Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Laurie River Lodge Adventures: Watch Out for Animals and Indians?

It is hard to believe that in 2014, there are still businesses who provide services to the public that have no problem profiting from the lands, resources and traditional knowledges of Indigenous peoples, but who, at the same time, spread racism and hatred against us. Laurie River Lodge, an outdoor adventure business located in northern Manitoba and owned by Brent and Erin Fleck, is one such company.

Laurie River Lodge has a website which includes a link to a promotional brochure which explains what clients can expect when they purchase an adventure with their lodge. Their website is:

And their brochure can be found under the Heading "Outpost Plan" at the following link:

On the same page that the Lodge warns its customers about animals, it provides a warning about its Cree Indian guides. The offending comments can be found on page 10, under the section entitled “Section 1-9 What You Can Expect From Us”:
We take great care when hiring our staff; however the subject of Native Guides must be touched upon. We use Cree Indian guides from the town of Pukatawagon in northern Manitoba. They are wonderful people and fun to fish with however, like all Native North Americans, they have a basic intolerance for alcohol. Please do not give my guides alcohol under any circumstances. This is rarely a problem and by telling you in advance I hope to avoid it altogether.

The Lodge is speaking about the band members of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) whose primary reserve is located in Pukatawagan in northern Manitoba. They apparently use MCCN band members as guides for their business. It is also noteworthy that this business uses the lands and resources contained within MCCN's traditional, treaty and reserve lands as well as their trap-lines. Band members were so upset by these racist remarks that they contacted Chief Arlen Dumas and asked that he look into this and he responded immediately by sending out a letter to the Lodge owners.

Chief Dumas explained that he was "appauled" to see that this business profits from his Nation's lands, resources and people to ensure a profit for the owners, but at the same time promotes racist stereotypes against the very people they use to make a profit: Cree guides.

Chief Dumas explains:

Not only did you single out the band members from our reserve in Pukatawagan, but your brochure presented an ominous or threatening tone by stating and/or implying that:

(1)  Our Cree people have a genetic and/or biological intolerance for alcohol due to their race;

(2)  You warned the public against giving our members any alcohol due to this intolerance, one can only presume you meant that some sort of harm would come to the public; and

(3)  That while rare, this “problem” does occur and the public needs to avoid it.

None of the above statements or implications about our people are true. The comments are racist and negative stereotypes which only serve to promote or incite hatred against our people. There is no scientific basis for your claim that Cree people have an intolerance for alcohol, nor is there any basis for alleging that our Cree people would drink while working or that the pose a risk to the public.

As a result of such discriminatory remarks, Chief Dumas demanded that the remarks be removed from the website; a public apology be offered to all Cree and First Nation people; personal letters of apology be sent to all their Cree employees; and that they make amends to MCCN.
He concluded the letter by stating that if the Lodge owners refuse to address the issue, he would "have no choice but to take further steps to protect my band members from your racist, discriminatory incitement of hatred."

Chief Dumas is right to be upset about these public comments. It is not just a matter of taking offense to insulting words, this Lodge potentially faces a discrimination complaint, a civil suit and very bad publicity for their business.

The Manitoba Human Rights Code (provincial law) provides that Manitobans recognize that "to protect this right it is necessary to restrict unreasonable discrimination against individuals, including discrimination based on stereotypes or generalizations about groups with whom they are or are thought to be associated, and to ensure that reasonable accommodation is made for those with special needs" and such discrimination is prohibited.

The Criminal Code (federal law) under section 319 makes the public incitement of hatred against a particular group, like the Cree people a criminal offense.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (constitutional law) also provides that:  (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability".

Even international law protects people from racism and discrimination.

If morals could not guide these business owners, certainly they have an obligation to follow the law. It is no wonder why discrimination against Indigenous peoples has not subsided, given openly racist attitudes like this.

One would have thought the days of warning people against animals and Indians were over.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dramatic Contradictions: 2014 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada James Anaya released his advanced, unedited report on “The Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada”. The Rapporteur based his report on research, various sources, a visit to Canada in October 7-15, 2013, meetings with federal and provincial government officials, and meetings, visits with and submissions from Indigenous peoples.

There is a disturbing underlying theme in the report – one which speaks of “dramatic contradictions”:

(1)   The continued “abysmal” social conditions in First Nations in the context of increasing wealth and prosperity in Canada; and

(2)   The numerous laws and protections for First Nation rights versus the many human rights violations committed against First Nations.

Anaya noted that while some First Nations have risen up against these injustices with the Idle No More movement, others are starting to give up attempts to resolve their claims. Anaya concluded that the relationship between Canada and First Nations has become much worse since the last visit to Canada in 2003. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is during Prime Minister Harper’s term.

Abysmal Social Conditions in First Nations

Anaya’s most serious concerns relate to the “striking” statistics related to the poverty in many First Nations. Of the bottom 100 communities in Canada – 96 are First Nations. “The most jarring manifestation of these human rights problems in the distressing socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples in a highly developed country.” 

He found that there has been no improvement in the gap between First Nations and Canadians in terms of housing, health care, education, welfare and social services. Given the significant needs of First Nations, Anaya had expected that the cost of social services would have been higher and was shocked to find that it was lower. He cited Canada’s own Auditor General who pointed out that the failure to address poverty on reserve is due to the lack of appropriate funding from the federal government.

This led Anaya to conclude: “One of the most dramatic contradictions indigenous peoples in Canada face is that so many live in abysmal conditions on traditional territories that are full of valuable and plentiful natural resources.”

Canada’s Immense Wealth and Prosperity

It’s not like there isn’t enough money to go around. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world because of the lands and resources which belong to Indigenous peoples. The mining industry alone brought in $44 billion in 2013.

That figure doesn’t include the hundreds of billions in other natural resources that come straight from Indigenous lands. Anaya noted that while governments and private interests are the ones that profit from resources on Indigenous lands, it’s the Indigenous peoples who suffer all the negative consequences in health, economy and culture that comes with the resulting environmental degradation.

This situation is not just an unfortunate, but inevitable consequence of western “progress” – it’s a calculated policy choice to impoverish First Nations for the benefit of others. Anaya notes that Canada’s consistent failure to consult with First Nations, take unilateral actions against their rights and portray them in negative light to the public is an “affront” to Canada-First Nation relations. Anaya explains that the federal public discourse on First Nation rights is presented as a burden to tax-payers instead of educating Canadians about the “vast economic benefit” they receive from First Nations. Harper’s continued negative comments against First Nations risks “social peace”.

First Nations could be completely self-sufficient economically if they controlled only a fraction of their lands and resources. Yet, in pursuit of maximized profit, Canada continues to ignore the legal rights and interests of First Nations. Canada (both federal and provincial governments) maintain their legal and physical blockades against First Nations to prevent them from accessing and benefitting from their own lands and resources. Anaya notes that despite the fact that treaties are constitutionally protected and allows Canadians to enjoy immense wealth, 30% of Justice Canada litigation is fighting treaties. Canada uses all of it power – its laws, policies and programs to maintain First Nations in poverty, while partnering with private interests to maximize government and corporate profits.

Legal Protections vs. Violations

Part of the dramatic contradiction which is so striking to outside observers. As noted by Anaya: “It is difficult to reconcile Canada’s well-developed legal framework and general prosperity with the human rights problems faced by indigenous peoples in Canada that have reached crisis proportions in many respects.”

Canada presents a façade of human rights but commits numerous violations against Indigenous peoples – with apparent impunity. Although Anaya did not do a complete accounting of which laws and violations, he noted several human rights violations that have received “insufficient” attention by governments including the well-being gap, housing crisis, murdered and missing women, over-representation in Justice system, gender discrimination in Indian status, and lack of education to name a few.

*Legal Protection
Human Rights Violation
Constitution Act – s.35 – Inherent Right to be Self-Governing
Indian Act’s Ministerial control over every aspect of First Nations’ lives
Legislative suite which protects Ministerial control – Water, elections, education, matrimonial real property, transparency acts
Must extinguish rights to negotiate self-government agreements/claims
Constitution Act – s.35 – protect Aboriginal and treaty rights
Duty to consult and accommodate
Free, informed and prior consent
Federal and provincial governments (with court’s approval) allow agriculture, forestry, mining, hydroelectric power, general economic development, protection of environment or endangered species, building of infrastructure and settlement of foreign populations to trump constitutionally protected rights
Charter of Rights and Freedoms  – s.15 Equality rights & non-discrimination
Canadian Human Rights Act – non-discrimination
Various provincial human rights acts – non-discrimination
Indian Act’s discriminatory treatment of Indian women and descendants
Failure to address disproportionate number of murdered and missing Indigenous women
Over-representation of Indigenous peoples in jail & Indigenous children in state custody
Discriminatory/less funding for child welfare
Discriminatory/less funding for education
Unsafe or no drinking water
Criminal Code – s.319 hate speech
Media, teachers, writers, MPs, Ministers, RCMP, provincial police forces, PM make racist and discriminatory remarks and portrayals of First Nations
Criminal  Code – s.271 sexual assault
s.267 assault with weapon or causing bodily harm
s.279 unlawful confinement
s.215 failure to provide necessaries of life
RCMP and provincial police taking Indigenous men on “Starlight” tours
RCMP,  provincial police and/or judges sexually assaulting and raping Indigenous women and girls
Deaths while in child welfare – state care
*This table represents my own observations of laws vs. rights violations in Canada.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

Anaya concluded that Canada could address these human rights violations if it wanted to do so. Let's hope Canadian officials take a good hard look at Anaya's observations and recommendations and take the necessary action to end these human rights violations against Indigenous peoples.

A highlight of some of Anaya's key recommendations:

- Sufficient funding for education, health, and child welfare;

- Focus on Indigenous-run social and judicial services;

- Urgent, increased funding to address the housing crisis;

- Enhance education, funding and consult on any proposed legislation;

- Comprehensive, nation-wide inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls;

- Consent for all laws impacting Indigenous peoples;

- Address gender discrimination in the Indian Act;

 - No resource development without free, informed and prior consent of Indigenous peoples; and

 - Maximize Indigenous control and benefit from any extractive operations on Indigenous lands.
“Indigenous peoples concerns merit higher priority at all levels and within all branches of Governments, and across all departments.”

Déja Vu: RCMP Report on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

After much prodding by the media, and the Harper government’s (Minister of Public Safety) review and approval, the RCMP finally released their report on murdered and missing Indigenous women. Although slated for a March release, in typical Conservative style, the much-delayed report was released on a Friday before the Victoria Day long weekend. The report not only confirmed the over-representation of Indigenous women as murdered and missing in Canada, but the figure of 1181 was nearly double the 600+ figure originally reported by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

Indigenous women suffer a victimization rate three times higher than the Canadian population and are grossly over-represented in the number of women that go murdered and missing. While homicides have declined for Canadian women, the same cannot be said for Indigenous women. Indigenous women make up 4% of the population in Canada but 11% of the missing women and 16% of the murdered women. While these numbers are high, the levels in the western provinces and northern territories are frightening. The number of murdered Indigenous women in Manitoba is 49% and in Saskatchewan its 55%.

On the positive side, the RCMP finally turned their investigative minds to this serious issue. Because the reality is, if the RCMP can’t be motivated to look into this crisis, there is little chance in getting their assistance in addressing it. We also now have additional statistics that the show that the problem is worse than originally thought which one would hope would spur the RCMP and others into emergency action. Further, it was important that the RCMP recognized that more than a police response will be needed to address this crisis and that all of the socio-economic issues must also be addressed.

That’s the extent to which I can be positive about this report. For the most part, this report just recycled information we already knew. We already knew the over-representation of Indigenous women and girls in murdered, missing and victimization rates, as well as the socio-economic conditions which make Indigenous women and girls vulnerable. Secondly, this report suffers from a glaring omission – an analysis of the RCMP’s role in this crisis. While there are many good men and women in the RCMP who believe in justice, those who do not, need to be exposed. Finally, if this report is any indication of an RCMP “action plan” – very little is going to change. If we can’t get real about the root causes of this crisis, we’ll still be talking about this in ten years.

In 1989, the Report of the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr., Prosecution concluded that Marshall had been wrongfully convicted of murder and spent years in jail simply because he was Mi’kmaw. “The criminal justice system failed Donald Marshall Jr., at virtually every turn from his arrest and wrongful conviction for murder in 1971 up to, and even beyond, his acquittal.” The report went further to investigate how prominent “White” people were treated with Mi’kmaw people when accused of crimes. It concluded that the RCMP would not pursue investigations of prominent “White” people despite the evidence which showed an “undue and improper sensitivity to the status of the person being investigated” and made “the ideal of justice for all meaningless”.

The 1991 Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba looking into the murder of Helen Betty Osborne also concluded that despite the fact that it is well-known that Aboriginal women and girls suffer extreme rates of violence, the Justice system does not protect them. In the case of Osborne, the RCMP treated the Indigenous witnesses brutally in comparison to how they treated the “white” accused.

Just in case the RCMP forgot that there was an issue in need of attention, the United Nations Rapporteur rang the alarm in 2004 when he concluded that the over 500 murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada had been neglected for far too long by Canada. Again in 2010, NWAC brought the issue to the public eye by releasing their research which showed there were at least 600+ murdered and missing and stated that the numbers of Indigenous women and girls that are murdered while in police custody, prisons or child welfare authorities also needed to be investigated.

Twenty years after Helen Betty Osborne’s death, a serial killer named Robert Pickton was able to kidnap and murder Indigenous and non-Indigenous women with little fear of getting caught. Why? According to Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Pickton was able to prey at will due to “critical police failures” to take reports of missing women, follow up and investigate thoroughly or in a timely way. Issues of racism, systemic bias and victim-blaming were all noted in the report.

The most disturbing of all reports is the 2013 report entitled Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Colombia prepared by Human Rights Watch. This report concluded that Indigenous women and girls are not only “under-protected” by the RCMP but are in fact the objects of RCMP abuse. They highlighted the many allegations of RCMP officers sexually exploiting and abusing young Indigenous girls.. There are reports of confinement, rape, and sexual assault on Indigenous girls and some have led to law suits. They also reported on a class action law suit against the RCMP by its own female officers for sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

While the government and RCMP have, at times, tried to blame the victims for their own circumstances, it seems very clear that a large part of the problem is government and RCMP’s racist and sexist attitudes towards Indigenous women and girls. In addition to Canada’s discriminatory laws and policies against Indigenous peoples generally, and women specifically, the Human Rights Watch group even reports on an example of the judiciary being involved in the abuse against these girls. David Ramsay, a provincial court judge, was accused of sexually assaulting and violently abusing girls between 12 and 17 and eventually plead guilty. How are Indigenous women and girls supposed to get justice if the Justice system participates in the abuse and rape of these women?

One of the biggest impediments to moving forward is the continued failure of the federal government to have the RCMP investigated to determine the full extent to which racism against Indigenous people and sexism against women in general hamper their work. Harper’s own discriminatory attitude towards Indigenous peoples is a significant barrier to moving forward. Even the most recent United Nations report from the Rapporteur commented on how poor the relationship is between Canada and Indigenous peoples and has become worse since the last visit to Canada in 2003. The United Nations is not alone in its observation of deteriorating government relations – the Bertelsmann Foundation is the latest to note that Canada’s record on governance has declined under Harper, especially when it comes to Indigenous peoples. The UN further stated that Canada’s negative public comments about Indigenous peoples risks social peace.

We need a comprehensive emergency plan to prevent any more murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Multiple groups need to be brought together including (but not limited to) the RCMP, federal and provincial governments and police forces, Indigenous peoples, and experts to develop a plan of action. This plan should include many of the recommendations already noted in the commissions and enquiries outlined above (and won’t be repeated here). Addressing the chronic underfunding of basic human services like housing, water, food, and education is critical to addressing federally-maintained poverty which puts women and girls (and men) in vulnerable positions.

It is important to ensure that at the same time as the emergency action plan is being carried out, that a proper comprehensive investigation of the RCMP for any role it may have had in physically abusing, confining, raping, sexually assaulting and/or causing Indigenous women or girls to go murdered or missing is critical. This investigation should include an analysis of how many times they failed to file reports, do investigations or follow up as per their standards and procedures. The RCMP and other police forces must be accountable for their actions with a view to ending this crisis. Otherwise, little has changed from the days when the RCMP would drag our children back to residential schools and ignore their complaints of abuse in the schools.

Instead of letting another 10 years go by talking about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, Canada needs to take immediate emergency action on this crisis.
Instead of Canada spending so much money surveillance of Indigenous advocates who are trying to protect Indigenous families, it could use that money towards adequate housing, shelters and supports for Indigenous women and girls.
Instead of spending multi-millions to keep Indigenous peoples in prisons, Canada could use that funding to pay for k-12 and post-secondary education.

Instead of spending millions on litigation to deny treaty rights, land claims and access to natural resources, Canada could spend those funds to support Indigenous peoples access their lands and resources to support self-sufficient Nations.

Instead of trying to assimilate Indians , Canada needs to accept that we are here to stay and work together for our mutual benefit as envisioned by the treaties.
Instead of allowing those who view Indigenous women and girls as worthless to dictate their fate, we need to recognize these women and girls are the future of our Nations and protect our life-givers.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Harper's Shell Game: Bill C-33 is on "Hold" - not Dead


                                          (photo from Facebook/Twitter images)

Today, only 3 days after Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo resigned, Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government has made its move. Contrary to Harper’s usual backroom politics and secret meetings with the National Chief, Harper has switched it up. He has decided to play this political game out in the open for all to see. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Minister Bernard Valcourt offered a statement to the press today saying that it will put consideration of Bill C-33 First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act on hold until the AFN clarifies their position.

“With the support of the Assembly of First Nations, our Government introduced historic legislation, the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33) in April. However, given the recent resignation of the National Chief, following today's second reading vote, any further consideration of this legislation will be put on hold until the AFN clarifies its position.

Our Government firmly believes that First Nations students deserve a quality education, like every other Canadian.

The First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act provides the structures and supports necessary to help First Nations students reach their potential and become full participants in the Canadian economy. It would entrench in law the five conditions for success identified by the Chiefs in Assembly last December.”

This is a very calculated move on the part of Harper’s government which serves a three-fold purpose. Firstly, this move serves as an indication to the AFN that Harper will give it another chance to get back in line. The carrot being offered is the promised funding attached to the bill (post-conservative-election funding). If the AFN confirms their support of the bill, they’ll all kiss, make up and move on as they were pre-Atleo. Atleo’s resignation would go down as a minor hiccup for Harper.

Secondly, this move could serve to cause internal chaos at AFN. Harper is essentially casting his line to see which member of the AFN executive will take the bait – i.e., who will step up to replace Atleo and maintain the status quo relationship between the AFN and Harper government. Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde has been front and centre in the media supporting the Atleo-Harper education deal – at least until Atleo’s resignation. Then, there’s always New Brunswick Regional Chief Roger Augustine, who recently wrote an open letter trying to convince Chiefs to support Bill C-33 – so maybe it will be him? It’s hard to say at this point.

However either of these two scenarios turn out – they both miss the point. It simply doesn’t matter if the AFN Executive jointly issue a statement clarifying their support for the bill, or one of the Executive is appointed as interim National Chief and supports the bill. The AFN has no legal or political authority to allow, approve or in any way provide permission for this bill to proceed through the legislative process. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the AFN is not a rights-holder – it is an advocacy organization. To those with Aboriginal, treaty and inherent rights to education, it doesn’t matter what the AFN says, except in so far as the AFN has the power to negatively impact our struggle to preserve those rights. We are the rights holders and we are the only ones who can decide. Our strong opposition to this bill is what’s really scaring Harper and motivating this move.

Finally, and perhaps most ironically, what this recent move by the federal government does is focus attention away from the education bill and place it back on the AFN. Harper is hoping to reduce the building momentum against this bill by directing our attention to the AFN. Many people are now waiting to see what the AFN will say. The media is fixated on the AFN election and who the candidates might be. Some have even commented that AANDC’s announcement to put the bill on hold is a sort of victory.

But perhaps that’s the idea? Maybe in putting this legislation “on hold” Harper hopes this will be enough to snuff out the fire that has been lit in our communities to defeat this bill?  Keep in mind, First Nation leaders and citizens, together with Canadians, have organized major rallies for May 14 in Ottawa to voice their opposition to this bill. Maybe Harper is hoping we’ll see no need to rally, now that the bill is on hold – but they’d be wrong. We have to use every single day to our advantage to oppose this bill.

Bill C-33 is still in Parliament, still in Senate pre-study (though on hold) and could be re-animated and rammed through Parliament at a moment’s notice. We have to maintain our focus on killing this bill and worrying about the AFN later. We need to ensure that our voices are heard and that we do everything we can to ensure this bill does not pass. We all want to change the status quo and address the crisis in First Nation education – but giving up control over our education to the Minister is not the way to do that.

AANDC could start addressing the crisis by providing fair funding and addressing the cumulative deficit in education. AANDC could literally address the chronic underfunding TODAY. It’s a choice they make - against every study, domestic and international law, our treaties and even economic recommendations - not to do so. Look at the lengths Canada will go to in order to defer, deflect and deny the problem of purposeful, chronic underfunding of First Nation education. All of these many decades of studies, reports, and meetings, followed by more studies, reports and meetings are meant to delay the inevitable conclusion – First Nation education must be funded.

But if Harper has his way – this bill will pass and so too will our chance to protect our future generations from Harper’s assimilation plans.

We have to stay focused. We have the power to defeat this bill. Hopefully, AFN will have learned from all of this and stand behind the people. But, either way, as sovereign Nations, we have to stand up and defend our sovereignty and jurisdiction over the education of our children and give them hope for their future.


#StayUnited against #FNCFNEA

#May14 in Ottawa!!!



Saturday, May 3, 2014

No Compromise on First Nation Control of First Nation Education: Response to Regional Chief Augustine

Our unity on First Nation control of First Nation education has been broken by one of our own representative organizations: the Assembly of First Nations. While most of the attention has focused on Atleo, and his recent surprise resignation, we can’t forget that some of the Regional Chiefs have allowed this to happen.

Recently, Regional Chief Augustine issued an open letter in the Globe and Mail arguing that Chiefs should be supporting Bill C-33 - First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act. In his letter to the Globe and Mail he publicly insulted chiefs by saying if they don’t support this legislation, they clearly don’t understand it.

Regional Chief Augustine, against the majority of Chiefs across the country, seems to think he can belittle Chiefs into supporting Bill C-33. He says he has lost patience with them, accuses them of having not read the bill; and implies they are not experts enough in education, or they would see how this bill will save the Indians. Further, he implies that if he and Atleo disagree with dissenting Chiefs, his and Atleo’s views should reign.

Yet, Augustine does not point to a single provision of the Act that is an improvement for First Nation education, nor does he show how this Act will improve outcomes for our children. He simply mimics the AANDC Minister’s speaking points and tries to scare Chiefs by presenting them with a false choice: Bill C-33 or the Minister's many scary powers over education in the Indian Act.
This sort of uninformed rhetoric does more to harm to Augustine's position, than help it. First of all, anyone familiar with the Indian Act knows there are relatively few education provisions in the Indian Act, most of which are not even used any more. In comparison to Bill C-33, the Minister will have greatly enhanced powers over First Nation education.
The majority of all analysis to date by actual First Nation legal, policy and education experts are in agreement that this Act increases Ministerial power and decreases First Nation control. Augustine refers to experts, but doesn't name any. There is a reason why there is such a mass opposition to this bill, and it's not a fear of losing the status quo. We are all wanting to overturn the status quo and make changes for our people. Most of us however, want to go forward, not backwards. Most of us want to preserve our sovereignty and jurisdiction over education, not give up control to the Minister, his education co-managers or third party managers. 
This Act lays out a path for the assimilation of First Nations into provincially-directed curriculum, the incorporation of provincial laws on reserve, forces First Nations to educate non-First Nations students, and all must be done in either English or French. This is not a “new journey” – it’s the same path of assimilation Canada has been trying to force us down for the last 500 years. We are trying to undo the damage of residential schools – not repeat it.

Augustine goes on in his letter to chastize Chiefs for allegedly adopting an all or nothing approach, yet presents Chiefs with a defeatist approach: something or nothing. He uses the same logic and persuasion tactics that the federal government has used for decades. He essentially argues that we have to take whatever deal we can get, because we won't get anything better. He forgets we have survived many Prime Ministers, Minister of Indian Affairs and other adversaries over the years. This Prime Minister too, will pass. The question is: will we have sold the farm out of fear or preserved our rights for future generations?

Augustine is so ingrained in colonial ideologies that selling out rights for beads and trinkets becomes the only logical option – a very defeatist and weak approach. It is certainly not an approach befitting our strong, proud, independent Nations that have thrived on Turtle Island since time immemorial. We have a choice - we don't have to give up control over our education. That doesn't have to be the sacrifice we make to advance our cause for properly funded education systems.

Our Aboriginal, inherent and treaty rights are solid - we have had them since time immemorial and they cannot be unilaterally extinguished. We can only lose them if we voluntarily give them up. Augustine wants us to embrace inevitable assimilation - the standardization of the Indian in the child, until there are no Indians - all in exchange for a little money.

Some things that are not negotiable and our sovereignty and jurisdiction over education is one of them. Our rights are not for sale. To voluntarily allow Canada to legislate the treaty right to education is an insult to the ancestors who fought to protect those rights for future generations. Harper wants First Nations to voluntarily transform their treaty right to education into a discretionary program entitlement that is subject to the whims of Parliament. Why would anyone do this?

Augustine's impatience with Chiefs is more of a reflection of his own skewed view of First Nation politics. He thinks the quick deal is the best deal - one battle at a time he says. He equates "winning" with money. He forgets that sometimes the real win is the protection of what makes us who we are: our sovereignty as Nations. No amount of money can ever be as powerful as the sovereignty bestowed on us by the Creator and defended by our ancestors for generations.

There can no compromise on First Nation Control of First Nation Education. The solution is simple:
In the short term we must address the crisis in First Nation education created by the purposeful, chronic underfunding by the federal government. Amendments can be made to contribution agreements by adjusting funding levels AT LEAST comparable with the provincial rates, with additional amounts to build and repair schools, teach Indigenous languages and build capacity and training. There is a cumulative deficit in the billions in underfunded education on reserve. Even if we are funded now, it will take decades to catch up.

In the longer term, it will be up to each Nation to decide how they want to go about addressing the larger issues of treaty implementation, restitution of lands and resources and the recognition of First Nation governance. It's not for any one leader, organization, Minister or Regional Chief to make that decision for us.

#StayUnited against #FNCFNEA



Thursday, May 1, 2014

#StayUnited against #FNCFNEA

Since the time I was small, I have always been told by Chiefs, politicians and elders about the importance of our unity - unity within our Mi’kmaw families, our communities and Nation. Leaders even spoke about the importance of inter-tribal or inter-nation unity. I come from a territory where the Wabanaki Confederacy, a political allegiance of multiple Nations, built upon our Nations’ diverse backgrounds for common purposes. The relationships which came from this confederacy have lasted until present day.

At the same time, my elders were careful to explain that unity is not about sameness. Unity is a type of bond or treaty amongst Indigenous Nations which celebrates the different strengths, histories, cultures, insights and skills of each Nation and brings them together to make the whole stronger. Unity is a celebration or embracing of those differences to make the treaty group stronger in defending its sovereignty, territories or peoples. It is not an agreement on all issues at all times. Nor is unity about each Nation conforming to one way of thinking or acting. Diverse Nations inherently have different needs, outlooks, priorities and ways of accomplishing their goals.

Several long-time leaders also told me that unity for the sake of unity can cause more harm than good. Unity for the sake of unity denies the very differences we celebrate as Nations and shuts out the voices of caution, overlooked facts, multiple perspectives and potential outcomes. Sometimes these lone voices are mischaracterized as oppositional, trouble-making, politicking or disloyal. Consensus building takes a great deal of effort and time; so when these brave voices speak out against the consensus, sometimes its hard not to lose patience or be frustrated.

Yet, elders have told me that those voices which delay consensus for a time are sometimes the most loyal citizens – citizens who care so deeply about their community or Nation that they risk ridicule and exclusion to raise potential threats to the collective. They may not always deliver the message as we’d like or even have all the facts, but that is what consensus building is about – providing everyone with all the facts, potential outcomes and perspectives so that when a decision is made, everyone understands and accepts its – even if not in total agreement. I believe the future of our Nations depends on the consideration and inclusion of all voices.

The biggest impact on our ability as Indigenous Nations to maintain our unity in times of need is the impact of colonization. Generations of colonial ideologies, residential schools, Indian Act restrictions, federal divide-and-conquer tactics, and systems of government-imposed rewards and punishments have impaired our ability to see unity as we once did. Canada has divided us into good Indians and bad Indians – those who comply versus those who resist. In so doing, the hard work of unity-building within Nations is impaired because the focus is on one-size-fits-all Indians. In fact, pan-Indianness is so ingrained that we often criticize ourselves for not being unified as “Indians” when we should be unified in resisting pan-Indianness.

Our unity as Nations is like a treaty – a coming together of certain Nations at certain times to assert or defend certain causes. We can be united to defend our right to control education but different in how we want to assert that control (depending on each Nation’s priorities and needs). Sometimes our unity is based on historical relations, regional similarities or broad national interests. Our unity is no less powerful because the Mohawks educate one way and the Cree another. The similarity is in the assertion of sovereignty and jurisdiction over our right to control our own education systems, methods, content and outcomes.

With regards to Prime Minister Harper and National Chief Shawn Atleo’s education “deal”, this was not made in a good way, nor in the spirit of unity. In fact, the countless secret meetings, lack of information, and surprise announcements are counter to our traditional ways of building consensus and capitalizing on our strengths and differences in unity. The biggest problem is that no space was ever made for the possibility that there would be no unity on this deal – the deal was made for us without us at the table. The result is wide-spread distrust, anger and reaction – all justified. Now, our leaders are forced to account to their citizens for decisions of which they had no part, causing even further disharmony amongst our Nations. Yet, none of this had to happen.

For many decades, First Nations have been tightly unified on their views about First Nation education. While we may have taken very different approaches to other issues, on First Nation education we all agreed. First Nations are united in their views that we have jurisdiction over every aspect of our education systems (however we choose as individual Nations to define them) and that we should be the ones in control. We have always held the position that Canada must live up to its legal obligations to recognize and implement our treaty, Aboriginal and other rights to education with adequate funding. We have always asserted that Canada needs to make amends for the damages caused to our languages and cultures from residential schools by providing the supports needed to advance and protect them in current education systems – First Nations or provincial.

How we choose to get there is up to us. Some of us may want to negotiate sectoral self-government agreements in education; some may wish to use the current systems with modified funding, some may want a treaty-based system, and others may want to design and implement their own systems independently with completely different funding agreements. We may have different methods, but we are united in defense of our right to choose how we will implement our right to control our own education systems. We are not all one mythical race of Indians after all.

Our current initiatives in resisting the Atleo-Harper deal on education are not about sour grapes, jealousy, politics, the next federal election, the next AFN National Chief election, or who’s “right”. Those are all red-herrings critics throw in the mix to keep people from focusing on the real issue – control over our own education systems. The reason why so many Chiefs, grassroots citizens, academics, lawyers and Canadian allies are against this deal is because it violates our fundamental right to control our own education systems. We are not fighting against unity - we are fighting desperately to maintain our long-held unity in education.

The Harper government has become very adept at its divide-and-conquer techniques. It also uses funding as a reward-punishment tool to further control and divide us. It’s most effective tool so far has been using First Nations individuals and organizations to promote its assimilatory agenda. Trojan horses filled with assimilatory Aboriginal warriors march forward to implement Harper’s plan under the guise of what’s good for us. The numerous bills being imposed on us all have wonderful titles and great media sound bites that distract us from what’s inside the bills. Calling a bill “First Nations Control” is a lie if what’s inside is increased Ministerial control.

I think most of us expect this from Harper, but the most hurtful and offensive part is that we don’t expect our own leaders to do this to us. National Chief Shawn Atleo has hurt us all by acting as if he had the right to make this deal in the first place; by acting so secretively and outside our traditional ways of building consensus; and then standing in defense of this destructive bill – no matter what First Nations say. Part of being a leader is being humble and admitting when you have made mistakes. Atleo could still stand with First Nations against this bill, but he refuses to do so. Atleo destroyed our negotiating leverage in Ottawa and now he has broken our unity on education. He refuses to listen to us.

Unfortunately, we don’t have time to commiserate about it – we have to act. We cannot give Harper any ammunition to use against us as he tries to ram this bill through the House and Senate. We have to show that Atleo does not speak for us, as the Minister is already relying on Atleo’s endorsement of the bill as his “proof” of consultation and consent. We cannot let Harper hide behind any First Nation individual or organization to roll out his assimilation plan.

Most of all, we have to stay united against this bill to protect control over our education and save our cultures and languages for future generations. If we voluntarily allow Canada to legislate our treaty rights, there is no undoing it later. Harper is desperate to turn the treaty right to education into a discretionary program and service that is subject to Parliament’s budgetary whims. We can’t let Harper do that.

Harper is scared of our voices. AANDC is running scared and is tweeting in defense of itself. Harper can see the growing opposition from First Nations and is speeding up the review of the bill. We have the power to stop this. When First Nations stand in unity, there is no piece of paper, no legislation, or crooked politician that can stop us. The “winter we danced” as Idle No More showed the world how powerful in peace our people are when we stand together. I’ve always believed in the power of our people to make change – let’s stay united on education and give our children some hope.
#StayUnited against #FNCFNEA