Tsilhqot’in injunction, the Gitxsan Divide, Spotlight on Attawapiskat

Tsilhqot’in Victory

I was very happy the other day when I got a forwarded tweet that the Tsilhqot’in had won their injunction application against Taseko on the exploration for the proposed New Prosperity Mine. Injunctions are very hard to get from the courts and so this news was particularly good. There were dueling injunction applications, Taseko also asked for an injunction against the Tsilquot’in to stop their protest consisting of Chief Marilyn Baptiste telling Taseko they could not enter their lands without permission, Congratulations to the Tsilqot’in people on this win, there is still a long battle ahead but there seems to be a lot of support. When you have a court ruling that says you have proven title to at least half your territory, you would hope for this kind of ruling, but with the courts, there is always a chance otherwise.

The Great Gitxsan Divide

Within minutes of celebrating and spreading the news to anyone who would listen about the Tsilhqot’in injunction, I got another e mail about the Gitxsan that Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick entering into a deal with Enbridge on their pipeline. I can honestly say I was shocked. The Gitxsan have always been strong in the defense of their territory and rights and this deal seemed contrary to their positions. I wondered what assurances had been made by Enbridge that the Gitxsan would accept such a deal for $7 million. What was different than what had been offered to all other First Nations who were opposed to the project because it would abrogate or derogate form their rights, way of life, their rights and all that was important to them.

When I started getting more news on Sunday that the communities, elected Chiefs and Councils and some hereditary Chiefs had not been involved in the process, much less knew of the negotiations, it started to make more sense to me. The Gitxsan people were questioning the authority of the treaty office to enter into an agreement on behalf of the Gitxsan and this was not a well accepted agreement with the Gitxsan.  There was a definite divide amongst the Gitxsan for a short time. Enbridge tried to assure everyone that they understood the governance structures of the Gitxsan and they had followed them and the agreement stood. From all accounts we are seeing from the community, this deal will never be accepted.

The importance of each First Nation and the larger Nation having clearly defined processes in place to make major decisions regarding the land and resources has never been more pronounced. These processes and procedures need to be accepted by the people and then strongly enforced. Part of that process is making sure that what is being voted on is understood by all. How does it affect the rights and title of the people, the way of life, how will impacts be mitigated, what role does the First Nation play in those management decisions. I have said before the free and informed consent not only applies to the decision between the Government and the First Nation leadership, but between the First Nations leadership and their people.

Enbridge is looking for First Nations partners as a way to get their pipeline through, but it doesn’t look like the Gitxsan will be one of them.

Spotlight on Attawapiskat: It’s not just about building a house…

Another tragic incidence of life on a northern reserve has caught the attention of the Nation, but for how long? Will the attention bring any positive changes to Attawapiskat? Will the spotlight cause enough embarrassment, discomfort and most importantly, action on the part of the federal government so come up with long lasting solutions not only for Attawapiskat, but for First Nations across this great land? Or will we continue to hear excuses while the government waits for the media blitz to die down as it usually does until the next catastrophe.

The housing crisis in Attawapiskat is not new and has been building over time from a shortage of homes growing to an emergency level. Attention was not paid before it reached such proportions.

The fact is that AANCD has never provided enough money to First Nations to meet the needs of housing and infrastructure. It is piecemeal at best and based on a per capita formula that does not address the real need. I have seen a lot of speculation as to what a house costs to build in Attawapiskat. $250,000 is the average price being tossed about. But what about the costs of the infrastructure the community may need to build to service new homes. A new subdivision requires water, sewer or septic fields, roads, maintenance for the roads, phones, cable, and increased costs of fire, garbage, electricity or natural gas and other essential services. Very hard to speculate on what the community needs based on what has been revealed in the media.

A community is required to put together a 5- year capital plan every year. That capital plan is provided to AANDC and without it, no moneys are forthcoming to the First Nation. AANDC is very aware of the needs of a community. Most communities have a list of houses needed and provide that to AANDC as part of the comprehensive community plan that each First Nation is also required to do without funding from AANDC. This Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP) includes population projections so the community knows how many people to plan for in the future as far as housing and infrastructure goes.

The Kelowna Accord in 2005 was a five year, $5 billion plan to help improve the lives of First Nations people which included housing. The gap in quality and sufficient homes is a well known fact with the Federal Government and AANDC. PM Harper, when he refused to implement the Kelowna Accord said that the problems did not need money, that there were other solutions. Well, Mr. Harper, what is your solution to what is happening not only in Attawapiskat, but in every First Nation in this country, all 633 of them. This is a problem of mega proportions!

Leaving the reserve is not an option. People want to be where their rights can be exercised, where their ties to the land are, where their government is and most importantly where their family is and has been since time immemorial.

At the root of all these problems is poverty, poverty pure and simple. Solutions of home ownership, doing away with the Indian Act, reconciliation with the crown does not do anything for alleviating poverty. How do we overcome the problems of poverty?

Positive self esteem and believing things can change helps, education helps, jobs helps, but if a person cannot see beyond finding the next meal, or keeping their family warm, how can you look at the bigger picture?

What we need from our Leadership is a comprehensive plan to present to the government on how to tackle the housing crisis! We need to know what the size of the need is from every First Nation. Then we need to decide how we can go about addressing those needs, step by step. We cannot wait for the Government to come up with solutions, obviously they haven’t yet and won’t do it on their own accord. We are not a fiscal priority with this Federal Government and need to be. We must have high level meetings with the government on tackling this problem. We must keep up the pressure and keep the spotlight on the abysmal conditions First Nations people are living in. We need a concrete action plan that is actually implemented and reviewed constantly to see how we are doing and whether we are making a difference.

In the 2011 United Nations Human Development Index, Canada was ranked 6th in the world. When you throw in inequality, Canada drops to 13th and with gender inequality to 20th. There is no real reflection of what the Human Development Index would be for First Nations people on their own but it is a shame that in a country that is 6th in the world, First Nations people are living in such poverty.

In BC, we have the Transformative Change Accord (2005) that committed to closing the gap in housing and infrastructure. To implement the Accord, we also negotiated a Housing MOU adopted in May 2008 with both the Federal Government and Provincial Government that set out a course of action. To my knowledge, none of this has been followed up to any great degree, but not from lack of trying on the First Nations side.

What we are lacking is action that brings results. I would like to ask Minister Duncan if sending in a Third Party manager provides a warm house to any of those people in Attapaskiwat or resolves their problems for this winter, or the future? 

I have just seen the update that the Minister is now sending in 15 modular homes, a band aid solution at best, but it is action! Amazing what political pressure can achieve.  But how do you build 15 homes in a northern winter? The First Nation wanted 22 portables as their estimation of a temporary fix for the winter.  That is the difference in the two approaches.  The Minister should listen to the advice of the First Nation as to what can actually work at this time of the year and that 7 families will still be out in the cold.  Another 6 weeks without homes for those people without homes wil seem like an eternity. Would be good to find a way to get homes into Attawapiskat without waiting for the ice road.

I would like to ask the National Chief what advocacy role is AFN playing in getting results on the ground and in the communities. Fair questions, with really hard answers. The answers are not easy, nor are they unreachable. Perhaps the bigger political issues should be given less time for now, until we can assure every First Nation living on reserve, moderate living conditions enjoyed by most Canadians.  Having a Prime Minister-First Nation meeting in January is very high level and what will be the chances of reaching agreement on anything?  We watched high level meetings during the constitutional conferences and saw no results.  We need to have meetings that can achieve action, not more talk.

Conclusions:

I have always believed that until we as First Nations people can make our issues election issues, things will not change. Until we have a National Chief, regional chiefs and elected chiefs that can push our issues to the forefront of every election, we will not make the change we so desperately need for our communities.

We of course cannot do this alone, we need Canadians and international support standing with us and promoting the governments to sit down and negotiate with us in good faith to resolve the critical issues that continue to plague us and only get worse as time goes on. We need Canadians to say enough is enough, we should not have people in Canada living in substandard conditions.

I also strongly believe that in order for the governments to be responsive to First Nations that we need to become an economic power, Governments seem to pay particular attention to people/corporations that create jobs and revenue for the province or country. Unfortunately, assertion of rights and title never seems to be enough.

As well, people, corporations, and other levels of governments must also advocate and take a strong position with Canada and possibly the provinces, that it is time to settle with First Nations, it is time to work this all out. There is enough uncertainty and disruption with business that I am surprised they have not tried to do this already, but maybe it hasn’t affected them enough.

We cannot let the spotlight come off Attapaskiwat until the severe living conditions are addressed, let’s use our voices, ideas and energy to help resolve the housing crises in First Nations communities.

 

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