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.