The Idle No More movement for indigenous civil rights and protection of the environment continues to gather momentum. The Friday Jan. 11 Global Action Day was a phenomenal success with over 265 separate events around the world in solidarity with Idle No More. That same day Canadian Prime Minister Harper met with some Assembly of First Nations (AFN) leaders and the Governor General held a separate ceremonial event for other chiefs including the hunger-striking Chief Spence. Little was accomplished by these meetings, Chief Spence is now in her sixth week of fasting in a teepee in the shadow of the Canadian Parliament, and AFN Chief Shawn Atleo has been facing growing criticism from other chiefs and the grassroots, and has temporarily reassigned his responsibilities while he's on sick leave.
Today has seen a National Action Day across Canada. Over the past month, there have been hundreds of rallies and round dances, with only a handful of temporary blockades of highways and rail lines. By contrast, many events today focused on brief traffic slowdowns, railroad blockades and protests at bridges to the US, although there were also dozens of round dances and other demonstrations as well.
The Ambassador bridge between Windsor and Detroit is the busiest border crossing on the continent with 10,000 trucks crossing daily. Today's rally there was not a blockade, but rather an "economic slowdown." Twitter reported that many trucks honked in support as they passed the protest site. Many of Canada's largest unions have spoken up for Idle No More, and the head of the Windsor Canadian Auto Workers encouraged local members to participate in the demonstration.
There have also been rail blockades in BC, Manitoba and Ontario, and CN is seeking court injunctions to stop them. However, most events have focused on slowdowns and education. As described by the Lubicon First Nation near the Alberta tar sands: “We’re not out blocking the roads and shutting things down, we’re not at that point.” said Lubicon Coun. Bryan Laboucan, in a statement. “All we’re doing here today is taking a few minutes to talk to people visiting our territory whether for work or just passing through and educate them on our situation.”
So far all events have proceeded peacefully with the exception of a truck driving through a round dance. Fortunately no one was injured, but the police are investigating. On Monday the INM founders, organizers and Elder advisors issued the following press release emphasizing their call for peaceful non-violent action:
Idle No More has a responsibility to resist current government policies in a Peaceful and Respectful way. It can be done. It can be done without aggression or violence. This is an energetic, exciting and transformative time.While Idle No More has been the target of conservative attacks, so have various Canadian police departments because they have generally engaged in negotiation and avoided arrests. In an unusual move, the head of the Ontario Provincial Police released a video before today's planned protests praising the officers' handling of previous Idle No More events, and encouraging ongoing restraint. "Ontario’s top cop said it’s important to understand the overall strategy and that First Nations hold a lot of the power. 'First Nations have the ability to paralyze this country by shutting down travel and trade routes,' said Chris Lewis in the video posted Tuesday morning.'"
This movement has been guided by Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values. We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth.
To keep us on this good path, we ask that you, as organizers create space for Elders or Knowledge/Ceremonial Keepers to assist in guiding decisions as we move forward. It is up to each of us to see that this movement respects all people, the environment, and our communities and neighbours.
In peace and solidarity.
The same concern was expressed by the Conservative Finance Minister, who worried that "blockades from the Idle No More movement may have a serious impact on the national economy." Maybe he should have expressed that concern to the Cabinet before Harper completely mishandled the meeting on Friday, and stonewalled all attempts to discuss the omnibus budget bills that led to the movement. After all, the current Conservative government was elected with less than 40% of the popular vote.
Former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin weighed in and "said today on the Idle No More movement's national day of protest that he backs efforts to make Canadians more aware of the unique issues facing First Nations," and commented on "the terrible tragedies in terms [of] the underfunding of education and health care."
Let's hope all sides continue to exercise restraint, that Idle No More continues on its peaceful path, and that today's events were a wake-up call to Harper that he needs to
respect indigenous treaty and constitutional rights, and overturn the legislation that allows rampant resource development without environmental protection.
Idle No More, Tar Sands, Pipelines and Global Warming
Below are some excerpts from Kossack Bill McKibben's must-read article on the implications of Idle No More for stopping tar sands development and pipelines, and for slowing global warming. He concludes that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.
The stakes couldn't be higher, for Canada and for the world. Much of this uprising began when Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper rammed through Parliament an omnibus bill gutting environmental reviews and protections. He had no choice if he wanted to keep developing Canada's tar sands, because there's no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers. (Indeed, a study released a few days ago made clear that carcinogens had now found their way into myriad surrounding lakes). And so, among other things, the omnibus bill simply declared that almost every river, stream and lake in the country was now exempt from federal environmental oversight.Canadian First Nations have won over 160 successive legal victories contesting land claims and resource development, and they are the major obstacle to Harper's goal of rapid resource and tar sands exploitation regardless of environmental costs. Their treaty rights are enshrined in the Canadian constitution and in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP). The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues James Anaya is monitoring Canada's compliance with DRIP, and has been waiting for over a year to receive an official invitation from the Canadian government to visit the country in his UN capacity.
Canada's environmental community protested in all the normal ways -- but they had no more luck than, say, America's anti-war community in the run up to Iraq. There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tarsands, and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied.
But there's a stumbling block they hadn't counted on, and that was the resurgent power of the Aboriginal Nations. Some Canadian tribes have signed treaties with the Crown, and others haven't, but none have ceded their lands, and all of them feel their inherent rights are endangered by Harper's power grab. They are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada's total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world's second largest pool of carbon. NASA's James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for the climate." Which means, in turn, that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.
Last week, two Alberta First Nations affected by the tar sands launched a legal challenge to the omnibus budget bill C-45. This bill changed numerous Canadian laws, including reserve land pollcy and century-old protections for over two million lakes and rivers. Opposition to the undiscussed changes in these bills led to the foundation of Idle No More by four women in Saskatchewan. In violation of the Canadian constitution and DRIP, First Peoples were not given the opportunity for "consultation and consent."
As I was finishing this diary, I saw a twitter post about a press release from the Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations. He stated that there would be no blockade today of Highway 63, the main route to the tar sands, as had been rumoured. But he had strong words and it is worth reading the entire statement:
The blockade of Highway 63 is something that has always been a possibility even before Idle No More. For the last 50 years people in Northern Alberta have been living at ground zero in one of the world’s most destructive industrial projects, the Alberta Tar Sands. The tar sands infrastructure includes pipelines to the east, west, south and north needed to ship tar sands out and bring in solvents used in processing. It includes proposed nuclear reactors and natural gas mining to generate power for needed for extraction. It involves utilizing massive amounts of fresh water to process and leaves incredibly large toxic waste lakes that are contaminating plants, animals and neighbouring waterways. It creates vast amounts of greenhouse gases fueling climate chaos and contributing to alarming climate change...Global Action Day
The Oil, Gas and pipeline industry asked the government for legislative changes to better protect their investments and assets in the name of “economic growth” and within ten months the government made sweeping changes to legislation in their favour...
If no changes are made in the coming months I guarantee we will see Nationwide peaceful picket lines set up, resulting in blockades of major highways, against all resource extraction and development that is being done in violation of the Canadian Constitution, with unjust environmental standards and in contravention of our inherent rights to live, breathe and sustain ourselves on our lands.
On Jan. 11,the Idle No More Global Action Day held 265 events around the world: Australia, Chile, Columbia Egypt, Finland, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand. Nigeria, Poland, Sri Lanka, UK and about 80 throughout the US. (Thanks from Canada!) Here's the J11 video of previous Idle No More events to give a sense of the diversity and energy of the movement:
Bill McKibben tweeted this video of his 11-year-old friend Ta'Kaiya Blaney. Meteor Blades and Navajo have written about her in the past; she's a remarkable orator, singer, song writer and environmental activist. You can hear more of her music here and see another of her Idle No More speeches at my diary here.
Here's an excerpt from the beginning of Ta'Kaiya's speech:
In my culture, it's a fact, it's an understanding of our way of life that everything is connected, the fish and the eagle, the herring and the whale. Each and every species plays its part in the circle of life. And we were put on this earth for a reason, so we could be the caretakers, and the healers, and the speakers, and the warriors for Mother Earth. And we were given a voice for reason, to speak out for those who have no voice, like the whales and the salmon. Our responsibilities as humans, as indigenous peoples, are for this earth, and of this earth.So it's fitting that at the end of the video, you can see an eagle soaring above this Vancouver rally on the Pacific coast. That same day of Global Action, on the shores of the Atlantic, an eagle "circled above Parade Square and hovered over the crowd of hundreds as they cheered and drummed in appreciation... It's rare to see an eagle in downtown Halifax... The eagle is a sign we're on the right path.'" From coast to coast.
Follow the soaring eagle path below for more information on the failed meeting, Canada's right-wing media echo chamber, details of First Nations' finances and the wonderful new hashtag #Ottawapiskat, documenting the mismanagement of Grand Chief Harper and his band council.
Background on Meeting Between First Nations and Canadian Prime Minister Harper
As described previously, with growing concern about her weakening health, Harper was urged to meet with Chief Spence by major opposition leaders (NDP, Liberal, Green), two previous Prime Ministers (Tory Joe Clark and Liberal Paul Martin), and environmental groups, unions and churches representing millions of Canadians. It was also becoming clear that the Idle No More rallies and events were continuing and growing, and the grassroots were demanding urgent change, including revisions to the omnibus budget bill and to extensive legislation that undermined treaty rights.
Harper's sudden announcement that he would meet on Jan. 11 with a group of national chiefs led by Chief Atleo of the AFN, including if she wished Chief Spence, provided a sense of optimism. There was hope that a crisis with potential for tragedy and confrontation could be averted by meaningful dialogue and actual solutions. But in the days and hours leading up to the meeting, negotiations on format, attendees and agenda items repeatedly broke down.
Throughout her hunger strike, Chief Spence has insisted on a meeting with First Nations, the Prime Minister and the Governor General all in the same room to discuss the Treaties as the condition to end her fast. Instead, the government only agreed to participation by a small group of twenty chiefs and a brief meeting with the PM at the beginning and end of the session, leaving the remainder of the meeting in the hands of his ministers. Harper also made it clear the Governor General (GG) would not attend, although the GG had participated in last January's summit meeting with First Nations chiefs and the PM. At that point, Chief Spence and Chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan decided not to participate, and many other chiefs not invited to attend also strongly urged the AFN to boycott the meeting with Harper. There was talk of a non-confidence vote in AFN Chief Atleo.
Outcome of the Meeting
Perhaps the AFN leaders who did attend finally impressed upon Harper the urgency of the situation because he ended up staying throughout the four-hour session after all. In the interim, the government had also agreed to a separate "ceremonial" meeting hosted by the GG and including the other hundred chiefs who had assembled in Ottawa to prepare the agenda for the government meeting. Chief Spence briefly attended the GG ceremony, but was disappointed with the Harper meeting result and the failure of the PM and GG to meet together as in the past, so she is now in her 6th week of a hunger strike. (For more on the traditions guiding her fast, here's an article on the significance of fish broth to the Anishinaabeg.)
The initial cautious optimism about Friday's meeting, suggesting that finally discussions on Treaty obligations would be moved up to the PM's office and the Privy Council, was quickly dampened when the government sent out the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to shut down further discussion on the government's failure to engage in the constitutionally mandated process of "consultation and consent" on the two omnibus budget bills. Of the eight agenda items presented by the AFN, a more senior-level engagement on Treaties had been the only issue that had appeared to yield a concrete result.
Nor was the AFN's demand for a new format and level to discuss Treaty relationships in any way radical. In fact, numerous committees, reports and studies over the decades have all concluded the government needs to appoint another senior minister - not the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs - to forge a new relationship.
One of the things on which the Commons [1983 Special Committee on Indian Self-Government], [a series of reports from the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples] and the [1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples] have all agreed is that the Indian Affairs Branch, however much it gets re-named, can not be the organization that represents the Canadian state in forging a new relationship with first nations. These inquiries have called for a senior minister to be given specific responsibility for forging a new relationship while having the department continue to administer programs that first nations communities have not yet taken over. That sounds pretty concrete to me. If a Commons Committee, a Senate Committee and a royal commission all find that the Aboriginal Affairs Department is not a suitable point of contact for “resetting the relationship,” then maybe we ought to wonder how the department continues to maintain control.As explained below in discussing reserve funding, one reason successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have failed to move forward is the vast system of political patronage and consulting contracts distributed by Aboriginal Affairs. (One recent scandal was a former Harper advisor trying to sell millions in water filtration systems to native reserves, and insisting that his 22-year-old fiancée receive a 20% commission. No wonder almost 20% of reserves are under a Health Canada water advisory.)
Instead, there's growing scepticism about the one meagre result of the meeting, namely moving up the level of Treaty discussion to the PM and Privy Office, and away from Aboriginal Affairs. The uncertainly of whether there were any meaningful results was compounded Monday when the head of the AFN Shawn Atelo announced that he was taking a leave of absence at the advice of his doctor. Since he's been the only negotiator the government is willing to engage, it's unlikely there will be any further progress in coming weeks.
If Harper had only chosen to spend an hour at the GG ceremonial event and meet with Chief Spence and the other chiefs, she would likely now be recovering her health. Some of Chief Spence's supporters wish she had declared victory after the meetings and stopped her hunger strike to protect her health. There are two reasons that didn't happen: the role of the Crown in First Peoples' history, and the vicious personal attacks on her by Aboriginal Affairs and the right-wing media in the days leading up to the meeting.
Role of Governor General
At Chief Spence's camp on Victoria Island in Ottawa, there's a pipe bundle and a Union Jack flag that was present at the 1901 Treaty 6 signing. Here's an insightful commentary on First Nations and the Honour of the Crown:
Why did Chief Theresa Spence, Chief Ovide Mercredi, and other Chiefs expect the Governor General to attend the meeting? The short answer is that since 1763 when the Royal Proclamation established the constitutional basis for Aboriginal treaties, First Nations have recognized the Crown (represented today by the Governor General) as their treaty partner. First Nations livelihood, identity and links to Canada are tied to the treaty relationship...As an aside, the Guardian yesterday ran an article on the Queen and Prince Charles's secretive power of veto over new laws, contrary to the perception that the Queen only has a ceremonial role.
The historical attachment of First Nations peoples to the Monarchy and its Vice Regal representative has been well documented as a fiduciary relationship (or one based on trust) that engages "the honour of the crown." As the representative of the Queen, among other duties, the Governor General assents to legislation, and approves treaties. The Governor General acts as Head of State, and owes allegiance to Canada as a whole. The Prime Minister heads the temporary government of the day, and may remain beholden to supporters, as can be seen in recent legislation and military spending plans.
The Idle No More movement has called for the repeal of Harper government omnibus budget bills C-38 and C-45 since they threaten the environment and clearly violate the spirit of the Peace and Friendship treaties between the Crown and First Nations peoples that date back to the 1763 Royal Proclamation... In a press conference late January 11 [after the meeting], the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs announced that Bills C-38 and C-45 were compatible with the constitutional protection afforded Aboriginals under Section 35 [of the 1982 Constitutional Act], but produced no legislative analysis, or even proof that one had been done.
It shows the royals are playing an active role in the democratic process and we need greater transparency in parliament so we can be fully appraised of whether these powers of influence and veto are really appropriate. .. [W]e could find parliament is less powerful than we thought it was... "The suggestion in these documents that the Queen withheld consent for a private member's bill on such an important issue as going to war beggars belief," he said. "We need to know whether laws have been changed as the result of a private threat to withhold that consent."After the failed meetings last Friday, Chief Spence wrote to the Queen. Of course, in spite of the recent news in the Guardian report, it's exceedingly unlikely the Crown will become involved in the legislative affairs of one of the 54 Commonwealth countries. But for respectful dialogue and meaningful progress, it is essential to understand the deep emotional and symbolic relationship many First Peoples feel for the institution with whom they first agreed 250 years ago to share the land now known as Canada, and why the failure of the GG to attend - as he did last year - was viewed as an insult.
Attacks on Chief Spence by Harper Government Last Year
Chief Spence came to national attention in the winter of 2010-11 when Canadians were shocked to learn of the third-world conditions at her Attawapiskat reserve on James Bay, the southern part of Hudson's Bay. The daily front-page stories of band members entering sub-Arctic winter in tents and plywood shacks focused the attention of a nation. Canadians take pride that we are consistently among the top ten on the UN Human Development Index. Attawapiskat confronted the country with the unacceptable reality that the numbers measuring poverty among indigenous citizens would place the nation in 78th spot on the UN index.
Harper's response was predictable: he blamed the victims and appointed an expensive outside third-party manager. Suddenly the headlines changed from third-world conditions to financial mismanagement. In fact, for months after Chief Spence declared a state of emergency in Oct. 2011 and was subsequently removed from reserve management decisions, the band received no funding from the federal government. For over a decade, the reserve had already been under co-management - as are 25% of Canadian reserves - meaning the government has direct oversight and responsibility for band finances.
The third-party manager chosen by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs had previously been the co-manager of Attawapiskat. He was fired by the band after producing no financial reports for six months and then demanding a $400,000 annual retainer for his services. The punitive imposition of a third-party manager for speaking out about reserve conditions is not unprecedented:
Another recent and publicly disclosed example of third-party-manager fees is those being paid for Barriere Lake. When the community took political action on some of its issues, Canada imposed third-party management. The accounting firm is paid $600,000 per year, according to Indian Affairs Records.Attawapiskat took the Harper government to federal court, and won. The judge ruled that the appointment of the third-party manager was "unreasonable," that there was no evidence of mismanagement or financial impropriety, and that the core - and unaddressed - issue in Attawapiskat was a lack of funding for housing. Presciently, he added:
"This judicial review confirms, if such confirmation were needed, that decisions made in the glare of publicity and amidst politically charged debate do not always lead to a reasonable resolution of the relevant issue," Justice Michael Phelan wrote.Attacks on Chief Spence prior to Harper Meeting
Four days before the planned meeting between the government and First Nations leaders, and responding to the growing support for Idle No More and Chief Spence, the Harper government again made a decision "in the glare of publicity and amidst politically charged debate." Canadian media started reporting on a "scathing audit" by Deloitte & Touche allegedly documenting Chief Spence's financial improprieties, and within a few hours the report suddenly appeared on the website of Aboriginal Affairs. In fact, the document had been finalized two and half months earlier (after two five-day trips by a team of five to Attawapiskat early last year and additional time in Ottawa, and ten months of preparation to write 60-pages in English and another 60-pages of the same content in French.)
The main allegation of the report was that the band had not provided proper documentation and paper trails for its expenses. Anyone familiar with the realities of reserve conditions knows that: "The Deloitte & Touche audit of Attawapiskat is a textbook outcome of the fatal weakness in Canada's current model of First Nations governance, which is coded to fail. There could be hundreds of Attawapiskats."
The highly respected previous Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, issued her final report to Parliament in 2011 after years of outstanding service. She chose to focus on the intolerable conditions on First Nations reserves, and detailed the conditions which are the true scandal uncovered by the Deloitte audit:
"Contribution agreements involve a significant reporting burden, especially for small First Nations with limited administrative capacity. Communities often have to use scarce administrative resources to respond to numerous reporting requirements stipulated in their agreements. We followed up on Aboriginal Affairs efforts to reduce the reporting requirements of First Nations and found progress to date to be unsatisfactory..."Each First Nation has to file, on average, 160 reports per year to AANDC. As the Auditor General noted in her report:
The federal government established each First Nation band as an autonomous entity and provides separate program funding to each. Many of these First Nations are small, consisting of communities that often have fewer than 500 residents. There are more than 600 First Nations across Canada. Many of them are hampered by the lack of expertise to meet the administrative requirements for delivering key programs within their reserves. They often do not have the benefit of school boards, health boards, or other regional bodies to support the First Nations as they provide services to community members.Instead of addressing capacity-building on reserves and streamlining accounting requirements to focus on the priorities for transparent finances, Harper's response has been to propose legislation requiring even more onerous reporting requirements, including full public financial records for all band-owned businesses, putting them at a clear competitive disadvantage with off-reserve companies. This proposed legislation is one of several opposed by the founders of Idle No More.
Here are a few additional points regarding this so-called "scathing audit."
Because the band was already under co-management, the actual audit was not of Attawapiskat itself, but an "Audit of the AANDC [the federal ministry] and Attawapiskat First Nation Management Control Framework." As quoted from the audit:
The scope for this audit was April 1, 2005 to November 30, 2011 and included an examination of the AANDC management control framework for housing and an examination of AANDC’s relationship with other federal funders for housing. The scope included audit procedures performed at AANDC Headquarters and the AANDC Ontario North Regional Office (located in Thunder Bay), which is AANDC’s primary support office for the Attawapiskat First Nation.The report covered almost seven years, but Chief Spence only had responsibility for the last year and half of the audit period. "[O]f the 409 transactions in Attawapiskat that Deloitte and Touche said lacked proper documentation, only about 30 were conducted on Spence's watch." In fact, it is clear that during her tenure progress was made towards better documentation than in previous administrations, including when last year's third-party manager was the co-manager for the federal ministry.
While the roles and responsibilities of other federal funders (i.e. CMHC and Health Canada) were reviewed and these departments were consulted for this audit, only AANDC internal controls were examined and tested as part of the audit scope. Where applicable, observations related to the practices of other federal funders were communicated to their respective senior management.
Let me be clear. There should be full documentation for band expenses. And it is within the realm of possibility that a proper forensic audit, as Appawapiskat has requested, will uncover actual evidence of financial impropriety during the tenure of Chief Spence, as the government and so many media reports allege. But it's extremely unlikely. The Harper government has spent somewhere in the range of a quarter million dollars (on third-party management, on the Deloitte audit time, travel and per diems, on legal fees for the federal court case, on wasted departmental time) to uncover wrongdoing by Chief Spence, but there is no "smoking gun."
We should remember what a real "smoking gun" is: the mayor of Canada's largest city Toronto recently found guilty by a judge of "conflict of interest"; the mayor of the second largest city Montreal resigning last year because of his improper relationship with contractors; the RCMP confronting the mayor of London with a public cheque paying for his son's wedding reception. Those examples are real fraud. But I suspect that far more front-page ink was spent on "the public humiliation of the leader of a tiny destitute North Ontario village" than on any of these real scandals.
Finally, it should be noted that Deloitte earns tens of millions in consulting fees annually from the Harper government. Let's listen instead to a federal judge on the specifics of Attawapiskat and the former auditor general on the challenges faced by many Canadian reserves. (Additional information here, here, here and here.)
Per Capita Reserve Services Far Below Spending for Non-indigenous Canadians
In the past week, in addition to the incessant allegations of financial fraud, the media echo-chamber has chanted the refrain: where did the $104 million go? That's the amount provided by the federal government to Attawapiskat over the audit period. It sounds outrageous, except for the reality that First Peoples including Attawapiskat receive far less per capita in basic government services than non-indigenous citizens.
Because of the Treaty history, the funding for First Nations reserves comes almost exclusively from the federal government. All other Canadian citizens receive services from three levels of government: municipal, provincial and federal. But on reserve, education, medical care, infrastructure, police, fire departments, roads and all other services are paid by the federal government. Off-reserve, these costs are mostly borne by provincial or municipal agencies, and are certainly not viewed as a welfare payment. In reality, the federal government spends 20-30% less on the education for a child on a reserve than provincial governments spend for other Canadian children. Without proper education, what chance do these children have for their future?
The average annual per capita spending for Attawapiskat is $11,355 (based on $17.6 million in this fiscal year for its 1,550 residents.) This is actually more than the per capita national average for indigenous citizens of $7,200, but far less than the $14,900 the average resident of the City of Ottawa receives, as per the Ontario Métis Family Records Center (OMFRC) quoted here:
Approximately $5.36 billion were allocated to First Nations in grants or contributions, or just over $7,200 per person. When the federal, provincial and municipal budgets are measured against population, the average citizen of the City of Ottawa receives services costing approximately $14,900. The City of Ottawa budget is just over $2 billion for its 775,000 people.The federal Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has over 5,000 employees for 640 First Nations, and 1500 annual consulting contracts worth $125 million.
90 km from Attawapistak, on the band's traditional land, sits a $1 billion DeBeers diamond mine, expected to generate revenues of $6 billion over the lifetime of the project. The majority of the resource royalties go to the Ontario government, and almost nothing flows to the reserve in terms of royalties, capacity building or sustainable development. Because First Nations don't receive funding from provincial levels of government, this means services for non-indigenous Canadians are actually subsidized by royalty income from traditional lands covered by treaties. One of key demands of both the grassroots Idle No More movement and the AFN is to address the treaty obligations of sharing the revenues from resource development on traditional First Nations lands.
Unfortunately, even some progressive voices have been taken in by the recent media spin. I hope these detailed facts and figures will help document the actual situation faced by First Peoples, and explain the larger background of Idle No More, as well as Chief Spence's ongoing hunger strike.
The grassroots creativity so evident in the evolution of Idle No More helps end this diary on a positive and humorous note. Reacting to the outrageous hypocrisy of the Harper government, the artist Aaron Paquette created the brilliant twitter hashtag #Ottawapiskat, eliding Attawapiskat with Ottawa (derived from the Algonquin adawe, to trade.) Margaret Atwood and Naomi Klein quickly gave the hashtag legs (Klein also "respectfully returned" her Governor General's award after last week's events.)