Some observations on the First Nations
pow-wow showdown with Canada’s federal government:
Bewildered reporters have been chasing around Ottawa all day breathlessly saying how the situation is changing by the second. Toting their cameras and notebooks, they haven’t been able to keep up. It would be comical (if they weren’t all white) if it wasn’t so critically uncertain.
This isn’t unusual for anyone familiar with the expressssion “Indian time” and that includes aboriginals I am not being insensitive. I am simply repeating the reality of what a friend, and prominent Metis leader and businessman, taught me years ago one summer afternoon outside of the Treaty 4 Governance Centre in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley, and within a few miles of the former Lebret Indian Residential School that his mother had been forced to attend. He taught me a lot more than that, too, including how the Bands are really run.
Natives don’t run on the same colonial clock as the rest of us. To see them forced to the tipping point so quickly is surprising and unsettling for them and us. The Chiefs take time to talk, sometimes at great length, and are not held to deadlines.
But, did they have a choice? They were forced into action by circumstances, in part, beyond their control. Up to this moment, they have been held frustrated and in anguish over the inexcusable state of their people and their living conditions, health, education: the list is lengthy.
When a centre isn’t coalescent it fractures. There was a centre in all of this, once. Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence was the rallying point but has now been shoved to the sidelines and uninvited to some of the meetings that came out her demands in the first place. She seems irrelevant in any discussions between the the two nations – Canada and aboriginal. Spence, once a Chief of peace, started it all by going rogue with her hunger strike. That resulted in the grassroots Idle No More movement. That has forced the Chiefs hands to take a militant stand with talk of warriors bringing Canada to it’s economic knees.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Sean Atleo is no Phil Fontaine. Fontaine, who was National Chief of the AFN for three terms (1997-2000), held much more sway with the Chiefs during the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal terms than Atleo has today. Atleo is cerebral and, up until today with his display of uncharacteristic outburst, a moderate. Fontaine, although a graduate of the University of Manitoba, was from the gut. Most of the Chiefs today are of that character. The truth of that is in some of the militant statements made by the Chiefs throughout the day.
There is only one person in Ottawa tonight more angry than the Chiefs. That man is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and he’s sure to be fuming in a painted corner; in a tizzy because he’s not in control. But then, nobody is in control right now.
The Montreal Gazette says it’s Harper’s biggest challenge yet. It is historical fact that Canada’s First Nations have not been involved in Canadian politics, proportionate to their population and grievances. They are now, and they just might break Harper’s vice-like grip on this country, especially with parliament about to sit in a few days. Harper’s government can no longer continue in it’s flawed and incremental native rights policies.
On the eve of what will or will not be the critical meeting – between all of the Chiefs or some of the Chiefs or none of the Chiefs and the Prime Minister and the Governor General… or not – we do know one thing, other than nothing at all, and that is no one is idle any more.