First Nations Transparency Act may do more harm than good: Hayden King

Aboriginal people may find themselves with even less power to create change

By Hayden King, for CBC News, Canada, Aug 02, 201

 

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act may result in aboriginal people finding themselves with even less power to create change.The First Nations Financial Transparency Act may result in aboriginal people finding themselves with even less power to create change. (CBC News)

 

This week the federal government’s legislation, The First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA), was made law.

Financial statements and salaries of First Nation council’s were posted on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s website earlier this week. And those councils who refuse to participate will face a court order.

According to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, this is an effort to provide First Nations people with transparency and allow them to hold their elected leaders accountable. In other words, to empower them.

Given the early reactions to the publication of this data, I don’t share the assessment. So what can we expect?

First, we can expect the media to find a handful of chief and councils that pay themselves unjustifiable salaries.

This reporting has already begun and at least one B.C. chief has found himself on national news broadcasts and other national media for consecutive days.

AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard says the act calls for disclosure of information above and beyond that of other governments, including potentially sensitive information about business dealings. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Of course, this information is important to know. But we can also expect the media to do little else. Few will cover the hundreds of chiefs and/or councils that make $10,000 a year. Few will examine the extreme AANDC underfunding this new data reveals.

Few will ask critical questions about the consequences of First Nations (which are often both governments and corporations) disclosing the details of business dealings with current and/or future negotiating partners.

Second, because of the likely superficial media reporting we can expect many to run with the popular “corrupt chief” narrative to shape their desired policy changes.

Many so-called experts on First Nations peoples in the media and politics will generalize to indict all leaders as taxpayer leeches (though the language will be more delicate).

‘With the media identifying the problem of corrupt chiefs and so-called experts proposing assimilatory solutions, there will be confirmation that the Indian problem is the Indian’s own fault’– Hayden King

Certainly we’ll see organizations like The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which spearheaded the legislation in the first place, use the generalization to call for the erosion of treaties, end of “special” Indian status, privatization of reserves, etc. While taxpayer activism is certainly common, it seems to provoke a special kind of fury when involving Indigenous Peoples.

Third, we can probably expect many Canadians to harden their perspectives on First Nations peoples.

With the media likely focusing on the corrupt-chiefs problem and the so-called experts proposing assimilatory solutions, that will be confirmation for many that the Indian problem is the Indian’s own fault.

And since the challenges indigenous people face will be perceived as a self-inflicted suffering, many Canadians will feel absolved of any responsibility to First Nations, and will instead feel permitted to cast judgement and simply wait for civilization to reach the natives.

In short, the transparency act will be an effective tool to solidify apathy and disengagement with indigenous perspectives and ideas.

Fourth, we can probably also expect the federal government to double-down on the unilateral “aboriginal” policy that has been ongoing for some time.

This includes stripping communities of power in areas of social policy, extinguishing rights and title, reducing program resources, andgenerally trying to transform communities into municipalities under provincial jurisdiction.

With the First Nation leadership being stripped of legitimacy, and Canadians oscillating between aloof and angry, much of the opposition to this increasingly transformative trend will be neutralized. The FNFTA may actually grant AANDC greater licence to intervene in the lives of indigenous peoples.

Finally, we can expect First Nations people to use this data to continue to hold their leadership accountable.

The reality is that most communities already have access to this information (and much more) and generally they do not skirt or ignore issues of bad governance.

From the broad Idle No More movement to specific cases like the ongoing Wahta Community Fire in central Ontario (where a Kanien’kehá:ka community shut down its administrative building because the band council wasn’t following transparency rules), the formal and more provocative examples of communities holding leaders accountable and pushing for new (or very old) governance models independent of the Indian Act are numerous.

‘In an era where reconciliation actually means confrontation and our public discourse is often shallow, every new policy, law, court decision, protest and blockade is a struggle to shape the narrative’– Hayden King

All of this is not an argument against the legislation itself or an endorsement of the status quo.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of Canada continuing to dictate to and administer First Nation communities, the content of the legislation is relatively benign. But the consequences may be significant.

In an era where reconciliation seems more to mean confrontation and our public discourse is often shallow, every new policy, law, court decision, protest and blockade is a struggle to shape the narrative.

Despite what Bernard Valcourt claims about the FNFTA, First Nations may find themselves with even less power to create change.

Ontario First Nations ready to die defending lands: chiefs

5 chiefs serve notice that they’ll assert treaty rights over their traditional territory

 

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven't respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy and Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister speak at a Toronto new conference on Monday. On Tuesday, Ontario chiefs said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which give First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

 

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press Posted: Jul 30, 2014

Aboriginal people in Ontario are prepared to lay down their lives to protect their traditional lands from any unwanted development, a group of First Nations chiefs said Tuesday.

Five aboriginal chiefs served notice on the Ontario and federal governments, developers and the public that they’ll assert their treaty rights over their traditional territory and ancestral lands.

That includes the rights to natural resources — such as fish, trees, mines and water— deriving benefit from those resources and the conditions under which other groups may access or use them, which must be consistent with their traditional laws, said Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy.

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says "all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent."

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy says “all those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, enquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent.”

 

“All those seeking to access or use First Nations lands and resources have, at a minimum, a duty to engage, inquire and consult with First Nations with the standards of free, prior and informed consent,” he said.

“We will take appropriate steps to enforce these assertions.”

‘No respect’ for agreements with ancestors

Tuesday’s declaration follows a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in late June which awarded 1,700 square kilometres of territory to British Columbia’s Tsilhqot’in First Nation, providing long-awaited clarification on how to prove aboriginal title.

The ruling also formally acknowledged the legitimacy of indigenous land claims to wider territory beyond individual settlement sites.

But in a separate decision a few weeks later, the court upheld the Ontario government’s power to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional lands. Grassy Narrows is different from the Tsilhqot’in decision because it involves treaty land, not aboriginal title.

Grassy Narrows argued that only Ottawa has the power to take up the land because treaty promises were made with the federal Crown.

The high court ruled that the province doesn’t need the federal government’s permission to allow forestry and mining activity under an 1873 treaty that ceded large swaths of Ontario and Manitoba to the federal government.

The Ontario chiefs who spoke out on Tuesday said the provincial and federal governments haven’t respected the agreements their ancestors signed more than a century ago, which gives First Nations the right to assert jurisdiction over lands and resources.

‘Land has become sick’

Aboriginal communities have seen what Canadian and Ontario laws have done to their land over the last 147 years, Beardy said.

“The land has become sick,” he said. “We become sick. We become poor, desperate and dying.”

The people of Grassy Narrows First Nation are still suffering from mercury poisoning decades after the Wabigoon river around their land was contaminated by a local paper mill, Beardy added.

Grand Chief of Treaty 3, Warren White, argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the state of Israel, but not the lands of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

“He needs to have the same principles that he’s saying about Israeli lands to Treaty 3 territory and native lands in Canada,” White said.

“Clean up your own backyard before you go and spill a lot of money into disasters in other countries.”

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation added that the province’s aboriginal people will draw a line in the sand, put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario's aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that's what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

Grand Chief Harvey Yesno of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says Ontario’s aboriginal people will put a stake in the ground and tie themselves to it if that’s what it takes to protect their land from unwanted resource development.

“We’re no longer just going to be civilly disobedient. We’re going to defend our lands, and there’s a big difference there,” he said.

“Our young people are dying, our people are dying. So let’s die at least defending our land.”

Aboriginal communities don’t want to harm others, said Beardy. But they’ll do what they must to stop an incursion on their lands, such as forming human blockades to stop the clearcutting of trees, he said.

“Anything that happens on our aboriginal homeland now, they must consult with us,” said Roger Fobister Sr., chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation. “Even if they’re going to cut down one tree, they better ask us.”

Attawapiskat Chief Spence calls for chiefs to form united front and confront Ottawa

 

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence last January on Victoria Island during her fas

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence last January on Victoria Island during her fast.

 

APTN National News
With one of her closest aides on a walk to Ottawa, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence released an open letter Tuesday calling on First nation leaders to form a united front and confront Ottawa.

Spence’s letter is addressed to Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and senior chiefs in Ontario.

“Chiefs, why are you watching your people agonize when they raise their voices and struggle for their rights and protect our signed treaties?” said Spence, in the letter. “It’s so anguishing to watch the walkers go through the discomfort…as the chiefs are in comfortable zone. What does it take for the leadership to understand and feel the distress for the people that are fighting for the rights for justice, peace, freedom and to renew the treaty relationship and to honour the spirit and intent of the treaty?”

Danny Metatawabin, Brian Okimaw and Paul Mattinas and Remi Nakogee began walking Saturday from Attawapiskat down a snowmobile trail that passes through Kashechewan and Fort Albany before hitting Moosonee, Ont.

The walk is dubbed, “Reclaiming Our Steps Past, Present and Future.”

Metatawabin was one of Spence’s closest aides during the Attawapiskat chief’s liquids-only fast which lasted from mid-December 2012 to mid-January 2013.

Spence said the walk is meant to remind chiefs about the promises that were made to end her fast.

“Danny’s quest is to remind all chiefs and the government of Canada of the undertakings promised during last year’s struggle which remain outstanding,” said Spence.

In her letter, Spence calls on First Nations chiefs to form a united front to confront Ottawa.

“I call upon you, to listen to the concerns of your membership, to heed their advice, and to call upon your fellow chiefs and set up a special meeting to develop a united stand for the future of our nations,” said Spence.

Spence calls on the chiefs to also organize a meeting with the federal government.

“If the chiefs fail to heed the advice contained in this open letter to engage in solidarity with their members to advocate for their members and to protect the needs of our people and treaties, I will call upon my grassroots people, treaty partners, Canadians and our neighbours from other countries to expose all of the wrongful acts and abusive actions…imposed to our people and continue to impact generations of our people to this day.”