One of my earliest recollections of politics was the occasional visit of elected members and cabinet ministers to Nipissing First Nation.
Early on in his career, our local Progressive Conservative MPP provided our community with a few hundred bucks to sponsor the “Mike Harris Family Picnic”. For our people in the mid-1980s, it was merely another occasion for a great Homemaker’s Club fish fry, playing fish-pond and 25 cent Crown & Anchor and holding a rowdy beer garden. I’m not quite sure what Mike Harris got out of it other than a chance at glad-handing and making a short speech to the those of us playing chip bingo in the community hall.
Next came then-Minister of Indian Affairs Bill McKnight, who served in the federal PC government. It’s wasn’t that often that our “Great White Father” pays us an in-person visit. While he brought us shiny trinkets, I’m sure we treated him well, as we always did for our MP and friend Moe Mantha Sr.
Fast forward to present day, nearly 30 years later. Years of Conservative governments, both provincially and federally, have delivered absolutely nothing to First Nations but catastrophic cuts, hopelessness and frustration.
Consider the Oka Crisis, Ipperwash and the killing of Dudley George, the abysmal response to missing and murdered Aboriginal women, cuts to Aboriginal organizations and political representation, the limiting the protections of our water sources, and now the criminalization of our right to assembly in our traditional territory and freedom of speech. The Conservatives have a track record alright. I don’t know who’s track, but someone’s track.
There are no longer any Conservative sponsored picnics taking place in Nipissing these days.
Forget the idiom: “I want the f***ing Indians out of the park”. It’s more like, “Get the f***ing Indians out of our G*d d*mned way”. (That has to be in the Conservative policy statement somewhere.)
Which leads up to today’s selection of a new leader for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Who should our people support: Christine Elliot or Patrick Brown? I liken this to the hypothetical choice between Mike Harris or Stephen Harper. Or a choice between your favourite method of torture. Electrocution? Waterboarding? Anyone? Anyone?
All this is notwithstanding the day that Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli entered the Ontario PC leadership race. Vic had a new take on leadership and a refreshing oratory that suggested a new start and a transformation for their struggling party. Knowing Vic personally, I also knew that he truly gets First Nations issues, priorities and even our frustrations. The question was could he stand up for his vision and overcome the intense pressure of 160 years of assimilationist mentality? Can he singlehandedly alter the perceptions of First Nations within the PC ranks and foster a place where our people feel welcome and compelled to participate in their process? Unfortunately, not. Vic graciously bowed out of the race early on.
Given what I’ve said to this point in this article, and in recent political history, there can’t be a single First Nation person (with a baseline of basic political awareness) who can actually support the Conservative ideology, policies or direction. This finding is based on a rather simple premise: If you don’t care for me, why would I care for you?
Neither Christine Elliot nor Patrick Brown have provided any indication that First Nation issues are even being considered. Nor do our issues even appear to be an afterthought. That’s par-for-the-course. The same Party. The same leader. The same old treatment of First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.
From the First Nation perspective, the Conservatives play the Ring of Fire game as a purely partisan chess match. They show no commitment to addressing climate change, considering First Nation’s environmental concerns nor protecting our sacred, fresh water. There has been no real commitment to developing First Nation economies, creating jobs or including our people in the development of natural resources. Resource benefit sharing? Treaty implementation? No and no. How about better understanding First Nations rights, addressing outstanding title negotiations, and contributing to alleviating the crippling poverty in our communities?
Pigs may fly in Alberta, but they are thoroughly grounded here.
That’s why the PC party is in the crisis they are in, and why they will continue to be unelectable to the sensible majority. There is nothing of substance from either leadership candidate to suggest that they wish to change the course of the Ontario PC recent political fortunes. They are not willing to transform and be a party that is accepting of others and consider new and relevant policy objectives. They continue to cater to the same old Conservative ideology. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: First Nations don’t have a place under their proverbial tent.
For us, the Conservative tent is stained redder than the necks of some of their caucus members. After all, it’s a tent stained with the blood and remains of so many of our dreams, and sadly, even a few of our lives.
So, Christine Elliot or Patrick Brown? Who cares.
It’s Saturday night. Bingo anyone?