Tag Archives: Assembly of First Nations

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.

The Indian Residential Schools Are Still With Us

In 2010, I interviewed the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, about his many years as a politician. The conclusion of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement negotiations was a few years behind, and I asked Phil for his assessment. What did he think of the agreement?

Never mind that this settlement was, as people like to say, “historic”—at $5-billion and more, the largest court-supervised class action in Canada’s history. Never mind that it had involved dozens of lawyers in simultaneous, multi-city sessions, or that it was front-page news for months and even years running. Indeed, today’s Globe and Mail headline reads “Residential Schools: Bennett puts settlement onus on Catholics.” Who would have thought the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement would be news nearly a full decade after its 2007 roll-out. Maybe Phil. But on that day he shrugged and pulled a face. He was proud of the agreement and said something to the effect that it was the best they were going to get. But there was something wrankling him, and he told me what it was.

Phil had many accomplishments over his career. He listed a few. I couldn’t dissent: he’d been more than a few places, made more than a few waves. Yet inevitably when he’s introduced, he pointed out, it’s the residential schools that everyone mentions, and only the residential schools. Everything else disappeared.

I don’t usually commiserate with politicians, but in this instance I knew exactly how he felt. I’ve written on hundreds of topics over the past three decades, but to the degree I’m known for anything at all, it’s the Indian Residential School System. My articles on residential schools, routinely the most-visited pieces on this blog, are about the only thing I’ve composed that could be called “evergreen.” My book on residential schools is by far my most successful book, by which I mean it’s the book that people actually read, more than any other of mine.

I’m not complaining. I am, however, registering genuine surprise. I never expected the article I wrote in May 2002, for the Globe and Mail, to be at the top of the most-read list in May 2016. In the meanwhile I’ve written nearly a thousand essays that have dropped (as they do, for most writers of current event) into the black hole of yesterday. Perhaps I should have expected this. Twenty years ago I’d learned to assert that, just as the Indian residential schools had done decades worth of damage, it would take decades to heal and restitute. Canada may wish to be done with its residential school history, but history is not done with Canada. Not even close.

Today’s Globe and Mail headline refers to the amounts negotiated in Schedule 0-3 of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, by the Corporation for the Catholic Entities, Parties to the IRSSA (or CCEPIRSSA). Why then an “onus”? The short answer is that the (in my estimation) badly-written agreement committed the Catholic Entities to the “best effort” fund-raising of a $25-million “Canada-Wide Campaign.” It didn’t pan out, according to lawyers for the CCEPIRSSA. So the federal government released the Catholic Entities, who ran ~65% of the residential schools, from this settlement obligation.

I mention the badly-written bit because the current mess was created by the agreement, insofar as it is a vaguely-composed document with no clear timelines or enforcements. And what exactly constitutes a “best effort”? Who decides? These and many other questions are not answered by Schedule 0-3, which bears all the evidence of having been drafted by junior lawyers while, elsewhere, the bulk of the effort went into the Common Experience Payment.

All of this makes me wonder where we’ll be five years from now. Or ten, or twenty. With some confidence, I can say that the Indian residential schools will probably be with us. The question is, will we be inching closer to restitution, or slinking yet further away?

My interview with former AFN National Chief, Delbert Riley

Former AFN National Chief Delbert Riley

I told the chiefs, “We’re not Indian Affairs. We’re not here to do things for you. We’ll help you do the things you want to do, and we’ll work hard.”

DELBERT RILEY is a First Nations leader from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, west of St. Thomas, in southwestern Ontario. He was the leader of the Union of Ontario Indians and, from 1980–1982, National Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood (later known as the Assembly of First Nations). Now, at age 70, he is launching a London court case against the government and the church for the range of abuses and injuries he suffered in an Indian residential school. This interview was published in the Journal of Aboriginal Management.

Let’s begin with how you came to be a political leader.

What got me into it was that I lived in the States for ten years. I was very impressed with Macolm X and Stokely Carmichael. I read their stuff, and I thought, “Holy shit, these guys are trying to get something going on about racism in the United States.” I was very impressed, so I thought, “I have to go back to Canada. Maybe there’s something I can do to help my people.”

So I did. I had been a machinist. I enrolled in university and I got a job while I was there, doing land claims research. When I heard about the job, I thought, “I gotta grab that.” I was very aggressive. I spent months and months in the national archives, reading from when it opened to when it closed. It was just so interesting. I also learned how they thought. So my mind could go back in history. I could get in touch with the thinking. It also gave me one heck of a background and understanding of Aboriginal and treaty rights.

You learned a lot about history.

I’m a historian. My First Nation sent 124 warriors to fight with Chief Pontiac. He captured eight or nine of eleven forts. He killed everybody—men, women, children. This is part of history they won’t tell you. Britain issued the Royal Proclamation, I think, because of that. It doesn’t say that in any particular place, but that’s what happened.

In 1764 the Treaty of Niagara came out. This is probably the only time our people sat down and said, “Okay, we agree with you on this. We will come and fight with you if you respect our sovereignty.” This is always on my mind. The British wanted us as their allies, to fight against the Americans. Before that we fought off the white man for at least 300 years. We were always fighting for one major thing: our sovereignty—our independence, our ability to control our lands.

The Iroquois ran off the Americans at Niagara, not the British. The British sent 1000 troops to fight with us against the Americans on the Thames. But 600 gave themselves up to their cousins, the Americans, and the other 400 ran off to Toronto. The only ones fighting were Indians. At the Thames and Niagara we drove the Americans back. They hated fighting Indians.

After the War of 1812, they concentrated on taking our lands using every device they could, including racism. The Indian Act was developed from a multitude of laws they were already using in other countries at the time, especially Northern Ireland. So this is how the Indian Act was born. They sent over [Sir John A.] Macdonald to draw it up. He didn’t create it, but he took bits and pieces from all over.

Because our numbers were decimated by disease, we weren’t able to fight back, although we protested as much as we could against this Indian Act. It is the most devastating piece of legislation in the world. I tell people today that it was a model for South African Apartheid and for Nazi Germany.

Let’s talk about the background to Section 35 of the Constitution Act.

I was an activist. Because I was doing so many things for the Union of Ontario Indians, they said, “We want you to run as our leader.” I’d never been in politics. They put me in, and I changed the organization around. Well, anyway, I served a couple terms and I brought the organization from the red into the black. I started out with about eight staff who were ashamed to work there, and when I left they were all proud to be a part of that organization.

I told the chiefs, “We’re not Indian Affairs. We’re not here to do things for you. We’ll help you do the things you want to do, and we’ll work hard.” That’s the approach we took.

So all the constitutional talks were coming up. Trudeau wanted an amending formula, because for him it was embarrassing to have the constitution in England—the BNA Act. The only way to amend it was back in England. So he wanted changes. He was fighting the provinces, trying to get them to agree on what was the best formula. Fifty percent of the people? So many provinces? So much of the population? That kind of thing.

They finally did work out a formula that all reluctantly agreed to. In the meantime, things were happening. The Calder case, land claims, whatnot. I had this background in Indian rights. The national chief job was coming up—of what was at the time the National Indian Brotherhood. I was trying to pull all the leaders across the country together. I was telling them, “Look, we’ve got to get moving on this stuff.”

I had it in my mind from the early ‘70s that our best choice was to get entrenched in the constitution and have them recognize our rights in the highest law of the land. Then they couldn’t take it out. So I said I would support anyone who ran for the leadership to do this. None of them had the background I had, and none of them would run. I said, “If you’re not going to run, then I will. At least support me. I’ll put us in the constitution.” That was my platform when I ran for national leader.

It took me a year before we made the decision on the wording of the draft constitution sections. It was about nine pages. The Métis supported us, and I promised them that they would be in there, as well as the Inuit. But they didn’t do anything to support the kind of effort we did. We did one massive lobbying effort in Ottawa. I probably met every cabinet minister and the Prime Minister multiple times. I ate in all three houses of Parliament. I was a hard worker, and it took a long time and a lot of work.

How were the negotiations?

They wouldn’t go along with all of our draft, which if accepted would have set out a totally different system from what we have here. It would have been the kind of system we want, because everyone had contributed to that draft. All they would do in the government was put in four sections. The most important was section 35, the recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal treaty rights. I had a heck of a time. I had to appear before the committee, because there was no definition of Aboriginal people. But there was a precedent for this—they’d put words in the BNA that didn’t have a definition. So I was able to use that, and they finally accepted it.

In fact, they liked that it didn’t have a definition. They figured that Indian rights were what the St. Catherines Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen case had said in 1888, which was that we had usufructuary rights [rights of land usage, but not title]. This was their thinking. My thinking was, no, it’s more than that. John Munro, the Minister of Indian Affairs, called me over one day. I went to one of the restaurants. He said, “We’re getting so much flak from Alberta that we have to take your Aboriginal treaty rights protection out.” He said, “Here’s how we’re going to write it.” I took the paper and rolled it up in a ball, and I threw it at him and walked out.

What eventually brought about the acknowledgement of Aboriginal rights in section 35?

We had a big protest. But Alberta insisted that the word “existing” would go in. So it became existing rights. You see, the fight was all about resources. Alberta did this because of a case with the Maori in New Zealand in which the court determined that “existing” meant only from the time it went into the constitution. But when it got to the court here in Canada, existing included everything. So it was even better. [Laughs]

They called me into an all-party meeting at the eleventh hour. I think it was 11 pm. [Jean] Chrétien and I were screaming at one another. I said, “Goddamn it, we’ve got to have the wording in there.” “Okay,” Chrétien says. “But I want to take out the word Métis. Will you agree?” I thought, you cagey old bugger, you’re going to take it out and blame me. But I had a promise to the Métis that they would stay in there, and I’m a man of my word. So I said No: they stay in. I’m probably the father of Métis rights! [Laughs]

What was Jean Chrétien like?

He was tough. They were trying to figure out how to get rid of Indians and Indian rights. Trudeau was the same. We were working in the other direction. It was tough, but their racist attitudes were more out in the open. They downplayed us as inferior beings.

So, they put our rights in, but of course they didn’t plan on observing them. A lot of court cases came, something like 180 as of today we’ve won on section 35. I was in tremendous emotional pain at the 11th hour to go with only those four sections, and not everything we wanted. But I had to make that decision. It was my decision alone. I couldn’t even call anybody. There was no time, so I made the decision.

How was this received?

Of course I suffered the negative comments for years, people saying it’s not enough or it’s empty. There was so much controversy about section 35 I sort of got ostracized for years. They just kept me out of things. [Laughs] The jury was out, but as of the Tsilhqot’in [Aboriginal title] case this summer, the jury came in and exonerated me fully.

You must have known that this would happen all these years later—that you were laying the groundwork for the future.

Oh yes, I knew it. For sure. This is the basis for our Indian governance. This is going to be the basis for everything. The legal power is unlimited in my mind, even right now.

So in many respects this was a thankless task.

Oh, it is. But it had to be done. I did it. I have absolutely no regrets. If I had to do it again, I would. I’d do the same damn thing.

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