To my recollection, there has never been a more combative and disrespectful Minister of Aboriginal Affairs than Minister Bernard Valcourt. He has come out swinging against First Nations in a manner that is stirring up a lot of First Nations communities to retaliate against his statements and methods. He has called our Chiefs “rogues” and made use of lateral violence by misconstruing a draft strategy for an economic shutdown to be a security threat. At a time when the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs should be reconciliatory, he has chosen his battlefield on the floor of the House of Commons where First Nations do not have a voice and in the media. He is an alarmist or at the very least a drama queen. His conduct cannot be considered conduct become a Minister of the Federal Government and here is why.
On May 16th in the House of Commons, Valcourt said the following after facing questions from NDP Jean Crowder over whether he was ready to meet the Confederacy of First Nations.
“The members of the House will agree that we should, as members, condemn in the strongest terms the threat of those rogue chiefs who are threatening the security of Canadians, their families and tax-payers,”
Who is Valcourt to determine whether or not the Confederacy was a duly convened meeting? It was a meeting of chiefs and must be respected. Who is he to call Chiefs “Rogue” because he thinks their meeting was not properly called and to tell all MP’s to condemn the Chiefs when they met to determine action on a very important issue? And finally, who is Valcourt to scare Canadians that “Rogue Chiefs” are a threat to their very security (safety) when the plan is only draft and must go to the Chiefs meeting for consideration at the end of the month? This is beyond what is acceptable for a Minister to be saying in their house of government.
Valcourt said he would not meet with these chiefs who were at the Confederacy until they withdraw their alleged threat. National Chief of the Dene Nation/Regional Chief NWT of the AFN Bill Erasmus issued a letter to the Minister saying this public statement by Valcourt was of great concern to his people. He went on to say the Dene have a legal relationship with the government Valcourt represents and expects them to conduct themselves accordingly and meet its legal obligations. Erasmus then asked Valcourt to clarify his position to not meet with the Chiefs of the Dene Nation. Valcourt has not yet responded.
In order to clarify what Valcourt is basing his condemnation on, the Confederacy in a DRAFT STATEMENT said that they want have Canada sit with them on a Nation-to-Nation basis to negotiate an accord that will implement First Nations jurisdiction on education. An opportunity to dialogue on a very important issue: Education on reserve.
BUT IF Canada was not willing to sit down and negotiate then
“Should Canada not withdraw and cease all imposed legislation on First Nations without our free, prior and informed consent, we will strategically and calculatedly begin the economic shut-down of Canada’s economy from coast-to-coast. First Nations will determine whether or not there is international economic certainty for economic development on Turtle Island.”
An economic shut down is what the draft statement said which Valcourt construed as a security threat to Canadians, families and taxpayers. Not the same thing. Valcourt was fear mongering and trying to get the Canadian public onside by deliberately misconstruing the document and the action that has yet to be considered by all Chiefs.
The draft document agreed to at the Confederacy meeting was leaked to the press. The Chiefs intended to take this home to their members for their input and consideration. The document would then be brought back to the Chiefs in Assembly on May 27th for their consideration. It was going through internal process and what could be accepted on May 27th. It may be this wording or something totally different. Valcourt should have waited to pass his judgment until such time as the direction of the Chiefs in Assembly of the AFN on Bill C-33, First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act is finalized. Instead he created a negative situation that makes it impossible for Chiefs and him to work together. Mistrust is rampant.
Valcourt has been very defensive in any negative comments on his proposed Bill C-33. When the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians came out against the proposed Act, On May 1st he made this statement to FSIN.
“…my suggestion to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian is that they follow their own advice and analyze the First Nation control of First Nation Education Act instead of letting politics get in the way of what is best for First Nations students.”
FSIN had analyzed the act and had come to their own conclusions. Questioning the Chiefs of Saskatchewan’s ability to interpret the proposed Act based on their own needs is very patronizing and demeaning. Just because they don’t have the same views as the Minister does not mean they are playing politics.
The biggest political interference by Valcourt occurred on April 29th in the House of Commons when he told opposition MPs to follow the “lead” of AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo who supported Bill C-33. He basically told MPs to ignore the Chiefs/First Nations who are the rights holders and whom the government must consult with. That Valcourt would overstep the Chiefs and listen only to the National Chief was the last straw for many Chiefs, and shortly after National Chief A-in-chut, Shawn Atleo resigned as National Chief. To have the Minister say that they should only look to Atleo for his leadership on the bill was a definitive blow to Atleo’s credibility. AFN can only advocate and never usurp the authority of the Chiefs and First Nations. If Valcourt finds the next national Chief unwilling to be as cooperative with him, he can blame himself for his statements that contributed to the resignation of Shawn Atleo.
One can only conclude that the Prime Minister must agree with this kind of approach with First Nations as he chose Valcourt for this role knowing how he operates. Furthermore, he has not rebuked Valcourt publicly, reined him in, or indicated his displeasure in any way with this unacceptable behavior. This is a sad reflection on First Nations-Federal Government relations.
The Code of Conduct for Ministers states as follows:
IV.1. Ministerial Conduct: Ministers, Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
Looking at the statements made by Minister Valcourt, can his conduct be considered ethical or done with integrity? How many people in Canada have confidence that Valcourt can carry out the key and critical issues with First Nations that are being faced in this country? Can Valcourt be considered impartial when he has judged the Chiefs the way he has and accused them of security threats and playing politics with their children’s right to an education? I think not.
With the mega projects that are being contemplated across Canada like the projects in the Ring of Fire, Enbridge and Kinder Morgan, Site C, and many mines, the Minister has alienated Chiefs instead of looking to reconciliation and building relationships. He has put economic projects at greater risk with his stirring the pot and being combative. His theatrics have impressed no one. It is time to put his colonial behaviours behind and let go of his paternalistic leanings and those of the Prime Minister and the conservative party.
“Overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels.
Indigenous peoples’ concerns merit higher priority at all levels and within all branches of Government, and across all departments. Concerted measures, based on mutual understanding and real partnership with aboriginal peoples, through their own representative institutions, are vital to establishing long-term solutions. To that end, it is necessary for Canada to arrive at a common understanding with indigenous peoples of objectives and goals that are based on full respect for their constitutional, treaty, and internationally-recognized rights.” (May 12, 2014)
With this UN report, the fact that many Chiefs do not hold any trust in Minister Valcourt, and his conduct, means the direction of the Rapporteur will not happen as Valcourt is unable to come to mutual understanding, develop real partnerships and recognize constitutional and international rights.
As advised by the United Nations Special Rapporeur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Canada must arrive at a common understanding with indigenous peoples of objectives and goals that are based on full respect for their constitutional, treaty and internationally recognized rights in education and all other issues. The international community is watching closely now and Canada must respond as needed.
Education and training is the key to the future of indigenous children. Good dialogue, strategies, collaboration and innovation are needed to move forward on improving the education of our youth in schools on and off reserve. That kind of action cannot take place with a Minister that uses name-calling, scare tactics, and disrespect as his tools for relationship building. Valcourt must resign or Harper must replace him. Starting a clean slate with a new Minister and new National Chief with inclusivity and self determination for all First Nations is the key to success in educational reform.