Tag Archives: Indian Act

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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it’s simple simpson

I’ve been pondering some of the commentary published in recent weeks about the Kahnawake band council’s decision to evict 26 people. Most of that commentary came from pundits at national newspapers, although one national newspaper actually paid an individual to spout some rather noxious stuff disguised as informed opinion. But I digress…

I’ve decided to look at one example by a more respected pundit. His name? Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail. His take was entitled: “Suppose there was a place the Charter didn’t apply…

You already know the story. 26 people face eviction from Kahnawake. Most are White and have never been band members. Others are Mohawk with White partners but stripped of their membership by the band council. Some are married. Some have children. One Mohawk man, a Vietnam veteran, was stripped of membership at the request of his own family.

Not every Kahnawake Mohawk agrees with the evictions although there was enough support when the band council put its proposed by-laws on membership and residency to a community vote a few years ago. Still, if the Kahnawake band council isn’t embarrassed by it’s by-laws and the way it’s dealt with the issue in the media, it should be.

Simpson condemns the evictions as a “race-based” violation of human rights. But it seems that his target isn’t only that exemption to human rights legislation built into the Indian Act by the Federal Government of Canada. Nor is it just the Kahnawake band council and it’s by-laws.  Nope. He seems to be aiming at uppity Mohawks everywhere and the reserve system in general. In fact, after reading that column several times, I came away confused about what pissed off Simpson more – that exemption or Mohawk resistance to assimilation.

Simpson writes that the band council’s actions “reflect an attitude of self-segregation that is the unfortunate flip side of aboriginal sovereignty that has been the intellectual framework for policy for four decades.”

Of course, there’s the rub. Mohawks don’t consider they are Canadian. They don’t recognize Canadian sovereignty on their territories. They are a self-governing ‘nation’ that has ceded nothing to Canada. They have their own rules, traditions, police forces, governance. If what other Canadians would consider basic human rights are abused, well, apparently that’s just the way it goes, according to the federal government.

According to Simpson, all Mohawks and their communities are apparently involved in “Internet gambling and cigarette smuggling” and these activities are the “mainstay economic engines on the Mohawk territories.” The root of this evil, according to Simpson, is their damned refusal to be assimilated, to give up the ghost, to fade into history and become… just like him in every way except for his privileged status as a White man.

His implied solution? Well, it’s seems to be the same one that Canada’s has tried over and over for more than 160 years. Cultural, legal, historical obliteration. Yeah, that’ll serve ’em right.

How to justify this… um… violation of human (and now Indigenous) rights? Well, we all know those uppity Mohawks are out-of-control criminals – every damn one of them. What with their cigarette factories and tobacco stands and their Internet gambling servers.

Well, hold on a sec. Let me paint you a slightly different picture of Kahnawake.

I know people from Kahnawake who serve in the military (Canadian and American).  I know others who work as civil servants in local, provincial and federal governments. Still more who are carpenters, plumbers, general labourers, construction workers, printers. I’ve worked with a few as journalists and TV and radio producers. Some are senior managers of large companies or are management consultants, university professors, teachers, computer techs, and on and on.

Kahnawake is dotted with convenience stores, snack shops, restaurants, gas stations and car repair shops, craft stores, a few designer clothing businesses, a business complex, police and fire departments, a Canadian Legion and social clubs like the Knights of Columbus, a pharmacy, medical centre, print shop, etc.

Is Kahnawake dotted with cigarette factories and tobacco stands? Yes. Does it have a company that runs Internet gambling? Yes, it does. Is that all there is to Kahnawake or any Mohawk territory? Hell, no. Any journalist who makes that kind of claim is either lying or is not doing his or her job by presenting an accurate, truthful picture for the reader to consider.

Simpson didn’t need to resort to nasty racial stereotyping to make his point. Is he arguing that the Charter of Rights should apply? Well, it already does. Is he arguing that the Canadian Human Rights Act should apply? Well, it will – next year. But the decision to exempt reserve band councils was a decision made by… (wait for it) the Government of Canada. Why? To exclude its Indian Act.

Has the band council acted illegally? No. It is simply following the ground rules as laid out by the Indian Act and Indian Affairs. Will it become illegal next year? Possibly, if those by-laws haven’t been repealed or amended, when that exemption to the Canadian Human Rights Act expires, if and when someone files a complaint about discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (the same body that a lot of Conservatives want to eliminate).

It’s the a funny thing about discrimination. It tends to hold up a mirror exposing those who make it possible for racism and discrimination to exist in the first place. So take a good look, Mr. Simpson.


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

recycled trash

The title comes from a post by David Africa at a blog called Thought Leader, a forum set up by the Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper. Africa’s post is about a new book that covers recent South African history; from the 1970s thru the 80s and into the early 90’s.

Here’s Africa’s summary:

Anthea Jeffery commits 634 pages to a study of the “people’s war” in the South African context in an attempt to debunk what she claims to be a false conception of how the ANC gained power, the nature of the political violence that characterised South Africa from the 1980s up to 1994, and a special attempt to whitewash the Inkatha Freedom Party from its role in fomenting and carrying out large-scale violence against black South Africans. Jeffery, acclaimed for her “meticulous and objective approach”, manages to rewrite history and in the process expose a fraud of monumental proportions: one in which the ANC, internal political opposition, the media, liberal organisations (except her beloved SA Institute of Race Relations of course) connived to effect the overthrow of the apartheid government, destroy the democratic black opposition (aka Inkatha) and establish itself as the supreme political movement in South Africa. And of course the Russians plotted the whole thing (…)

Why my interest in this post, in this period of history, in what was taking place in South Africa? For one thing, it parallels my own development as a political animal. During this time, I worked in the States. I had eggs thrown at me because I had long hair. I was subject to the draft. I could have been sent to

It was also a time when civil rights workers were attacked and murdered for registering Black Americans for the vote. I was shocked when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, race riots exploded, and armoured personnel carriers brought National Guard troops into our neighbourhood. The difference between right and wrong, the abuse of power by governments, how I saw and understood Canada’s Indian policies and how that translated into everyday life back home, began to crystalize in my mind.

I returned to Canada to learn about a place called Kenora, about ropes in theatres designating the Whites only section, was warned not to walk on the “White side of the street” in a northern Ontario town, began to draw my own or learn about the parallels between South Africa’s apartheid system and the Indian Act system, Bantu education and Native Education policy in Canada, as well as the mindless monolithic bureaucracies that kept such abominations to human rights chugging along. I also became familiar with the movements to overthrow or dismantle both.

So go read David Africa’s post. Then read the comments following it. Interesting because you’ll learn that the anti-apartheid movement wasn’t only about the ANC, that some Black organizations actively supported the National Party and fought against the ANC for reasons of their own, that the modern type of warfare that we see today deliberately includes civilian casualties and has roots in the anti-colonial wars from Vietnam on thru various African wars.

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work at indian affairs??!

Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl

Baas, da plan! Da plan!

This is going to be a long one… so buckle up.

I’ve been looking for a job lately. More than a few people have come up and suggested I look at Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs. Some step back at the look of horror that must flash across my face. Maybe it’s the eyes burning below knitted brow at the suggestion? The jutting of the jaw? Or the dismissive  “Pah!” that escapes my lips. Most take the hint. A few go on to the next question: “Why not?”

I might tell a story of another time when I was jobless and desperate. It happened awhile ago, but the memory is strong. I had something like 85 cents in the bank, no unemployment enjoyment coming in, and no immediate prospects on the horizon. Luckily, I had a partner. She was an “artiste;” she drew pogey cheques. We barely got by but we needed little but the barest essentials.

A call came late one winter afternoon.  Interested in working for Indian Affairs? Not just anywhere, but in the Minister’s office? Damn good salary. Excellent benefits. Lots of travel. Set my own but long hours. Good chance to influence. All I needed was to say “OK” and I could begin immediately as a ministerial appointee.

The pause on my end of the line must’ve been deafening. It also dragged for a half minute or more. “Take your time,” the voice on the other end eventually said. “Sleep on it. Call me when you have an answer.” Continue reading


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human nature hates vacuums


Portrait of Duncan Campbell Scott.

Portrait of Duncan Campbell Scott.

A story in the Globe and Mail today (Tue, Apr 14)  is informative – not for what it states but for what it doesn’t. Here’s the lede by Bill Curry:


OTTAWA — Parliament has less than a year to craft a new definition of “Indian” before Canadian native policy risks tumbling into chaos as the existing rules for determining native status are thrown out by the courts.

The clock is ticking after the B.C. Court of Appeal set the tight deadline for the minority Parliament. It’s a ruling that has experts in native law scratching their heads, wondering how such a contentious issue can possibly be resolved in time.

Right there is the problem, not from the perspectives of that B.C. judge, Canada’s Parliamentarians, or from the Minister of Indian Affairs or anyone else from the Government of Canada. No the problem is that Indians, or First Nations (a term I loathe), would allow anyone else – most especially the colonizer – to define who they are.

The sad fact is that most Indigenous North Americans in Canada have had whatever sense of nationhood they once held so dear to be replaced by the Indian Act. They allowed (yes, allowed) this piece of Canadian law to dominate their lives. They allowed the Indian Act to displace their own governments and institutions, their own laws and customs. They allowed the Indian Act, drawn up to meet the needs of white colonists, to define who was, who wasn’t, and who could be an “Indian.” 

Indigenous peoples in Canada allowed the Indian Act to replace their own forms of local government with the federal Indian agent. The Indian Agent held the power over the lives of Indigenous peoples on behalf of whatever ministry they served.  He ruled over them completely. The Indian agent was slowly replaced by Indian Act band councils – a different version but still the Indian agent in modern dress.

Now, a court in British Columbia has given the Indian Affairs Minister, the Canadian government, Parliament, a deadline. The court has, in my opinion, misplaced that order. The court’s order should be directed instead at the Indigenous nations in Canada to come up with their own definition of membership – and citizenship – and stop waiting for white people to do it for them.

BTW, Campbell Scott (pictured) was the deputy minister for Indian Affairs at the turn of the previous century. He infamously described (paraphrase here) Indian policy in Canada as ridding the Indian in the Indian, until there were no more Indians and no more Indian problem. You can still hear the same or very similar sentiments uttered in the halls of the Canadian parliament and in society. What better reminder to Indigenous peoples why they need to stand up today.

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questions unasked, answers avoided

A few years ago in Ottawa, something strange happened. What took place had all the earmarks of open democracy in Indian country but with few of its safeguards. It touched upon fundamental questions for Indian nations – and for Canadians – but avoided debating them. Shining lights in Indian country produced a glitzy report with a foregone conclusion. It was promoted by an expensive PR firm, hired to sell it to Canadians – if not to Indians. It raised more questions than it answered; some of them uncomfortable questions that have been around for a long time.

The effort cost the Assembly of First Nations lots of money, but went absolutely nowhere. It was supposed to reform the AFN; to transform it from an “organization of chiefs” into something else. The report fudged what that “something else” might be. It left Indians, and the chiefs, guessing when it should have proposed something definite. If that weren’t bad enough, journalists (native and non-) across Canada failed miserably to ask basic questions before, during and after this fiasco. Here’s a rough sketch of what happened.

The AFN chiefs dumped Fontaine in favour of Matthew Coon Come eight summers ago. The chiefs felt Fontaine was too cozy with the federal government. A career civil servant and closet Liberal, the chiefs considered him soft on Indigenous rights, someone who would compromise rather than fight. Coon Come, though hailed by the chiefs as a tough advocate, was a lame duck almost before he began. His “rights-based” approach angered the federal government. He insisted that government road blocks could only be broken once Canadian governments acknowledged and recognized nation-to-nation relationships domestically, and Indigenous rights internationally.

Ottawa made clear it had no time for Coon Come. “Nation-to-nation” recognition was the opposite direction that the federal government wanted Indians to go. It launched a hugely successful PR campaign to spin Coon Come from a Cree lawyer and peaceful environmental activist, into a dangerous radical who could not be trusted. Indian Affairs slashed the budgets of both the AFN and band councils. The federal government gave the chiefs a choice – dump Coon Come or face even more cuts.

At the next AFN election, Ottawa also made clear it wanted Fontaine back. Coon Come had refused to run again. Although five candidates, one a woman, ran for the job only Fontaine had Ottawa’s nod. It was no surprise when Fontaine was elected. This is not a comment on Fontaine’s integrity. It is a statement on the degree of manipulation by the federal government on the internal affairs of the national Indian organization in Canada, and how easily it was for Ottawa to do so. It did not stop there either.

Fontaine had chafed at comments during his first term that he was little more than a national figurehead, a national spokesperson and chief lobbyist employed by band council chiefs across Canada. Ever since the days of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, which Fontaine had helped scuttle, a couple of basic but key questions kept popping up: What kind of organization was the AFN? More to the point, what was the role of the “national chief”? Was he the “eleventh premier,” as the Canadian media had tagged the position ever since Meech Lake? Or was he merely a national mouthpiece, with no real power; able to act only on direction from the chiefs?

To answer these questions and more, the AFN commissioned a “blue ribbon” panel to examine the issues, hold regional hearings, commission research, and produce a report. Some of the questions facing it and Indians across the country: Was the AFN structure, as an organization of band chiefs, still relevant or workable? Was the AFN an assembly of “first nations”? To what degree did “residual sovereignty” of Indian nations, such as the Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, or Nisga’a, continue to apply? Was the AFN, as an organization bound by the Indian Act, helping to erode that “residual sovereignty”? Was the AFN evolving into, or was it preferable to become, a national government (displacing Indian nations in the process)? Should each registered status Indian have a direct vote to choose a national chief?

But there was a problem. The commission paid lip service to the key questions in favour of superficial ones. Questions to be avoided: On residual sovereignty, were Indian nations still nations in the context of international law? Were Indians citizens of their Cree or Nisga’a nations? Or were they compromising their citizenship by participating as “status Indians” and band councils, both creations of the Indian Act? In short, how far along to assimilation were Indians in Canada?

Instead of tackling these larger questions and possibly sparking a national debate that might have gone far beyond Indian country, the report concentrated on questions that stayed within the safe, narrow confines of the Indian Act. It asked the same question over and over, but with different words. As a national organization of band council chiefs, what was the best administrative model to follow? How to change the AFN from an “organization of chiefs?” How to increase the executive power of the national office? Were direct elections by every registered status Indian across Canada the answer?

There were problems. The commissioners and their report chose to answer what the national chief wanted to know — not what Indians wanted and desperately needed to know. Could the national chief change the balance of power within the organization, stripping the chiefs of much of their power, without provoking a major fight? Could the national office get rid of constraints so it could make deals and sign agreements without seeking the support of a majority of chiefs first? Fortunately, for the federal government, this was exactly what Ottawa wanted and what it was prepared to pay for. Funding for the AFN increased, with former cuts largely restored with one important difference.

From that point on, how Ottawa funded native organizations would change. Core funding was out. Funding by specific projects was in, with clear restraints in place to ensure the AFN and other native organizations could not wander off-track anymore. Project funding has become the main source of income for native organizations ever since.

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