Category Archives: Current Events

Essays on topical issues in the news, from around the world, by Wayne K. Spear

NatChief PB is Doing Very Good Great Things at the AFN

I watched the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly. This is what I saw

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 7, 2017 • Current Events

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F YOU FOLLOWED THE Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly this week, like I did, you heard two federal cabinet ministers (and omg one of them is Indigenous) say that Canada did some very no good very bad things in the past—but the Trudeau Liberal government is a new and different government altogether. And on account of this differentlyness very good great things are going to happen to us very soon because. WAIT shouted the chiefs WE HAVE SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT but the Ministers had to leave the moment their speeches were over. Just like pretty much every Minister at an AFN gathering ever but different.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde said much the same things the government people did—almost as if his speaking notes were coordinated with those of Ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who omg is Indigenous just like the rest of us. NatCheef B-Garde enjoys one of the warmest Crown-Chief relationships of the AFN’s history, so it was no surprise when his leather went all buttery-soft and he said dreamily that we are “in the midst of a tremendous opportunity” and that federal money is about to rain down upon us from the sky, along with big bucketsful of inherent Indigenous rights, no strings attached. The dangers, said Ency BeauGardz, are acrimony and division. Also, totally unrelated, there’s a National Chief election next year. The takeaway is that we must re-elect NC PeeBee (don’t get all dividey now, Chiefs!) and then also PeeEMJayT, so the wonderful things we have been promised will happen. In their second terms, for sure. Because.

Who Wants an Eagle Staff, Yo!

No Indigenous person outside of Ottawa actually knows what the AFN has been up to over the past few years. There’s an UNDRIP which sounds like a plumbing issue (if you’re fortunate enough to have actual plumbing) but isn’t. Also the AFN wants to close The Gap, which is fine because no Indian shops there anyway. None of us can point to a single improvement in our lives and say “Thank-you, National Chief, for this wonderful [fill in the blank]” but most of us can point to something that really sucks, like undrinkable water and moldy schools, and say ruefully that nothing appears to be changing. Fortunately that is all going to change lickety-split, because there’s a new Prime Minister in town who loves us, and we know this because tears fall from his dreamy bedroom eyes when he apologizes. He cares so much that, for the first time in Canada’s history, a federal government has a plan for the Indigenous people that is going to be great for them. We are going to love it! And it’s going to be different from the past because in the past governments never came up with ideas to make the Indians better-off.

For some reason there are Indigenous people who don’t trust the government or the AFN. (No, really.) These people say silly things like “Well what’s the plan exactly?” And by people I mean, of course, dangerous radicals. One of these unhinged extremists, the AFN’s Anishinabe Elder, Elmer Courchene, suggested that the AFN Chiefs were guilty of collaboration, which he defined as traitorous cooperation with the enemy. Whoa there, cultural Marxist SJW Elder Courchene! Not only that, he accused the AFN of disrespecting elders, then brought up National Chief Bellegarde’s gifting of an eagle staff to Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s representative to the United Nations. I mean, what has the world come to when a Chief gets grief simply for handing sacred Indigenous objects over to random white guys?

Then other radicals jumped in and all hell broke loose. Even the youth took shots at poor nc/pErRyB. Mark Hill, Co-Chair of the AFN’s Youth Council, accused the AFN executive of centralizing power and authority, and he reminded everyone that the AFN is a lobby group and not a government elected to negotiate on our behalf. “The nation-to-nation relationship is between our peoples and the Crown,” he shouted, while setting his hair on fire. (Not really. I made that part up to sound more radical.) NatchyCheef PeBellGeGard didn’t look very happy about any of this, but later on he reminded everyone that this is a pivotal moment for a legacy so we are moving forward with much work to do it’s the grassroots let me tell you the youth they are our future. This didn’t convince anyone, so he pulled an 11.8-billion-dollar bill out of his headdress and waved it around until it was time for everyone to go to the casino.

Trump is Today But The Mess Will Stay

It’s Time To Think About The Post-Trump Future

✎  Wayne K. Spear | December 4, 2017 • Current Events

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NE DAY Donald J. Trump will no longer be the President of the United States of America. Whether he is impeached (unlikely in my view) or he serves two terms (more likely) or congress abolishes the 22nd Amendment and he occupies the office until his death at age 107 (one can never know) Trump will one day stop being President.

Perhaps you think this is a wonderful thought. But have you considered: what happens when this President is gone?

Even if Trump were impeached tomorrow, he would already have what we’ve learned to call a legacy. He talks a good deal of his supreme court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and he’s been busy making lifetime judicial appointments at a near-record-setting pace, but these are the least of it. More important are the multiple ways he’s altered the business of politics itself, whether it’s the coarseness of his style or the clear disregard for norms of civil behavior. Donald Trump boasted in the Republican primaries that he’d brought millions of hitherto non-voters into electoral politics, and we now have a definite sense of those voters as well as of the reasons why they were, before the arrival of Mr. Trump, non-participants. Shunned from polite company, the ethno-nationalists and neo-fascists and white supremacists jumped back into the game when they could see it was becoming suitably nasty.

Everyone should understand that Trump has opened a Pandora’s box. The mass to which he has given voice and leadership will not stop being a cohesive political constituency in the post-Trump world, even if a Trumpist successor does not appear on the scene to lead it. And imitative although politics is, it is unlikely that there will be a political candidate who has Trump’s peculiar combination of characteristics. More likely is that some politicians will reject the Trump model outright while others (perhaps the majority on the Republican side) will adopt bits of the performance—the use of social media, shameless attacks on opponents, and so on. We are only one year into the Trump era, and for that reason it is impossible to say how deeply into the wood this President is going to burrow. At the very least Trump has made it possible to think that a President might go up against the media and the state and survive. Tomorrow this proposition could be proved wrong, but if this President serves two full terms it is difficult to imagine the country will be the same as it was when Mr. Trump found it. Either the President is going to change or America is, and that is less a proposition than it is an acknowledgement of the political experiment that is taking before our eyes.

It is very difficult to see the Untied States coming out of the Trump years less and not more divided. If this president is able to change the country in the ways he plainly wishes to, there will be an appetite among one political tribe to hold firm and even to expand the advances, while among the other there will be an equal desire to push back. The use of executive power, that goes back at least to the Bush and Obama years, will continue under future presidents. Congress will have few incentives to find middle ground on any matters of importance. The broader polarization of the public will ensure that extremism is rewarded, as we see today in the candidacy of Roy Moore. Just as political conciliation and compromise live in the middle-ground, so too do the norms of political decorum. In 2017 we have set to blowing up all the norms, and with them all interest in outdated and unacceptable notions like shared interests and common ground. Politics today is a zero-sum proposition, and you are either (for example) with the sexual predator of teenaged girls who is running for the Senate or you are against God and Christian values.

Donald Trump did not and could not have created this mad world of value-speak. He discerned and then exploited it, which is the form of genius he shares with his fellow authoritarians, past and present. He is a symptom of the grievances and resentments and anxieties and aspirations that have long bubbled just below the surface of conventional political civility. His words are the unspoken and long-inadmissible words of millions of Americans. After Trump is gone, the things which he represented will live on. But they will live on in a world that Trump has had years to shape and influence. The post-Trump world will not be the pre-Trump world. That world is gone.

Building a Foundation for the Sixties Scoop Survivors

My personal thoughts on how it should be done

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 30, 2017 • Current Events

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HIS WEEK I participated in a discussion about the agency that will manage the $50 million fund negotiated as part of the Sixties Scoop class action settlement. The substance of that meeting, and the information provided in preparation for it, was shared with me in confidence. The purpose of this article is to reflect on what this agency might look like and what it might do, from my perspective as someone who has been involved in work of this nature. The people I was invited to meet with are in the initial stage of building the organization that will receive and manage the settlement funds. I was there as someone with experience and expertise in organizational development, in particular Indigenous organizations.

At the time I write this there is an agreement-in-principle awaiting the approval of the court. There are some criticisms of the AIP, one being that it doesn’t include Métis. My feeling, and this is based upon nothing but speculation and some experience with the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, or IRSSA, is that the AIP will receive court approval and that outstanding concerns (such as redress for the Métis) will be taken up in a separate effort. As it happens I found myself sitting next to the lawyer who represents the Métis, a fellow named Tony Merchant, who I first came across during the IRSSA years. This settlement took a lot longer to reach than the residential school agreement did. But the finish-line is near, owing to the sustained work of many people, some of whom I remember talking to more than a decade ago on this very subject. I also met the lawyer who created and managed the class action, and he seemed to me a very agreeable as well as decent and principled fellow.

Everything I have written to this point is public knowledge, which is to say non-confidential, and readily available. Anyone who wants to get information of the kind I’ve presented can go to the website sixtiesscoopclaim.com and find it. If you have never created a national organization from scratch then you can only imagine what it is like to do so. There are a thousand divergent considerations, many of them critical, and pitfalls await you at every turn. A single error made at the outset can doom everything. In the current case there is the additional fact that a good many angry and traumatized people are expecting swift remedies, which in my opinion they deserve, and it won’t do to not earn their trust. The work in short is heavy and delicate and complex beyond description.

Fifty million dollars sounds like a lot of money, and compared to a household budget it is, but when you confront the needs of Indigenous people you realize what a pittance this amount is. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation had 350 million dollars yet we turned away many dozens of communities and found ourselves unable to support worthy and credible proposals totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. For generations, Indigenous people have been abused and impoverished and have had their inner lives submitted to the attentions of a paternalistic and sometimes hostile state. There is no deprivation nor depravity we haven’t experienced from the hands of the authorities, and for this reason it is absurd to think a few hundred millions of dollars, spent over a few years, will turn the night into day.

In my opinion, whatever the interim board eventually build should have a life beyond a few years. Governments only think in months and at most a term of office, but the work of restitution is a work of decades if not of generations. Getting the politicians to accept the logical conclusions that follow from this is in my experience a work of supreme difficulty. Partly the problem is that the politicians and bureaucrats are constrained by rules and by the nature of the bureaucracy itself, so that even when they want to do what they know to be right they are unable. Then there are the political considerations, not least of which is the inevitable backlash whenever Indians are perceived as getting favours from the taxpayer. Successive auditor generals have made it likely there will never again be an Aboriginal Healing Foundation type of agency, despite the universal opinion that it was a good and successful model. Whatever its merits, the AHF was an arms-length delegated authority with a degree of independence, something that auditor generals look down upon. The idea that Indians might take possession of a considerable pot of money and with some autonomy is the kind of thing that keeps the Treasury Board and the Privy Council awake at night, and as a matter of course they are dead-set against it.

The agency should be governed by Indigenous people. This may seem an obvious and uncontroversial point but it’s worth emphasizing. Already words have been put on paper, by the non-Indigenous lawyers who are working out the terms of a settlement. Next these same lawyers will presumably make decisions about the kind of an agency they are going to create, and only then will they turn it over to the people who will run it. Along the way there will be consultation, which is fine and good but in itself insufficient for any agency calling itself Indigenous. Sooner rather than later competent and ethical Indigenous community people, preferably people who are not driven by the needs of their ego, should be brought in. And the lawyers and consultants (like me) should get out of their way and let them lead.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry is a mess. Another mess, in the form of a national Indigenous agency seeded by taxpayer dollars, will do damage of a kind it is unpleasant to contemplate. The victims of abuse would be victimized once again, and a generation of Canadians would be provided ample evidence that native people are incompetent and probably corrupt as well. There would be calls for a reigning-in of every kind of program or service, and it would be difficult for politicians to resist, even if they wanted to do so. Every effort should be made to ensure that the Sixties Scoop foundation is governed and staffed by competent and reliable people and not by well-connected Liberal loyalists.

This agency will have to work very hard to develop relationships, and it will have to be open and candid in its communication. It will only have money to do a small number of things, for a limited number of people, and excessive expectations are certain to arise. I have often said it is better to give bad news that you can back up than it is to give pleasant news you can’t, and this agency is going to have to give bad news. People will forgive you for telling them a truth they would have preferred not to be true, but they will not forgive you for misleading them. The currency of our world is trust. Every day you are building up or else depleting your most precious asset.

An organization is people and systems. The critical thing now is to seek out and recruit the right people, which is to say the people who will build the right systems and perform the right tasks in the right way. If this is not done then no amount of money is going to make a positive difference. No consultant and no intervention will help if the first people through the door can’t or won’t understand, and build relationships with, the people they are meant to serve. The people of the Sixties Scoop have had unique experiences, and their needs are likewise. It’s no small thing to have lived in this world not knowing what many of us take for granted—who we are, where we have come from, where we belong, and the like. Already people are looking for information about the Sixties Scoop foundation, or whatever it will be called, as well as for opportunities to be involved in its creation. A great many things were discussed at the meeting, and the ten individuals present (including me) all felt the pressure to set things in motion so that the people could be heard and their needs answered. There are no shortcuts when it comes to building relationships, and if the right people can be brought into the fold, to do the right things in the right way, I trust that no shortcuts will be taken.