A Moment of Silence and a Prayer for Aboriginals

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

Recently Canada voted against a United Nations declaration on human rights. The document was a non-binding show of support for aboriginal people around the world.

The opposition parties and aboriginal groups blasted the Conservative government. But can they have it both ways. In July of this year the very same Conservative government attempted to pass legislation to include aboriginal people in the Charter of Human Rights.

But once again native people were denied the rights and protections that every other person living in Canada when the opposition parties banded together to kill the human rights of every first nation person in Canada. For this, they should hang their heads in shame.

As for the rest of us we should have a moment of silence and a prayer for those aboriginal people who languish on some reserves, occasionally under the leadership of despots who can do exceptional harm to anyone who challenges his or her authority. By choosing to kill this piece of legislation the opposition parties have allowed these despots to continue flaunting the human rights laws of modern society since they still do not apply in Indian country.

When Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge was pressed by reporters to reveal the names of aboriginals wanting to lay complaints against their band councils for discrimination he rightly refused by saying “Revealing identities could put those people at risk on their reserve.” Rod Bruinooge hit the nail right on the head. By disclosing names of complainants serious retributions will surely quickly follow. As for the reporters demanding names this message is for you – “We as natives residing on reserves are not protected as you are under the Charter of rights and freedoms – and – we have no recourse.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) complained that they were not properly consulted and don’t have the cash to comply for education and preparation. Now doesn’t this rhetoric ring a familiar bell? Anytime the Government of Canada attempts to give first nations people some rights and accountability the (AFN) pulls the same old tactics “we were not properly consulted.”

When the Chretien Liberal Government was in power they had a man with vision for the native people of Canada. Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault attempted to bring in some rules to improve governance, band elections and other pressing issues through a piece of legislation known as the First Nations Governance Act (FNGA). The FNGA wasn’t perfect but it was something to start building a democratic system for First Nations. Former Minister Nault and his staff traveled to many first nation communities to gauge their support for this piece of legislation. First nation leaders were invited to participate but they refused. Later they claimed they were not included or consulted.

Then Paul Martin stepped in while seeking the leadership of the Federal Liberal Party and stated should he become the next Prime Minister he would scrap this piece of legislation. Once again the average native person rights to have fair and accountable band elections was tossed out the door.

For the average first nation person they have no voice when it comes to making changes that would give them additional rights as human rights or fair band elections. We are never given any face time with the Minister of Indian Affairs – you must be a native leader to do so. This allows Aboriginal leaders total power and authority over the people.

Currently the Chiefs elect their own Grand Chief to represent their wishes. But what about the grass roots? Imagine if grassroots aboriginal people could elect their own Grand Chief. Ideally, they would elect a bold new leader who could step in and defend the people’s human rights and mitigate disagreements between the people and their elected leaders. Tragically, the people have nowhere to turn except the courts when these disputes happen.

Human rights for the grass roots would mean having the protections all Canadians have. For example, not living in fear of being removed from not only your home but your community by someone with unchecked absolute rule. Not being blacklisted from band jobs. Not having your children denied post secondary education because their parents have spoken out against the leaders. The list goes on.

I have witnessed these human rights abuses far too many times. It has led to so much despair and resignation affecting whole families. In some cases young people seeing the desperation and no future take their own lives. As for others these abuses may have been a blessing in disguise because it has led them to flee their reserve and find a better life away from the place they once enjoyed so much before the dysfunctional politics.

The good news is that the old school of leaders are eventually being replaced by more educated leaders. They are working very hard for their people and are shocked to hear of the abuses their own people have suffered for simply speaking out while Indian Affairs turns a blind eye.

So take a moment of silence and a short prayer for those less fortunate residing on Canada’s First Nations and for those opposition politicians who, for whatever political reason continue to doom us to further abuse.