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.

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