Posts tagged ‘Assembly of First Nations’

AFN: A Dysfunctional Mess

Chief Rufus Copage of Shubenacadie (Indian Brook) First Nations, N.S., carries the Assembly of First Nations Eagle Staff during the grand entry as First Nations leaders, elders, youth and delegates gather for the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Chief Rufus Copage of Shubenacadie (Indian Brook) First Nations, N.S., carries the Assembly of First Nations Eagle Staff during the grand entry as First Nations leaders, elders, youth and delegates gather for the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

From the outside looking in, First Nations are looking pretty dysfunctional these days.

The average Canadian does not get into the weeds and complexities of our issues.  They simply see that the government wants to establish legislation to improve education outcomes, set standards and invest $1.9 billion in additional funding to First Nation schools.  And they see that, for some reason, First Nations are absolutely opposed to this.

The average Canadian also sees that First Nation Chiefs are not only unhappy with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) over negotiating this, but they see the Chiefs outright challenging the AFN and it’s leadership in the media and in front of the news cameras.

Really, this situation looks like a banana republic coup d’état by rogue militant and outspoken revolutionary generals.

There are two issues at hand:

  • the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33); and
  • the function of the Assembly of First Nations.

With regard to education, I agree that Bill C-33 is not the best vehicle to addressing substantive education reforms.  But I think the Chief’s frustration over their treatment by the Harper government has clouded just about everything.  Any initiative, no matter how positive or progressive it may be, would not be accepted by First Nation Chiefs.  Years of funding cuts, lacklustre dialogue, substandard consultation and erosion of environmental laws will do that to you.

With regard to education, I really think it’s important to define our objectives.  (1) Is it our objective to improve education outcomes and address funding inequality? or  (2) Is our objective re-assert our jurisdiction and take full control of First Nations education based on implementation of the Treaties?

It’s okay to want to work towards achieving both these objectives.  But one objective can be much more immediate and the other.  By demanding the latter, it seems like an unlikely, all or nothing proposition.  Meanwhile, the horrendous status quo continues as does the reality that the First Nation education system is woefully inadequate and ineffective, ripe with a lack of trained teachers, substandard education, schools and funding.

Regarding the function of the AFN, I get it that former-National Chief Atleo and the Executive may not have delivered an education solution according to the will of the Chiefs.  Their misinterpretation of their mandate, and inability to reconcile the consensus of the Treaty Chiefs may have been a serious error in judgment.

But for heavens sake, this is getting a little embarrassing.  There must be a way to resolve these serious issues and internal reforms amongst ourselves.  Why not treat the Assembly of First Nations as a large parliamentary caucus?  Go in united – debate and resolve the issue – and come our united.  Or at least appear to go in united and appear to come out united.

At the end of the day, if we take our frustrations about Bill C-33 and the Harper government out on our own people, we will continue to be victims of the government’s divide and conquer strategy.  As I’ve said again and again, we need to focus our efforts and our venom on our opponents, not ourselves.

First Nation organizations and leaders – whether they be community-based, regional or national level – are convenient targets of our frustration and political cannibalism.  Every two years, in almost every community across the country, that frustration is vented out by Band Council elections.  We see Chiefs and Councillors turfed and turned over almost every week.

But to take these frustrations with the AFN out in the press, microphones and bright lights of the TV cameras, to the unknowing public, this looks like a prelude to some Indian civil war.

For our Children, Justice Remains Elusive

Legalities and technicalities carry little common sense and no justice.

Yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the case brought forward by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The decision was based on mere legalities and technicalities.

The Society and the AFN brought forward the case in 2007, alleging that the Government of Canada discriminates against First Nations by providing inadequate child welfare services to communities.

I use the word “alleging” but this is not an allegation. It is reality. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) does not provide the same level of services on-reserve as provincial governments do for non-native children elsewhere in Canada. The same goes for education, special education services, infrastructure, health care and so many other basic needs for First Nations people. Canada just does not provide adequate funding across the board.

However, the decision by the Human Rights Tribunal wasn’t based on these facts but legal interpretation. The Tribunal could not compare a provincially provided service with a federally provided service. According to their decision, the service provided by INAC to First Nations children cannot be compared to the level of service provided by the Provinces, as they are different and separate service providers and service recipients. The Tribunal questioned whether INAC funding to First Nations could even be considered a service. The decision suggests that the federal government can provide a different, albeit inequitable, level of service to First Nations children as long as it does so consistently to all First Nations children on-reserve.

My questions is: when will these entities of justice, ever give First Nations justice? There’s no question, it is discrimination. But because it doesn’t fall neatly into Section 5 (b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or doesn’t conform to the definition of differentiation of services, justice is denied again.

The same goes for government decision-making. Why does every decision made by government have to be cleared by legal? It seems that government must always assess the impact of aboriginal rights and the Crown’s duty and liability? Why can’t government make a decision that is in the best interests of First Nations rather than always protecting themselves? Why should it matter that they end up giving a little, and God forbid, move the yardstick in First Nations favour?

In the meantime, our child welfare agencies are chronically under-funded. Many exist, year to year, with crippling deficits. There are very few investments in prevention programs and customary care programs. Foster programs, many times, are voluntary and provided by relatives with little to no support. The need is tremendous.

The Federal Government will not provide any substantial child welfare funding and direct services. Why? Well, the Department of Justice will advise government not to take on further jurisdiction and liability for child welfare. If they fund First Nations child welfare providers any further, government may open themselves up to further claims of First Nations jurisdiction.

Common sense and doing the right thing are thrown out the window.

I’m sure the Tribunal Chair feels bad. I’m sure the Department of Justice lawyers feel bad. They know the reality. They know the need. But at the end of the day, they make their legal argument, then go home to their children, their dog, their white picket fences and their stately homes, all funded by Canadian justice system.

But for First Nations, and the children who bear the brunt of substandard and inequitable funding, justice remains elusive.