Aboriginal Issues – Education, Respect, Consultation

First Nations Leaders at Victoria Island January 4 2013
First Nations Leaders at Victoria Island

Aboriginal Issues - Idle No More
Idle No More supporter-Jolene Banning
Photo By:Nathan Ogden

OTTAWA, THUNDER BAY – Political Analysis– Aboriginal issues, education, respect, and consultation were all raised in the House of Commons debate on the federal government’s omni-bus legislation this week. Members of Parliament, back in the House after their six week Christmas break were greeted on Monday with a rally in front of Parliament from Idle No More.  

Aboriginal issues have been in the media for the past six weeks on an almost daily basis.

Aboriginal Issues Debated in House

Greg Rickford
Greg Rickford MP

Kenora Greg Rickford (Conservative) complains that, “Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation spread in the media and in the first nation communities as to what these amendments involve. I want to reiterate that these amendments have nothing to do with land surrender. They have to do with the leasing of land for economic development purposes through a decision-making process that takes place in first nation communities by their citizens and their government. It really is as simple as that”.

Perhaps part of the problem is that officially from the Government of Canada, has not been out explaining the legislation to get their side of the debate into the public. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has issued six releases in 2013. 

On January 11th, Minister Duncan said, “Since 2006, our Government has taken concrete action on priorities like education, economic development and housing for First Nations.

“We have built new schools, invested in clean drinking water systems, built thousands of new homes, increased funding for services for the most vulnerable members of First Nation communities, and invested in hundreds of projects to link Aboriginals with job training services”.

The Conservatives have, however made the media over comments made by Senator Patrick Brazeau reportedly ridiculing Attawapiskat Chief Spence at a Conservative fundraising event. During the Prime Minister’s first caucus meeting of 2013 he did not mention Aboriginal Affairs.

For Greg Rickford to suggest that the issue is mis-information in the media should be an admission that the federal Conservatives have failed to engage, and failed to listen. A solid engagement on aboriginal issues present a political, economic and social opportunity for the Conservatives.

Even Prime Minister Harper who was first elected as a part of the grassroots based Reform Party is trying to suggest that Idle No More is a negative presence in the ongoing efforts. 

Media reports share the Prime Minister’s notes from the January 11 2013 meeting with First Nations leaders. The Prime Minister wrote,“Idle No More presents two realities. The first is the pressure felt by first Nations leaders. The second is the negative public reaction that this invokes.” 

The Conservative Party to achieve success is being out-paced by the other parties in the House of Commons. The Liberal leader, Bob Rae is coming across as a senior statesman during the ongoing debate.

For the Conservatives Aboriginal Issues Mean Jobs

“Some of the most successful first nations in Canada, such as the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Tk’emlups Indian Band, could not have achieved their success without designating their lands. Oil and gas-producing first nations collectively generated more than $1 billion in royalties over the last five years”, commented Rickford.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Rickford continued, “As we move forward in 2013, our focus remains the economy. We know that in continuing to develop, provide our children with access to good education, train for the job skills of tomorrow, reduce red tape and equip our businesses to succeed worldwide, this includes expanding opportunities for aboriginal peoples to fully participate in the economy. We know there are tremendous opportunities to promote and encourage greater aboriginal participation in the economy and we remain committed to working with willing partners to do exactly that. We are focused on removing barriers to economic development on reserve, helping aboriginal people develop the skills they need to enter the workforce and providing first nation communities and the regions they are located in with greater autonomy to manage their own land and resources”.

Rickford added, “We can all agree that increasing aboriginal participation in the economy is one of the most effective ways to improve the well-being and quality of life of aboriginal peoples in Canada. It is also vital to Canada’s future economic prosperity”.

Dealing with the past issues is also up for debate apparently. 

[sws_pullquote_right] I also believe there is little utility in bringing up the failures and disappointments of the past – Murray Rankin [/sws_pullquote_right] In his first speech in the House of Commons, NDP MP Murray Rankin (Victoria) stated, “In trying to come up with solutions, I also believe there is little utility in bringing up the failures and disappointments of the past. It does not help to bemoan the fact that the Kelowna accord was never implemented or that so little seems to have been done with the sweeping and excellent recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

“Instead, Canadians of good faith must work together urgently to seek fresh solutions, solutions that are grounded in the work of the past and the blueprint of the Dussault-Erasmus report, but only as a point of departure, because the time for action is certainly long overdue. Fresh ideas are desperately needed, grounded in the recognition of the constitutional rights of first nations to meaningful consultation and recognition of a nation-to-nation relationship between the Crown and first nation peoples”.

Charlie Angus MP
Charlie Angus MP

Pinpointing the real issue, NDP MP Charlie Angus during debate said, “I happen to have in my riding right now probably some of the richest mineral deposits in the world. Beside many of these rich deposits are some of the most impoverished communities in Canada. We are seeing a disconnect as mineral development comes on stream. Even if someone gets hired at the mine, there is no housing in the community so the individual has to leave and ends up being just another fly-in worker just like non-aboriginals. That happens because of the lack of infrastructure in the communities. Local communities do not have the ability to move forward with partnership agreements because the infrastructure is not on the ground. There has not been any job training and basic schools are missing. We do not have grade schools in some of these communities”.

There are solutions, likely they will be found in engagement with respect, and with the recognition that attacking their opponents in the media, and in the House of Commons is a path to continued division in Canada. 

Likely, the Conservatives have been sowing a crop of resentment among Aboriginal Canadians. What that crop may yield is yet to be seen. Idle No More rallies and teach-ins have across Canada and around the world been very peaceful. It is very likely if there is no action seen by the grassroots in the Aboriginal movement, that actions will be ramping up as the year continues. 

The Conservative base might support the Conservative government, but the Government of Canada is a bigger effort that must engage all Canadians.

James Murray