Posts tagged ‘Chiefs’

FNs Need To Be More Strategic, Politically Saavy

Chris Wattie/Reuters Photo

For weeks, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen, that realistically, this Prime Minister will only be attending the Crown-First Nations Gathering tomorrow in Ottawa for a grand total of thirty minutes.  Mark my words, the Prime Minister will take part in the opening ceremony, give his ten minute speech, and listen to the first couple of speeches.  However, he will depart within the hour.  Meanwhile, he will not have heard from the hundreds of Chiefs and their supporters that will be descending into Ottawa today as we speak.

That’s really par for the course for Mr. Harper when it comes to addressing Aboriginal issues such as poverty, education, economic development, the housing crisis, and missing and murdered Aboriginal women.  Any proactive, ambitious or comprehensive solution are just not in his bag of tricks nor what is being expected of his core constituents.

Needless to say, there are going to be a lot of disappointed Chiefs who have spend countless hours refining their speaking notes in anticipation of an audience with the PM.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should have anticipated this situation and prepared to make better use of those precious few minutes.

In hindsight, if I was the National Chief, I would have used the annual AFN Special Chiefs Assembly held in December to bring First Nations together to develop a singular message with a corresponding action plan for the Prime Minister’s consideration.  This could have been brought to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) ahead of time for further strategic discussion prior to this week’s gathering.  This Crown-First Nations Gathering could then have been used for goal setting and implementation discussions between Ministers and officials.  Instead of bringing all these Chiefs to Ottawa this week, First Nations could have empowered National Chief Shawn Atleo with their message.

Sure, the National Chief will request a First Minister’s Meeting tomorrow.  Prime Minister Harper may very well agree to it.  But needless to say, the exercise of bringing all these Chiefs, Councillors and support staff to Ottawa will be unnecessary and unproductive.  I’m sure some simple-minded commentator will point out that these wasted resources could have been used to build a few more houses in Attawapiskat.

The modern day tradition of having First Nations Chiefs lining up at the microphones to speak to politicians is not very effective, nor strategic.  The reality is that our First Nations leaders are no longer cutting edge, inspirational orators.  They’re purveyors of tired, political rhetoric.

That reminds me of the times I took part in preparing for the annual meeting held between First Nations and the Ontario Premier.  Prior to each meeting, the Political Confederacy of Ontario led by the Chiefs of Ontario would develop a slide deck of key messages, and then divvy up the messaging among the Grand Chiefs.  Good plan, right?  Makes sense, sure.  Keep in mind the meeting is scheduled for one hour.

The meeting would proceed with an ever-so brief welcome from Premier Dalton McGuinty, five minutes, tops.  Followed by an introduction of the issues by the Ontario Regional Chief.  That almost always does a bit too long.  Each Grand Chief’s appointed section would also go over schedule.  Almost always, an unannounced Chief would come forward to speak to an important issue of the day, but in turn, taking up another unexpected, unscheduled fifteen minutes.  The meeting would result in little dialogue with the Premier but include plenty of complex messaging, background, context, examples and, of course, rhetoric.  Almost always, there are far too many issues, very few solutions, all wrapped into a whole lot of “rights-based” political rhetoric.  (Somebody ask Mr. McGuinty or his Cabinet what “rights-based” means and they wouldn’t have the faintest clue.)

As First Nations, we need to learn to be more savvy politicians.  We need to be far more strategic and opportunistic.  I disagree with those who state there is no need for the AFN or for Chiefs to be involved.  Actions plans don’t just happen, they need to be developed then implemented.  But this needs to be done in a much more strategic way.  Do we have goals, objectives and timelines?  Do we have workplans and required resources to achieve a political goal?  Do we have strategies to get there?  Goals shouldn’t only be “rights-based” they need to be solutions-based.

As The Byrds and Kevin Bacon tell us, there is a time for every purpose.  There is a time for talk – when it leads to fruitful discussion.  There is a time for speeches – when it leads to inspiration and understanding.  Indeed, there is a time for photo opps, when solutions are being implemented.

In this case, we only have thirty minutes with the Prime Minister.  How will the National Chief and First Nations use their time?

Rogue Warriors Live Up To Stereotype

Smoke engulfs a minivan as it is overturned during 2006 land-claim protests near disputed Caledonia, Ont., site. Neil Dring Photo/Grand River Sachem

“Whoa!  Gee, those nadways sure get violent, i’nit?”  “Oh yeah.  Those warriors sure mean business, cuz.”

Yes, even their fellow indigenous people think the Haudenosaunee play the occupation and resistance card a little too aggressively.

They came out, guns blazing, during the conflict at Kanesatake, the biggest indigenous flashpoint in the last 30 years.  During the Oka Crisis of 1990, the Mohawk Warrior Society took up arms against police and the Canadian Forces.  In 2006, they began occupation and control over a tract of residential development land in Caledonia.  In 2007, they blocked Canada’s biggest freeway and passenger railway corridor during First Nations’ national day of action.

“They” are members of the Mohawk warrior society.  They represent indigenous militancy in the 21 century.  They have gotten far more headlines in recent years than the American Indian Movement, who immortalized indigenous resistance in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, for First Nations advocates and even the non-violent indigenous resistance, the Mohawk warrior society is a lasting example of militant truism and living up to contemporary stereotypes.  First Nations activists do wave scary flags, wear masks, fatigues and balaclavas in the nice weather.  We set things on fire.  We beat up people.  We are lawless terrorists.

I strongly object your honour!  We shouldn’t be painted with the same camouflage brush.

This week, a couple from Caledonia is taking the Ontario Provincial Police to court over damages they have incurred as a result of the alleged inaction of the police during the occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates development in 2006.  Through the evidence and testimony in court, we are seeing many examples of First Nations-led violence.

By all accounts it was a war zone.  Cars were overturned.  Property was burned.  Citizens and police were brutally assaulted.  A hydro sub-station was destroyed.

It’s hard to say that First Nations activists are not terrorists, when quite clearly, that’s exactly what the organizers wanted to get across.

Or was it?

As far as I know, violence was never condoned by the traditional Haudenosaunee confederacy.  Sure, they are tough negotiators, tacticians and they too, mean business – but the Chiefs and Clan Mothers did not mean to hurt others.

The trouble began when the OPP went in and made arrests.  There were some skirmishes but the first wave of protesters retreated.  But through the wonders of technology, more than a few protesters made urgent phone calls to friends and family.  Within an hour, reinforcements from Six Nations arrived and they weren’t too happy.  They were ready to kick ass.

Violence erupted and the OPP where overwhelmed.  The OPP retreated.

I think the OPP made the right decision.  If they pressed the matter, my guess is that an all-out civil war could have taken place.  Guns would have been brought in, and we’d have Kanesatake all over again.

I would hasten to argue, that the lawlessness and violence brought about during the Caledonia occupation was instigated by hooligans from the Six Nations community and elsewhere.  There was a significant lack of discipline within the ranks of the organizers and the warrior society in not dealing with these rogue warriors.  Believe me, the leadership did not have any control over the Caledonia occupation during this time.

It is these rogue warriors that live up to the violent stereotype.

But why would something get so out of hand?  Why do the Haudenosaunee resist so aggressively?

We have to walk a mile in their moccasins, or whatever footwear the Haudenosaunee use.

The Haudenasaunee are also know as the six nations of the Iroquois confederacy.  The six nations are the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga and the Tuscarora.

Traditionally and in their history, they are a powerful warrior society.  So powerful and strong, that they made war upon their neighbours with great vigour, ruthlessness and lust for victory.  They nearly destroyed my people, the Nipissing, during the 1700s.

However, at one time in their history, this strength and vigour was turned into itself and civil war waged amongst each other.  Through their Great Peace, they literally “buried the hatchet” under the Great Tree of Peace.  This led to a new era of unity and harmony and formed the basis of their Haudenosaunee Confederacy which is still in place today.

Part of their traditional territory in Ontario is known as the Haldimand Tract, which runs 6 miles on each side of the Grand River from its source to Lake Erie.  Over the years, this land was systematically appropriated by the Crown, in contravention to the Haldimand Proclamation of 1794.  Douglas Creek Estates was the last straw in a dispute running over a hundred years.

The Haudenasaunee were the last holdouts against colonial government.  In 1924, the Six Nations hereditary council was removed, by gunpoint, and the community was forced to adhere to the Indian Act.  To their credit, they have always opposed assimilation aggressively and have never agreed to be subject to Her Majesty’s laws.  In fact, the traditional government in Six Nations remains intact.

None of this justifies terrorism and violence against persons and property.  The Haudenosaunee and the Mohawk Warrior Society have a responsibility to clean up their act, or more people will be hurt the next time tempers flare.  But the Haudenosaunee have the right to stand up aggressively against their oppressor.

Where were the police to protect the Six Nations community in 1924 when the Council was threatened at gunpoint?

They were holding the guns.