UPDATED - Harper Hypocrisy: Media Blackout on First Nation - Harper Summit
I can understand a meeting being restricted in size in order to address important issues. What makes no sense to me is that the media is severely restricted about what they can and can't broadcast or attend. The media is allowed to record and broadcast the opening ceremonies, the opening speeches and the scrum (series of questions) afterwards. All the real business in the plenary sessions will be part of a media black-out - no one in the media can see what happens inside. None of this is necessary in an age where web-casting, pod-casting and live-streaming is available on the Internet as well as television broadcasts.
This is not only offensive to me as a grass roots Indigenous person, but also seems to me to be the ultimate in Harper hypocrisy. The Harper government has vilified our leaders in the media as being corrupt and not accountable, has tried to impose legislation on them to make them more "open" and "transparent" and even made open, transparent and accountable governments part of the agenda for this meeting. Yet, it is Harper, not First Nations leaders, who is implementing the media black-out for the actual plenary meetings - thereby preventing openness, transparency and accountability.
Every time an elected Chief even attempts to make what he/she does open and transparent, Canada, through Indian Affairs, reminds him/her that they are only accountable to Indian Affairs via the Indian Act, and not to their people. How can Harper accuse First Nations of NOT being open when an important meeting like this one will be off-limits to the community members served by those Chiefs? These are the very ways in which Canada sets up our leaders to fail their people every time.
How can any grass roots person have an opportunity to judge for themselves what their leaders do on important issues if they are banned from seeing it for themselves? This is an insult to grass roots members and even to the many Chiefs who are not able to attend the meeting. Notice how Harper is dividing Chiefs into elite groups with "access" and those without, and also dividing communities into those with power (Chiefs) and those without (grass roots). Something like this should be open for all to see if they choose.
It is not uncommon for some government meetings to be closed to the cameras or the public. One must keep in mind, this is not a confidential Cabinet discussion about an upcoming budget, it is not a meeting to negotiate foreign trade strategy, nor does it involve litigation or even high-stakes negotiations. This is a high-level political meeting more for show than for decision-making. In fact, this meeting has no mandate to do anything at all but talk about what Harper decided was important: education, economic development and accountability. So far, Harper has told the media that First Nations should temper their expectations - that nothing should be expected out of this meeting.
But we all know what the real issue is. This meeting would NEVER have even come to fruition, and certainly not on January 24th, 2012, had the politically embarrassing situation in Attawapiskat not hit the headlines in the media and stayed in the media for so long. Harper had promised such a meeting several times before and it never came about. So, we see that this is a meeting not one of choice, but of perceived political necessity - i.e., to save face.
Having a meeting for the purposes of saving face politically and to appear as though Harper is taking concrete action on Indigenous issues neither starts the meeting with the right intentions, nor can it be expected to result in any sort of commitment for Indigenous peoples. However, given that the meeting is about saving face, Harper could never allow the public or the international community to see him called out by First Nation leaders about his assimilatory legislative agenda, his purposeful chronic underfunding of essential social services or his complete rejection of Aboriginal and treaty rights. This is the real reason why the meeting is not slated to be broadcast.
So, Harper demands transparency on the part of First Nations, but then does not allow to be transparent. He demands openness on the part of Chiefs, but then closes the doors on an important meeting involving the health and well-being of all Indigenous peoples. He demands accountability, but only works with "willing partners" - i.e., those who will support the Conservative agenda. This meeting represents everything that is wrong with Harper - he is a dictator and assimilationist who would enjoy nothing more than to have Indigenous people dance for him, give him gifts in hopes of gaining his favour - an exercise in futility.
I have learned that organizations like the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) will be providing a live feed of the three plenary sessions at the Saskatoon Inn so that their community members can watch the proceedings.
I also understand from the Assembly of First Nations website that they are trying to be inclusive to the Chiefs who cannot attend by setting up certain locations where non-attending Chiefs can view all three plenary sessions. It also looks like the AFN is trying to set up a second Ottawa location (I assume not at the venue) where officials can watch the proceedings.
I will continue to contact organizations and see if anyone is providing a live-stream feed on the Internet where all grass roots Indigenous peoples can watch what is happening any of the three plenary sessions. It now makes even less sense to me that the media is not allowed in the plenary sessions or that they cannot broadcast the plenary sessions when clearly First Nation organizations are permitted to do so in select locations.
I applaud those First Nation organizations like FSIN who will be doing their best to ensure people can see the events, but I am sure they are limited by funding and technology to be able to set up viewing stations on every First Nation in the province. This is something that should be streamed online or at least televised by the Government of Canada, or at least something the media is permitted to do.
My biggest concern is that he will propose the following "deals" with "willing partners". These deals won't be spelled out in the Summit - but instead key words and phrases will be used to signal where he and his officials are headed. The true extent of the deals will be spelled out in future one on one meetings - how Indian Affairs usually does its business.
Harper will commit to find "efficiencies" in current funding envelopes (aka no new funding) to fund a First Nation education system as defined by him. This will mean that funding will flow through a national school board system, or similar method that mimics provincial systems or in some way that removes jurisdiction and decision-making away from local First Nations.
This will pit individuals versus communities; lump diverse Indigenous Nations like Cree, Mi'kmaq and Mohawk as a generic Indians (again); and ultimately promote the same assimilatory education agenda that is so prevalent in many (not all) provincial school systems. The idea here is to make sure First Nations communities are not in control and that they don't get to hire education coordinators or provide things like child care for single mothers trying to go to school.
The efficiencies found in eliminating local control and related educational services will be used to promote a school board or boards stacked with Conservative supporters and those "willing partners" willing to take power away from First Nation governments and create new forms of power among Conservative Aboriginal elite.
(2) Economic Development
There is no surprise here either. The language that Harper has been using around this item is very clear as to the end results - "unlocking" the economies of First Nations for the "benefit of all Canadians". Clearly this relates to continued use of our traditional lands and natural resources for their own government and corporate benefit. Think: oil sands, mining, timber, fishing and international exports and ignore Aboriginal rights, treaty rights, inherent rights, international human and Indigenous rights and so forth.
But key words have been used here: "unlocking" is the language used by the most infamous assimilationist, Tom Flanagan, in his newest book: Beyond The Indian Act. It is the same language being used by Manny Jules, head of First Nation Tax Commission, who agrees with Flanagan's plan to break up reserves into individual pieces of land that can be sold to non-Indians.
We only hold less than 0.2% of all land in Canada as reserve lands, yet the 99.8% of our traditional lands will continue to be exploited for the "benefit of all Canadians". This 99.8% of our lands are not enough for those with a capitalist persuasion. They now want to "unlock" what little we have left and squeeze every ounce of cash out of our reserve lands that they can with no thought for our well-being or future generations.
So, any commitments or efficiencies found in other funding envelopes might be used to offer economic development incentives with the condition that support is found for the upcoming First Nation Property Ownership Act or that quick and cheap agreements can be made to forgo land claims. Other legislative initiatives like the matrimonial real property legislation which will open up reserve lands to non-Indians may also fall under this category.
(3) First Nation Accountability
We all know what this is about. Harper wants his legislation to pass forcing First Nations to publish their salaries. But that is just what we see on the surface, what he is really after and what we will likely never see or hear are the hidden changes to funding agreements, reporting requirements and reporting of business activities that will likely be more invasive, despite the Auditor General's criticism in this area.
I can also see extreme pressure being placed on First Nations to accept the water bill proposed in the last session of Parliament (S-11) where Harper will be able to transfer all costs and liability for water systems onto already underfunded First Nations. There will be no extra money provided for this purpose of course, but the efficiencies found in off-loading the responsibility may be used to provide up-front training and minimal infrastructure investments that will fall apart will lack of stable funding for upkeep and maintenance.
It will be stressed that accountability = doing what Harper wants - versus what is best for their communities will be the condition for all future funding. Things like emergency housing or water services will likely be contingent on third party managers or co-managers imposed quietly. This meeting and those that we will never hear about will focus on getting control over the Indian problem.
The Indian problem will be resolved in one of two ways: (1) our continued colonization through empowering those Aboriginal people who have internalized colonization and now turn on us, or (2) legislating those Indigenous people who resist colonization and assimilation out of existence - keeping them in constant litigation, medicating them, vilifying them as "radicals", splitting up families, dividing women from their communities, and over-incarcerating us.
If anyone thinks I am being pessimistic - you are welcome to your opinion. However, the writing is clearly on the wall and anyone who expects otherwise will be disappointed. Now, I might stand to be corrected. Harper could make any sort of announcement where I would happily concede the error of my predictions.
Harper might announce at this meeting that he will reduce First Nation Poverty in 5-10 years:
Oh, wait, he already did that.
Ok, Harper might announce that he will speed up land claims with a "revolutionary" new Specific Claims Tribunal:
Darn, he did that too, with similar non-results.
Sadly, 2, 4 even 6 years later, Harper's old promises still have not come to fruition. I think if he makes any new promises at this meeting - First Nations might be well-advised to wait and see what concrete actions are actually taken, and not jump too quickly for that "willing partners" name tag.
I fully admit that all of this is my best guess based on all my research, education, and experience, but that is all us grass roots people will have, since the actual meeting is off-limits to the majority of us who are affected by their decisions - unless of course we find an organization that is permitted and willing to live-stream the event online for all of us.
I will keep looking...