Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Justice delayed is justice denied.....

The current explosion relating to indigenous issues in Canada these past two years; is a culmination of lost words made 250 years ago by a British crown and those First Nations living in what is now Canada and the United States. Today, Canadian citizens find themselves confronted by a federal government who firmly believes that economic prosperity entails the end of indigenous inherent treaty rights; and curtailing the right of First Nations’ to protest, advocate and indicate to those who are willing to listen; that the means does not justify the end.
  Broadcasts and media publishing companies are at the forefront of the issue; either for or against proposals by the Conservatives to pursue their agenda with respect to the “Indian problem.”  Why this ‘problem’ continues to exist is an affirmation of First Nations’ resiliency in the face of oppression. None believed the Indian Act to survive much more than a generation. In fact it was created not to; and to this end we might say that the resiliency of a people to raise their fist and keep up the ‘good fight’ is the only reason why Canadians continue to struggle with what to do about First Nations. 
  Much is made in reference to the type of governance of reserves; yet hardly any Canadian is made aware that Chief and Councils on reserves were instruments in which to control and assimilate indigenous peoples. These pesky realities are major annoyances; they get in the way of progress. Media reports of mismanagement of funds elicit feelings of anger, among Canadians; they expect First Nations to assimilate; or make of it on their own.
  Disinterest in politics is not difficult to ascertain from a First Nation’s point of view, and it is incredibly taxing for the average Canadian. Few if any tangible changes are made by federal elections, and for good reason: they represent less than one percent of the population. As a point of reference, First Nations peoples had the right to vote and retain their inherent treat rights, only since July, 1960.
"That's what the whole exercise was about. It was to make us Canadians, and we never had a discussion about that… I think people want to participate in Canadian society, but they need to participate on conditions (nation to nation) that they entered into with the Crown..." - Bill Erasmus, national chief of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories."
  There are many who make light of the 1969 ‘white paper’. The question of extinguishing inherent and delegated treaty rights tabled by Pierre Elliot Trudeau-Leader of the Liberal Party drew many First Nations to mobilize and reaffirm what was negotiated by their forefathers. The white paper was to, “Transfer responsibility for Indian Affairs from the federal government to the provinces…” explained preeminent Kahnawake Mohawk, aboriginal policy analyst, Russell Diablo. Successive Minister Conferences attempting to identify, and define Sections 35 of the Canadian Constitution (’83,’84, ‘85,’87) were inconclusive. Constitutional amendments (Meech Lake 1987 and Charlottetown 1992) ended in failure. 
  Harper is proving his mettle in regards to indigenous issues; claiming to be in favor for positive change. Conservative legislation and policies towards First Nations have been far from being favorable. What is both astounding and alarming is his ability to control and manipulate an outcome that best reflect his agenda.
 “…They don’t want us to get out of that box (Indian Act) and that’s what these policies are about…getting our leaders to sign off on it and getting us as people to ratify what our leaders are signing off on. That’s how it works.”-Russell Diablo.
Under the terms of Canada’s Comprehensive Claims and Self-Government policies; First Nations funding agreements will be dependent on indigenous peoples agreeing to terminate their inherent aboriginal and treaty rights for the promise of future funding. The Conservatives are opting to severely restrict the ability for First Nations to review, analyze and challenge legislative bills. And this is in addition to legislation introduced in 2012 (Bill-C45 Bill-C27, Bill S-2…among others) that further diminishes First Nations’ ability to protect their lands, waterways and environment. It reiterates the importance of how dysfunctional Canadians remain in terms of acknowledging inherent treaty rights. 
  An article published by the CBC on March 24, 2014 describes Bob Hennebury (fisherman) challenging the legitimacy of treaty rights altogether. This is a ‘one…two’ punch approach in which the Conservative agenda under the leadership of its Prime Minister; is to create the right set of rules that would revert reservations land into ‘simple’ lands.
Of the 35 million inhabitants in Canada; one million are comprised of First Nations people. At fact which is not lost on those who advocate on their behalf, “I think that we have to do is re-structure Canada, because they’re not going anywhere. So we need some allies that agree with us that we can change the country to be just and fair.”-Russell Diablo.
  First Nations are taking their concerns and fight on the international stage; trying to stop the development and exploitation of Canada’s natural resources within the countries of origin. The tactics employed by First Nation advocacy groups and individuals are making other countries aware that Canada is faltering and in fact oppressing its indigenous population. Are the measures enough to shame Canada into action? One could surmise that maintaining a continued pressure by INM and international communities is forcing the Conservative government to pay attention. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has been accepted in 2010; but its interpretation is being challenged by the Conservative government. 
  As a band member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (Pukatawagan) in Northern Manitoba, Clayton Thomas-Muller 

Clayton Thomas-Muller
has advocated on behalf of First Nations for many years. Thomas-Muller presently is focusing his energies highlighting the unsustainable rate of natural resources extraction in Canada and the United States. Sitting on multiple boards (Global Justice Ecology Project, Canadian based Raven Trust, and Navajo Nation based Black Mesa Water Coalition) Thomas-Muller is passionate about First Nations issues, and the environment.
“Just yesterday a major cobalt mining company pulled out of their intention to mine in the Ring of Fire (northern Ontario); and they cited the fact that they pulled out because they felt that there was too much risk and uncertainty because of the government’s failure to mitigate aboriginal title claims in that region.”
Decisions made by international natural resource companies’ signify that they have heard Thomas-Muller’s message. As president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)-Scott Vaughn spoke to the issue hosted by the McGill University on February 7, 2014. “…First Nation peoples have a veto-like say over major resource development projects. This veto is not from an operational legal process, as is reflected in the above Supreme Court decision. Instead, it suggests that if First Nations oppose a major project, then it is almost impossible that that project will be built: I think this will have tremendous implications for the next steps in the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project… Real gains in conservation in Canada in the past decade have come almost exclusively when First Nations have been involved, and conservation initiatives that have excluded First Nations-have collapsed.”

Large segments of mainstream Canadians are either ambivalent or do not feel it necessary to protest, and actively participate in civil disobedience rallies across the country. Those who choose to align themselves and promote indigenous causes are portrayed as anti-Canadians. Within INM there has been some controversy as to identifying Canadians who support their cause. Settler allies seem to be the most popular term in describing those who are not of indigenous descent. Ironically; the term has also alienated the very people First Nations so desperately need to join them within a much larger social context.
   Battles are raging over social internet sites such as Facebook; and the rhetoric as to the legitimacy over one term versus the other is creating a real divide. Canadians unjustly view First Nations as lazy, replete with elements of crime, and higher rates of substance abuse. The notion that indigenous peoples; especially (young women) would rather ‘pop out babies after babies’ in order to receive greater welfare cheques continue to foster feelings of resentment and disdain. There is a growing sentiment among non-indigenous Canadians that continuously supporting First Nations (via their tax base) to be unsustainable.
Aboriginal Affairs spending on Aboriginal matters rose to $7.9-billion in 2012 from $79-million in 1947), or relative to total government program spending, or relative to health benefits provided exclusively to First Nations and Inuit people, taxpayers have been increasingly generous to Canada's Aboriginal peoples.”-Marc Milke, Senior Fellow, the Fraser Institute.
Concentrating on who pays for First Nations is the ‘wedging’ factor the Conservative government has continued to portray in the media. Its systematic omissions, outright denials pertaining to historical acts (residential schools) made under assimilation programs within the Indian Act-have been successful. Settling class action suits made on behalf of school survivors and their families; furthered the Conservative agenda. Many non-indigenous Canadians deny the degree, frequency and duration of abuses suffered by First Nations by members of the clergy…and loathes the fact that they had to pay First Nations at all. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, more than 4000 indigenous children perished in residential schools. It is estimated that 150 000 children were taken between the 1870’s until 1996. The Conservative government continues to resist restitution documents which can fully illustrate the gravity and scope of First Nations children who perished under Residential Schools administrations in Canada.

“I think people can make it OK in their minds when they tell themselves it happened a really long time ago. I think it makes it easier for them to accept. But that’s not the reality.”- Kimberly Murray, Truth and Reconciliation Executive Director.
  During the INM protests in late 2012, and early 2013; blockades and spontaneous ‘round dances’ in malls, in downtown cores of Canadian cities, in the streets and highways provoked and inspired Canadians, “The problem with the barricades, marches, protests and all the other trappings of the militancy associated with the growing INM movement is that it encourages one dangerous idea while discouraging another more productive one.”-David Akin, National Bureau Chief.
  A greater level of organization is the only option left for those who feel strongly about raising the level of consciousness with regard to First Nations issues. Thomas-Muller carries this message throughout his speech engagements in Canada and the United States. Indigenous social activism has long been present before INM; and Thomas-Muller explains INM as a manifestation with a greater purpose.
"INM was never about people that are already hard core rocking and rolling in the movement…for whatever reason INM struck right into the heart of the indifference and  the apathy that has been so prevalent in the native community in our country. The energies (of INM) must be harnessed and directed appropriately and must bring together the right mix of vision, strategy and demographic organizing that the convergence of different movements putting forward a clear vision for radical transformation."
The branding of INM is done; and it is evolving, albeit not in unison. A recent article written by Zig Zag for Warrior Publications on January 17th, 2013 stated that other groups among First Nations are affiliated with big oil. “…chiefs (are) using the (INM) mobilization to achieve their political & economic agenda, an agenda that includes partnering with corporations seeking to exploit oil and gas resources on reserve lands.” Those who choose to participate and prosper under capitalist model economies (such as Chief Fox) are labelled as, “Neo-colonial indigenous elites or more commonly known as ‘Oily Chiefs’. 
  The article written by Zig Zag, maintains that those who collaborate to extract natural resources on treaty lands and form partnerships with foreign nations-to be disingenuous to the movement. It has been remarked that band members sitting on Chief and Councils within their respective reserves-to be self-serving. Other media publications have presented their own views on the issue.
 “…individual communities without the capacity or the inclination to pursue responsible government (Chief and Council) have been allowed to falter without aid from other First Nation leaders. The political umbrella organizations that should be intervening, and thereby reinforcing the legitimacy of aboriginal self-rule, have instead remained silent bystanders. This has prevented these groups from evolving into something more than unwieldy lobbies.”-Dan Lett, Winnipeg Free Press.
  That is to say what Lett and others speak of; is what indigenous people refer to as the ‘ethics of non-interference’. It contrasts remarkably with precepts existing in non-indigenous cultures, “It promotes positive interpersonal relationships by discouraging coercion of any kind, be it physical, verbal or psychological. It stems from a high degree of respect for every individual’s independence and regards interference or restriction of a person’s personal freedom as undesirable behaviour.”
  INM is at the moment perceived in the media, by political pundits, and some activists as-stagnating. In response, multi-partnerships are being coordinated. INM is quite the organization. It boast 300 000 members distributed among 700 chapters. What kind of future lies for First Nations?
  Diablo himself concludes that the major resolve before indigenous peoples is before them, “Can our people get organized enough, disciplined enough to back on this… (Pushing) indigenous self-determination as the remedy for this…-Internationally, as well as nationally.”  
  Thomas-Muller acknowledges that INM has to expand its political base of resistance. He envisions like-minded non-indigenous Canadians to join and participate, “To move us forward a real movement for climate and energy justice.”
It is clear that whatever desired outcome may be for INM it will not manifest itself without contributions, organization and increased activism on the part of non-indigenous Canadians.

No comments:

Post a Comment