THUNDER BAY – Editorial – The Harper Government has telegraphed the fate of Friday’s Crown First Nation Gathering. That meeting is going to set a tone for relations between First Nations and the federal government. For Northwestern Ontario, the message sent will be one that is important for mining companies and our regional economy. Right now, it appears that the divide between Prime Minister Harper, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Shawn Atleo and Idle No More is growing ever wider.
The release of an audit of Attawapiskat First Nation has likely telegraphed where the federal Conservative Government is going to stand. First Nations members and Idle No More are seeing that as an attack on Chief Spence.
It is not a good way to build a bridge to a more solid relationship.
It is however likely a strategy for the Conservatives to reach out to their base. The Prime Minister seems to be taking the approach that sending the message that First Nations communities and leaders can not be trusted to handle money.
In Attawapiskat, the former band manager, Clayton Kennedy was brought in to start solving some of the issues that earlier audits had identified. So instead of recognizing progress, the use of the audit is being seen as a punishment.
That might not be how the Harper Government see it.
However in political fights, perception is reality.
First Nations Leaders are viewing the actions of the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government as punishing any leader who dares to speak up. Chief Spence has become the battle ground for that fight. First by speaking up last year, then by going to court and winning against the federal government in 2012 and now by her hunger strike.
The battle ground is not a traditional one. First Nations youth in Idle No More are connected online, they are sharing information across the Internet, over Facebook, Twitter and email. That connection is changing the battleground.
Yesterday, in Ottawa, at Victoria Island, Chief Spence and her supporters simply told media to leave. The commentary from many in the mainstream media was being seen by First Nations leaders as one-sided. In the ongoing battle, cutting off communications to those outlets left those media news readers only repeating their earlier statements.
Chief Spence and her supporters, who are coming to Victoria Island to visit the Chief are now galvanized in solidarity. The actions of the government are seen as a tactic, and strategic move.
“I remain steadfast on my journey and will not allow any distractions at this time to waiver the goal set forth. We are asking that the legislation related to lands encoded in Bill C45 must be rescinded as soon as parliament resumes. Implement obligations under Section 35 of the Constitution of Canada. Lastly, there needs to be a process of resource revenue sharing for Indigenous Peoples,” stated Chief Spence.
The Attawapiskat Chief is staying to the course she has set. Chief Spence is asking all Indigenous people to remain focused on the omnibus legislation that started the protests.
“As party to Treaty No. 9, it is clear that a sharing of lands with the newcomers was for settlement purposes only. There was no surrender of the lands and resources. Without the Treaties, the British Crown would not have been able to enact legislation to create Canada. Canada is a Treaty successor state and has international obligations to implement the Treaties in good faith that brings honour to the Crown,” added Chief Spence.
The audit, the first media release from the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs for 2013, was conducted, according to the auditors, in Thunder Bay at the AANDC Offices and at the AANDC headquarters. “The scope for this audit was from April1, 2005 to November 30, 2011 and included an examination of the AANDC management control framework for housing and an examination of AANDC’s relationship with other federal funders for housing. The audit scope included the areas of governance, people, stewardship, accountability, results and performance, and risk management with respect to housing. Audit fieldwork was conducted in AANDC Headquarters and the AANDC Ontario North Regional Office in Thunder Bay from February 10, 2012 to March 30, 2012”.
That was the same period that Attawapiskat was fighting in court to have the third party manager removed, and was refusing to co-operate with the federal government.
Moving forward is going to be even harder than it should likely based on the latest moves by the Harper Government. It is highly unlikely that anything the government does on Friday is going to change the relationship for the better.
It is a shame that the Conservatives, who demonstrated such promise with the apology for residential schools, and who have voted for Shannen’s Dream remain so obtuse on the overall opportunities that co-operation rather than singular action can have.