Aboriginal people are under siege, and don’t know what is about to hit them. We at Windspeaker want Aboriginal people to be well warned before it’s too late to do anything about it, so let’s lay it out here. The Harper Conservatives are on the attack to take Aboriginal interests out at the knees and it begins with government’s intention to slash funding to tribal councils and other organizations that work on the behalf of grassroots people.
It may seem a remote thing that these organizations do—some grassroots people may not see their value at all—but this is an attack, nonetheless, on the financial viability of Aboriginal representative organizations and tribal groups and an attack on your voice in the boardroom and across the negotiation table. So do not underestimate the importance of this.
The extreme nature of the cuts has to tell you that they have been made without care or consideration about the impacts these reductions, in some cases nearing 80 per cent, will have on you as you nation build, develop economies, become healthy, employed, protect your children, keep connected, revitalize your languages and culture. They have been made to control your participation, keep you impoverished, limit opposition to development that offends you and endangers your land. They have been made to lay waste to your defences.
Even if you don’t agree with how these organization are structured, whether you feel you get any direct benefit or not, these organizations are necessary to keep this government from rolling over you and the collective rights of your communities. These organizations, more often than not, provide services and programs and are essential to support individual nations toward their goal of self-determination, and in the end that support supports you.
And that’s no small thing. Make those organizations financially vulnerable so they can’t do their work effectively, destabilize them, and the foundational work is done and there is nothing that stands between you and an unrelenting Conservative, neo-colonial agenda that does not have your best interests at its centre despite a fiduciary obligation to do so.
This is a cynical exercise by a bully government to divert the attention of representative organizations to one of survival. If it wasn’t, any cut would have be made in a far more rational way, instead of the scorched earth approach currently being employed by Harper and his hatchet man Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan.
While Aboriginal groups are reacting to the funding cuts, deciding which employees might be kept, or suffer the ax and tossed to the side, which programs or services can still be provided considering the gutting of the organization, going through painful restructuring, downsizing, pushing away opportunities and putting on hold important initiatives, this government will be happily making more plans to exploit, use and abuse nations by painting them into unimaginable corners where they will be forced to bend to government’s will.
There is a reason why these organizations developed in the first place, and those reasons are as valid today as they were back in the past. Government is no friend to Indians. Go back and remind yourself of the political atmosphere of those days gone by. For many, the need to come together in a formal way to tackle common concerns to advance the goals of Native nations was to battle the Indian fighters of the 1960s. Many of us have no real concept of those times before when leadership was facing assimilationist policies and an attempt to eradicate First Nations, alienate them from their lands, absorb them into the mainstream, but we are about to find out. Then the people rose up and many of the heroes we revere today were at the centre of that fight.
Think of the leadership of Dr. Harold Cardinal who faced off with government in principally crafting the rebuttal to the infamous White Paper with Citizen’s Plus, the Red Paper. His memory and contribution was honored at this year’s Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Toronto in July. And what timing that was. Go and familiarize yourself with Cardinal’s work if you haven’t done so. There are so many parallels to that time in modern day, we can’t ignore them. The White Paper advocated a repeal of the Indian Act and the termination of the rights of Indians. The Conservative government is currently tinkering with the Indian Act with a bill that will soon be under discussion in Parliament without so much as a moment’s real consultation, just as unilateral as when the Liberals under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced The White Paper.
They want us out of the way, just as they did then. They want us gone.