Monday, 7 January 2013
Today is a day that I saw myself lose respect for many fellow inhabitants of turtle Island. My loss of respect is not towards Chief Spence at this moment (because I believe in obtaining more facts before casting a stone at this situation), but rather those who I believed would look at today’s ‘revelation’ with more of a critical eye and mindset rather then jumping on this Chief. I will admit I do not know how guilty or not guilty Chief Spence may be on this entire situation. But what I do know, as someone who has lived, breathed, and grew up in the colonial system of Indian Act and Aboriginal Affairs, is that there is more to this story.
Today was the day that a ‘leaked’ audit hit the media networks, social media , and the airwaves – all painting a picture of a lack of ‘due diligence’ in the financing accountability of the Cree community of Attawapiskat. Although the report does not condemn Chief Spence per se, the right wing media outlets such as Sun News Media and the National Post were quick to jump on her and label her as the culprit who doesn’t get how to do her job. However, what most didn’t bother to report was the reality of the situation.
As many have now pointed out, including Pam Palmater, Chief Spence has only been Chief since August of 2010. Thus, how is this individual responsible for the actions between 2005 to Mid-August of 2010? Palmater points out that during the period that Theresa Spence was Chief the lack of accountability was at its lowest. In otherwords, due diligence was better then before she was Chief. Some may then point out her time as Deputy Chief from 2007 – 2010. Again, this does not necessarily mean anything. For those who know the internal systems of the imposed Band Council system work, which are pretty much the puppets to ANAC based on their design and who it is accountable to, they would know that this means squat. Most communities have a ‘Band Administrator’ or someone who handles the overall finances of the community. If it is done through Council usually one person handles the file. Although they may report it to the entire Chief and Council it does not mean they have done so properly. ANAC also allows this because as long as ANAC approves the budget, usually done via the Band Administrator or through the individual holding the Finance Portfolio.
Additionally, because of this vast amount of control that ANAC has over the Band Councils and the budgets of each community, a bureaucracy that has far less turnover compared to their Indigenous counterparts, one must ask why it is not being lambasted as well? Furthermore, Why are the Indian Affairs Ministers, specifically 2006 and on, not being held in the same standards as Chief Spence is? Not only this, why are Ministers such as Peter McKay, Peter Peneshue, Tony Clement, and Dean Del Mastro not being held accountable for their improper book keeping in Election expenses? Why are they not holding Mike Duffy or Patrick Brazeau to account for there own mismanagement of funds? Oh that’s right, because individuals are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. I guess this is only the case when you are a CPCer.
But wait, its not just CPCers going for her throat anymore – general people are also doing so. What about various municipalities, such as Mississauga's Mayor, that have had questionable expenses and conflict of interests? What about Provincial governments and their elected officials of all colour stripes? What about the same tactics being used on Chief Spence that were used on Liberal MPs like Ralph Goodale and Scott Brison? I remember people expressing the need to seek out the entire story before jumping to the conclusion. Why is it so different when it comes to Indigenous governance or Indigenous people?
This is exactly what some individuals have done. They have lumped Chief Spence into the category of being at fault for it all. Furthermore, many now link this to all Indigenous communities. Lastly, they link all of this to the IdleNoMore movement. Guilty by association, it’s a wonderful thing eh? Even though IdleNoMore was started at least, at minimum, a month in advance of Chief Spence’s stance. Or that IdleNoMore began by four Indigenous women out west. Or that the original rallies were done by people not linked to Chief Spence. What about the fact that the stance by Spence had nothing to do with the government already trying to drag her name through the dirt but about the rightful duty, relationship, and legal bindings of Canada’s relationship with the Indigenous Nations – Nation to Nation.
Individuals who are perpetuating the ignorance forget this and continue to link both together somehow. I have heard why do they not back away from her? Well, that is an interesting question. When you are a part of a population that people have belittled, accused, and painted with the brushstroke of being to incompetent to control our own affairs, and we know that it is not always true – because media and government releases have always been good at misconstruing the reality, why would they abandon her before the full story is released or understood? Isnt that how it is supposed to be? Innocent until proven guilty? What about habeas corpus in this situation? All of the proof is not yet been presented. Additionally, why haven’t these same people done the exact same within their own partisan walls? Is it because they know, when relating to their political leanings, that media may not always be fair but rather can be biased?
What about the other media releases that show the government of Canada is just as guilty for not giving us the proper tools to do things properly or for the amount of money that is actually spent in their hands via ANAC rather then what makes it to us. What about how much is spent to get the needed items for building, infrastructure, food, workers, and so on into a remote community (whether Indigenous or not)? For the National Post to label this community as a money pit is to claim the same for all none-southern communities. Could we then call Alert, Labrador City, Atlin, Flin Flon, Beauvelle, Elliott Lake, and others a money pit too? (I hardly doubt it would be easily allowed to occur without being condemned). Additionally, it lacks critical analysis of the Indian Act and what it does to prevent Indigenous ability to enhance economic ability and stability.]
Yet, somehow it turns to it all being only the fault of our Indigenous leaders, our members, and the people who allow it to continually occur, even though many of us are always fighting the good fight to bring awareness to how convoluted and ignorant this mindset is. My favorite has been the comments from people expressing to us as Indigenous people what is wrong with our communities, how we need to man (or woman) up, how to fix our issues of poverty and suicide (that’s right – one individual actually specified why we have the issue of suicide and how to deal with it). Many of these people have never been to an actual reserve in the north (or any Indigenous community actually). Many of these people have pointed out to me, via emails, twitter and facebook messages, that they know little to nothing on this subject – yet they seem to know what is best for us.
Hmm, I seem to recall an entire history of colonization where outsiders told us what would be best for us (look how well it has worked out). We consistently meet with Canadians to tell them what needs to be done, what we want, the recognition needed, and the importance of law and understanding. But yet, it is never what they want to hear. So they keep on judging and casting stones before understanding the crap load of problems, scenarios, and histories, ethnicities, and treaties that exist in this situation. Instead, we get told how they think we should ‘fix’ it all. This leads to protests, anger, blockades, and then standoffs (sorry about the delays, we have only been waiting for justice over countless of generations and decades).
On economics, I have been told to idolize and copy the work done by specific communities across Canada, such as the band Chief Louie governs. This is all nice to say but the reality is who in their right mind can expect people in different climates and regions to do something similar? This is like telling Manitoba or Quebec to begin fending for themselves and to learn how to build their economy off of oilsands revenue like Alberta did. Makes sense right? Especially when these provinces don’t have oil sands resources. Just like, a Dene community in the NWT cannot have a winery.
Perhaps the continued and prolonged issues we are facing still today, as we did 100 years ago, has something to do with this lack of willingness to actually listen to the Indigenous side. Perhaps the problems are the continued belief that Indigenous nations have no rights, claims to their traditional territories and are apart of the Canadian state (even though Indigenous nations have never been asked to actually federate). Perhaps learning about the Indigenous nations and their distinct populations (and yes I pluralize this as there is more then 1 kind), their histories, treaties, and relationship to Canada (and the Crown) should be considered. And maybe, just maybe, you can stop casting stones at us – people who are already beaten into the ground and robbed of a language, culture, and understanding of one’s own history are easy to target. Many of those who grow up with this animosity are far more likely to consider a noose, overdose, poison, a razor blade, or a gun as an answer to remove themselves from the onslaught of ignorance that we deal with on a day to day basis from the moment of birth. Mainstream society calls this ignorance and bullying I do believe.
As Indigenous people we have issues – long standing issues because of the histories we have been born from, the histories we have inherited, the problems we have inherited, as well as the ignorance and animosity that has been inherited by the other side of the treaty relationship. Perhaps it is time to stop telling us how to fix it and to start listening!
Pierre Trudeau said during the constitutional discussions of the early 1980s “I just don’t know what you people want.” I still hear that question today from people. Perhaps its time to listen to what has been said for generations from our side and start learning, respecting, listening, and working with us. Assisting with the smoke screens and jumping to conclusions as I have seen from people today does nothing but demean both sides of the treaty relationship.
But what do I know? I am just an ‘educated Indian’ who grew up in both societies, lives and breaths Indigenous and Canadian politics and thus all the issues that accompany it (like so many others who are consistently discredited)– I guess I know nothing right? Lets just keep bypassing the issues and not listening to the people all of this impacts, because it has worked out so nicely for Canada since its day as separate colonies (again, sarcasm).
What I do know for sure? I will not cast stones at this Chief Spence until I know the full story – it is the least I can do and what should be done by anyone who has witnessed this type of thing on to others.
(Also look at Sheila Fraser’s (Past Auditor General) Report in relation to Indigenous/Government finances)
Scholars to Consider on Items relating to this:
Sakej Youngblood Henderson
Russell Lawrence Barsh