Sunday, November 18, 2012
With respect, I take serious issue with any claim that there was "momentum" between Harper and First Nations prior to the Crown-First Nation Gathering (CFNG) that has suddenly withered since the AFN election. There was no momentum on any key issue of importance to grassroots First Nations peoples or First Nation leaders. Every single action Harper is pursuing against us right now, he started well over a year ago. It seems incredulous that NC Atleo would all of sudden decry the flurry of federal legislation being imposed on our First Nations when the majority of these bills were introduced into the House or Senate prior to either the CFNG or the AFN election. Don't forget, mention of some of these pieces of legislation were made at the CFNG in Harper's speech - I didn't hear Atleo say anything about it then.
Similarly, with the substantial funding cuts to First Nation political organizations and those being implemented now at the individual First Nation level - we KNEW that this was Harper's plan. This was not a shock to the AFN. The problem was never lack of knowledge, instead it was a complete failure to have a strategic action plan in place. That is not to say AFN could have single-handedly reversed those funding cuts, but for weeks since their announcement they had weak to no response. It is only now that there seems to be some outcry from the National Chief. But outcry or not, where is the plan?
This is where things get progressively worse - Atleo's new "plan" would have us locked into decades-long self-government negotiating processes which would indebt our First Nations by millions of dollars and trap us there, lest we want to be put into third party management for failure to pay. What about the First Nations citizens on the ground? Where is the plan for the current housing and water crisis? Our people need to have at least the basic necessities of life - where are their voices and priorities reflected? True, some First Nations are doing fairly well on some fronts, but we cannot ignore the multiple over-lapping crises right before our eyes. Many of our people are suffering from homelessness, over-crowding, lack of water, sanitation, food insecurity, the theft of their children by child and family services at alarming rates, many murdered and missing Indigenous women and the over-imprisonment of our men, women and youth. How much worse does it have to get before we shift our focus back to our peoples?
Has AFN even thought about what a section 35 agenda would mean? First of all, it is focused on Canadian law and interpreted by Canadian judges. It should be no surprise then that the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) cases have followed a very specific pattern:
(1) They always specifically or indirectly protect Canada's sovereignty;
(2) They arbitrarily make up new sui generis (unique) law to ensure our rights can squeeze into Canadian law versus any recognition of our own laws;
(3) The cases transform First Nations from sovereign Nations and governments to cultural entities frozen in pre-contact times that must be reconciled with Canadian sovereignty;
(4) Whenever a principal or finding goes in our favour, it will inevitably be limited, redefined and reduced to an almost unusable right in subsequent cases. Take for example, the Indian priority in Sparrow which came second only after conservation. In Delgamuuwk, our priority sank to last after every other possible priority including: agriculture, forestry, mining, hydroelectric power, environment, infrastructure and settlement.
(5) The section itself requires the extensive, costly litigation of our rights on a right by right, species by species and First Nation by First Nation basis. Many of these cases take decades to resolve and even once they hit the SCC, it is not uncommon for them to send the case back to trial. Even then, we are the only group subjected to re-hearings like in Marshall II which substantially altered the original court win.
So, what is it about section 35 that offers an alternative to the current situation? Do they not realize that First Nations are the only entities with real sovereignty here? Canada knows this and is desperately buying up the rest of our lands through claims and securing its own sovereignty agreement by agreement. Canada is slowly piecing together their ownership and sovereignty, and some of us are allowing them to do that. I am not saying that they have offered any alternatives, but we don't have to accept what they thrown down. In order to speed up the process Canada will introduce the First Nation Property Ownership Act so we can surrender the last of our lands. What about any of this is a plan forward?
Atleo's "plan" also calls for a National First Nations Auditor - seriously? That is nothing more than trying to please the government's obsession with trying to make all First Nations look corrupt.Try selling that as a solution to a northern Ontario First Nation whose school is falling apart; or a flooded Manitoba First Nation whose residents have been displaced for many months; or a Saskatchewan First Nation whose water is contaminated. Who cares about another national First Nation entity which will benefit the CEO, its few employees and serve a relatively minor number of First Nations. Think of the First Nations Tax Commission, the First Nations Statistical Institute, and all those other "national" organizations located in British Columbia. We don't need a First Nation bureaucracy on top of the massive Indian Affairs bureaucracy we have now.
We are not one nation of people - we are many Nations with our own sovereignty(s). We have laws and governance systems which makes us strong Nations. We need to act on that strength, in different ways, in different territories, and according to our own laws and priorities. If we can't stay focused on living and acting on our sovereignty everyday, then we'll be easily led down the colonizer's path of chasing "equality", "section 35", and other government carrots - while missing the war going on around us. Make no mistake, our peoples are the casualties in this war and things are growing steadily worse on all socio-economic fronts. The status quo is killing our people and has been for quite some time. The problem is that Harper has changed the status quo and things are about to get much worse.
Unbelievably, the AFN only now appears to be realizing that Harper's full-blitz attack on First Nations has some "potential for harmful impacts". This means that nationally, we are way behind in this war. The AFN has had many opportunities to take a stand over the last few years and has failed to do so each time. That is not to say that individual regions or First Nations have not been raising the alarm bells - in fact, some had to very publicly withdraw from Atleo-Harper education plan in order to preserve their treaty and inherent rights. There are also thousands of First Nation community members who want to see their leaders lead and are willing to stand behind their Nations - but they need to be inspired to action.
There can be no more delays - we need action. Our peoples deserve better than our fear, hesitancy and wilful blindness to their suffering. We cannot chase Canada's section 35 illusion with eyes wide shut. Harper is presenting us with a false choice: Indian Act or assimilation and some of us have fallen into the trap of letting him define our options. We need to take stock of where we have been, the situation we created by allowing this to happen, own it, and move forward. None of us as individuals have all the answers - but we are lucky, we still have the strength of our collective Nations to stand beside us.
Let's do this for our peoples and our Nations.
"When it comes to confronting our imperial realities some of us want to reform colonial law and policy, to dull that monster's teeth so that we can't be ripped apart so easily."
"Some of us believe in reconciliation, forgetting that the monster has a genocidal appetite, a taste for our blood and would sooner tear us apart than lick our hands."
"I think that the only thing that has changed since our ancestors first declared war on the invaders is that some of us have lost heart against history and against those that would submit to it."
"I am with the warriors who want to beat the beast into bloody submission and teach it to behave."
(Excerpt from: Taiaiake Alfred, Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005).
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Most of Canada's legislative initiatives go largely unexplained to grassroots Indigenous peoples - community members and leaders alike. This Harper government, in particular, has done everything it can to mislead, misinform, distract, confuse and outright lie to First Nations about its intentions with regards to the Indian Act. More so, they have done very little to explain the implications of bills to those who will be impacted - First Nations community members.
Most will recall Prime Minister Harper's infamous words at the so-called Crown-First Nation Gathering this past January: "To be sure, our Government has no grand scheme to unilaterally repeal or to unilaterally amend the Indian Act."
Yet, here is the extensive list of government bills currently before Parliament which will unilaterally repeal or fundamentally alter the Indian Act in significant ways:
Bill S-8 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act
Bill S-207 An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act
First Nation Property Ownership Act
It would make this blog far too long to review all of the sections, but communities should be aware of several problematic areas. The Preamble (which is just an introduction and does not contain any law) does give an important indication of the two theoretical underpinnings of the bill:
(1) The bill has an individual-rights/interest focus versus an Indigenous communal, holistic approach;
The bill focuses on the best interests of the individual child as opposed to the collective, inter-connected interests of the entire family (including the child), extended family, community and Nation. It is this very approach that led to residential schools, 60’s scoop and the current over-representation of our Indigenous children in the care of child welfare.
The bill focuses everyone’s attention on the particular culture of the First Nation – which is to be “considered” by a judge in a marital dispute over property. However, there is no deference for First Nation legal or governance jurisdiction over property disputes over their own territories. This is very similar language to Supreme Court of Canada cases which have essentially frozen Aboriginal rights in “pre-contact” times and only protect those rights which the court considers “integral” enough. In this case, non-Indigenous people will be judge and jury over what our culture is, which parts of it are important, and whether it is relevant to property issues on reserve.
The general focus of the bill is to enact provincial-like rules with regard to the divison of marital property on reserve after the break-up of a marriage or common-law relationship. This essentially means that each spouse is entitled to half - the house, land, etc. However, these provincial-like rules are not optional - they are mandatory. While the act considers them to be interim rules, the fact is no funds have been allotted for governance, law-making or enforcement and thus for many First Nations, they will remain permament.
The bill also contains the following provisions:
(1) The Status of Women committee who will be studying the bill should reject the bill in its entirety. The entire bill conflicts with both Indigenous laws and Canadian law and cannot be saved.
(2) Canada should respect its own policy position that First Nations have a right to be self-governing which is constitutionally protected within section 35. This would correspond with the right to be self-determining as per Article 3 of UNDRIP.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
- Children in care crisis - 40% of children in care in Canada (30,000) are Indigenous children;
- Over-incarceration crisis - 25-30% of prison populations are Indigenous and increasing;
- Water crisis - 116+ First Nations do not have clean water, 75% of water systems med-high risk;
- Housing crisis - 40% of First Nations home in need of major repair, 85,000 home backlog;
- Indigenous women safety crisis - over 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women;
- Health crisis - Life expectancy is 8-20 years less for Indigenous peoples due to extreme poverty;
- Cultural crisis - 94% of Indigenous languages in Canada (47/50) at high risk of extinction;
II. Situation Overview
Although the Government of Canada has been presenting a picture of stable relations with and improved living conditions for Indigenous Nations, the reality on the ground shows many Indigenous individuals, families, communities and Nations suffering from multiple, over-lapping crises. Although federal, provincial, Indigenous and independent researchers have all verified the crises, Canada has refused to act. This is resulting in the pre-mature deaths of hundreds, even thousands of Indigenous peoples every year. Many of those that do survive, do so with higher levels of injuries, disabilities, diabetes, TB, heart disease, and other preventable health issues.
There is a children in care crisis where 40% of children in care in Canada (30,000) are Indigenous children. The crisis of over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples in state prisons shows 25-30% of prison populations are Indigenous and increasing. The water crisis of 116+ First Nations not having clean water and 75% of their water systems being at medium to high risk is well-known. The housing crisis is particularly staggering when you consider that 40% of First Nations homes are in need of major repair and there is a 85,000 home backlog. There is a growing crisis of violence against Indigenous women with over 600 murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada. The health crisis results in a life expectancy of 8-20 years less for Indigenous peoples due to extreme poverty. This does not include the cultural crisis where 94% of Indigenous languages in Canada (47/50) are at high risk of extinction. These are all exacerbated for communities who suffer from massive flooding due to hydro-electric operations.
The gap between Canadians and Indigenous peoples with regards to education, employment, skills training, food security, water security, health care, and mental health services continues to increase. Statistics are often manipulated by Canada to show that conditions are getting better, but when reviewed over a 20 year period, the statistics are clear that the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous peoples are on a downward trend. The levels of poverty and ill-health in northern Indigenous communities are even more acute. Suicide rates are amongst the highest in the world with suicides starting at much younger ages, like 9 years old. While Canada rates in the top 4 countries when measuring the human development index, when Indigenous peoples are isolated, Canada drops to 78th.
Indigenous Nations in Canada have attempted to work with federal and provincial governments to address these crisis areas, all to no avail. The closest Indigenous Nations came to accessing funding relief for the current crisis was in 2005 when the Government of Canada promised $5 billion over 10 years to address issues like education and housing. This commitment was later withdrawn when the Conservative Party came to power. Since then, Indigenous Nations, through their individual First Nation communities, representative organizations and advocacy groups, continue to try to raise public awareness and get Canada's attention - but have been met with funding cuts, instead of assistance.
These funding and other cuts are in direct violation of Canada's domestic laws, legislated mandates and legally binding treaties and other agreements with Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples in Canada have been in a state of prolonged crisis and casualties continue to increase. The situation has become critical and many Indigenous individuals and communities are in need of immediate emergency assistance. Other communities not in a crisis, still require that their treaties be upheld, their stolen lands be returned and they have a fair share of the wealth that comes from their traditional territories in order to be self-sustaining.
III. Security Threats
The Government of Canada has initiated what can only be called a blitz attack on Indigenous governments and communities. From all available analyses, it appears as though the maneuver is designed to overwhelm Indigenous communities in the hopes that they will not have time to make their citizens aware of what is happening. This observation is supported by the fact that the Government of Canada has plotted an aggressive, assimilatory suite of legislative amendments that would do several things: (1) transfer all financial liability to Indigenous communities, (2) transfer jurisdictional authority to provinces, and (3) open up the remaining Indigenous lands and resources to pipelines, mining companies and land acquisition companies.
The level of legislative and policy changes being forced on Indigenous peoples without their free, informed, and prior consent, are historic in their number, scope, and the speed at which they are being implemented. The Government of Canada has decided to ignore even domestic laws which require that, at a minimum, it consult and accommodate the Aboriginal and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples which are constitutionally protected. Canada has been, and continues to be in breach of legally binding treaties on a daily basis without any consequences from the international community.
The Government of Canada has tried to minimize any possible Indigenous resistance to these offensive measures by implementing severe funding cuts to Indigenous representative organizations. Indigenous communities are at significant risk of confrontations with Canada's police and military forces as Canada has been known to use armed forced to quell any Indigenous resistance to the further theft and destruction of Indigenous lands and resources.
Other security risks for Indigenous peoples include:
(1) Canada's use of their Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to monitor individual Indigenous activists, which is well outside the scope, mandate and resource allotment of INAC;
(2) Canada's use of CSIS to monitor individual Indigenous activists and leaders is a form of intimidation to deter resistance;
(3) Canada's use of its national police force, the RCMP, to surveil Indigenous individuals and communities for signs of co-ordinated activities;
(4) Canada's use of the military to quell Indigenous resistance and portraying them publicly as "terrorists" in their own territories;
(5) Canada's use of resources to fund contracts to monitor social media activities of Indigenous peoples and their allies and to engage in counter-information campaigns against them;
(6) Canada's use of Parliamentary privilege and the media to smear, villainize and otherwise degrade Indigenous peoples, their communities and cultures which encourages similar behaviour from the public;
(7) Canada's use of law enforcement to over-incarcerate Indigenous men, women and youth to prevent Indigenous resistance on the ground;
(8) Canada's use of the child welfare system to remove additional generations of Indigenous children from their families, communities and Nations which would also reduce those who might engage in resistance in the future.
IV. Humanitarian Needs and Response
Some individual Indigenous peoples and communities in Canada require immediate aid in the form of critical supplies, infrastructure, emergency services, and international intervention at the state level:
- potable water;
- healthy food;
- warm clothing and outerwear;
- medicine and various physical aids ;
- safe housing;
- water infrastructure;
- sanitation infrastructure;
- access to solar, wind or other power generation;
- communications (phone, Internet, emergency infrastructure);
- schools & day cares;
- Fire prevention;
- Medical centres;
- Mental health centres;
- Indigenous policing/public safety centres;
- Emergency management centres;
Indigenous Nations require the assistance of the United Nations and/or any individual state to put pressure on Canada, via economic, legal, political, or other sanctions, to ensure that the root causes of the crises in Indigenous Nations are addressed. Primarily, assistance is needed to ensure that any and all unilateral development on Indigenous lands and water must be halted until restitution has been made for past thefts and illegal takings, compensation for loss of use and nation to nation agreements are made with regards to the sharing of natural resources and other wealth on Indigenous lands are negotiated. (This does not include activities or development underway in partnership with Indigenous peoples) Unilateral state activities include, but are not limited to:
- land development;
- All new hydro developments;
- All Crown land purchases, leases, transfers, and permits;
- All pipelines, hydro-fracking, and mineral extraction;
- all clear-cutting and timber and gravel removal;
Similarly, all new legislative and policy initiatives related to Indigenous peoples and their territories must be withdrawn or held in abeyance until proper nation to nation negotiations, including, but not limited to:
- All legislation directly or indirectly impacting Indigenous peoples;
- All litigation targeted against Indigenous peoples;
- All enforcement activities against Indigenous peoples in their traditional activities;
- All enforcement activities against Indigenous peoples engaging in economic activities;
Government-based funding transfers to Indigenous governments must be maintained and protected during negotiations, including, but not limited to:
- Federal and provincial funding transfers to Indigenous Nations, their First Nations communities and their representative organizations;
- Government transfer levels to Indigenous governments must be adjusted to reflect current population and inflation levels;
- Additional funding to cover the costs of current emergency services;
- Additional funding to cover the backlogs created by multiple decades of chronic underfunding;
- Permanent funding transfers to account for taxation, fees, permits, licences, business profits and other wealth generation which come from traditional territories;
It must be remembered that these funds are not "hand-outs", but in fact come from the wealth off of Indigenous lands that are denied to Indigenous peoples. These funds are also legally binding treaty agreements. The wealth off Indigenous lands actually support all Canadians and the Canadian state - thus, if there are any hand-outs they come from Indigenous lands and resources to support everyone else. It is time Indigenous Nations saw their fair share.
There are specific Indigenous governments, communities and their representative organizations who are ready to work with international bodies to address the current crisis in Canada. Coordination can be done via video-conferencing, conference calls and meetings. Special arrangements will have to be made for any international travel of Indigenous representatives as Canada has already started to attack our own Indigenous passport systems.
It is advisable that a strategic planning session take place to coordinate public information, international interventions and emergency action on the ground. Not all Indigenous communities are in crisis, but those that are need attention urgently. A major public education campaign is needed to counter the misinformation campaign and Indigenous allies can help in this process. Other states can offer assistance in a variety of forms, but the United Nations has an opportunity to play a significant role and help Canada live up to the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.
It is absolutely critical that the international community contribute funding to address the immediate crisis, as well as fund advocacy activities to help Indigenous peoples organize and address the current situation. Currently, more than one third of the funding that is set aside for Indigenous peoples is confiscated by the federal bureaucracy to pay for their large salaries, vacations, and professional development, which is used to increase the capacity and strength of Canada's bureaucratic army against Indigenous peoples. This of course, does not include the funds spent on legal counsel to fight Indigenous peoples in court.
If Indigenous peoples are not put on an equal footing with the state, they have very little chance of successfully resisting this blitz attack. There is more than enough wealth which comes from the traditional lands and resources of Indigenous peoples - the issue has always been the illegal theft of those resources by the state. Emergency measures must be put in place to address those that die everyday in foster homes, prisons, or homeless on the street and the many thousands without clean water, food, heat or housing. State bodies have been calling these issues a crisis for over a decade and little action has been taken to address them. How many more Indigenous peoples need to suffer?
Please contact Indigenous governments and their representative organizations directly. You may also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or for information about how to connect with specific Indigenous governments, communities and organizations.
For more information about the current crisis, please see my article "Stretched Beyond Human Limits: Death By Poverty in First Nations" published in the journal - Canadian Review of Social Policy:
Monday, September 10, 2012
The two major policy objectives of this Harper government have been clear from the very beginning - it is about getting rid of Indians once and for all and turning Canada into one massive extractive industry. Harper is trying to position himself as a world power and he needs our land and resource treasury to do that. If there is one thing you can guarantee about power-mongers is that social justice, the rule of law and consideration for future generations is not consistent with world domination. Harper may have some competition if Mitt Romney is elected as President in the United States, but that is another disaster for another day.
INAC has always used a system of financial rewards and punishments to try to force First Nations into certain policy directions. This is not an easy task. It requires a colossal bureaucracy at INAC to control First Nations, manage their expectations and steer them in the direction which suits the Minister of the day. When you take a Nation's land, resources and citizens away, then use all the profits to sustain your ever increasing bureaucracy and other pet projects (militaries, submarines and fighter jets) then that Nation is essentially held at ransom. Most, if not all First Nations have at least some citizens who need to eat, access clean water, and have safe, warm housing. If you hold access to those basic human needs over the heads of leadership, their practical choices become quite limited.
By keeping First Nations chronically under-funded for all essential human services, they will always be subject, at least in some way, to undue pressure by INAC's bureaucracy. In some cases, the extent of the poverty is so severe that the situation goes from one of undue duress to what some have called "extortion" (obtaining money or property from someone through coercion, commonly practiced by organized crime). If you bring people to the brink of starvation, disease and hopelessness in order to get their agreement to give up their rights, how is this not at least undue duress?
Harper's plan is very clear - eliminating all history, obligations and mention of First Nations from Canada. His former advisor, Tom Flanagan, has tried for years to sell the idea of reinvigorating attempts to assimilate Indians and get rid of reserves, treaty rights and any form of distinct identity. The very racist, derogatory language and ideologies used to try to promote assimilation prevented a much wider audience from listening. Now, with the "new" more fringe right-wing Conservatives in power, they have adapted their tactics. People like Flanagan and Harper use First Nations people to sell their wares now. From Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau who acts as Harper's mouth piece tearing apart First Nations at every chance he gets, to Manny Jules, head of the First Nation Tax Commission who now promotes the destuction of reserves and the biggest assimilation policy plan created in recent years: the nationalizing of First Nations.
One need only look at INAC's recent announcement to see exactly where they get their authority to cut funding to First Nation organizations, the ideology they are using, what their ultimate objective is, and who is benefitting (aka leading the charge). First off, INAC is focusing on what they call "self-sufficiency" which means First Nations that are self-funded. This is ironic, given that all Canadians are funded off the wealth and profits that come from our lands and resources. Were it not for our gas, oil, minerals, fishery, forestry, rivers, trade routes and lands, Canadians would not have such a high standard or living nor would government have the funds to pay for health, education and other services for Canadians. Taxpayers don't pay our way, we pay THEIR way and we are kept in starvation mode for it.
So, we know that their ultimate objective it to eventually cut all funding to First Nations and their political organizations and Canada will do this in a dramatic, albeit staged approach. No surprise here, we knew this was coming. The AFN has been woefully inactive on this front hoping the issue would simply go away. Well, it hasn't and it's here and we have to face it. INAC's ideology is also telling - they want to treat all First Nations the same. Regardless of what region, treaty area, territory or Nation we are from, INAC will fund everyone the same. INAC is back using the concept of treating us all as one mythic race of Indians and what is good for one is good for all.
We all know that northern communities are not in the same position as those in the south. The poverty levels vary across the country as do the housing crisis, flooding crisis, suicide crisis, water crisis, food insecurity crisis, and education, advocacy, and governance capacities. Mohawks have different laws, rules, cultures, languages and trade systems than do Mi'kmaq, Cree or Anishinabek. Some of us have treaties and others do not. There never was one race of "Indians" and to treat us like that in terms of funding ties our identities to federal laws, policies, recognition systems for one reason only - assimilation. In other words, they legislate who we are, who gets to be us and when we no longer exist. The funding cuts will just help this process along.
Provinces and territories ought to take notice as well. Look at how Canada purports to change the constitutional jurisdictional relationship in section 91(24) from "Indians and lands reserved for the Indians" to "only Indians that live on a reserve". For many communities, this will cut funding even more severely than can be seen in the announcement. First Nations will be assessed based solely on their on-reserve populations, which for many is about half their population. In other cases, some have 80% of their populations off-reserve, but are still responsible for them in a variety of ways. This is also no surprise as Canada has been trying to figure out how to deal with the inevitable court cases which find Indian status (registration) rules to be discriminatory. Their idea to reduce financial obligations is to slowly and quietly transition to an on-reserve population funding model versus a total band membership model.
In the announcement, INAC explains that future funding will be based on "our shared priorities". In case you are wondering where they got their shared priorities one need only refer back to the Crown-First Nations Gathering (CFNG) and the AFN-INAC Joint Action Plan which came out as a result. Harper was very clear in his speech that he would be getting rid of "incentives" (aka funding) and promoting "individuals" (aka breaking up reserves). The whole speech was designed to promote "integration" (aka assimilation). Harper said he would impose a suite of legislation and he is keeping his promises. There should be no shock about what is happening - the only issue is how we deal with it. In this case, the AFN opted to sign a Joint Action Plan, without the consent of the different regions in Canada to do exactly what Harper outlined.
This is why INAC now says that they will limit funding to "shared priorities". Let's compare Harper's Speech at the CFNG with the AFN-INAC Joint Action Plan and INAC's Shared Funding Priorities:
CFNG Gathering Speech
INAC-AFN Joint Action Plan
Shared Funding Priorities
Meaningful dialogue on treaties
Consultation on resource development projects (omnibus bill to remove consultation, funding cuts to advisory services)
Change rules in education
National education panel to discuss legislation
Education (education legislation, funding cuts to organizations and for proposal-based program funding)
Change FN accountability
Accountability of FN governments
Governance (accountability legislation, elections legislation, funding cuts to governments, political organizations, advisory services)
Focus on economic development
Unlocking economic potential
Land management (reserve privatization legislation, funding cuts for advisory services, community plans)
Obviously, this is a very brief overview of several detailed documents and is meant in a very general way. Any policy or legal analysis of these documents would be much more sophisticated than can be reasonably presented in a blog (my blogs are already too long).
All this to say, that INAC wants First Nations to "seek out new funding sources". Easy for INAC to say because they have already taken 99.8% of our lands, most of our resources, and many of our people. What would these new funding sources look like? Well, one can imagine corporations like Enbridge and other pipelines, oil and gas companies, hydro companies, mining companies, nuclear or waste disposal companies and others would be a perfect fit.
Just in case First Nations are unsure about how to proceed, they will no longer have funding for organizations to provide advisory services in the areas of economic development, financial management, community planning or governance. But that's ok, because there is a new National Chief in town, and his name is Manny Jules. Manny Jules and his national organizations will solve all Indian problems - you will have your choice of:
(a) First Nation Tax Commission (Manny Jules) imposing tax regimes on your reserve or
(b) Reserve lands becoming provincial lands subject to provincial taxation;
(a) First Nations Financial Management Board (Harold Calla) manage your community's finances or
(b) Third party management by any number of high-priced financial consultants (except your own);
(3) Economic Development
(a) Aboriginal Economic Development Board (Clarence Louis) will advise INAC on how best to develop your reserve lands or
(b) INAC will unilaterally unlock your lands and then develop them for you;
(4) Reserve Lands
(a) First Nations Land Title Institute (Manny's proposed idea) will take over your reserve lands or
(b) Find alternate funding to support your First Nation when INAC cuts all funds;
(a) Allow your First Nations to be subsumed under one National Aboriginal Organization or
(b) Have all of your political, advisory and governance funding cut by INAC.
These are the choices being presented to First Nations by Canada: assimilate or stay on the rez. It is a false choice of course, because there are so many more meaningful options which come from our traditional ways of governing, learning, trading, sustaining, and relating. The hardest choice of all will be deciding to do things differently, doing things our way, and making the necessary short-term sacrifices to ensure the long-term future for our children.
This is a sign of things to come - they will cut funding to First Nations even more. They will amend the constitution, they will breach and even try to extinguish our rights and they will do their best to assimilate us. We all own this - we all have a responsibility to make the changes we need. If we don't care enough about our families, communities and Nations to at least try - no one else will.
No one says it will be easy, in fact, I can guarantee it will be hard. We have a lot of work to do to gain back the faith and loyalty of our citizens and conversely, our citizens have work to do in supporting their Nations. We have a lot of issues to deal with internally, but that is our conversation to have amongst ourselves. The frustration of grass roots peoples with their leaders and organizations is very real and must be addressed. The frustration of leaders with Canada and the over-whelming task of trying to solve all the problems alone is also very real.
The issue which faces us is not a battle between traditional leaders and Indian Act leaders, between men and women, or between on and off-reserve. The colonizers have done a good job of dividing us, confusing us and aligning us along their own ideologies about class, status, and individualism. If we could forgive ourselves for being colonized and for struggling with decolonization and healing, then the space would open up to work on this problem.
We can let Canada's plan unfold or there is a place where our peoples can meet in the middle, start over, face the problems honestly and openly, and start the healing journey towards changing our communities for the better.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
To some readers, the term "elimination" may seem a little harsh, somewhat of an exaggeration, or perhaps rhetoric blown out of proportion which forgets the good intentions governments, churches and traders had for Indigenous peoples. I beg to differ - not because I fall into any externally imposed category of left-wing, liberal, radical or "nutbar". I beg to differ because the facts - the brutal, uncomfortable facts tell us a much different story. My biggest concern is not that the colonization project devastated Indigenous peoples, because the historical record clearly shows it did; it is that the colonization and devastation of Indigenous peoples continues, albeit couched in softer terminology.
Today, the few history books that have been amended to include mention of Indigenous peoples speak of the tragic loss of Indigenous cultures over time. They speak of this "loss" as a romantic part of our history where the strong, noble Indian chief on his horse looks across the horizon and realizes that the ways of his people are fading away with the coming of European trains, traders and technologies. This sort of representation may even invoke feelings of melancholy in Canadians who long for the simplicity of the old days. But it belies the truth about Canada and its direct and intentional "obliteration" of Indigenous peoples, cultures and territories.
If the term "elimination" does not make some readers uncomfortable, surely the term "obliteration" will. The purposeful destruction of a people implies the kind of ill-intent, even malice upon which a country like Canada could surely never have been built? Terms like those imply that perhaps what happened to Indigenous peoples was not simply "progress", "civilization" or a "good policy gone wrong" - no, this falls in the realm of a word that usually upsets the majority of readers: genocide.
Many people do not understand the legal definition of genocide, nor are they aware of how genocide is considered internationally. Many are of the misunderstanding that genocide is the mass murder of millions of people all in one shot - something akin to the holocaust. In fact, genocide is defined in the United Nations Convention on Genocide as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- (a) Killing members of the group;
- (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The issue of genocide is radical - not because it is not true, but because it stands so far outside the realm of humanity and human rights that the tendency is to save the term for only the most obvious, horrific, well-known instances of genocide committed in places far away from Canada.
The term genocide is usually saved for instances where the victims are considered to be humans - and Indigenous peoples have long been characterized as non-humans for centuries. Aside from the historical depictions of Indigenous peoples as "savages", "heathens" or "pagans", they have also been treated by governments as "dangerous and sub-human". The myth of Indigenous peoples being sub-human allowed governments to steal Indigenous lands under the legal fiction of "terra nullius" (lands belonging to no one). They knew better of course, but it allowed them to justify not only the theft of lands from Indigenous peoples, but the brutal acts of genocide which were committed upon them.
The fact that early governments sent small-pox infested blankets to Indigenous communities knowing it would nearly wipe them all out, is a historical fact. These were not the actions of a few bad apples, or something that happened in the stone age. This has been acknowledged as modern "biological warfare" by publications in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The scalping laws in Nova Scotia were deliberate acts of murder which decimated the Mi'kmaw Nation population by almost 80%. The forced surgical sterilization of Indigenous women against their will, and often without their knowledge or consent, destroyed Indigenous peoples in a very physical way.
The government and church-run residential schools knowingly created conditions that led to the mass deaths of the Indigenous children who attended - upwards of 40% never made it out alive. Incredibly, not only did government officials know that Indigenous children were dying and even "acknowledged" the high rates of deaths and their causes, but this was part of the overall objective:
"But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards the final solution of our Indian problem." (SI Indian Affairs, Duncan Campbell Scott)
Why do I bring all this uncomfortableness up in my blog? Why am I asking readers to face the brutal reality that is Canada? It is because genocidal acts against Indigenous peoples continue to this day, hidden in government policies which purport to be in the best interests of Indigenous peoples. It is because every government (Libs and Cons) has had a hand in continuing the situation, but mostly because this Harper government has ramped up efforts to eliminate Indigenous peoples. In my opinion, the Harper Indigenous Manifesto is about erasing Indigenous peoples from Canada socially, culturally, legally and physically.
What used to be forced sterilizations to prevent child births and control Indigenous populations is now pre-mature deaths from the extreme poverty directly linked to chronic, purposeful under-funding, over-prescription of addictive drugs, and lack of housing, water and sanitation.
What used to be residential schools became the 60's scoop and is now child and family services removing our children from our communities at alarming rates.
What used to be European/western education forced on our children through residential schools, is now the provincial school systems, which for the most part, teach the same western ideologies, histories, sciences and politics to our children and specifically exclude our traditional Indigenous knowledges, languages and cultures.
What used to be scalping laws, are now starlight tours, murdered and missing Indigenous women by the hundreds, and quelling land claims with brute military and police force.
What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples leaving their reserves are now laws which take away rights when one leaves the reserve (taxes, governance, jurisdiction, trade, identity).
What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples gathering in one place is now CSIS, RCMP, DND and INAC putting us on terrorist watch lists, monitoring our movements, and over-incarcerating our men, women and youth at increasing rates.
What used to be laws against Indigenous peoples hiring lawyers to advocate on their behalf, are now devasting funding cuts to local, regional and provincial First Nation political organizations. All coming at a time when Harper wants chaos, confusion, and lack of political capacity to ensure there is little resistance to his comprehensive Indian Act-based legislative agenda.
He hopes to strike fear and confusion in chiefs so that they don't know whether to stay quiet and hope it doesn't get worse, or take action. Either way, funding cuts will be imposed on local First Nations as well. This is not about whether regional political organizations are doing a good job or not - this is about Harper fulfilling the original intentions of Indian policy (1) accessing Indigenous lands and resources and (2) reducing financial obligations to Indigenous peoples. He just happens to see striking at political organizations as the best way to isolate individual First Nations, already overwhelmed with issues, so they are easier to bully into submission.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) either does not have the capacity or inclination to take these issues on. Regardless of the reasons, it is clear that local community members are going to be looking to their local First Nation governments to take action. In the same vein, First Nation leaders will be looking for assistance from their treaty, regional and provincial organizations. The days of waiting for the AFN to do something are over. If these funding cuts are ok, so will be the ones that come to individual First Nations, then will come the eventual constitutional changes, the accelerated extinguishment of Aboriginal and treaty rights, and the division and sale of the rest of our lands.
If Canadians think that this does not concern them - they should think again. As your "Canada" slowly becomes a dictatorship led by a rogue Prime Minister who is obsessed with power, Canadian laws, rules, and regulations are breached with impunity. Everything from elections, ethics, budgets, and legislation are manipulated without regard for the rule of law. The damage done by these renegade Conservatives is already so severe that analysts feel it will take years to undo the harm.
In standing beside Indigenous peoples to oppose these destructive policies, Canadians would be living up to the spirit and intent of the treaties and, in so doing, protecting their own futures. Economic reports have already shown that the costs of maintaining Indigenous peoples in poverty is higher than the solutions. Those same studies show that the costs of delaying the resolution of land claims and treaty implemention for example, are higher than if those claims were resolved equitably. Even the most basic math shows that it costs more to keep an Indigenous person in a federal prison for one year ($100,000) than it does to pay for a 4-year university degree ($60,000).
If you think for a minute that once Harper is done erasing Indigenous peoples, that he won't come after women, children, the impoverished, the remaining pristine environmental areas, water basins and sanctuaries all in the name of wealth and power, think again. There is no room for justice, diversity or freedom in a dictator's view of the world.
We are all compelled to act. Our reasons do not have to be the same. I can be a Mi'kmaw citizen and someone else can be a Canadian citizen, but still have a mutual interest in protecting the environment. Whether someone votes in federal and provincial elections, or like me, does not vote in elections - we all still share the desire to protect our waterways. One can be Maliseet and someone else French, but still feel it important protect our cultures for future generations.
I have no intention of letting Harper erase me, my family, my home community or Mi'kmaw Nation. Let's put our heads together about a plan of action.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Mitt Romney (aka The Brain) and his running mate, Paul Ryan (aka Pinky), are hoping that Americans buy into their bid for the top job as leaders of the United States of America (i.e., take over the world). Their plan is eerily familiar somehow.... can't quite place it, but sounds an awful lot like a modern version of terra nullius and imperialism 101.
First of all, Romney opens his speech with a very telling line: "We're a nation of immigrants." True, they are all immigrants. However, they are not a nation - they are a state which is located in and among many Nations - Indigenous Nations. To say that the USA is a nation of immigrants treats the original peoples as though they don't exist. This is how the colonizers justified the theft of Indigenous lands, because they were terra nullius - "land belonging to no one", or in other words, no humans were inhabiting a piece of land, so it was free for the taking.
Romney also goes on to state "We're the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life. The driven ones." Oh, they're the driven ones alright - there wasn't anything they were not willing to do to acquire Indigenous lands and resources - from scalpings, mass murders, forced relocations, residential schools, to forced sterilizations. But all of that was justified. Why? Because they came in the pursuit of freedom - "freedom to build a business with their own hands".
In America, they don't apologize for success". In fact, according to Romney's view of the world, "it's the genius of the American free enterprise system" that has created America as it looks today. Of course, you have to sort of ignore that Indigenous peoples exist, that there are huge societal inequities between men and women, Black and white people, gay and straight, and rich and poor. But that's ok because according to Romney, his empire... err America, will not "mention their race, their party affiliation or what they did for a living".
Nevermind that this same "genius" free enterprise system is killing our oceans, lands and skies. For every imperialist, there is always an arch nemesis who threatens to foil the world domination plan. For The Brain, it was usually Pinky's lower IQ that foiled his plans. For Romney, President Obama is the arch nemesis because of his ludicrous non-genius ideas. Obama wants to slow the rise of the oceans... HAHAHAHAHAHA... and he wants to try to heal the planet... BAHAHAHAHAHA! How ridiculous! Obama will never take over the world that way. No, Obama should have a genius world domination plot like Romney which will make the already privileged individuals who vote for him much, much richer.
But, as with all good world domination plots, one can't build an empire without the requisite propaganda which justifies the invasion... err... freedom campaign. The formula for this is simple: "free other nations from dictators", show other countries "less flexibility and more backbone", and create a "free world" by imposing...err... promoting "America"s Democratic ideals". In fact, Romney's America "will preserve a military that's so strong no nation will ever dare test it"! No one will ever touch "our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear and renewables"!
Ok, so that speech is scary! Romney says it's "time to put aside the divisiveness" and try to create a world where "everyone else on the block is doing the same thing". Nevermind trying to thrive in your cultures and traditions as Indigenous Nations or protect our delicate ecosystems for future generations. No, if American's elect Romney, their world domination tour will no doubt start with us and our oil, our gas, our water and our natural resources. All the more reason to stop the pipelines now.
Gee Romney, what do you want to do tonight?
The same thing we do every night Ryan, try to take over the world!
*Images used from Google Images.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Perhaps it is just the heat because last year around this time, I wrote a blog about the discriminatory advertising being used by Eska Water. Their commercial for "pure" water included three men who were a mish-mash of stereotypes depicting Indigenous peoples. When confronted with the racist commercial, a spokesperson defended the company by saying "the depiction was a generic one of native people and not meant to represent any specific group". What???
The depiction was indeed a racist depiction of Indigenous peoples and they did in fact, mean to represent a specific group of people - Indigenous peoples. The fact that none of their non-Indigenous test group identified any problems and in fact offered positive comments about the ad, shows a much deeper problem. Racism against Indigenous peoples in Canada is so ingrained that some in society can't even identify it when they see it. It is so ingrained in fact, that no one in the company thought to include any Indigenous peoples in the consumer test group.
(1) Companies should include a broad cross-section of society in consumer focus groups (this includes Indigenous peoples).
(2) Companies should use the multitude of resources available related to human rights, diversity and inclusion to prevent harmful situations of racism and discrimination.
Royal Canadian Legion:
Less than two weeks ago, it was reported that the Royal Canada Legion in Cranbrook, BC had published a newsletter which included a racist joke about Indigenous peoples. This "joke" was not your usual combo of insulting stereotypes, this one had a hateful undertone which mocked the killing of Indigenous peoples with impunity.
The response was that the joke "only offended one person" and that it was meant to "get a laugh". I can't imagine a time when a racist joke would be funny, but in no stretch of the imagination is the murder of an Indigenous person funny. Many of our Indigenous peoples lost their lives fighting alongside Canadian soldiers in war. On average, 40% of Indigenous children who entered residential schools never came out alive. Starlight Tours have resulted in countless deaths of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples die pre-mature deaths everyday from conditions of extreme poverty caused by chronic underfunding of essential social services like food, water and housing. This is no joke.
Simply removing the joke from the newsletter without a sincere apology and commitment to do better does little to educate their legion members about racism, discrimination and how it impacts all their members. I doubt it did much to make amends for the shock, insult and hurt most likely felt by the Indigenous members of the Legion, as well as other non-Indigenous Legion members who care deeply about the human rights of all members of society.
(1) When an organization makes a mistake which hurts 1 person, 3 people or a 1000 people, own up to it, apologize, make amends, and take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again.
(2) Any organization can use this kind of situation as a learning opportunity to educate its members about discrimination, what it is, how it can occur, the harm it does and most importantly, how to prevent it altogether.
Last week, I was again contacted by my social media contacts, this time about a restaurant in Toronto that allegedly used racist language in their burger menu. When I was sent a copy of the menu and read that one item was called the "Dirty Drunken Half Breed", I honestly thought it was a bad joke (as in it wasn't a real menu item). I went online and checked it out and it was indeed an actual menu item.
I personally found it hard to believe that anyone in Canada would NOT know that this type of language is both racist and discriminatory. In my opinion, the response from the restaurant was equally offensive. Here are some excerpts from their Twitter response which went from apologetic to angry and defensive:
"We at Holy Chuck r truly sorry to anyone who was offended by our burger TDDHB. It has been removed..."
"I can see why people are offended. We'll chng name"
"Our menu at HC is meant to be entertaining & funny!"
"Once again I am sorry but I've never heard of the Metis people!"
"Totally blown out of proportion"
"Enough's enough! ... there's nothing more we can do"
"I'm done tweeting & there's nothing else to b said! I'm on Vacation & I plan on enjoying the rest of it! Beach and Pina colada's await!"
After reading this series of emails, would anyone consider Holy Chuck's apology to be sincere? It sounds more to me like the apology was an attempt to shake off the issue so the owner could get back to his/her drinks. No sincere apology ever starts with the words "I'm sorry but..." - that is merely a means of deflecting responsibility. Discrimination is not about the alleged intent of the perpetrator, it is about actual impact on the person offended.
It would have taken literally 2 seconds on the Internet to find numerous definitions for the word "half breed" had the business cared as much about its customers as it did its profits. Definitions of the word "half breed" include: a disparaging and offensive word for the offspring of parents of different racial origin, especially the offspring of an American Indian and a white person of European heritage; or an offensive word for a person of mixed racial descent, especially a person of Native American and white parentage. Adding the words "dirty" and "drunken" to the mix makes it even more offensive.
Trying to deny responsibility by claiming ignorance to the existence of Metis people in Canada can hardly be said to be an apology, but rather acts as further insult.
(1) Anyone operating a business that provides a service of any kind to the public must know who their serving - the population of Toronto is made up of many different groups, including First Nations, Metis and Inuit - take the time to learn about them.
(2) Business owners can avoid acts of discrimination by making themselves aware of human rights laws in their particular province, as well as any potentially applicable federal human rights laws.
The most recent issue of discrimination that has been brought to my attention is one that still has not been resolved. Ian Campeau, otherwise known as Dee Jay NDN from the music group, A Tribe Called Red, has, for some time now, been trying to work amicably with the youth football team called Nepean Redskins to help them change their name.
Instead, the responses from the local city councillor and the team has been anything but apologetic or helpful. The football club's President has been silent on the issue, although he was quoted last year as saying that they "don't use the name in a racist way". The city councillor, Jan Harder, said that "there is nothing wrong with the name" and that the issue has "nothing to do with her". What a bizarre series of statements to make.
First of all, when I used 3 seconds to look up the meaning of the word "redskin", this is what I found:
- an offensive and disparaging word used to describe North American Indians;
- offensive slang and disparaging term for Native American;
- dated and offensive term for American Indian;
- offensive term for Native Americans like "red man" and "injun".
I don't think there is any doubt that the term is offensive. But the word has far more meaning that just being a racist insult. Colonizers used to scalp Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. In some areas of Canada, there were bounties on the scalps of Mi'kmaw men, women and children which decimated our Nation by up to 80%. The fact that American soldiers would sometimes skin an entire Indigenous person is horrific and a stark reminder of the genocide committed against Indigenous peoples in all its forms.
How the Nepean Redskins team President, Stephen Dean, could say that the team does not use the name in a racist way makes absolutely no sense when the name itself is racist. There is no neutral use of the term "redskin", unless you are talking about potatoes, and we all know that is not the case here. This shows an extremely deep level of ignorance. If we were to exchange any other racist name of another cultural group - there would be no question about the racist nature of it. The difference here is that its "just" Indigenous peoples we are offending, which appears to be very acceptable to some non-Indigenous people.
The further offensive appropriation of Indigenous symbology and likeness for a non-Indigenous football team is also offensive. But the most telling comments came from city councillor Jan Harder who said there is nothing wrong with the name and the issue has nothing to do with her. We've already established that there is a lot wrong with the name. But Harder has hit on an important point: she has no skin in the game, so to speak, so what's it to her? She is not Indigenous and she obviously knows or cares very little about the historical and ongoing discrimination against Indigenous peoples.
As city councillor, she has worked on finances, land development, environment and hydro. Why on earth would she want to know anything about Indigenous peoples? Never mind that all of those issues impact the lives of Indigenous peoples in significant and often destructive ways. Over 13,000 Aboriginal people live in Ottawa - I am quite sure that some even live in Councillor Harder's ward. Whether there is one Indigenous person who is offended or 1000, according to Canada's laws, she is obligated to act on behalf of all people in her district, not just her and "anyone else I know" that looks, acts, and thinks like her.
Personally, I would like to see Harder do her job and Dean stop hiding from the issue and deal with it. What else can Ian Campeau do? He has tried to deal with this amicably, he has offered to fundraise so that the team can transition to a new name and has contacted various people. By ignoring the issue, the team risks bad publicity, a human rights complaint, a boycott on their funders, and continued hurt amongst the Indigenous peoples in Ottawa and beyond.
(1) The team could use this issue as an opportunity to get everyone in the community engaged and come up with a community-based strategy to transition from their current racist name to one that everyone can enjoy.
(2) The team should read the following letter from Leanne Simpson, who expresses with great insight and gentle compassion, why the team ought to change its name. Seriously take the time to consider her words:
Just in case you are not convinced, I invite the public to write, call or visit the councillor and team president to show them how much this impacts everyone who wants to live in a discrimination-free society.
City Councillor Jan Harder
Councilor, Ward 3 Barrhaven
T - 613-580-2473
F - 613-580-2513
President Stephen Dean
Ontario Human Rights Commission
180 Dundas Street West, Suite 900
Toronto, ON M7A 2R9
Also, here is a new petition started by Ian Campeau to have the name changed:
*Full disclosure - I used to work at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission as an investigator of human rights complaints.