Sunday, 13 January 2013

‘Enough’, once and for all

For weeks the Canadian public has been bombarded with the plight of Chief Spence’s hunger strike; after many demands to meet with the Prime Minister and the Governor General, it seems that nothing has been resolved or can be resolved under the current blackmail environment.

Not being a lawyer I will not try to interpret the contents of The Treaty between  Queen Victoria and the First Nation. However as a Canadian with a financial background I will provide my point of view of the current conflict, which it seems, is always about money, either in dollars or resources.

First let us start with the ‘Idle no More’ movement, which is threatening to create havoc with the economy through blockades and civil disobedience if their demands are not met. The problem is that very few, even members of the Assembly of First Nation (AFN) really understand the contents of the demands. At first sight the protest is very reminiscent of the ‘Occupy’ movement. Both these movements seem to be made up of a bunch of left anarchist who has no coordination and leadership. Under these conditions it is very unlikely that anything will be achieved.

As for Chief Spence hunger strike and demands, her latest refusal to meet with the Prime Minister and just attend, for a short time, the meeting with the Governor General shows that even the poster child for the protest has no clear idea of her demands.

Chief Spence of the Attawapiskat reserve has been under public scrutiny since the demise of the reserve was reported and an independent audit was called to examine the financial affairs of the reserve. As it turns out expenditure for millions of dollars do not have any paper trail. Over the past six years the reserve received some $100 million from the government. While the Chief and her spouse/partner received hundreds of thousands of dollars many resident still live in virtual squalor.  The release of the audit was immediately branded as a ploy by the government to embarrass the Chief. Could we also say that the Chief’s hunger strike may have been a ploy to pre-empt the findings of the audit?

Most Canadians are sympathetic to the problems of the First Nation, but by the same token, they are also aware of the amount of money being allocated by the government and yet there is no accountability in many cases. Let’s be clear; not all reserves have the same problems and are not managed the same way. However since it is taxpayers’ money it would be nice to have greater accountability. In my view, First Nations should be viewed as another form of local government. They may be independent, yet they require funds from the federal government. In this case they should be subject to the same accounting rules as any other recipient of government funds. Financial reports under current accounting standards should apply. The public deserves more transparency and accountability.

As for the latest demands, whatever the Prime Minister does will not be enough. Since many Chiefs do not want to be at the table, the Prime Minister who has agreed to meet again should come to a new agreement which addresses the issues put forward by those who are willing to attend. Chief Atleo should be given credit for coming to the table. To acquiesce to the request to meet with Governor General or the Queen for that matter shows that the ‘Idle no More’ movement have no intention to ever come to a final solution. The treaty may have been signed by Queen Victoria, but times have changed, The Queen of England has also been stripped of many of its royal powers. Decisions of importance are made by elected officials and not the monarchy. So let us get off this horse and move on.  For sure there are grievances to be addressed, but it should be done in a more consensual manner and with more respect for the First Nations and acknowledgement of a new era. Most of all the media has a role to play in reporting the facts and not just the sensational and political issues. Former or current political figures have used this conflict to further their agenda or undermine the current government. Former Prime Ministers who have made their views public are equally guilty, since they did not solve the problem when they had the chance; to come out now and critique, is purely hypocritical.

Not all members of First Nations are destitute. Many of their members thrive in the current economy.. Most First Nation members who live off the reserves are better off. Staying on the reserve under the rule of Chiefs who exploit them may be the real cause of the problem.  It is said that to give a man a fish, feeds him for one day. Teach him how to fish, feeds him for a lifetime. The new agreement, while addressing land and resources sharing, should help to create viable independent First Nation communities through education, proper housing and proper utilities with greater transparency. The AFN must also take responsibility for the current failures. Welfare without proper accountability is no longer the solution.

Marcel Latouche

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