Posts tagged ‘First Nation’

Successful Aboriginal Consultation requires partnership

partnersThere are many corporations that are looking for the right formula for successful consultation with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people in Canada.  You may have a critical project in First Nation’s traditional territory that requires work with local communities.  Legal counsel, government officials and your own Aboriginal Affairs advisors assure you that there are Treaty and/or Aboriginal Rights implications in your project.  There is a very compelling case that you will need to work with First Nations in order to move your project along.

As I’ve stated earlier, the best approach to developing an Aboriginal Engagement strategy is to use a respectful approach.  It’s part of something I call the values-based approach to building relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

The “values-based approach” to building relationships means adapting your engagement approach from beyond your business goals, to listening, learning from and beginning to understand the values of your First Nations, Métis or Inuit partners.

Among the most essential parts of the values-based approach is to evolve from treating First Peoples as mere “stakeholders” in your project to respecting them as Nations and as “rights-holders” in their traditional territory.  This means taking real steps to recognize our people as true partners.

In my experience, companies are eager to develop an Aboriginal consultation strategy for whatever project may be in the works.  They’ll spend plenty of time on the process and work planning – filling in all the details of the who, how and when of consultation.  But so often they’ll often overlook one of the most important parts of successful consultation: substance.

In today’s day and age, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities are quite sophisticated.  Gone are the days of exchanging blankets, beads and trinkets.  Today, First Nations are being lead by well-educated leaders, experienced legal counsel and shrewd business advisors.  They are going to expect capacity funding for engagement activities.  They will be seeking impact benefit agreements, accommodation agreements, revenue sharing arrangements and even equity in your natural resource project.  They’ll also want to see a tangible and measurable basket of social benefits, including jobs, skills training programs and contracts for their Aboriginal businesses.

Companies that are not prepared to consider these types of economic benefits, or think that a smoke-and-mirrors consultation process is sufficient to satisfy First Peoples, usually have to go back to the drawing board.

You may want to consider formalizing a role for your partner in project decision-making.  I’d recommend negotiating a protocol that includes provisions for information sharing, communications and liaison, defining their role within project management and within environmental assessment oversight, etc.

I’m not saying to offer up full control, or provide a veto to your entire project.  But as with any investor, joint venture partner or shareholder, you shouldn’t expect to go very far without the support or consent of your partners.

The rational for bringing First Peoples into natural resource projects such as developing of the new vaporizer pen as partners is both complex and quite simplistic.

The reason is simple.  You are seeking to most efficient and effective means of moving your project forward.  You need to avoid any delays in project development and approvals that can lead to any significant cost overruns.

It’s the business case that can be quite complex.  There isn’t one set of formulae and variables in determining the cost of relationships building, engagement, negotiation, partnership and benefits vs. the cost of delays and other intangibles.

I encourage companies to invest in studying that business case.  I assure you, this is part of the new way of doing business with Aboriginal people.  There is a cost of doing business with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.  The question of Aboriginal consultation is no longer just a mere formality or work flow process on your project Gantt chart.  It is now a critical business decision.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen billion dollar legacy projects being mothballed because First Nations haven’t been brought to the table.  Legal actions are leading to million dollar delays in project development.  Threats of direct action from unhappy and unwilling grassroots people can take your project out of favour with your investors, shareholders, the media and the public.  These are all today’s realities.

The sooner you are prepared for these realities and consider adapting to this new way of doing business with Aboriginal People, the better your interactions will be with Canada’s First Peoples.


Bob Goulais is Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs for Ishkonigan Inc.  Ishkonigan is a firm that specializes in consultation and mediation services to Indigenous communities, all levels of government, and business.  Reach Bob Goulais at (416) 770-8567 or e-mail: 

Respect & the Values-Based approach to building Aboriginal Relationships


Bob Goulais is Vice-President, Communications & Public Affairs for Ishkonigan Inc.

Social media and the blogosphere are full of delightfully, simplistic advice on how best to reach out and develop business relationships with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people.  But like many articles on the web, not everything is real or as simple as it seems.  Without experience and proven advice, many well-meaning companies fall flat and unprepared to work with Canada’s First Peoples.

I’d like to share my vision of a New Way of Doing Business with First Peoples.  This will include understanding the values-based approach to building relationships.

A Values-Based Approach:  The “values-based approach” to building relationships means adapting your engagement approach from beyond your business goals, to listening, learning from and beginning to understand the values of your First Nations, Métis or Inuit partners.

The foremost value that needs to be understood is respect.

In the wise words of my teacher and uncle Bawdwaywidun, the first thing you need to bring to the table is Respect.  Then, the next thing you need to bring Respect.  Finally, the last thing you need to bring is Respect.

In other words, respect cannot be underestimated.

For example: you’ll need to learn very quickly why First Nations, especially those who have signed Treaties, are Rightsholders – not mere “stakeholders”.  In fact, if you even use the term “stakeholder” in the course of your discussions, you can expect your meeting to shut down fairly abruptly.  Subtleties in terminology can mean the difference between respect and disrespect.

To be respectful, you’ll need to consider First Peoples as Nations.  You may need to study what that truly means.  History, governance, languages, cultures, spiritual beliefs, land and territory, legal rights… all the components of what makes up a nation are all there.  Why they may not be necessarily “nation-states” at this point in history, First Nation, Métis and Inuit people are indeed Nations within Canada.

First Nations respect for Mother Earth is also an important value for natural resources companies to appreciate.  One of our most fundamental teachings, coming right from our Anishinaabe Creation Story, is that human-kind was given two very unique gifts that were not provided to any other living being: intellect and free-will.  We were told that with these gifts, the Creator provided us with the sacred instructions to look after Mother Earth and be “stewards of the land and the waters”.  We were asked “to speak for those things that cannot speak for themselves”. I’m providing quotations because those are very specific and profound words right from our teachings.

First Peoples cannot expect corporations to fully understand these teachings and why we have such a close, spiritual connection to the environment.  However, in order to successfully do business with First Peoples, companies will need to appreciate and make decisions based on this perspective and worldview.  You may need to integrate traditional knowledge into your project considerations.  You may also need to mitigate or accommodate any negative project impacts to the satisfaction of the Elders, the Women and community leadership.

Another few words of advice…

  • Don’t lump all First Nations into one melting pot of pan-Aboriginal disrespect.  Each Treaty is unique.  Each First Nation, Métis and Inuit community is unique.  They are very different from neighbouring communities, with unique circumstances and ways of doing business;
  • Each engagement strategy should be customized to every community.  Consultation activities should be developed with the community, for the community;
  • Make use of custom consultation processes and communications protocols;
  • Be knowledgeable and respectful of cultural practices and beliefs;
  • Most of all, respect that First Peoples have a tremendous and complex spectrum of legal rights that are constitutionally protected.

There are many other values and value-systems that First Nations hold sacred.  From the houses of the Pacific west coast, to the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee to the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe – there is much to know and understand.  Don’t be afraid to listen and learn.

I’ve seen first-hand, Senior Executives wanting to demonstrate their profound experience, or an Aboriginal Relations consultant wanting to justify their fees – by speaking or responding to every thing that is being shared with them.  They make the mistake of defending their project or person-hood in the face of criticism.

But sometimes being respectful, is to simply listen and learn.


Bob Goulais is Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs for Ishkonigan Inc.  Ishkonigan is a firm that specializes in consultation and mediation services to Indigenous communities, all levels of government, and business.  Reach Bob Goulais at (416) 770-8567 or e-mail: 

Spiritual healing

By Dave Dale
The Nugget –
Sept. 6, 2010

Strong, positive spirits overcame the dreariness of chilly, wind-driven showers as Nipissing First Nation’s 22nd annual cultural gathering celebrated Mno Bemaadziwin — A Good Life on the weekend.

I was surprised how many dancers came up even though it was freezing,” Alysha Allaire, 20, said Sunday morning before heading out to the Jocko Point traditional grounds for the second grand entry.

Everybody came out for the love of dancing … that was really cool to see,” Allaire said, adding Saturday was special because she was dancing in her jingle dress for the first time after spending more than a month making it with her mom and aunts.

It felt really good,” she said, explaining how she dances in the jingle dress to help people heal.

People will offer her tobacco, a sacred medicine among Anishinabe, to dance for them or somebody they know who is sick or troubled.

And sometimes I just dance for the people I think need a bit of help or guidance,” said Allaire, a third-year Nipissing University concurrent education student.

She has been dancing for about 15 years and said she wants to be a teacher of students in grades 4 to 10.

Elder Peter Beaucage said there were strong winds blowing off Lake Nipissing during the sunrise ceremony Saturday and the rains came hard for a while, drenching the grounds and the people preparing for the event.

But the feeling was positive about the powwow bringing healing for the community,” Beaucage said.

The sacred pipe was lit and turned, he said, as prayers were sent to the grandfathers and the creator for the gratitude for the life we have as aboriginal people today.”

Beaucage was working in the community as a native alcohol and drug awareness counsellor when the first powwow was held at Beaucage Park in 1988.

It has come a long way and it really brings pride to our community,” he said, noting many leaders of other communities show their support by participating in the opening ceremonies.

Dignitaries joining Chief Marianna Couchie included West Nipissing Mayor Joanne Savage, North Bay Mayor Vic Fedeli, Nipissing MPP Monique Smith, Nipissing-Temiskaming MP Anthony Rota and Nipissing University president Lesley Lovett-Doust.

Beaucage said the powwow gathering grew out of the Elders Day celebrations after the youth cultural group brought dancing and drumming to the event.

Bob Goulais, who was 14 at the time, remembers being involved with the youth group when the powwow started.

He now works for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Toronto as manager of policy after working for the Union of Ontario Indians and the Anishinabek Nation for more than a decade.

Goulais was master of ceremonies for the powwow and sat beside Beaucage and arena director Dan Commanda.

He said many people come to the gathering because it helps them become strong and healthy, with the event’s popularity gauged by having 10 drums come from across the province.

Local drums Lightning, White Tail Cree and Ni p i s s i n g ‘s Little Iron Youth Drum shared arbour shade with the likes of Big Train of Six Nations, Eagle Village, Red Spirit of Toronto, Northern Medicine from James Bay and Bear Nation of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan.

A lot of people come here for the healing, it’s a pretty consistent reason why people come out,” Goulais said.

Mickey George, 12, has his own agenda when it comes to dancing in the traditional regalia of his people.

Because it’s fun to do,” George said after finishing a corn dog. He needed the energy for the next two songs that were sung specifically to showcase traditional dancers like himself.

It’s a good way to get in touch with my culture and it’s a great way to stay fit,” he said, with the intense beat of the

sneak up” song testing stamina and ability.

George, who has been dancing for about five years, said he tries to attend powwows whenever it fits into a busy schedule. He’s one of the AAA Peewee Trappers this season, with the team heading to Mississauga for its first tournament next weekend.

Other events during the powwow included an open mic talent night, hand drumming and flute in the evening, a feast and giveaway for the participants as it wrapped up Sunday afternoon.

Restoring Anishinaabe Culture takes Faith

There was a time, in the relatively-near past, when Anishinaabe people knew exactly who they were.  This was unquestionable.

As early as the early-1900s, we had our language.  We had our systems of governance.  We had our own Spirituality.  We had our own way of life – from how we were born to how we died.

We had so much that was inherently Anishinaabe…

How we raised our children.
How we healed our illnesses.
What we learned and how we were taught.
How we earned our living.
What we harvested and what we ate.
How we lived our lives. How we Loved.  How we laughed.
How we treated our Elders.
How we sang, created art… how we entertained and socialized with one another…

The sum of all these things is culture.

“Native Culture” isn’t just a band office program.  It isn’t just our annual pow-wow.  It isn’t an evening language class or even the summer pow-wow trail.  It is the sum of all those things that make us uniquely Anishinaabe, including our traditional teachings, our way of life, how we talk to each other and how we pray to the Creator.  Culture is our collective identity and how we see ourselves.

And, it’s sad to say, much of it has been lost to history.

But the loss of culture was not our fault.  We have no reason to be ashamed.  There is good reason why we lost our way.

It is a well-documented fact that Christianity was forced upon the Anishinaabe and many other First Nations across North America.  Early missionaries, including that of the jesuit mission in Garden Village (later the Holy Spirit Mission) were established with the sole purpose of converting the heathen, soulless Indians into good Christians worthy of heaven.  Later, the establishment of residential schools, like those in Spanish, Chapleau and Sault Ste. Marie, tore apart our families and community with the forcible removement and systemic abuse of our children.  All in the name of assimilation, intolerance and the Lord Jesus Christ.

But this was done so subtly, so systematically, and so successfully, that our people have come to accept that they were Christian and that very little was done to our people as a whole.  I’ve heard some survivors say they were grateful for their education at residential school and thankful that their Christian faith guided them through those tough times away from their families.

As a result, we have a whole lot of mixed-up Christians singing pow-wow and hand-drum songs, dancing their hearts out, taking Native language classes and marching for Treaty Rights.

I’m not writing this to discourage those like-minded individuals, who are working to raise their families as Anishinaabe.  There are many people out there that have shed their colonial outer garments for an AIM t-shirt.  They know the challenges of living a life in search of something more.  Trying our hardest to give our children what was kept from us.

We try our hardest, but we don’t think Anishinaabe anymore.  In reality, very few Anishinaabe people can actually speak Anishinaabemowin.  Those that speak Anishinaabemowin, can think in their language…  but mainly about Jesus and their shame of being Indian.  Original Sin is something far more profound when you have dark skin.

We need to turn the corner on re-establishing our nationhood and re-defining our inherent, indigenous culture as Anishinaabe people.

I have said many times, we need to gradually assimilate into our own culture.  This is something my friend Brian Loukes calls “acculturation”.

This begins through education. We must have the courage to transform our entire education system into a truly Anishinaabe institution.

We need to restore our language.  This can only be done through language immersion programs in Anishinaabemowin – the official language of our people.  Our children need to be able to think in Anishinaabemowin once again.  This doesn’t mean we turn our backs on English.  This is the 21st Century.  We do have to be proficient in both languages.

Nor do we need to sacrifice principles of good education to find our way back to Anishinaabe culture.  We still need to read and write, learn mathematics, science, geography, biology and chemistry.  We can all do this in Anishinaabemowin and being mindful of our own world view.  We do, however, need to be taught our own history, philosophy and way of life.  We need to be educated about our Treaty and inherent rights.  We need to be educated in the traditional ways of protecting the environment.

Most importantly, we need to have Faith.  We need to have Faith that we, the Anishinaabeg, are as important as any other nation on this Earth.  We must have Faith that our language and culture is just as valuable as any other.  We have Faith in our abilities to govern ourselves and teach ourselves.

We have to give up our reliance on others, including the government.  We can indeed be self-sufficient and prosperous, economically, socially and culturally.

But Faith is one of the problems.  With the dominance and influence of Christianity in our communities, we won’t be addressing Faith anytime soon.

You see, the Anishinaabe people have our own Faith and spiritual way of life.  For all intents and purposes, we have our own religion.  Our entire society, including our language and culture, are deeply rooted in Spirituality.  These are the original teachings and way of life of our ancestors, Gte Anishinaabeg.  We have a society expressly dedicated to living and protecting this way of life called the Midewiwin.  This beautiful society keeps many of the most profound teachings of the Anishinaabe, including our Creation Story, the philosophy of Mno-Bimaadiziwin and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.  These teachings are only the tip of a very immense iceburg that is the full expanse of Anishinaabe belief, custom, Spirituality and culture.  Much of it remains totally unknown to 99 per cent of Anishinaabe people.

Many Christians, Anishinaabe or not, are not willing to trust in their own inherent belief systems.  The teachings of the Church are so ingrained in our society, so well instituted in our families and communities – it may never be shed in favour of traditional Anishinaabe spirituality.

Assimilation and Christianity has been so subtle, so systematic, and so successful that we no longer see that there is anything wrong.  We can go about our lives, sending our kids to school.  We do our best to learn about “Native Culture”, taking Ojibwe language classes and drumming and dancing on the weekend.  Come Sunday, after confession, we can settle down to our nice family dinner with the confidence that we will go to heaven.  Confident that St. Peter, will meet us at the Pearly Gates and welcome us with open arms.

I wonder what pow-wow weekend is like in Heaven and if Jesus is the Emcee?

RE: Mike Harris’ Honourary Degree

A Letter sent to the Chancellor, President and Board of Governors of Nipissing University.


Dear Chancellor and President, & Board of Governors:

I am writing to present you my vehement opposition to the decision to give former Premier Mike Harris a honourary degree from Nipissing University.  Such a decision is a blatant disrespect of Aboriginal people and will do irreparable harm to the established relationships between the University and First Nations people.

There is a simple and fundamental reason for this position.  For First Nation people, Mike Harris is the most hated politician in the history of government. The hostile relationship between the Harris government and Ontario’s First Nations was a significant contributor to the death of Dudley George at Ipperwash on Sept. 6, 1995.  As a long-time political advisor to the Union of Ontario Indians, in my opinion, this hostile relationship is also the single greatest contributing factor in current state of relationship between the Crown and First Nations.  Simply put, bestowing Mr. Harris with this honour is such a blatant disrespect of First Nations views and sensitivities, it threatens to open wounds and undermine efforts towards healing and reconciliation between native and non-native people.

If indeed this degree is bestowed to Mr. Harris, as an influential member of the community, I will work to ensure that Nipissing First Nation withdraws any and all representation, support, commitments and all future student funding to Nipissing University.  I will formally present this request to our Chief and Council.

As a recent trusted advisor to the Union of Ontario Indians, I will also take similar steps to sponsor a resolution calling for similar measures from the 42-member First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation.  As you know, Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee has released a statement condemning this action by your university.

Personally, I am hurt and angered by this turn of events.  First Nations have always considered Nipissing University to be a noble and respectful institution.  Just a year ago, I was on hand as Nipissing University presented former Grand Council Chief John Beaucage with a similar honour.  As his Chief of Staff and most trusted advisor, I was overwhelmed and touched by the honour given to him.  Indeed, the programs and support offered to Aboriginal people is seen as second-to-none by many communities.  In one single blow and with one very bad decision, these positive perceptions of Nipissing University will be undone…  and replaced by the same anger, sadness and the pain associated with Harris’ blood-stained regime.

Yours truly,

Bob Goulais
Nipissing First Nation

Cell: (705) 498-5250

Anishinaabe Teachings are within reach

What are “teachings”?

It’s a simple enough question that has a vast array of answers.

Some Anishinaabeg people think a teaching is a form of unsolicited, mystic wisdom. You sign up for a weekend event or conference, someone will no doubt provide you with some teachings.

Some think teachings are what a knowledgeable speaker says at a pow-wow. Some think it is anything that is said in a ceremony. If you go to enough ceremonies – you’ll have your share of teachings. While many others think it is history or individual knowledge given in the “oral tradition”.

Some will go so far as saying that teachings are anything that an Elder says. Well, there are just as many definitions of “Elder” as there are for “teachings”. Some think The Elder is KISS’ worst studio album.

The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come from any unsolicited, mystic wisdom. The teachings that I’m writing about don’t come from individual knowledge or someone’s life stories.

The teachings that I’m speaking of are a specific set of indigenous knowledge. In this case, Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge.

These teachings have specific wording in the Anishinaabemowin language. These teachings don’t change. Sure, words can evolve over time and can be translated; and companies will even certify your translations – but their meaning is always the same when they are given. These teachings have an origin and a specific story of their own. They also have corresponding traditional songs. Beautiful songs. Each teachings has a specific place among a multitude of places. They also have innumerable specific purposes. The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come at random.

Believed me, these are quite different from the teachings you receive from your local Elder around the pow-wow campfire.

I’ll draw a parallel from Christianity.

Jesus Christ has teachings. Those teachings come from the Holy Bible – which is the source of Christian wisdom and contain a specific set of teachings from the Christian Lord.

But if I were to say that: Jesus came to me in a dream last night – and said that we must all wear yellow socks in honour of the crucifixion. In that dream, Jesus himself lifted his golden robe and showed me his yellow socks – which were soothing his sacred wounds. He said: “Wearing these yellow socks should be part of your ritual stigmata.” He spoke to me in ancient Arimaic, which I fully understand and speak in my dreams.

Most Christians would say “B*llsh*t!” – no matter how believable I am while I testify with my arms to the sky. And rightly so.

But when an “Elder” comes forward, honourarium paid for by the band office, and provides our communities with “teachings” – we gather in droves, like he or she is distributing loaves and fishes.

No matter how many “Elders”, “teachers”, “shamans”, “mystics”, “traditional people” and “consultants” you consult – there is only one true source of our original, Anishinaabeg teachings. The Midewiwin Lodge.

The Midewiwin, the “way of the heart”, is a society that was given the role to teach, practice and preserve the traditional knowledge and original spiritual way of the Anishinaabe people.  The Midewiwin is the source of our Creation Story, the story of Waynaboozhoo, our Clan System and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.  The Midewiwin hold these teachings in trust for all Anishinaabe people. In fact, our teachings tell us that the Spirit of this Lodge, Mide-mnidoo, was provided to the Anishinaabeg by the Creator to look after us and provide us with a sense of closeness and kinship to G’zhemnidoo.

We have something else in common with Christians. Anishinaabe teachings are indeed written down – contrary to the many people out there that think everything Indian people are taught comes down in the so-called oral tradition.

The wigwaas (birchbark) scrolls are an incredible record of Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge. I’ve seen these scrolls with my own eyes, and held them with my own hands. They are an incredible record of our Creation story, our history as well as our vibrant, Spiritual past and sacred teachings. Some scrolls, corresponding teachings and songs are a record of our original instructions given to us directly from the Creator. We may lack a Moses but we have our very own Anishinaabe ten commandments! Well actually, a great deal more than ten.

The Anishinaabe are no different that any other indigenous nation. Many other nations have traditional societies that look after their traditional knowledge and teachings. The best example is the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) people. The source of their knowledge is the Longhouse. No one can purport to provide Mohawk teachings or Oneida wisdom without being a sanctioned member of the Longhouse. If they did, they’d be quickly called on it: “B*llsh*t!”

Unfortunately, for the Anishinaabe, our traditional knowledge is very old and is long lost in almost every single one of our communities. Our history and prophesies tell us that the Midewiwin foreseen what would happen to our people and our ancestors chose to hide our ways and keep them secret. Unfortunately, that also worked against us. Our ways and knowledge were simply were forgotten. Our indigenous knowledge and traditional societies have long since been taken away from us and labeled as devil-worship. The Midewiwin have been replaced by more civilized values and Christianity.

However, as more and more Anishinaabe people are regaining their identity – they are seeking to learn more about their traditional ways. Some are choosing to return to those ways entirely. Sadly, a great many people – confused by the melting pot of “Aboriginal” knowledge – are swept up by new age and pow-wow spirituality. Other Anishinaabe people choose to live a hybrid life attending a plethora of ceremonies, fasting, sweat lodges, sun dances, rain dances, and round dances belonging to other nations. However, this makes them quite healthy and happy and it provides many people with fulfillment in their lives. Many are oblivious to the fact that their practices are borrowed from other nations.

However, within reach – and right under their noses – is true, Anishinaabe knowledge.

Still, many people simply don’t want to put in the work it requires to earn this knowledge. Many feel the Midewiwin are a secret society, or a selfish, protective cult holding this knowledge for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All Anishinaabe people are entitled to this knowledge and are welcome to study all the Spirit will offer. However, it requires time, effort, a commitment to the society and a commitment to living a good and just life. As our Grand Chief Bawdwaywidun has always said – if you want to know: “Come to the Lodge.”

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.

John Beaucage to advise on needs of aboriginal youth

By Tanya Talaga
Queen’s Park Bureau, Toronto Star

For the first time, Ontario has appointed a special advisor to the government on the plight of aboriginal youth.

John Beaucage, former grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, will be the aboriginal advisor on child welfare, reporting to Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten.

“This is a very important step and reflective to the significance we place on finding solutions to the very challenging issues that do exist, both in the north but also in our urban centres,” Broten told the Star.

Staggering youth suicide rates in remote northern communities and funding problems among First Nations children’s aid societies will be a focus for Beaucage. His one-year appointment coincides with an ongoing review of the Child and Family Services Act. The review hones in on the situation of aboriginal kids.

It would be a mistake to believe all the problems among First Nations children could be solved in a year, said Beaucage. Children in the north often grow up in Third World conditions, coping with poverty, substance abuse, inferior education and despair. Those problems often follow aboriginals off the reserve and into the cities.

“The problems have been there for a long time,” he said in an interview from Ottawa. “But what I am hoping is there will be a more inclusive process with First Nations leadership and leadership with urban aboriginal people.”

Nearly 21 per cent of Ontario’s 9,000 Crown wards are aboriginal kids or children with First Nations heritage. There are six aboriginal children’s aid societies and many struggle to manage historic funding inequities while taking care of vulnerable kids.

On Wednesday, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies called improved services for aboriginal children one of three priority areas the province needs to tackle now.

A Star investigation last year focused on the troubles of Payukotayno James and Hudson Bay Family Services which nearly shut its doors because it could no longer afford to pay its bills. The agency was also confronting a teen suicide crisis – 13 youth in the remote communities dotting the James Bay coastline committed suicide in 2009, all by hanging.

Suicides among First Nations youth is a societal problem with no easy answers. “It is always something there that is lurking”, said Beaucage.

“I have experienced it, I’ve seen it and I would be remiss if I wasn’t able to make some kind of comment on it, speak to elders and to look at the traditional aspects of prevention of these horrible tragedies,” he said.

Broten did step in to help with Payukotayno’s $2.3 million debt. Costs are higher in remote agencies that often service fly-in only communities and have to charter planes in a moments notice to rescue a child in danger.

After the Star series appeared, Broten also provided funding for four suicide prevention workers.

But agencies serving First Nations communities are historically underfunded. An independent review prepared for the government in 2006 showed Payukotayno and Tikinagan Children and Family Services required a baseline funding increase of $24.6 million to give northern kids the same level of care Crown wards in the south receive.
A three-person committee is also studying the funding woes of all of Ontario’s 53 children’s aid societies, 49 of which have recently faced shortfalls.

Terry Waboose, deputy grand chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, called Beaucage’s appointment a positive step. “It is vitally important for us, child welfare is a big issue,” he said. “I see this as a positive step.”

Ontario natives eye stake in Hydro One expansion

Company formed by 22 first nations seeks ownership role in transmission line project

Bill Curry
Globe and Mail
From the Tuesday, February 16 edition

A collective of aboriginal communities across Ontario is angling to build and manage new electrical transmission lines as part of a major expansion of the power grid.

A group of 22 first nations recently formed the Lake Huron Anishinabek Transmission Co. and named veteran Ontario native leader John Beaucage as chief executive officer. The company is aiming to take an ownership stake in part of Hydro One’s three-year, $2.3-billion plan for 20 new transmission projects. The project is expected to create about 20,000 jobs.

The ownership initiative is one example of a growing push by native leaders across the country to work more closely with Canada’s business community. For decades, native politics has been dominated by disputes with governments over unfulfilled promises going back to the original treaties crafted by European settlers.

Many of those issues remain, but the focus is shifting. “We’re very determined,” said Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day, chair of the company’s board. “We are going to seek to obtain the full benefit of all the major transmission lines in the treaty territory.”

The McGuinty government announced the plan last September, releasing a map showing proposed transmission arteries that would run east from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury with a link to Manitoulin Island; south from Sudbury to the GTA; and a link in the northwest between Nipigon and Wawa.

Smaller lines will also be built as part of the expansion, which aims to bring remote renewable power to the province’s urban centres.

At the time, the announcement promised opportunities for aboriginal participation, but no specifics. Mr. Day said native communities have plenty of people who can do the work, but they’re also talking with non-aboriginal firms to help manage the projects.

A spokesperson for Hydro One confirmed “preliminary” talks are under way with the company and said Hydro One is interested in working with aboriginals on the transmission projects.

Development projects in Ontario, from mining in the north to housing in the south, have been abandoned in recent years due to native protests, but in this case, communities are hoping to secure an ownership role at the outset.

There’s also a new tone coming from the top. After a quiet start, Shawn Atleo, the Assembly of First Nations’ rookie National Chief, is addressing more national events this year – often on economic issues.

Last month, he was the first AFN leader to address the Toronto Board of Trade, where he told a packed room: “We’re open for business.” He’s since delivered this message to similar audiences in Vancouver and Ottawa.

Mr. Atleo’s predecessor, Phil Fontaine, started to make some of these connections during the end of his term and is now running an advisory firm that includes working with the Royal Bank of Canada.

In an interview, Mr. Atleo said the Lake Huron proposal is just the type of approach he’s encouraging: using treaties as the foundation for securing aboriginal co-ownership of development projects.

“It’s that notion that we’re in this together,” he said, citing similar examples happening across the country. “Lurching along from conflict to conflict is a pattern we all agree we need to break.”

Clint Davis, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business, a 25-year-old organization that includes Canadian branches of large multinationals like PepsiCo. Inc. and Xerox Corp., said several factors are behind the rise in deal making, including: court rulings requiring consultation with aboriginals; an increased focus by companies on corporate social responsibility; the increased settlement of land claims and the fact that aboriginals and immigrants are the only sources of Canadian population growth.

The Ontario government’s transmission and energy plans will ultimately involve several arrangements with aboriginals, Mr. Davis predicted.

“I think this is just the start,” he said.

Right to Play takes hockey north

Group, province offer program for community plagued by teen suicides

Representatives from Right to Play, provincial government and Moose Cree First Nation appear at Hockey Hall of Fame on Jan. 21, 2010.  TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR

Representatives from Right to Play, provincial government and Moose Cree First Nation appear at Hockey Hall of Fame on Jan. 21, 2010. TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR


By Tanya Talaga
Toronto Star

A sports organization known for its mission to build self-esteem in children from impoverished and war-torn nations is coming to a northern Ontario aboriginal community struggling with a teen suicide crisis.

Right to Play, an international humanitarian body operating in 23 countries, is bringing hockey to the Moose Cree First Nation, adjacent to the town of Moosonee, on the James Bay coast.

This is the first time Right to Play, which has sports programs in countries such as Lebanon and Burundi, has come to Canada. Instructors will use hockey to teach kids life and leadership skills.

If successful, the joint Ontario government and Right to Play program will spread to reserves across the north.

Using sports to boost the self-confidence of First Nations teens was the brain-child of hockey dad Brad Duguid, Ontario’s former aboriginal affairs minister. Last Monday, Duguid was promoted to minister of infrastructure and energy.

“These young people deserve more than they are getting right now,” Duguid said at a news conference Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame. “This is the fastest-growing young population in our province and our country.”

Duguid said he realizes hockey will not solve all the social ills plaguing First Nations teens. Improving the education system and job creation in the north will take time, he said. “As the time passes, we are just losing far too many of these young, vibrant people,” he said. “We have to do something.”

The program is looking for corporate and private donors to help cover the $1.6 million cost for hockey equipment, infrastructure and maintenance. The Ontario government is committing funds, but has not revealed how much.

A Star investigation last month revealed there were 13 teen suicides in the isolated communities in the James Bay area in 2009. All the teens died by hanging. Another 80 tried to take their own lives. Just Wednesday, the provincial government announced it will free up $470,000 in emergency funds to send four suicide prevention workers to help. Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy said First Nations teens are taking their lives at a frightening rate.

“What I see here today gives me great encouragement,” Beardy said of the hockey plan.

“It is something tangible, something my young people can relate to.”