Saturday, July 2, 2016

My View from Here on the Indian Act: corruption in Indigenous politics

I have been honoured by Tito Gomez and Pamela Beebe to join Red Time Podcast, an urban Indigenous perspective on daily issues here in Calgary. Our latest podcast:

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak is trying to educate all Indigenous on tradition governance, Treaties and how Indian Act is a legal fiction. My perspective you can read along at the end:

Red Time Podcast June 29, 2016 View from Here:

Welcome to Treaty 7 – Siksika Nation, Kainai Nation, Piikinni Nation, Tsuu Tiina, Stoney Nakota – Chiniki, Wesley, Bearspaw
My name is Michelle Robinson, a Yellowknife Dene on my mother’s side and Cdn on my father’s side, for real, all the way to the Mayflower!
-acknowledge Aboriginal Awareness Month

Last week, us at Red Time Podcast were honoured to have Retired Judge, John Reilly here in the greater Forest Lawn area to launch our book club, Chapters and Chat through 12 Community Safety Initiative. From that conversation came a conversation about corruption in Indigenous politics so I’m going to add my voice to the discussion with my view from here.

Warning.. we play a game on Red Time Pod cast that encourages drinking water every single time I utter the word Indian Act or colonialism. You can not keep up this time. Don’t even attempt this at home. Red Time podcast is not responsible for your consumption for this view from here, LOL!

Technically, Indian Affairs does allow band members to see any financial records related to the band. A simple google and I immediately came up to my own band, Yellowknives Dene First Nation Consolidated Financial Statements dated Mar. 31, 2014. If a band member cannot see their band’s most recent financials, Indigenous Affairs has the responsibility to guide a band member there. Most people get too frustrated with Indigenous Affairs to get there.

To tell a bit of my own story in the colonial context, one just has to google Yellowknives Dene. In May 2012 as reported by Northern News Services, my aunt, Barbara Powless-Labelle was removed from by the residential school surviving Indian Act trained, council and "banished" from the community on the advice from Yellowknives elders. She said the reason for her banishment was that she was asking too many embarrassing questions about band finances. When my auntie launched a lawsuit in early 2007 to fight her banishment, former Dettah chief Peter Liske filed an affidavit accusing her of being confrontational and angry in her dealings with chiefs and other politicians. Her membership to the First Nation was later restored after the band settled out of court. She felt council had created a culture of fear by bullying and discrediting any members who voice concerns. The intimidation continues still, she said. The band member who asked not be named and a man with the last name, Beaulieu both said council had tried to discredit them for bringing concerns forward. "The integrity, the values, the vision, the ethics, the morals, the human standards and rights are gone," said Powless-Labelle. "We have lost all confidence because (the council) doesn't keep us abreast of what's going on." All of this stems from Impact Benefit Agreements with the diamond mines.
IBAs are key agreements outlining a developer's (usually mining companies) commitment to offer jobs, business contracts, training, scholarship funding and undisclosed payments to aboriginal groups considered by the company to be "impacted" communities. Of course there is no real accountability in those agreements as in the case of Yellowknife where the water is damaged and the mining clean up not complete, much like abandoned wells here in Alberta.

So why is this happening? Why is the Indian Act to blame? I will acknowledge in Canada, there is zero curriculum of the Indian from kindergarten to grade 12. Worse than that, it is NOT covered in law school either. In fact most education institutions don’t have any mandatory courses in Indigenous studies at all. The educational institutions purposely withhold the information to perpetuate colonialism. So let’s dive a bit in the history of the Indian Act. 

Canada’s First Nations: A Legacy of Institutional Racism By Claire Hutchings
The Indian Act was, and is, a powerful tool in the hands of the federal
government, giving federal civil servants the authority to manage band affairs, supervise Indigenous lands and trust funds, direct the personal and family lives of individual Aboriginal people, and deny basic Canadian civil and personal rights to hundreds of thousands of “wards” of the federal state.”

“The Indian Act gave the Department of Indian Affairs and its officials control over reserve lands and resources and authorized them to regulate commerce and trade with Aboriginal people. The Act became the primary means of adapting federal policy to changing expectations and concerns about Aboriginal people.”

“amendments to the Indian Act in 1951 removed some of the more offensive elements of Indian Act, but prohibitions on voting and alcohol consumption remained until the 1960s.”

“The Indian Act, by itself, was simply a tool used by the Government of Canada to exercise near-total control over First Nations people. Unlike almost all other Canadians,

First Nations people had significantly fewer rights and political privileges. The government exercised comprehensive control over Aboriginal life, determining where and when they went to school, the management of their land and economic resources, prohibiting them from entering key professions, attempting to shape Indigenous cultures, and dominating daily affairs through the often aggressive hand of federally-appointed Indian Agents.

It is difficult to categorize and describe the social and cultural consequences of this wide-ranging government intervention. Dependency, cultural loss, dispiritedness, and a profound sense of disengagement from the national political system are all logical outgrowths from a system that provided little room for individualism, collective action or a positive Indigenous agenda.”

“the Indian Act makes the federal government’s legal and fiduciary responsibilities quite clear and re-enforces historical commitments to the Indigenous peoples in Canada. Harold Cardinal captured these sentiments when he wrote in 1969: “

If people know the difference between right and wrong, then clearly knowing the LAW of the Indian Act has not changed! It is written not in right or wrong terms but in us verses them language, us being Colonial British-soon to be Canada and them being Indigenous. Indigenous peoples in Canada still are forced to live under the Indian Act. The irony is, people don’t understand the Indian despite it’s long history, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The framework of government control has not changed. The rights were given from Indian Act agents to Indian Agent approved families with the title of Chiefs. No one can deny the nepotism the Indian Act has created. Fear, control and disenrollment is government instituted historical fact masked as “Chiefs.” (It’s actually a great example of cultural appropriation for colonial Canada to use the term Chief when they immediately misused the term without cultural understanding.)

Court of public opinion can’t hold Chief and Council accountability because Canadians don’t understand Indian politics, the Indian Act, their own politics and this cultural appropriated term of chief. It’s easy to point fingers at the small minority of who appear corrupt. The three fingers pointed back should be understanding in the Indian Act’s history, governance and how corruption continues because of the imposed structure.

Job rate is so low because of the Indian Act has historically stopped people. Wards of the State is the basic principal of the Indian Act. Historically, look to books like “Clearing the Plains” that show the systemic ways the dept of Indian Affairs stopped Indigenous from thriving. That cycle has caused intergenerational trauma and intergenerational dependence, just as the Indian Act designed it for. Don’t take my word for on why the job rate is so low if historical facts aren’t your cup of tea,  take the studies published that tell it.

Speech to First Nations Resource Development Conference -- Whitehorse, Yukon, March 2010 - published in March 2007 in a report entitled “Sharing Canada’s Prosperity, a Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.” There are over a hundred First Nations across Canada who are succeeding at business. Many like Squamish, West Bank, Osoyoos in British Columbia, Millbrook near Truro in Nova Scotia are close to large cities while others like Lac LaRonge, the Cree in Northern Qu├ębec are in remote areas. The report found a number of things. Even if you have strong leadership and good governance, Aboriginal communities face a lot of challenges.  The three biggest of these are:

1.      The Indian Act and Indian Affairs
2.      Access to capital (systemic poverty which the Indian Act created)
3.      Capacity (hard to have educated Indigenous when because of the Indian Act, those barriers of unequal funding to education, infrastructure, etc are allocated under the Indian act.)
The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development agreed with these findings.

Ken Coates from the incredibly Conservative Laurier-Macdonald Institute published extensively on the modern day treaties that allow for prosperity – all away from the Indian Act framework.

The assumption that Idle No More should be able to stop all of this poverty is expecting the oppressed to change the system within the Indian Act.
There is no accountability to the Canadian government when Auditor General’s numerous findings related to inequitable funding in housing, water and education to Indigenous peoples’ are pointed out. Despite C51 being in violation of the United Nations Human Rights Committee after reviewing Canada’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights found that sweeping powers contained in the new anti-terror bill, C-51, does not contain enough legal safeguards to protect people’s rights and there is no recourse because NO colonial news agency will write about that ruling specific to Indigenous rights because media doesn’t understand Indigenous rights or the Indian Act. Those that benefit directly from withholding that information will continue to do so they continue with their colonial agenda. No current Cdn politician will discuss these issues openly because they directly benefit from the system to perpetuate it. The colonial, capital system has always oppressed Indigenous peoples’ and that includes the Indian Act as the most direct tool of oppression.

Let’s address First Nations Financial Transparency Act. Alan Freeman published a piece, The Transparency Act is one Harper law Trudeau should have left alone in ipolitics. The law, enacted in 2013, prompted an outcry from leaders of the First Nations who claimed their sovereignty was being threatened. What the law did do was expose a scattering of tiny, often impoverished communities across the country where chiefs were paying themselves fat salaries, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite the protests, most communities have abided by the law. According to published reports, only 38 of 581 bands were offside as the time of the article.
Ms. Bennett claims she’s in favour of transparency and will work in conjunction with First Nations leaders to create a new regime — but in the meantime, they can breathe easy and forget about the requirements imposed under the existing law. Any court actions taken to force disclosure will also be halted and the stopping of the blocking millions of dollars that had been withheld from First Nations that had failed to comply with the law. Sean Jones, a Vancouver lawyer practicing aboriginal law, argued in a recent op-ed for The Globe and Mail that the Transparency Act was unnecessary because band members “already had the right to go to court to force the band to disclose its finances, including the remuneration of chief, councillors and employees.”
So any band member with the tens of thousands of dollars needed to pay a high-priced lawyer can go to court and spend months or years trying to extract basic financial information thanks to the Indian Act structure. Until there is understanding how structurally deep the Indian Act affects these decisions, the lack of will to look at the traditional forms of governance prior to colonialism that existed and exists in some communities today will continue. Finger pointing is so much easier than finding the solutions and pushing community understanding. Again, don’t take my word for it. Dr. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, said the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA) “violates the constitution because their consent is required. It violates the Privacy Act because it’s third-party information that’s not entitled to be distributed to the Canadian public – and there’s no need for it,” she said. “There is no chief in Canada, ever, in the history of Canada that has earned a million dollars a year off of federal dollars that were transferred to the First Nation,” Palmater explained.
“And if there ever was, it would be completely condoned by the federal government because the federal government goes through it.” And I will add, through the Indian Act to emphasis the systemic issue of the Indian Act.
When Aboriginal Affairs did what is the equivalent of sanctions against a band, Palmater decried the government’s threat as unnecessary retributive action.
“It’s absolutely criminal. Have you ever heard of a modern democratic country threatening any of its people with no food and water if you don’t comply with our legislation?” she said. And I will emphasis, completely in the jurisdiction of the Indian Act.
Lastly, AFN Alberta regional Chief Cameron Alexis commented on the act in a written statement to HuffPost Canada, calling the government’s “colonial” approach “heavy-handed and onerous” for First Nations “already over-burdened by audit requirements.”

Alexis questioned the why the government is making a priority of FNFTA, adding Ottawa “should stop lecturing First Nations and abide by their own principles of accountability and transparency.”
“MPs and Senators should be held to the same standard, including full public disclosure of all business interests and share holdings‎; all CEOs and major companies need to fully disclose all business dealings so they're on a level playing field with First Nations,” he said

And again, *I* will emphasize no MP, Senator, or CEO lives under the Indian Act structure. In fact they all live under the same colonial system that the Indian Act originated from. To blame Indigenous leadership for surviving in an imposed colonial system shows how well colonial politics continue to work today by dividing us while they conquer. Quit blaming Indigenous leadership and look at the bigger picture, the structure of the laws in place designed to oppress us. These are historical facts, in current law and legislation. Don’t be an Indian-Act-fact Denier!

If we went back to traditional governance, there would be accountability as there were existing structures not confided to the Indian Act. But we are stuck under the Indian Act, still. So if Idle No More can educate the people on the transitional ways, THEN we would see change. I would argue that Grand Chief Nepinak has been doing that education by the Treaty  Caravan in June of 2013 “to remind our people that we are born free and with full liberties as the Indigenous peoples of these lands,” Right now, as we speak, the Road to Niagara is being executed by Grand Chief Nepinak. a journey from Winnipeg to Niagara Falls to raise awareness about the importance of returning to the spirit and intent of our treaties.

I would also argue that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action on the implementation of the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous peoples’ was an election promise of the federal government. Under that declaration, we have the right to traditional governance. So the only thing holding Indigenous peoples’ from the goal to go to this transition is the knowledge they can do it.

Rise. Rise and learn your traditional form of governance. Listen to Grand Chief Nepinak’s teaching on the Treaties. Look to the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples’ to see the framework of the transition from Indian Act back to traditional governance. Look to the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples to see more framework on how traditional Indigenous governance looks like. Get Elders on side with this so we can start the process.
That is my view from here.

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