Attawapiskat: No more promises, no more band-aids, results are needed now

Originally posted at:

Last week, I had the honour and privilege to be the Proxy for Chief Ignace Gull of Attawapiskat First Nation at the Assembly of First Nations’ Annual General Assembly in Fredericton. On his behalf, I introduced an emergency resolution on Safe Drinking Water as a Human Right that was passed unanimously by the Chiefs in Assembly.

Almost since the time the leaders who proceeded Chief Gull signed the 1905 Treaty with Canada, Attawapiskat has lurched from crisis to crisis as a result of being under the discriminatory, and quite frankly genocidal, Indian Act which is overseen by uncaring bureaucrats in Ottawa. These crises have included ongoing unsafe water, youth suicides, drug overdoses, and overcrowded, mouldy housing.

Less than 5 years ago, a non-Indigenous third-party manager, appointed by Ottawa, was found guilty of embezzling 2 million dollars in housing funds from Attawapiskat. Today, a population of 2,000 people, most under the age of 25, continue to suffer from poverty and despair – mostly a manifestation of incompetent and dysfunctional management at the regional and national bureaucratic levels.

Every two or three years, following a protest or hunger strike, Attawapiskat makes the news and gets a few sound bites of concern from the Prime Minister that things will get better as soon as possible. But once the issue dies down, and Canadians are under the false belief that this generation of Attawapiskat children will truly enjoy their childhood, the bureaucrats in Ottawa drop the file. Because, after all, First Nation issues are viewed as faceless files, not life and death human rights issues.

Last week, I was also able to address the latest Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Seamus O’Regan, who briefly visited Attawapiskat a week ago to tell everyone that “Canada cares” and “we will do better”. I reminded Minister O’Regan that after his visit, dozens of women and children marched in Attawapiskat, with signs declaring, “Our Kids Matter, Water is Life” and, “Our People are Dying Slowly.”

You may have said that “Canada cares” but clean water is a human rights issue. Yes, Canada cares when there are water issues in Gander, Newfoundland or in Fredericton, New Brunswick. If there are municipal water issues, they are fixed without delay. If there are First Nation water issues, they linger for years, for decades. Far too many of our children and adults are living with the poor health, cancer, and scars of drinking and bathing in polluted water. 

Canada cares so much about our Peoples that you are sending extra bottled water.

Let me remind you that one of your Liberal Minister predecessors – Andy Scott – from right here in Fredericton – refused to drink the water the last time he visited a First Nation community with unsafe water. That was about 20 years ago.

Twenty years from now, we do not want to see the same problems, the same suffering by our children.

Ending boil water advisories is just one small step. You need to show that Canada cares by investing in the proper infrastructure – from clean water to healthy homes.      

No more words. No more band-aids. We need results now. This will be true reconciliation in action.

Kashechewan – Remote, and Not Removed From Danger

Originally published in 

It’s time to move Kashechewan

Yesterday, Chief Leo Friday and 250 community members rallied on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest and raise awareness over the fact that Kashechewan has been evacuated every spring over the past 17 years due to flooding of the Albany River on James Bay.

These desperate people are members of the Cree Nation, but they have been treated like second class citizens by the Nation of Canada and the Province of Ontario.

As Chief Friday said in an April 29th open letter, his community was physically located to a flood plain by the federal government back in the 1950s. Ever since, this “out of sight, out of mind” community has suffered unspeakable duress and despair that has spawned a cycle of suicide crises. Everyone, from children to elders, must be evacuated to southern towns and cities, living in motels for up to two months at a time.

“For decades, our leadership has sought government assistance to relocate the community to higher ground farther upstream to avoid the devastating flooding. Over two years ago, on March 31, 2017, we even signed a framework agreement with Canada and Ontario to relocate our community,” said Chief Friday in his letter.

A framework agreement. This is the enduring problem. Ever since the Treaties were signed; since Canada became a Confederation; and since the 1876 colonial Indian Act, First Nations have been treated like wards of the state. Our lives are regulated by faceless, indifferent bureaucrats, by meaningless MoUs and agreements. Our hopes are raised and dashed by a parade of Ministers from varying political parties.

The enduring problem is that First Nations are not treated as equals in this country, in this land that we promised to share with the newcomers. We are not Nations. We have no Nationhood. We have been reduced to a scattering of Indian Act bands – far too many bands rely upon government handouts to survive.

In fact, our own organizations rely upon government funding to survive. We have become lines in a budget, funding in a budget cycle that may be reduced depending upon the federal or provincial deficit of the day. Our leaders have been reduced, as Elder John Thunder once stated, to “a pack of dogs begging at the government table.”

To put things into historic perspective, the current Minister of Indigenous Services is Seamus O’Regan, a proud Newfoundlander, who promotes his province’s accomplishments on Twitter at least several times a week. As well he should. The latest Minister in charge of Canada’s Indians comes from a province that was the last to join Confederation in 1949, just 70 years ago.

Back then, Newfoundland was part of the British Commonwealth. However, by the late 1940s, Britain was not pleased with the lack of wealth being generated by Newfoundland. Indeed, a great number of Newfoundlanders were living in grinding poverty. It was to time cut to the colonial ties.

Canada was very willing to bring Newfoundland into the federal family.

Since the 1950s, during the same span of time that Kashechewan began experiencing floods and despair due to relocation, Newfoundland gradually became more prosperous At one point, due to offshore oil, Newfoundland became a “have” province and did not have to rely upon multi-billion dollar transfers from Ottawa.

Newfoundland and Labrador, their people, and their culture are considered valued contributors to Canada’s economy and identity.

In contrast, First Nations, the original “partners” with Canada, are still seeking that equality that comes with being members of Confederation. First Nations are still seeking that elusive Nationhood that will allow us to become valued members and contributors to Canada.

Until we are able to self-govern, until we are able to receive reliable transfer payments, First Nations will continue to be perpetual victims.

We will continue to have crises in Kashechewan, Cat Lake, Grassy Narrows, Pikangikum, and dozens of more communities across the country.

It’s time to stand up. Honour our Ancestors who signed the Treaties.

Honour the future of our children. It’s time to claim our Nationhood.

Do Not Lose Sight of Health Services for our Most Vulnerable

OTTAWA – POLITICS – This past Tuesday, the provincial government announced that it will create a “super” agency called Ontario Health that will eventually dissolve the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LIHNs), and six other agencies which include Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario. The North West LIHN covers half of the province’s land mass and serves a mostly First Nation population.

Originally posted in the NetNewsLedger. Read More