Thursday, November 19, 2015

Harper's Gone, Now It's Time to Look Within

This is a blog I wish I didn’t have to write. I wish I could say that now that Canadians have changed their federal government that everything will be ok. But that is not a given. The decade-long reign of terror against First Nations, the environment and democratic rights and freedoms has worn on everyone. Yet there is still have a great deal of work to undo the harm that was done and prepare the path ahead for a safer, healthier and more just future for First Nations and Canadians alike. Nothing will change for us unless we address all the contributing factors to our current situation and that includes the many afflictions we suffer due to such extensive and prolonged colonization. The life-long work of so many Indigenous activists, defenders and natural leaders culminated in the Idle No More movement and helped empower our people to understand some of the very complex ways in which centuries of colonization has impacted our peoples. But understanding the sickness of colonization is only the first step. It’s time we finally got rid of what isn’t working for us – even if that means parting ways with long-established advocacy organizations or demanding better of our leaders.

I love our people. I am so proud to be L’nu – to be from the Mi’kmaw Nation and have many relations in other First Nations. I am so honoured to be able to stand on the same territories that our ancestors did. None of us ever want to be publically critical of our own people. We have a strong sense of solidarity and unity across Turtle Island. But we cannot ignore the tremendous power that Canada’s assimilatory laws, policies and programs have had on us. The extreme suffering of our people – scalpings, rapes, tortures, sterilizations, starvations, and prison can turn our best leaders from proud defenders of our sovereignty and identity to those who would settle for programs or contracts to try to bring relief to our people. This is not a matter of blame or judgment. How many Canadian politicians could stand before their constituencies and tell them to hang tough while their little girls go murdered and missing or their little boys hang themselves? Precious few I am sure. I don’t blame or judge any of our peoples and in fact I think we need to forgive ourselves for the many ways in which colonization has impacted us. It wasn’t our doing, and we have paid a dear price - but we can't let it continue to hurt our people.

One of the many prices we have paid for such extensive control over our peoples by the federal government is the way in which Canada has slowly gained control over our political and advocacy organizations. We have to remember that during this last decade, it wasn’t just Harper that was a problem for First Nations, but some of the National Aboriginal Organizations (NAOs) were as well. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) was the first to hitch itself to the Harper government and former President Patrick Brazeau gained himself a Senate seat for his outrageous anti-First Nation rhetoric. Aside from his offensive videos shot from the Chamber of the Senate, he was combative towards First Nation people who appeared before him at committees, especially women. CAP, the former Native Council of Canada, had been established to advocate for the rights of off-reserve Indians, non-status Indians, and Métis peoples and were included in the constitutional talks of the 1980’s and at the Kelowna Accord negotiations.

However, under Brazeau’s tenure, it quickly descended into an anti-Chief and anti-First Nation organization that betrayed its original purpose. At one regional meeting, President Brazeau was chanting – down with the Chiefs! We are all too familiar with the disgraceful conduct of Senator Brazeau which was followed by criminal charges and investigations. His successor, Betty-Ann Lavallee carried on in Brazeau’s path by hitching herself to Harper’s government and CAP literally dropped out of sight. Whenever CAP did make a statement, it was merely to echo Harper initiatives. An organization that was formed from the spirit and resistance of Indigenous peoples who were excluded by Canadians laws and policies became an organization of that same government. The organization has remained ineffectual and irrelevant ever since.

The much critiqued Assembly of First Nations (AFN) wasn’t always what it is today either. After WWI, the League of Indians was the first major attempt at national body which could represent First Nation interests nationally. Insiders explain that significant government interference with their activities prevented it from taking hold. After WWII, they tried again with the National American Indian Brotherhood, but again a lack of funding and government actions were cited as impediments to its success. The National Indian Council (NIC) was formed in 1961 to provide unity among all Indian people and represented Treaty, status, non-status and Métis people (the Inuit were excluded). Discord grew within the organization, so in the 1970’s, several key First Nation leaders like George Manuel and Harold Cardinal (and others) formed the National Indian Brotherhood (NIB) which focused on First Nation issues. Coinciding with the patriation of the Constitution, the organization later became the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

While the NIC/NIB/AFN originally had good intentions and did a great deal of advocacy work, over the years, the original vision of those early leaders seems to have been lost. This last decade has seen a significant downturn for the AFN as it has lost legitimacy among many grassroots peoples and even some of the Chiefs. Despite the incredible opportunity with the massive Idle No Movement, the AFN instead propped up the Harper government and chose to ignore the obvious will of the people. When the Former National Chief, Shawn Atleo, chose to go against the demands of the grassroots people in Idle No More and Chief Spence and met with the Prime Minister, instead of hold out for a meeting which included the Governor-General, we knew the AFN had changed. Many Chiefs protested against this meeting and chose to march on Parliament with their grassroots citizens instead of support the AFN. Some Chiefs even officially withdrew from the AFN or wrote letters saying the AFN no longer represented them. But the AFN did not adjust their actions to account for this growing dissent.

Despite resolutions from Chiefs and the widespread criticism of AFN activities by grassroots citizens, the AFN continued its secret meetings with the Harper government. Many Treaty First Nations then organized as the National Treaty Alliance to ensure that their treaty rights were protected. They wanted to make clear that the AFN did not speak for them and could not make deals on their treaty rights. Even the Confederacy of Nations, provided for under the AFN Charter, was reinvigorated in an attempt to get control back over the AFN. The AFN stayed the course and sided with the government instead. The final straw was the surprise joint announcement by Atleo and Harper on an education “deal” that did not have the consent of First Nations. The outcry from Chiefs and grassroots citizens ultimately led to Atleo’s resignation. The AFN has never fully recovered.

I wish I could say that simply getting rid of these organizations would change everything – but that would not be true. Unlike with organizations like CAP, the power and influence of the AFN extends well beyond any term of office for its regional or National Chiefs. If we look at where some of the current and former regional and National Chiefs have ended up, this gives us a clearer picture of why we should be so concerned about what actually happens in those organizations and why we change is so desperately needed.

One of the worst examples is that of the current AFN Regional Chief for New Brunswick and PEI, Roger Augustine. While Regional Chief, he publically defended illegal vote buying in First Nations.

Augustine’s “something is better than nothing” motto is why he was always in support of Atleo’s education deal – even in the face of opposition from so many Chiefs.

Now, despite the fact that his is still a sitting AFN Regional Chief, he is also secretly part owner of a company called GITPO Storm Corporation in partnership with former National Chiefs Matthew Coon Come, Ovide Mercredi and Shawn Atleo. Their corporation is set up in New Brunswick at 8 Gitpo Road in Eel Ground First Nation.

This is the exact same business address used by AFN Regional Chief Augustine as his AFN office.

Does the AFN itself not see this as a gross conflict of interest? Where in the Charter of the AFN has their mandate changed so dramatically? The AFN Regional Chiefs are elected to bring the views and interests of their constituents (Chiefs in their region) to the AFN. The Regional Chiefs, as part of the AFN, are elected to advocate on behalf of First Nations rights and interests. More recently, Atleo explained that the AFN was allegedly there to “open doors” for First Nations within government. It was never set up nor provided with a mandate for individual Regional Chiefs to negotiate with corporations and businesses to see how much profit they can make personally within the territories of the Chiefs they serve. The inherent, Aboriginal and treaty rights of Mi’kmaw and Maliseet peoples in New Brunswick belong to the peoples within those two Nations. These rights do not belong to the AFN or their elected representatives. I am from Mi’kmaw territory in New Brunswick, as are my family and friends, and none of us were informed about this AFN company.

If this is a company that was set up on behalf of First Nations, then it begs the question as to why Mi’kmaw and Maliseet citizens were not informed. Why is it that this company has been in operation for a year without many knowing? We do not yet know why they are set up out of New Brunswick, or why the AFN is involved. Why would former National Chiefs be partnering in business ventures with the AFN? Some of the Chiefs worry that their company was set up to get contracts related to major natural resources projects in New Brunswick, including the Energy East Pipeline and/or Sisson Mining Project. We don’t know for sure because no one seems to much about this company or how much money its partners have made from it.

The information about this partnership is as much of a surprise as was the announcement by Atleo that took place only two hours after Perry Bellegarde was elected. Shawn Atleo announced that he had been appointed as the new Senior Advisor to Pacific Future Energy Corporation, one of the companies wanting to build an oil refinery in BC. His former AFN staffer, Jeffrey Copenace, is Senior Vice-President. It was further announced that former National Chief Ovide Mercredi would also be joining the team.

The Chair of Pacific Future Energy is none other than former Conservative Cabinet Minister Stockwell Day, who served as Minister of Public Safety and then Minister of International Trade in the Harper government. The former partnership between AFN and Conservatives manifested as a business deal after Atleo’s resignation from the AFN. Instead of advocating for Aboriginal and treaty rights, Atleo will now promote the oil industry.

Mercredi was one of the former National Chiefs who most vocally defended Atleo during Idle No More protests and the widespread criticisms from Chiefs, despite his former role as the Treaty 1-11 spokesperson. He is now not only affiliated with Atleo in Pacific Future Energy, but also GITPO in New Brunswick. Mercredi is not just a former AFN National Chief, he is now also the President of the Manitoba NDP – ironically one of the most conservative governments in Canada. Manitoba has the highest rates of murdered and missing Indigenous women and little girls, the highest rates of Indigenous children in care, some of the highest rates on incarceration, and possibly the worst government record on mining and other industry abuses on First Nation lands. So, have the AFN and Manitoba NDP have partnered to seek natural resource contracts in New Brunswick?

To make matters even more confusing, several months after the announcement of Atleo and Mercredi joining Pacific Future Energy, SNC Lavalin made their own announcement that they were teaming up with Atleo. Atleo’s company: A-in-Chut Business Group is set to do the pre-engineering studies for Pacific Future Energy with SNC. The overall plan is to transport Alberta tar sands oil to a refinery in BC for transport by tanker to Asia.

Aside from being surprised, I am very disappointed. These former National Chiefs and current Regional Chief were elected by the Chiefs and were given all of their power and influence from those Chiefs. Their ability to act as National Chief was a privilege and a great responsibility. The power and influence they have today is owed in part to that given to them when they were National Chief. They may no longer be National Chiefs, but many elders and traditional leaders have argued that they have an enduring responsibility to ensure that they use that power and influence in a good way. Some have even said that because of that incredible privilege bestowed on them, they have to conduct themselves to an even higher standard. I am not an elder, nor am I a traditional leader, so it is not for me to say whether or not this is the case. But it has always been my personal view, based on my Mi’kmaw upbringing, that a leader always carries that obligation for their people with them.

These are the same people who know the conditions of our people and know the causes. They know that the dispossession of our lands and resources is the root cause of our poverty. Some of these leaders have suffered personally at the hands of government policies designed to assimilate or eliminate us. Despite their own struggles, some of these men did some good work during their tenures as National Chiefs at the AFN. That is what makes situation all the more disappointing. How does one go from advocate for First Nations to advocate for industry? It is hard enough for First Nations to battle federal and provincial governments and the massive extractive industry, but it creates a near insurmountable task for us to try to counter our own people. This is especially true when many of our Nations have cultural protocols which discourage us from acting in a way which disrespects our former leaders or elected, traditional or hereditary. We prefer to be united and support one another.

The AFN and Manitoba NDP representatives have created a near impossible situation for Mi’kmaw and Maliseet people of New Brunswick. If these former National Chiefs sign contracts for infrastructure or projects related to natural resource extraction in our territory, it will impede on our ability to say no to the project. Imagine the optics of Mi’kmaw and Maliseet peoples deciding that no pipeline will come to New Brunswick, when a company of 3 former National Chiefs and one current AFN Regional Chief have already signed and benefitted from contracts related to those projects? Imagine the public’s confusion when former AFN Regional Chief Jodi Wilson Raybould, as Minister of Justice, appears in litigation against Mi’kmaw or Maliseet land defenders asserting our Aboriginal and treaty rights and Canada’s evidence will include affidavits from former AFN National Chiefs saying the pipeline is great business? I am wondering how much thought went into this company outside of financial and business considerations?

However, our elders have always told us that the core of sovereignty is acting in defence of our peoples, lands and cultures – even if this means challenging one of our own who may be taking us down the wrong path. I am disappointed in these business partners because it was kept a secret from the people. Part of what makes our resistance to colonization and ongoing dispossession of our rights so difficult is the lack of information. Our people are always the last to know about projects in our territory and we never get all the information. As the last to know, we rarely have enough time to research and provide our input. Government and industry take advantage of our lack of access to information and a lack of resources to mount a defense against violations of our rights. Imagine how much harder this will be with the AFN involved on the side of industry?

I am not suggesting that no Indigenous person ever open a business, work as a consultant, or sit on boards and committees. I think everyone benefits from the wisdom, experience, skills and perspectives of Indigenous peoples.  Nor am I suggesting that no Indigenous person should ever work with the extractive industry in certain capacities that try to help change how they do business. I admit that there is certainly no Canadian law against former AFN National Chiefs doing any of these things. But the first laws of our territories come from our sovereign Nations. While our laws are as diverse as our Nations, I think it’s pretty common knowledge that no one gets to hunt, fish or use our territories without our knowledge and consent. This has been the law since time immemorial. Even the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, quoted by AFN, says nothing happens without “free, informed and prior consent”. That applies not just to federal and provincial governments, and corporations, but also to other non-territorial First Nations. Setting up a company designed to get “Aboriginal” contracts from projects in our territory based on our Aboriginal and treaty rights is as offensive as hunting in our territory without consent.

We have a very unique situation in Mi’kmaw and Maliseet territory. Despite many attacks on our people, and even scalping bounty on our heads, we have never surrendered our lands. Our lands are unceded territory. Therefore we have original Aboriginal title to all the lands in the Atlantic region. We also have constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights and numerous treaties as well. Our rights are very strong and the last thing we need is for some First Nation people from other territories coming into our territory and making deals. We have not even decided as Nations what projects we accept and which we don’t. As the landowners, these are our decisions to make. In our territory, it is the province and industry who must ask us for permission, not the other way around. The discussion with the province should no longer be consultation and impact benefits (low level jobs and contracts), it’s about ownership and jurisdiction. It is certainly not appropriate for the AFN, Manitoba NDP, or the current sitting Grand Chief of the Cree to act this way in our territory.

If we are truly to empower one another, let’s start by respecting the sovereignty and laws of our respective Nations.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Worst Thing That Could Happen is a First Nation Minister of AANDC

Justin Trudeau will be sworn in as Prime Minister on November 4 and the question that seems to be dominating social media is whether or not he will appoint a First Nation person as the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC). Ever since contact, colonial officials sought out individual “Indians” to act on the Crown’s behalf in various contexts – as cultural and language interpreters, military scouts, and spies. In a modern context, Canadian officials have resorted to manipulating individual Chiefs to promote federal initiatives that they know run counter to our Aboriginal and treaty rights or will be met with mass resistance. This divide-and-conquer technique of pitting First Nations against First Nations has always been used to help the Crown deflect attention from the Crown’s culpability on any given issue. The worst thing that could happen for the promised nation to nation relationship is if Prime Minister Trudeau appointed a First Nation person as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).

Sometimes people misunderstand the role of Crown representatives. There is no doubt that diversity on cultural, gender, and regional fronts  helps the government be more representative of the public, better inform policy and decision-making, and make for a more productive and effective government. The research shows that this is true in both matters of government and business. However, outside of considerations of governance, Crown representatives are always Crown representatives. They are there to protect the interests of the Crown. They may have been elected by a specific constituency and can represent them politically or advocate on their behalf, but Cabinet Ministers are “Ministers of the Crown”. Therefore, even the Minister of AANDC is there to represent - first and foremost - the interests of the Crown – whether the person is First Nation or not.

That said, it is true that the Supreme Court of Canada has added to the Crown’s obligations to First Nations in specific circumstances. Some of these special considerations include fiduciary obligations attached to the honour of the Crown, which gets expressed in a variety of ways from having to act in good faith, consulting with First Nations, and honouring commitments. However, it must be remembered that Members of Parliament owe their duty to “the system”, i.e., the Constitution, the rule of law, and all regulations imposed by Parliamentarians. Yet it is this “system” which has been found by numerous commissions, reports and investigations to be racist, exclusionary, and oppressive to First Nations. Thus, the very act of being a Cabinet Minister, therefore, sets him/her directly against First Nation interests. This is evident in the hundreds of court cases which name the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Canada against First Nations. In every single case, Canada litigates AGAINST First Nations. Changing the face of the Minister won't change this fact nor does it change the racist system itself, which is the underlying problem. The Indian Act and thousands of federal laws, regulations and policies are still in place. It just looks less offensive – but putting a nicer face on it doesn’t make it any better and can actually cause more harm.

If Trudeau is truly serious about a Nation to Nation relationship with First Nations, then he needs to come to the table in an honest way. Canada doesn’t need to portray its Cabinet Ministers to be anything other than what they are: they represent the Crown’s interests, not ours. Let’s have true nation to nation meetings with representatives of the Crown and move forward from there. It will be up to the First Nation side to how they wish to negotiate as Nations – either as larger Nations, i.e. Mi’kmaw Nation, Haudenosaunee, or Maliseet Nation; or whether they wish to represent their collective nation-based interests by way of region, treaty or otherwise. Let First Nations do the work of their Nations and Canada focus on how it will move forward in a more just way - beyond the lethal status quo.

While we heard a great deal from the AFN about Nation to Nation relationships, their political actions betrayed them. Secret meetings between the National Chief and the Minister of AANDC do not equate to a nation to nation relationship. In fact, secret meetings, surprise announcements about deals with Canada, and a complete failure to call Canada out for its destructive, assimilatory agenda, was part of the AFN’s undoing. But it had to happen as it is the grassroots people who are the true governments of their Nations. The people simply took their power back and told their leaders that sovereignty starts with each Nation – not with a national political organization. Canada would never allow a political corporation to represent its interests in nation-based issues – why would we? Thanks to Idle No More movement, our grassroots people have empowered themselves to take a stand against all who threaten our sovereignties, jurisdictions, lands, cultures and identities. It doesn’t look like our people are willing to let things go back to the way they were. Trudeau will have to find a way to deal with this new reality if he expects to fully realize a nation to nation relationship.

To appoint a First Nation Minister of Aboriginal Affairs will divide our Nations, and set us up to be for or against the “First Nations” Minister – a situation none of us want to be in. It will also act as a media distraction for more important issues, like murdered and missing Indigenous women or children in care. It will also unfairly make this Minister and this Minister alone, the target of all anger, criticism, and blame when things go wrong in the relationship. It would make Canadians lose sight that the fault is not in the Minister, but in the system and the entire Cabinet which keeps this unjust system in place.

It’s time for the Crown to act honourably and come to the table in an honest and open way. Putting a First Nation Member of Parliament as Minister will not help us move back to nation to nation relations, but distract from that goal. Real change requires a radical departure from the old divide-and-conquer tactics of the past. In the end, Trudeau, his Cabinet, and the entire federal government must realize that the hard work that lies ahead to make amends for the harms done to First Nations; the committed effort needed to address this racist and oppressive system; and the sacrifices needed to restore justice in Canada is a burden that must be borne by Canada, and Canada alone. If we have learned anything from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is that First Nations have carried the burden of injustice for far too long and at too great a price.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Source of Our Power Has Always Been in our People - Not Voting in Federal Elections

Since Canada is now in full blown election mode, one issue that has been getting as much attention as the election itself is the question of whether or not First Nations should vote. Some advocates claim that if all “Aboriginal people” voted, they could influence as many as 50/338 ridings. Those against voting question those numbers but also challenge the claim that how we exercise our “power” is by voting. As for me, I choose not to vote and do not believe that we should rest our hope on a federal election any more than we should an Assembly of First Nations (AFN) election. The whole point of sovereignty is that Indigenous Nations must assert, live, and defend our sovereignty, jurisdiction, and right of self-determination – not vote for federal politicians to do that for us.

I have had many lively debates with my family and friends about this issue and have heard a wide range of perspectives from Chiefs, elders, and community members all over Canada and the United States. There is certainly no consensus on the issue of voting in federal, provincial or state elections, nor should one expect there to be. As diverse, sovereign Nations, with distinct cultures, laws, values, governing systems, and traditions, we should expect as wide a variety of opinions as there would be at the United Nations on any given issue. I have never looked at the issue of voting as right or wrong – it’s just that we all have different views about how best to advocate for our people. I don’t think we should vote – others think we should. It's not lateral violence, disrespect, or a radical boycott to believe firmly in sovereignty and choose to withdraw from oppressive Canadian processes.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of our people who vote in elections or run as Members of Parliament do so with the best of intentions. They want the best for our people and see voting as an opportunity to get rid of the worst government this country has ever seen, or as a chance to vote for someone who is promising change. I look at heroes like the former MP Elijiah Harper who stopped the Meech Lake Accord, or current MP Romeo Saganash who worked on a bill to make the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples l(UNDRIP) aw in Canada. Some of the most dedicated Indigenous activists whom I respect and admire also promote voting. This issue is not personal, nor should we allow it to be divisive. We owe it to each other to vehemently assert and defend strategic ways to advocate for our people – we just have different ideas about it.

I believe strongly in our sovereignty and right of self-determination as Indigenous Nations. The United Nations emphasizes that we not only have the right of self-determination, but that this includes the right to freely determine our political status. That means we choose how we want to relate to the Canadian state – as citizens, Nations or something else. It is internationally recognized law that citizens don’t sign treaties with their nation-states – treaties are reserved for Nation to Nation relations. Both the Royal Proclamation of 1763 (which is now constitutionally-protected) and the historical treaties recognize our status as Nations. When I think about how I want to be represented at the negotiation table with Canada, I would much rather engage in Nation to Nation negotiations than as a stakeholder, interest group, or ethnic minority Canadian citizen.

Being a Canadian citizen has historically meant giving up one’s Indigenous identity, culture, spirituality, traditions, customs, practices, connection to the land, community, and Nation. For a short period, this was a voluntary choice – but for the majority of history, this has been a choice made for us by often brutal means. Defending our lands in Mi’kmaw territory meant being scalped. Speaking our languages in residential schools meant beatings, starvation, and sometimes death. Giving life to new generations of our people meant forced sterilizations for our women or the theft of our children by the thousands into foster care. We were never advocating for citizenship and voting – we were advocating to protect our sovereignty, lands, and peoples. When my father fought in WWII, he did so as part of our treaty obligation to defend the lands and peoples - not to gain a vote in federal elections. Our treaties are with the Queen, not Harper.

Even once Canadian citizenship and voting rights were forced on us in the 1960’s, these rights did not afford us equal protection of Canadian law or justice. We have an ongoing crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women, over-representation of our people in prisons, the highest rate of children in care, and socio-economic indicators have declined over the last 25 years. Every federal and provincial government that has ever been in power has failed to address any of these urgent social issues, let alone recognize Aboriginal title or Aboriginal and treaty rights. Voting in the oppressor’s regime has, not surprisingly, failed to end oppression. Yet, those in power in Canada would have us believe that our power comes from voting for them – as if they represent our Nations.

This leads to a very important question about power. Where does our power as Indigenous Nations to make change come from? Is it federal recognition as “willing partners” or “good Indians”, Indian status cards, voter registration cards, or the election of an MP of your political choice? Surely if this was the source of our power, we really would have died off a long time ago – as was the original policy objective. But if I listen to all the elders, former activists, youth and leaders, I have to conclude that we never would have survived Canada’s elimination and assimilation policies if we did not have a firm commitment to our identities, cultures, and sovereignty as Nations. Even today, for those who vote - they are voting for which party will be our next Minister of Indian Affairs. The political players are really secondary considerations given the complex construct of laws and policies and economic structures that exist to deny us our basic human rights, let alone our Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Our greatest source of power has always been and always will be in our people. It is our collectives that have kept our Indigenous Nations strong, helped us survive these long dark winters under colonialism, and have offered the best hope of change for the future. The most exciting and transformative times in our recent history have not been tied to voting in federal elections, but were linked to our very public collective actions against Canadian processes. Take for example the nation-wide protests against the 1969 White Paper which set out to assimilate First Nations; the Constitution Express against the constitutional talks of the 1980’s which were set to exclude First Nations; and most recently with Idle No More against Harper’s suite of legislation intent on destroying the environment. The power of our people even inspired Canadians to work alongside us in solidarity to protect our lands and waters, and basic human rights. Unions, teachers, doctors, scientists, academics, lawyers, and other civil society groups have all joined forces to demand justice in Canada for all – including First Nations.
Canada’s last best hope at protecting our lands and waters for future generations rests with First Nations, not the other way around. First Nations voting in federal elections will not bring about the change we need. From the robo-call scandal, to changes in electoral rules to massive corporate infiltration of political parties – any concept of democracy in Canada is an illusion. Until the system is changed, voting in a corrupt system won’t bring about justice. That is why it is so important to this debate to focus on the facts - simply voting under a belief that it will solve these issues is not helpful. Some important clarifications:
(1) To say "If all Aboriginal people voted" is not possible or realistic. Not all Canadians vote, why would anyone assume all Indigenous people would?
(2) In Canada's voting system you have to vote for an MP - you don't actually vote for Prime Minister. This means, you would blindly vote for a political party, even if the MP him/herself was a crook. This has happened.
(3) Election laws have changed to make it harder to vote for First Nations.
(4) Electoral ridings have been changed for this election changing voter composition and number. Had the new ridings applied in last election, Conservatives would have gained 22 extra seats. Conservatives won the last election with 166 seats. For this election, they could lose 18 seats and still hold a majority government.
(5) There is no direct link between voting and the reduction in poor socio-economic outcomes for First Nations as claimed by National Chief Bellegarde. Harper's Conservatives had some very prominent Indigenous MPs and a Senator who towed the assimilatory party line.
(6) Indigenous peoples are not apathetic. They have higher voter turn outs in their First Nation elections than Canadians do in their elections. Not voting in federal elections is not an issue of apathy or "lack of education" as National Chief Bellegarde claims.
(7) Justice for Indigenous peoples should never be tied to forcing our participation in Canadian political processes. Our Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected under international law and pre-exist Canadian laws and political parties.

That being said, I agree that the “Stalinesque” Prime Minister Harper must go. The situation is so critical in Canada that if he is not removed now, he could continue to do irreparable harm to Canada – which is bad for all of us. I understand the urgent call for everyone who possibly can vote, to vote out Harper. I think we can all agree that getting rid of Harper is one of the most important things Canadians can do to save their democratic institutions. . Harper is, after all, enacting unconstitutional laws, selling natural resources to foreign countries, and committing grave injustices and human rights abuses in our territories. As treaty signatories, we committed to protecting settlers from harm. Some of us feel that we have an obligation to act – the only difference of opinion is what that action should look like.

I would never tell someone not to vote, nor would I tell them not to run for a position as MP. I’m just saying that I won’t do that and if someone asked me what they should do, I would tell them that the best place to put all our energy is into our Nations. We should use all our education, skills, experience, knowledge, time, money and energy into advocating for our people, supporting our activists and leaders, healing our illnesses, rebuilding our communities, protecting our cultures and identities, defending the health of our lands and waters, and strengthening our Nations.
Some Indigenous peoples believe that voting is the best way to address Harper’s frightening dictatorial regime, while others believe that resisting and withdrawing from Canada’s oppressive processes and strengthening our Nations is a better focus for our energy. That debate won’t be settled any time soon, and that’s okay. I think most of us can agree that the power of our people working in solidarity together – Canadians and First Nations – can force the changes we need to turn this ship around and restore justice in Canada for the benefit of our current and future generations. My actions don't include voting, but I stand in solidarity with First Nations and civil society groups who are calling on Canadians to vote out Harper and demand better of whatever political party succeeds.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

United Nations Human Rights Committee Critiques Canada's Human Rights Violations of Indigenous Peoples

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its Concluding Observations on Canada's sixth report in relation to Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (advanced unedited version). While it commended recent legislation adopted by individual provinces in relation to human rights, there was no overall commendation for Canada. In fact, the majority of the report expressed numerous concerns about Canada's failures in relation to the basic human rights of Indigenous peoples.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee directed Canada to "widely disseminate" this report among judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, civil society, non-governmental organizations and the general public. It is not likely that Canada will do so, therefore, here is a summary of some of their concerns and key recommendations specific to Indigenous peoples:


Concern: "persisting inequalities between women and men" including "high level of the pay gap" which is more pronounced for Indigenous women and the "underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sectors";

(a) guarantee equal pay for equal work, with special focus on Indigenous women;
(b) promote better representation of women in leadership;


Concern: "continued high prevalence of domestic violence in the State party, in particular violence against women and girls, that mostly affects indigenous and minority women" as well as insufficiency of shelters and failure of police to investigate and prosecute;

(a) make efforts to "firmly combat" domestic violence against women in all forms, especially Indigenous women;
(b) investigate all reported cases and follow through with prosecutions;
(c) increase shelters and support services;


Concern: "indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected by life-threatening forms of violence, homicides and disappearances" and Canada's "failure to provide adequate and effective responses" and failure to provide information about their investigations, prosecutions and punishments of those responsible;

(a) conduct a national inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in consultation with Indigenous women's organizations and families;
(b) review its legislation to prevent further murders and disappearances;
(c) investigate & prosecute offenders & provide reparations to victims;
(d) address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls;


Concern: "excessive use of force by law enforcement officers during mass arrests in the context of protests at federal and provincial levels, with particular reference to indigenous land-related protests" as well as concerns about "complaints not always promptly investigated and the lenient nature of sanctions imposed";

(a) ensure all allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police investigated;
(b) need strong independent oversight bodies with adequate resources;
(c) those responsible are prosecuted and punished with appropriate penalties;


Concern: "potential extinguishment of indigenous land rights and titles" and the number of years of unresolved land disputes places financial burden on Indigenous peoples and "Indigenous peoples are not always consulted" on legislation that impacts our lands and rights;

(a) seek free informed and prior consent for legislation and actions that impacts our lands and rights;
(b) resolve land and resource disputes.


Concern: "slow" pace at which Canada is removing gender discrimination in the Indian Act thereby preventing Indigenous women and their descendants from transmitting Indian status equally with men

(a) remove all remaining discriminatory effects of Indian Act for Indigenous women and children so they enjoy rights of Indian status on equal footing with men;


Concern: "disproportionately high rate of incarceration of indigenous people, including women, in federal and provincial prisons across Canada"

(a) prevent excessive use of incarceration of Indigenous peoples;
(b) wherever possible use alternatives to detention (including serving sentences in communities);


Concern: "risk of disappearances of indigenous languages", "lack of access to basic needs", lack of funding for child welfare, and not all students of residential schools have been given redress;

(a) implement and reinforce programs to provide basic needs;
(b) programs to preserve Indigenous languages; and
(c) provide child and family services on reserve with sufficient funding;
(d) implement TRC recommendations;

Canada should be ashamed that it has such a poor record on protecting the basic human rights of Indigenous peoples - especially in relation to Indigenous women and children. It is a disgrace that Canada sits with other countries, like Mexico, for the continued murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls. Even after decades of litigation, Canada has still has not addressed Indian Act gender discrimination which excludes thousands of children of Indigenous women. Canada has no defense for its discriminatory under-funding of First Nations children in care which causes hardship for our most vulnerable. The extreme poverty, over-representation of our people in prison, dying languages, and Canada's continued failure to respect our Indigenous rights and title have all been noticed by the United Nations as violations of our basic human rights.

It is long past the time for Canada to address these long-standing human rights violations of Indigenous peoples - this is not the Canada anyone envisioned - including our mutual ancestors who signed peace and friendship treaties.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

My Brief for the Human Rights Committee's Concluding Observations of Canada: Clarifications Related to Canada's Testimony

Corporate Social Responsibility

In the review, Canada stated that international treaties ratified by Canada are not binding law in Canada. Canada also stated that Canadian companies doing business abroad are expected to demonstrate Canadian values and follow applicable human rights laws. However, if the State does not consider ICCPR applicable law in Canada, then its corporate entities would have no reason to respect the human rights contained therein. 

I would thus recommend that the Committee both clarify the UN’s position in this regard and recommend to Canada to specifically implement the ICCPR into domestic law.

Gender Equality

In the review Canada stated that it is committed to gender equality and claimed that women make 91% of what men make. In fact, the national wage gap in Canada is 18%, much higher than other countries. In some provinces like Ontario, that gap can reach 31%. The gap is significantly higher for Indigenous peoples at 30% compared to average Canadian, and in some areas of Canada, the gap is as high as 88%. 

I would recommend that the Committee recommend that Canada undertake specific measures and develop specific targets and measures to address sex discrimination generally and the wage gap specifically.

The Federal Court of Appeal in McIvor case confirmed gender discrimination, but Canada enacted Bill C-3 without consulting with First Nations, and which specifically denied any compensation for Indigenous women impacted. Indigenous women and descendants are the only group in Canada that has ever been denied compensation for a Charter right violation. 

The Committee should also recommend that Canada negotiate a compensation package for all the Indigenous women and their descendants reinstated by Bill C-3 for loss of services (education, housing, health benefits, training). 

Violence against Indigenous Women

Canada stated that one measure to combat violence against Indigenous women are the 40 shelters on reserve. It should be noted that there are 633 reserves in Canada, which means there are shelters in less than 6% of on-reserve communities. Canada also portrayed the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women as one of crime, when domestic and UN reports have confirmed the root causes are in Canada’s discriminatory laws and policies, the culture of violence against Indigenous women, and the chronic and discriminatory underfunding of essential human services, like food, water, housing, education and health. 

I would recommend that the Committee support the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, IACHR and CEDAW to develop a national action plan to address the socio-economic conditions which result in the disproportionate vulnerability to violence in partnership with Indigenous communities and Indigenous women’s organizations and commit to a national inquiry.

Indigenous Children in Care

Canada submitted that it does not know what factors are at play to explain the gross over-representation of Indigenous children in state care. 50% of all children in care in Canada are Indigenous, despite being only 4% of the population and represent 90% of children in care in provinces like Manitoba. Canada’s own studies have shown that the root causes are poverty, the chronic underfunding of child and family services for First Nations on reserve, inter-generational trauma from residential schools and state discrimination. 

I would recommend that the Committee recommend that Canada fund Indigenous Child and Family Services at levels no less than provincial levels, with extra funding to address the backlog and volume of cases and for additional Indigenous staff, training, and infrastructure for CFS services on reserve with a focus of keeping children in their families, communities and cultures.

Indian Act Sex Discrimination

Canada stated in its response to the List of Issues at para.125 that: “the Indian registration provisions in the current Indian Act do not discriminate against women”. When questioned by Committee about unresolved sex discrimination in the Act, it responded that Bill C-3 was “a step forward” and “no one sees it as anywhere near being concluded”, but that Canada prefers an “incremental approach”. This is not a good faith application of either domestic or international law obligations in relation to gender equality. Practically, this means Canada prefers to defend lengthy and costly law suits which take upwards of 25 years to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. There is no justifiable reason for Indigenous women and their descendants to wait 139 years for the Act to be slowly amended to eliminate gender discrimination. 

Indigenous women and their descendants are already impoverished and without Indian status, miss out on health benefits, post-secondary education, and other social programs critical to their health, safety, and well-being; which we already know makes them vulnerable to violence. Canada also stated that they have a “Special Rapporteur” that is currently “consulting” with First Nations on how to clean up the Indian Act discrimination. This is simply not true – and if it has done so, they have not informed anyone. 

I would recommend that the Committee recommend to Canada that it amend the Indian Act to eliminate all sex discrimination in the Indian Act’s registration provisions and it could start by immediately by amending the registration provisions as follows:

(a)    remove the 1951 cut-off and ensure that all direct descendants on the female Aboriginal line, born prior to April 17, 1985, are accorded the same 6(1) status as the descendants on the male line;

(b)   ensure that no one born prior to April 17, 1985 who is entitled to status is consigned to s. 6(2) status;

(c)    ensure that entitlement to 6(1) status is extended to the female child of the status man and non-status woman who were unmarried; and

(d) all administrative barriers are removed so that unmarried status Indian women are able to transmit their Indian status to their children, even if the father is unstated.

Police Misconduct

In responding to various concerns raised in Committee related to sex discrimination, violence against Indigenous women, and police misconduct, Canada failed to mention the major class action suit filed against the RCMP by female staff and officers for sex discrimination. It failed to mention the Human Rights Watch report which documented instances of RCMP sexually and physically assaulted Indigenous girls. It also did not mention the Donald Marshall Inquiry, Manitoba Justice Inquiry or Ipperwash Inquiry which all found that racism against Indigenous peoples in Canada’s police forces is a major problem that has yet to be addressed. 

I would recommend that the Committee recommend that Canada develop a more robust and transparent oversight mechanism for all police forces that is completely independent from both political and police interference which a specific focus on and Indigenous ombudsperson for Indigenous peoples.


In the review, Canada did not orally respond to the question in committee about whether Canada has changed domestic law and policy to align with its endorsement of UNDRIP. In Canada’s Statement of Support it states: (1) it is an aspirational document (2) it’s not legally binding in Canada (3) it does not reflect customary international law (4) it does not change Canadian law. When former Minister of Indian Affairs John Duncan was questioned on the impact of UNDRIP, he responded that Canada has its "own agenda" and as a result does not "anticipate any significant change". Canada’s endorsement of UNDRIP is not done in good faith or with intention to have any practical effect. 

I would thus recommend that the Committee recommend to Canada that Canada implement the UNDRIP in good faith.

Indigenous Languages

In the review, Canada stated that the reason for Indigenous language loss included migration and the media. The real cause of language loss stems from Canada’s assimilatory laws and policies, like residential schools, which tortured, abused and shamed children for speaking their languages. Indigenous languages were literally beaten out of many generations of Indigenous children. Canada admitted this in its residential school apology: “The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.”

Immediately after this apology, Canada cut funding to Indigenous languages further exacerbating the problem. Canada’s legal and economic promotion and support of English and French has not been extended to the same degree for Indigenous languages and they have no data to show that their minimal efforts in this regard have increased language use. In fact, Canada’s $5 million/year language budget amounts to less than $5 per Indigenous person in Canada annually. It is simply impossible to save languages at this token level. 

I would recommend that the Committee supports the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and recommend that Canada provide immediate and significant funding to First Nations on par with funding that supports English and French languages, to ensure immersion and adult programs in every First Nation in Canada.

Submitted by Dr. Pamela D. Palmater, Mi'kmaw Nation, sponsored by Franciscans International, on July 9, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.


                              (Some of the NGOs in Geneva Switzerland)

After hearing a great deal of misinformation and non-answers from Canada during the United Nations Human Rights Committee's review of Canada's obligations under ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights); some of the NGO's (non-governmental organizations) that attended asked if we could submit clarifications to the committee before they conclude their review. We were given permission to do so, and some of us submitted briefs which were to be no longer than one page. My original submission contains footnotes and links to sources not provided here.

Some of the other NGO's (like FAFIA and Amnesty International), made clarifications and recommendations related to various issues, some of which included:

- addressing homelessness as part of the right to life;

- insufficient review and oversight of security and law enforcement under Bill C-51

- the need to support unanimous recommendations by all international human rights bodies recommending a national inquiry and action plan on murdered and missing Indigenous women; 

- need to Canada to respect laws related to free, informed and prior consent of Indigenous peoples for land use, including extractive industries;

-  removal of sex discrimination from the Indian Act registration provisions; and 

- clarifications around the skewed RCMP statistics which try to paint a discriminatory picture of Indigenous peoples.

Canada was given 48 hours to submit written material to supplement their oral testimony. The Committee's conclusions are due July 23, 2015.

Monday, July 6, 2015

My Submission to United Nations Human Rights Committee on Canada's Human Rights Violations

Statement of Pamela Palmater
to the
114th Human Rights Committee Session:
Formal Briefing on Canada

(July 6, 2015 Geneva, Switzerland)

Kwe, n’in teluisi Pam Palmater. I am from the sovereign Indigenous Nation of the Mi’kmaq in Mi’kma’ki, Canada. I am here as an impacted Indigenous individual thanks to the support of Franciscans International. Today I would like to testify to three urgent situations related to Canada’s obligations under the Covenant which are also raised in the joint submission presented by the NGO Mining Working Group in response to the List of Issues which I fully support:

First, the criminalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada for our human rights advocacy and defense of our lands.

Federal and provincial laws and regulations have criminalized Indigenous peoples’ traditional occupations and trade economies by making it illegal to hunt, fish, gather or use our natural resources within our traditional, treaty, title, trapping or reserve lands. Engaging in Indigenous rights advocacy or defense of the environment to protect the health of our lands, waters, plants, animals and people also results in our public vilification, beatings, arrests, imprisonment, and/or deaths.

The incarceration rate for Indigenous peoples is 10 times higher than the national average. Since 2000, the Indigenous inmate population has increased by over 56% and in some prisons, represent as much as 65% of the inmate population. The Government’s own studies have consistently concluded that it is the result of racism in Canada’s justice system.

The recently enacted Anti-Terrorism Act (C-51) threatens to treat peaceful Indigenous activists as potential terrorists. There are several examples in which Canada’s Ministers, military, and RCMP have already labelled First Nations as “insurgents”, “eco-terrorists” and “threats to national security.” Given this context, we feel that we will be targeted under this law if we continue our traditional practices.

Second, the Committee ought to emphasize the growing crisis of poverty and discriminatory treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Despite being less than 4% of the population, Indigenous children make up nearly 50% of all children in state care (90% in Manitoba). 73% of all water systems in First Nations are at high risk – for those that have running water. The majority of houses on reserve are in need of major repair and/or overcrowded (upwards of 25 people to a home). Indigenous peoples suffer higher rates of ill health, accidents, and injuries and have some of the highest suicide rates in the world. Indigenous women and girls are over-represented in those that are murdered or missing – 16% nationally, but as high as 55% in provinces like Saskatchewan. Indigenous peoples have lower rates of education and employment and live 7-20 years less than Canadians.

As different UN mechanisms have consistently found, this crisis is particularly jarring in a wealthy and highly developed country like Canada - especially since the majority of the wealth comes from Indigenous lands.The situation is aggravated by the Government’s failure to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights, to remedy harms, and to properly fund Indigenous institutions.

Third and finally, I emphasize Canada’s failure to consult with Indigenous peoples regarding legislation and actions impacting Indigenous lands and waters.

Despite decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada directing Canada to consult, accommodate, and obtain the consent of Indigenous peoples, Canada has unilaterally limited debate and refused to consult with Indigenous peoples on legislation which impacts our inherent, Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Peaceful civil actions by Indigenous peoples to protect lands and waters from clear-cutting, mining, hydro-fracking or pipelines are met with heavy RCMP intervention. State law enforcement is used to protect state subsidized corporations to engage in the extraction of Indigenous lands, waters and resources without our consent, to our social and economic detriment, to the destruction of our lands and waters and in violation of our human rights.

Together with the NGO Mining Working Group, I urge the Committee to consider the following recommendations for Canada:

(1) Repeal Bill C-51 Anti-Terrorism Act and all recent legislation unilaterally imposed on Indigenous peoples and start a comprehensive study and consultative process in partnership with Indigenous peoples;

(2) Develop independent and more robust oversight, reporting, and redress mechanisms for Canada’s national security activities, law enforcement, and surveillance of Indigenous peoples and other environmental and human rights defenders;

(3) Take all measures necessary to ensure that all domestic and international extractive activities by Canadian corporations comply with human rights obligations, including obtaining the free, informed and prior consent of Indigenous peoples;

(4) Provide adequate funding to Indigenous peoples to address the multiple, over-lapping crises in education, health, housing, food, water, infrastructure, flooding;

(5) Take emergency action to address structural discrimination especially the over-representation of Indigenous children in care; murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls; and the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples; and

(6) Implement treaties, address outstanding claims of lands and resources; and develop a more equitable revenue sharing structure in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

(    Note: 

                          (Sharon McIvor and I at the United Nations in Geneva)

The Committee only allows 3 minutes to present. Therefore, all presenters had to pick only 2 or 3 core issues to discuss. I could not read the entirety of even this small submission, so I hit the highlights of the issue and read the recommendations. Sharon McIvor was there to make a submission on two issues: murdered and missing Indigenous women and sex discrimination against Indigenous women and their descendants in the Indian Act registration provisions. Art Manuel presented on self-determination and Canada's failures in this regard. Amnesty International spoke on a variety of issues, one of which was Bill C-51 and recommending its repeal.