Tag Archives: Assembly of First Nations

after the gold rush

residential-school-pic[editor: I changed the title from “education or gold rush?”]

I remember going to school board meetings in Regina and Ottawa (not exactly as shown) in my past life as a reporter.

Boring affairs. Lots of empty seats. A few iffy stories. Mostly, I thought to myself, folks seemed more concerned about everyone else’s kids than their own. Not that different than rez parents.

I was therefore surprised at the amount of jabber-jabber among non-Indigenous types about the First Nations Education Act (FNEA).

First, it’s about (yawn) education.  Second, it’s about (double yawn) First Nations’ education. So why all the online chatter?

Right now, the topic’s just-a-popping especially after last week’s shocking, surprising, and dare I say (yes I do) historic resignation of Shawn Atleo as head of the Assembly of First Nations. He said he wanted to remove himself as a “lightning rod” for opponents of the FNEA.

So what, you say. Why should non-Indigenous types think this concerns them at all?

It doesn’t. But they love to tell Indigenous peoples that they’re a bunch of stubborn, misguided arses and that they’re ruining their own lives and those of  blah blah blah.

Maybe this compensates for frustration, deep feelings of anxiety, impotence and inadequacy at their own lack of control over their own politicians and governments. They got daddy issues, y’see.

If they were half as concerned as they claim, wouldn’t they have asked why First Nations students get about a third less money for education than their own kids? Or why so many FN schools sit on contaminated land, make kids sick from mold and other poisons, don’t provide classes in their own languages, or teach their own histories?

Sorry. I almost put you to sleep, didn’t I? But isn’t that the point?

Knowing all that stuff presumes non-Indigenous folks even care about news from Indian country. Of course, they don’t. Why should they when they got Rob Ford, Mike Duffy and Pauline Marois to entertain and enthrall.

Yet, so many non-Indigenous types get their knickers in a twist about FN education on the rez when their preferred teaching method is apparently provided by Canadian prison guards.

I mean… really? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Choose one or the other. Education in schools? Or longer prison terms? Focus, people!

I’m being cheeky. Still …

I don’t think them hosers are really concerned about FN education or FN students at all. I think they’re really upset about losing control over Indigenous peoples. They’ve a lifetime of comforting stereotypes pounded into their noggins, after all, that “natives” are inferior in nearly every way including how to raise and teach their own children. And ain’t that the very foundation for residential schools?

Face it – there are a lot of hosers who think those schools weren’t all that bad. Eh?

My point is this. The FNEA and a string of other “historic” accomplishments passed by the Harper Government™ since it took power has been less about First Nations’ fiscal accountability, financial transparency, fair elections, matrimonial property rights, or education.

It’s been about the Federal  government blocking, limiting, undermining and avoiding at all costs the recognition of some fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples to control their own lives.

It’s about centuries of White privilege, and fear of losing a tiny bit of that, should Indigenous peoples escape those legal handcuffs so effectively applied by the Indian Act and other government policies.  I mean, just look at the amazing job the Canadian Government’s done so far? Need I say more?

Indigenous peoples already have legal recognition of their inherent rights; in the Aboriginal rights sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights, various decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada and other Canadian courts, in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and under international law.

The problem isn’t legal recognition. It’s Canada’s amazing, technicolor, hypocrisy.

One the one hand, Canada claims: “we respect Aboriginal rights”.

On the one hand, it does its darnedest to tear up those same Aboriginal rights in lengthy, expensive court cases.

Even when it’s been handed very clear, definite judicial smackdowns, the Federal Government’s lawyers will appeal almost with malicious intent.

There. I said it. I believe government lawyers can be petty and malicious. I hope you’re happy.

There seems an unwritten memo floating about the PMO (regardless of political occupant) that says: Deny, deny, deny.

Maybe this is why the Harper Government™ is in such a rush to cut Indians off at the pass. It’s a different kind of “red scare” these days.

Blogs, reports and studies, and headlines rally the troops to plant flags and stake claims before it’s too late. Do it now – before Indigenous peoples get there and demand a share of the wealth. Or at least a seat at the negotiating table.

Sheesh!  I mean, the nerve?! Google shows “about 21,700 results” with the words “Canada”, “Aboriginal rights” and “resource development”. A sizeable chunk warns governments and corporations that snoozers are losers.

It’s the Harper Government’s™ version of THE AMAZING RACE with oil and mining companies scrambling over themselves to get there before the courts step in. “Thar’s gold (oil and other precious minerals) in them thar hills!”  Yee-haw!

Doncha think maybe, just perhaps, that could be why so many chiefs are upset at all the backroom deals and private talks going on between the Assembly of First Nations and the Harper Government™?

The AFN and PMO can use all kinds of fancy blah-blah about “historic” this and that, or yadda-yadda about saving souls, but we know it’s always been about used car salesmen and Indians getting the sh***y end of the stick.

Politics and Indigenous rights – not education or fiscal whatever. Anyone who says different is zoomin’ ya.

Yes, there are fundamental differences – that Great Native Divide; “comprised… of native people who think of themselves as Canadian citizens [and] those who regard themselves as citizens of their respective nations.”

But can that excuse those who think it must be one or the other – all or nothing – with no common ground? Are these the only choices: assimilation or Indigenation?

There are, after all, common Aboriginal rights at stake for adherents of both camps. Protecting and advancing those rights is — and should be — Job # 1 at the AFN. The question is whether this organization of chiefs has been doing that or jumping at carrots dangled by the Harper Government™.

Interesting sidebar: more and more people outside Indian country are becoming interested, learning about and debating these issues. Always a good sign. Welcome to the party, y’all.


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Lessons in the Senate Scandal

It has only been a few days but this Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau thing is driving me nuts. What is going to happen to them? This horse and pony show is driving me crazy.

You’re not alone, my friend. This is being discussed in bars, lunch rooms, and in the back seats of taxis around the country. The whole darn thing has been driving a lot of people nuts for weeks and even months. But what’s this got to do with us Indigenous types, you ask? Everything. It’s a text book lesson in politics, from “the Hill” to the band office.

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head on over…

MI-logo… to mediaIndigena.com. A conversation between myself and the always and lovely – and talented – Rick Harp about Kickstarter crowdfunding and possibilities for political independence at native organizations like the Assembly of First Nations (or not).

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tough act to follow

Harold Tarbell, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) master of ceremonies probably summed it up best: “There are times,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s okay,” he added half-joking after the audience applause had died down a bit, “I’ve stopped crying now.”

He was talking about hundreds of cynical chiefs, their lawyers, staff and advisors, giving not one but two standing ovations. Then a drum group delivered an honor song. All this for a 13-year old white kid. That’s right. Some blonde-haired teenaged kid from Niagara Falls.

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let’s call the whole thing off

Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan has come up with a terrible idea. He thinks it’s a good one. But it isn’t. In fact, it’s such a dumb idea that I think Duncan wants to share some of the stink.

What’s this grand idea? He wants to convene the national Aboriginal organizations (Assembly of First Nations,  Métis National Council, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Native Women’s Association of Canada) to… (wait for it ) help him come up with “fresh ideas” to re-design “status” in the Indian Act.

It’s the latest from Duncan’s Department of Indian Affairs. Read about it here. It comes as Bill C-3, the Federal Government’s reaction to Sharon MacIvor’s 25-year legal fight in British Columbia against discrimination in the Indian Act, is in the Canadian Senate for some sober second thought.

In 1985, Bill C-31 ended the practice of granting status to white women who married Indian men but stripped status from Indian women who married white men. All of their children lost status as well. Bill C-31 made it possible for them to apply to regain their status as registered Indians under the Indian Act. Thousands of people did just that.

That same Bill C-31 left a time-bomb ticking in the form of a “grandmother” clause. Any male or female with status married after 1985 were designated as “6.1” or “6.2” depending on the status of their parents. The children of a mixed marriage (status & non-status) were “6.1”. If they married a non-status, they became a “6.2” and so did their children. If these children married out, well that meant they could kiss their status – their rights as defined by the Indian Act – goodbye. They could also lose their right to live on or be a member of a reserve, things very different from status accorded by Indian Affairs.

The national Aboriginal organizations knew about this delayed discrimination, a denial of their rights as Indigenous peoples. Most of them plugged their noses, though, and let the Federal Government define their rights for them.

The Federal Government promised that bands would be compensated for additional costs associated with Bill C-31 and provide for people regaining status, for more more homes, more health care and education costs, etc. There was some increase in funding but never the full compensation promised. Most bands struggled to find ways to cover the costs from taking in “C-31s”.

MacIvor’s win at the B.C. Court of Appeals means the Federal Government expects another 45,000 people to regain their status – at a time when Ottawa wants to head in the other direction. It wants to cut spending on all Aboriginal peoples, but also get rid of Indian “status”, and dump more and more responsibility for “Indians and lands reserved for Indians” onto the provinces.

According to Duncan, things are different this time with Bill C-3:

“We’ve committed to the First Nations community that we’ll do this exploratory process because every time we’ve wanted to engage on the response to McIvor, they wanted to talk about citizenship and registration (and) membership,” Duncan said after a Senate committee meeting earlier this week.

But Jean Crowder, the NDPs Aboriginal Affairs critic, says the Federal Government has a credibility problem. It already has the positions and information from the five national Aboriginal organizations from previous consultations. She says the Federal Government wants to find another way to get what it wants despite Aboriginal objections.

Sharon MacIvor doesn’t think much of Bill C-3 or anything that will will merely postpone – again and to another generation – the denial of Indigenous rights to define their own citizenship and membership for themselves. MacIvor’s taken her complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The government is “not clear with people what they are going to do with this exploratory process. They’re not clear with how they’re going to include people, they’re not clear if legislation is going to be developed, how First Nations are going to be included,” said Crowder.

“This is another way of making the problem go away for a period of time – which they also don’t clarify – and then we’ll deal with it sometime in the future.”

Why is this such a bad idea? Because there’s a smell in the air. It stinks like collaboration. If Duncan and Indian Affairs could find some way to get the national Aboriginal organizations to discriminate on Ottawa’s behalf by devising their own discriminatory rules to deny Indigenous people of their rights, well wouldn’t that be just ducky.

It would be like the former apartheid government of South Africa asking coloureds, Blacks, and every other classification in between to help the government re-define those very classifications that made them second- and third-class people.

Help us, Duncan seems to be saying, to find new and interesting ways to oppress you, to label you as second-class, to categorize your children and their children and so on in ever-increasingly bizarre ways that lead to only one outcome: No status for all.


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welcome back, mr. johnson

In the mid-to-late 1970s, William Johnson at the Globe and Mail (later Montreal Gazette) was a must-read columnist for anyone (especially young journalists) wanting to know more about federal/provincial politics, the developing Canadian constitutional crisis, debates on patriation of the the BNA Act, and native affairs (as it was then called).

Back then, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of national journalists showing the least bit of interest in native issues. Johnson was anything but a cheerleader for native peoples. But he understood the policies that confronted them, and explained them to his readers. He had a keen eye for those little flashes in huge events that reveal so much, such as this that he describes in today’s G&M:

A telling moment occurred at Tuesday’s all-candidates meeting when a Quebec chief, Gilbert Whiteduck, said: “We’re telling each other what we already know. We’re telling each other that we own the land. What we need is action. And I ask all of the candidates: Are you thinking about the poorest of the poor, of our men and our women and our children who are suffering? Is your message just wait and see, I have a vision for change, while they’re suffering now, tomorrow, the day after? When will we rise?”


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what you don’t know…

…can hurt us. I mean us who live out here in these communities and territories. Not you who comment from afar based on… what?

AFN's logo

AFN's logo

Lately, I’ve had some interesting conversations about the Assembly of First Nations and the candidates running for the job of head of that organization. We talked about who might win the job and replace Phil Fontaine. We’ve discussed the way the candidates applied for the job, and the strange method the voting chiefs have chosen to conduct job interviews (elections, if you prefer).

In other words, we’ve analyzed a lot more than what we’ve seen in the coverage by the mainstream news media, and the media’s select court jesters such as Joe Quesnel. (I compare him to one of my regulars and his fascination with a well-know conspiracy theorist-cum-blogger nicknamed “Scenty.” What would life be without them?)

As we talked about the AFN, and picked apart the coverage by the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the CBC, and other news organizations, we agreed that the mainstream has this weird idea (aided and abetted by the aforementioned court jesters) that the AFN is actually a national government.

Now where did they get that idea? More to the point, how might anyone dissuade them of this ridiculous fallicy?

The mainstream news media seems hell-bent on accepting – without a shred of skepticism – that this “election of a national chief” is taking place so that Indians across Canada can select someone who will become, as one CBC reporter said, “the most powerful Indian in Canada.”

WTF!? I damn near fell off my keyboard when I heard that one. Tell me that a senior CBC national reporter did not use those words. Oh, yes, she did. Where did she get the information to back up that statement? Certainly not in any Native Studies or Canadian history or political science course. Because it don’t exist.

In our growing alarm over inaccuracies by the media’s coverage of the AFN, and the selection process of a new head of this organization, we decided to try to correct inaccuracies by explaining what the AFN is NOT. Hopefully, along the way, it might also explain what the head of this organization is NOT as well.

The AFN has never been an organization of individual status Indians. It was once an organization of regional and provincial Indian organizations. It changed into an organization representing the heads of band councils on reserves, aka “chiefs.” This is why 633 chiefs across Canada get to vote for the candidates running for Phil Fontaine’s job. This is also why there is NOT “one member, one vote.”

What’s that, Joe? You don’t get the concept? Hmmm… I wish I had some pop-up pictures. Let’s try this again, shall we?

The AFN is not a national government for status Indians in Canada, despite what some idiots (come on down, Joe) would have you believe. The AFN’s structure is closer to that of a national union, like CUPE, for instance. The union’s membership in a local (say Local 233) vote for a local representative, much like band members vote in band council elections.

Local reps may then elect regional or provincial representatives, similar to the way in which John Beaucage was elected to head up one of the regional Indian organizations in Ontario.

Local and regional union reps then get to select the national executive for CUPE. (Correct me here, but I don’t believe every member has a direct vote for national president of CUPE.) Similarly, every now and then, the chiefs cluster to select a new head of their national organization, the AFN. It was never meant to be a “one member, one vote” system. Capiche?

Why not, you ask? Have you done any homework at all, Joe? You really should try reading some day. We have some good schools you might ask about.

Similar to the relations between locals and the national office of CUPE, or any number of other unions and associations, locals guard their autonomy or authority with vigour. They resist encroachment on their turf by the regional offices, and much more so with the national office.

At the same time, the locals may recognize that there are some things the national office may do best, such as lobbying, coordinating or conducting research on issues in common across the country, monitoring government actions or changes in policy. But national executives in unions try hard to avoid encroaching upon or undermining the locals or the regional representatives. It tends to piss them off.

Y’unnerstan? To paraphrase that great philosopher, Spider-man: With great executive power comes great checks and balances upon the executive.

This isn’t rocket science, Joe. So stay awake, and listen up.

I know you want to make the head of the AFN into some sort of national king of the Indians. After all, why put up with 633 chiefs that you and your so-called think tank consider corrupt and dishonest? Do I have that right, Joe? You suggest cutting out the chiefs so that the Feds need only deal with one corrupt and dishonest bozo at the AFN. Right?

C’mon, admit it. That’s what you and the Frontier Centre think of the chiefs, and what you propose as more effective and efficient. It’s also dumb, as in: You don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about.

Big problem. How do you get the chiefs to surrender their local authority and autonomy? Or to continue the union analogy: How do you get the head of a union local to hand over its autonomy to the national executive? First: Why the hell should they? It would be difficult enough with a union local, but the head of a reserve (unlike a union local) is also the head of a local government.

What? You didn’t factor that in when you thought things out? Maybe you didn’t think in the first place? But I digress.

That’s right. Indian band councils have constitutionally and legally recognized political powers as local governments, as per the Indian Act. Band councils can make by-laws, for instance. Okay, they can make by-laws for dog licences – but it’s still a law-making power of a legally-constituted government as defined in Canadian law.

The AFN, on the other hand, does not have governmental powers. It is an organization, a registered national corporation, representing the interests of band council chiefs. Big difference between the two. One can make laws regulating human behaviours and conditions (a government) while the other cannot (an organization).

Do you honestly think any chief in her right mind is going to hand over that kind of power to the next Phil Fontaine? Or hand over the authority to negotiate a land claim? Or make deals on oil and gas exploration? Diamond mines? Local health emergencies? Do you honestly think the folks on any reserve will let that happen? Be honest, Joe.

There are other considerations too. Why should the Mohawks surrender something they’ve repeatedly defended for more than 250 years, have never sold or surrendered, have not had taken away in war or by conquest. Wanna guess? After all, you claim to be Mohawk, Joe. No answer? Can’t figure it out? Refuse to admit it?

Their sovereignty, Joe, as an Indigenous nation. Confused? Or just in deep denial?

More to the point, I dare you to come on down to Mohawk country and ask the folks down here to put their rights into the hands of a Plains Cree, or an Ojibway, or a Coast Salish. I can predict a very tragic outcome in your future, if you decide to do so. The folks down this way would run yer sorry butt out of town faster than the SQ on July 11. I’m just saying.

Go ask the Cree of Quebec to hand over the James Bay Agreement to the AFN and to the next Phil Fontaine. I double dog dares ya.

Next, go ask the Nisga’a to do the same with their Agreement. I think you’d be called a lot of very rude names.

But then ask yourself: Why would those two groups consider such an idiotic suggestion in the first place?

I doubt whether you could ever find a single Cree in all nine communities across northern Quebec, or a single Nisga’a citizen in their B.C. communities,willing to say they’d voluntarily agree to hand over their rights to the AFN (or anyone hoping to become the next Fontaine).

Finally, Joe, the AFN is not now – nor has it ever been a national government. It was never designed to act like one, or to be one. It was created to do a very particular job, and that’s all. I know, Fontaine didn’t like the structure and spent a lot of time and money trying to convince the chiefs to hand over their power. He failed though.

Similar to the office of a national union, the AFN was designed to conduct and compile research in certain areas in support of local reserve or regional initiatives, to monitor governments for changes in policy and law, to lobby government to make changes in policy and law that the chiefs see as advantageous to their populations. It was designed to work from the bottom-up; not the other way around.

The head of the AFN is a national spokesperson, a national lobbyist, a national figurehead with no real power except to run a national office effectively and efficiently. He ain’t no king of the Indians. The media made him out to be the “11th premier” in the mid-1980s, but that didn’t change reality. Get it?

Still, you and most of the news media seem to have decided – without a single fact to back up this lame-brained idea – that this is what the AFN must be or become. Ergo, your dumber and dumberer “one member, one vote” idea.

If you and most of the mainstream media reporting on this story would only educate yourselves before shooting off your big yaps, spreading disinformation, you might actually help advance organizational change.

Instead, you seem determined to lead from a position of ignorance. In doing so, you serve no one but the gods of stupidity – not to mention doing the Canadian public a huge disservice.

Nuff sed.


Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism