Stephen Harper has squirrelled away, in several huge omnibus bills, many changes to First Nations’ governance designed to divide and conquer First Nations and thereby enable pipelines to be rammed across their unceded territories. Pamela Palmater in 2013 gave four talks identifying these small, scattered, insidious changes and major problems that existed long before Harper. My summary of her main points follows, along with links to all four talks…
Pamela Palmater, lawyer for 14 years, a professor at Ryerson University, Mi’kmaw citizen and member of Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, speaking on the Harper legislative onslaught upon First Nations. Her talk has been divided into four parts and is posted on YouTube by Idle No More Alberta. Where I am quoting Ms. Palmater directly the text will be in quotation marks.
- Department of Indian Affairs: “Their policy objective for First Nations in this country has never changed. From the time they developed it in the 1800′s until now, on the books, the number one objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian left in Canada – and with that goes the treaties and reserve lands and everything else.”
- Minister of Indian Affairs, John Duncan: “Prior to becoming the Minister, he was one of the most vocal opponents to aboriginal rights in this country. He called them ‘race-based rights’ and that we shouldn’t have any aboriginal rights.”
- “We’re certainly not on a nation-to-nation relationship.” Palmater considers the relationship to be, at best, a chief-to-bureaucrat relationship.
- “They are going to unilaterally change the rules in education and treaty relationships. Palmater asks how can they do this unilaterally, given the fact that First Nations signed their treaty not with Harper, but with the Queen.
- The idea is to empower First Nations as individuals and not communities, removing the aspect of legal responsibilities between participants in a treaty relationship. A group of individuals will have very little power, paving the way for Harper “to share our lands and resources for the maximized benefit of Canadians.”
- “But it’s not just First Nations who should be scared of Stephen Harper. If they pass their legislation… it’s not just gonna be First Nations; it’s gonna be Canadians.” “It’s time to come up with a plan to let Canadians know that we are their only hope of saving the land and waters and animals and plants in this country.”
- With the detested White Paper produced by the Government of Canada in 1969, opponents of assimilation had a single, concrete document to aim at. The policy (absorbing native peoples into the rest of Canada) was spelled out. Today “we have ten pieces of legislation. How do you take aim at that when people don’t even know what’s in the legislation?”
- “Never in history has there been so many pieces of legislation entered into our Parliament dealing with First Nations at one time. Ever!” And all of it is unilateral.
- Palmater then listed the eight bills that she would talk about and those she wasn’t going to cover in this talk.
- To cripple First Nations’ ability to fight this legislation “… they took a preemptive strike on our First Nation organizations and did substantial, massive, funding cuts. Some regions have funding cuts of up to eighty per cent.”
- The myth: that all six hundred fifteen of Canada’s First Nations leaders “are all millionaires, they’re all corrupt, they all mismanage money and the reason for First Nation poverty lies on the shoulders of those corrupt chiefs.”
- The reality: The average salary of those 615 chiefs is $36ooo, $10000 below the average Canadian wage of $46000. Thirty-six of those chiefs have a salary of $0.
- Palmater had harsh words for Bill C-27, The Transparency Act, designed to force First Nations bands to reveal to the Canadian public every detail of their finances. It implies that First Nations do not do reporting, when in reality their funding would be withheld if they didn’t file every year. And Palmater claimed that any FN person can get a copy of this report from the Department of Indian Affairs. “What this bill really does is it opens all the books: all the band’s own source revenue, all of the band’s business revenue. Not for band members, but for the public.” Palmater pointed out that this is to provide ammunition to support cuts to grants to a band.
- “We’re not even allowed to supplement our own poverty.”
- “If you want to point fingers at who’s corrupt, let’s look at the real ones:” Palmater had listed the abuses of Harpers’ own ministers: $16 orange juice, $2000/night hotels, or Peter MacKay’s $35000 helicopter ride to go fishing, F-35′s. I’m tempted to put in a link inviting everyone to add his/her own example to this inappropriately merciful list.
A personal observation on the subject of transparency persecution: Harper is also going after labour unions to reveal their finances in onerous, time-devouring detail, when unions represent their members and not the Canadian public. This is a nit-picking invasion of privacy deliberately designed to knee-cap organizations that Harper doesn’t like. His friends, business corporations, are not subjected to this vindictive, destructive attack-law.
I have listed every significant item in part one of Ms. Palmater’s Alberta talk in great detail above by meticulously re-listening to it. In my notes on Parts Two to Four I have relied mostly on notes taken in careful listening and sometimes, but not always, re-listening. I also use my own words to a greater extent if they express the essence of what I judge to be Ms. Palmater’s argument or sentiment. I do get a little creative here.
I urge everyone to watch all four parts:
Some highlights from my notes:
- How treaties were signed by getting the chiefs drunk (Note: since they couldn’t read the treaties, lying worked just as well as alcohol).
- How land will be passed to non-native spouses of deceased band mambers
- Bill S2, dealing with Matrimonial Property, does not recognize FN laws
- MP Rob Clarke has a private member’s bill to repeal the Indian Act on the order paper
- Badly flawed as it is, the Indian Act does provide some protection for FN rights
- Reserve lands are 0.2% of Canada
- Unprecedented Ministerial powers can jail people for objecting
- Band chief and council can be (were, in the Barriere Lake, QC protest in 2011) removed for opposition to resource extraction
- Bill S8, dealing with clean water for reserves: Private corporate friends of Harper are salivating over potential billion dollar contracts to clean up water on reserves
- Federal government has all the power and is not liable in these projects
- Protesters face prison
- Paraphrasing Palmater on FN water: Corporations thus get rich off FN resources; now they will get richer off FN poverty (This was actually from the start of Part Three.)
- Omnibus Bill C-45 has voting changes to make it MUCH simpler for the Minister to obtain consent from a band to surrender its land. All he has to do is call a meeting and get a majority of those present, regardless of how few band members show up, to vote in favour. This sneaky, sinister addition to Bill C-45 came without warning.
- The Minister can now alone expedite this procedure after afavourable FN vote. That’s new, too.
- After chronically underfunding FN education, the Feds are backing out of financial education responsibilities for FN’s, letting the provinces take over.
- The FN Property Ownership Act will change sacred, community-owned FN lands – dividing them up into individually-owned pieces, which can be sold to non-FN entities. This would strip FN’s of all sovereignty over current lands and facilitate the elimination of their way of life forever. Divide and conquer, so obviously.
- A pipeline could then be built by paying off those owners in the pipeline’s path, leaving the rest still in toxic poverty.
- If the US Dawes Act of 1887 is any example of what to expect, subsequent amendments resulted in huge amounts of FN lands being sold to non-FN entities – totally against the spirit of the original legislation. So much for dividing the land equally among FN people – itself a bad thing in my admittedly humble, non-FN opinion – an opinion that I suspect Ms. Palmater shares.
- FN’s now hold first title to their lands. The Queen holds second title, having conquered FN’s. The feds currently hold third title. If Harper gets his way a FN individual would end up with fourth title.
- Under Harper majorities in the commons and the senate, Harper can push through any law he wants.
- Stopping the Harper bulldozer is about FN peoples standing up for their rights.
- Individual bands hold Treaty Rights – not the Association of First Nations (AFN) under Sean Attleo.
- AFN represents about 40% of FN people at most. Harper is behaving as if Attleo gets to decide everything.
- The Feds get the jurisdiction; FN’s get the liabilities
- All statistical socioeconomic factors for FN peoples have gotten worse over the last 20 years
- Life expectancy among FN peoples is now 20 years lower than other than non-FN Canadians. Twenty years ago it was 7 years lower. Eight-year-olds are now committing suicide instead of waiting ’til their teens.
- Resource development is on “aggressive fast-forward.” The army will be used to quell protest and push through pipelines, etc.
- We must tell Canadians, also afraid of the bulldozer, that “We are their last and best hope of saving this planet.”
- FN’s are attacked by the myths presented in the right-wing, anti FN press, which keeps saying that corruption is the reason for FN poverty. “Not the 200 years of colonization and residential schools and stealing our land and killing our children in residential schools or the forced sterilizations of our women or the smallpox blankets or the scalping laws.”
- These relentless attacks have an effect on FN opinion itself. Demean, divide and conquer. Not Pam’s words but my pithy summary of the propaganda process she describes.
- The sooner we stop fighting among ourselves and turn to fight the real enemy, the sooner we will turn things around. If not, FN’s will go from an intense, distressful, crisis mode to disaster management mode in a hurry.
- More funding cuts are coming.
- “Why on earth would we put the fates of our seven (future) generations into their (the Feds) hands?”
- FN peoples have three choices: 1. Do nothing. 2. Let AFN deal with it, write letters & submit proposals to be filed under “G” 3. Plan a coordinated strategy: a) Identify like minded FN leaders (unanimity not required) and make a plan b) decide that the bulldozer stops today c) leaders must inspire and go first How to do it: d) piggy back on meetings, e) spread the word through social media f) keep community members informed g) decide an endgame that all can agree on h) do not let a liking of your chief take precedence over the endgame.
- The Bad News: We don’t have a year to wait “It has got to happen now.”
- Oppose bad legislation and make certain that this opposition is recorded.
- Extend a hand and offer government the opportunity to work with us (i.e. FN’s).
- Have a well-thought-out escalation plan in effect if your offer is rejected.
- “And, if I have anything to say about it, China won’t be getting our resources any time soon.”
- We are united against “The White Paper 2012.” (A reference to the White Paper created in 1969 – see Part One).