More than protests needed to fix the system

Blockades, starvation diets, protests and threats get people’s attention and make for some good media play, but do they get solutions?

Blockades, starvation diets, protests and threats really don’t solve anything. They get people’s attention and make for some good media play, but do they get solutions?

The tactics have defined the grassroots movement Idle No More and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence liquid-only diet until she has a joint meeting with PM Harper and Governor General David Johnston.

Quite frankly, there are faults on both sides when it comes to the friction between the federal government and First Nations people. The feds have long dragged their heels on dealing with First Nations’ issues while aboriginal people are frustrated with seeing their treaty rights ignored or set aside. But deeper than that, there are the accumulated effects from being marginalized, disrespected or forgotten.

In 2005, Paul Martin’s Liberal government signed the Kelowna Accord to provide $5.5 billion in spending over five years on education, housing, health care, economic development and skills training for natives. The following year the Harper government dumped it.

The recent report released by the Missing Women Commission brought attention to the culture of indifference by officials toward the disappearance or murders of many aboriginal women.

Meanwhile non-native Canadians are just as frustrated and confused. Billions of dollars are poured into band council coffers every year. Where does all that money go?

The annual budget for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is about $7.8 billion for the 2012-2013 year and some 83 per cent goes directly to transfer payments to bands. Actual expenditure for community infrastructure has averaged $1.1 billion annually since 2004 to 2012 and according to the AANDC website actual expenditures for education and social development have both increased annually since 2004.

Some of these numbers are about to change with the Department facing $165 million in spending cuts over the coming three years.

So why is it, when billions of dollars are provided to bands across the country, housing on so many reserves remains worse than third world country accommodation? To Canada’s embarrassment, Attawapiskat is the poster village.

Last week an audit done on the Attawapiskat financials by Deloitte and Touche stated that 81 per cent of a total of over 1,000 money transactions did not have the proper paperwork and 61 per cent had none at all. This audit targeted $104 million transferred to the 1,828-population community in northern Ontario between 2005 and 2011.

Despite the fact that there are a number of bands that are economically wealthy, many exist on reserves in remote regions of Canada where work and economic opportunities are slim to none. Poverty, addictions, despair, and suicide become hallmarks of a community of people isolated and displaced from mainstream Canada. Why can’t they move location, taking all their treaty rights with them?

There are over 1.17 million aboriginals with over 868,000 registered Indians in Canada, representing nearly four per cent of the population and 615 bands across the country. The number includes Meti and non-status Indians. Last week the Federal Court ruled that the 200,000 Meti and 400,000 non-status Indians are also “Indians” under the Constitution Act indicating they deserve of full treaty rights. Just how Ottawa will react to that remains to be seen.

It was the controversial omnibus budget bills – C-38 and C-45 – that fueled the Idle No More grassroots movement. Changes to environmental assessments, the Indian Act, and Navigable Waters Protection Act were all viewed as threats and infringements on a cultural way of life and on traditional hunting and fishing rights.

The mindsets need to change between the feds, First Nations, and frustrated Canadians. Funding to bands needs to be managed transparently, social issues have to be solved, and treaty rights respected. Until then, nothing moves forward.