Nishiyuu Walkers sending message to obtuse Conservatives

Nishiyuu Walkers
The Nishiyuu Walkers headed to Parliament Hill
Nishiyuu Walkers
The Nishiyuu Walkers headed to Parliament Hill

THUNDER BAY – The Nishiyuu Walkers are sending a strong message. It is a message that the Conservative government appears to be ignoring. In the House of Commons NDP Leader Thomas Muclair asked, “For the past three months, six young people from a Cree community in northern Quebec have been trekking 1,600 km through snow and ice to come to Ottawa in the hope that a new relationship can be forged between Canada and the first nations. Today, spring has arrived, together with hundreds of walkers. The problem is that instead of giving them hope, the new Conservative budget will crush them with paternalistic programs.

“The Prime Minister promised equality in education. Why is Canada still spending 30% less on education for aboriginal youth than for other Canadians?”

Nishiyuu Walkers message – We are here!

The Prime Minister choose to greet two pandas, a “gift from China” that will be in Canada for the next ten years, with stays at the Toronto Zoo and Calgary Zoo, rather than be in Ottawa on Monday.

The Conservatives in Question Period were represented by John Baird. Baird’s response – “The priority of budget 2013 is jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. We have brought forward a number of concrete measures to help first nations communities. These include significant investments in first nations infrastructure, the first nations policing program, the aboriginal justice strategy and enhancing health and mental health services for first nations and Inuit”.

“The question is this. Will the leader of the NDP do the right thing and stand up and support all these meaningful investments for our first nations?”

The message being sent by the Nishiyuu Walkers to the government is a simple one. The fastest growing segment of the Canadian population is the Aboriginal population. These young people are looking to build their futures in Canada – Turtle Island is their home.

The federal government has a nation to nation treaty obligation with Aboriginal people. 

It not only makes common sense to support better education for Aboriginal youth. It also makes long-term financial sense. The Conservatives appear to be taking a very short term approach to the issue. Choosing to be obtuse rather than visionary.

The House of Commons, in a very rare vote last year voted as a whole to support Shannen’s Dream, a goal of investing the needed funds in education. The Conservatives have seemingly decided that speaking points, bluster and bravado are more important as their tools to deal with the issue.

There are several issues where the Conservatives appear extremely obtuse.

The issue of Aboriginal education is just one of those issues. It is an issue that has led to the growth of Idle No More, and a growing group of very savvy young Aboriginal youth leaders setting their path onto the political action trail.

One might have thought that over time, the Conservatives would have come to recognize the massive voting block that Aboriginal voters could represent. However that does not appear to be sinking in to the Ottawa crowd in the Conservative war room sitting at their computers studying their database.

When one looks at the poll by poll results from the 2011 federal election, the voter turnout for First Nations communities is extremely low. Getting governments to step up and listen is likely going to require Idle No More and Indigenous leaders to move from the Round Dance to a voting program.

When you consider that the Conservative government won the last election with two million more votes than the New Democrats, there were likely over a million plus voters in Aboriginal communities across the North who stayed home. A solid effort of voting in First Nations communities would see a number of incumbent Members of Parliament tossed out of office.

In the Kenora Riding, the highest voter turnout in a First Nation community was in Sandy Lake. There out of 567 votes cast, incumbent Conservative MP Greg Rickford received seven votes. If the voter numbers in each northern First Nation in the riding had come out and voted, Greg Rickford would not be sitting in the House of Commons. 

The Liberals and the New Democrats appear to be reaching out to Aboriginal groups, and Liberal leader Bob Rae has been sought out by Mattawa First Nation as a negotiator for the Ring of Fire. Rae appears to solidly understand the importance of the treaty rights and First Nations. That is a skill that isn’t that wide-spread in Ottawa.

When the Round Dance and the Protest Walk turns into a Voting Program it is very likely that at all three levels of government, the voices of First Nations peoples are going to be heard louder than ever before.

By petting a panda cub, Prime Minister Harper shared with Canadians his choice. The message has been received by Aboriginal youth. 

It was said that communications require both a sender and a receiver. In the case of democracy, when the message is not received, voters have an option to change the receiver. It is a message that political parties in Ottawa have likely never considered. 

If it comes to pass, Canadian politics is going to witness some fundamental change.

James Murray


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