College of Arts and Science - where great minds meet



The StarPhoenix: Relations with Ottawa Sour

Bonita Beatty, professor in the Department of Native Studies and co-director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development, is quoted in the following article that appeared in The StarPhoenix on Dec. 27, 2012:

Relations with Ottawa sour
By Jason Warick, The StarPhoenix December 27, 2012

The federal government's "attacks" on First Nations people in 2012 will be met with even greater resistance in the new year, predict chiefs, academics and members of the burgeoning Idle No More movement.

"These issues have been growing - it didn't occur overnight. Now, we've reached a tipping point," said Sakimay First Nation Chief Lynn Acoose.

"There are an overwhelming majority of First Nations people that feel this way and we are gaining support from other Canadians, too."

Acoose said more and more Canadians realize the Conservative government is trampling First Nations inherent and treaty rights, but is also gutting environmental protection and stifling freedom of expression in various ways.

Activist Tyrone Tootoosis, who has lobbied for decades to ensure accountability from all levels of government, said First Nations people, particularly youth, are "frustrated, angry and impatient. This is only going to grow and it will be to Stephen Harper's detriment if he continues to turn away."

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Rob Clarke disagrees.

Clarke, who represents the Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River riding in northern Saskatchewan, said he believes a "silent majority" of First Nations people support his government's policies, which focus on economic development and other priorities.

"I just hope people will become informed and make up their own minds," Clarke said.

The year began with a massive, historic gathering in Ottawa involving dozens of First Nations leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Chiefs described a mood of "cautious optimism" and were heartened by Harper's pledge to consult on any major changes to their relationship or new legislation.

Just days later, however, word spread that Clarke would be proposing legislation to change the Indian Act. This came as a surprise to Saskatchewan First Nations leaders, who had just returned from Ottawa.

"I didn't go to (the Ottawa gathering). I knew it was window dressing, a way to pacify us," said Acoose.

As the year progressed, there was news of cuts to aboriginal health foundations, on-reserve social housing and advocacy organizations. A number of prominent voices noted per-student education funding for reserve schools - a federal priority - continued to lag behind other provincial schools.

There has also been no progress on the controversial topic of resource revenue sharing.

The Idle No More movement was started by four Saskatchewan women who opposed a sweeping Conservative omnibus bill that affects First Nations lands, waterways protection and other issues. Protests have been held across Canada. Tootoosis is one of several people organizing another, larger event in the coming weeks for Saskatoon.

"There is a lot of energy that's pent up. I'm hoping it can be properly articulated," Tootoosis said.

Acoose and others say First Nations will be forced to seek redress internationally, or further intensify efforts in the courts or on the street if there is no progress.

"We want to talk, but on a nation-to-nation basis. We've been saying this since the time of the treaties," Acoose said.

Tootoosis is writing to Gov. Gen. David Johnston, imploring him to act on behalf of the Crown to honour the treaties.

University of Saskatchewan native studies Prof. Bonita Beatty said she's encouraged that many First Nations youth seem to be getting politically active. She thinks most of them have a good grasp of the issues.

"I think it's healthy for our society, young people seeking social justice," said Beatty, also the co-director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development at the U of S.

Beatty said there are many First Nations success stories to be celebrated. However, reserves and core neighbourhoods are still full of aboriginal people stuck in poverty, and poor health and despair.

Beatty, who has studied aboriginal political engagement, said the lack of involvement in recent years is changing rapidly.

Clarke agreed it's nice to see young aboriginal people becoming active, but questioned the Idle No More movement,

He said one of the recent protests in Meadow Lake involved many youth who "didn't know what they were protesting about."

He and others have noted some protesters have exaggerated or misunderstood the facts, such as erroneously claiming new laws will allow reserve land to be sold to outsiders.

"Are we hearing from the strong, silent majority? I don't think so," Clarke said.

"I'm First Nations. They don't speak on my behalf."

Acoose, Tootoosis and Beatty think the protests and other actions will continue to grow.

"I think things will eventually get better, but for now, there's a lot brewing," Beatty said.

"I don't know what exactly is coming, but something is."
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Read more:

Department News


All News

Event Listing

Calendar of Events