Monday, October 8, 2012

Is it Time for Canadian Aborginals to Occupy the Canadian Parliament Grounds?


Canadian National First Nations Chief Atleo
Perhaps clouded in the E.Coli out-break (in Alberta) the Canadian media has largely ignored the important talks between the Assembly of First Nations and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC), John Duncan. The dispute had emerged after the Canadian Conservative Harper government’s closed door vote on the proposed legislation which promises to secure $1.7 million annual investment into the First Nations elementary and secondary schools. This promise is also met with a $175 million commitment to renovating First Nations schools across the country. Though a seemingly luring proposition, the Canadian Assembly for First Nations have chosen to reject the final legislation.

This rejection is a result of continuous closed door discussions where government think tanks have excluded the First Nations population, a direct contradiction of Canadian Prime Minister Harper’s promise to build a new relationship with the First Nations of Canada. Not surprisingly, the exclusion has warranted anger and frustration from the Assembly of First Nations. To quote National Chief Atleo “government unilateralism and funding on governments limited terms is always going to fail and we reject this approach...” This clear cut statement bashing the Harper Government’s unilateral approach was made after an extensive consultation among First Nations leaders from all reaches of Canada. (Video reporting can be found at www.afn.ca)

Despite these setbacks the Assembly of First Nations is committed to formulating a strategy that would reduce the large number of illiterate First Nation youth. In addition, the Assembly does not reject the cooperative effort to work alongside the Canadian federal government to produce meaningful legislation. Rather, the Assembly advances a reconciliation and partnership approach with the federal government as a means to develop a sustainable framework of accountability. As noted earlier, the Canadian government has failed to produce an environment of reconciliation. This is further complicated by the lack of uniformity among the Assembly; the federal government's unilateral approach is in conflict with the National Chief Atleo interest in bilateral discussion.

Historically, aboriginal peoples of Canada are no stranger to being left out of the negotiation process; it was not until late 1980s that First Nations councils were incorporated into the Constitutional development of Canada. Arguably, the lack of political representation has left the aboriginal population in dismal poverty, with high rates of incarceration, HIV/AIDs and illiteracy. The continuous exclusion of the First Nation government body has caused uproar among the Chiefs. In particular, Chief Rex Knapaysweet has called for the occupation of Parliament Hill, while others have discussed blockades on multiple highways. Previous disturbances have drained the economy of $100 million. (http://aptn.ca/pages/news)

The Canadian federal electoral system has no guaranteed representation for aboriginal groups in the Canadian Parliament. Canadian aboriginal are secluded to pseudo self-governance (within the framework of Canadian laws) on reserves.

In contrast, Venezuelan indigenous groups are guaranteed three seats in the National Assembly, and the National Electoral Council has a strong program on encouraging the inclusion of indigenous groups in the federal electoral process.

2012 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Venezuela

In New Zealand, the Maori have local government representation and seven guaranteed seats in the New Zealand Parliament.

2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on New Zealand

In Norway, the Sami have self-governance through their own parliament. From the 2011 FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Norway, the Sami people have their own 43-seat parliament from 13 constituencies, with a mandate to address all issues that affect Sami interests. (Statistics Norway: 38,470 total population of Sami in 2009; according to the World Bank (2011), Norway has a population of 4,952,000.)

 
By Mansharn Toor (FDA writer and researcher) and Stephen Garvey (FDA Executive Director)


Question for the Readers:

Do you believe the tactics taken by the Canadian Assembly of First Nations (economic disturbance and bilateral discussion) are appropriate avenues for reconciliation?

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