Manitoba First Nations out protesting within the Idle No More movement need to realize that the tools they need to improve their condition are within themselves not out on the street.
At the time of writing, protesters with Idle No More had blocked Portage Avenue at St. Charles Street. The protesters braved the cold to deliver a message about historic treaties and the promise of equal sharing in prosperity.
The intent of mentioning is not to disparage this event, but to remind all indigenous peoples in Manitoba that progress is occurring, but it is slow and incremental. There are no short cuts.
In December, the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of Manitoba First Nations regarding the former Kapyong Barracks site in Winnipeg. Treaty One bands had their sights set on the 90-acre site located on some of Winnipeg’s most valuable property. If the bands receive the site through their treaty land entitlement, there are plans to begin commercial and perhaps residential development on the property.
If Manitoba First Nations embark on this path (assuming the government does not appeal or stymie their efforts), they would be following the path of First Nations across the country who have discovered that economic development on urban lands is one of the keys towards own-source revenue and perhaps one day, prosperity.
Closer to home, Fisher River Cree Nation has set a path towards self-sufficiency by leasing cottage lots on the west and north sides of Lake Winnipeg. Add Swan Lake First Nation (SLFN) to that list. The community was in debt and under federal intervention, but under the leadership of Chief Francine Meeches, the First Nation has improved dramatically. The community expanded its land base for development through settling an outstanding treaty land entitlement. This allowed the community to build VLTs and other businesses.
Idle No More could be positive as it focuses public attention on First Nations matters, however, the honest problem is it focuses on solutions “out there” rather than within bands themselves.
One spokeswoman for the movement, Pam Palmater, has received support among prominent Manitoba chiefs. But the problem with Palmater and other spokespeople is they continually point the finger at the federal government for solutions. Fair sharing from the treaties is one major theme. But, as important and guiding influences as the treaties are, they do not provide a road map towards prosperity. First Nations in Manitoba need to find that within themselves.
Chief Clarence Louie of the successful Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia describes himself as a “stay at home chief,” meaning he focuses on immediate improvements for his people.
This does not mean ignoring historic struggles, as treaty land entitlement is one proper example. One does not excuse Ottawa’s responsibilities either.
A better channelling of Idle No More energies could go into building more “stay-at-home chiefs” across Manitoba. This is not mentioned to criticize chiefs, as they face significant community challenges, but as encouragement.
Manitoba chiefs and communities are better served listening to Chief Francine Meeches of Swan Lake or Chief David Crate of Fisher River than the Pam Palmaters.