Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The #FNFTA: Feds Not Fulfilling Treaty Agreements

Ad Courtesy of the Aboriginal Peoples' Commission
Last week, as many of you know, the Canadian government, headed by the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), continued its colonial expansion and onslaught on many Indigenous nations. The continued colonial expansion and onslaught is through the FNFTA: The First Nations Financial Transparency Act. A symbol of the Feds Not Fulfilling Treaty Agreements. Now, many of you will look at this title and the preamble to this legislative act that became law this month as a step forward – a step towards transparency. However, this is not the case and continues to sow the tide of ignorance, division, and hatred between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

The FNFTA sought to bring transparency and openness to Indian Act communities because it assumed that none, or at least most of them, do not show transparency to those ‘who elect them.’ In fact, Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt claims “this is in an effort to provide First Nations people with transparency and allow them to hold  their elected leaders accountable.” I have many problems with this as well as how the media and general Canadians of all/non-political stripes have been viewing this.

What Are Some of the Problems?

Let us first focus on the biggest ‘hole’ in the CPC logic of accountability and transparency. First, the CPC has tried to argue this is to benefit the people whom elect them. Yet, the Indian Act Chiefs and Councils are a unilateral imposition by Canada that has been in practice for over a century per se. In order to destroy Indigenous governance structures and forms of representation, Canada outlawed the traditional forms of governments, clan systems, as well as Indigenous judicial processes. In doing so they imposed a system that further divided Indigenous nations and confederacies into communities with systems of governments that require them to be accountable to Indian Affairs and Canada. Therefore, one must ask how a unilateral imposition of a foreign governance structure with no adequate consultation for a change in governance can be held accountable or transparent? The system is already on eggshells and is only there to hold up the concept of the Canadian state.
Ad courtesy of the Aboriginal Peoples' Commission

Now, many communities and Indian Act Chiefs and Councils have learned to utilize the ‘masters tools’ to try and bring change, but when they do Canada threatens to withhold funding. If this does not work, they formulate some form of legislation to get what they want. For instance, many do not know that most Indian Act communities are already heavily monitored and thus a question that basic media tends to forget to ask to Canadians is, why the problems of accountability and transparency exists if it all is already monitored and reviewed by Aboriginal Affairs? Why is it that corruption in a select few cases of 630+ communities gets greenlit through Aboriginal Affairs but it is not highlighted when media breaks the story? Lastly, why is it never highlighted that over 50% of treaty monies (funding as Canada calls it) go into the financing of Aboriginal Affairs? These are questions I still am looking for an answer to.

On the topic of Media, it has been mind-boggling that focus has been specific to one chief who made almost One million during the 2013 fiscal year. Why have they not reported on much of what Hayden King, an Anishinaabeg from Beausoleil and Director for the Centre of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, has highlighted in his article on August 2nd, 2014. For instance, Dr. King points out that

                        “of course, this information is important to know. But we can
 also expect the media to do little else. Few will cover the
hundreds of chiefs and/or councils that make $10,000 a year.
Few will examine the extreme AANDC underfunding this new
data reveals… Few will ask critical questions about the
consequences of First Nations (which are often both governments
and corporations) disclosing the details of business dealings with
current and/or future negotiating partners.”

Dr. King’s poignant assessment is ringing true a week later as focus continues to relate to one Chief and the fact that one Canadian Federal Politician has stated he wants to see an overhaul of the bill – with true respect and nation to nation dialogue as its underpinning.

In fact I was impressed that Justin Trudeau stated it needed to be dismantled and redone – I think it highlights a massive change in Liberal ideology on Indigenous peoples since the Chretien Era. Much has changed since 2003 – with the Liberals opening their minds to Indigenous understanding; the Conservatives taking the Liberal’s 1969 (White Paper) and 2002 (First Nations Governance Act) extremely outdates views on how best to deal with Indigenous Nations, and the NDP falling short on action - especially with their leader, Thomas Muclair, still not apologizing for endorsing the CPC relationship with Indigenous nations in January of 2013.

Minister Bernard Valcourt's Email to CPC Supporters (August 13, 2014)
Yet, the attacks continue and the well preserved ignorance of the masses dominates discussion. This allows the Conservatives to make cheap shots at other political parties while Indigenous peoples continue to fight for treaty recognition; rights to their government structures; Nation-to-nation dialogue; the protection of their children and of women; to adequate water, housing, infrastructure, health and education; and the promises made through the  Canadian government on behalf of the Crown. Instead, the Conservatives are using it as a fundraising technique (see email sent out via Bernard Valcourt on August 13, 2014) while many in Indigenous  communities continue to fight for survival.

Unfortunately most general Canadians continue the belief that these issues are long ago, that Indigenous peoples are nothing more then Canadian citizens, we must integrate, and get rid of our ‘special rights.’ In other words, we are stalled at the starting line of the race towards decolonization.

I constantly hear people say they are open to learning, open to listening to the Indigenous side but I am becoming increasingly aware that actions speak louder then words…. That sometimes words are just a placation of seeming intolerant. Unfortunately, the discussions I have had with people on the FNTPA continues to rear the ugly heads of ignorance and colonial continuation in Turtle Island – and all through the fuel of the CPC spin doctoring machine. However, I do know one thing – decolonization and both sides travelling down the river together, side by side in their boats is a long ways away. The First Nations Financial Transparency Act highlights that. How can accountability and transparency even exist through unilateral imposition, falsification, the untold truth of Canada’s historical founding, and the Feds Not Fulfilling Treaty Agreements.

Transparency and accountability are nothing but empty and soulless words when espoused from the Conservative Government of Canada. 

Suggested Sources and Readings:

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Tamara Ward-Johnson: One Example of Many In What is Wrong With Canada (And the Ontario Election)

Earlier this week an ad was placed in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal for the Ontario Libertarian Party’s Candidate: Tamara Ward Johnson. Now, some of you may recall Ward-Johnson was originally a Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario Candidate for Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Ward-Johnson made comments in February of 2014 that Indigenous peoples and their businesses have unfair advantages over ‘poor’ and ‘innocent’ Ontarians. The uproar against her comments led the PCs to ditch her as their candidate, leading her to express that she was “removed for speaking the truth.” Others in the area took to social media to counteract Ward-Johnson’s clear use of misunderstanding, ignorance, and the Canadian public’s lack of understanding towards treaty relations/agreements. My friend, Damien Lee and a member of the Fort William Community/citizen of the Anishinaabeg Nation, was one such person.

In his opening letter he expresses to Ward-Johnson that she “made a number of accusations, including the argument that First Nations are getting ‘illegal’ tax breaks, that First Nations should follow Ontario law, and, most recently, that gas stations in [Fort William] price gasoline based on race.” Damien then goes on to dissect each accusation and explains how federal and provincial legislation/agreements/treaties formulate some of the differences that exist. In other words, Damien highlights how Ward-Johnson’s comments are misinformed and full of nothing more then ignorance and perpetuating stereotypes.

While the rest of us moved forward in our daily lives and were oblivious to ongoing tension between Indigenous peoples and a segment of Canadians, which is usually what happens here in the Canadian state – we only learn of a Canadian/Indigenous mishap when the crap has hit the political, national, and sociological fans (despite Indigenous peoples discussing it and countering it for months and sometimes years before), Tamara Ward-Johnson obtained the Ontario Libertarian Party’s Nomination for her riding in the Robinson-Superior Treaty area. During this time a twitter hashtag was also developed to counter Ward-Johnson in the social-media world: #RelaxTamara. Additionally, ongoing racial accusations and uninformed/stereotypical accusations where made by Ward-Johnson and her cultish/ignorant flavoured ‘koolaide-drinking’ supporters.

The Final Week of the Ontario Election & Ward-Johnson’s Racist-Indoctrinated Political Ad.

            Now lets forward to the week of June 9th 2014, when Ward-Johnson had a political ad printed in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal. The ad says:

Ward-Johnson's Ad in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal
“Voters: No group of people are above the laws of Ontario; No group of people can illegally block our roads and rail lines; No group of people are ‘entitled’ to handouts’ No group of people are owed a ‘debt’ by today’s taxpayers’ No group of
people ‘own’ Crown lands. Crown lands are public lands. Not native lands. We all own these lands; No group of people are ‘special’ and deserve first class ‘super-citizen’ status.”

It then follows with:
“Tax Payers: Help me stop this doctrine of entitlement; Help me stop the inequality; Help me stop the injustice; Above all else, help me stop the ‘gravy train; Seniors and retires, your children and grandchildren deserve the right to live in a fair, equal, and just Ontario. Vote for their Future Thursday, June 12, 2014. Vote Tamara Johnson and the Ontario Libertarian Party.”

Since this ad’s appearance on Monday it first got much attention through social media and those in tune with support of Indigenous rights, treaties, and coming to understand Canada’s true history and how treaties are the basis for Canada’s existence. My friend Damien Lee and many others took Ward-Johnson and the Libertarian Party to task over the last three days, with the non-Indigenous media finally paying attention as of today.

A Meme on Ward-Johnson's Racist Comments & Actions
            Many have taken to social media, media outlets, and to the streets to express outrage at such an abhorrent and ignorant attack on Indigenous peoples. Not only this but its clear lack of truth and comprehension of not only treaties but Canadian federal law, supreme court rulings, and, to an extent – Ontario Law. Spoofs and memes have been made to mock her ignorance and clear pandering to the misunderstanding of Canadian/Indigenous relations. One just has to go on their twitter account and search #RelaxTamara to see what is being said from those opposed to her spread of misunderstanding and hate. One just has to look at it and her own platform and social media pages to see how she truly does not fit as a representative of a population.

I say this because she expresses the need for fair, equal, and a just Ontario. Yet the idea of ‘the rule of law’ still has yet to be properly followed when it comes to Indigenous peoples. Treaties are forms of law but according to Tamara Ward-Johnson they do not need to be followed because they are specific to Indigenous peoples. So, it seems Tamara Ward-Johnson’s views are that when a law doesn’t favour her views, then it is unjust and ‘race-based.’ But if Ward-Johnson took the time to actually learn she would realize the laws she wants to be utilized over Indigenous peoples are raced-based themselves because they refuse to acknowledge or follow the treaties that are legally binding. – Someone needs to send her Roger Epp’s “We Are All Treaty Peoples,” A copy of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, A copy of the Ipperwash Inquiry, A copy of the Robinson-Superior Treaty, and a copy of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982.
A Response to Tamara Ward-Johnson's Ad in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal from Fort William First Nation.

Not only does she need copies of these sent to her, but it is clear the provincial and federal political parties need to speak out on this. Why have the Green Party and New Democratic Party of Canada’s MPs (Hyer and Rafferty) for Thunder Bay-Rainy River & Thunder Bay-Superior North not spoken out against this? Why have the leaders of Canada’s federal political parties not spoken out against this (Harper, Muclair, Trudeau, and May)? Why have the provincial leaders not spoken out against Ward-Johnson’s comments (Wynne, Hudak, Horwath)? The only leader, Allan Small of the Ontario Libertarian Party, has made a comment – which is “no comment [on Tamara Johnson] until after the election.” This horrible situation is not just a 'provincial' issue, as some may argue. Indigenous/Canadian relations are interconnected to not only the Federal Government of Canada, in some cases, but also the Crown and its representatives. Additionally, these actions permeate from the local area and throughout Turtle Island and the land shared by Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

What Does Ward-Johnson Highlight?

A Spoof of Ward-Johnson's Ad.
The actions of Ward-Johnson and the inaction thus far from Canada’s political leaders is but another example of how Canada has such a long way to go in healing a tenuous and broken relationship, as Justin Trudeau referred to it at the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission’s AFN event in July 2013, before it can be healed and even properly understood. Additionally, Ward-Johnson highlights the high amount of ignorance that still exists in understand Canada’s historical formation, apartheid-like & genocidal legislation, and the inability for Canada to come to terms with its historical & current relationships with the Indigenous nations it shares this territory with.

            Additionally, Tamara Ward-Johnson highlights that despite her claim to freedom of speech, that in Canada, when it comes to racism, Indigenous peoples are still a free-for-all target. Apologies are consistently presented when articles or comments are written about Women, Africans, Asians, middle-eastern, LGBT, and Jewish citizens – but when it is related to Indigenous peoples, it is still freedom of speech.

            However it is important for those espousing freedoms to remember: Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from judgement, protest or action from those who call bluff on your ignorance and stupidity.

In Conclusion:

Tamara Ward-Johnson – you are what IS wrong with Canada and its inability to not only decolonize and understand its past, present and future; but also why the ‘bridge’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is easier to burn then kindling….

….like the bridge that linked Fort William and Thunder Bay.

Sources to Consider:








Monday, 31 March 2014

Truth and Reconciliation: 'Waiting to Load/' Waiting to Comprehend

In June of 2008, a historic event in Canada’s history occurred. That event was an official apology from the federal government of Canada (via a private members bill from Liberal MP Gary Maresty calling for an apology alongside the establishment of a TRC) to Indigenous peoples, more specifically victims, survivors, and attendees, over one of its worst colonial actions: The Residential Schools. This past week (specifically March 25-30, 2014) the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), formed in order to have an open and frank discussion of the atrocities at the Residential Schools, held its final public forum in Edmonton, Alberta – on the traditional territory of the Nehiyaw and within what is referred to as ‘Treaty Six’ Territory. I volunteered to assist during the event – looking at it as my way to honour my family, community, and fellow Anishinaabeg.

The Point of the TRC:

The Mohawk Institute Residential School, near Brantford,
Ontario (Controlled by the Anglican Church)
The TRC came to fruition only after courts officially acknowledged the Canadian state, and the Christian Churches involved, had an onus to their participation in the Residential School process. These schools, as many of you will know, were eventually mandated to educate, Christianize, and assimilate Indigenous children throughout the northern half of Turtle Island (The United States had their own system of Residential Schools in place). In fact, Duncan Campbell-Scott, the Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs (Now Aboriginal Affairs), was a major proponent of the work residential schools were to achieve. Campbell-Scott is well documented for stating that his goal was to make sure there would not be a single ‘Indian’ left in Canada. Thus, the Residential Schools began working towards the concept of ‘beating the Indian out of the child.’

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, and well into the second last decade of the 20th century, many Residential Schools worked towards ‘civilizing’ Indigenous children – teaching them the art of domestic work or hard labour – not really much more. For those children who attended and survived, the concepts of family were broken and left untaught (leading to much of what we refer to as intergenerational abuse and Residential School survivors today) as well as a ‘loss’ of identity for many Indigenous peoples. As the horrors from many residential schools began to be reported (from physical and sexual abuse, mass-disease, science experiments, brain-washing, cultural destruction, and murder), the Canadian government would not recognize such mistakes until the Canadian courts ordered it to. People must remember this when considering the concept of moving forward and dealing with the past – how can it effectively be dealt with when the state that inflicted such pain would not acknowledge until the courts made it? This is why I do commend the Methodist, United, and Anglican Churches specifically – they acted quickly and did not wait for a court to force them. Today they continue to try to rectify their mistakes, stating at the TRC event in Edmonton how they failed Indigenous children, their faith, and their own god because of the actions their church had partaken in.

Map of Residential School Locations
Despite such negative points, the TRC set about doing what it was expected to do. Its principles are based off of the Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation and of the Exploratory Dialogues of 1998-1998. These principles include: accessible; victim-centred;  confidentiality if requested; No Harm; Health and Safety of Participants; Representative; Public and Transparent; Accountable; Open and Honourable; Comprehensive; Inclusive; Educational; Holistic; Just; Fair; Respectful; Voluntary; Flexible; and ‘Forward Looking.’ (See: http://www.trc.ca/websites/ trcinstitution/index.php?p=7 for additional information on TRC).

In keeping to these goals, the TRC held public forums in Winnipeg, MB (Anishinaabeg/Treaty One Territory as well as Metis Territory under the Manitoba Act of 1870); Inuvik NT (Inuit Territory); Halifax NS (Mi’kmaq Territory); Saskatoon SK (Nehiyaw/Treaty Six Territory); Montreal QC (Haudenousanee Territory); Vancouver BC (Musqueam Territory); and, most recently, Edmonton AB (Nehiyaw/Treaty Six Territory). These events were important to bringing together those impacted by the schools as well as the other side of the treaty relations: Canadian citizens and descendants.

TRC in Edmonton:

Participation in the TRC forum held in Edmonton is something I will always hold close in my life-learning experiences. In early 2014 the Political Science Department, specifically through Dr. Malinda Smith, sent out an email from the TRC about the ability to volunteer during the March 25-30 event. I was hesitant as I was concerned with the emotional impact some of it would have on me, especially since attendees would be sharing their stories. I did not know if I was prepared for the amount of personal connection that would occur – I had learned about the schools and many other components of the colonization and oppression of Indigenous peoples throughout my life. I will also admit, because I do not look stereotypically ‘Indigenous’ I was slightly concerned with how attendees would view me as I have experienced animosity previously at other events I have participated/volunteered at.

After some thinking, I concluded I had to be there – I must assist and learn. To honour my own family and the fight for survival, the resurgence of my community after the Residential Schools had nearly succeeded at accomplishing their mission against my own community, and to honour the many who never returned – the many whom are still missing and unidentified in the graves found and waiting to be found. I was correct that I would learn, however, participating did come with some difficulties.

My first day was assisting at the registration table – I couldn’t even keep count of how many I filled out forms with. But their faces and their stories will live with me. For instance, one elder was the only survivor from his family by the time he was 18, many of his siblings contracting tuberculosis and not recovering – the disease was brought back to his community, claiming his parents and his other siblings (He too would contract it but wouldn’t succumb to it). Another individual told me of how she and her siblings were separated and sent to schools in BC, NWT, and Alberta (she herself to the one near Edmonton) – all of them were from the Haida Nation. Many survivors I met had been shipped to and between three to four different schools; while more then one told me about how their best friends simply disappeared (with one mentioning how the last time they saw their's was before bed one night and that the next morning he was nowhere to be found. I assisted with registration for people who came from the Mi’kmaq nation on the East Coast, Nehiyaw from James Bay, Anishinaabeg near my community, Dene from Inuvik NWT, as well as Inuit and Metis. One of the most shocking things I heard from almost every person I registered: Their need to highlight they didn’t take part in the ‘payout’ from the court case. I could only imagine why so many felt they needed to point out they never took a payment for their ordeal – it highlights, in my mind, Canadian mentality and the majority’s lack of understanding.

TRC Forum in Edmonton (Hall A of the Shaw Centre)
My recollection of my time at TRC Edmonton doesn't even get to properly or fully include those who attended as survivors of the Day Schools Missions, forced sterilization by the province of Alberta, or the Sixties-Scoop (all of which Canada has yet to deal with). Those of us volunteering who comprehended the importance of these other actions by governments in Canada understood the scope of these survivors also attending the TRC, despite the very narrow term the courts and government had the TRC focus on. However, some volunteers did not comprehend the delicate nature of this. One volunteer I witnessed explaining to a survivor how we don’t know how to fix something if we do not know how it is broken; another telling a survivor how they had every right to money because of what Canada did – rather then focusing on the point of healing. In other cases, there were volunteers, during the lunches, who clearly were not given an Indig-101 on protocol during lunches. Such as, you assist those with mobility issues and elders first and foremost. You help women with children if they need it. You do not stand idly by and shuffle them into lines. Furthermore, YOU DO NOT jump into line and get food for yourself while elders and those with mobility issues are lined up behind you for their lunch – it was referred to as a ‘Survivors Lunch’ after all.

Although some volunteers did this, I do not blame the TRC – such understanding was explained to those volunteers who signed up specifically through the TRC and partook in the pre-Event training. Those who did not, or were volunteering through the churches – lacked the understanding. If anything, it symbolized cultural misunderstandings, especially when I was approached by an attendee and yelled at for those who weren’t following Indigenous protocol at feast times. However, I do not hold the organizers responsible for this problem… Those who were their working 12-18 hour shifts through the TRC were understanding and knew the role such a forum was to hold. I have astounding respect for them and what they pushed to achieve. One cannot control volunteers, unfortunately, like that of a boss over employees. I left the TRC on my last day of volunteering with much respect for those who planned such a difficult and emotional process. I also left realizing I am here today, I exist today, because my ancestors survived the onslaught, the colonization and genocide - the residential school system (even though intergenerational problems still reverberate). I admire and thank those survivors and victims who taught me so much in those few days as well as sharing their stories. But, I believe so much more has to be done.

Where Do We All Go From Here?

While participating and volunteering, I was happy to see the attendance of non-Indigenous people increase more specifically over the weekend. However, Edmonton is a city of just over one million people and Alberta a province of just over Four million – I would have hoped for more Canadians to attend. This doesn’t even include the fact that many Canadians still do not comprehend what Residential Schools were and what they did to Indigenous peoples. Thus, much more work needs to be done in engaging and educating the other side of the treaty relationship. This is why I commend the province of Alberta for introducing a K-12 educational component on the horrors and effects of Residential schools to their future generations (All provinces should be following suit).

That being said, Canada must broaden the scope of how their imposed education standards go further then Residential Schools – such as Day Schools, the Missions, and the strong opposition to the current government’s FN Education Act. Canada must also begin to deal with the issues of genocide, such as the Sixties-Scoop, forced-sterilization and, most recently to hit the 'Canadian psyche,' the scientific experiments. The Residential Schools are not the only form of colonial impact on Indigenous nations, their present generations, ancestors, or the future generations to come. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples spoke to this. Numerous reports and organizations over the past 100 years have highlighted this. Thus the work of the TRC is a step forward, but it can never be considered the only step needed.

Therefore, I leave you all with this final point: Ignorance may be bliss, but bliss is short lived when anger from that ignorance boils over and passes the point of cooling down.

A Quote from Paul Martin on Residential Schools & Genocide, Poster brought by the Aboriginal People's Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada.