Sunday, January 13, 2013

Divisiveness Poses Further Threat to First Nations

For the past week, the Canadian crisis in governance related to the fall out from Bill C-45 focused on the January 11, 2013 meeting between Harper, the AFN led by Shawn Atleo, and a more ceremonial meeting of the Governor General David Johnston and First Nations.

These meetings were in part, due to demands of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation who has been on a hunger strike since December 11, 2012.  She called for, demanded and received the meetings.  At the last minute, she indicated she would not attend the Harper / AFN working meeting but decided to attend the larger, ceremonial meeting.

Spence is a woman without a plan, and appeared to have no plan should the meetings be granted, which they were.  This left the AFN leadership securing a plan based upon a meeting with Chiefs from across Canada, according to AFN National Chief Atleo's statement today;

I delivered the eight key areas of action that emerged from the dialogue facilitated by Regional Chiefs Wilson-Raybould and Bellegarde this week. First Nation leaders brought forward tough messages, and noted the demand for change expressed by First Nation citizens all across the country. They also made it clear they would not be drawn into a programmatic discussion and did not want to waste time going over rhetorical ground or listening to a number of statements from ministers.

Some concessions were made by Harper, while other issues are still under negotiation, according to news sources.  Almost immediately upon hearing the meetings Spence sought would be granted, she set out to organize a walk out and boycott of the very meeting she demanded.  This set a divisive tone going into Friday's meeting, where a show of unity may have delivered greater impact.  She seemed to change the conditions of her demands on almost an hourly basis.

The Anishinabek in a video statement noted their dislike that Harper limited the meeting to 30 people in attendance, however, the point of the meeting was to deliver the points outlined in the AFN meeting outlined above. The issue seemed to be clouded in semantics and etiquette, rather than substance.  The meeting seemed to be substantive, and concessions made on the major key points.  


The focus must be in repeal of Omnibus Bill C-45, and to implement fair revenue sharing.  However, it has remained unclear that First Nations even agree on where environmental protection begins and ends.  The message on this remains muddled; money seems to be the driving factor for impoverished First Nations. Atleo alluded to the vision of the AFN:

We are diverse and we must continue in respect of one another to drive forward the work of implementing our rights and protecting our lands, waters and achieve change for our peoples. It is absolutely certain that the voices of our people will not be silenced.


The biggest criticism of Spence is the release of a damning audit of her management of her band government, where her non-native life partner, Clayton Kennedy, served as the band finance manager.  The chaotic media coverage of the audit release was downplayed by Spence as a "distraction."  Yet the audit revealed an astounding 80% of Attawapiskat transactions, of which the entire from time (2005-2011) except for two years, Spence was a paid band Deputy Chief and subsequent Chief.  

Unofficially, Spence typifies a fact that one quarter of all Canada's First Nations are under government management, or the financial dog house, for having defaulted on financial obligations to such a degree so as to compromise the health and well being of band community residents.  First Nations leaders in support of Spence point to the reality that Canadian overall spending of First Nations is lower than the average spent on the average Canadian.  This is particularly true with educational resources.

One of the most vocal critics of AFN's Atleo and who supported a meeting walkout is Derek Nepinek the regional chief of Manitoba.  Forty two of the bands Nepinek represents are under this government oversight, his band dug out from third party management after his election.  Between First Nations that grapple with self-determination and the control of Ottawa, there seems to be no middle ground to bolster self-directed, community driven control.  Chiefs and band councils often seem at odds with their own constituents.

In all of this, Spence remains elusive to questions about her own band's conditions, and her relationship to the band financial manager, despite a band conflict of interest policy that would have required one of the two to forego band employment. Band councils seem reluctant to embrace Ottawa financial directives, even as it impacts their reserve's residents.

Attawapiskat has been front and center due to the housing crisis that community has endured.  Families live in dilapidated substandard housing.  Ottawa appears unwilling to direct national resources to solve the housing crisis there and among other native communities, and begs the question why does Canada fail to address basic housing policy on par with the rest of Canada, irrespective of its relationship with First Nation band councils.

This seems illogical in a nation that adopted a strategy of "social housing" early on to address the need for affordable housing.  Perhaps this is the strategy that must be ramped up to address moldy, deteriorated housing in places like Attawapiskat, where third party community corporations address the desperate need, outside of band malfeasance, that for this impoverished community has been running for well over a decade.  

Canada (as of 2010) overall is seeing the middle income struggle with housing costs.  The band, as housing provider of last resort, causes residents to deal with a situation of impossible choices, under-funding of the government and mismanagement issues on another front.  Rural areas also experience added costs of transportation and freight.  

In the meantime, Canada's politicians call upon Spence to end her hunger strike, notably Thomas Mulcair, NDP, who states he has been in regular contact with AFN leaders.  Mulcair blasts Harper for allowing the crisis to fester and the slow response of his government.  Many BC first nations are in the process of pursuing a land claims agenda, and treaty negotiations.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Concert for the Americas

Loud Thunder International announces the Concert for the Americas to co-occur with major issues taking place affecting the peoples of the Western Hemisphere.  An event is planned for 2013 in Central Park, NYC, and later in Los Angeles.  Organizers are working to make this an annual event.  The proposal has been several years in the works and began as an idea during the Congressional campaign of Melinda Gopher in 2010.


Schedule of events will be posted here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Spiritual Awakening: Round Dance Revolution

"The surface of the drum is a sacred space, it is there you'll find your life again." 

Thane Gopher, Asinigous (Stone Voice) lived a humble life, an Anishinabeg, Ojibway-Blackfeet who grew up on Hill 57, Great Falls, Montana.  He was a singer, he was a skilled Round Dance, Powwow, and Sundance Singer, and this is a trait of his clan, of Baazhwaanaazhii, or Crane (Migizi, subclan).

The humility of his life was that of never-ending faith of the power of the Round Dance Ceremony.  This is a way of life of the Great Falls urban Indian community.  Thane Gopher was part of his brothers, Glenn Gopher and Blair Gopher who provided the cultural and spiritual heartbeat of a community clinging to survival.

Thane Gopher died on June 2, 2012 of complications of lung cancer at the age of 55.  He did not live to see the revolution his singing sustained, and for which the collective prayers lift from the Round Dance ceremonies everywhere.  The understanding of the traditional Great Falls community is the Round Dance was given to the people by the souls, the deceased ones.  This is the teaching of the Round Dance that came from the cultural teach-ins hosted by Jim Loud Thunder Gopher during his happy years of Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan.  Jim Gopher was the grandfather of Thane.  The Memorial Feast is always done.

The oral tradition of the Round Dance states the Northern Lights, are the souls of the deceased, dancing in the sky, at one time the lights touched the earth, and the round dance songs could be heard from far off, where the people were camped.  There was a joyful dance that went on all night, where the lights were touching the earth.  The next day, the people went to where the lights had been, and there was a big circular imprint in the high grass, where there had been dancing.  This is how the ceremony came to the people.

During the crisis of the Great Depression, by then Jim Gopher had made his way back to the United States, and settled on Hill 57, the community was under hard times, in fact the worst of times.  The memory of Robert Gopher as retold, he was a child.  He stated the elders of Hill 57 hosted Round Dances in their community.  These Round Dances were held and elderly men sang there.  The people would make bologna sandwiches and tea, there was not a lot to live on at the time, this was all they had for the feast offering.  The Round Dance has the tradition of sustaining the people in times of great hardship.

Robert Gopher restarted the Round Dances during another time of hardship, the Reagan years, that brought prosperity to the upper crust but the low income lacked for want of jobs.  It was a recession economy, spurred by the gas crisis of the late 1970s.  It is often thought the Reagan saved the economy, but the truth is there were more jobs created under Carter, although the unemployment rate remained higher during his years.  This was the situation faced then, it seems more severe now.  Four years of Obama has seen his effort to undo the damage of the prior Republican administration, the same situation faced Carter.


We are taught that people transcend to the soul state upon death, and spiritual transformation to live in the ever after.  As my brother lay dying in a Kalispell hospital, I dreamed of the spiritual voices of Creation, call his name, this is done when a round dance singer enters the sacred realm, Creation awaits their arrival, and call them by name.

Not long after my brother died, I dreamed of him.   I was very grief-stricken, lonely, and barely hanging on to my own life.  In the dream,  he told me, "The surface of the drum is a sacred space, it is there you'll find your life again."  It is as if he saw and predicted what was coming, what is occurring now was probably not conceivable to him as he fought for his life in his final weeks.  He was a hardliner when it came to the cultural traditions, that spiritual traditions will always be honored foremost.


Great Falls hosted a flash mob at the Holiday Village Mall yesterday in support of Canada's First Nations people.  There was a young man there, that came up in the same way as the Gopher brothers, his name is Kyle Spearson, of Ojibway and Blackfeet descent.  His experience is much like the Gopher men, and his spirit is the same in many ways.  His life will be defined by the hardships, struggles and aspirations of the people that he will sing for, that his his path.

Round Dance singers occupy sacred space in the life of humanity.  The flash mobs would not occur had communities not clung to the Round Dance ceremony.  There is a ceremonial existence at the core of the movement taking place, this cannot be set aside.  As the planners of the ceremonial life of the Great Falls Indian community for over three decades, the women of Loud Thunder could never foresee that we will take the collective voice of suffering of the people to the United Nations.

This is what we are doing on January 29th, 2013, and will follow up with a more protracted observance in May during the twelfth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous People.  This is a pan-indigenous movement:  all are welcome, all have a voice, a struggle and a need for universal acceptance and respect for the hardships endured, from the living conditions in the remote areas of Canada, to the tent cities of Los Angeles, caused by immigration discrimination, displacement and ill-conceived policies intended to dehumanize and exclude.

The American effort respects and honors the Round Dance singers who used their power to enact peaceful change, and that the drums are fed, are seen as living spiritual embodiment, for this reason the drums are included in the Memorial Feasts.  For this reason, we ask all American efforts to use the term, "Round Dance Revolution."  We dedicate this peaceful revolution to all past round dance singers who have come and gone on to the world of souls, that they will look at us, it is said they are closer to the Creator than we are, and pity us.  It is time for one fire, and to understand, "The surface of the drum is a sacred space, it is there you'll find your life again."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

RGPI Calls for Worldwide Sanctions by UN Security Sanctions Committee

The Robert Gopher Policy Institute monitoring the situation of Canada's aggrieved First Nations over Omnibus Bill C-45 calls for and pressures the United Nations Sanctions Committee to enact measures to vote on diplomatic and possible economic sanctions against the government of Canada with regard to embargoes of its petroleum products and extractive industry.  The RGPI believes the boon of Canadian Oil Sands, as a reason for the underlying rationale of Omnibus Bill C-45.  The legislative package it represents will strip environmental protections and redefine aboriginal fisheries, which presents problems for subsistence cultures in Canada.  This is priming the land for vast and untold ecological devastation at a time the planet begs for an answer to climate change.


RGPI Director Melinda Gopher, ran for the U.S. Congress from the eco-friendly community of Missoula, Montana in the 2010 Democratic primary.  The area is a hotbed of environmental activism, and Gopher has supported community protests of the megaloads that support the Canadian tar sands industry.  

"We need the international community to stand with the First Nations of Canada, and ask that worldwide, the imposition first of diplomatic sanctions and expelling Canadian diplomats, in response to the human rights abuses that Bill C-45 represents.  This now has to move to the next stage which is the forced mediation of the Canadian conflict between Harper's government, and First Nations."

Brock Conway, a Lakota/Blackfeet, and one of several organizers of the Los Angeles Solidarity Rally last week, also met with Canadian consul Nadia Scipio Del Campo, states there is a need for stepped up UN involvement and intervention, as the world attempts to apply the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to a major industrialized nation.  "This is the first time in human history that the world will apply an international human rights law on a major economic power.  First Nations need the world to impose the designation of Canadian oil, as conflict oil.  Native communities are wiped out with one damaging legislative proposal, their ecological viability destroyed along with their sovereignty.  This is the reasoning behind the movement that the entire planet now stands with indigenous people."

"The Canadian oil industrial complex is standing up thumbing its nose at the world, to exterminate a race of people, to get at the underlying land and tar sands, conflict oil designation is needed for the purpose of imposing world-wide economic sanctions, should this conflict devolve.  Economic, ecological and political extermination will ensue should Governor General Johnston sign Bill C-45 into law."  states Melinda Gopher.

The world must act quickly to forge a settlement of the Canadian conflict, one that reflects treaty relations wherein First Nations were guaranteed even revenue sharing on par with the government of Canada.  " I am told by my Canadian relations, that this agreement is written in treaties and agreements with the British Crown.  Harper's bill breaks the social contract and nation to nation relationship that is the law of the land in Canada."  Gopher concludes. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Robert Gopher Policy Institute Calls for UN Role to Mediate Canadian Crisis

Will the Native Winter Follow the Path of the Arab Spring?

Brock Conway, Representative of 
Loud Thunder International, and three 
native activists meet with Canadian Consul 
Nadia Scipio Del Campo at the
Canadian Consulate, Los Angeles
Friday, December 21, 2012 on the 
escalating Canadian crisis
Peoples movements have defined global affairs the past two years beginning in Tunisia with the Jasmine Revolution; Egypt, Libya and Yemen followed.  Syria has been more problematic and descended into civil war, just today the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi calls for a transitional government.  The role of Bashar al Assad is unstated following weeks of intense negotiations by the UN envoy between Assad and the opposition movement.

The glaring issue facing Canada is its prior acceptance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the crisis in Canada puts this universal declaration to its first major test in addressing the policies of a major industrialized nation.  Canadian Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo stated in a news broadcast interview of the need for Canada to step up and fulfill lawful treaty obligations on a nation to nation basis that was guaranteed 250 years ago.  

Atleo cites the UN Declaration's requirement of informed consent by indigenous people on major legislation.  The Harper backed legislative proposals have created nationwide unrest and civil protests throughout the nation, the United States, and several areas around the globe, in support of the Idle No More movement.

The Need for UN Role to Oversee Canadian Crisis

The Robert Gopher Policy Institute sees the need for the UN to take a prominent role, certainly an investigation launched, and calls for the UN to mediate the escalating crisis,  and apply provisions of the Declaration on behalf of Canadian First Nations.  The UN Declaration outlines several articles, many of those have been violated by the Queens Cabinet led by Harper in the failure to consult before the passage of the Omnibus Bill C-45.  The Queen's Governor General Johnston has stated it is not his role, but that of the legislative body, to conduct face to face dialog with First Nations.

This leaves the AFN led by Atleo, with no recourse within the government of Canada to pursue constructive dialog, as hunger strikers Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation, Raymond Robinson of Cross Lake and Emil Bell of Canoe Lake starve for a solution.  This situation is ripe for international intervention that only the UN can provide to move mediation efforts forward.

The international community must step up and aid the indigenous people of Canada, where historically, the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere have lacked international support to address colonial abuses, exploitation and genocidal policies since historic times.  The indigenous people must be afforded the same attention and dedication as given the Palestinians, Syrians and Libyans.