Monday, February 17, 2014

Willing Partner or Jail?: Budget 2014 and the Elimination of First Nation Treaty Rights, Resources and Trade

Harper has released the Conservative government’s federal budget for 2014 and one might think we were transported back in time to 1814. Promises of federally-controlled schools for Indians and trained, cheap labour for the extractive industry are the highlights of this budget. Instead of providing funds to address the socio-economic crises that exist on many First Nations, or implementing Aboriginal, treaty and inherent rights, Harper has offered more beads and trinkets – except these beads are more like bombs. Harper is poised to eliminate our rights in the name of national security.

A closer inspection of the budget “promises” reveals very real threats to First Nations treaty rights, natural resources and their right to trade. All of this for the alleged “benefit of Canadians”, but it won't be Canadians who benefit - it will be large corporate enterprises which hoard their profits. In the US alone, corporations are sitting on trillions in cash - not benefiting anyone but their CEOs. Harper's economic plan doesn't just hurt First Nations - it also hurts Canadians.

In a strategically-designed media event, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Shawn Atleo together with Prime Minister Harper and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Minister Bernard Valcourt announced that legislation to totally revamp education in First Nations would be imposed by Canada after all – despite the resistance by the majority of Chiefs and First Nations citizens in Canada.

Amidst much secrecy and blue-dot identification systems to exclude “bad Indians”, Atleo and Harper ran roughshod over the treaty right to education. Despite Atleo's words that AFN is not a treaty organization and that he cannot negotiate treaty rights - he has done just that. Harper, with the help of Atleo, is trying to lure First Nations into trading their treaty right to education for a legislated program – subject to government whims and budgets.

Their joint announcement on First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act as the “answer” to the education crisis in First Nations is an illusion. Despite the build-up and announcement day fanfare, there was nothing substantive put on the table for First Nation education this year except more paternalistic federal legislation. It must be remembered that this legislation is an old promise that has been announced and re-announced many times over in major Conservative speeches. The rest of Atleo-Harper's announcement amounted to a promise of future monies which are supposed to flow AFTER Harper’s term of office. Kelowna has shown us how empty “future monies” are to First Nations.

Not only is this elusive, top-secret, federally-controlled legislation nothing new – but it is also being used as the primary trinket in other sections of the budget. For example, under the Education section, First Nations are promised First Nation education legislation. Under Jobs, they are promised First Nation education legislation. Under Skills Training, they are promised First Nation education legislation. So, once again First Nations really don’t get anything out the federal budget 2014 despite the fact that it’s our lands and resources that subsidize the many other budgetary promises.

The Conservative Budget 2014 reveals that the only promises we can take to bank are those which reinforce the federal blockade against First Nation treaties, resources and trading rights. Make no mistake, Harper’s veiled threats in his Speech from the Throne are also being implemented in his Budget 2014. Harper, with the help of “willing partners” like Atleo, are asking First Nations to voluntarily give up their rights in exchange for money. The problem here is that this is like asking a single mom living on social assistance if she wants food for her children. Of course she needs food for her children, but that doesn't mean she should be bullied into giving up her rights. Many of our communities are under duress to accept these take-it or leave-it offers. With no money to fight in court and no courts where we can get an unbiased decision, this leaves very few options for First Nations to protect their rights.

There is incredible economic pressure put on First Nations to assimilate, integrate and otherwise surrender their rights. The budget indicates that Conservatives will provide $166 million over two years to help strengthen First Nation fishing enterprises, which sounds promising – until you read further. The money is allocated for the Atlantic and Pacific commercial fisheries – however, the funds are to be used to “integrate First Nation fishing enterprises into existing commercial fisheries”. First Nations have Aboriginal, treaty, and inherent rights to trade in fish – these rights are constitutionally and internationally protected. Canadians do NOT have a constitutional right to fish and trade in fish. What he is saying is that millions will be put into forcing First Nations to give up their rights or give up their means of subsistence. This is not voluntary – it’s coercive.

We should not be surprised given that this comes from a government whose members have advocated against what they call “race-based” fishing rights.

This underlying threat against First Nations rights appears throughout the budget and especially in relation to natural resources. The Harper government promises to “ensure” the extraction of natural resources and, as promised in his Throne from the Speech, he will “protect” these resources by beefing up protective infrastructure around them – including roads, bridges, and the means to protect this infrastructure. This is why you see billions invested in “energy infrastructure development” as well as money for law enforcement.

Similarly, our Indigenous right to trade is also being attacked despite the many thousands of years of trading activities amongst our Indigenous Nations. For centuries, we have defended and protected our territories and trading routes. While the colonial governments erected barriers to the free flow of trade between Indigenous Nations - like the Canada-US border, the Jay Treaty promised that we would not be molested in our traditional travel and trade activities. Similarly, nation-based territories span multiple provincial borders and our sovereignty, rights and laws have never been superseded by provincial laws.

Our trading and business activities have long been a part of our traditional economies - but Harper wants absolute control over our economies. Self-sufficient Nations don't mix with Harper's ideal of assimilated Indians and surrendered resources.

Harper is now trying to force us give up our trading and business activities and surrender it to the federal and provincial governments under the guise of law and order. Canada has had a long history of criminalizing our traditional activities like hunting, fishing, and even travelling off-reserve to engage in trade. This continues today where the majority of court cases defending our Aboriginal and treaty rights are within the context of criminal or regulatory offences.

In Budget 2014, Harper is pre-empting our rights and making some of our trade and business illegal. He is targeting online casinos and making them subject to terrorism legislation - knowing that outside of the provinces, it's only First Nations that are venturing into online casinos. Similarly, he is taking one of our most lucrative traditional activities – the growing, manufacture and trade in tobacco - and eliminating First Nations trade as an “anti-terrorism” and “anti-contraband” measure. The only exceptions, if any, will be through tightly-controlled federal or provincial restrictions. Harper's federal blockade preventing us from accessing our own resources is getting stronger - chipping away at our future self-sufficiency.

So, just to be clear – Budget 2014 promises that if we agree to give up our Aboriginal, treaty and inherent rights to the $650 billion dollars (over the next 10 years) in natural resources that we own, Harper will give us some skills training for some low-level labour jobs with the extractive industry. That is why so many "employers" were present at the Atleo-Harper education announcement. As Harper continues to cut funding to First Nations and blockade them from their own resources, he hopes to make First Nations reliant on large corporations for hand-outs.

Harper may feign innocence and claim that he is not forcing us to do anything and that all of these promises are for “willing partners” - but the definition of willing is without duress. Yet in Harper's world, willing partners are those who want to eat, drink clean water, have an education and want to stay out of jail.

Willing partner or jail… willing partner or jail… willing partner or jail. What would you choose?

First Nations are already over-incarcerated and we know where this Budget 2014 path is heading. If we don’t act soon, it won't just be First Nations who fill the shiny new prisons - Canadians are also lose the rest of their democratic rights and freedoms. How much more will Canadians take - from CSEC spying on all our cell communications in airports, CSIS and RCMP using terrorism to spy on social workers and teachers, to changes to the elections act to ensure we can never get rid of the Conservatives. We all need fresh air, clean water and farmable lands to live - Canadian or First Nation. We can't eat gold or nuclear waste.

It’s time we got real about Harper’s intentions and helped First Nations defend their rights. This could be Canadians’ last best chance to protect their own children from a life sentence in one of Harper’s jails for the crime of subsistence and protecting our lands and waters.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes: First Nation CONTROL of First Nation Education Act?

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Bernard Valcourt and National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Shawn Atleo announced “re-tooled” education legislation. It should be pointed out that despite all the hype leading up to this announcement, there is no actual legislation to scrutinize. So, what did First Nations get from this announcement?

The Prime Minister explained that this legislation is an agreement between Shawn Atleo of the AFN and Harper’s government. For Harper, this is about filling the labour shortage with Canada’s fastest growing population – First Nations - not about addressing socio-economic conditions imposed on First Nations through Canada’s archaic funding formulas which purposefully and chronically under-fund First Nations in comparison to provincial residents.

He also referenced the many employers who sat in the audience ready to hire and train high school students. We all know from past announcements this means hiring First Nations to be the pick and shovel labourers for mining companies and other extractive industries. This is about creating a new kind of dependence for First Nations - dependence on labour jobs from extractive industries to undermine attempts by their leaders to defend their territories and the resources on them.

Minister Valcourt also stated that they are looking at this legislation through an “economic lens” and not a treaty or inherent right lens. Therefore, the inherent right to be self-determining and exercise our own jurisdiction over education does not play into this legislation. He reconfirmed that Atleo was instrumental in the agreement which will ensure “stable and predictable oversight” by the federal government. He further noted that this legislation is about “Canada”. The Conservative government is not hiding their intentions here: it is assimilation into the body politic as they have stated over and over again.

During the brief question period, Harper confirmed that the legislation was about the deal he struck with Atleo – uniform standards, curriculum and accountability. Atleo didn’t really say much of anything to add to the announcement. It looked more like a political endorsement of the Harper Government for their 2015 election than anything else.

One lone woman stood up and stated that AFN and Harper did not consult with all First Nations and that she stood as a Treaty 6 person in objection to the legislation. The protestors on the ground were not permitted inside, so we could not hear their voices.

Here’s a quick look at today’s “promises”:

(1) There will be legislation, with a new name, but not shared today;

(2) The regulations will be drafted later;

(3) The focus of the legislation will be on provincial training, provincial rules, provincial certification, provincial curriculum and provincial standards (emphasis on provincial);

(4) The legislation will impose “transparency and accountability” on First Nations as opposed to give First Nations any real control;

(5) There will be funding, but not until 2015 and/or 2016 (after Harper’s term);

(6) The funding will not be based on need or in line with the treaty right to education. Instead, an “elevator” (a.k.a. “cap”) will be placed at 4.5%; and

(7) There is nothing to address the funding crisis in First Nation post-secondary education.

It should be noted that nowhere in the announcement was there any description of whether this funding was “new funding” in addition to the current core funding; whether it is re-purposed monies from education or other programs that have been cut; or how this funding will be accessed by “non-willing partners” – i.e., those First Nations who reject the legislation.

This appears to be more about deflecting the nasty publicity around the increasing litigation and human rights claims being brought by First Nations in relation to discriminatory funding in areas like education, housing and child and family services. The future funding promised after Harper’s term could evaporate as easily as the Kelowna Accord did when the Liberal term ended. A promise about future money, doesn’t educate First Nations kids now.

None of it is really new. This announcement is just re-packaging of old promises that have taken years to come to fruition:

(1) Election platform – promised adult education and skills training (note announcement yesterday on skills);

(2) AFN-Harper Joint Action Plan – promised national panel on education

(3) Crown-First Nation Gathering – promised national panel

Then came the national panel to which AFN agreed, despite the objections of about half the First Nations in Canada. Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec pulled out of the national panel process and submitted their own reports in an unprecedented protest against AFN’s unilateral actions.

This was followed by numerous AFN resolutions from the Chiefs in Assembly telling Atleo NOT to talk education legislation with Harper. And most will not forget Idle No More’s rallying cry against the suite of legislation intended to be imposed on First Nations. AFN heard them and proceeded anyway. Atleo said he “respected their views” and proceeded anyway. This led to a large number of First Nations wanting to pull out of the AFN and set up their Treaty Alliance to protect their treaties. All this and Atleo still forges this deal with Harper.

The promise of future funding is being used as a carrot to gain support for legislation that has not even been shared with First Nations yet. They are hoping that we are desperate enough to support this plan before we can see the army inside the Trojan Horse.

This is really about tricking First Nations into voluntarily turning their treaty right to fully-funded education into a program privilege that is subject to federal legislation, control and budgets. Even without treaties, First Nations have internationally protected rights to be self-determining, they have specific jurisdiction over their own education and a right to funded education.

This proposed legislation is meant to strike down any attempts at litigation against discriminatory funding – which they likely wish they could do with Cindy Blackstock’s case against discriminatory funding in Child and Family Services.

This is just another delay tactic. While we sit in meetings, the natural resources are removed from our territories. While we negotiate announcements, Justice Canada drafts the details of our surrender.

Had the Emperor actually looked at what his tailor had sewn for him, he’d have realized that he wasn’t wearing any clothes, despite the fact that people he trusted told him how wonderful he looked.

It’s always our choice. We can choose to say no. Canada does not need legislation to properly fund education. Remember what was promised today: nothing. But we stand to lose a great deal in supporting this legislation.

Recognize First Nation jurisdiction over education.

Implement the treaty right to education.

Properly fund First Nation education.

Say no to FNCFNEA.

Harper's "Cons" and FNEA: Would You Want These People Running Your Schools?

                                                      (picture from Two-Row Times)
They say absolute power corrupts one absolutely, but this saying would not even begin to describe this Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership. There has never been a more dictatorial, aggressive, scandal-laden government than Harper’s “Cons”. “Cons” is a fitting nickname for this ruling Conservative party given the countless scandals since they have come to power.

Harper’s control over his own party, together with his party’s majority power in the House and Senate has made him so arrogant that he appears unconcerned about the extreme excesses of his “people”. His over-confidence is apparent in his bullying tactics within the party ranks and in his dictatorial governance style. He wields his majority power like an iron sword through the hearts and minds of Canadians. He acts as though he is untouchable and has such control over his own people that they will fall on their swords before implicate Harper. Now, this government wants to control the fate of First Nations children in their new First Nations Education Act. This is a scary thought.

As with all false leaders, Harper’s arrogance is testament to his weakness - he is all puffery and no substance. If his front line is as weak as the media reports it is, then there will be very little loyalty left to support Harper when the pressure hits. We have an opportunity to put the pressure on. How much more fraud, sexual assault, theft, and lying will Canadians stand? Canadians have the power to unseat this dictator and reset Canada on a path which ensures health, prosperity and the good life – however we choose to define that for ourselves – for all our future generations.

How many more scandals will it take? More importantly, should they be passing legislation dealing with the lives of First Nation children when they can’t seem to even act within the law? If these “leaders” of the Conservative party are any example, I wouldn’t want them anywhere near my children or making decisions on their behalf. These people are scary and not the kind of role models we want for our children.

MAXIME BERNIER may be long forgotten, but he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs who was forced to resign from Cabinet after leaving classified documents in the possession of his biker-gang-friendly girlfriend posing a possible risk to national security.

BEV ODA was the Minister of International Cooperation who was also forced to step down due to a funding scandal which had her denying and then admitting that she directed staff to alter documents. She was later found to have used public monies to fund her lavish over-seas trips staying in posh hotels and hiring expensive drivers all while sipping $16 orange juice.

PETER MCKAY, the Minister of Defense was also a big-spender with public monies. From a $3k seafood show, $5k Grey Cup game to a $16k helicopter ride for his personal fishing vacation – McKay defended himself by threatening to sue the people bringing these allegations. However, it was reported that government documents showed that even military officials tried to warn McKay over the helicopter ride.

VIC TOEWS who stepped down as Public Safety Minister, was embroiled in several political and personal scandals including a conviction for election violations and a divorce reportedly brought on by an affair with a political staffer that resulted in a child. He was also criticized for implying that environmentalists and First Nations peoples were terrorists.

The list seems to just go on and on. Then you have the fringe element who shock normal Canadians with their racism, bizarre opinions and allegedly illegal activities like:

-        Former Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan who was opposed to “race-based rights” like the Aboriginal and treaty rights protected in Canada’s constitution;

-        Current Minister of Indian Affairs, Bernard Valcourt whose scandals are infamous in New Brunswick (where he was forced to resign as Cabinet minister due to drunk driving), but are apparently forgotten in Ottawa;

-        Tom Flanagan, well-known Conservative and PM advisor, Indian-hater and reportedly supports child porn;
-        Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin who, along with Senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, was suspended from Parliament. Wallin recently had her documents seized and is now being investigated by the RCMP for filing improper expense claims;

-        Senator Brazeau is a case unto himself. Aside from bizarre late night rants on Twitter; trying to double dip salaries as President of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Senator; never showing up for work as Senator; media reports of him not paying child support; formal charges laid in senate expense scandal; and then his charges for both assault and sexual assault nearly take the cake for Harper's Conservatives; but now

-        The Prime Minister’s band mate, drummer Phillip Nolan has been suspended from work as a teacher and charged with sexual assaults on children.  arrested-for-sexual-assaults-on-a-minor/

If you were a First Nation whose band members had suffered through the rapes, torture, medical experimentation and abuse that occurred in residential schools, would you want the Canadian government running your schools again?

If you were a First Nation and the Conservative government was telling you that your choice was status quo under-funded schools, or extra funding under the condition of federal legislative control, would you feel safe sending your kids to those schools?

If you were a First Nation and Harper was standing beside you in a headdress saying "Trust me" - would you?

The last thing we need is for a federal party, who acts without accountability or any moral compass going anywhere near our kids. We are already suffering the inter-generational impacts of residential schools – we don’t need to hurt our future generations too.

Say No to FNEA.

Stay away from our children.

Recognize First Nation control over their own education systems; and

Properly fund these systems.

We have treaty rights and internationally protected rights to fully-funded education.

 It’s time Canada lived up to its obligations.