Thursday, October 19, 2006

10 Years and what do we get? Broken promises and greater discontent

Last night's surprise vote to send the Kelowna Accord to committee for clause by clause review, which I briefly touched upon in my last post, comes almost coincidentally on a rather odd anniversary. It's been ten years since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples issued its final report. Of its nearly 500 recommendations on how to improve the lives of Canada's Inuit, Métis and North American Indians, only one of substance has been implemented; a compensation fund for those who suffered abuse at the hands of Canada's mainline Christian churches (including, shamefully, my own Catholic Church).

The report came about because of the summer of discontent that was 1990, and the standoffs at Oka and Kahnawake. One of the thrusts that came out of that, as well as the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future (which was a Royal Commission that operated in reverse, in that it had people come to it rather than seeking out only the opinions of experts) created in the wake of Oka and the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, was that justice had finally had to be done for Canada's real founders, whose lands were stolen from those who believed they were entering terra nullis. While the report was broadbased, there were two major themes in the RCAP findings as well as from the earlier Spicer Commission which specifically address natives. First, the land claims issue had to be settled once and for all. Second, natives had to be fully integrated into Canadian society, entitled to the same standards of well-being and health the rest of us expect under our tax system: A strong education, healthy families, clean water. Things we consider to be rights, not privileges.

It took a long time, but the Kelowna Accord was designed to address precisely many of the issues the RCAP parsed. It was a hard won agreement with the provinces and territories who recognized that the discontent had to be addressed or it would explode into anger. While there was, justifiably, anger over Sponsorgate, an unwitting victim out of all of it was that Aboriginals were just ignored, again. There is, I believe, a direct link between the Conservatives' decision to discard Kelowna and the Battle of Douglas Creek happening in Caledonia, just a fifteen minute drive south of where I live. The fact that we still don't have an Aboriginal Affairs Minister who is actually Aboriginal, nor did Stephen Harper actively even attempt to recruit candidates for election who could have served in that position, shows he's appealing to a base who would rather see our native people either just go away, or have what little they have left taken away from them. Including their usually puny reserves which can't support much other than the traditional stereotypical businesses like tobacco and gaming.

I'm not accusing the Conservatives of being racist. I am saying they don't seem to get it. They think it's better to give parents a wide variety of confusing and useless tax credits rather than give them real tax relief. Given more and more natives now actually pay taxes because they work off-reserve, this is something that needs to be addressed. It's something that Garth Turner has been fighting for some time now, and it's something that I've been convinced of as well but wasn't able to articulate until recently. For example, refusing to eliminating the marriage penalty that rewards two working parents and penalizes stay at home moms and single parents (which several provinces and Nunavut have taken the lead on and done) is discriminatory to both non-natives and natives. It's really no coincidence that Turner's sacking and the Opposition's rebuke happened on the same day. It shows Canada's Annointed Servant (TM) has fallen off the rails.

Where natives are specifically concerned, the discontent already runs at a fever pitch which explains an unusually high rate of criminal activity and imprisonment. For the government this past week to just dismiss the concerns of the prison Ombudsman that racism really does exist in the correctional system shows the same kind of ignorance that Agnes Macphail forced an earlier government to confront during the Great Depression, when she uncovered the fact that we endorsed torture in our penitentiaries.

So to see Paul Martin win provisional approval of Bill C-292 isn't just sweet. It also forces the minority government to reevaluate its priorities. It bears repeating that a minority government is voted in that way because Canadians don't believe one man or woman should have absolute power for four years until he or she has proved that such discretion has been earned. To rule as if he already had a majority is making the same fatal flaw that Joe Clark made back in 1979. If Bob Rae defies kismet and wins the Liberal leadership, then gets a seat in Parliament, it will be making things come full circle, for he will be the one moving non-confidence in Harper just as he did against Clark all those years ago.

And then maybe -- just maybe -- we can finally turn the corner on the Aboriginal file. Kelowna isn't the end, but the beginning, and Harper should recognize that.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.


19/10/2006 5:54:25 PM

Hi, I came across your blog after perusing liblogs and I found your passion for First Nations issues refreshing. I've been away (back home on the reservation, ironically) and hadn't had time to catch the news so this is the first time I'd heard of Mr. Martin's bill passing.

As a FN person this current government's actions have been appalling, to say the least, in it's treatment of FN issues. It didn't take a rocket science to know that funding cuts were coming towards FN programs, I just didn't think they'd be so blatant.

For example, the Canadian government collects oodles of taxes on cigarettes to support their anti-tobacco strategy. The non-FN program had been running for years and the FN program had been running for only a couple of years and guess whose budget was slashed? The FN program. All other tobacco programs are not affected. What kind of message does that send to FN communities who are working to lower tobacco smoking rates?

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Martin and his passion for FN causes has always been great to see so it was with great disappointment that he was ousted for other government's wrong-doings. I've always said history will reflect kinder on his leadership while he was in office than the canadian voters did.

Anyway, I'm babbling now but I just wanted to say thank you for your insight and your passion. It's always nice to see that even when you think you're alone (as a FN) that there are others out there who see the light.


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