With all this talk of a possible federal election, I was wondering how long it would take for the three major national parties (Liberals, NDP and Conservatives) to start talking about their platforms in relation to Aboriginal peoples. Thanks to APTN National News, we got to hear a preview of their platforms last night. For anyone who missed the APTN panel, please go to the following link and watch it before you read my commentary: http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/02/04/aptns-mp-panel-back-in-business-but-for-how-long/ For those who don’t have video capabilities, I will briefly review the discussion. Appearing in this broadcast was Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, NDP MP and Aboriginal Affairs critic Jean Crowder, and Liberal MP and Aboriginal Affairs critic Todd Russell. The purpose of this panel was to discuss the possible federal election, whether the parties had a platform on Aboriginal issues and what their views were on First Nations tobacco industry and sovereignty. Here is an overview of what they had to say: (1) WILL THERE BE AN ELECTION? Russell – He was concerned with direction that the Conservatives are taking, i.e. billions in tax cuts to wealthy corporations and little for families and First Nations education. While they will try to work cooperatively, if the Conservatives don’t change direction, they will vote against the budget. Crowder – The issue is whether Harper will work with minority parties to make Parliament work for Canadians and substantial work needs to be done for Aboriginal communities. Brazeau – This Conservative government does not want an election and Canadians don’t want an election. Canadians want them to focus on the economy and creating jobs and training opportunities for Aboriginal people to “hold” jobs. (2) WHAT ABORIGINAL ISSUES ARE MOST IMPORTANT? Russell – Liberals have already spoken about their vision for Aboriginal policy going forward: (1) they would remove the 2% funding cap on post-secondary education, (2) substantial investments in Aboriginal education and k-12 system, (3) national response to murdered and missing Aboriginal women, and a (4) commitment to endorse UNDRIP which has happened. He also stresses that there must be a rebuilding of trust between government and Aboriginal peoples and criticized the Conservative government for their plans to get rid of communal property ownership on reserves and for their overall “assimilationist” approach to Aboriginal issues. Aboriginal peoples are not the same – they have legally protected rights. Crowder – When NDP develops platform on Aboriginal issues, they work with their Aboriginal Commission which is made up of Aboriginal peoples and they are working on running Aboriginal candidates in the next election. The larger issues are Nation to Nation status, inherent rights, treaties and other issues like education, health care and water. Brazeau – “There may be a disconnect” between the Conservative government and Aboriginal peoples in “some cases” but “the relationship is getting better”. The Liberals are just fear-mongering. Brazeau said he heard 5 years ago about the Conservative plans to take away First Nation rights and promote assimilation. He refers to their record: (1) residential schools apology, (2) funding for murdered and missing Aboriginal women and (3) UNDRIP. However, their focus is Aboriginal education and economic development. (3) HOW DO THE PARTIES VIEW THE TOBACCO TRADE BETWEEN SOVEREIGN FIRST NATIONS? Brazeau – The topic of “illegal tobacco” needs to be addressed. “Many of the tobacco shops on reserves” “are being used for other illegal drugs” and other “illegal things that are happening”. We have to start treating Aboriginal people equally with other manufacturers and store owners who sell tobacco”. Perhaps we need to start to “tax” them and their is a “role for the federal government in this”. Crowder – (1) There is a public health issue with the availability of cheap tobacco. (2) You have to control the supply of the raw product to control the manufacturing and (3) There are solutions like a First Nation tobacco tax imposed by First Nations and that goes back to First Nations. Russell – Aboriginal communities and the public have identified issues of health and economics. There are also issues of sovereignty, jurisdiction and treaty rights. We need to have these discussions around a negotiating table. So what we have seen in this panel on the part of the Conservatives is really more of the same. Brazeau accused Russell of fear-mongering when Russell said that the Conservatives were using an assimilatory agenda to make Aboriginal people the same as other Canadians and ignore their legally protected rights. Yet, Brazeau could not help himself when he later said that the Conservative goal was to treat First Nations the same as other Canadians. While the Conservatives try to dance around their ultimate agenda so that their assimilatory views do not look so overt, the fact of the matter is that this is exactly what they are attempting in their Aboriginal policy. You can look at any of their activities over the last few years and see the common thread of trying to making Aboriginal “the same” as everyone else and an almost complete rejection of their legally and constitutionally protected rights. For example: (1) Bill C-3 did not remedy gender inequality which leads to loss of status. In fact, Canada defended the second-generation cut-off rule despite the fact that it guarantees the legal extinction of First Nations. (2) Bill S-4 does not provide real access to justice for Aboriginal peoples living on reserve after a marital break-up, but it does guarantee land rights to non-Indians of reserve lands for the first time in history. (3) Bill C-575 does not address the severe poverty of First Nations that lead to their early deaths. It creates more reporting requirements for First Nations who already report more than any other entity in Canada. (4) There have been numerous studies, reports, commissions and inquiries that prove that Aboriginal men and women are incarcerated at a disproportionately higher rate than non-Aboriginal peoples and sometimes the cause is pure racism. Yet, the Conservative response is to spend millions building new prisons and hiring new corrections officers so they can house the increasing numbers which will effectively remove any remaining Aboriginal people (who are not assimilated through the Indian Act) out of society. (5) When the Native Womens’ Association of Canada identified an alarming number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada, the Conservatives cut the funding and poured millions into policing to help “all Canadians”. (6) When the Corrections Ombudsperson identified discrimination against Aboriginal offenders; the former auditor general Sheila Fraser identified inequality in funding critical services like child and family services and education, when the Ministerial representative for INAC noted that matrimonial real property legislation required consultation, when the UN identified numerous unresolved issues in Canada with regard to Aboriginal peoples, the response is always the same – there is no response. (7) Now it is reported that Canada is providing funds in one form or another to people like Tom Flanagan and Manny Jules to promote the privatization of reserve lands. No land = no community = assimilation. I could go on and on, but my blogs cover alot of this stuff. Brazeau focused on education and jobs – assimilating Aboriginal people into Canadian society, and no recognition of their special legal, constitutional and cultural status. It is the Flanagan-Cairns-Helin-Gibson-Widdowson-Canadian Tax Payers plan: Step 1 – underfund essential services so that First Nations off reserves, Step 2 – educate them in the Canadian system and put them in “regular” jobs and debt, Step 3 – entice individuals with financial incentives not tied to their community and villify their leaders, Step 4 – bleed off Indian women and their descendants through the Indian status provisions, and Step 5 – innocently promote individualism under the guise of equality. I am not saying that jobs or education are bad. In fact, I am a huge promoter of education so that we can build capacity to help heal our communities and rebuild our Nations. Having jobs and income to finance these projects are also essential. But I don’t agree with the requirement that we abandon our cultures, languages, identities, histories, legal rights, lands, communities, governments, laws, or treaties. The Conservatives hope to entice us down the path of assimilation “voluntarily” – but we have another choice. We can be Indigenous and educated. We can be Indigenous and own our own businesses. We can be Indigenous and have relations with Canadians. We do not need to give up our identities, communities and Nations to be entitled to demand fair treatment and respect of our rights. I have never been a voter myself, nor do I belong to any political party, but in recent years I have started to think that we need to take action on multiple fronts. I am still thinking about it, but the Conservatives are getting scarier as each year passes and their arrogance and paternalism on Aboriginal issues becomes more and more apparent. MP Todd Russell spoke of jurisdiction, treaty rights, and negotiation. MP Jean Crowder spoke of inherent rights, treaties and Nation to Nation relations. Brazeau preached about federal taxation of “illegal” First Nation business, the disconnected relation they have with Aboriginal peoples, and the need to treat Aboriginal peoples the same as other Canadians. Could the message be any clearer?