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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