by $1 billion a year over 4 years;

(7) Federal response to violence against Aboriginal women and support funding their organizations;

(8) Work with First Nations and provinces to add 2500 new police officers

The NDP have also showed a priority for education in their Aboriginal platform, but at a much higher level than the Liberals. The NDP are promising to COMPLETELY remove the 2% funding cap and increase the education budget by $1 billion a year for 4 years. That is the kind of significant investment that is required to compensate for the decades of chronic underfunding, but also to offer Aboriginal peoples the same level of opportunities for the future as other Canadians. They seem to grasp the concept that the damage done to Aboriginal peoples took hundreds of years to do, so the solutions will neither be quick nor cheap.

While some of their promises include Aboriginal people, they are not necessarily focused solely on them like the student grants, recruiting of medical students and working towards a lower carbon future. That being said, the rest of their platform is significant. The NDP promise to deal with First Nations on a nation to nation basis, and while details are not offered, I don't see the other parties making similar commitments.

Similarly, the NDP seem to recognize the severe level of discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples generally and have promised specifically to:

"build a new partnership on a nation-to-nation basis with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people across the country to restore a central element of social justice in Canada and reconcile the hopes of Aboriginal people with those of all Canadians.

We will establish this new partnership by forging a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, fostering economic opportunity and lasting prosperity, ending the discrimination still faced by Aboriginal people in Canada and supporting the process of healing the harms of the past injustices."

They hope to accomplish this by removing the 2% funding cap, adding billions for education, increasing access to capital, and improving housing and safe drinking water on reserve. They also commit to work with Aboriginal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as non-governmental organizations to table legislation that will create goals and targets for poverty reduction. Their commitment to prevent violence against Aboriginal women also includes a direct federal response and funding commitments to related organizations.

Overall, I consider this platform to be the most comprehensive of the three. It certainly commits to action on education, water, infrastructure, violence against women and poverty reduction. These are all very important issues, however there was very little detail on what nation-to-nation relations might look like, how treaties would be factored into the relationship, whether First Nation jurisdiction would be more fully recognized and implemented or whether outstanding land claims would be finally resolved. These are also critically important issues for Aboriginal peoples.

Now, the question of how likely they are to follow through on their election promises is a tough one because they have never been in power either as a majority or minority government. This leaves us with only their actions in opposition to use as a guide. That being said, I think we can also use some of their other actions as a loose guide to future possibilities. The NDP have generally been very supportive of First Nations issues, have sided with First Nations against paternalistic legislative initiatives and spent time in First Nation communities both inside and outside of election campaigns. At the very least, their candidates show up to debates and other Aboriginal forums.

All that being said, I do have some concerns that they were willing to trade off Sharon McIvor's equality rights for the joint process to "talk" about status issues, as requested by the National Aboriginal Organizations. I can say from personal experience that the NDP worked really hard with many of us to draft amendments to better address gender inequality than what was presented in Bill C-3. However, at the end of the day they seemed to side with the Conservatives when passing Bill C-3 which included a provision denying Aboriginal women and their children any right of compensation for the last 25 years of denying their equality rights. This looms large in my mind.

At the end of the day, I can only say that I am more hopeful than confident (60%) that the NDP would live up to their election promises as I don't have enough to go by yet. Their platform is the best of all three, but if they never become the governing party, what does voting for them actually mean? I simply can't get away from my fear that voting for the NDP is like giving a vote to the Conservatives which is like hoping Darth Harper and the Death Star will simply pass us by. I have not seen any credible analysis that argues otherwise.


(1) New investment in First Nation Land Management to promote development of their land;

(2) Expand adult basic education in territories;

(3) Environmental safety upgrades to fuel tanks;

(4) Promote clean energy;

(5) Commemoration of War of 1812 celebrating First Nation veterans and others;

(6) Work with Aboriginal people and others to create National Conservation Plan;

(7) New national park in Rouge Valley and will try to talk to Aboriginal people and others;

(8) Hunting Advisory panel that will include some Aboriginal people;

(9) Will continue to work cooperatively with Aboriginal people, by enacting accountability legislation publishing salaries of chiefs;

So, at first glance this looks like a rather long list of election promises for Aboriginal peoples. Even when you read the platform itself, much of it reads as a list of what they claim to have already done for Aboriginal peoples, as opposed to what they will do. You'll also notice that the majority of the promises they do make are not at all specific to Aboriginal peoples, but we are "lucky" enough to be included in their plans. For example, the Hunting Advisory Panel, Rouge Valley National Park, National Conservation Plan, and Commemoration of the War of 1812, are all separate commitments that may include Aboriginal participation, but these promises are not specifically for Aboriginal peoples.

The one glaring omission from their platform (of which there are many) is a lack of focus on education. Despite the endless reports and studies highlighting education as one of the main solutions to poverty in First Nations - there is no commitment at all with regards to Aboriginal Headstart, k-12 schools, or post-secondary education. Almost as an aside, they commit to expand adult "basic education" in the north and THAT IS IT! It is like they have heard National Shief Shawn Atleo's calls for education and have completely ignored them. So, strategically, is it better for the Conservatives to have educated or uneducated Aboriginal people? I wonder....

What they do promise is to complete environmental safety upgrades to fuel tanks in northern communities. However, for those of you who practice in this area, you might know that many argue that INAC is liable for these fuel tanks to begin with and that any servicing they might do is part of a risk-reduction plan for their own benefit and not that of the Aboriginal communities. Their "promotion" of clean energy will likely not translate into basic funding to address mold and asbestos in houses, or the lack of safe drinking water and sewage systems in First Nations. These are really empty promises.

So, then what is left in the platform? They promise to invest not in First Nations communities, but in land management to encourage First Nations to develop their lands. The English equivalent of this promise is the introduction of legislation to privatize reserve lands and open them up to commercial development and settlers. In case anyone thinks this is a new initiative, it is not. Remember Tom Flanagan's book "Beyond the Indian Act" advocating for the privatization of reserve lands? That was the one promoted by Manny Jules of the First Nation Tax Commission and allegedly supported by federal funds (my ATIP request will hopefully provide some answers to this).

Their second promise is to enact accountability legislation to make chiefs' salaries public. Holy innovation Batman - is it me or does this sound like the reintroduction of Kelly Block's Bill C-575? I'm sorry if I missed this, but what First Nation asked for this legislation? So, then this is not really a promise for Aboriginal peoples, but more of a political statement reiterating the Conservative position that they know what is best for First Nations and they will enact whatever legislation they want to control the Aboriginal population as they see fit.

This leads me to my analysis of how likely they are to follow through on their election promises. I am VERY confident (90%) that the Harper Conservatives will fulfill their election promises to Aboriginal people for two reasons: (1) there are no real promises in their election platform and (2) the two promises they do make do not involve any expenditure of funds, nor do they have anything to do with Aboriginal priorities. I am also quite confident that I can use their past actions to predict their future actions

Given my past blogs, there is no point in repeating the many, many past actions of the Conservatives in relation to Aboriginal peoples, so I will just highlight a few. Harper has not lifted the 2% funding cap and has never indicated any intention to do so. Harper has also not been interested in consulting and accommodating Aboriginal and treaty, but instead settles for "engagement" if any discussion at all. While he apologized for residential schools, the assimilatory polices upon which they were based, and for the past views of cultural superiority, Harper introduced a whole suite of paternalistic legislation against the will of Aboriginal peoples.

For example, there was Bill C-575 (chiefs salary legislation cleverly introduced by a private MP), Bill C-3 (legislation that did not remedy gender inequality in the Indian Act and excluded compensation for women), Bill S-4 (matrimonial real property on reserve that provided more rights for settlers on reserve lands than for Aboriginal women), and Bill S-11 (drinking water on First Nations that promised federal control and increased regulation and no funding). We can expect more of this should Darth Harper gain control of the rebel citizens with a minority government and even worse should he gain control of the Empire with a majority.

Overall, the Harper Conservatives have not made any promises to Aboriginal people, do not participate in debates on Aboriginal issues and continue to treat First Nations like sub-humans while he and his elite Cabinet group plan for a complete take-over. They do all of this with the arrogance of knowing very few will stand up to them. We have to take some ownership over this and demand that our NAO's, leaders and ourselves do better.

We also have to keep in mind that the Harper Conservatives are a collection of right-wingers, fringe groups and even some red necks. Harper had as his advisor Tom Flanagan, the man who advocated for our assimilation, called us primitive communists and tried to explain our First Nation property rights by citing studies of chimpanzees in his book.

"Collectively, chimps, especially adult males in small groups patrol the boundaries of their group territory and kill chimpanzees from other bands when they can achieve numerical advantage.... Individually, chimps also seek control over resources..." (emphasis added)

Flanagan is like Brazeau in that he plays with words so that he can send his negative message about First Nations in a superficially "neutral" way. Is there any doubt that a Harper government is NOT good for our people?

This is why, for those of you who vote, I ask that you consider your vote very carefully. Do you vote for the NDP because they have the best platform? Does voting for the NDP really risk a majority Harper government? I simply can't say for sure. The Liberals are offering some education initiatives and little else, but at least they are not advocating our complete assimilation as do many of the right-wing Conservative party members and friends. So, then  Liberal vote might not be that bad. If someone were to ask me how they should vote, I would say NDP on platform, but Liberal to defeat Harper. It really is a difficult situation especially since for Aboriginal people, we may be voting, but all we are doing is picking our next Indian agent.

I know there are only a few days left to think about it, but as you consider it, here is a neat website that argues that to defeat the Death Star, perhaps what needs to be done is vote strategically versus the ususal best platform or favorite party wins. Something to think about anyway...

I guess its all about the end game. Do we want more body bags and slop buckets sent to First Nations instead of dealing with the real crisis of poverty under a Conservative government, or do we want a chance to get democracy back and put our people, communities, lands and treaties back in the forefront of our nation-building activities as Mohawks, Cree, Mi'kmaq, Ojibway and Maliseet peoples?

If a Harper minority government can do this to their own people, imagine what they would do with a majority government?

For those who Aboriginal people who don't vote, thanks for standing up for our sovereignty - we need our next generation to be as committed and assertive about our nationhood as you are. I think we'd all be alot further along if we put our sovereignty first. For those who do vote, thanks for trying to make a change for our people and for engaging in the debate to see how we can best use the vote to effect that change. As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and emails.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bullies Really Are Cowards: Harper's Conservatives Hide from Citizens

Is it just me or do I see a pattern here? I mean, there was no end of criticism for the Harper autocracy BEFORE he was booted from Parliament, but now that he is trying to win an election and asking Canadians to give him a majority government, I am shocked at how little attention he is giving to Canadian citizens. More than that, it is almost ridiculous how he and his party literally run  in the other direction when faced with the prospect of having to meet with or talk to Canadian citizens.

Their collective fear of debate and their muzzling of conservative candidates leads one to conclude that it is better to muzzle a red-neck than risk what they might say in public. I guess that is part of the problem in having a party of crooks, red-necks and bullies.

Let's just look at the English leadership debate, if you can call it that. Harper was his usual robotic self, with his frozen half smile, and eerily calm, non-passionate demeanor. He refused to engage in any debate and instead repeated his mantra - the economy is good - bickering is bad - Quebec is scary - please give us a majority. I mean, I have never seen anything more empty in my life. What does any of that offer Canadians or First Nations? He had about as much passion as a piece of deadwood.

Even if I could possibly look past that non-debate, then there would still be all the lies, deceit, and scandals that has mired Harper and his elite Cabinet group. My other blog detailed just a few of those which included the Helena Geurgis, Bev Oda, Pierre Poilievre, John Duncan, and others like Patrick Brazeau:

Most recently, the Bruce Carson scandal (which APTN broke) reveals more disturbing details every day.

While Harper made an attempt to distance himself from Carson, his young escort girlfriend and the mounds of money that would have been made off the backs of impoverished First Nations, Harper was far closer to the pair than he wanted to admit:

Even one of Harper's Cabinet Ministers hired the former-escort over other allegedly more qualified individuals:

The Harper's Conservatives trying to call for accountability in First Nations while his own party engages in all sorts of seedy dealings is the height of hypocrisy:

Then there are all those groups and organizations that have been on Harper's hit list (speaking metaphorically). provided some information about who was targeted during the Harper autocratic regime:

Even if you were lucky enough not to be on this list, you have to keep in mind that First Nations have always been on their list and Harper's conservatives were likely the most paternalistic, racist and dominating government that First Nations have had to deal with in recent years.

Harper is known in the media and amongst many in society as a bully. He controls his Cabinet, muzzles his MPs, restricts access to the media, has tight controls on public information and does not engage with Canadian citizens except under the tightest of conditions. For those who think I might be exaggerating (not mentioning any names Brazeau....) I offer you the following Harper-Conservative actions during their election campaign.

(1) Conservative red-necks only care about "very ethnic" people when it comes to election time and will do anything to get it:

(2) Harper and Conservatives control the media during election with 5 question limit:

(3) Harper's Conservatives try to silence students by trying to stop student voting and were over-ruled by Elections Canada:

(4) Conservative candidates are no-shows at election debates in First Nations:

(5) Conservative candidates are no-shows in non-Aboriginal election debate platforms as well:

(6) Even if you live in the quiet, unassuming local of Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, Harper and his conservatives still hide from Canadian citizens:

(7) And don't forget, in a Harper world, colonization of First Nations in Canada never really happened:

I guess that old saying is true - bullies really are cowards. Harper can bully citizens when in power, but when not in power, he hides from the people he found so easy to screw over before his government was booted from power. I wonder if that means that the rest of the saying is true - and that all we have to do is stand up to Harper and the bully will take his marbles and go home?

But all is not doom and gloom. There is a brighter side to all of this - this incredibly, unbelievable conservative anti-democratic non-sense is great fodder Rick Mercer. His rants are great:

It also makes it easier for people to create really entertaining websites like Shit Harper Did:

Then, there is my absolute favorite where a REAL journalist totally schooled Conservative MP John Baird and called him out on his party's anti-democratic tendencies:

Seriously, do NOT (compliments of Bev Oda) waste a vote on the Conservatives. We'll end up with a Borg invasion where democratic resistance will be futile...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011 Federal Election Platforms and NAO Positions - Woefully Empty

Thanks for all your e-mails, texts, FB messages, and comments. I am encouraged to see so many people interested in the legal and political issues affecting our people. I know first hand that trying to sort out each political parties ACTUAL position on issues can be very overwhelming, confusing, and even impossible at times. There are so many political players out there saying one thing and doing another, or making promises that seem great but are not considered in the whole context, or even worse, saying things that have hidden meanings which are not so great.

How are any of us supposed to figure this out? I do am certainly no genie who can know anything for certain, but what I do know is that our issues have no priority in this election - which is a shameful situation given that we are the First Peoples of this land and that so many Canadians live off the prosperity gained from our lands and resources.

In my last blog, I provided a chart which compared how the platforms compared with my own list of important issues. I have now fully updated that chart with all the major parties' platforms.

I admit that this chart is not the best as blogger has certain space limitations, so I will try to summarize the platforms here in a more concise way:

LIBERAL Election Platform:

(1) a partial removal of the funding cap on First Nation post-secondary education with an extra $200M in the first 2 years;

(2) stable funding for First Nations University of Canada;

(3) $5M  per year (for 3 years) for a Metis scholarship;

(4) $300M for k-12 education in year 2;

(5) Will continue support for Aboriginal Headstart;

(6) Will create a First Nation Auditor General;

(7) Will have an inquiry into the number of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women; and

(8) "Retain lessons and spirit of Kelowna process".

CONSERVATIVE Election Platform

(1) New investment in First Nation Land Management to promote development of their land;

(2) Expand adult basic education in territories;

(3) Environmental safety upgrades to fuel tanks;

(4) Promote clean energy;

(5) Commemoration of War of 1812 celebrating First Nation veterans and others;

(6) Work with Aboriginal people and others to create National Conservation Plan;

(7) New national park in Rouge Valley and will try to talk to Aboriginal people and others;

(8) Hunting Advisory panel that will include some Aboriginal people;

(9) Will continue to work cooperatively with Aboriginal people, by enacting accountability legislation publishing salaries of chiefs;

NDP Election Platform

(1) Increase Canada Student Grants by $200 million, with focus on Aboriginal people and others;

(2) Legislation to target poverty reduction in consultation with Aboriginal and other governments;

(3) Recruit Aboriginal and other medical students;

(4) Lower carbon future in partnership with Aboriginal governments and others;

(5) New partnership with Aboriginal people on nation-nation basis;

(6) End discrimination faced by Aboriginal people - access to capital, improve housing and drinking water, remove 2% funding cap and increase education budget by $1 billion a year over 4 years;

(7) Federal response to violence against Aboriginal women and support funding their organizations;

(8) Work with First Nations and provinces to add 2500 new police officers

BLOC Election Platform:

(1) Establish nation to nation relations with Aboriginal Nations.

GREEN PARTY Election Platform:

(1) Small scale project funding to restore wild fish stocks;

(2) Greater role of Aboriginal people and others in managing fishery;

(3) Encourage Aboriginal eco-tourism;

(4) Work with Aboriginal people and others to extend land and marine protected areas;

(5) End trophy hunting but protect Aboriginal and other hunters' subsistence hunting;

(6) Eliminate exposure of Aboriginal people and others to toxins;

(7) No commercial seal hunt, only subsistence hunting by Aboriginal people and others;

(8) No bowhead whale hunting for Aboriginal peoples or others;

(9) Honour intent of land claims agreements;

(10) Regulate all arctic activity, except traditional Aboriginal activity;

(11) Restore $5.1B in funding and Kelowna Accord;

(12) Create baselines for Aboriginal health;

(13) End to policies of assimilation and strong support for health and education;

(14) Will ensure governments and corporations respect 1990 Sparrow decision and that Aboriginal people be consulted and accommodated;

(15) Nation to nation relations and no more shameful events like Oka, Calendonia etc;

(16) Honour fiduciary duty and inherent right to self-government;

(17) Implement treaties and land tribunal, respect Douglas Treaties of Vancouver Island;

(18) Fully implement Royal Commission on Aboriginal People's 1996 recommendations;

(19) Promote Aboriginal culture, language and history as part of Canadian identity;

(20) Set up task forces on violence against Aboriginal women and over-representation of Aboriginal peoples in the justice system;

FIRST PEOPLES NATIONAL PARTY Election Platform:'search'

There is no real platform contained on their website. However they have a two-pronged "vision" which includes:

(1) Make Native studies courses compulsory in high school and university;

(2) Abolish Senate and replace with elected First Nations House.

So that is the overview of the party platforms with regard to Aboriginal peoples in Canada. There is also the English leadership debate that can be viewed online at CBC:

While I had fully intended to do a thorough debrief of everything said by the party leaders with regards to Aboriginal peoples, it turns out that Aboriginal issues were not raised or discussed. The SOLITARY comment made about Aboriginal issues was made by Jack Layton of the NDP at 1 hour and 30 minutes into the 2 hour debate. Layton commented that violence against women needs specific attention by addressing underlying issues like those raised by Aboriginal leaders around housing. That's it - not a single word was raised by anyone else on any other issues specific to Aboriginal peoples. It was simply too brief to debrief.

What about information and positions from our own National Aboriginal Organizations (NAOs)? I reviewed the websites for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Native Womens' Association of Canada (NWAC), the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK); the Metis National Council (MNC) and even included the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) for good measure. While the AFN had the most information posted, CAP and NWAC's websites were embarrassingly empty.

The AFN provided information related to the AFN's election platforms, questions they asked of the parties, a survey asking for feedback on election priorities, news releases and statements about election issues and a summary of the party platforms.

They also provided an easy to read chart on how the party platforms measured up to the AFN's priorities:

The MNC has an "Election Page" which highlights the MNC election priorities, the questions they asked of the federal parties and the corresponding responses they received:

The ITK has one media release about the election questions it asked of the parties but no other information was posted.

CAP and NWAC on the other hand had nothing posted on their websites. In fact, if their constituents relied solely on their organisations' websites for information, they'd be out of luck. CAP's homepage has outdated information from October of 2010 and NWAC's most recent announcement concerns the Joint Process for Bill C-3. These two organisations, which allegedly represent the majority of the Aboriginal population, and especially the urban Aboriginal population should be more "present" in the lives of their constituents.

Even the NAFC has information posted on their website for urban Aboriginal people and they are not even a political organization:

For all those Aboriginal people that want to vote and want to be informed about the party they may vote for, I think we all need to help inform each other. I hope you all find this summary useful and if not, please keep emailing me about what you would like to see. With regard to my own opinions, I will be offering my commentary on these platforms in the days to come, but for now I will try to highlight as many resources as possible based on the questions and comments I get in the interim.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Comparison of Federal Parties Platforms on Aboriginal Policy

Below you will find my chart of some of the election issues that are important to me and my family. What I did was compare what was important to us against the election platforms of the major federal parties.

The first three issues are fundamental to First Nation-Crown relations and the most important to me. After that, the issues I listed are in no particular order, but are all important.

If you are wondering why there are so many blank spaces in my chart -so am I. I have reviewed all the election platforms on all the parties websites and it is SLIM PICKENS when it comes to real meaningful promises or commitments for Aboriginal peoples.

I wonder if the parties think that because Harper was so bad with Aboriginal issues that we are so desperate as to accept any promise, no matter how small?

BLOC - The word "Aboriginal" only appears once in the Bloc's platform and simply says they will deal with First Nations on a Nation-to-Nation basis.

NDP - The NDP's platform outline on their website lacks any details yet and there is no mention of Aboriginal issues - more to come I am sure.

FIRST PEOPLES - Even the First Peoples National Party has next to nothing on their website except for a call to abolish Senate and replace it with elected Aboriginal people and to ensure all schools and universities teach Native Studies courses.'search'

GREEN - The Green Party commits to add $800M a year to federal funding for education, housing, and water. They also promise to have Canada implement UNDRIP as well as Kelowna.

PC - The Conservatives do far more boasting than offering any real substantial commitments to Aboriginal peoples. It ends up being more assimilation with a side order of paternalism with their tiresome focus on chief's salaries.

LIBERAL - Then there is the Liberal Party, who has produced a detailed platform which does mention Aboriginal peoples. The Liberal promises are as follows:

(1) a partial removal of the funding cap on First Nation post-secondary education with an extra $200M in the first 2 years;

(2) stable funding for First Nations University of Canada;

(3) $5M  per year (for 3 years) for a Metis scholarship;

(4) $300M for k-12 education in year 2;

(5) Will continue support for Aboriginal Headstart;

(6) Will create a First Nation Auditor General;

(7) Will have an inquiry into the number of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women; and

(8) "Retain lessons and spirit of Kelowna process".

So, as the weeks go on and the parties speak more about their platforms and release more details, if they make any promises for Aboriginal peoples, I will add them to my chart. In the meantime, this chart should stand as a glaring reminder of how little attention our issues have received so far and to demand more from these parties.

What is being promised so far leaves something to be desired. Perhaps if any of the parties are reading my blog, they might want to consider either including or beefing up their sections on Aboriginal peoples. We are the First Peoples of this land and our rights are constitutionally enshrined. We have treaties signed between Nations that have yet to be recognized and implemented.

We also have a crisis in First Nation poverty caused by colonial policies of land and resource theft, denial of basic rights and freedoms and an active policy of assimilation. Until those issues are addressed, a few election promises won't make much of a difference in the everyday lives of Indigenous peoples.

Nation-Nation Relations

Honour FN vets in War 1812 commem.
 Remove Senate, elect Abs
Treaty Recog & Implementation

Priority funds to enhance fish stocks, greater FN role, Land & treaty tribunal, respect douglas treaty

Address Land Claims

Invest in FN land management

Eco-tourism for FNs, extend protect area, honour intent of land claims agrees, no extinguish

Remove 2% Funding Cap
Partial, $200M/2 yr

plus capital $ for business

Implement Kelowna
“lessons & spirit”

Yes, restore $5.1B in funds
“fight poverty”
Increase PSE Funding
FNUC stable $,
$5M Metis scholarship
Adult education in north, skills training in north
Yes, $1B per yr for 4 years, grants for Ab students

Yes *$800M/yr

Increase k-12 Funding
$300M in yr 2

*$800M, promote culture & language
No,Native courses
Proper Funds for Housing

safety upgrades to fuel tanks in north


Proper Funds for Water

promote clean technologies


Child & Family Equal Funds

Reduce toxin exposure

Make all Laws s.35 Compliant

work in collab w FN re national conservation strategy, hunting advisory panel, respect economic groups

Respect s.35, but no commercial seal hunt, no whale hunt

Ab Headstart
Will “support”

Make all laws s.15 Compliant

recruit more Ab doctors

task force re Abs in justice system

Fund FN police, fire & EMS
No, but FN AG

 Murdered & Missing Ab Wom. Inquiry

federal response to violence, funds for Ab women orgs

FNs Lead Any Legislative Changes re FNs

accountability legislation re chiefs salaries

phase out Indian Act

Implement UNDRIP


Consult & Accommodate!!!

Consult with Abs in poverty legislation, lower carbon

(c) Pamela D. Palmater

I welcome all comments and feedback on this chart as it gets filled out - well, at least I hope it gets filled out. For anyone who is interested, the following link provides details on all the Aboriginal people running as candidates in the federal election for the various parties: