I had not heard of the movement Idle No More until 20 days ago. 20 days ago, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence went on a hunger strike to protest Canadian omnibus bill C-45, which changes land use and resource policies and undermines environmental laws, and dramatically undermines the ability of Indigenous communities in Canada to protect their land–all without consulting with First Nations peoples, in violation of treaty rights. Already the Globe and Mail, apologist for the New Conservative Party of Canada is denying that any abuses are taking place, undermining the reasons why Chief Spence is on a hunger strike, and essentially calling indigenous peoples incapable of understanding the wisdom of the Great White Father Harper and his Conservative government in Canada, instead saying that the bill makes it easier for indigenous peoples to lease their land:
One of the most inflammatory, but inaccurate, claims coming from the Idle No More movement is that Bill C-45, the second budget implementation act, has deliberately made it easier to sell off Indian reserves. A little background information is necessary to understand what has actually happened.
Many first nations have achieved economic success by leasing portions of their reserves for shopping centres, industrial parks, residential developments, casinos and anything else that might make money. Such projects create jobs and generate property tax revenues that first nations need to provide better services for their members.
Not so, says Indian Country Today:
The bill amends the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canada Labour Code, according to the Chiefs of Ontario. First Nations reacted immediately and strongly to the passage, citing the lack of consultation with First Nations during the creation of a bill that profoundly affects aboriginals' daily lives.
“Bill C-45 will not be enforced or recognized by their First Nations," said a statement released by the Chiefs of Ontario in conjunction with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Anishinabek Nation, Grand Council Treaty No. 3, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, and Independent first Nations.
“At no time in the nine months that Bill C-45 was being considered did the Government of Canada discuss any matters related to it with First Nations—this bill breaches Canada’s own laws on the fiduciary legal duty to consult and accommodate First Nations," said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy in the statement. "The Canadian government just gave birth to a monster.”
The blog âpihtawikosisân recently posted that misunderstandings about First Nations peoples feed the myths that are spread about them:
I have been trying my best on this blog to refute the myths and stereotypes, but I don’t have all the free time in the world that I’d like, and so my ‘myth-busting list‘ remains unfinished.
Nonetheless, I am asking for the help of Canadians to combat these ugly lies. I make this plea, because these lies allow people like Stephen Harper to ignore a hunger strike. These lies allow people to throw up their hands in disgust and claim that native people are freeloading whiners who need to shut up and go away. These lies allow a nation to ignore its own history, to erase its own volition, to believe that someone else will fix this problem.
Politicians won’t be the ones to fix what’s wrong with Canada and its relationship with indigenous peoples. This is a job for regular people, dealing with one another as human beings, and right now indigenous people in this country have not not are not being treated humanely.
On December 7, Jean Crowder, MP for the NDP Nanaimo-Cowichan British Columbia noted at an open Parliament debate that First Nations peoples were not consulted about Bill C-45: "Mr. Speaker, in January the Prime Minister promised to work with first nations and to consult with them before introducing any policy changes. He broke that promise with unilateral changes to the Indian Act in Bill C-45. On December 10, grassroots organizers of Idle No More will be gathering outside the constituency office of the Prime Minister, demanding more accountability from the government."
The response from Conservative Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was a complete denial of Crowder's statement: "Mr. Speaker, since 2010, the minister has visited more than 50 first nation communities and has had hundreds of productive meetings with chiefs, councils and aboriginal community members across Canada. In fact, we conduct over 5,000 consultations with first nations every year. Our government respects its duty to consult and, where appropriate, to accommodate first nations. We will continue to work with first nations to create the conditions for stronger first nation communities."
Apparently, the conservatives did not feel it was "appropriate" to consult with First Nations peoples about omnibus bill C-45.
And while the politicians debate, Chief Theresa starves.
Canadian history of treatment of First Nations' peoples, like the US, has been appalling, with forced assimilation policies, residential schools similar to the boarding school efforts of the United States, and tensions between First Nations peoples and the Canadian government, like the US, reflect the tenuous relationship and seeming inability of the government to cope with history that both governments have with their colonized peoples. And like the US, First Nations people have continued to be marginalized, facing appalling abuses by the Canadian government, some of which are shown below from an op-ed piece in the Digital Journal:
In 2005, housing conditions on an Ontario reserve, Kasechewan, shocked the world when the media broke the story about
"dirty water laced with E. coli, rampant sickness and overcrowded, poorly built houses."
The community was in the news again in 2006 when an inquiry was to be held into the deaths of two men who burned to death while in jail earlier that year. It was reported that one officer suffered serious burns attempting to open the cells after a fire broke out in the facility. According to the CBC,
"… New Democrat MP Charlie Angus described the jail as "more like something you see in Sarajevo than the province of Ontario."
In January 2009, a Kasechewan family reported that an ill and dying elder relative had been left in a freezing air ambulance for about an hour.Aside from the spring flooding problems that resulted in the contaminated drinking water in 2005, and aside from the issue of substandard housing, Kasechewan has also been been struggling with substance abuse and a high suicide rate.
The third justice regime differed drastically in official character from its predecessor. Indeed, all the rules changed for Manitoba’s Aboriginal inhabitants. After Canada assumed responsibility for the West, its administrators actually attempted to take control of the lives of Aboriginal people. Their approach relied on three key steps: first, the signing of the treaties which transferred vast tracts of land to the government; second, the passage of the Indian Act which granted absolute power over Indian people to a federal department and its agents (both the treaties and the Indian Act were in place by the end of the 1870s); and, third, the direction of the Metis, separated from Indians by these administrative and legal decisions, onto a different path in 1870. Within two decades Aboriginal people had been pushed aside by incoming settlers. They remained in a backwater, neglected by Ottawa and offered little support by the province.
Early federal statutes were consolidated and revamped when the first Indian Act was enacted in 1876. The Act advanced the policy of seeking to assimilate Aboriginal people, severing their spiritual connection with the land, encouraging a shift in their economy and undermining their traditional government. Indians were encouraged or compelled to "enfranchise" (a term used to reflect that people were acquiring the vote, or "franchise," through losing their Indian status) if they obtained a university or professional education, left the reserve for prolonged periods, sought to send their children to public rather than residential schools, or if Indian women married men who were not registered Indians. When the Indian Act became the legal device to impose these changes, the Indian agent was the local messenger for the Department of Indian Affairs to implement its policies. TheIndian Act even went so far as to define a "person" as "an individual other than an Indian."
The Canadian prairies entered a global economy in the last half of the 19th century. Within one generation, the price and production of farm products became crucial matters for prairie dwellers. Newcomers set the rules in local politics. Aboriginal people were governed by legislation originating in Ottawa or Manitoba and by exceptionally powerful local bureaucrats. The two communities, Aboriginal and white, reserve and town, had few points of political intersection.
Mr. Harper, are you REALLY going to let her starve to death?