Posts tagged ‘environment’

Phil Fontaine: A different set of eyes but the same view

Phil_headdressI don’t spend a lot of time writing about my professional career, other than the occasional article meant to generate some new business. Current events, coupled with a deliberate and ongoing attempt to misrepresent Phil Fontaine and Ishkonigan Inc. and our role in natural resources projects has motivated me to write this little piece.

You see, I too, work for Ishkonigan. We are a First Nations-owned and operated consulting firm that specializes in negotiation, mediation and relationship-building between indigenous communities, government and the natural resources industry. We are also a knowledgeable and caring group of professionals, mainly First Nations and Métis, who believe in our work and how it contributes to our communities.

Our absolute primary purpose is to work to ensure First Nations are brought to the table in natural resource projects. We strive to ensure that project proponents listen to the views of our people and to ensure that all issues and concerns are heard and understood. We also provide the ways and means to facilitate a meaningful dialogue, always based on trust and respect.

Ishkonigan is trying to create a culture of understanding in boardrooms across the country. So when it comes time that First Nations absolutely need to be heard, a meaningful dialogue can take place. That’s really where reconciliation starts – through dialogue.

If this wasn’t the case, believe me, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m Anishinaabe through-and-through. Nothing is more important to me than the prospering and well-being of our people, our families, our communities and our Nation.

Phil Fontaine has worked his entire career on these objectives. Whether it was obtaining the historic apology from Canada and negotiating reparations for residential school survivors; taking an entire country towards a path to reconciliation; or entrenching the rights-based agenda in establishing the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Phil has been there, leading it all. Always with dignity, integrity, conviction and humility.

Phil has been on front-lines on so many issues. Remember the National Day of Action? Making Poverty History? The Kelowna Accord?

How about the Human Rights complaint against the federal government over adequate funding to First Nations students and on-reserve schools? That was Cindy Blackstock and Phil Fontaine. Both national heroes as far as I’m concerned.

Yet there are still some people asking why on Mother Earth would Phil Fontaine do an about-face against his own people? Occum’s tells us that the simplest solution is likely the answer. My thesis is this: Phil Fontaine continues to be the most dedicated and caring advocate for First Nations people in Canada. He hasn’t changed his values and motivation in this respect whatsoever.

I hypothesize that Phil Fontaine and Ishkonigan’s role is being misrepresented by a certain few who have pre-determined motives: (1) Either they have never been Phil supporters; and/or (2) they are motivated to deliberately misrepresent Phil’s motives to move their specific agenda forward.

I can understand the first point. I don’t expect everyone to be a supporter of Phil. Perhaps they didn’t like his pragmatic approach in working with government and industry. Despite his success and results that he’s achieved over his career, many people would rather be pounding their fist on the table and marching through the front-door of Centre Block. Others, which include the less-healthy, simply don’t like to see our own First Nations people succeed. They’ll attempt to drag you down like crabs in a bucket.

The second point is just plain wrong. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves. I’ve said this again and again – no matter what your issue is, environment or otherwise, the most effective strategy you can employ is to set clear and measurable goals, focus your efforts on addressing the real issues and targeting your real opponents. Fighting the messenger, who might very well be fighting for you, is counterintuitive.

I’d like to establish some facts.

  1. Ishkonigan is an Aboriginal firm that is on the forefront of consultation and accommodation policy for some of the most important natural resources projects in Canadian history.
  2. Ishkonigan is not only led by former National Chief Phil Fontaine, we are advised by a diverse Council of Elders in all matters including traditional and spiritual guidance, the environment and our work with industry.
  3. First Nations have been calling for adequate consultation on all natural resources projects for well over a decade. It only started ramping up with the Supreme Court decisions of Haida Nation, Taku River and Mikisew Cree.
  4. The Supreme Court has also said that if there are any impacts to Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, or concerns within projects that cannot be addressed or mitigated, that there must be accommodation.
  5. These days, First Nations expect that consultation and accommodation be negotiated in the form of agreements. These range from engagement & capacity funding agreements for consultation; or impact benefit agreements or project agreements for accommodation.
  6. Ishkonigan feels that First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities need to be heard, not only in their views and concerns on specific projects, but in actual representation and decision-making. First Nations need a seat at the table, especially on controversial and environmentally-significant projects. Most, if not all, First Nations agree.
  7. When a First Nation signs an agreement with respect to consultation or accommodation, it doesn’t necessarily mean they support or consent to the project.  Believe me when I say this: consent is the next battleground in the spectrum of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.
  8. We all hold the environment near and dear to our hearts. This isn’t just a single issue, it’s a wide spectrum of issues. For the Anishinaabe, to be an advocate for the environment is much more than hugging a tree, marching in protests or supporting a cause. It’s about Spirit and honoring our traditional obligations to be stewards of the land. It’s about acknowledging and supporting the leadership of our women and addressing our unanimous concern over clean water.
  9. With respect to the environment, some Anishinaabe are warriors with a sword while others are warriors with a pen.  In other words, there is more that one way to advocate for the environment. Some of us choose to march on Parliament Hill and round dance in shopping malls – while some of us choose to share these important community perspectives in the boardroom in an attempt to facilitate transformative change within industry. In our role with industry, we’re working to establish a new way of doing business with First Nations people.
  10. Ishkonigan’s role is to not only document and provide these essential concerns to project proponents – our work is to ensure that these are understood and are responded to.
  11. Phil has said: “One thing is very clear, I can’t think of a single First Nations community that would engage in any development that would compromise the earth, the environment, the water.”
  12. Yes, we are hired by project proponents including big energy companies. But we are also hired by First Nations communities to represent their interests as well.
  13. It’s true that some communities choose to support such projects for various reasons. They may have an overwhelming need for jobs and economic benefit. They may need some revenue and capacity building within their community. We all don’t have to agree with this but it is their right. If First Nations have the right to say “No” – they certainly have the right to say “Yes”.  Ishkonigan, with leadership from Phil Fontaine, are not judgmental on what reasons First Nations may have, for or against, a certain project. What is important is that we listen to those reasons.
  14. We will listen, document and bring forward concerns no matter if you are for a project or against a project. Even for those who have very strong environmental viewpoints, we will go to bat for you. We shall not limit ourselves to the perspectives of our clients or project proponents. In fact, I feel it is much more important that we share the perspectives of First Nation communities, especially if they are opposed to any given project.
  15. It is important that First Nations know the risk and impacts that these projects may have on the health of their people, their traditional territory, their territorial interests, the natural environment, the water, and on their traditional harvesting rights.
  16. It is absolutely vital that the First Nation communicate their positions and impacts to the proponent, to the regulator, and to government, in order to provide the community leadership with the information they need to make an informed decision about project participation and project agreements.

With all that being said, the internet and social media is full of so much conjecture. Individuals are constantly pitching this perspective and that perspective. They absolutely have a right to their viewpoints. I for one, respect those viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not.

But to misrepresent the facts or the motivations and integrity of individuals is out of line. Phil Fontaine has never, and will never speak ill of anyone or misrepresent anyone in such a malicious way. Nor will he compromise a lifetime of dedicated service to First Nations and our people. As my friend and mentor Dave Dale once said to me, we may have a different set of eyes but it’s still the same view.

I can vouch for the man, as my employer, my confidant and my kin – Phil Fontaine has, and will always be, one of the kindest, generous and most loyal person I have ever worked with. He will never compromise the values and views of First Nations people.

That isn’t an opinion – that is a statement of fact.

Day 25: First Nations Need Flood Support

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of water to the Anishinaabe people.  According to our teachings and traditional knowledge, it is said that all things in nature are interconnected.  The health of the water is directly related to the health of the environment.  The same goes with the natural flow of the rivers.

No one knows that better than First Nations living in the plains and in northern Ontario.

Every spring, First Nations are victims of the flood waters.  And flooding seems to be getting worse, year after year.

As Anishinaabe people, we know this is the result of an unbalanced state of the environment.  Climate change, pollution and unsustainable development has changed the Earth dramatically in the past few generations.  The result has been unparalleled global disasters, extreme weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and the flooding we’ve seen take place in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario.

This year, sixteen communities have declared states of emergencies thus far in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, including evacuations of the Peguis First Nation, Cowessess First Nation, and Red Earth First Nation.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) couldn’t believe that the federal government was not coming to the aid of the First Nations affected.

“I can’t believe the federal government shuts down for an election,” said a clearly frustrated Ignatieff.  “This is an emergency.”

“These communities flood year after year, it’s not good enough.  We have to sit down with First Nations leadership and think about how we get a preventative strategy,” he said.

As part of the Liberal platform, Ignatieff announced his $225 million fresh water strategy which includes a plan to address long term solutions to the problem of prairie flooding.

Iggy is right.  First Nations need aid now.  They also need a long term solution to this issues.  Most of all, Canada needs to get a grasp on environmental issues.  That can only happen with a government that cares for the environment and supports First Nations during their time of need.  That time is now.  It should have to wait after an election.  That’s irrelevant to the hundreds of Anishinaabe people being evacuated from their communities.

Ignatieff was a guest at the First Nations University pow-wow speaking to First Nations supporters.

Day 24: Supporting the Mother Earth Water Walk

Josephine Mandamin in a scene from a documentary called Waterlife. John Minh Tran Photo

I’m feeling kind of helpless today as I see the various Facebook updates  from the Water Walkers.  They’ve been humbly calling for assistance as they make their way from the Pacific Ocean, ascending through the Rocky Mountains, en route to Anishinaabeg territory in the Great Lakes.

The least I can do is send them some much needed money and write them a blog post of support.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mother Earth Water Walk has begun a journey from each of the four directions, raising awareness of the state of water and the need to protect and speak up for the most precious natural resource on the planet.  Led by Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, the walk began its first and longest leg, from the Pacific Ocean, culminating in early June at Lake Superior.  The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003 with a 36-day walk around Lake Superior.  Since then, almost every spring, the water walkers have walked around each of the Great Lakes and down the entire length of the St. Lawrence River.

Unfortunately, the environment is not being seen as a priority issue in this election campaign.  But for Anishinaabe people, nothing can be more important.  People of all nations, backgrounds, and political stripes need to be aware of the state of the water and the environment.  We all need to make positive decisions with respect to the health of our environment and fresh water sources.  Unsustainable development and recklessness cannot continue without appropriate consideration of these factors.

Government needs to play a central role in holding industry and consumers accountable.  Officials ought to work with First Nations and factor in our tremendous traditional knowledge when making decisions that affect water.

The Liberal Party of Canada has committed to an innovative Canadian Freshwater Strategy that will do just that.  It will be the first national strategy on water in the past 20 years.  The goal of the strategy is to preserve Canada’s freshwater for the generations to come.

That’s why Josephine and these women are doing this walk.  With the support of men, Anishinaabe-kwe have committed to walking across Turtle Island (North America), carrying a copper pail full of water.  The water from each leg of the walk, the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Hudson’s Bay and Gulf of Mexico will be intermingled together with the Great Lakes water when they reach their final destination.

In our culture, the water is considered our life-blood.  It not only flows through our bodies and provides us nourishment, it is said to flow directly from the Spirit World in a beautiful river that flows forever.  As Anishinaabe people, we should do everything we can to honour this deep spiritual connection.

We may not be able to join our Grandmother Josephine and the other Midewiwin women on the walk.  But we can be a part of the broader message, send our prayers, donations and support as they climb through the difficult mountain passes in Washington state.

SUPPORT THE MOTHER EARTH WATER WALK

 
E-mail Money Transfers (Can & U.S.): waterwalk2011@gmail.com

Cheques may be made out to:  Mother Earth Water Walk and mailed to:

Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Attn: Joanne Robertson, WW Coordinator
1550 Queen Street E
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6A 2G3

Direct Deposit:  Northern Credit Union
Acct#: 14492 828 0161405641

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Day 20: Protecting Mother Earth a Priority

I’ve used my blog to talk about First Nations poverty during the election, but haven’t spoken much about environmental issues.

An important issue in this election is Canada’s place in the world.  Unfortunately, in the last five years or so, Canada has not stepped up to the plate when it comes to issues of foreign policy, advocating for human rights, and most importantly, protecting the environment.

For Anishinaabe people, there is nothing more important than protecting Shkaakamik-kwe, our Mother Earth.  From the time of Creation, Gzhemnidoo gave the responsibility to the Anishinaabeg to be stewards of the earth.  Our Anishinaabe-kwe (women) were given the responsibility to look after and speak to the water.  More and more, Anishinabe people are taking those instructions and sacred duty very seriously.

However, we all need to speak up in ensuring Canada takes their role as global environmentalists seriously.

It wasn’t long ago that Canada played a leadership role in developing the Kyoto Accord.  We were serious in putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and introduce a carbon tax.

However, under the Harper government, all that environmental progress has been lost in favour of big business, oil pipelines, oil sands development and corporate tax cuts.  Harper has bowed to American interests, rather than do what needs to be done.  The Conservative government wasn’t a signifcant factor in either the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009 nor the Cancun climate conference in 2010.

The Liberal Party has provided a platform that First Nations people can be proud of.  They continue to assert their position and commitment to a long-term greenhouse gas reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  In the meantime, a Liberal government will work with domestic and international partners on practical, but meaningful medium-term goals.

More significantly for us Anishinaabe living in our Great Lakes territory, the Liberals have promised to develop the first ever Canadian Freshwater Strategy.  As in the past, I’m certain that the LPC will be working with First Nations in ensuring our traditional territories and cultural perspectives are an important consideration in this important initiative.

The freshwater strategy also includes a ban on the exporting of freshwater, something many environmentalists and First Nations have been calling for.  I know I will be working to ensure this ban includes eliminating the loophole that allows the exporting of containers 20 litres or less (i.e. bottled water).

Finally, it’s always nice to get an endorsement from leading environmentalists.

“We applaud the Liberal party’s funding allocation for restoration of the Great Lakes, clean up of Lake Winnipeg and strategies to address invasive species,” said the Council of Canadians.

Everyday should be Earth Day for Anishinaabe

According to Anishinaabe teachings, at the time of Creation, human-kind was given a number of sacred and indispensable gifts from the Creator.

We were all given the sacred gift of life providing us the opportunity to live life to the fullest in a good way – mno-bimaadziwin.  We were all given the sacred gift of water – our lifeblood – which nurtures us even before we are born.  Our teachings tell us this beautiful, clean water is forever flowing to us directly from the Spirit World.

One of the most sacred gifts that was given to human-kind – intellect – was given for a specific purpose: so we can be environmentalists.

Let me explain.

God created heaven and earth in seven days.  This is a Christian metaphor for millions and millions of years of evolution.  Our teachings tell us that Creation is ongoing and will never complete.  The Creator who we call G’zhemnidoo, will always be a creator.  At one point, the Creator felt the need to create human-kind and place us on the physical Earth.  To which there was a specific purpose and a specific instruction:  To look after Earth and all her bounty.  To speak for what needed speaking.  To be stewards and caretakers of Mother Earth.  This formed part of a sacred covenant between G’zhemnidoo and human-kind.

Sixty-five million years later, through many stages of mammalian and primate evolution – the hominid species emerged.

However, something made us different than other animals.  We were able to adapt and survive with more than just basic instinct.  We were able to work collectively.  We were able to make and use tools.  We were able to develop complex language and communication.  This sacred gift of intellect was the means in which human-kind was to abide those sacred instructions to be stewards of Mother Earth.

From the time when were able to dance around a fire, or keep warm by wrapping ourselves in animal skins – it didn’t take much longer to become the most dominant species on the planet.

However, that same gift of intellect ultimately made us the greatest enemy of Mother Earth.

It began by using our abilities to wage war with one another.  To hunt animals to extinction.  To burn, cut down and develop entire forests.  To live collectively in cities and eliminating our waste on the land and into the water.  It has only be in the past two hundred years – which started by burning coal to create steam – that we’ve hurt our Mother in the most grievous way with little to no accountability and thought to long-term consequences.

We’ve celebrated the gift of intellect with progress, innovation and industrialization leading to unsustainability, pollution and climate change.

As citizens of the Earth, we need to return to our original instructions.  We don’t need to turn in our car, go back to living in a wigwaam, dance around a fire or keep warm by wrapping ourselves in animal skins.

However, we do need to celebrate the gift of intellect with progress, innovation and industrialization of our sacred duty to be stewards of the Earth.

We must take our great minds – within our Nation and around the world – and use our intellect to achieve progress towards environmental sustainability.  To find more innovative ways of protecting our Earth.  To industrialize the protection of Mother Earth through corporate responsibility, significant reductions in carbon emissions and sensible and effective environmental legislation and regulations.

For the Anishinaabe, everyday should be Earth Day.  An important part of our original instructions were to speak for what needed speaking.  We need to be role models for the rest of society by taking our environmental responsibilities and sacred duty seriously.

We also need to take personal responsibility.  Environmental activism begins with ourselves and in our homes.

Take water for example.  Anishinaabe women teach us that protecting the water begins with protecting ourselves.  Nourish your body with plenty of water beginning with that first drink to break your fast in the morning.  Stop filling our bodies with chemicals and processed foods and nourish ourselves with organic and sustainably-harvested foods.  Return to eating traditional foods that are harvested in a responsible way.

I don’t want to preach, but there are plenty of things that we call all do.  Reduce, reuse and recycle.  If your rez doesn’t have a recycling program – demand one.  Develop your own recycling regimen.  Buy products with less packaging.  Reuse various household materials.  Use less energy.  Walk to the corner store instead of taking the truck.

To make a difference, all that is required is some personal motivation, some common sense and a little intellect.

We all need to be Environmentalists

As world leaders converge in Copenhagen to discuss the world’s climate and how to address climate change, most of the world remains at home.

At least I can’t afford to make the trip to Denmark.

We live our lives being consumers, providing for our family, raising our children and residing in our communities. We are all of diverse cultures and societies, with many things in common. One of the most important commonalities is that we are citizens inhabiting the Earth.

Together, what can we do to address climate change?

First and foremost, we all need to become environmentalists. You don’t need to join Greenpeace or the Council for Canadians, although they certainly help. Simply put, to be an environmentalist means to know that the Earth is our home and we need to stand up for her and speak on her behalf.

As Anishinaabek, it is our responsibility to speak for Mother Earth. It was one of our original instructions given to human-kind at the time of Creation.

It is said that the Creator needed a caretaker species to look after the Earth, to solve problems and ensure a healthy balance in nature. As a result, two of the greatest gifts given to human-kind was the gift of free-will and intellect.

In our history, this meant that the Anishinaabek people were to live in balance with all of Creation, be responsible in our harvesting and respect the world around us.

In a modern context, it means to speak up for the Earth now that she is in trouble. We need to look after all of the flora and fauna as was expected of us at the time of Creation.

This wasn’t a responsibility given only to Anishinaabe. It was given to all races of human-kind.

As environmentalists, we must work to influence our politicians. We also must work to influence pubic opinion. We must take the message of change to our families and communities. No one will do this for us.

Nor can we expect government to solve the world’s climate change crisis.

However, as citizens, we must press our government to meet climate change goals in a meaningful way. After all, Canada is a liberal society. We value the environment, our forests, land and water.

We need to meet “Kyota-like targets” for carbon emissions, for example reductions of six per cent from 1990 levels, within ten years. Perhaps we can do more. Government needs to pass legislation and implement aggressive environmental policies in order to meet these targets.

Canada also needs to tax carbon emissions and use the revenue to develop environmental-friendly technologies. We need to enable a new, green economy.

I also think we need a regulated, carbon credit trading market. This creates a number of things including a climate change revenue stream, a deterrent to carbon producers and implements a regulatory framework for carbon producers.

We need to hold industry and corporations accountable. We need to abate those companies that produce carbon, pollutants and contribute to climate change.

Government regulations are not the only means on addressing companies and industry. As consumers, individuals and families, we can all commit to only deal with companies that have carbon neutral, environmentally-friendly policies.

I know we can’t get around gassing up our car. But we can choose to use public transit more often. We can choose not to oil companies that harm the environment, such as those companies developing the Alberta oil sands. You can choose oil companies that use ethanol.

Sure, there are significant economic issues to address. Such aggressive policies will certainly affect our economy. But the bottom line is: we will surely have a devastated economy if climate change is not addressed. If we continue with the status quo, or work towards ineffective, surface-level environmental policies – we will be passing economic and environmental uncertainty to our children and grandchildren for seven generations and beyond.

Our world needs to change, based on a new frontier of enviro-economic sustainability.

Our culture must change. As a society, we must adapt to do what’s best for the planet. If that means tightening the economic shoe strings, so be it.

If it means become an environmentalist, even in the smallest way, I’m up for the challenge.