'Nation to Nation'? Indigenous people and the Trudeau government

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Moving beyond the Indian Act?

The federal government recently announced it will split Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada  into two departments: Indigenous Services, and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Trudeau said the move demonstrated “that we are serious about taking the right steps to move beyond the Indian Act.”

But the announcement signals only one thing to me: Our aspirations to decolonize as Indigenous peoples will be met with ongoing federal attempts to recolonize us, all part of the centuries-old Crown goals of “Indian” assimilation and the termination of collective Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Today’s recolonization will likely unfold on two tracks.

First, section 91(24) of the Constitution, which states that the Crown has jurisdiction over “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians,” will be used to impose national standards on the lives of Aboriginal peoples living on reserve through federal legislation, as has already been done with the First Nations Land Management Act, for example. With these laws, the Crown continues to set the parameters for how First Nations peoples are to live on their land, even once they opt out of the Indian Act.

Second, modern section 35 land claims and self-government agreements will be manipulated to modify, convert and extinguish the inherent sovereignty of First Nations. More self-government agreements will be signed with bands formed under the Indian Act. The political effect will be to convert these bands into a kind of ethnic Indigenous municipality rather than self-determining nations. Outlining a contingent set of rights through these agreements, rather than acknowledging the inherent right to self-determination, will in effect empty section 35 of any real political or economic meaning.

This is what I see Canada becoming without the Indian Act.

This outcome is not fair or just, and I predict the federal approach will lead to more conflict between Indigenous peoples and Canada. Remember that the modern high-profile conflicts between First Nations and Crown governments were led by grassroots Indigenous peoples, and not Indian Act band councils: Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake, Burnt Church, Grassy Narrows, Caledonia and Elsipogtog.

The alternative approach to the Trudeau government’s law and policy review for development of new federal legislation would be for Indigenous peoples to select representatives to sit at a First Ministers’ Conference or constitutional conference to discuss implementation of UNDRIP, especially the articles on recognition of Indigenous self-determination and redistribution of stolen Indigenous lands, territories and resources; the agenda must include more than just dependency on federal fiscal transfer payments and federally designed programs and services. The selection of Indigenous representatives should be in accordance with article 18 of UNDRIP:

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions. [emphasis added]

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Mercenary colonialism: Third-party management

Debt is still a powerful weapon used against First Nations

Despite all the rhetoric, debt is still a powerful weapon used against First Nations.

The 0.2% economy is managed in Ottawa. But when things go wrong on reserves, as Arthur Manuel describes in Unsettling Canada, the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs comes wagging its finger at the chief and council with ominous hints of “irregularities” and the need for “transparency.”

These insinuations are directed with a purpose. Financial corruption exists but is not widespread on reserves. INAC knows this well because band budgets are carefully scrutinized throughout the year and rigorously audited on annual timetables.

Rather, as Manuel writes, the financial problems lie elsewhere, “invariably caused by the system itself, which forces First Nations to try to satisfy the basic needs of their people with a budget that simply cannot cover them.” The “starvation wages” allocated by Ottawa are barely enough to keep people alive without running a deficit.

This is where the trouble begins. Bands need a surplus to pay off debts. But when you borrow against an insolvent future, this leads to deeper debt — which leads straight into the federal Default Prevention and Management Policy and its three-level approach to debt management.....

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Warriors Remove Illegal Anti Salmon Spawning Nets (video)

On October 30, Wild Salmon Warriors attended the DFO public consultation on Wild Salmon Policy