We are living in turbulent times and #IdleNoMore is a large part of that!
“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser” - Socrates
Everyone knew that there were limits to what could be achieved at the meeting with the Prime Minister and the Assembly of First Nations on January 11th, 2013. But I believe there were key elements that should have been achieved. I would like to do an evaluation of each of the players and I would suggest that these elements would be:
1. Chief Spence would be at meeting and have had input into the agenda.
2. All Chiefs would be in meeting.
3. Prime Minister would be at meeting for entire meeting
4. Governor General would be in attendance
5. Grassroots would be reflected in meeting either through one speaker or a number allowed in to watch and observe.
6. Meeting would be televised or live streamed so people could watch
1. PM would agree that he cannot unilaterally pass legislation that affects FN rights and set up a process or get a group to come up with a process that would be confirmed within 3 months.
2. Repeal or non implementation of Bills C-38 and C-45, First Nations Transparency Act, etc until proper consultation had been completed with all First Nations. Amendments would be introduced to address First Nations concerns where necessary. Timeline of 6 month to a year.
3. Treaty implementation and negotiations: Structure on how to achieve this.
4. Socio-Economic situation: funding restored, 2% cap removed off First Nations funding, process to address funding gaps for housing and infrastructure, health, education.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper: What he did wrong
• Not personally invite Chief Spence to the meeting -leaving it to AFN
• Not making Governor General attend meeting with the AFN
• Limited meeting to a “delegation of Chiefs”. PM obviously has a comfort level for only small delegation of Chiefs as at the Crown First Nations Gathering on January 2012 when he only allowed a certain number of Chiefs into the main meeting room while the rest had to sit out in another room and watch from there. No inclusivity there.
• Getting Governor General to set up a “ceremonial” meeting after the main meeting instead of attending the main meeting-tokenism
• Letting people know his availability would only be for 30 minutes at the beginning of the meeting and at the end. Then staying for the entire meeting only after half the Chiefs in this country were not supporting the meeting. This was the same game he played at the Crown First Nations Gathering in January 2012. Said he would only be there for opening and then stayed for the whole meeting. If the Prime Minister was interested in meeting the Chiefs and seriously working through some tough issues so the IdleNoMore Movement could see something being done, he would spend an entire day, or week if need be hammering out the high level issues.
• Not addressing the Chief Theresa Spence hunger strike or leaving it to AFN to include the IdleNoMore in some way. These issues will not go away. The fact that these meetings were held in private has done nothing to ease the minds of people that any issues were addressed or addressed properly. The smear campaign of Chief Spence has not had the desired effect government want and the grass roots are still supporting her.
Issues for National Chief Shawn Atleo
• Inability to unify the Chiefs to bring them all to the table
• Not understanding how critical it was to the treaty Chiefs to have the Governor General at the main table
• Inability to negotiate with Harper the kind of meeting that was needed for AFN to come to table with full support
• Not believing in the power of #IdleNoMore to hold out for a meeting with the PM, Governor General and all the Chiefs. Accepting the bone that was offered in a limited meeting that created divisions.
• Lost credibility with the people for not having the courage to address the 4000 plus people outside the PM’s office before going in to meet. Instead he slipped in the back quietly without facing those that are on hunger strikes, women, youth, elders and Chiefs. He would have gained a lot of respect from people if he had spoke and told them why he was going in, who mandated him to go in, what he planned to talk about and achieve. The National Chief would also have shown his respect not only to those 4000+ people but for the people who were holding their own events for IdleNoMore around the world. But not a word, no acknowledgement anywhere by the National Chief of what was happening with the grassroots. The only one who had the courage to walk through the crowds was former National Chief Matthew Coon Come.
• Not going in the meeting with the understanding and blessing of those Chiefs not participating and that he would not negotiate on their behalf. Going into the meeting knowing that that Chief Spence and others on hunger strikes were not supporting the meeting.
• The meeting was not televised. For all the insistency of the government to have First Nations governments transparent, their policy doesn’t apply to meetings to which the whole country was watching. It did not give those 250+ IdleNoMore events and the people attending them any answers to what was being discussed.
• PM saying he won’t repeal or look at Bill C-38 or C-45. With all the IdleNoMore movements taking place on #J11 and those that that have taken place since December 10, 2012, the PM should have made some efforts in this regard as this has been one of the biggest burning issues. We don’t know how big of a fight AFN delegates made in this regard.
• PM knowing that this non consultation issue will be going to court to be resolved instead of resolving it with the Chiefs . Knows Frog Lake challenging C-38, Mikisew Cree challenging C-45 and Hupacasath challenging the Canada China Treaty. Possibly other First Nations will take on other federal legislation that has been passed without First Nations basic consultation. Creates uncertainty, costly, lengthy court battles.
• It is obvious First Nations and the Federal Government are miles apart on the Federal Government’s role in introducing legislation that affects rights and title as Minister John Duncan says that they did their constitutional duties to consult. When did the Minister consult with all 600+ First Nations? How did he do that? He cannot use Organizations or his standing committees as his duty is directly with the First Nations. It is a dismissal of the most important issues that #IdleNoMore is about. Treating First Nations as required by law and the constitution.
• High level oversight by PMO: everyone knows everything is dictated by PM. Why does this make anything different? Not sure what this will look like but does this mean the PM might just as well be the Minister of Indian Affairs? Will it just be oversight with the same policies and limited financial investments because this won’t solve the issues.
• Future talks with the National Chief: The rights holders are the First Nations in this country. The AFN is an advocacy organization and the National Chief has no inherent power unless mandated by Chiefs or the Executive. The PM must acknowledge the Chiefs and work with them directly. AFN can play a role as defined by the First Nations.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
The lack of inclusivity and serious discussions with all the First Nations in this country ensures that #IdleNoMore will continue until such time as there are actual benchmarks of progress achieved.
The Chiefs of Manitoba and Ontario were very serious when they said they would block roads and stop economic development in this country. This will happen.
Chief Spence is continuing her hunger strike so attention will not waver from the issues and the lack of the AFN and government to include her in addressing her very important concerns. Lives are at stake, a very tenuous issue.
It is a shame when the Chiefs of this country have to take direct action to achieve progress and serious dialogue.
It is a greater shame when a Chief has to go on a hunger strike in order to see progressive solutions worked out between the Chiefs and the federal government.
It is appalling when the federal government tries to make out a Chief who has risked her life as an incompetent leader when their own processes and polices have helped create the issues.
Will AFN be able to get any of the Chiefs of Manitoba, NWT, Ontario and Saskatchewan and others involved in any outcomes of the January 11, 2013 meeting when they were not included and gave no mandate to the National Chief to attend on their behalf? Will be very difficult to do so and will need to work out internal issues.
For the people moving the #IdleNoMore Movement, the meeting with the PM was not the answer to the large issues that are facing First Nations. It may be part of what needs to be done but more importantly, the people must be involved in finding the solutions. AFN and the Chiefs can no longer do what they like, they need to find a way to involve the grass roots no matter where they live.
We are living in very turbulent times and will continue to be so as a productive relationship with the Federal government can be created, a relationship that respects First Nations on a government to government relationship, with protection of aboriginal rights. If such a relationship is beyond this government, only time will tell how tempestuous this country will become. I look forward to the day when there is a government-to-government relationship and a new beginning for First Nations in Canada. On January 11, 2013, not much changed and it must.