Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oh Canada! Your Home's on Mi'kmaw Land

O Canada!
Your homes on Mi’kmaw land
True genocidal drive
By all your Queen’s command
With greedy hearts
You watched us die
Our strong Nation divided and poor
All for money and power, O Canada
We stand on guard against thee
Our land is not your commodity for fee
O Canada! We stand on guard against thee
O Canada, our Nation is still here;
O Canada! We stand on guard against thee
O Canada! Our Mi’kmaw Nation sovereign and free.

1725-26 – Peace and friendship treaties signed with Mi’kmaw to stop hostilities on all sides and protect hunting, fishing, fowling;
1752 – Treaty with Mi’kmaw confirming hunting and fishing rights;
1756 – Proclamation offering bounty for Mi’kmaw scalps;
1760-61 – Treaty with Mi’kmaw protecting hunting, fishing and trading rights (no surrender of land or sovereignty);
1971 – Donald Marshall Jr (Mi’kmaw) wrongly convicted of murder, Halifax, NS;
1981 – Police assault and arrest Mi’kmaw for exercising fishing rights in Restigouche, QC;
1998 – RCMP called in against Mi’kmaw for exercising timber rights in Listuguj, QC;
1999-01 – RCMP & DFO ram fishing boats of Mi’kmaw for exercising court-proven treaty rights in Esgenoopetij, NB;
2013 – Army of RCMP assault and arrest peaceful Mi’kmaw protecting lands from hydro-fracking in Elsipogtog, NB;
2013 – RCMP flank hydro-fracking trucks to protect them against peaceful Mi’kmaw land protectors in Elsipogtog, NB;



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

RCMP Assistance Needed! Pinaymootang "suffers" as Canada acts "outside legal framework"

The Harper Government has been in constant damage control mode since being elected. It has literally been one scandal after another whether you are talking about finances, Ministers or Senators. At every turn, Harper’s dictatorial governance style and tight grip on his bureaucrats has failed to keep scandal from his doorstep – which speaks volumes about Harper himself.

Never have we seen as many omnibus bills drafted so large that they effectively thwart the democratic legislative process. Nor have we seen as many sessions of Parliament being prorogued every time Harper needs to hide from another scandal. The level of hypocrisy within the Harper government has also reached epic proportions.
On the First Nation front, Harper has not fared much better. He has single-handedly fostered one of the worst relationships with First Nations in history. From the failed Crown-First Nations Gathering which was supposed to “reset” the relationship, to the disastrous winter of Idle No More where Harper ran roughshod over both the Chiefs and the grassroots people who were demanding consultation on his legislative agenda, Harper has shown his gross incompetence as a Prime Minister. This incompetence has led to a complete breakdown in the relationship which leaves little room for negotiating tough issues. He has also lost all touch with reality when he and his Ministers assumed that the spirit of Idle No More fizzled out, as the protests all over the country in solidarity with Elsipogtog, demonstrated.

Instead of coming to the table in good faith and trying to fix the mess that he has created and offer something of substance to address the injustices faced by First Nations, he continues to forge ahead with his assimilation agenda against the trends of most modern countries, international law and Canada’s own laws. Harper acts much like some unstable leaders throughout history, who, to their detriment, fixated on their own radical beliefs about a certain group or Nation and did everything in their power to control, dominate and/or eliminate them. It is time that the Governor-General removed Harper as Prime Minister before he does any more damage to Canadians, First Nations or other countries with his unconstitutional and dangerous actions.

It is the height of hypocrisy for Harper to focus so much on First Nation accountability or alleged lack thereof given the mess he has made of his own government. He and his Ministers are acting without any fact-based evidence to support the alleged need to control First Nations governments more than they already controlled under the Indian Act and Canada’s oppressive laws and policies. Despite what some individual, uninformed, racist media commentators might pontificate about First Nations, the current situation in many First Nations is the uncomfortable result of Canada’s horrific genocidal policies and its ongoing paternalistic control and interference with First Nations at every level. The current trend of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s (INAC’s) interfering with First Nations governance as a means of political bullying is a little known reality for First Nation leaders.

Take for example, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. This community had a custom election code where they chose their leaders according to their own traditions. The INAC Minister had no say over how they chose their leaders, as they were outside of the Indian Act rules regarding elections. Yet, this fact did not stop the Minister from illegally removing the Chief and Council as leaders of their First Nation, when the community engaged in extended protests to keep outside companies from extracting resources from their territory. Although Canada proceeded to hold an Indian Act election, the Chief who was elected resigned in protest over Canada’s paternalistic control over their people. Canada’s political interference with the internal governance of First Nations appears to be an attempt to bully First Nations into giving up their sovereignty and jurisdiction over their lands and resources.

One need only look at the example of Chief Theresa Spence, who, on behalf of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, declared a state of emergency because of the lack of housing, to see an example of political deflection. The Red Cross came in to Attawapiskat to provide emergency relief, despite Canada’s legislative mandate to improve the social and economic well-being of First Nations. Instead of assisting, Harper vilified Chief Spence in Parliament with unfounded allegations about financial mismanagement and placed her under Third Party Management. It didn’t take a court long to see that not only was there no financial mismanagement, but also that Canada had acted illegally by putting Chief Spence in Third Party. This was clearly a diversionary tactic by Harper to deflect attention away from Canada’s neglect of First Nations, its failure to live up to its mandate, the gross violation of Aboriginal, treaty and human rights and its own government's scandals.

More recently, INAC decided to intervene in Pinaymootang First Nation in Manitoba and illegally oust the leadership. This received almost no media attention, but it is a stark reality faced by many First Nation leaders who consistently have to weigh their advocacy actions and governance decisions against the very real prospect of INAC’s heavy hand. If Chiefs do not act like “willing partners” with Harper’s government, they risk being thrown out of office.

In Pinaymootang, the Chief and several councillors were removed from office – a very aggressive, heavy-handed move on the part of INAC. The timing of the removal was also suspect given that Pinaymootang was in the process of resolving outstanding flooding claims – a significant crisis issue that remains outstanding in many other Manitoba First Nations as well. Their illegal removal was further suspect given the First Nation’s upcoming elections. The following chronology reveals some disturbing facts about Canada’s abuse of power:

Summer 2011 – Significant man-made flooding by the province of Manitoba to protect Winnipeg residents devastates First Nation communities;

October 21, 2011 – Chief Woodhouse is re-elected with the his councillors;

October 2011 – onward – Chief Woodhouse aggressively pursues flooding assistance for his community members;

November 30, 2011 - An appeal of the election is submitted to Indian Affairs by a band member who had been fired from the band;

December 13, 2011- Chief Woodhouse receives notice of the appeal, but INAC refuses to provide the details of the allegations despite requests by Chief’s lawyer for same;

July 17, 2013 – INAC Minister Valcourt makes an order as per section 78 (2)(b)(iii) of the Indian Act that the positions of Chief and several councillors were vacant;

-        an order per section 78.(3) that the applicants be ineligible to run in an election for a period of two years; and

-        A Third Party Manager is put in place to control the community’s finances;

August 30, 2013 – Chief Woodhouse obtains in interim order which reinstates he and his councillors back to office;

October 21, 2013 – A federal court judge orders that the Minister’s decisions be set aside;

October 25, 2013 – Chief Woodhouse is re-elected.

To date, no RCMP charges have ever been laid against the Chief for any criminal activities in relation to the election. The timeline also shows that it took INAC almost two years to remove the Chief and several councillors from office.

In the injunction hearing, the Federal Court judge remarked that Chief Woodhouse had been Chief since 1999 and that he and his councillors:

“They have not been accused of, or found to have committed, any corrupt practice while in office. The evidence before me reveals that they have served their community long and well and enjoy community support and approval in their administrative and governance goals.”

 The judge went on to explain that the community was “suffering” as a result of INAC’s imposition of a Third Party Manager, as important negotiations in a class action claim against Canada and Manitoba had been halted as a result. In addition, for the seven weeks until the election, the cost of the Third Party Manager would be over $64,000 (a cost the band would have to pay) – for a manager who could not address the important issues being faced by the community. As a result, the judge granted the injunction to the band and restored them to office.

The subsequent decision of the Federal Court in the main action for a judicial review confirmed that the Minister did not act within the legal framework when he removed the Chief from office and further, he had no authority to bar them from running in a future election as they had never been found guilty of a corrupt practice.

“Therefore, I must conclude that the Minister’s decision was out of keeping with the legal framework governing his role under the Indian Act.”

In other words, the Minister, like in Attawapiskat, acted illegally. While the frenzy over the Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy Senate scandal is dominating the media, we can’t let Harper’s multiple scandals over-shadow the very real scandals happening in the INAC Minister’s office every day. This is not the first time INAC has abused its power, nor will it be the last.

Chief Sock of Elsipogtog felt the full force of Harper’s new militant resource development agenda and should be prepared for the vilification that usually follows Indigenous resistance to ongoing oppression and theft of our lands and resources. In all likelihood, Chief Sock will be accused of some sort of mismanagement; subjected to Third Party; or a random “investigation”. Other Chiefs standing up to protect their lands and resources, like Chief Arlen Dumas of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, should also be prepared for attacks on their credibility or governance.  INAC works behind the scenes, often with political opponents of First Nations leaders, to vilify Chiefs to further Canada’s own agenda – which includes the surrender of our lands and resources and the imposition of assimilatory legislation.

It’s time this abusive power was exposed and that the federal government be held to account. In my opinion, Harper should be placed in Third Party Management by a manager of our choice until we decide whether or not we want him removed by the Governor-General for acting outside the law. I think there is more than enough evidence for an order pursuant to Cree, Mi’kmaw, Ojibway or Anishinabek law to enforce this.

Given that ours laws are as valid as Canada’s and protected in the Constitution Act 1982, I request 200 RCMP officers, in full camouflage, with their dogs, snipers and armoured personnel carriers to escort us while we serve these orders or removal on the Prime Minister. Let us know when you guys have the troops ready to go.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Feathers verus Guns: The Throne Speech and Canada's War with the Mi’kmaw Nation at Elsipogtog

*As I write this blog, Canada is at war with the Mi’kmaw Nation - again – this time in Elsipogtog (Big Cove First Nation) in New Brunswick. The Mi’kmaw have spoken out against hydro-fracking on their territory for many months now. They have tried to get the attention of governments to no avail. Now the Mi'kmaw are in a battle of drums and feathers versus tanks and assault rifles - not the rosy picture painted by Canada to the international community.

The failure by the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Houston-based fracking company, Southwestern Energy, to consult with the Mi’kmaw and obtain their consent is what led to the protests all summer. According to their web page: “In March 2010, the company announced that the Department of Energy and Mines of the Province of New Brunswick, Canada accepted its bids for exclusive licenses to search and conduct an exploration program covering 2,518,518 net acres in the province in order to test new hydrocarbon basins.”

In response, the Mi’kmaw have led peaceful protests at hydro-fracking sites to demonstrate their opposition and protect their lands and resources. They have always asserted their sovereignty, ownership and jurisdiction over their territory. There has been relatively little coverage of their actions, but they have been active for months now. More recently, the company obtained an injunction to stop the protest and it was served on protesters today.

It is more than coincidental timing – it was obviously strategically calculated with the completion of the Governor General’s Speech from the Throne and the end of the United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya’s visit to Canada. This morning, we awoke to reports from the Mi’kmaw of swarms of RCMP dispatched to Elsipogtog to enforce Harper’s aggressive natural resource agenda. He has effectively declared war on the Mi’kmaw.

This is not the first time Canada has declared war on the Mi’kmaw. In 1981, law enforcement led an attack on the Mi’kmaw at Restigouche to stop them from controlling their own Aboriginal fishery. During this attack, Mi’kmaw suffered multiple injuries, some severe and numerous arrests.

In 1998, the government intervened in Listuguj because the traditional Mi’kmaw government shut down the logging company that was stealing timber from Mi’kmaw lands and because the Mi’kmaw started to harvest their own timber.

Between 1999 and 2001, Canada once again declared war on the Mi’kmaw Nation at Esgenoopitij (Burnt Church First Nation) in NB to stop them from fishing lobster. This was despite the fact the Mi’kmaw had proven their treaty right to fish lobster at the Supreme Court of Canada. Law enforcement rammed Mi’kmaw fishing boats, injured fisherman and issued numerous arrests.

All of these actions were done in violation of the numerous treaties between the Mi’kmaw and the Crown which were peace and friendship treaties intended to once and for all end hostilities and work together as Nation to Nation partners. Given that our treaties are constitutionally protected, Canada’s actions are not only tyrannical and oppressive, but also illegal.

Today, in 2013, the government has once again decided that brute force is the way to handle The Mi’kmaw women, elders, and children drumming and singing in peaceful protest against hydro-fracking at Elsipogtog. Media reports 200 RCMP officers were dispatched, some of them from the riot squad, armed with shields, assault rifles, batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and snipers. Some of the RCMP, in full camo, hid in the woods, while the others formed a large barricade on the highway blocking any movement by protesters.

The Chief and Council were arrested, as well as numerous other protesters all while scrambling cell phone signals, cutting live video feeds and blocking media access to the site. Reports of RCMP pointing their assault rifles at elders and snipers aiming their scopes at children led to the burning of several RCMP cruisers. Yet, so far, the mainstream media has focused on the burning cars and not the acts of violation and intimidation by RCMP on the Mi’kmaw.

This heavy-handed deployment of heavily armed RCMP cops against women and children shows Canada’s complete disregard for our fundamental human rights and freedoms, and their ongoing disdain for Indigenous peoples. One RCMP officer’s comments summarized government position perfectly: “Crown land belongs to government, not to fucking natives”. The RCMP have it wrong - Mi'kmaw treaties never surrendered our lands and we are still the rightful owners.

Of course, this sounds eerily similar to the words of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris who was reported to have said of the protest at Ipperwash “I want the fucking Indians out of the park”.

And we all know what happened there – law enforcement killed a peaceful unarmed protester named Dudley George. One might wonder if history is going to repeat itself. If we look to the Speech from the Throne as any indication, Harper has sent Canada on a direct collision course with First Nations – all in the name of resource development.

Contrary to the Governor General’s introductory comments about Canada using its military force sparingly and that Canada responds “swiftly and resiliently to aid those in need”, the strategic wording indicates a much more ominous plan. Canada’s position vis-à-vis First Nations and natural resources is laid out as follows:

-        First Nations are incapable of managing their own affairs and Canada will control them and make them accountable via legislation;

-        Canada owns the natural resources  and will sell them;

-        Canada will make major investments in infrastructure to protect these natural resources;

-        Canada will increase military strength to protect Canadian sovereignty; and

-        Increased military will protect Canada’s economy from terrorism.

In other words, Canada does not recognize the ownership or rights of First Nations to their lands, waters and natural resources and will expend billions to ensure that no First Nations prevent the extraction of those resources. Canada and its military have referred to First Nations as terrorists before, and will no doubt be labeled as such when they defend their right to say no to mines or hydro-fracking, like in Elsipogtog for example.

This aggressive display of power and intimidation in Elsipogtog was not met with an equal display of violence. Instead, the women, elders and children continued to drum and chant and pray for the health and safety of their peoples, their Nation and the lands and waters for all Canadians. Instead of scaring people away, this unconstitutional show of force is being met with solidarity blockades all over Canada and the United States.

Listuguj in Quebec has blocked a bridge; Six Nations in Ontario has shut down a highway, there are protests outside Canadian embassies in New York City and Washington; and hundreds of rallies, marches, protests and blockades planned for later today and tomorrow. The horrific images of police violence at Elsipogtog inspired First Nations peoples all over Canada to collect supplies, send warriors and advocate for justice. Harper has inspired Indigenous resistance and action on the ground. There will be more First Nation protests and blockades in the coming days as well.

The Idle No More flame that he lit last year has never faded – it was just waiting to be fanned once again. The solution has always been there:

(1)  Respect the Nation to Nation relationship (our sovereignty and jurisdiction over our governments, lands and peoples);

(2)  Address the current injustices (crises in housing, education, food, water, child and family services, murdered and missing Indigenous women); and

(3)  Share the benefits and responsibility to protect the lands, water and natural resources like the treaties envisioned.

 It’s Harper’s move now – more tanks and RCMP violence or a negotiating table?

*Picture taken from Google images.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Conservative Throne Speech 2013: More Beads and Trinkets for First Nations

 The Speech from the Throne today made it clear that the relationship between First Nations and Canada is not a priority, nor will it ever be for a Harper Government. Instead of offering the real fundamental change that is needed to address the multiple, overlapping crises in First Nations like housing, education, water and food, more beads and trinkets were offered. These beads and trinkets were not even new, they represented old promised repackaged to look new – similar to how their past throne speeches, election promised and Crown-First Nation Gathering commitments read.

In the Speech, First Nations were reduced to a mere minority cultural group of “Aboriginal Canadians” relegated to Canada’s past. Our alleged role in the creation of Canada is a “contribution” to be commemorated within the context of historical battles between European powers for our lands. Our “commemoration” is not a celebration of our Indigenous sovereignty, but a celebration of Confederation and reinforcement of Canada’s assertion of sovereignty over First Nations. In fact, not only did the Harper Government revert back to the two founding nations concept of Canada, but they specifically acknowledged Quebec’s status as a Nation within Canada.

First Nations issues did not feature prominently in the Speech and the few items that were included were laced with racism and paternalism. The following is a list of the promises made specific to First Nations:

(1)  Take steps to ensure “Aboriginal Canadians” find the job-training they need;
(2)  Continue to work with “Canada’s First Nations” to develop “stronger, more effective, and more accountable on-reserve education systems”;

(3)  Job opportunities for “Canada’s Aboriginal peoples” in the natural resource extractive industry;

(4)  Renew efforts to address murdered and missing Aboriginal women;

(5)  Continue dialogue on treaty relationship and comprehensive land claims; and

(6)  Work with Aboriginal peoples to create healthy, prosperous, self-sufficient communities.

 Job Training:

The first promise, i.e., to give Aboriginal Canadians the job training, starts from the flawed premise that Canada is working with the most educated work force in the world. That may be the case for Canadians in general, but it is far from true for First Nations peoples where the gap in educational attainment continues to grow. Even the terminology that is used signifies the Harper Government is coming from an employment equity point of view, as opposed to a Nation to Nation partnership, Aboriginal and treaty rights or human right point of view.

This paternalistic nature of these “promises” is also evident from the possessory language that is used to describe First Nations. “Canada’s Aboriginal peoples” is an offensive phrase implying First Nations belong to Canada – the same paternalistic mentality indicative of Canada’s colonial past. Similarly, the phrase “Aboriginal Canadians” subjugates Indigenous peoples to Canada’s assertion of sovereignty over their lands and resources.

First Nation Education:

The second promise in relation to First Nation education is an example of the degree to which First Nations are always presented by the Harper government in a child-like manner using words like “potential” to describe their current state. The promise to build stronger, more accountable education systems on reserve implies that First Nation schools are not already accountable. We know from every report ever written that the issue around First Nation education is about lack of real First Nation control and severe, chronic underfunding. Trying to blame the victim and make veiled accusations of corruption only promotes stereotypes not conducive to addressing the crisis in education.

What this promise doesn’t say is that the Harper government has drafted First Nation Education Legislation which will be introduced in the House shortly, likely in the omnibus bill with all the other new and amended pieces of legislation. Just like with Bill C-45, one of the bills which spurred on the Idle No More movement, this legislation will be rammed through the house without consultation, debate or the consent of First Nations. It is unconstitutional legislation that directly violates constitutionally protected treaty rights and international rights. This is not much of a promise when what was critically needed was funding.

 Mining Jobs:

The third promise to ensure job opportunities in the natural resource extractive industry is another way of saying that Canada will continue to steal Indigenous lands and extract the resources for its own benefit. Harper has no intention of respecting the Aboriginal or treaty rights of First Nations in relation to the wealth from their lands, nor does will he consider the sharing of the natural resources. The benefit that First Nations can expect from this promise is to be trained in how to mine gold, cut down trees, or extract oil from tar sands. Harper plans to use First Nations as the labourers so large corporations can export their profits outside Canada while First Nations people are left with the environmental contamination.

It should be kept in mind that this promise is closely tied to the other promises made in the Speech related to natural resources. Canada is claiming that they own all the natural resources and there is no mention of the rights of First Nations in this regard or the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which confirms First Nation ownership. Instead, the Speech was clear that Harper’s government that they will build the infrastructure necessary to access the resources and sell them to foreign governments.

The Speech did confirm what First Nations have been saying for decades: it’s not tax payers that pay for social programs, but the $30 billion+ in natural resource development that pays for education, health and other social programs that Canadians enjoy. In other words, Canadians enjoy free education and health care paid for (subsidized) by First Nation natural resources and not the other way around.

Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women:

The fourth promise to renew efforts to address murdered and missing women was likely the most offensive part of this Speech. The Governor General spoke of protecting murdered and missing First Nation women followed by a promise to up-hold anti-prostitution laws, followed by a promise to enact legislation to protect dogs. Many listeners to the Throne Speech were shocked by the coupling of murdered and missing action with anti-prostitution laws. The racist overtones and implications here are unforgivable given the many reviews and approvals these speeches must go through before final approval.

 Treaty Talk:

The fifth promise to continue dialogue on treaties is not a promise at all. More talking means the status quo or no action continues. We have National Chief Shawn Atleo and his undercutting of the Treaty Chiefs in January 2013 at the Crown-First Nation meeting to thank for this meaningless promise. Once Harper knew Atleo would turn his back on his own Chiefs and compromise their leverage, he knew he would never have to make any real concessions on treaties and this is what we see in the Speech. More talk, no action on implementation. That being said, Canada has a legal duty to respect and implement treaty rights which are constitutionally and internationally protected.

Indian Affairs Mandate:

 Similar to the last promise, the sixth promise is actually no promise at all. It is simply a restatement of their legislated mandate which appears on their website which reads as follows:

“improve social well-being and economic prosperity; develop healthier, more self-sufficient communities; and participate more fully in Canada's political, social and economic development.”

This has been the mandate of Indian Affairs for decades and they have failed their mandate year after year with no accountability. Promising to live up to only one part of their three-part mandate is not an encouraging sign for First Nations.

Very little of substance was offered First Nations in this budget. Instead, Harper will focus on television programming, streamlining e-mails and protecting dogs. The level to which the crisis in First Nations has been ignored is astounding given the United Nations Rapporteur’s recent visit to Canada which has highlighted some of the extreme living conditions and injustices in Canada. Similarly, all the Auditor General, Correctional Investigator and independent reports and studies have all been ignored. The situation of purposeful chronic underfunding of essential human services which leads to the pre-mature deaths of First Nations peoples remains Canada’s biggest shame.

It is criminal that Canada “will help the world’s neediest” with financial aid and economic development, but will let First Nations live in third world conditions despite the many calls for help. It is no wonder Harper will not answer to the Canadian public tomorrow in the House – not unlike Senators Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau skipping the Speech today. The hypocrisy is nauseating – but even worse, will result in more lives lost in First Nations.

Canadians have the power to demand justice for First Nations while First Nations protect the lands and waters for all our future generations.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Defer, Deflect, Deny, Destroy: Harper’s First Nation Education Act

*(My apologies for the length of this blog - it's too critical of an issue to cover lightly)
Since the federal government first assumed control over First Nation education, First Nations have suffered poor educational outcomes. During the residential school era, federal control over First Nation education meant a very real chance of starvation, torture, abuse, medical experimentation, beatings and death for the students. Upwards of 40% of the children who entered residential schools never made it out alive and others were permanently scarred.

Prime Minister Harper apologized for the residential school policy, but has not taken a single step to address the disastrous results which stemmed from it like lost culture, language, identity, traditional Indigenous knowledges, belief systems, values, customs and practices. No sooner was the weak apology offered when Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre condemned it as a waste of money. The Harper government soon followed the apology by cutting funding to Indigenous languages which confirmed the lack of sincerity in the apology.

Even a child knows that an apology is more than words; it requires an acknowledgement of the harm done, acceptance of responsibility for that harm, a promise not to do it again and actions to try to make amends for the harm done. Harper has not offered a true apology nor taken real actions to address the significant harms done. A litigation settlement for personal injuries, rapes and molestations that happened in those schools does not address the assimilatory harms.

If Harper was sincere about the wrongfulness of Canada’s long-standing assimilation policy, it would not continue to have assimilation as its number one policy objective with regards to First Nations. If there was a true interest in righting wrongs in First Nation education, Harper need only read the many reports, publications, studies and statistics in relation to First Nation education which have clearly outlined the problems and the solutions. Yet, Harper has implemented his standard modus operandi in relation to First Nations issues: deny, deflect, defer and destroy.

Even when faced with contrary evidence, Harper’s government has consistently denied that there is a problem with funding or federal control over First Nation education. Instead they issue press releases and make public statements about how much they fund First Nation education and focus on isolated First Nations which have recently built schools. The Office of the Correctional Investigator, The Auditor General, Special Ministerial Representatives, United Nations investigators and numerous experts have raised the alarm on the serious nature of federal control over First Nation education. Some of the conclusions include the following:

-        Indian Affairs has failed to implement recommendations “most important to lives and well-being of First Nations” (Auditor General 2011);

-        73% of all water, 65% waste water systems in FNs are high risk - INAC so behind in infrastructure funding, will take $4.7 billion just to fix current systems (Neegan 2011);

-        The “inequitable and differential outcomes for Aboriginal offenders” are the direct result of “federal correctional policies and practices” (Correctional Investigator 2010);

-        “current funding practices do not lead to equitable funding among Aboriginal and First Nation communities” (OAG 2008);

-        funding inequities results in inability for First Nations to provide adequate child welfare services (Auditor General 2008);
-        “inequitable access to services for First Nations…contributing factors to the over-representation of Aboriginal children in child welfare system” (INAC 2004);
-        Funding formula created by INAC does not ensure equitable access to education & gap widening (Auditor General 2004);

-        INAC failed to give Parliament real picture on FN housing – said increased housing stock overall, but found an actual decline of 30% (Auditor General 2003).

When the evidence is too overwhelming and the media will not let the issue drop, then the Harper Conservatives deflect responsibility and try to either change the subject or shift the blame to First Nations themselves by making allegations against First Nation leaders as corrupt or mismanaging funds. This pattern has been too consistent and one need only look at the housing crisis in Attawapiskat, the corresponding allegation of mismanagement and the court case which cleared Chief Spence’s name to see this m.o. in action.

Sometimes, like in the case of First Nation education, the public criticism is so intense that deflection will not work and then Harper usually defers the issue to be studied. In the case of First Nation education, many successive federal governments have followed the same pattern of deferring the issue to study and the result is numerous studies. The problem for Harper is that all these studies continue to say the exact same thing: the problem is federal control and chronic underfunding of First Nation education. It should be no surprise that the studies were nearly unanimous in their solutions for poor First Nation education outcomes: First Nation control and appropriate funding. It’s not rocket science Harper.

When faced with an issue that simply won’t go away, and the usual deny, deflect and defer tactics won’t work; Harper usually reverts back to federal policy objective of assimilating Indians: destroying the “problem” all together. In an aggressive full blitz attack, Harper has introduced a complex legislative agenda which will have essentially the same effect as the White Paper 1969 would have: destroy Indians, reserves, treaties and any programs and services associated with them. With regards to education, Harper will introduce the First Nation Education Act, national legislation designed to trick First Nations into voluntarily giving up their treaty right to education in exchange for a federally-controlled legislative program.

What are the implications of this legislation? The draft legislation has not yet been shared with the public, so I can’t comment on the specifics, but based on INAC’s Blueprint for Legislation document shared with First Nations, one can clearly see that First Nation concerns were valid:

(1)  Indian agent-type federal controls, inspections and approvals will be tight;  

(2)  The potential option of local First Nation control is limited and conditional;

(3)  There will be no guaranteed funding as funding will still be policy-based; and

(4)  Although promoted as optional legislation, the legislation proposes to set out a process for legal recognition and authorization to run schools.

One need only look at the current suite of legislation to see where this legislation is headed.

Other serious concerns related to this legislation include the fact that there were no consultations which respect Canada’s legal obligation to obtain the free, informed and prior consent of First Nations required under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Instead, engagement sessions were held in urban areas across the country and largely skipped the 615+ First Nation communities. This legislation is paternalistic, unilaterally drafted and meant to be a one-size fits all approach to deflecting the real issue: federal control and chronic under-funding. The majority of First Nations did NOT ask for legislation and in fact passed numerous resolutions at the national, regional and provincial levels specifically opposing this legislation.

One cannot forget that for many First Nations, First Nation education is a treaty right and those treaties are protected in both domestic and international law. Treaties are forever and are now protected in section 35 and cannot be unilaterally amended. This, together with the fact that this legislation also proposes to off-load (at least in part) First Nation education to the provinces makes this legislation unconstitutional. Canada is forgetting that when it supported UNDRIP, that article 14 states that First Nations have a right to establish and control their own education systems and Canada has an obligation to ensure that First Nation children have access.

The failure to address First Nation education outcomes doesn’t even make economic sense. The 2% cap placed on funding has only made a bad situation worse. Yet, the studies show that were Canada to eliminate the gap between Canadian and First Nation education outcomes, this would yield $179 billion on GDP back to Canada. Why then would Canada continue to pay $100,000 a year to wrongfully imprison First Nations peoples, when a 4 year university education only costs $60,000 and we know the social and economic benefits of a good education? Canadians enjoy good education systems funded in large part from the wealth obtained from Indigenous lands and resources. It’s time to share the wealth as envisioned in the treaties.

Every time Canada comes up with an idea on how to “fix” the “Indian problem” our people are oppressed, assimilated or lose our lives. Canada has failed miserably in their First Nation education policies. It’s long past time to step aside and allow First Nations peoples to heal from the inter-generational devastation caused by federal controls and fully support First Nation-controlled education systems. The treaties promised to fund these systems so that First Nations would prosper equally with our treaty partners. It’s time the treaties were honoured and all parties to the treaties enjoyed the benefits.

Forget more paternalistic federal legislation and honour the treaties.

Monday, October 7, 2013

October 7th Day of Action, The Royal Proclamation and Idle No More: Wading Through the Hype

Today is a day which will challenge Indigenous peoples and Canadians in the ongoing and very uncomfortable decolonization process. Will people celebrate Oct.7, 2013 as the 250th year since the issuance of The Royal Proclamation of 1763? Or will Canadians and Indigenous peoples see beyond the government hype and propaganda that comes with celebrating the War of 1812 or the Royal Proclamation? Will most Canadians even know what the Royal Proclamation is or that it is a constitutionally-protected document? What is it that Idle No More activists all over the country are calling for - a celebration of the Royal Proclamation or something else?

In summary, the Royal Proclamation was issued in 1763 by King George III after the British Crown acquired lands claimed by the French in North America. It was intended to encourage settlement of North America by the British, even over lands formerly claimed as French. It was also intended to transition Indigenous peoples from French allegiances to British sovereignty. It further purported to establish reserved lands for Indigenous peoples in which they could  to hunt and fish. Yet, these "protected" lands were still to be made available for settlement, so long as it was done according to the rules set out in the Proclamation.

While some argue that the Proclamation recognized Nationhood status of Indigenous peoples; partially protected Indigenous lands; and partially recognized Indigenous land rights; there are others who point out that Indigenous peoples were already living as strong, independent sovereign Nations prior to contact and did not need a British edict to declare partial recognition of land rights. The very essence of sovereignty is that it is lived, asserted, protected and defended every day - it cannot be granted or gifted by another sovereign.

If there was any question about whether we should be celebrating the Royal Proclamation, one need only refer to how the federal Minister of Indian Affairs Bernard Valcourt has been re-writing history.

Valcourt's statement suggests that the Royal Proclamation was the beginning of the treaty process in Canada - which is false. The Mi'kmaw, Maliseet and Passmaquoddy were negotiating treaties in 1726, 1752,  and 1760 etc. There is nothing about the Royal Proclamation that indicates that it is a mutually-agreed upon document signed by Indigenous Nations and Britain. Even Valcourt acknowledges that it was a unilaterally-imposed document where Britain purported to set out how the relationship would work with Indigenous Nations - with no input from Indigenous Nations. It is in fact, just a pronouncement that Britain violated more times than it followed.

Valcourt is also wrong when he states that it was the Royal Proclamation that led to the inclusion of section 35 in the Constitution Act, 1982. To the contrary, it was the efforts of Indigenous activists to try to find ways to protect our inherent rights. Sadly, section 35 turned out to be as much protection as the Royal Proclamation where Canada breaches it more than honours it. Section 35 has turned out to be a an empty shell of a constitutional promise which is used by Canada to deny First Nation rights under the guise of "consultation". The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is clear that the legal standard is "free, informed and prior consent"  - not just a watered-down duty to talk and impose whatever laws or policies that suits government agendas.

So why then would we either celebrate the Royal Proclamation or base any of our resistance activities around it? Our resistance comes from our responsibility as Indigenous peoples to live, assert and defend our sovereignty and to protect the lands and waters we rely on to sustain our Nations and future generations. We should focus our symbols, inspiration, actions and rallying cries around our brave ancestors, their heroic efforts to protect our rights and the incredible inner strength of our peoples to resist and survive - despite everything that was done to us by the colonizers.

There are no more powerful people than ours. To have survived scalpings, biological warfare (smallpox blankets), forced sterilizations of our women, deaths and torture in residential schools, the theft of tens of thousands of our babies from our families, the over-imprisonment of our men and women, the hundreds of murdered, missing and traded Indigenous women, and the pre-mature deaths of our peoples from contaminated water, lack of food, over-crowded housing and poor health - is a testament to our strength.

Our culture and identity has the power to sustain us in difficult times and in my opinion, this is the core around which we should rise up and defend our lands, waters and peoples. The sooner we stop orienting ourselves around the laws, policies and media releases of the Canadian government, the stronger we will be in our resistance. Canada requires our participation in their processes to validate their ongoing oppression of our people - we can choose to withdraw and demand better.

Harper should not assume that because there are no flashy media events happening every day that First Nations are not acting. Every social movement goes through phases and whether you call it Idle No More, Indigenous Nationhood Movement, or general resistance, Indigenous peoples are making plans, strategizing, asserting and defending their sovereignty. Those actions are sometimes hard to see amongst the sea of political media releases, government propaganda, commentator rhetoric and co-opted organizations. That being said, we still have true leaders, wise elders, strong grassroots peoples and our ancestors who are walking with us. Despite all the challenges, this movement will just continue to grow, expose the uncomfortable truths and force the fundamental change that is needed to keep the status quo from killing our people.

Canadians will benefit from this process of decolonization too because the most valuable resources in the future will be farmable land and drinkable water and First Nations are on the front lines protecting them. Canadians have the power to help First Nations make life better for all of us - it's as easy and making the choice.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Manitoba's Epic Failure: Manitoba and Mining Companies Work Together to Deny First Nation Rights

Dr. Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance


Chief Arlen Dumas, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation

In Bruce Owen’s article in the Winnipeg Free Press “Chiefs agree to work on revenue sharing” dated Aug. 23, 2013, Manitoba’s Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak announced that seven First Nation Chiefs had agreed to work with the province and mining companies on revenue sharing in the form of jobs and economic opportunities related to mining. Chomiak was also quoted as saying that the mining companies are onside with sharing revenue from mines with First Nations. However, in dismissing Red Sucker Lake First Nation’s actions to evict Mega Precious Metals from their territories, he failed to present the whole picture to Manitobans.

Manitoba is one of the only provinces that does not have a First Nation consultation policy, despite the Supreme Court of Canada saying since the 1990’s that the provinces have a legal duty to consult, accommodate and obtain the consent of First Nations for activities on their reserve, treaty and traditional lands. Despite their reference to a “draft” policy, First Nations have been left out of decisions in relation to natural resources on their lands. This has been a long-standing grievance with First Nations whose inherent, Aboriginal and treaty rights are constitutionally-protected. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which Canada supported, also guarantees protections for First Nations lands and resources and reaffirms that states require First Nation consent.

While Chomiak’s quotes make it seem like Red Sucker Lake is the only First Nation opposed to illegal mining in their territory; that could not be further from the truth. Mathias Colomb Cree Nation has also taken steps to protect their traditional, treaty and reserve lands from Hudbay Minerals - a Canadian mining giant currently in court for alleged abuses of Indigenous peoples against mining in Guatemala. Hudbay was issued Stop Work Orders and eviction notices after failing to talk to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

These two communities are not alone in their efforts. On April 26, 2013, a protest was held outside of the Mines Branch in Winnipeg where approximately fifteen to twenty Chiefs, supported by Idle No More and other grassroots community members, were in attendance. Nine Chiefs, including Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper and Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Murray Clearsky, as well as Chiefs from Manto Sipi, Red Sucker Lake, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Wasagamack, Buffalo Point, and Garden Hill First Nations, issued a press release expressing very specific concerns against Manitoba’s illegal licenses and permits.

The Minister also failed to share that the mining companies are not onside with sharing the wealth from First Nations lands and resources. Hudbay Minerals has never provided any of the wealth to Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and its mining operations have negatively impacted the health of the plants, animals and waters in their territory. Similarly, Mega Precious Metals has not indicated a willingness to share the wealth from its mine on Red Sucker Lake territory. It is due to this consistent refusal by the province of Manitoba to comply with constitutionally-imposed legal obligations to First Nations, and the mining companies reliance on illegal licenses and permits, that First Nations in Manitoba are rising up to defend their rights. Even the United Nations report on mining on Indigenous lands deems licenses issued this way as “tainted” and not legal.

For Minister Chomiak to say that the mining companies are onside is perhaps the most outrageous claim in the article. In actual fact, both Hudbay and Mega Precious instituted heavy-handed measures against Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and Red Sucker Lake First Nations when they went out on their traditional lands and engaged in their peaceful traditional activities. The RCMP were called in, litigation was filed against the Chiefs and community members and injunctions were obtained to keep these First Nations off their own lands (and in the case of MCCN, an injunction was also obtained against Pam Palmater, an activist with Idle No More).

Just because seven Chiefs out of 63 want to meet with the province and mining companies, does not mean the majority of First Nations are onside with either Manitoba’s illegal licenses or mining companies who knowingly profiting from illegally-issued licenses and permits. To make this assumption would also ignore all the resolutions and motions passed from First Nations and First Nation organizations. For example, Swampy Cree Tribal Council passed a motion this year stating:

“Swampy Cree Tribal Council will not recognize any mining table, committee or working group or panel of experts set up by the Province of Manitoba or any decisions or recommendation they may make in relation to our lands and resources.”

Similarly, the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee resolved this year that:

“We hereby direct the federal and provincial government to honour and abide by our Moratorium not to use permits, licenses and any other dispositions or actions that may impact our Respective Treaty, Traditional territories and Ancestral lands”

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and other First Nation organizations have passed similar resolutions supporting First Nations in their efforts to protect their sovereignty, land and resources. But this issue just isn’t about First Nations - First Nations are trying to protect all Manitobans from the province’s illegal activities, like allowing Hudbay to develop a mine in a provincial park.
It’s time Manitoba recognized the sovereignty and ownership of First Nations over their own lands and resources and started finding ways to work together to share the wealth and protect the lands as envisioned by the treaties.