Posts tagged ‘federal election 2011’

Day 28: Hey, NDPers… Rethink Your Vote

I received a little note from a friend yesterday, with a very frank and important message.  It will be my thought of the day…

There are a lot of Anishinaabeg who are supporters of the NDP.  Jack Layton is a pretty cool guy and genuinely supportive of First Nations.  But the reality is a vote for the NDP will translate into for a vote for Stephen Harper.  The math is that simple.  The only feasible alternative to a Harper government, this time, is a Liberal government.  The reality is even more startling.  If the NDP split the centre-left vote any further, the result will be a disasterous Conservative majority.  A well-respected Anishinaabe leader has told me that a majority Conservative government WILL target post-secondary education and non-insured health benefits as a part of their promised cuts.  We all need to rally around the Liberal party, Michael Ignatieff, (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) and our fantastic platform for First Nations people.  All you NDP supporters, take a look at the Liberal aboriginal platform again, and consider carefully, that you might actually be enabling a Harper majority which could spell an end to much of our rights.

Day 26: Where are the Candidates and Leaders?

Good evening. I’m going to try to dictate my post through the voice recognition software in my Android phone. It’s really exciting to have new technology that I can use to reach of through my blog.

But so many of us take for granted the access we have to broadband, smartphones and other digital technology. In many First Nations communities this technology simply does not exist.  What will it take to give First Nations people the same opportunities afforded to the rest of Canada?

The answer starts with caring, empathy and awareness. Caring and empathy are personal values and are not something that can be decided upon in a political platform. Whereas awareness is something that really needs to take place surrounding First Nations issues.

From the internet traffic that I’ve seen, very few federal election candidates are making visits to communities.  I’m sure there are a few exceptions including Kimberley Love (Liberal, Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound) who visited Cape Croker and Anthony Rota (Liberal, Nipissing-Timiscaming) who visited my home community of Nipissing First Nation.  Obviously Anishinaabe-kwe candidates Cynthia Wesley-Esquimeaux (Liberal, York Simcoe) and Tania Cameron (NDP, Kenora-Rainy River) are visiting communities as well.

But where are the rest of the candidates and why are they not visiting First Nations?  Why don’t Conservatives Party candidates visit local communities?

Most importantly of all, why are the major political party leaders not visiting First Nations and learning more about our issues?

Awareness starts with personal contact, friendship and learning more about us… getting to know us. When awareness starts, caring empathy soon follow.

Not many people are aware that digital technologies do not exist in First Nations, . If Canadians were more aware of this fact, and it’s implications on the economy, education and opportunity, would they care more? Would Canadians demand better access to digital technologies for First Nations people?  Maybe so. I firmly believe Canadians genuinely care.

Maybe the reason the leaders don’t visit First Nations is because they know their smart phones and Twitter accounts won’t be working.  Welcome to First Nations reality.

(P.S.: Forgive any grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. I am a better type-writer than I am dictator.)

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.

Toronto First Aid

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.


E-mail Money Transfers (Can & U.S.):

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


Day 23: First Nation’s Youth, Crisis Ignored

Gas sniffing youth from Pikangikum First Nation. (Bernard Weil Photo)

If there is one criticism I have during this election campaign, it’s the lack of engagement of youth voters and by extension, the lack of attention to First Nations youth issues.

Did you know there are places in this province where the suicide rate is many times higher than anywhere else in the world?  In northern Ontario, communities like Pikangikum, Kashechewan and others face an unimaginable crisis.

In Pikangikum, over the past fifteen years, over 40 young people have committed suicide shattering families and their community.  In 1999 alone, six children in the same Grade 7 class at the Pikangikum school took their own lives. Dozens more attempt suicide, many unreported. This is a First Nation community of only 2,700 people.

In January 2007, 21 young people in Kashechewan, including a nine year-old, attempted suicide.  Every single community member and family is affected by suicide in these communities.

This should be seen as unacceptable by all Canadians.  Addressing this crisis should also be seen as a top political priority during the election.  Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a word of this throughout the election campaign by any party.

Sadly, there are many people who think there is no crisis.  Just like some high profile members of the Conservative Party think there is no poverty in First Nations.  Somehow, they must feel that these sad scenarios are a figment of our collective imaginations.  That social advocates and Indian Chiefs are pulling the wool over the eyes of Canadians.  They think that billions of dollars are getting to the communities, lining the pockets of Chiefs and Councillors.  Many people actually think that First Nations people are actually better off than the average Canadians.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The suicide is real.  The poverty is real.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  Billions of dollars are not reaching these communities, and are not being intercepted by some all seeing, corrupt Band official.  If you were to step foot into these communities, the reality of poverty, dispair and suicide will come rushing into perspective.  All you have to see is the graves of the children that their parents bury in their backyard.  Yes, their backyard.

Imagine for a moment that just one of these scenarios took place in, let’s say, downtown Calgary.  Six twelve and thirteen year-old children, all from one class, all taking their own lives.  It’s almost unimaginable.  You can bet that this would be front page news story for weeks.  There would be a Royal Commission and Coroner’s inquests.  Politicians would be up-in-arms.  This would be the top election issue, bar none!!

It’s truly sad that this is only a reality only for remote communities.  It’s not a part of the national discussion.  And it’s not part of the election campaign.

All parties and all politicians need to speak to First Nations youth issues.  First Nations youth need to be included in a national discussion.  Solving this situation requires public outrage and empathy for these families.  But most of all, solving this crisis requires action.  We need a comprehensive strategy to support First Nations children and eliminate First Nations poverty once and for all.

First Nations youth need to have hope.  They need, and deserve the same opportunities afforded to all people in Canada.

Day 22: First Nation’s Families and Elders

Today, I’m writing from my home in Nipissing First Nation surrounded by my partner, her girls and my boys.  We spent the morning at Weight Watchers, having breakfast, shopping for books and renting a couple of moviesToday is also the day of the Great Village Scavenger Hunt, as our family scours Garden Village in search of creative clues, Easter eggs and their Easter treats.

As we go through our weekend routine, I’ve been thinking about the importance of family to the Anishinaabe people.

Our Elders are among our most important members of our community.  We go to them for their wisdom, experience and counsel.  They carry our community history and traditional knowledge.  Many carry our traditional teachings and are our Spiritual leaders.  When they fall sick, it’s one of our most important values to look after them.

More than ever, we are having to take care of sick, infirm and elderly Loved ones.  Often, we have to use our vacation time, extended unpaid leaves of absence or quit our jobs in order to do this important work.

As part of their election platform, the Liberal party has committed to creating a new Family Care plan where you would be able to take a paid leave of absence to look after our Elders.  It would be just like taking parental leave, with similar benefits and qualifying provisions.  Just like our parents took care of us when we were babies, a Liberal government would allow us the opportunity to take care of our parents when the time comes.  This is truly in keeping with our First Nation’s values.

There are many of us dealing with family members living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.  My mom is living with early symptoms and requires ongoing care by my brother Junior and his partner Kat.  It’s been a time of great concern for us in the past five years.

The Liberals have committed to developing a Canadian Brain Health Strategy, which includes exploring new income security measures to ensure that families are not pushed into poverty as they deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

There’s no better investment than ensuring the health and well-being of families and our Elders.  This far ourweighs the need for billions of dollars for jet fighters and American-style mega-prisons.

Day 21: 3,000 missing women should be an election issue

By Krystalline Kraus

How can 3,000 missing women not be an issue for the 2011 election? A prominent issue, in fact?

Is it because the 3,000 missing women are Indigenous and not white-skinned?

As Canadians soon face the decision of who they want to run their country, let me remind you that it was the Conservative government under Stephen Harper that cut funding to Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

According to research conducted under NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit program, nationally over 580 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing, most of them over the last 30 years.

I concede that the number is much higher, as Gladys Radek from Walk4Justice estimates over 3,000 women are known to have gone missing or been murdered in Canada since the 1970s, with at least 80 per cent of these women being from First Nations.

But it is the SIS program that has the hard facts of cases that were officially reported and investigated. It’s truly a tragedy that we don’t know the truth regarding how many mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmother, aunts and friends have gone missing, since, according to Radek, many cases go unreported.

It is not that Canada is unaware of the situation. Two years ago, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued this statement: “Hundreds of cases involving Aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention.”

Now is election time and it’s important that such a large number of missing Indigenous women does not go ignored.

For it is Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that was responsible for the demise of NWAC’s Sisters in Spirit. On Friday Oct. 29, 2010, the federal government announced the end of (by lack of funding) the Sisters in Spirit (SIS) program, an announcement made by MP Rona Ambrose.

As defined by its creator, NWAC, SIS was: “a research, education and policy initiative driven and led by Aboriginal women. Our primary goal is to conduct research and raise awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.”

Instead, the Conservative government has pledged $10 million in funding to develop a national police support centre for missing persons [Note: unlike the SIS database, this new initiative won’t focus solely on Indigenous women] and unidentified remains that won’t be operational until 2013 at the earliest.

The new police centre will rely on missing persons reports filed with local police forces. From the local police station reports, the new police database will provide linkages to other cases if they exist (what about complaints of racism and the charge that local police officers ignore or do not follow up on these missing persons reports?).

The government is basically taking the place of SIS, true to the adage of ‘burning down the old village and building a new one’ — but with a database and centre whose politics it can control.

Before the election, the Liberal party released a statement on February 14, 2011, for the national day of action for murdered and missing Indigenous women stating its support for the restoration of funding to the SIS program.

In the press release, Liberal Women’s Caucus Chair Lise Zarac said, “By trying to shut down the Sisters in Spirit program, the Conservative government is undermining civil society’s ability to improve gender equality in Canada.”

“It’s clear that Stephen Harper’s priorities are in the wrong place when he would rather give tax breaks to the largest corporations and spends billions of dollars on fighter jets than fund this initiative. The sad truth is Aboriginal women and girls will continue to go missing until more is done to stop this violence,” concluded Ms. Zarac.

This is a good start, but we need more than just words — a one time mention by the current official opposition. I want this issue brought up — Harper challenged — during the official election 2011 debate by all opposition parties. 3,000 murdered deserve no less.

They also need more than words. Justice demands an apology and then action.

As we wait for justice, the list of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada continues to grow: Out a total of 582 cases across the country, 393 died as a result of murder or negligence. And 115 remain missing. Only 53 per cent of the cases involving Indigenous women was someone charged, whereas the average rate for charges in a homicide in Canada is 84 per cent.

I attended the Aboriginal Missing and Murdered Women’s Conference at the Native Canadian Centre in early March 2011 and found out disturbing statistics regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Ontario.

I learned that NWAC has, “gathered information on approximately 70 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Ontario. This accounts for 12 per cent of cases in the NWAC database.”

“The large number of cases in Ontario illustrates that the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls is not just a ‘west-coast problem,’ but rather a national concern impacting central Canada.”

When discussing Indigenous concerns as election issues, the case for justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women cannot be viewed in isolation but must be viewed in tandem with the high rates of poverty facing Indigenous families, the lack of health services and clean drinking water and the systematic destruction of culture through the residential school system and other policies of assimilation.

In an inter-generational context, all the factors are interconnected and need to be addressed for true justice and healing to take place.

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.

Day 19: First Nations Poverty Not a Debate Factor

A “tame Indian” is the government Indian who has turned on his tribe and acts as a guide and interpreter for the governor. They usually live just outside the governor’s settlement obediently awaiting their next duties to fulfill. They do this in return for special favours from the governor.  Considered a traitor to his nation, they are not usually welcomed back by their own people.

I’ve been reflecting on the English-language debate that took place last night and wondering if the message of First Nations poverty is getting across to the four main political parties.

Score one for the New Democratic Party in my books.  Last night, NDP leader Jack Layton was the only one who mentioned First Nations poverty in getting across his point that Canada must support crime prevention, not just lock up criminals:

“If you talk to the leadership of Aboriginal communities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit, they cry out for just descent housing so they don’t have three or four families crammed into a competely unsatisfactory house. And basically with no hope for the future.  And where to they find themselves? Drifting into the temptations of crime and ultimately ending up in jail in far too high a percentage   And here’s Shawn Atleo, the national chief, calling for a focus on education, a focus on housing, getting clean water into these communities… dealing with the fundamental poverty and its’ not just in aboriginal communities, but it certainly is terrible severe there.  These are some of the fundamental underlying causes that we have to tackle as a country.”

There was no other mention of First Nations issues by the other leaders.

I know for a fact that First Nations poverty is a priority for the Liberal Party of Canada.  The election platform calls for the development of a Poverty Reduction Plan for Canada, along with an Affordable Housing Framework, an Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund, increases to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and increased access to post-secondary education opportunities to First Nations and low-income families.  But Michael Ignatieff (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) didn’t mention any of these in relation to First Nations people.  Quite disappointing, even for this die-hard Liberal.

National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo summed up our collective disappointment stating: “Our issues matter now and are critical to Canada’s future. I am disappointed that our people and issues were not a substantive part of the discussion in last night’s leadership debate.”

To make matters worse, there is a significant segment of the Conservative Party that thinks that Aboriginal issues have already been dealt with.

Chris Alexander, a so-called “star candidate” running for the Conservatives in Ajax-Pickering stated “we don’t’ have that kind of poverty in Canada” referring to the World Bank standard defining third-world levels of poverty.  Ever since, he has taken a beating for such an ignorant declaration.  National Chief Atleo has called upon Alexander to retract his statement.

Even their own Conservative Senator, their tame-Indian, Patrick Brazeau, claimed the Conservative government has already addressed the situation of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.  In a Twitter debate with Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau), Brazeau tweeted: “Missing/Murdered already dealt with” in touting his party’s Aboriginal platform.  The reality is the neither the missing and murdered Aboriginal women nor First Nations poverty are dealt with in any way in the Conservative election platform.

As I stated before, First Nations are not speaking about poverty as a metaphor. We’re talking about real child poverty, homelessness and third world conditions right here in Canada. This should be a significant election issue. Resolving First Nations poverty should a priority for each and every party and politician in this country.

Day 18: The Election and the First Nation’s Economy

Many people think a First Nation’s economy should be based on resource development. Some think building an economy starts with tourism. A few feel it’s all about smoke shops. For me, it’s much simpler than that. Building an economy should start from the ground up.

I’ll concede that a strong economy requires outside investment, corporate and industry opportunities. That’s certainly the case of a strong, FUNCTIONING economy. But First Nations are not quite there… yet. For First Nations communities, an economy has to start with family and community.

This election is about a stark choice between tax cuts and benefits for big business and idealistic support for families. The Conservatives are relying on big business to foster the economy. Most communities don’t have their own grocery store, much less commercial infrastructure or an industrial park.  While the Liberal and NDP vision is to restore strength and support to Canadian families.

In First Nations, most communities need to build their micro-economies starting with family income.  In order to foster small business, and a small products and services industry within a community, each household requires a stable income source. This can only happen with greater opportunity and sustainable jobs.

But there is a broad spectrum of support needed to enable those jobs. In order to get jobs, First Nations citizens needs skills. For higher skilled jobs – our people need a college diploma or a university degree. In order to get to our jobs or our classes, we need child care, income support and to be able to care for our Elders or sick family members.

First Nations governments also need support. We need schools, daycares, health centres, community centres, libraries, adequate housing and clean water to support our citizen’s success. First Nations don’t have a tax base, and require a government to support and understand the complex fiduciary relationship that sustains ongoing funding to First Nation communities.

Sure, we need willing partners, economic development, joint ventures and resource development opportunities. But there will be no one to take advantage of those opportunities without proper support to First Nations communities and families.

The Conservative plan does absolutely nothing to meet First Nation’s needs in these areas. In fact, I’ve never heard so much voter backlash against a governing party from First Nations.

In most cases, we’re far from welcoming Bombardier or Samsung to our reserve borders, although two First Nations are oh so close, respectively. Six Nations may have an economic deal in the works with the Korean, green energy giant, while Fort William is a stone’s throw from the Bombardier transit assembly facility. But even in those progressive communities, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Conservative supporter in their midst.