Tag Archives: Indigenous rights

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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eyes and the prize

White only-smWhat a week that was.

It begins on Monday with Obama’s inauguration and the beginning of his second term as President of the USA. The first time was historic. This time seems almost normal. The first Black President of the USA.

Obama’s public ceremony takes place on the same day that his nation remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Continue reading

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eternal questions


Pablo Picasso

Pondering the Idle No More movement.

It’s gone from teaching sessions, flash mobs to mass marches involving thousands. One simple, easy to understand message. It’s time to change.

It’s time to stop paternalistic policies that everyone agrees doesn’t work but has resulted in cultural destruction and human devastation.

The message, heard over and over: It’s time to end Canada’s internal system of colonialism.

Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing complicated about that.

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the frontier follies

I thought it might be interesting to examine a document that sought to make the rounds of government offices and academic circles with the stated intent of influencing policy in Canada in regards to northern and remote communities – in particular Indian policy and reserves.

Respecting the Seventh Generation cover

"Respecting the Seventh Generation"

Its authors made the rounds to promote this product; issuing news releases, writing commentary in at least one national newspaper (Nat Post: Some reserves can’t be fixed) but reaching national readers through the CanWest chain of local dailies, appearing at conferences, seeking broadcast coverage, etc. In other words, the authors wanted this paper to make waves and sought to influence Canadians and policy decision-makers.

This paper was produced and published by the Frontier Centre on Public Policy (FCPP) which, according to its blurb, “undertakes research and education in support of economic growth and social outcomes… enhance the quality of life in our communities… explores policy innovations required to make the prairies region a winner in the open economy… and improving the performance of public expenditures in important areas like local government, education, health and social policy.”

The FCPP bills itself as a ‘think tank” but is not unbiased, has a strong right-wing slant, promotes transparency and accountability but is rather vague about its own finances; the majority coming from “foundations.” Although it’s not clear from the information provided on its web site what foundations, where these foundations are situated (U.S. or Canada, both, or other), or what these foundations do, promote or support.

Back to the report…

It’s entitled “Respecting the Seventh Generation,” authored by Joseph Quesnel; “Métis ancestry from Quebec,” although he has claimed to be Mohawk in the past and in previous FPCC publications. (cite: Quesnel, Joseph. Respecting the Seventh Generation: A voluntary plan for relocating non-viable Native reserves, FCPP Policy Series No. 81, Winnipeg. January 2010)

At the beginning of this paper, you’ll find a picture of the author and an outline of his past and present work. You’ll also find this rather curious qualification by the FPCC:

The authors of this study has (sic) worked independently and the opinions expressed are therefore their own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

I consider the above qualification “curious” because the authors are staff employees at the FPCC, not outside or contract consultants hired to produce this report. But I’ll leave it for you to decide if that’s relevant or not.

I won’t examine the full document here or provide a complete critique, since a quick look at only the first few pages should make the point.  Let’s begin with Page 4:

Throughout Canada’s history, Indian reserves were deliberately placed on marginal lands. They were intended to warehouse First Nations while they prepared for enfranchisement and settlers built the country.

It almost sounds as though the author is saying that the Canadian government set up temporary internment camps for Indians while they waited sheep-like to have their treaties (contracts between peoples) torn up by the government, their “Aboriginal” rights erased, but in the end able to vote just like white men.

Removed and relocated from their traditional lands, I suppose, “settlers” could then move in to carry out the task of national building without nagging Indians underfoot, without the need to share any bounty with them, avoiding unwanted invoices from Indians wanting to paid for the use of their lands and resources, or interference by the courts as they pursued legal means for fair treatment.

It seems to me that this statement actually strengthens the perceived fears of Status Indians so quickly dismissed by the authors elsewhere in this document. But let’s move on to another paragraph on the same page:

When discussing the issues, policy-makers should bear in mind that a land base is not enough when building a viable economy. The land must be capable of being put to productive use. The community must also be able to produce a needed good or service that can be sold competitively in a global market.

The author seems to suggest that local economy isn’t good enough. One must determine the viability of a community’s right to exist (more to the point – Indian reserves) based on its ability to compete in a “global market” as well. Or perhaps he meant only in a global market.

The author provides no evidence to show how many towns or villages in Canada could possibly meet this standard. Nor does he provide a comparison between northern and remote towns and villages with those Indian reserves (that he deems worthy of bulldozing) to use as a yardstick. In other words, the statement seems baseless, ill-conceived and rather flippant for something so drastic, dramatic and probably traumatic to those on the receiving end of things.

Furthermore, the author appears to be suggesting that there may be wealth in these lands after all, but the bounty is – and will remain – out of reach to the settler so long as those pesky Indians are in the way. If they – say – were enticed or coerced to relocate though… those settlers could move in to extract and exploit the natural resources to their hr=earts content. Maybe they’d even build new towns where those unviable reserves used to be. Do I hear the sound of heavenly horns?

Still on Page 4:

One should also remember that, historically, indigenous peoples have always moved around and reserves are not their creation. In addition, attachment to a piece of land does not make one indigenous. Moreover, Canada should look to the extreme example of Australia as to where it does not want to end up. Serious sexual abuse and chronic child neglect forced its government to take control of some indigenous communities.

In this paragraph, the author makes a leap in logic worthy of a philosophic Cirque du Soleil act. To wit: Indians have always been shoved around. They’re used to it. They don’t have a genuine geographic attachment to any piece of land. By the way – did I mention “sexual abuse” – I mean “SERIOUS sexual abuse” – and “CHRONIC child neglect.” (my all caps)

That non-sequitur could choke an elephant. But a pattern is emerging in which a “solution” is proposed, pre-determined actually, closely followed by a terrible social or living situation which needs to be remedied or eliminated. However, the author presents no evidence that conclusively ties one to the other.

People are poor because of all kinds of reasons, not just because they live in northern and remote communities. People experience all kinds of ugly social ills, not just because they live in southern cities. That leap in thought reminds me of the dogs in that animated Disney feature, “UP,” who yelp “squirrel” every now and then.

While this paper calls for voluntary solutions, constitutional protection of Aboriginal title prevents the federal government from taking over indigenous lands or reserves, so First Nations need not fear a coercive approach.

Of course, that is exactly what this paper proposes – only with a wink and a nod. Once the Federal government feels it’s been given the “green light” by Canadians to condemn and shut down entire communities because they’re in the way, because they cost too much in someone’s estimation, because they’re not white or not wanted… Where does it end?

It’s not as though this hasn’t been done before. Ipperwash Park was created after the Second World War, after an Act of Parliament “borrowed” the land from the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point. Indian Affairs relocated the community, folding them into them onto the same land. Thus the Kettle AND Stony Point. Of course, the federal government reneged on its promise to return that land after the war and we all know what happened then.

Africville in Nova Scotia was bulldozed at the behest of the City of Halifax so the province and the city could build a bridge, while simultaneously removing an unwanted community of Black Canadians from sight.

Newfoundland decided it either didn’t want to or could not afford its outport communities so it uprooted people from their homes, sometimes houses and all, and relocated them someplace more convenient – for the government.

Disasters one and all.

The author also contends, without a shred of evidence or personal experience, that Indians are somehow different from anyone else in the world when it comes to ties to the land, relationship to geography, to a territory they call home. Apply that same pretzel logic to the Middle East, to Israel and Palestine, to England or France, or any people in the world… and the insane underpinnings of this paper must become apparent to even the most ardent right-wing crank. (Okay, maybe I went a bit far on that one.)

Before I move on, however, one last item. Much of the author’s argument – in fact, central to this paper – is based upon (what he calls) “The Kashechewan Case.” That’s a Cree community that was located and built by Indian Affairs, against the advice of the Cree inhabitants, on a flood plain. Indian Affairs built the community a water treatment plant downstream from its sewage outlet, again ignoring the warnings of the Cree inhabitants.

Many homes and public buildings were in disrepair and with severe mould infestation due to the forewarned and predictable flooding that occurs every year, combined with the also inevitable lack of funding for new homes and repairs. The community was evacuated to Timmins – by the Ontario government – after news people finally listened to pleas from the member of parliament for that area. A DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) and other repair crews applied band-aids to contaminated water systems and brought living conditions up to minimal standards.

That was in 2006. Not much has been done to follow up promises to “fix” the community which, given the option to relocate, were determined to stay on their traditional and ancestral territories. The story fell off the front pages, except for this report by the FPCC.

The province (because Indian Affairs went into hiding) sent in Allan Pope following the evacuation of Kashechewan. A former environment minister, Pope’s mandate was to look, study and report back with recommendations.

Tidbit: Pope once advocated the diversion of water from Hudson’s Bay to the water parched U.S. midwest; it was called the “Grand Canal Scheme.”

The author of “Respect the Seventh Generation” refers extensively to Pope’s report. But here’s the thing: he never once cites the report directly.

Take a look for yourself. This is from the Endnotes section:

1. Tenille Bonoguore, “Report Urges moving Kashechewan to Timmins,” Globe and Mail, November 9, 2006.
2. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “Canada’s New Government signs agreement with Kashechewan First Nation to redevelop community,” July 30, 2007.
3. Allison Jones, “Kashechewan chief warned Ottawa of jail fire possibility months before deaths,” Canadian Press, April 1, 2009.
4. Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “Mr. Alan Pope submits report to Minister Jim Prentice on the Development of a Sustainable Solution for the Community of
Kashechewan,” November 9, 2006.
14. Indian and Northern Affairs, CNW Telbec, “Mr. Alan Pope submits report to Minister Jim Prentice on the Development of a sustainable solution for the community of Kashechewan,”
November 9, 2006.

Not a single reference to Pope’s report. Every reference is to a newspaper report or to a news release, which makes me wonder whether the author bothered to obtain or read Pope’s report at all.

Perhaps worse, there is not one single reference to an interview with anyone living there which makes me wonder if the author(s) had ever gone to Kashechewan, or called them by phone to get their views before or during the writing of this paper.

There was reaction afterward. Here’s what John Solomon had to say:

We have to look at how we got here in the first place,” said Kashechewan Chief Jonathan Solomon. “Legislation and policies such as the Ontario Mining Act have forced many communities from benefitting from resources and development and that’s why we are in the situation we are in. First Nations should have the opportunity to sustain themselves.

Yes, but that really makes things difficult when you already know the “solution” and you only need to re-define the problem to fit.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I could go on… and on… but it becomes too depressing. In the end, I can only conclude that this so-called policy discussion paper is nothing of the kind. Further, its author(s) have raised questions about the credibility of their work as well as that of their employer.

The authors don’t seem to be interested in honest research or debate, despite their protests to the contrary and their portrayal of Aboriginal leaders as unwilling to engage them in such. How does one engage in honest debate when faced with half-truths, bizarre interpretations of history and fact, and outright dishonesty?

Perhaps the real question is: Why would anyone want to?

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media cheerleaders

Interesting conversations on Montreal radio this morning. It even became the “question-of-the-morning” on CBC Radio between the host and the regular gaggle of journalists who do sports, traffic and entertainment, business reports. They debate among themselves some issue that they think people will jump on, react to, send text messages, tweet, etc.  It’s a chance for journalists to shed any pretense of balance or objectivity and give vent to their opinions just like the rest of us. It’s interesting to see “reporters” to become rabid “fans,” and even cheerleaders for one cause or another. Back to the question though…

Should the Olympic torch be allowed to go through Kahnawake Mohawk Territory on Tuesday – without the usual phalanx of RCMP security?

The reason why the Mohawks didn’t want the RCMP traipsing through their Territory wasn’t explained – not at first. In fact, it wasn’t explained until about two hours later, right before the end of the program, after rush hour was just about over, after they had raised and discussed the question several times. Finally, I thought to myself, they’re going to interview someone from Kahnawake. Afterward, there was a sense in the interview that conveyed a how-dare-they, the freaking afront, what-gives-you-the-right tone? That bothered me.

I have no problem with that question-of-the-morning – if first someone had bothered to get some background on the issue. Y’know – that context thing. They apparently did not which is critical because everything about Indians is political – and about race. So even an apparently neutral question – if it involves Mohawks – is going to be loaded with racial baggage. It is also going to be an open invitation to uninformed, ignorant, and even racist comments. So programs should take a little time and effort to make sure such questions are framed by facts – and not become an open door to bigotry.

As the interview – finally – clarified, the underlying issue was NOT some insane or illogical demand by the Mohawk. There are a lot of Kahnawake:ronon (citizens of Kahnawake) who support the Olympics. Kahnawake boasts two former Olympians and has a long history in sports. The protests are NOT anti-sports or anti-Olympic movement.

The protests ARE against Canadian governments using the 2010 Olympics to prettify and justify the theft of Indigenous lands in B.C., to pretend that Indian-Canada relations are hunky-dory to the world, when they clearly are not.

There were some people in Kahnawake who wanted to prevent the torch from passing through their Territory. There were others who felt just as strongly that the torch should be carried by Mohawk runners as an expression of pride in their achievements in sports. The compromise was to demand that they would allow the torch to pass through their territory – but not with the usual RCMP security guard. In Indian country, the Mounties are not viewed through the same Disney-esque lenses that most Canadians seem to wear. The Mounties have a long and shameful history of enforcing the worst abuses of human rights in Canadian history. They are certainly near the top of the list of uniforms considered non-grata in Mohawk country.

So the Mohawks insist that their own Peacekeepers (they’re really Surete du Quebec officers but with Mohawk shoulder patches) replace the RCMP for the hour or so for the torch relay on Tuesday.

So that’s the context that CBC Radio missed this morning. Too bad because even the journalists on the panel seemed to ready to spout opinions based on… ignorance of the issues. That isn’t journalism. That’s something I expect from bloggers (myself included).


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harper’s revision quest (part deux)

This is a re-hashed statement (via news release) from the New Democratic Party’s Aboriginal Affairs critic, Jean Crowder. She read the statement during Question period in the Canadian House of Commons.

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more on the peru massacre

Survival International has a story. Note the Canadian oil company involved. june05-28

Oil companies ‘should withdraw’ as Peru ‘faces its Tiananmen’ (8 JUNE 2009)

Survival International today called on all oil companies operating in the Peruvian Amazon to suspend operations as the country comes to terms with the worst political violence since the Shining Path insurgency in the 1980s.

The companies include Anglo-French Perenco (a major gas supplier to the UK), Argentina’s PlusPetrol, Canada’s Petrolifera, Spain’s Repsol, Brazil’s Petrobras and many others.

For more…

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