Monday, September 10, 2012

National Chief Manny Jules: Shared Priorities, Self-Sufficiency & Other Policy Myths

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's (INAC's) recent round of cuts to national Aboriginal organizations, regional First Nation organizations and tribal councils are very telling about the policy direction in which we are headed. This policy direction is most definitely backwards in time - say 50 to 100 years or so. Canada has come nearly full circle in its treatment of Indigenous peoples. Canada went from (1) creating a mythic "race" of Indians to be divided, controlled and assimilated, (2) to recognizing (at least somewhat) that First Nations are diverse, have the inherent right to be self-determining (although limited) and that Aboriginal and treaty rights must be addressed (even though we didn't agree on how), (3) back to treating all "Indians" as one big problem that needs to be eliminated.

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
Treaty relationship
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.

Canada privatizes our reserves + First Nations need to provide food, water and housing to their citizens = sale of our remaining lands to Enbridge et al.

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:

(1) Taxes

(a) First Nation Tax Commission (Manny Jules) imposing tax regimes on your reserve or
(b) Reserve lands becoming provincial lands subject to provincial taxation;

(2) Finances

(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;

(5) Governance

(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

Harper's Indigenous Manifesto: Erasing Indigenous Peoples from Canada

Early Indian policy was designed to accomplish two main policy objectives: (1) acquire Indigenous lands and resources, and (2) reduce financial responsibility to Indigenous peoples. The primary way in which these two objectives were to be achieved was through the physical, legal, social and spiritual elimination of Indigenous peoples. I say "elimination" because that is the word which best describes government intentions. Most people today use the term "assimilation" but to my mind, this word is much too soft to describe the design and impact of government policies on Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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:

That is the definition. In Canada and the United States, settler governments have committed genocide against Indigenous peoples, not under just one category, but under every single category noted above. We all know it, but the reality stands in such stark contrast to the mythology created by government about what Canada stands for, that many people resort to denial. Indigenous peoples who have raised the subject have been referred to as "nutbars", "whackos", "conspiracy theorists", "radicals" and "terrorists".

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.

Extra sources: