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.

 

Comments

  1. Pam, I am so happy that you started this blog, this is an important conversation that needs to be had. I totally agree with you that appointing a First Nation Minister of AANDC is not the answer. That system is built on the destruction and removal of all Indigenous people from Turtle Island and any other part of the world that is of interest to them. This systematic discrimination is deeply entrenched within the legislation and policies that make up very foundation of the Canadian government and especially AANDC. I am Bodewadmi (Pottawatomie) and my wife of 20 years is Haudenosaunee. I have come to learn and respect the Iroquois Confederacy over the years because of their government structure and their resilience to assimilation and colonization of their culture and peoples. I believe that they have it right and have always had the right idea with the Two Row Wampum. If we are going to have a Nation to Nation relationship with Canada then that Two Row agreement needs to be followed, if we start meddling in their boat then we are condoning the meddling they have done in ours since that agreement has been made. Nation to Nation to me means two equal and separate entities working side by side to make our country a better place for all of us. It doesn't mean having a few of our people being put into high paying glorified Indian agent positions, sworn in, to protect the interests of the crown. We can not claim sovereignty while operating under the thumb of the Canadian government and the Indian Act. We need a government structure of our own, made for the people by the people, with representatives from all of our nations that are sworn in to protect all of creation, our lands, our resources, our rights, our people, and most importantly the women because without them there is no life, the elders because they have walked before us, fought before us, sacrificed before us, and they are the knowledge holders, the children because they are our future, and the next seven generations because everything we have here in this life we only borrowed from them and we are supposed to leave it the same way we got it or better; and better does not mean progress and development (destruction of the land, water, and all other resources).

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  2. Could not agree more. This is setting up some unfortunate soul for failure. Are African Canadians only suited to African Affairs portfolios? Are Acadian politicians only capable of addressing language or cultural issues? Seems that in some cases, paternalism is not going quietly into that good night. Thank God the grassroots stood up to be counted. As a proud settler ally, keep stoking the fires!

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  3. I appreciate your insight all of it. I realize the potential of blame, as we see this on a local level in our own communities. But we can not move forward without hope, and optimism. Policies and Legislation need to be changed, absolutely. But without a voice at the table to bring First Nations issues up for discussion or even consideration. How do you suppose we will begin that journey?
    I spoke with a young man from a neighbouring community. He reminded me of the 2 row wampum. He said we, as First Nations People, are to never have one foot in each canoe. If one canoe is to go off in another direction you will end up in the water, his Elders told him. I respect that. But I offer, if we are never to set foot in that canoe, how are we to ensure those canoes continue to travel in parallel? The wampum does not break or stray.
    The duty of the Crown is also to uphold the Honour of the Crown. Part of that Honour includes the Treaties. We need a person with the strength to bring us together. Yes there is residual separation. But those who do not learn from their past, are doomed to repeat it.
    I have to believe in our people. We will overcome, was once the chant that advocated the civil rights movement to our south. And they did. Not by fear, nor by sword, but by strength and honesty. We can live in the past or we can live in the present. We cannot change the past, without a flux capacitor. But we can accept it. We can learn from it. And we can grow, because of it. That what does not kill you, only makes you stronger.
    I believe in the resilience of our people. Otherwise, we would no longer be here. The eyes of the world are on us now. Canada no longer lives in isolation. There are international standards, beliefs, and consciences that now have to be not only considered, but honoured.
    Canada will only grow, with those 2 canoes in unison. I for one, look forward to that brave soul who will lead both.
    Miigwetch

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  4. Well said. A very reasoned perspective! Thanks!

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