Awareness – Allies – Action
At this time, the Idle No More movement produces upsurges and swirls in mutually supportive, but not integrated, activities across Canada, in support of a changed relationship with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Chiefs demand that Canada (the Crown) live up to Treaty promises. The Canadian government and First Nations quarrel about meetings, meeting agendas, and attendance, and engage in publicity antics, preposterous behavior, and witch-hunts, and talk about perceptions from times past. All the while, many of the people in the north live in less than desirable conditions. Without financial independence, and with scarcely few employment opportunities, First Nation communities are totally dependent upon federal funding, arms length bureaucracy and decision-making. Many chiefs and councils struggle to fairly allocate financial resources working from their underfunded program desks in the reality of day-to-day social crisis management.
Recent events have received media attention, and mainstream Canadians have become aware of conditions existing in some of Canada’s northern First Nation impoverished communities. Opinions and fault be as they may, it is unacceptable for people to be living in what has been called Third World conditions in one the wealthiest countries in the world.
There are three issues: The first is our Treaty obligations. It is understandable, considering the historic context of the Treaties, that the failure to define and honour them is important and emotional. It must be understood that only the Canadian federal government has mandated authority to decide Treaty issues and changes to existing federal legislation, i.e. The Indian Act. The British Crown relinquished all responsibility for Canadian domestic matters at the time of Confederation, including Treaties signed before and after 1867. Failure to accept this simple fact very often obstructs dealing with other important issues. This is particularly true when meeting agendas are set for other subjects. Off topic “Treaty” talk creates frustration, impedes building trust relationships, and is a set up for false expectations and failure.
Second, we are not hearing enough about are examples of what is working: First Nation cooperative partnerships between educators, industry, governments, and people of goodwill who are there to help. This wide-ranging objective is to use opportunities and change to transform northern First Nation communities into self-reliant economically viable places of contentment and pride – places to live where tradition and self-determination prevail. We must make possible curative economic opportunism that will put an end to First Nation crisis management. We live in a dynamic world and the challenges include First Nation community stability:
- Academic and vocational education: an educated general population is critical to Canada’s future.
- Land Claim recognition that First Nations have a proprietary claim to natural resources within often yet to be defined territories.
- First Nation determination in resource development and economic entitlement. Resource sharing with First Nation governments including a negotiated share of the resource royalties and corporate taxes.
Separating those matters that individuals have control over from those which they do not will allow progress to be made nation-to-nation. This current round of media hype has brought attention to the plight of Canada’s First Peoples. We should not tie the hands of those that we empower to negotiate legislative change, nation-to-nation policy and Treaties. We cannot burden people with off task issues and pointless interruption and expect the long- standing Treaty and Indian Act issues to be resolved.
The chief malaise is economic.
As a democracy, Canada alone has the power to create legislative change. Our citizen based parliamentary form of government, has, by design, empowered elected representatives to establish government policy and the law of the country. In addition we are members of the international community and our treatment of Aboriginal people is being assessed on the world stage.
Third: C.B.C. recently asked former Prime Minister Paul Martin: “If one were to draw up a master plan to heal this relationship, what would be the key measures to be taken?”
Martin’s response: “Explain to Canadians the truth of the issues that are being raised.
Canadians do not receive an adequate explanation of this. Some of the incredible misconceptions are fostered by the fact that Canadians do not know and have never been taught Aboriginal history adequately.”
Many Canadians have grown-up uninformed about the history of Indian residential schools, forced integration, and present-day circumstances.
Do what governments have been unable able to do – get people involved. Take the challenge –
be idle no more. Racism in all its forms and manifestations can never be tolerated. When I get discouraged, I come back to being completely mindful of the children. How they are doing will tell us if we are actually succeeding. All else is idle chatter.
May we all aspire to live in honour of the Seven Grandfather Teachings: ‘Humility; Respect; Honesty; Wisdom; Love; Truth; Courage’
Robert P. Wells’ book Wawathe tells the stories of residential school survivors from northern Ontario. The book’s second edition has recently been published and the book is also being sold to schools by GoodMinds.com of the Six Nations of the Grand River.
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