Prescription drug abuse was the first issue brought up by a chief at the 29th Keewaywin Conference.
“Sitting here listening to the reports, I can’t help but think back to my community – to the issues we all face,” said Eabametoong Chief Lewis Nate on the first morning of the 29th Keewaywin Conference. “We talk about prescription drugs, we talk about shortage of housing, infrastructure, so on. When we get together as proxies and delegates, remember what our communities go through. For the past year, we had a lot of things that happened in our community that made me realize how much work we have as leaders in our own communities.”
Nate sees everyday the pain and hurt of the people who are addicted to prescription drugs in his community.
“When we look back at the assimilation of our First Nation people, the churches and the government, we as First People were not recognized,” Nate said. “This is the result. We don’t know how to be a parent – I don’t know how to be a parent because I was in residential school. And the churches, when we talk about the churches being spiritual leadership, they themselves have to smarten up. When they talk about the bible and they do something else and start backstabbing, how can we believe in the higher spirit. How can our youth go to the word of God when we ourselves are not showing it. We talk about the bible, but its just words. We talk about traditions, what our traditions are, but we don’t do it. We don’t do it ourselves. So the spiritual leaders themselves have to start helping us out.”
The 29th Keewaywin Conference was held June 8-10 in Sandy Lake, with a break June 9 for the Treaty No. 5 commemoration activities in Sandy Lake and Deer Lake, where the Treaty No. 5 adhesion was signed in 1910.
A group of Sandy Lake children opened the conference with a rendition of O Canada in Oji-Cree, followed by welcoming remarks by NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy, Sandy Lake Chief Adam Fiddler, Elder Jonas Fiddler, NAN Women’s Council representative Tina Rae and Oshkaatisak Council representative Jessica Edwards.
“This meeting we are having is very important,” Beardy said. “We will be talking about our rights, we will be talking about our future, we will be talking about our lands and resources, we will be talking about your issues and your priorities.”
Jonas Fiddler spoke about the agreement to share and live in harmony made by Chief Robert Fiddler during the signing of the Treaty No. 5 adhesion in 1910 during his address to the chiefs.
“Not to be greedy, but to share and live in harmony,” Fiddler said. “That is the promise they understood, and that is what he signed.”
Fiddler said the people of NAN are often frustrated because the newcomers are “too greedy” and don’t meet the commitment to share and live in harmony.
“They want control, but that is not fair, that is not the understanding our grandfathers signed to live in harmony and to share and work together,” Fiddler said.
Housing issue growing: Louttit
“Let us stand together and respect the treaty. We have to have patience.”
Annual reports were delivered by Beardy and Deputy Grand Chiefs Les Louttit, Terry Waboose and Mike Metatawabin followed by a presentation on Economic Environment in NAN territory by Fred Lazar, an associate professor of economics in the Schulich School of Business at York University.
Beardy brought up the signing of the Treaty No. 5 Adhesion at the beginning of his annual report.
“We offered to share the wealth of the land our creator had provided for us,” Beardy said. “We offered to share … our land because that is our way – to share.”
Beardy emphasized that the people of NAN did not give up their lands, their jurisdiction or their right to self governance.
“Our people never gave up the authority over their land or their lives,” Beardy said. “Nor did they give up their right to earn a living or their right to benefit from their land to others.”
Beardy said the NAN communities have the inherent right to determine their path and their governance.
“Look around this assembly and you will see a reflection on the faces of the chiefs the aspirations, the needs and the untapped capacity of our people,” Beardy said.
Louttit brought up the housing and infrastrusture crisis during his annual report.
“All NAN First Nations are now faced with the grim reality (of) the impending cutback of major capital dollars here in the next five years,” Louttit said. “When it happens it will be NAN First Nations who will suffer the most because of their negative impacts. The government of Canada, through the departments of Indian Affairs and Canada and Mortgage Housing Corporation, is responsible for providing adequate financial resources for First Nations housing programs, however we have not seen an increase in INAC minor capital funding for new housing policies since 1996.”
Waboose brought up the broken promises from Treaty No. 9 and Treaty No. 5.
“We have accepted the rights granted to the settlers for our treaty, but they have not responded in kind,” Waboose said.
“Today we live in a legacy of broken promises, broken promises that have made our communities live in conditions that equate to third-world countries.”
Metatawabin brought up the need for better health services in the NAN communities.
“We have a responsibility to improve the health and well being of our people,” Metatawabin said.
Metatawabin also spoke about prescription drug abuse, suicide and the ongoing legacy of sexual abuse perpetuated by Ralph Rowe.
“Since August 2009, NAN has had more disclosures,” Metatawabin said, explaining out of the about 122 people who have disclosed, 23 have committed suicide.
Rowe, a former minister, pilot and Scout leader, worked in 18 NAN First Nation communities between 1971 and 1986.
He has been found guilty of sexual-related charges, which date back to the late 1970s and 1980s, and has served time in prison twice since the 1990s.
An open forum was held on the NAN Strategic Long Term Plan, Innu Nation Grand Chief Mark Nui spoke about economic initiatives in Labrador, an update was provided by Bill Nothing on the NAN governance and leadership selection process, a presentation was delivered on Meno Ya Win Health Services by CEO David Murray and Frank Beardy spoke about the NAN/Ontario Bilateral Update.
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