We once had a columnist—a cranky old man, at times—who bristled when we talked about Canada’s need to learn about Aboriginal people. Someone would say something like ‘Canadians have no understanding of us or our issues’ and ‘we should be educating them.’ He would grumble and say he couldn’t care less about what Canadians understood about his people. He wrote, he said, so that his people could understand his people.
Chief Spence, we think about you with this lesson in mind.
Outside of that comment, however, we have to say that there has been no end to the eye-popping revelations over the past eight weeks since Chief Wallace Fox led a delegation Dec. 4 to the House of Commons. There he challenged the government on its omnibus legislation, getting caught in a scuffle with security over the matter.
Since then it’s been a bright, funny, smart, disturbing, worrying, whirlwind of a damn-fine-ride that we believe has changed our world significantly, despite what those out there would tell you. Think of the empowerment; think of the discussion we’ve had; an astounding sea-change has happened in our collective consciousness and in our communities. It’s not enough for the federal government to sit up and take notice of all of this. The sand has shifted under the feet of our very own leaders as well, because their grassroots members have found allies who will raise alarms that will sound around the world if there is trouble. This network of comrades has been created and strengthened and that is something a chief will ignore at his peril in future.
As we go to press there is a lull; a healthy time as people prepare for next steps; lick wounds; restore; a time to reflect. What viciousness there was; a peaceful movement, except for when it came to our own. Not very strategic to fight too many fronts at once. And especially since the Idle No More movement was showing a more gentle way forward.
INM is a beautiful, unprecedented thing. A phenomenon. Never before has there been anything like it. And it took so many different people working at the peak of their skills individually to create it, sustain it, nurture and grow it. Right from that first round dance—Aboriginal culture at its most joyful. Right from that first poster—artists demonstrating the clarity of the message.
No to Bills C-38 and C-45. Film-makers, photographers, deep thinkers, powerful communicators, jokesters and satirists, all came together to add their part to a wider grassroots dialogue.
Rest now, because we’re going to need you all in the very near future. Just one look at the eight-points of priority the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has presented to Prime Minister Stephen Harper will tell you we’ll be back on the streets in force in no time. The bills that got us out in the cold winter air with our placards and our drums aren’t even on the agenda.
We’ve consulted now, and we’re sticking with the bills, said Minister John Duncan, a wet blanket if ever we saw one. We’d say he should be replaced, but we’d prefer if he just sat quietly in the corner for now. A change in ministers—that old ploy to halt the work being done so another minister can learn about the file—is the last thing that we need right now.
We’re sticking with the bills, said Peter Van Loan, leader of the Government in the House of Commons, that paragon who had to apologize for instigating a “near-brawl” on the House floor Dec. 5 during a vote on Bill C-45. Besides, he said, Aboriginals are the ones that will benefit the most by the gutting of environmental protections on our lakes and streams, clearing the way for job creation when industry digs up or paves over our territories.
And as for that priority list… Wait. Can you hear it? The legislatures across the country are being barred and shuttered as we speak. Revenue sharing? “No.” Slam, goes the door to Saskatchewan. Thanks Premier Brad Wall for keeping your mind so open. Revenue sharing? “No.” Slam, goes the door to Alberta. Premier Alison Redford, you’re a peach. Sharing with First Nations is a non-starter, she has said.
There is no optimism here that we will see any real movement on this priority or others in the near future, though bones will be thrown. What’s the stated timeline that National Chief Shawn Atleo has given? Only months for some substantive action? Let the politicians have their time to get something done. It will give the rest of the country the space to prepare for what’s next.
If this is another in a long line of stall tactics or distraction, as we suspect it is, just know from the onset the people are unprepared to play these games any longer. The feds and the chiefs should know that there is a brief window of opportunity to get something done while people are still in a talking mood. They should also know that elected leaders must move us off this dime we have been stuck on since 2006, because if they don’t we fear, the grassroots, will push them off of it.
And unceremoniously, at that.