Thursday, 5 December 2013

Indigenous Nationhood & Governance in a Canadian Context: Utilizing Neoliberalism Without Proper Indigenous Inclusion

           From November 28 – November 30th I had the opportunity to attend a conference that was hosted by the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations (Queen’s University) in Kingston, Ontario. I was eager to attend this conference as the topic for this year was “2013 State of the Federation: Aboriginal Multilevel Governance.” There were many presenters who I was eager to hear speak, including my M.A adviser Dr. Kiera Ladner. Additionally, there were many presentations I plan to eagerly learn more about in order to further my understanding on what was presented (such as Metis rights, recognition, and Identity - or Indigenous Peoples and Resource Sharing Development); there were also some presentations that led to many questions like “Did I really just hear that?”
            Before I continue discussing the conference, I want to reiterate what many others did: acknowledgement that although it was in Kingston, it was also on the shared traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Anishinaabeg Nation. When discussing Canadian/Indigenous relations, even with the lens of Indigenous peoples being already interwoven into the Canadian state, such acknowledgement is important and shows respect towards an Indigenous form of introduction/greetings when coming together. That being said, I was surprised by the lack of Indigenous speakers at this conference since the topic related to Indigenous/Canadian governance. For instance, as I mentioned previously, Dr. Kiera Ladner was there to speak. Additionally, Hayden King, Richard Jock and a representative from the Tlicho Government presented as well. Lastly, the Keynote speaker during the Conference Dinner was the BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief, Chief Jody Wilson Raybould (whose speech I hope to get a hold of).
            Additionally, there were non-Indigenous speakers who led me to think deeply on what they presented and understand what they were sharing, whether I agreed with them entirely or not is a different matter. An important point  about many discussions from non-Indigenous presenters is that many seemed to grasp the contentious problems that continue to impact Indigenous/Canadian relations. These issues range from proper recognition and respect for the treaties to that of Indigenous jurisdiction over education, identity, as well as their place in the Canadian state. It is the problems mentioned that I strongly believe must be discussed, assessed, and properly understood when considering the concept of ‘Aboriginal multilevel governance’ in a Canadian context. Yet, unfortunately, little was linked to the problems mentioned that plague the relationship and thus the ability to move forward as partners. Instead, much focus seemed to have a heavy underlying tone of neoliberalism and thus a focus on economic self-sufficiency rather then other key components that must accompany the discussion.
            Furthermore, it seemed like much of the focus of the conference related to the modern treaty process that is ongoing, most likely because much of it is rooted in the neoliberal paradigm that came into dominance during the end of the 1970s/beginning of the 1980s. Little to no attention was brought forth on the other treaty regions that lay underneath Canada’s provincial and territorial boundaries. How do the numbered treaties fit into this discussion? What about the pre-confederation treaties? These two components of the Indigenous/Canadian relationship comprise much of the territory that Canada and the Indigenous nations share today… I would say over 3/4s of the territory. Thus, it is of importance to consider these two realms when also discussion governance and the relationship because without inclusion the data, statistics, and conclusions presented will be of poor quality as it is limited to a small section of the territory. One cannot assume that the modern treaty process is the beacon of hope when there are fears of it limiting and leading to further desecration of Indigenous nations who have stronger recognition and protection under their original treaties that Canada continues to ignore. However, if the underlying tone is neoliberal theory and policy then it is no wonder why the modern treaty process may very well be the ‘ideal hope’ for movement forward. But again, nothing can move forward when it is imposing on other Indigenous nations and communities who have yet to be properly respected under their original treaties.
            Although the above is my critique of what is missing from a more full discussion on Indigenous/Canadian governance – and had it been included there may very well have been far more Indigenous attendees in the audience, they were not, unfortunately, the most concerning components compared to that of two of the speakers. The least detrimental of the two that I will first speak of is from John Richards (Simon Fraser University), who focused on Indigenous Education. In his introduction he highlighted that he had a hand in the current First Nations Education Act, which is being heavily denounced by many First Nations peoples, communities, and organizations. He expresses its potential, but does not bring up the fact that there is much opposition to it. It becomes clear that consultation and working in partnership are not of importance to how some think First Nations should be educated. This has caused problems for centuries and yet the mindset continues to be pushed when it could actually be an opportunity to start healing and fixing the issues of past unilateral and paternal legislation. Lastly, in relation to the presentation by Richards, he shows that his research shows the funding gap is not as high as one thinks – yet he doesn’t include the differences that actually exist for fly-in communities, communities who must ship their youth to the nearest urban centre for the duration of high-school, and thus include coverage of food, lodging, and so on. There are other issues to consider but for the sake of time the above two are the ones from this presentation I focus on.
            Lastly, and in my personal point of view the worse, discussion accompanied the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Deputy Minister, Michael Wernick. From the beginning of his speech, he expressed that his opinions were his and his alone and thus might ‘offend’ some. Therefore, if they are to offend ‘some,’ specifically Indigenous peoples, then one must wonder how someone becomes Deputy Minister in relation to Indigenous peoples. Wernick’s speech was the most condescending and egoistic performance I have seen at a conference or by a bureaucrat. Wernick kept expressing that he will not apologize for the policy options they have chosen to go. I asked why Indigenous peoples should trust AANDC when they choose not to listen. Wernick’s response pretty much equaled to one about how we as Indigenous peoples have no choice – we do not have a choice as Indigenous peoples do not have veto on Indigenous law. Id like Wernick to show where my treaty, and many other treaties, specified that they gave up their laws and jurisdiction. Additionally, Wernick also stated that Canada will never get rid of the Indian Act because First Nations will not be willing to give up some of their ‘benefits.’ Again, I ask Wernick to show me where the Indigenous nations under the Indian Act agreed to: 1) The act, B) to lump treaty rights under the Act, and C) When the Indian Act truly became the guarantor of Indigenous treaty rights.
            These comments come directly from the mouth of the Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada – is this a problem? YES. Additionally, it is a poignant example that if people like Wernick continue to be in charge of ministries and decision making that relates to Indigenous peoples than Canada will never move forward along a respectful course that could bring Canada and the Indigenous nations towards a closer relationship as well as healing. Why? Answer: The paternalistic and colonial mindsets that have dominated the Canadian/Indigenous relationship will continue.

            Thus, I point to the need of Indigenous peoples to be influencing and infiltrating the educational systems of Canada because it is clear there is a need for our varying voices to be alongside some of these peoples, to challenge their views when it lacks proper Indigenous consideration, as well as to support and bolster the views of fellow Indigenous, and non-Indigenous allied, academics on the discussion of the state of Canada’s Federation and Indigenous governance/relations.  Until then, it is difficult to discuss Indigenous multilevel governance when the mistakes, issues, and ignorance of the past and present continue to prevent the proper recognition needed to move towards such a discussion. This is not representative of reclamation or of important values in Indigenous philosophies.

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