I was not going to blog about the “Idle No More Movement”; however, last Wednesday, St. Albert Trail was blocked at Sturgeon Road during the afternoon commute and I received several hundred letters. What started as a hunger strike and a grassroots social media campaign has transformed itself, rightly or wrongly, into a force that cannot be ignored.
The troubles that plague First Nations are neither new nor uncomplicated. The Federal Government has made significant financial investment through the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The Feds spend over $10 Billion annually on programs directed to aboriginal people. Since 2006, the Government has:
-Built 30 new schools
-Renovated 200 existing schools
-Built over 10,000 homes
-Invested in safe drinking water infrastructure;
-Improved accountability and transparency for First Nations Governance.
However, if you see the news reports of the squalor on remote native communities such as Attawapiskat, it is obvious that progress has been limited. In some instances, matters are getting worse.
The Prime Minister met on January 11 with Aboriginal Leaders including Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Shaun Atleo. Other native leaders, including Chief Therese Spence, boycotted the meeting. That is one of many problems underlying the ongoing conflict. It is unclear who speaks for whom in the aboriginal community. There is dissent and internal politics constantly in play. Moderates, such as Atleo, promote dialogue and continued negotiation. Others promote more radical actions such as rail and the aforementioned road blockades. Some, including the Manitoba Chiefs have threatened to “bring the Canadian economy to its knees”. Meanwhile Chief Spence’s concerns and demands are constantly evolving.
I am very concerned about any “radical” action. There are rumours concerning a Highway 63 Blockade at or near Fort McMurray. I support any groups’ right to peacefully and lawfully protest but expect any such protest to be lawful. Flash mobs in shopping centers are tolerable; blocking transportation lines are not. Civil disobedience cannot violate the laws against trespass and mischief. The Rule of Law must be obeyed; but nobody wants a repeat of the confrontation and violence experienced at Oka and Caledonia. I will have more to say concerning the legality of blocking public roadways or private rail lines later this week.
As Member of Parliament for Edmonton-St. Albert, I do not formally represent any First Nations. Obviously, there are aboriginals and Métis within the boundaries I represent but not formal communities.
I represent taxpayers; the vast majority of my constituents are non-aboriginal. Those who have written me on these matters are generally sympathetic to the plight of aboriginals and genuinely want to see an improvement in living conditions. However, I have also heard a demand to see value for hard earned tax dollars and given Aboriginal Affair’s $10B budget, many question the return on taxpayer investment. Taxpayers demand value for money and want to, and are entitled to, see positive results.
Bill C-27 the “First Nations Financial Transparency Act” was a positive step towards accountability towards taxpayers by requiring Chiefs and Band Councillors to publically disclose their salaries. The Bill is currently in the Senate.
My constituents have also told me that they expect First Nations to take more responsibility for their current condition—getting their children educated and their young adults vocationally trained for the resource based jobs frequently near reserves.
Many Native Communities, who have negotiated resource agreements with private companies, are prospering; yet so few have done so. Ironically, the much maligned and misunderstood Bill C-45 actually makes it easier for First Nations to do so.
There is no single or immediate solution to the issues that face our first nations. It’s not simply a matter of financial support; but that’s part of it. Similarly, transparency and accountability for how the money is spent is also a part. Ottawa is part of the solution, but only part. First Nations collectively and individually must also propose reasonable solutions and then act on them.
In 2013, First Nation issues will be on the national agenda like never before. These issues must be addressed; it appears that “Idle No More” is not going away. First Nations, taxpayers and even commuters are all entitled to resolution.