North Bay Nugget
Across the country, First Nation communities took their issues to the streets, schools and community centres Friday for the Assembly of First Nations’ day of action.
The Union of Ontario Indians, which represents 42 First Nations, supported actions taken by other groups but opted for a “pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword” approach.
Following a traditional opening ceremony and pipe teaching, Grand Chief John Beaucage and others launched a postcard campaign aimed at Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“I intend on collecting as many (postcards) as I can right here . . . and putting them on Premier McGuinty’s desk,” Beaucage said, noting the postcards ask the Ontario government for the quick implementation of all the Ipperwash report recommendations, an independent body to process land claims, and more First Nation education in the provincial school curriculum.
“It’s a little bit wide-ranging, but I think the message is there.” Nearly 50 politicians and members of the public attended, as well as representatives from several community groups from North Bay and the Nipissing District.
Beaucage said he was encouraged by their support, because working together and opening up a dialogue with neighbouring communities is what the union wanted to achieve Friday.
“I firmly believe, and our leadership believes, that we could probably get some short-term gains by having a blockade, by barricading a roadway or a railway, that we could probably get governments to listen to us in the short term,” he said.
Sam George, the brother of Anthony Dudley George who was shot by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper during the Ipperwash Provincial Park native occupation in 1995, also attended the union’s postcard launch.
He expressed his admiration for the event favouring education over activism, and highlighted the importance of communication between all Canadians to achieve beneficial results for everyone.
“The people are going to try to express themselves in the best way they can. We have chosen today to do what we wanted to do through an educational promotion. I think that’s the best way we can do this,” George said. “We are starting a new era here today, and this postcard campaign, if you look at the picture on the front, is of friendship.”
The image includes a photo of an aboriginal man handing a pipe to a non-native.
“I think if we do extend our hand in friendship, saying we don’t want to disrupt anything, I think maybe people will support in such a way that there is a positive outcome for everyone,” he said.
Beaucage said Friday’s day of action was only the beginning of an era of change, wherein leadership within First Nations, and provincial and federal governments, change the way they interact with one another.
“Certainly what has been done hasn’t worked, so we’ve got to do something different,” he said, noting he has previously proposed that the Indian Act should be scrapped within 10 years, and that poverty in First Nation communities be abolished within 20 years. “And we’ve got to do it in a whole new way and we’ve got to really take it and run with it.”
Depending on the success of this summer’s postcard campaign, another one could be aimed at the federal government. The postcards are available at the union office as well as all member nations and at events throughout the summer.