We may be listening to all the wrong voices
We may be listening to all the wrong voices. I have been involved in Idle No More since early December 2012 and I have watched with optimism, doubt and dismay the ebbs and flows of the movement. I have supported the positive efforts to take matters to raise awareness of this unforgiving relationship between Aboriginal Affairs Canada and First Nations.
I know that there are many pebbles thrown into the waters that have caused at a rising tsunami-like wave of discourse about Aboriginal-Canadian relations. Let’s be clear, it is not an “us v. them” debate required in this country – we must turn the spotlight on Aboriginal Affairs Canada which is failing everyone. I know people talk about dismantling the “Indian Act” but I think that our more immediate goal is to substantially change the mandate and organization of This Ministry of Misery widely known as “Indian Affairs.”
There are real sympathetic stories on First Nation reserves. Can anyone dispute this? I think of listening in the past to people like Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat or lately to Chief Adrian Sinclair of Lake St. Martin and I think – where is that famous Canadian generosity? What is the barrier to real change for these communities in most need of help?
Many First Nations live in a Canadian form of Bleak House, where our futures are tangled in the Aboriginal Affairs Canada bureaucracy that is known widely to “spend a dollar to save a dime.” Our projects are inflated for no purpose but bureaucratic red tape and our “hopes and dreams” stand waiting for a light that will never turn green, queued for years and at times, decades.
I do not point the finger at anyone for this, the problem has no individual personality, no undercurrent of hate or racism it is simply there like some human brownfield of failed hope and despair that many of us have finally woken up to and said, enough is enough. Aboriginal Affairs Canada’s agenda has been not been only to ignore the hope and despair but to criminalize it through administrative policy, it may not have been intentional, but it certainly is in effect.
As Canadians may want to turn away from the situation of Attawapiskat or the small torn homes in almost any First Nation community, I think its time to shine a harsh spotlight -- the person behind the curtain of this upside-down “oz” is the Federal bureaucrat, neither great or powerful but certainly instrumental. Aboriginal Affairs Canada is fuelled only by meetings and “squeaky wheel” complaints and not by real solutions for real heart-wrenching need.
The politics of Aboriginal Affairs Canada is a sad fact of life for First Nation chiefs and councils. The decision-making process is not meritorious or even common-sensical. It is based on illusory analysis and an unknown measure.
My grandfather, a chief of Couchiching, told my mom when she was a small child that he negotiated housing for our community. He told her, we have a trust in Ottawa that makes us a very rich people. The 10-20 years of band affairs that was built on this “guarantee” of housing built a disconcerting narrative in our communities. Our people do not expect to pay rent or taxes or bills. Most of us who lived elsewhere understand that we need to pay rent, bills and contribute to our political economy. There is a two-pronged movement that is both internal and external. I say we have the power to make our communities liveable by being more personally responsible.
The agenda of the Harper government has been forcing a certain brand of internal reform on our communities that is not digestible. More intrusions on our lands through leasing, our trustee will not longer be the Queen’s government, but now it will be our chief and councils (as long as they follow this certain brand of reforms). These reforms are not the answer, the local governors will get rich – but the poor will get poorer.
Like many trustees, the overwhelming reflex is to “make profits” from monies set aside for Indians and that has been much of the problem with the administration of our monies by Aboriginal Affairs Canada. I often wondered if this is the “measure” used to authorize any discretionary funding by Aboriginal Affairs Canada.
At one time, a certain regional director general of the Ontario Region of Aboriginal Affairs Canada was going to attempt a pilot project with Couchiching. All of our federal funding would be done by one agreement and we would have all the checks and balances of accountability and transparency but a single agreement and a single reporting process throughout the year. My chief and our community were thankful and ready for the challenge. Somehow a “wizard” from this mystical fools place of Aboriginal Affairs Canada replaced that regional director general and that pilot project was tossed.
Aboriginal Affairs Canada policy must be overhauled and the administration cleansed of the paternalistic overseer but the bureaucracy certainly is not going to author that story. Idle No More.
-Sarah Mainville is a lawyer who lives in her home community of Couchiching.
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