The Harper Government has been in constant damage control mode since being elected. It has literally been one scandal after another whether you are talking about finances, Ministers or Senators. At every turn, Harper’s dictatorial governance style and tight grip on his bureaucrats has failed to keep scandal from his doorstep – which speaks volumes about Harper himself.
Never have we seen as many omnibus bills drafted so large that they effectively thwart the democratic legislative process. Nor have we seen as many sessions of Parliament being prorogued every time Harper needs to hide from another scandal. The level of hypocrisy within the Harper government has also reached epic proportions.
On the First Nation front, Harper has not fared much better. He has single-handedly fostered one of the worst relationships with First Nations in history. From the failed Crown-First Nations Gathering which was supposed to “reset” the relationship, to the disastrous winter of Idle No More where Harper ran roughshod over both the Chiefs and the grassroots people who were demanding consultation on his legislative agenda, Harper has shown his gross incompetence as a Prime Minister. This incompetence has led to a complete breakdown in the relationship which leaves little room for negotiating tough issues. He has also lost all touch with reality when he and his Ministers assumed that the spirit of Idle No More fizzled out, as the protests all over the country in solidarity with Elsipogtog, demonstrated.
Instead of coming to the table in good faith and trying to fix the mess that he has created and offer something of substance to address the injustices faced by First Nations, he continues to forge ahead with his assimilation agenda against the trends of most modern countries, international law and Canada’s own laws. Harper acts much like some unstable leaders throughout history, who, to their detriment, fixated on their own radical beliefs about a certain group or Nation and did everything in their power to control, dominate and/or eliminate them. It is time that the Governor-General removed Harper as Prime Minister before he does any more damage to Canadians, First Nations or other countries with his unconstitutional and dangerous actions.
It is the height of hypocrisy for Harper to focus so much on First Nation accountability or alleged lack thereof given the mess he has made of his own government. He and his Ministers are acting without any fact-based evidence to support the alleged need to control First Nations governments more than they already controlled under the Indian Act and Canada’s oppressive laws and policies. Despite what some individual, uninformed, racist media commentators might pontificate about First Nations, the current situation in many First Nations is the uncomfortable result of Canada’s horrific genocidal policies and its ongoing paternalistic control and interference with First Nations at every level. The current trend of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s (INAC’s) interfering with First Nations governance as a means of political bullying is a little known reality for First Nation leaders.
Take for example, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. This community had a custom election code where they chose their leaders according to their own traditions. The INAC Minister had no say over how they chose their leaders, as they were outside of the Indian Act rules regarding elections. Yet, this fact did not stop the Minister from illegally removing the Chief and Council as leaders of their First Nation, when the community engaged in extended protests to keep outside companies from extracting resources from their territory. Although Canada proceeded to hold an Indian Act election, the Chief who was elected resigned in protest over Canada’s paternalistic control over their people. Canada’s political interference with the internal governance of First Nations appears to be an attempt to bully First Nations into giving up their sovereignty and jurisdiction over their lands and resources.
One need only look at the example of Chief Theresa Spence, who, on behalf of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, declared a state of emergency because of the lack of housing, to see an example of political deflection. The Red Cross came in to Attawapiskat to provide emergency relief, despite Canada’s legislative mandate to improve the social and economic well-being of First Nations. Instead of assisting, Harper vilified Chief Spence in Parliament with unfounded allegations about financial mismanagement and placed her under Third Party Management. It didn’t take a court long to see that not only was there no financial mismanagement, but also that Canada had acted illegally by putting Chief Spence in Third Party. This was clearly a diversionary tactic by Harper to deflect attention away from Canada’s neglect of First Nations, its failure to live up to its mandate, the gross violation of Aboriginal, treaty and human rights and its own government’s scandals.
More recently, INAC decided to intervene in Pinaymootang First Nation in Manitoba and illegally oust the leadership. This received almost no media attention, but it is a stark reality faced by many First Nation leaders who consistently have to weigh their advocacy actions and governance decisions against the very real prospect of INAC’s heavy hand. If Chiefs do not act like “willing partners” with Harper’s government, they risk being thrown out of office.
In Pinaymootang, the Chief and several councillors were removed from office – a very aggressive, heavy-handed move on the part of INAC. The timing of the removal was also suspect given that Pinaymootang was in the process of resolving outstanding flooding claims – a significant crisis issue that remains outstanding in many other Manitoba First Nations as well. Their illegal removal was further suspect given the First Nation’s upcoming elections. The following chronology reveals some disturbing facts about Canada’s abuse of power:
Summer 2011 – Significant man-made flooding by the province of Manitoba to protect Winnipeg residents devastates First Nation communities;
October 21, 2011 – Chief Woodhouse is re-elected with the his councillors;
October 2011 – onward – Chief Woodhouse aggressively pursues flooding assistance for his community members;
November 30, 2011 – An appeal of the election is submitted to Indian Affairs by a band member who had been fired from the band;
December 13, 2011– Chief Woodhouse receives notice of the appeal, but INAC refuses to provide the details of the allegations despite requests by Chief’s lawyer for same;
July 17, 2013 – INAC Minister Valcourt makes an order as per section 78 (2)(b)(iii) of the Indian Act that the positions of Chief and several councillors were vacant;
– an order per section 78.(3) that the applicants be ineligible to run in an election for a period of two years; and
– A Third Party Manager is put in place to control the community’s finances;
August 30, 2013 – Chief Woodhouse obtains in interim order which reinstates he and his councillors back to office;
October 21, 2013 – A federal court judge orders that the Minister’s decisions be set aside;
October 25, 2013 – Chief Woodhouse is re-elected.
To date, no RCMP charges have ever been laid against the Chief for any criminal activities in relation to the election. The timeline also shows that it took INAC almost two years to remove the Chief and several councillors from office.
In the injunction hearing, the Federal Court judge remarked that Chief Woodhouse had been Chief since 1999 and that he and his councillors:
“They have not been accused of, or found to have committed, any corrupt practice while in office. The evidence before me reveals that they have served their community long and well and enjoy community support and approval in their administrative and governance goals.”
The subsequent decision of the Federal Court in the main action for a judicial review confirmed that the Minister did not act within the legal framework when he removed the Chief from office and further, he had no authority to bar them from running in a future election as they had never been found guilty of a corrupt practice.
“Therefore, I must conclude that the Minister’s decision was out of keeping with the legal framework governing his role under the Indian Act.”
In other words, the Minister, like in Attawapiskat, acted illegally. While the frenzy over the Brazeau, Wallin and Duffy Senate scandal is dominating the media, we can’t let Harper’s multiple scandals over-shadow the very real scandals happening in the INAC Minister’s office every day. This is not the first time INAC has abused its power, nor will it be the last.
Chief Sock of Elsipogtog felt the full force of Harper’s new militant resource development agenda and should be prepared for the vilification that usually follows Indigenous resistance to ongoing oppression and theft of our lands and resources. In all likelihood, Chief Sock will be accused of some sort of mismanagement; subjected to Third Party; or a random “investigation”. Other Chiefs standing up to protect their lands and resources, like Chief Arlen Dumas of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, should also be prepared for attacks on their credibility or governance. INAC works behind the scenes, often with political opponents of First Nations leaders, to vilify Chiefs to further Canada’s own agenda – which includes the surrender of our lands and resources and the imposition of assimilatory legislation.
It’s time this abusive power was exposed and that the federal government be held to account. In my opinion, Harper should be placed in Third Party Management by a manager of our choice until we decide whether or not we want him removed by the Governor-General for acting outside the law. I think there is more than enough evidence for an order pursuant to Cree, Mi’kmaw, Ojibway or Anishinabek law to enforce this.
Given that ours laws are as valid as Canada’s and protected in the Constitution Act 1982, I request 200 RCMP officers, in full camouflage, with their dogs, snipers and armoured personnel carriers to escort us while we serve these orders or removal on the Prime Minister. Let us know when you guys have the troops ready to go.