They think they have a shot in at least one area of the province. Members of the newly-formed All Nations Party of British Columbia (ANP) have set their sights on the North Coast riding up by Prince Rupert, saying that with its 37 per cent Aboriginal population, getting an ANP candidate elected to the legislature is do-able.
But the rest of the province, well, that's another matter. That's why much of the discussion at the party's founding convention on Jan. 27 and 28 in Kamloops was devoted to establishing a party platform that would appeal to a broad-based electorate. They tinkered with the wording of policy statements, wondered if party candidates should be of Aboriginal ancestry, pondered the issues that would attract the non-Native vote to the party, the main goal of which is to advance the First Nations' agenda, most particularly Aboriginal title.
Reach out to other minority groups, some suggested.
Target the environmentalists, others said.
It's the baby boomers the ANP needs, one man insisted.
Be careful, warned Simon Moses of Lower Nicola. Don't water down or lose the strong stand on First People's issues and principles for which the party exists.
Don Moses is ANP leader. He said the provincial election must be held by June and the ANP would like to field a minimum of 12 strong candidates in ridings that have at least 10 per cent Aboriginal population, including Bulkley Valley-Stikine, Yale-Smilkameen, Skeena, Cariboo South, Cowichan-Ladysmith, Prince George-Mt. Robson, and North Island. These ridings are currently in the hands of the governing NDP, a scandal-ridden political organization that is going down for the 10-count, if the pundits are to be believed.
The provincial Liberals will, by all accounts, form the next B.C. government, which could be bad news for treaty making nations, and defenders of Aboriginal title and rights. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell is seen by many as occupying the same ground as Stockwell Day and the Canadian Alliance party in regards to Native issues. Alliance's Aboriginal policies sparked a number of very public protests by First Nations people during the November federal election. Campbell has promised a referendum on the Nisga'a Treaty, which may knock the land question back to square one.
The All Nations Party of British Columbia's key objective is the settlement of the land question. According to information in a binder provided to delegates at the founding convention "articulate candidates would increase the general knowledge about the land question among the elctorate."
Educating the public about this issue is a priority " so they can understand," said Moses.
Neskonlith Chief Arthur Manuel sees the ANP as another tool to chip away at government resistance to resource and land sharing.
"I know some people will be critical, saying you shouldn't participate in a white man's election. . . but the thing is, we do use other white man formats right now. We use the Supreme Court. We use the Constitution. I think we need to use every kind of active means that's possible in order to get our issues out there and challenge the Canadian Alliance and challenge the existing government parties to address our issues."
Manuel compared the Canadian federal government's response to the Supreme Court Delgumuukw decision on Aboriginal title to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, that granted Aboriginal title to the Cherokee. But the president at the time, Andrew Jackson, didn't want to recognize that Supreme Court decision, said Manuel.
"And [Jackson] said, 'so John Marshall has made his decision. Let us see him enforce it.' And he took the army and he marched the Cherokee out of Georgia to Oklahoma on what has become known as the trail of tears. Thousands of Cherokees died in the process."
Manuel said the decision of Prime Minister Jean Chretien is "to go the Andrew Jackson route," not to follow the Delgumuukw decision.
"Hile is extinguish Aboriginal title. To do the exact thing that Andrew Jackson did."
He said "That's the kind of decision that the Canadian Alliance is backing. That's the kind of decision that Gordon Campbell is supporting. That's how come, I think, what you are doing is very significant in the sense that you are coming together politically to start challenging and questioning those kinds of decisions on the part of the B.C. government."
Manuel's was not the only history lesson the members of the All Nations Party were given during the first day of their convention. Brendan Cross, leader of the First Nations Party of Saskatchewan, spoke about social liberation movements of both the near and distant past. Cross is perhaps best known for his attempt to burn the Canadian Alliance's Aboriginal policy during a speech by leader Day during the federal election.
Sounding more preacher than politician, Cross sermonized about the struggles of Moses and the Hebrews in Egypt, Jesus and the Israelites of the Roman Empire, Joan of Arc, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
He said the Creator smiles upon people that take control over their destiny.
"Creator has not forgotten us. The Creator never forgets his people."
First Nations involvement in the established parties is doomed to fail, he said.
"Why be involved in a process that is entrenched in the British colonial process?"
Nodding heads and murmurs of 'that's right,' greeted the lesson about leaders who accepted 'bags of gold' to keep their people in check. They knew leaders like that in their own communities, Cross told the delegates.
He promised that the First Nations party movement would sweep Canada, and while there was little hope that they would ever form a government, that was not the point.
"Moses never formed a government. Jesus never formed a government."
And what did most of the leaders of these social liberation movements have in common, asked Cross. Martyrdom. Moses, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Gandh,Mri uther King, they paid the ultimate price for their beliefs, he said. Their lives.
Cross promised to be in Burnt Church, N.B. next summer when a new round of lobster wars between Native fishermen and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is likely to occur. At that time, predicts Cross, the government will see their injustice through the pain of Aboriginal people.
Delegate Les Edmonds of Ashcroft is a millworker and tired of the way government has treated Aboriginal people, in the past and today. He is wary of the way government will be treating his children in the future.
"It's about time that we had somebody represent us in parliament."
He too gave a history lesson.
"You have to think back to what happened to our ancestors." The chiefs went to Ottawa to deal with the land question. They could have signed, but they chose not to, he said. They didn't think they were getting a fair shake at the time. The chiefs said 'We will wait until our children will be educated like you and we will deal with it at that time,' Edmonds told the delegates.
Don Moses and the members of the All Nations Party of British Columbia believe that time is now.