I am writing this blog today not only because of my increasing concern with regards to the number of bills which are being pushed through the House and Senate without any consultation with First Nations, but also because of the folks pushing these bills. Specifically, I am talking about the Prime Minister’s newest crew of people at the highest levels who not only advise him about “Indian Affairs” but who also administer Indian Affairs. Previously, PM Harper had Tom Flanagan as his Chief of Staff (COS). Mr. Flanagan as we all know, has written several controversial books and articles related to First Nations which more or less advocate for their eventual assimilation. In his view, any concept of special constitutional rights for First Nations is unjustified. He views First Nations concepts of communal property as both “primitive” and communist”. Now he is advocating for the whole-sale privatization of reserve lands to free them up for sale. One might say – well he is not the COS anymore, so why should that matter? Great question.. It matters firstly because it demonstrates that the Conservative Party has allowed itself to be influenced more by its right-wing thinkers (think Reform Party) than those who think more broadly or with open minds. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it matters because PM Harper has now surrounded himself with right-wing thinkers and those who have publically spoken out against First Nations in ways which have been described as racist or demeaning. These same people are now administering Indian Affairs in Canada. As you all know, the new Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is MP John Duncan. He comes from an enforcement-type background having worked on Pacific Fisheries issues in BC. As MP, Duncan was very vocal against First Nations being able to exercise their constitutionally protected Aboriginal right to fish. To his mind, the First Nations fishery amounted to nothing more than a “race-based” fishery that was illegal. While some might question whether one comment is enough to paint the whole picture, I would point out that Duncan was also very vocal against the Nisga’a Self-Government agreement as well. This isn’t a situation where Duncan made a comment in the heat of the moment that he regretted and for which he later apologized. Duncan has not, from what I have seen, indicated that he has had any significant change of heart with regard to First Nations. If there was any doubt about how he feels now that he is Minister of INAC, I would refer readers to recent media which quote Duncan as saying that his priority is to ensure that First Nations have the “same” opportunities as other Canadians – ignoring of course that their rights are not the “same” but are constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights which include their inherent right to be self-governing. If this were not enough, the new Parliamentary Secretary for INAC is Shelly Glover who also comes from an enforcement background. She worked for 19 years in the police force. Yet, she has been referred to as Canada’s version of Sarah Palin for her lack of capacity in terms of politics. For example, in an effort to distance herself from Tom Flanagan, she tried to claim that she had no idea who he actually was or if he was even Canadian. Even the interviewer laughed and found it as incredulous as the rest of us that she could be a conservative MP and not know that Tom Flanagan was PM Harper’s former COS. If she did know, her attempted deception was unsuccessful. If she didn’t know, the conservatives had better be concerned. But again, we cannot judge a politician on one major flub up. What else do we know? She claims to be a Metis person affiliated with a Metis organization, although I could not find any information about her actual participation in the Metis community or how recent her self-identification is/was. What I did find were many media articles which described her as a “hard-nosed” and tough police officer especially with Aboriginal gangs. She is also supportive of tougher criminal laws and supports more money for prisons. This of course should be of great concern to First Nations who are already over-represented in provincial jails, under-represented on jury pools, and have been subjected to racial profiling, discriminatory treatment by law enforcement, and deaths while in police custody. So, you might say that is only INAC and PM Harper has shown that he is a one-man band and so we should be more concerned about what the PM thinks than what his Ministers think. OK, so let’s look at PM Harper’s own Parliamentary Secretary, Pierre Poilievre. He has been described in the media as an “attack dog” and for using racist terminology in the House (that I will not repeat here) and refusing to apologize for it. However, he is most well-known for his comments made literally hours before the Residential Schools Apology where he made stereotypical comments against Aboriginal people saying they needed to learn the value of hard work more than they needed compensation and asked whether Canadians were “really getting value for all this money”. What does this mean for Aboriginal-Crown relations in Canada? From my perspective, these key figures in the Harper government have significant influence over laws and policies which relate to First Nations and even how they are portrayed in the media. These right-wing ideologies don’t change overnight and there has been no indication that any of these individuals have backed away from their strongly held views. This has resulted in a major shift back to paternalistic ways of dealing with First Nations which presents a significant challenge to First Nations who are still struggling to deal with the legacies left by former paternalistic policy days. But it is not just the current legislative initiatives that should cause us concern. It all started with the conservative rejection of the Kelowna Accord which was intended to address the very serious health, education and employment gaps between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. It has continued with the paternalistic suite of legislation going through the House and Senate and is even evident here in Ontario. In Ontario, the federal government’s resistance to negotiating with First Nations and Ontario regarding the HST meant a protracted and tense situation that played more to the public than to the parties at hand. As well, INAC imposed an Indian Act election and government on the Algonquins of Barriere Lake despite them having legally opted out of the Indian Act election provisions long ago. What is on the horizon? I think we can expect that as Aboriginal women win court cases, like in McIvor’s case, Canada will reduce benefits so that their victories are empty. I also think that Flanagan’s original assimilatory plans will be implemented under the guise of “progress” like the current plans to privatize reserve lands and make them available for sale to non-Indians as well as Bill S-4 which would create new interests in reserve lands for non-Indians. Bill S-4 also reintroduces the concept of Indian agent under the new name of “Verifier” despite the near unanimous objections of First Nations and Aboriginal women alike. If First Nations let themselves be divided or wooed by promises of funding for various projects, we could see permanent large scale assimilation and loss of reserve lands. A famous TV psychologist once said – if someone is trying to tell you who they are and what they are all about – then listen. In this case, I would ask First Nations to listen to what the conservative party has said but also match that to what they have done. The conservative plan is still the assimilation of First Nations. The only difference being that they have learned from Flanagan’s mistakes and have obviously decided to implement their plans less overtly.
Assimilation of all Aboriginal people is a high priority goal for PM Harper, and always will be till it is complete! And he is doing a wonderful job of it. The only difference between back in the 16 and 1700's is they had treaties,now it is based upon giving money for the lands, and we Aboriginals are accepting it.
Aboriginal title is based upon land ownership, what will be of us when we no longer have title to our lands?
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