Rising tensions at Assembly of First Nations forum
It was a busy beginning to the first day of a two-day policy forum hosted by the Assembly of First Nations on May 1st.
The purpose of the AFN’s Four Policies and Nation Building Forum was put succinctly by Tsuut’ina Chief Lee Crowchild, wen he said that chiefs were “not going to let treaty be compromised.”
Sending a strong message to the AFN
Hundreds of demonstrators, including chiefs, elders and youth, organized outside an Assembly of First Nations policy forum in Edmonton Wednesday, where AFN delegates discussed the federal government’s plan to overhaul Comprehensive Land Claims, Specific Claims, Inherent Rights and Additions to Reserve Lands policies.
As April put it, “[the delegation] was a sham. We, [as Indigenous Peoples,] need to take a stand [and defend] our unbeaten, unsurrendered land.”
The AFN and select First Nation bands “are working in secrecy without consulting with the people. They are trying to starve our people, making it hard on us to get our medication and social assistance.”
Despite the apparent slap in the face to many faced with April’s predicament, as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow, the Indigenous Peoples will not go down without a fight.
She refuses “to take this lying down. I have children and grandchildren, whose futures I have to think about.”
Beaver First Nation Chief Trevor Mercredi told the roughly 300 people gathered outside the Edmonton Inn and Conference Centre that “the government has taken away the authority of the people, the true rights holders in Canada.”
“They’re domesticating everything we own; they’re domesticating us as each day goes by.”
The significant issues are both the process by which the review is taking place, and a lack of trust in the federal government, which many believe is moving toward defining Indigenous rights in a way that threatens Indigenous sovereignty and jurisdiction.
When the price of admission to such policy forum is $350 — above and beyond what someone of average household income can afford — then it becomes apparent that something is not adding up. As April denoted, “People don’t have that kind of money. There was no reason to not let people in.”
“The amount of security was overwhelming, to the point that people couldn’t even get by them. I managed to slip some people in through the side door open, which was difficult. [It’s simple,] the AFN had a secret meeting, without the presence of the people or chiefs [without any prior consultation efforts] spoke volumes to their intentions.”
Kootenay: Reconciliation? More like, Recolonization
Joe Kootenay, Member of Council for Alexander First Nation and co-host for Cuzzins Corner Podcast provided The Post Millennial with his thoughts on the Trudeau framework on treaty relations.
He states, “I think it’s the most terrible piece of legislation since the assimilation policy that leads to a change of the Indian Act in 1920 requiring every Indian child to attend a residential school.”
This obviously isn’t the first time things have become heated between the federal government and Indigenous people.
Dating back to Sir John A. Macdonald’s controversial “National Policy,” the use of Indian Agents to purposefully starve Indigenous peoples as part of the federal government’s expansionist endeavors to the prairie west draws parallels to the sentiments echoed at Wednesday’s protests. Complacency and trust in the feds led to their complete and utter subordination, and their subsequent ethnic cleansing in “overseeing near-constant famines,” as Tristin Hopper puts it.
“The way the Assembly of First Nations is manufacturing consent is like a whiskey trader holding a smallpox blanket,” Kootenay remarked.
Similarly, in 1886, Liberal MP Malcolm Cameron stated Macdonald’s duties to the Indigenous Peoples made him “culpably negligent,” which some would argue is the case with the Trudeau administration thus far.
To be dispossessed as original owners of the soil, then lose their slimmed-down voting rights – granted only to Ontario First Nations – under the Wilfrid Laurier Liberal’s assimilationist policies in 1898 was a sign the federal government had no intention of treating them as anything less than ‘savages.’
Like the assimilationist policies of the Macdonald Tories and Laurier Liberals, “this legislation does nothing to enhance our lives on a day to day basis,” according to Kootenay. “This entire movement of Reconciliation looks more and more like an act of Recolonization. The White Paper 2.0 needs to be stopped, I have heard people refer to it as an empty box, and I couldn’t agree more.”
The infamous White Paper, introduced by Pierre Trudeau in 1969, received massive backlash in the Indigenous community at the time due to the fact that it would eliminate Indian status, abolish the Indian Act, phase out the Indian Affairs Department, and convert reserve land to private property.
While the times have changed, and the problems are unique to the time, the rocky relationship between the First Peoples of Canada and their relationship to the Crown have not changed much.
As Senator Murray Sinclair puts it, “eventually [the oppressed will] take out their violence on the oppressor, then you’ll have a rebellion.”
The effects of the systemic failure in Canada’s treatment of the Indigenous Peoples warrants the label of “culpably negligent.”
Ultimately, those who are coerced into leaving their land risk losing elements of their culture, particularly their connection to the land. Thus, a weaker affinity to one’s spirituality and ethnicity makes them increasingly susceptible to assimilation.
Bennett weighs in
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told chiefs on May 2nd that her government will be issuing a directive to federal officials working on rights, recognition, and the implementation of Indigenous rights to ensure that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is “very present at every table.”
“Canada has embraced it and Canada wants to live by it in terms of our understanding of the honour of the Crown,” said Bennett.
A June deadline to establish a rights recognition framework legislation is no longer a part of the government plan, she said.
Her announcement was met with applause at the Assembly of First Nations’ Four Policies and Nation Building Forum in Edmonton, but it wasn’t the rousing endorsement that might have been expected considering the concerns strongly voiced by chiefs the previous day in response to what many considered government’s White Paper 2.0 rights termination assault.