Sunday, July 15, 2012

Right-Wing Post: The Fight for Integrity in the Media

I am writing today to set the record straight about the most recent edition of the Right-Wing Post. John Ivison of the National Post called me this week and asked for an interview. He needed it urgently to fill meet his timeline for this past Saturday, July 14. While I was on the road and meeting with Chiefs, I agreed to take half an hour to assist him with his story. Apparently, that was an exercise in futility since he did not print a word I said.

The story he wrote is entitled: "The fight for the soul of the AFN" and can be found at this link:

You'll notice that the first paragraph is an indication of his lack of knowledge about what actually transpired before, during and after what was called the "Crown-First Nation Gathering" (CFNG). First of all, the meeting was promised for many years and did not transpire until the crisis in Attawapiskat First Nation captured the media's attention and stayed in the media. The ONLY reason why Harper stayed at the meeting was due to the unrelenting criticism that he would only stay for the speech - not because of any pressure by National Chief Atleo - in fact, everyone but Atleo criticized Harper for his planned early exit.

Secondly, there was no "new" money given to First Nations for anything. In fact, after the CFNG, many Aboriginal organizations received funding cuts so severe, some had to close their doors. These funding cuts included cuts to the AFN. Any money that has been identified for emergencies like Attawapiskat or water has been taken from other programs and services for First Nations. The former Auditor General clearly highlighted in her reports how Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has a habit of reporting one thing and doing another. Harper has long stated there will be no new money for First Nations - only "efficiencies".

Getting back to Ivison's article, I spent a great deal of time explaining to him my concerns, their origins and why I am running. Although I can't speak for what is going on in his head, he obviously did not like or understand my answers as he chose to take quotes from my old blogs to make his story sound more dramatic. To back up his right-wing slant on the story, he used the Frontier Centre for Public Policy - a right-wing think tank that can be counted on to support just about anything Harper.

The right-wing contingency in Canada has openly supported Atleo - from Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau to many of the extremely right-wing media outlets like the Sun. My issue has never been whether they support Atleo, to each his own. My concern has always been their refusal to use facts in their "news" reporting and for their opinions. Anyone can have random opinions about anything, but when these commentators refuse to base it on facts, then it is hardly be considered analysis worthy of reading.

These guys are very clever, they can find ways to belittle or minimize individuals without saying it directly. Notice how they constantly refer to Atleo as having a Masters degree, but never refer to my 4 university degrees or address me as "Dr" instead of "Miss"? They refuse to capitalize the word "aboriginal" as if we are somehow less than other groups like "French" or "German". The fact that they even use the word "aboriginal" refuses to acknowledge my nationality as "Mi'kmaw" which is found in all of my websites, brochures and how I actually defined myself during our interview.

Even the quote he assigns to me is Ivison's quote - he is the one who asked me about the "extremely cordial" relations between Atleo and Harper where I explained that my issue is NOT with having a good relationship. In fact, I support respectful and mutually beneficial relations with Ottawa - but he never quoted my actual words. I specifically said that the idea is not to settle for just any relationship with Canada - but that I wanted one that was based on respect. This means Harper has to put some good faith on the table.

Ivison went on to challenge me saying how could I speak about respect for Canada when I refer to Harper as the devil. I told him that he needed to read my entire set of blogs to understand what I am referring to - Harper's aggressive assimilatory agenda towards First Nations and his blatant disregard for democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms valued by Canadians. I am not the only one who feels this way - at this point I believe most Canadians can see what is happening, especially since the two undemocratic omnibus bills: Bill C-10 and Bill C-38, show how Harper has replaced the voices of Canadians with his own agenda in a very dictatorial manner.

In addition, I never called Atleo a "devil". That is categorically false. The conversation was strictly related to Harper's assimilatory agenda. Atleo may be leading the AFN in the wrong direction in my opinion, but I have said all along this is not about Atleo as a person. I have met him several times and he seems to be very nice. I think most people who have met him consider him to be an extremely nice guy. After all, he is working at the AFN to better the lives of First Nations. It is not his personality that concerns me, it's his making deals with Harper without a corresponding mandate from the chiefs to do so, that concerns me. But this isn't just my analysis.

Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan wrote a letter to Atleo on July 10, 2012 specifically telling Atleo that "there is no place for you to have your own agenda" and he went on to cite "countless examples of AFN acting without any authority from the Chiefs". Chief Fox was very specific that this was not a personal issue, but instead highlighted the "danger" of he AFN "collaborating" with Harper to push the 1969 White Paper assimilation policy. Chief Fox is not the only one who feels this way. Many chiefs across the country can see the writing on the wall. These are the facts of what is happening here and Ivison ignored all of those to print a propaganda piece for Atleo.

If you read Ivison's entire piece you will understand exactly what the rest of us are talking about. Ivison quotes Atleo as describing himself as the head of the AFN engaged in "nation to nation" relations with Canada. This is precisely the problem - AFN is NOT a Nation, it's not a treaty holder or land owner, nor is it not a national government. Atleo cannot engage in Nation to Nation relations - only we as Indigenous Nations can do that. Only Treaty 1, Treaty 6, or Mi'kmaq, Maliseet or Anishinabek, etc can speak for their Nations. This is the fundamental issue here that Ivison and all the right-wing media ignores.

Ivison also failed to quote our conversation related to funding. He tried to get me to admit that my whole solution is more tax-payer's money. I explained to him that all the wealth in this country is made from First Nations lands and resources. Every single government, business or industry is 100% reliant on the ongoing theft of our lands and resources. It is a fundamental mischaracterization to say that band funding comes from tax-payers. If tax-payers have an issue with paying taxes - that is between them and their governments - we did not create capitalist forms of government.

Our issue is that this country's wealth is 100% reliant on our land and resources. When we demand a small fraction of that wealth back, we are accused of being dependent. The only government dependent here are the federal and provincial governments who could not sustain themselves without out our lands and resources. We, as First Nations, fund every single program, service, benefit, and government in this country NOT the other way around. I also explained that at a bare minimum, First Nation government transfer payments, should at least be on par with provincial governments. Right now we are chronically underfunded and the extreme poverty is the result.

This does not include the additional rights we have in relation to our lands and resources from our treaties and constitutional protections. When I spoke to Ivison I explained all of this in great detail - but he obviously didn't like what he heard as he printed his own version. I also gave him my ideas about how our governments can sustain themselves, but he felt no need to share any of that. Instead he boils it all down to gender and quotes an unnamed AFN watcher saying that chiefs will never vote for a woman. At each step the right-wing faction in Canada insult our chiefs. We have more female Chiefs and band councillors in Canada than the federal parliament has female MPs. If only reporters stuck to the facts, then we would not have all this negative stereotypes dominating the media.

Our chiefs are smart, many are deeply spiritual and most are in this to better the lives of our people. I believe in the collective wisdom of our people - they decided to who to put in as Chief, they decide the traditional or hereditary leaders and when the chiefs vote they will decide who will have their back for the next three years. This race was never about gender - it has always been about inspiring hope in our people and laying out a vision for the next three years. For me, this means being brave enough to stand up and admit when we are off track so we can turn this ship back around.

The right-wing media will do their best to maintain the status quo - because everyone else benefits from it but us. But we have the ability to see past their propaganda and lack of facts - we can do this. We have a momentum going now to get things back on track and we will set things right. We just have to stay focused on our sovereignty, our lands and treaties and our people and we can't go wrong. The choice at this election is not radical versus moderate or male versus female - the choice is status quo or taking a chance on fundamental change. The status quo is killing our people, I don't think we have much to lose by taking a chance on turning things around.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

First Nations Too Generous Funding Canadian State

Unbelievable! I am not sure how I can be both shocked and not, every time I see an irresponsible poll or article like the one below:

I guess maybe some would say I am too hopeful? That despite all the racism, hatred and lack of compassion shown for our people, that this will change. But I am. I am hopeful because our people are strong, proud and have the power to stand up to this bullying. Canadians can follow the lead of First Nations in resisting and defeating this dictatorial bully government.

I KNOW that there are Canadians out there who see what is happening for what it really is: after-the-fact justification for the theft of First Nation lands and resources. Most Canadians know that the right-wing propaganda is just that. What concerns me are all those new Canadians and young Canadians who can and will be influenced by the media's irresponsible hate messaging.

Take this article for example - the statements in the poll would lead respondents into a certain mind frame. The poll options seem to relate to the money spent on First Nation peoples by government. Just think about the messaging. The statements  assume that there is money which "belongs" to Canadians that is then "given" to First Nations. Right off the bat, most people who hate paying taxes will latch onto any excuse to justify why they should not pay taxes. If pollsters can find a scapegoat, like First Nations, then they could easily latch onto that as their outlet for tax-frustration with their own government.

More than that, thinking about the theme of the questions puts Canadians into the wrong mindset - it provides them with faulty facts - that Canada uses taxpayers money to fund First Nations. The fact is: First Nation lands and resources fund the Canadian, provincial and municipal governments in this country - NOT the other way around. The reason why Canadians have such a high standard of living compared to the rest of the world is because Canada uses our lands and resources to fund them. Although Canadian governments tax their citizens, these taxes come from land use, businesses and jobs all created off the wealth of this country - which belongs to First Nations.

This kind of corrupted messaging -  that we are somehow living off of Canadian taxpayer-funded welfare - has led to the current state of hatred, racism and lack of compassion for our peoples. This government propaganda forces a wedge between First Nations and Canadians and ensures that there is little public support for addressing the current crisis of poverty in many First Nations. This Harper government, together with its ultra-fanatical right-wing supporters portray First Nations as "soviets", "communists", "lazy", "primitives" and describe our communities as "cesspools". This tactic is ancient - it tries to link biology to an imagined concept of race and make us appear less than human.

Why? So that land theft can be justified. So that government has an excuse to not have to spend any of our own money to address the lethal poverty in our communities. If government can convince Canadians that we are poor because we choose to be, or we commit suicide because we can't cope with the "modern world" then this lets people feel off the hook. That is why lack of water, food and housing in other countries is considered a crisis in need of UN intervention and millions in Canadian funds to help, but in Canada it is the fault of First Nations - so no assistance.

I just published an article called "Stretched Beyond Human Limits: Death by Poverty in First Nations" in the Canadian Review of Social Policy. This journal is a special edition focusing on poverty issues, and because First Nation poverty is so acute in Canada, they have agreed to allow free access to my article so as to raise awareness about the causes, the effects and what can be done to address it.

I have been researching the issue of poverty in First Nations for several years now and am part through writing a book on the topic. This article is like a brief overview of the issues that will be covered in this book. The main premise of this article is:

"There is evidence showing that there is a direct link between discriminatory federal laws and policies, and the crisis of poverty and preventable deaths in First Nations. Canada controls tyhe lives of First Nations, provides them with inequitable funding that results in conditions of extreme poverty, which the research has shown leads to their premature deaths."

While past governments have tried to various degrees to address the issue, this Harper government has specifically decided to ignore the problem and have even instituted more funding cuts. Now, the news paper article alleges that billions are given to First Nations with no improvements. What Canadians don't realize is that almost half of that funding goes to support employees of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) many of whom get raises every year, have six figure salaries, paid vacations, trips overseas, go on paid language training for years at a time, get sick days, health coverage and retirement pensions. This giant INAC bureaucracy is well-paid and never has to worry about enough water, food or safe housing.

What if that funding went to First Nations to provide their own programs and services? What if INAC employees had to account to US for whether they are working hard enough for our people? What if no results meant that INACers lost their jobs and funding? I am a strong believer in accountability - but it is INAC that is living high on the hog while our people suffer - not us.

There are good people that work in government, many have chosen to work there to try to make things better. But they are not the decision-makers - the Harper government's dictatorial approach to running this country means that Harper calls all the shots. Therefore we need to stand up and demand better. Irresponsible polls like this one do not help advance the issues - nor does it do anything to help us come up with solutions.

How could anyone responding to this poll be able to make an informed judgement about whether Canada gives First Nations too much money if they don't know how much money we get, how that compares to what provinces and municipalities get, and what the money is used for? I could say the exact same thing about Canada - we keep giving the province of Manitoba millions in tax-payer funds but they still have a growing problem with homelessness. Maybe we should cut off Manitoba's transfer payments? What kind of policy logic is that??

Governments are transferred money from tax revenues to pay for essential social services like health, education and water - this is exactly what happens in First Nations except we are chronically under-funded in comparison. Why are provincial residents entitled to clean water and First Nations are not? We need to start having fact-based discussions around what the issues are and how to address them. Rhetoric and personal opinions do little other than perpetuate misinformation and hatred.

Let's have a real discussion and start treating First Nations like human beings - instead of constantly blaming them for being impacted by federal control. Canada can't have it both ways - they can't control every aspect of our communities, chronically underfund them and then deny responsibility for the extreme poverty and pre-mature deaths that result. It's time for an economic action plan that includes everyone.