THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Reports from Ottawa that Prime Minister Harper will leave the meeting which he called with First Nation’s leaders early is disheartening. Certainly the Prime Minister has international obligations, but he is after all the Prime Minister of Canada, and those responsibilities should come first. What is worse is that it was Prime Minister Harper who called the meeting.
It is unlikely when the Prime Minister called the meeting and said it would be historic, that he meant he would be there to give a speech and leave. The message that kind of action would leave would magnify the damage that the Prime Minister’s ham-fisted Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan has caused over his handling of the crisis in Attawapiskat. Can you imagine if Canada’s reaction to an emergency on the international scene were to be sending in an accountant to solve the crisis? Yet that is exactly what Duncan did when the going started to get really hot in Attawapiskat. Canada would be a laughing stock if we had sent a team of accountants to the crisis in Haiti after the earthquake a few years ago.
In Attawapiskat, its hard to say how many houses Duncan’s third party manager could build with a sharp pencil, a calculator and a ledger book. However in Duncan’s response to the emergency he has made things worse, not better. If the Prime Minister is honestly serious about making a real and substantive difference on the Aboriginal file, he could likely start by replacing John Duncan as his Minister. First Nations leaders, in private have expressed great concern over how the Minister has handled the file.
On Attawapiskat, the Minister’s actual response almost looked like a parity that Royal Canadian Air Farce might have done. It wasn’t. That should have been a sign to the Prime Minister that change in the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio was needed.
The message to First Nations leaders, and First Nations residents is that once again they are being put in second place, only this time the Prime Minister is shoving the people to the back of the bus.
Adding insult to injury the Minister of Finance won’t be at the meetings either. Economic development should be a key component of these meetings, having the Minister who controls the purse strings there is critical.
The Southeast Regional Chief for the Anishinabek Nation, Chief J. R. Marsden, says that next week’s Crown-First Nations meeting is important for First Nation economies in his region. “The Federal Government’s Additions to Reserve policy is holding back communities in the area of economic development,”" says Chief Marsden. “We are looking to regain some land in order to focus on economic development ventures. In Alderville, I have been trying unsuccessfully to get answers as to why this process is so dysfunctional. It is hard to work with the surrounding township if the government is stalling with additions to reserve”.
Canada has not only a responsibility but has a huge opportunity to make a real difference on Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal population in Canada is the fastest growing component of our population. Ensuring that equal and fair opportunities are available to Aboriginal youth is critical.
One only hopes it is a message that Prime Minister Harper both receives and understands.