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Beyond Attawapiskat: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Tue, January 15, 2013 | Author: Rod Taylor

Reposted from

In all societies, the pendulum swings, public sentiment changes, and things once thought impossible become increasingly likely. Such is the case regarding Canada’s broken relationship with the descendants of her First Nations.

The shameful treatment of aboriginal people by European settlers and their successive governments has been documented extensively in recent years: how settlers colonized, occupied, and expropriated land held for generations by the diverse people-groups now collectively known as Indians, natives, or First Nations. From the loss of traditional territories to the introduction of destructive drink and diet, from scenes of violent conquest and the distribution of wasting disease to residential school tragedies and unfair discrimination in the polling booth, First Nations have endured crippling abuse across a span of generations.

Most Canadians are now aware of that abuse. Still, a succession of approaches directed at alleviating the accumulated harm of these centuries of mistreatment—all well-intentioned—have failed to satisfy the deeply-felt needs of First Nations. The clock keeps ticking.

This year the timer has gone off. Most Canadians recognize that there is a new urgency in the calls for serious talks and, more importantly, serious action to heal and restore the broken and unsustainable relationship between Canada and her aboriginal citizens.

Sparked by the apparent lack of consultation in the changes to the Indian Act and other legislation rammed through Parliament by the Harper Government’s Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 (the Budget Implementation Bills, hundreds of pages long and introducing changes to 64 pieces of legislation, including First Nations governance), the streets of Canada have suddenly become the scenes of numerous demonstrations by the loose-knit group Idle No More.

From an initial attempt by some chiefs to enter the House of Commons where they were rebuffed by Commons security guards, “spontaneous” protests have been held across the country which have been highly publicized by the mainstream media.

In the midst of all that, the dramatic efforts of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat to engage the Prime Minister and the Crown in fresh discussions have gotten more Canadians involved in the conversation. Chief Spence has since been discredited in the eyes of many Canadians as a spokesperson since the release of an audit showing mismanagement of federal funds, lack of transparency, and lack of proper documentation on her watch. Her band receives $34 million per year of public funds to service the needs of a community of about 300 homes. There are few records showing where the money has gone or what services were purchased. Nevertheless, her “hunger strike” on Victoria Island in Ottawa has been a visual rallying-point for thousands of First Nations people and sympathetic non-natives across the country.

Although the policy outcomes are not yet known, a meeting between Stephen Harper and some representative chiefs was held on Friday, January 11, 2013 and the timing and significance of this development should not be underestimated.

Just this week, a Federal Court has released its judgment granting greater recognition and unspecified new rights to non-status Indians and Métis, adding another 600,000 Canadians to the existing 700,000-plus status Indians currently recognized by the Government of Canada and the Indian Act. If this ruling stands, it will have enormous implications for these people and for other Canadians not included in this judgment. Will current financial commitments towards status Indians be extended to Métis and non-status? Will existing funding be further diluted? What about income taxes and sales taxes? What about government responsibilities in regard to health and housing?

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and the chiefs standing with him are calling for immediate transformation and the replacement (not repair) of the Indian Act with other legislative tools. Specifically, they are calling for full implementation of treaty provisions, many of which predate both the Indian Act and Canada’s patriated Constitution of 1982. They have a good point regarding the failure of the government to abide by its own solemn treaties and agreements.

C-38 and C-45 were pushed through Parliament with little opportunity for consultation or debate and the unilateral alteration of native voting procedures as well as the perceived removal of environmental protection from streams and rivers became the catalyst for this explosion of frustration and clamour for change. The crazy patchwork of legislation, negotiated settlements, outdated Indian Act provisions, treaties, resource agreements, and other half-measures have muddied the waters but have not resolved the conflicts nor settled outstanding issues. Soaring social costs and demoralizing conditions have created a very complex situation and one that must be resolved quickly if Canada is to avoid protracted conflict and uncertainty.

There has been no shortage of ink and airtime devoted to Idle No More, Chief Spence’s demands, and the hastily-scheduled meeting of the PM and the chiefs. There can be no illusion that centuries of conflict, mistrust, and disappointment can be resolved in four or five hours of talks. However, meeting is the first step. It would be easy for critics on all sides to point fingers, lay blame, and set goals or demands that are unattainable. Such antics may make good ratings for the cable networks and may win hearty approval from the folks who are on side but will not help move the practical issues of housing, employment, health, education, and culture forward.

The PM and the chiefs have a golden opportunity to renew the understandings and the expectations reflected in our Constitution, our treaties, and our laws. They must agree to change the things that are holding us back from achieving the ideals on which we agree. They must seize the moment and work together to achieve full equality of opportunity for all Canadians. May God the Creator give them wisdom, grace, humility, and courage to address complex issues, seeking justice under the banner of grace. The Great Chief Cornerstone once said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That would be a tremendous foundation for constructive talks as we begin this new year.

CHP Canada does have policy regarding Aboriginal Affairs:


Treaty claims should be settled equitably, as soon as possible, having consideration for both the historic and legal rights of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.


The Indian Act is outdated and should be abolished.


The federal government should commit to:

  • Recognition of prior occupancy by first peoples.
  • Restitution where and as appropriate.
  • Reconciliation leading to full participation in Canadian society for all Canadians.

These policy objectives are broad, no doubt. They must be. However, if negotiations based on the principles of justice, equality, and respect are entered into with a sincere desire to create a better Canada for all citizens, these principles could be hammered into practical steps toward resolving the conflicts currently hindering our progress as a nation.

Let us pray for our Prime Minister and the chiefs with whom he is meeting, that their negotiations would be fruitful and lead to a new era of righteousness, justice, and peace in Canada. If you are not already a member of CHP, join now and help us bring our Better Solutions to all Canadians.

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