Monday, 14 October 2013

A Decade Later: Stepping Aside Becomes my ‘Policy’ for 2014 (Short Version)

I write this as my two-year term as Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission is coming to an end. In four months, members of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) will be meeting in Montreal for another biennial convention that will seek to secure a new two-year mandate of its internal structures as well as policy the party members seek to adopt and have fused into its platform for the 2015 election. During the last 20 months I have witnessed first-hand the push from hard-working Liberals to see the party move forward, rebuild, and re-establish itself. This has included outreach, a leadership race, and much internal restructuring and rebuilding. After 10 years of involvement, with ‘climbing the internal ladder’ for the last eight years, I wish to express that I will not be seeking re-election as Co-Chair of the Indigenous wing of the party in February 2014.

Not only will I not seek re-election, despite the opposite call from many which is truly humbling, I will be removing myself from any internal party positions for the next while due to items relating to my PhD and my personal life. Like many, I have given much time, energy, sweat and tears to the cause – I especially have done this for rural and Indigenous representation. During this time I have watched many good people lose electoral districts; the disenchantment and loss of good people due to the internal feuding between 2005-2011, and parts of this party implode into itself – such as the Indigenous wing prior to 2012. Although I look back on these negative components with sorrow, I look at what has been achieved since 2011 and am happy and humbled to say I was apart of the struggle, rebuilding, and re-establishment of our party. If I could talk to my 19 year-old self on this day in 2003, I highly doubt I’d believe my own self with what I would end up achieving and assisting with.

(For information on how I became involved, and my experience in doing so please see the 'long-version' of this entry).

Aboriginal Peoples' Commission (APC) - 2012 to Present:

After a two years under our belts in the APC, not to mention the destruction from May 2011, and the next LPC Biennial Convention set for January 2012, Cherish Clarke and I began the discussion of potentially running together (I would like to express a special thank you to Tanya Kappo for her support and discussions with us to replace her as the Co-Chairs - you have taught me so much and I am ever-so thankful). I had been adamant at the time that I did not want to run unless done so with Cherish because of her passion, previous involvement, as well as her connections to her Tlingit nation.  Additionally, Cherish was someone who could represent ‘northern’ understanding while I could understand 'southern' items Additionally, she was from the West and I the East. After her run for the Territorial Legislature in the Yukon, and time involved with the Territorial Executive of the Liberal Party of Yukon), not to mention her familial duties, work, and connections to her peoples and territory, Cherish and I set out on building a team to run with. The first two we were able to approach was Naomi Sayers and Kevin Seesequasis.

Fortunately, I had known Naomi as a fellow student at the University of Western Ontario and her passion on the rights and representation of Indigenous women and youth was absolutely amazing. I had discussed involvement over a period of a year with Naomi, and am thankful she opted to get involved. Originally, we had hoped she would seek the Youth Representative position – today I know how wrong we were and am so truly thankful that it was the Indigenous Women’s Representative position she would be elected to.

In relation to Kevin, we happened to find him on facebook (Social media has many uses). Cherish came across him first due to his volunteerism and communication presence from Saskatchewan during the 2011 election. By the middle of the summer Cherish and I were convinced we needed to approach him and asked Tanya Kappo to do so at first. After being on an executive with no VP of Communications, Cherish and I knew it was important that someone who was savvy in that field would be needed – we had no doubt Kevin was that person (and I can say neither of us doubt it today). Over the last 20 months, the ability for the APC to communicate for its outreach strategy has been important and Kevin’s quickness on our social media accounts, and his time in prepping our newsletters and other releases, has been, in my mind, the most important part of the success we have had for rebuilding. Another individual to note is Cheryl Matthew. Although Cheryl had to step down six months later, I want to acknowledge her and the important work she did in that period in assisting us with financial matters and hosting our first Fundraiser, in Ottawa - the first for APC since May of 2009.

As it came closer to the January Biennial, others who we had not known of also would put their names forth – Glenn Wheeler for VP Policy, who has done consultation on Urban Indigenous policy opportunities. Unfortunately, like other organizations, others who put their name forth turned out to speak more then take action (in some cases there was also no speaking) and/or isolate themselves from the team. Despite this issue, there would eventually be people to replace those who were not able to fulfill these duties.

In November of 2012 James Harper joined us as the APC Youth Representative. The work he has put into giving Indigenous youth a voice and representing them in the APC and throughout the party has been absolutely important (I truly hope to see him nominated for this position again!). In March of 2013 Ted Martin would join the team as our VP of Membership and Organization (in the short period that he has been with us Ted has been doing the best to organize us properly and keeps us in check. Additionally, he is now highlighting our sub-committee rules, prepping us for our Biennial Meeting and assessing what needs to be considered for change in our constitution.

Throughout our term we have been re-launching our regional wings of the APC too! When the 2012 executive was elected in January, there were no longer any active regional wings of the APC. Although we have re-established BC to Ontario, and are working on further entrenchment in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, PEI, and Nova Scotia (with people on the ground as interim presidents), not all have been able to properly move forward. Despite this, most, exempting 2, have been trying their hardest, while juggling their personal lives, employment, as well as school, in order to assist with rebuilding. To these individuals: Sheryl Fisher and her team (APC-BC); Daniol Coles (APC-Ablerta); Reina Sinclair and her team (APC-Saskatchewan); Steve Vanloffeld and the team there (APCO); Julie Pellisier-Lush (APC-PEI); and, most recently, Nadine Bernard (APC-Nova Scotia) – I say thank you/Chi-Miigwetch for what you do to assist the APC and LPC.

The work all of those who I have named have assisted to contribute to the following, action, and voice the APC has today. Over the last 20 months, we have gone from no presence on social media to one that entails 1500+ followers on facebook and 1875+ followers on twitter. The APC has gone from 300 members and no supporters to a combined total of just over 1000 (this is a huge success as we in the APC heave to deal with more then just why someone should vote Liberal - but also why they should utilize the Canadian system at all - which I focused my entire M.A thesis on). In 2012 the APC presented no policy at the Biennial Convention. In 2014, we plan to have 8-10 for delegates to consider. Pre-January 2012, I would argue that the APC was not taken seriously by the internal structures of the party, since at least 2007, due to the fallout and implosion the commission had suffered. I believe I can safely say that many in the party now know the importance of working with the Indigenous wing when it comes to policy that impacts Indigenous peoples; that we are active and important to work with for outreach and for understanding Indigenous peoples. Lastly, that the APC means business. My hope: The APC will continue on this movement forward and that the LPC continues to learn and understand the validity and reasoning for the APC’s existence in the party – to educate, assist with out reach, and prevent the mistakes of not considering Indigenous views on various policy options (from Abolishment of the Monarchy to self government and resource development).

To those who understand this and have worked especially close with us to help in bringing forth this understanding (MPs Carolyn Bennett, Justin Trudeau, Joyce Murray, to name a few; ex-MPs: Bob Rae, Larry Bagnell and Tina Keeper; and ‘power-brokers’ inside the party: Blake Rogers (LPC-Yukon), Kieron Testart (LPC-Western Arctic), Brian Rice (LPC-BC), Wendy Butler (LPC-Alberta), Evatt Merchant (LPC-Saskatchewan), Howard Stevenson (LPC-Ontario), Alexandra Mendes (LPC-Quebec), Maryanne Kampouris (National VP Policy), Mary Pyenburg (National Womens Liberal Commission), and Sam Lavoie (Young Liberals of Canada): Chi-Miigwetch/Thank You.

Additionally, the territory and places I have travelled to, and the people I have met, under the Liberal banner has been absolutely appreciative and awe-inspiring. From my tiny community of Manominiiking to events and meetings from Windsor to Ottawa and up to Thunder Bay; from Hull to Montreal and Quebec City; Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver, Whitehorse, and Halifax (Mi'kmaq, Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabeg, Nehiyaw, Squamish, and Tlingit territory) (to name but a few) - CHI-MIIGWETCH/THANK YOU.


Now, if you have actually followed this entire ‘blog,’ I will summarize my experience as one that has been ‘a whirlwind’ adventure’ - that has had many successes, frustrations, and debates. For many of you that I mentioned, you will know I take a position I fill seriously and do it to my utmost abilities – with the use of my stubbornness, ‘street’ and ‘book’ smarts, and that I do try to meet ‘half-way.’ I have tried to make sure that the various opinions and understandings from Indigenous peoples are considered and heard – it is time to bring to an end this view that all Indigenous peoples are the same. We are not, and that must be considered (it is something that this executive, for the most part, has done well at recognizing – there are, on traditional lines – Metis, Inuit, Mi’kmaq, Nehiyaw, Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabeg, Dene, Tlingit, Squamish, Haida, and many more Indigenous nations. Post-contact, there are non-treatied areas, modern-treatied areas, Numbered treatied arieas, as well as pre-Confederation treaty areas. Additionally, there are on-reserve First Nations, traditional Indigenous peoples, non-traditional Indigenous peoples, Urban Indigenous peoples, and so on.

This must always be remembered – coupled with remembering the past in order to properly move forward as is important. If we forget and simply look forward, we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and forget why we are doing the work we do in the role of the APC. Lastly, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission is indeed a wing of the Liberal Party of Canada. Although those of us situated as members or the executive team in it, it is imperative the APC always remember they, in my view, have a duty to bring forth the Indigenous voice, teachings, and understanding to the party and be that bridge between Indigenous peoples and Canada’s political ways. We cannot be a ‘megaphone’ for political rhetoric but a voice to push for understanding, education, change, and respect to the Canadian/Indigenous relationships and jurisdictions.

With that, I express a sincere Chi-Miigwetch/Thank you for the 10 years I have spent growing and climbing the internal ladder to enter the position I have served for the last 20 months. It will be difficult come February to move aside but it is important for me to do so and return to being a non-executive/board member of the party.  But do know I will cherish the gifts of friendship I have obtained, the life skills and knowledge I have learned, and so much more.

Chadwick Cowie
Co-Chair (Male)
Aboriginal Peoples Commission
Liberal Party of Canada

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