Posts tagged ‘First Nation’

New Partnership Promotes Life-Skills For Aboriginal Youth


Back Row: Chief Norm Hardisty of Moose Cree First Nation, Robert Witchel of Right to Play, Brad Duguid – Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Chris Bentley – Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Grand Chief Stan Beardy of Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Front Row: Darlene Isaac, Aurora Delaney, Olympic and World Champion Sami Jo Small and Adrian Delaney.

Today, the Government of Ontario and Right To Play announced a new partnership that will promote a healthy and active lifestyle for Aboriginal youth through sport and recreation. 

Promoting Life-skills for Aboriginal Youth (P.L.A.Y.) is a pilot project being developed by Right To Play. The first community to benefit from the program will be Moose Cree First Nation. 

The program uses sport and recreation to develop leadership skills and provide youth with opportunities that may not otherwise be available in their community. It is based on similar sport and play programs run by Right To Play.

Right To Play is a humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health and develop life skills for children and communities in 23 countries around the world.

Diabetes trends not slowing

Diabetes kills.

It’s a disease that kills everyday and it’s been so apparent for so long.  It affects First Nations people far more than it affects non-native people. It affects far more First Nations women than any other demographic.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal illustrates the alarming numbers of First Nations people with diabetes. It examined 8275 aboriginal people in Saskatchewan between 1980 and 2005. It compared the trends with 82,306 non-native people over the same time period.

The study found that in 2005, 20 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men living in First Nations communities had Type-2 diabetes. That was an increase in 9.5 percent of women and 4.9 per cent in men. These trends are not about the slow down.

It also found that the root causes of diabetes among First Nations are not necessarily genetic or hereditary. It is environmental. It was about the food we eat and the lack of exercise and care we have for our bodies.

In my short lifetime, I’ve seen the disease ravage the bodies of many of my friends, family, Elders and even not-so-Elders. I’ve seen feet amputated, legs amputated and numerous people go blind. I’ve known many people forced to go on dialysis in order to live.

I’ve also seen them die.

I wrote recently about Helen Bobiwash. The certified management accountant from Sudbury took up the sport of triathlon to improve her own health with the hopes of staving off the onset of diabetes which runs in her family. Her mom Alice died of diabetes complications at the ripe age of 73. However, it was back in 2002, that Alice had to bury her son due to complications from diabetes. Rodney Bobiwash was only 42 when he passed on to the Spirit World.

I had only known him briefly and had the pleasure of hanging out with him on occasion when I lived and worked in Toronto back in the late 90s.

Rodney was a class-act. A vibrant young leader who garnered the respect of so many, both on the urban reserve and in the wider First Nation community. He was a tireless advocate of anti-racism and First Nations rights. He was vocal against hate speech. He stood up for human rights and was even an adjudicator for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Most of all he was a teacher who taught me something new in every one of our few talks together. He was a teacher of so many people like me.

But I never knew the affliction that he endured. Apparently he put on a brave face. He faced incredible hardship, even pain as he took on the disease. He was taken from us far too early.

Today, I have diabetes. I’m approaching my 40s. Damn it… and I missed taking my pills again this morning. I’m not a very good diabetic at all. I’ve got to start looking after myself because, no matter how hard my Loved ones try, only I can do this for myself.

We all need to heed the message of good health, especially our Anishinaabe women. As Anishinaabe men, it’s our traditional role to protect our women and children. Given these latest facts, we all need to do more to prevent diabetes and promote better health in our families and in our communities.

Unlike Helen Bobiwash, I won’t be climbing in for a cold swim, followed by a bike ride and a 10 km run anytime soon. But I will strive to listen to the doctor, exercise and take my pills everyday – so help me God.

So help me, Rodney.

Olympic torch carries diabetic message

The Olympic torch relay means different things to different people.  Some First Nation communities embraced the torch as it passed through their community.  Some communities used the torch relay to hold protests.  Others use the opportunity to highlight messages that are much more personal.

For Helen Bobiwash, the Olympic torch is a beacon on hope for herself, her family and her community.  The opportunity to carry the torch was an opportunity to spread the message of awareness of best budget elliptical trainer, physical fitness and type-2 diabetes.

“Coming from a family with a whole lot of diabetes, I realized that I didn’t want my son to grow up worrying about me like I did my mom,” said Bobiwash, a member of Thessalon First Nation.  “While my mother was alive, I worried a lot about her heath and the toll that diabetes was taking on her.”

Bobiwash, a 42 year-old, strategic consultant and finance-whiz, carried the flame on January 2 in Mississauga First Nation.  She was one of 12,000 people across Canada to carry the flame during the Olympic torch relay.

Although Bobiwash does not have diabetes, the disease has affected her intimately.

Helen’s mom, Alice, lived with the complications from diabetes until she passed away at the age of 73.  With the loss of her mom and with the passing of her brother, Rodney, at the young age of 42, Helen became motivated to change her life.

“I wanted my son to grow up with a healthy mom,” said Bobiwash, the proud mother of five year-old Mzhiikenh.  “The only way that I knew that I could make a difference with my health was through physical activity.”

Helen, admits she wasn’t exactly the typical athletic type.  In 2007, Helen was overweight and was recovering from a car accident when her mother died. She realized quickly that she couldn’t continue living like she had been for so long. She needed to make a change.

Helen took up the sport of triathlon –a gruelling multi-sport race that combines swimming, cycling,running and remarkable long distance ergonomic racing on recumbent bike. It is a demanding sport that requires endurance and speed, as well as a great deal of determination.It is not for the faint-hearted.

“I decided to go for it and see if I could challenge myself.  I started training using some advice from the YMCA.  I also found a local triathlon clinic and joined a team,” she said.

She has competed in 14 triathlons, mainly in local events all across Ontario.  She’s hoping to challenge herself further by doing more cycling events this summer, and perhaps competing in Olympic distance in the triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km ride, 10 km run) as early as 2011.

And she’s motivated.

“If a 40 year old overweight mom can turn their life around with physical activity to stave off diabetes, a lot of other people can,” concluded Bobiwash.

The 2010 Olympic Winter Games are set to begin with the opening ceremony and lighting of the game caldron in Vancouver on February 12.

For Helen Bobiwash, her new-found passion for physical fitness and her new outlook on life with her son is symbolized in the Olympic flame.

The Olympic flame is a flame of hope, a symbol of achievement and doing your best.

It’s a flame that will never be extinguished in our lifetime, and can be passed on one-person at a time.



Bob Goulais, of Nipissing First Nation, is the author of the Anishinawbe Blog.  He writes about politics, culture, spirituality and other stuff.  He has type-2 diabetes.

Another racist video from northwestern Ontario

Yet another cell-phone amateur video has surfaced from northwestern Ontario that features, not only lateral violence against First Nations, but the racist face of malicious youth.

The videos depicts First Nations people, some poor and homeless in Kenora, and also features a video of an inebriated man being arrested by Kenora police.

The video is tasteless and shows the underlying racism of the youth videographers and quite possibly, their hatred of their First Nations neighbours.  The videographers feel superior to their filmed subjects.  Plain and simple, the video is meant to degrade all First Nations people and humiliate and ridicule some innocent, vulnerable people.

The video was obviously made by youth as it features one of their stars, a teenage skateboarder doing tricks.  The people taking the video seem to be known to the community, due to the reactions they get from seemly normal folks on the streets of Kenora and outside the local shopping centre.  (They are ‘flipped the bird’ twice during the course of the short video.)

It brings to mind the Fort Frances video.  It was almost two years ago when a half-a-dozen, equally bright girls from a local hockey team, decided in their wisdom to upload their parody of sacred Anishinaabe dancing to YouTube.  The underage girls, drunk as skunks, were forming their version of pow-wow dancing for the world to see.

But this is much more personal for those people depicted in the video.

These people may very well be at lowest points of their lives.  Some are dealing with the demons of addictions – others are poor and homeless.  They needn’t be ridiculed or filmed without their permission.

But it isn’t just the homeless.  Some are just people walking down the street or hanging out together.

One Anishinaabe man is simply enjoying a bag of popcorn for God’s sakes.  But because he’s Anishinaabek, he is being ridiculed for no apparent reason.  That easily could have been me.  Would the video be so funny if it was a middle-aged white man was walking, content and carefree, eating his popcorn snack?  I don’t think so.

This leads me to believe that they weren’t targeting the homeless, they were targeting First Nation people.

This is infuriating.

There isn’t any question, we are dealing with racism.  Even the name of the Youtube member “like9jews” may be anti-semetic.

The authorities need to find the producer of this video and their cohorts and investigate them for any hate crimes.  Have these people gone further in their hate for First Nations people?  Should they be exposed so the community knows who they are and can protect themselves from this type of lateral violence.

It’s when racism become overt, like in the case of these YouTube videos, that it becomes concerning.  When does lateral violence become actual violence?  In addition to their cell phone, do they have AR-10 rifles in their truck?

The local First Nations should step in and take the producers to court, no matter their age, to hold them accountable for the hurt they are causing these individuals who are depicted and the pain they are causing the broader Anishinaabe community.

Racism is a learned behaviour and it isn’t taught at school.  Let me place the blame where it belongs – the parents.  Perhaps these parents need to know where their kids are and what they’re doing – just like the parents of the infamous Fort Frances girls.  However, these youth appear a little older than the teenie-bopper racists.

As I stated two years ago, this is a symptom and a greater problem in the Kenora and Fort Frances areas.  First Nations are subject to racism quite often.  To their credit, the local Council and First Nations governments have taken steps to raise awareness and counter these types of situations.  But there is a still a lot of work to do.

Racism is no longer socially accepted and very often lies dormant.  But it manifests itself in contemporary stereotypes, ignorance.  Believe me, I will get many e-mails and responses in defence of youth, the videographers and their parents.  Many will deflect the issue and even accuse me of racism.  All are symptoms of underlying, dormant racism.

It’s in those private conversations, at home, with their spouses and children, at the dinner table or before bed, where the real racism will show it’s ugly head.

Violence and Trauma in First Nations

I’ve been watching with great interest the story unfolding in Ottawa, where Constable Eric Czapnik, a father of four, was the first Ottawa Police officer to have been killed in the line of duty since 1983. His alleged assailant, Kevin Gregson is a First Nations man and a suspended RCMP officer. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

On the surface, this seems to be violent, senseless killing – apparently with a robbery motive. But there are still many questions to be answered like: who would try to rob a cop? Or why would you commit robbery in front of a cop in a police cruiser? None of this makes sense.

The likely defence here is insanity given that Gregson blamed a past criminal incident on pre-operative brain cysts. He allegedly pulled a knife and threatened a Mormon church official in Regina in 2006 and was given a conditional discharge. He hasn’t been on the job with the RCMP since.

Any crime that takes the life of another needs to be punished severely. Especially if such an action take the life of a police officer. If Gregson is guilty, so be it – native or non-native.

But what intrigues me is that Gregson is Anishinaabe. According to media reports, he describes himself as an “urban native”, meaning he is a First Nations person that lives and grow up in the city.

There is no question that being a First Nations person, the odds have been stacked against him all his life.

Trauma is a significant factor in the evolution of violence. No matter where we grew up, the reserve or the city, First Nations people are far more likely to have experienced some form of childhood trauma. Be it emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family violence, racism or the effects of poverty.

Poverty is endemic in First Nations. In Canada, one in four aboriginal children live in poverty. So many of our little ones are living in third-world conditions without adequate housing or healthy food. Children are going to school hungry. Poverty isn’t just isolated to reserves, either. The statistics are similar for aboriginal people living in urban centres.

Just imagine if one in four non-native children in Ottawa or Toronto were found to be living in poverty. I’m sure a state of emergency would be called and resources would be immediately mobilized to alleviate such a crisis.

The multi-generational effects of residential schools must not be underestimated. There are thousands of brown people with status cards, wondering why they are different. Wondering why they are confused, depressed and sick. People with no culture, no values or no hope. That was all beaten out of our parents and grandparents, yardstick by yardstick.

Many residential school survivors and their families have no identity beyond their church and what they learned in school. With no identity and without acceptance, they are banished to the margins of society. Although this generation might be more accepting – with access to more social programs and numerous political, legal and rights-based victories – the damage from the past generations has been done. Parents don’t know how to be parents. Families don’t know how to Love.

First Nations people are introduced to violence at an early age – in the home. Violence against aboriginal women continues to be a significant social issue that must be dealt with in a serious manner. First Nations youth living in cities are even more susceptible, as aboriginal street gangs are more prevalent and much more violent.

Sadly, violence is a way of life for many First Nations people. Even my relatively quiet, urbanized native community has had its share of violent confrontations and tragic endings. It has affected me and many other people on my reserve.

Addictions is another incredible factor. Alcoholism began as an early epidemic in our communities. No one knew how to handle the fire-water. It became a means to an end –to wash away the troubles of Indian life. Today, in much the same way, the youth in First Nations are dealing with their lack of identity, poverty and troubles through prescription drug abuse.

For far too many youth, suicide is the ultimate way out. We’re seeing that more in more in remote, northern communities. This is truly the saddest commentary. I can’t imagine how bad life must be for a twelve year-old Cree boy to hang himself at the recreation centre swing-set. To not have the Love he needs… to not have hope. To know that he hasn’t been the first and he won’t be the last.

This isn’t a defence of Mr. Gregson, but a reality check. There is no excuse for violence. But I think there is a significant cause and effect relationship between trauma and violence. It seems to be an unending cycle for First Nations. Violence and trauma begets violence and trauma. At some point this cycle must end.

In First Nations, something has to be done about it to protect our future generations.
Right now, there is too much emphasis on rights. Healing, wellness and reconciliation need to be the key goals for this generation and the next. If we fail at these objectives, there will be no hope for nation building and economic sustainability.

My Life in Retrospect, 2009

Well, here it is – my life in retrospect, 2009.  Happy New Year!

THE LOVE OF MY LIFE – It’s been a wonderful year with my partner, the Duchess of Thornhill, Deborah. She’s taken me in and we’ve built a beautiful life together so far. Everyday, I truly feel I’m the luckiest man in the world. I’m thankful to the Creator everyday for her. Her daughters are really great little people. They get along great with Katherine Faith, obviously… and the Boyz as well. We’re having our first mega-family holiday get-together on Friday. Fifteen people in all.

MY CHILDREN – They’re growing up to be wonderful people. My Boyz are so kind and generous. My Griffin is such a good-deed do-er. My Miigwans is as smart as a whip. My daughter is equally an wonderful young woman, whose grades are good. She just Loves spending time with her friends. And they are all so good to their Dad. But it’s hard being away from my kids so much.

CHANGE IN CAREER DIRECTION – 2009 marked quite a change in career direction for me. After 10 years with the Union of Ontario Indians, I’ve moved from the front-line of First Nations politics to the machinery of government. It’s quite a different pace moving from a 24/7 job in the Grand Chief’s office to a singular responsibility within government. But the objective is still the same and I’m working just as hard for our people.

JOHN BEAUCAGE CAMPAIGN – In 2009, I had the career highlight of my life. I had the pleasure of managing John Beaucage’s campaign to become National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Unfortunately, the best man doesn’t always win. Despite running a campaign on the best platform and the best values – the Chiefs chose to elect Shawn Atleo to succeed the great Phil Fontaine. They’ll be looking for something else next time around, I’m sure. John is an amazing man, and a great leader. Who knows what the future will bring him. He will be running the Olympic torch tomorrow in Parry Sound.

LIFE IN THE LODGE – I’ve written this year-end journal over the years, but I rarely include any references to my true life – as a Midewiwin man. This year was the first time I’ve had my Boyz in the Lodge with me as Midewiwins. They are still very young and have lots of time to discover what it means to be Mide. The Three Fires School looks great with the new addition. Lots of new space. It’s also great to see the young people from Shingwauk attending ceremonies each time. They are a great group.

MY BLOG – This year, I had more of a chance to write. It is something that I really enjoy. I’ve been able to write about human rights, First Nations issues even the environment and the economy. I hope I’ll be able to write more and more.

NUMBERS – It seems people are reading my stuff on my website too.

• I had more visitors to my website than any other time in the past 14 years.
• Although I won’t reach 1 million visitors before December 31, I’m pretty darn close: 969,414.
• From 1997 to 2007, I had only 304,351 visitors;
• Web traffic numbers went up substantially when I started marketing my website.
• 93,445 page views in 2007.
• 262,844 page views in 2008.
• This year I’ve had 308,774 page views so far.
• That number will go up by a few thousand once I post this new blog entry.

NEWS STORY OF THE YEAR – To great fanfare, Barrack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States took office in 2009. He inspired many of us. But for the red-neck majority in the US, his message was met with skepticism, boycotts and measures of racism. In his first year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and dealt with health care reform – head on. Now can he address middle-east peace and terrorism?

CLIMATE-GATE – The biggest non-news story of the year was “climate-gate”. The Copenhagan climate summit that wasn’t. No commitments by the major governments of the world. No carbon reduction targets. Absolutely, no leadership from Canada whatsoever. In fact, it should be an embarrassment for all Canada. Canada – the fossil of the year! Lots of good will in the agreement but nothing binding. I seriously doubt that the agreement that was signed in Denmark will lead to any drastic changes needed to address climate change.

FILM – I Love the movies. In 2009 I seen 48 movies in the theatre. Definitely, the most ever. The best film of the year was Avatar. Another James Cameron epic blockbuster. This year there were a lot of similarities between the film world and indigenous peoples. It began with District 9, a film about an oppressed alien race forced onto “reservations” in South Africa. On the surface, District 9 may seem to have more ties to apartheid than indigenous people. But what most people don’t know is that apartheid was based on the Canadian Indian reserve system. It is another of Canada’s great contributions to world history. The message is clear in Avatar – protect the environment and the world’s indigenous peoples. This movie had the best ending of the year. Sometimes I wish we can turn back the clock and reality, climb aboard our dragons and march the oppressors, at machine gun-point, onto space ships bound for another world.

MY HEALTH – Well I’m apparently in a holding pattern. Spent the first half of the year in the gym and just gave it up. I thought my diabetes was under control, until I had to miss Christmas dinner on a fast to reduce my sugar-induced diabetic episode. I must avoid sugar, especially home-made ice cream, as well as eat in regular intervals. I don’t believe in new years resolutions – but I’ve got to take control of my own health. No one will do it for me.

VACATION 2009 – Went to The Bahamas in May and snorkelled with sharks on the continental shelf. Spent the summer in Saskatchewan and Winnipeg with Deb’s family. Lots of good memories. In October, we spent a long weekend in New York City. Ate at Nobu and seen The Lion King.

LONGEST DRIVE – 1,286 kilometres between Toronto and Cedar, Wisconsin for Fall Ceremonies.

LONGEST DRIVE – Laurentide Golf Course, Hole 6, about 290 yards.

GOLF GAMES – 4. The most in five years. I hope I get to play a lot more in 2010. My game is really, really rusty.

FEWEST NIGHTS IN A HOTEL – In 2009, I spent fewer nights in a hotel than the previous 5 years. I averaged about 100 nights in a hotel in 2007 and 2008. I may not reach Delta Privilege Platinum this year. I miss the Delta Chelsea and their cherry jello with the canned peaches in them.

POW-WOW TIME – This year, because of the campaign, career and family obligations – I wasn’t able to enjoy time on the pow-wow trail. It’s difficult to balance so many things in life and pow-wow has had to fall by the wayside. I want to thank the Taabik Singers for allowing me to sing with them for the past few years. I hope to catch up with them as often as I can, and perhaps MC a few pow-wows from time to time.

I CHEERED IN 2009 – …for Barrack Obama. In 2008, I actually cheered for Hillary Clinton.

I JEERED IN 2009 – … over the goofy paranoia and sensational media coverage of the H1N1 Flu pandemic which was a little stronger than the usual seasonal flu virus.

I LAUGHED WHEN – … we all make fun of Nicole, who seems to move like Eeyore to the bus-stop in the morning.

I CRIED WHEN – … I lost my uncle Henry.

MEMORABLE MEAL – Definitely, the Chef’s Choice at Nobu in New York City. I also really liked the spiducci at Joe and Fiona’s house.

MEMORABLE MOMENT – The Longest Date: March 27-29, 2009. Beginning at Peter Pan’s on Queen West and A Haunting in Connecticut. The long walk from Queen, up Bathurst, across Bloor and down Yonge Street. Late night sweets at Just Desserts. In the morning, up to John Street and into Thornhill to the Duchess’ residence. Another movie (I Love you, Man) then back downtown again.

Is the grass really greener in Peguis?

The grass is always greener on the other side.  I wish my new Palm Pre ran WindowsCE and had the same apps as my old Treo Pro.  I wish my hair was long and straight rather than curly.  Do we really wish we could be the Chief of Peguis First Nation and make $174,230 tax free.  There are many people wish they could be an Indian and have everything tax free, free education and free housing.

Sorry to dispel these contemporary stereotypes.  Nothing is free in the world, it all requires hard work.  Most of us don’t get free housing or free money.  There are very few who benefit from the right to tax exemption – they must live and work on-reserve.  The majority of us, like you, pay taxes.  And very few First Nations students are “sponsored”.  We get student loans like everyone else.

To address another contemporary stereotype – First Nations do not make that much money.

In 2006, the average Aboriginal income in Ontario was only $26,000. The unemployment rate for First Nation people living on-reserve is 18 per cent – three times the Ontario average.

Given these statistics, I certainly can’t defend or substantiate the salary paid to the Chief and Council from Peguis First Nation.  Perhaps they were getting bonuses based on their recent negotiated land settlement or their own source revenue.  Perhaps, the Chief was paid a premium because he’s a professional engineer.  I have no idea why the Councillor is getting paid $310,000.  That’s is grossly excessive and actually turns my stomach.

However, having worked in First Nations politics for most of my life – I know with absolutely certainty that Chiefs and Councillors don’t get paid that much.  In fact, First Nations civil servants don’t get paid anything close to what they’re worth in relation to what they do for their communities.

In my experience, most Chiefs make between $40,000 and $60,000.

Check any First Nation audit.  These are easily obtained through a basic Freedom of Information Act request.  Yes, indeed.  I’m pleased to dispel another stereotype – First Nation governments are indeed quite accountable.

Of all the levels of government, First Nations not only have to file an annual audit to the Government of Canada, they have to file inordinate numbers of reports for every program and fund they access.  In fact, the Auditor General once criticized the sheer number of reports that must be filed, which averaged around 140 official financial reports, per band, each year.

First Nations have established their very own Aboriginal Financial Officer’s Association, a network of financial professionals who share policies and best practices.  Membership in the AFOA is quickly becoming a standard in the most accountable of First Nations band administrations.  Their members of AFOA need to be commended.

However, the Auditor General has also criticized First Nations stating that in too many cases, dollars intended for social purposes don’t always make it to those in need.  They were being used for administration and salaries, rather than helping the poor.  Peguis First Nation, despite their recent successes, remains one of the poorest First Nation in Manitoba.

I think First Nations need to re-evaluate their priorities when it comes to financial planning.  We need to merge our financial values with our societal values.  We’re a communal, socialist society.  These dollars need to be put back into the community, not just into the pockets of the leadership.

However, we also need to measure the value of leadership and the civil service.

In my experience, wages of First Nations program managers, financial administrators and program officers are HALF of what is being made by their counterparts in government.  On average, First Nations civil servants have to do a lot more than their jobs ask.  For the most part, First Nations have no executive assistants, special advisors, policy analysts or communications officers.

Sure, there may be a few First Nations leaders that make an exorbitant salary.  But I estimate that less than 1 percent of Chiefs across Canada make more than $100,000.  As I stated earlier, the vast majority make between $40,000 and $60,000.

On the other hand, I would estimate that about 10 per cent make less than $40,000.  There are still a few First Nations whose Chief is either part-time or done strictly as a volunteer, paid only by meeting honouraria.  Most councillors in First Nations are volunteers who only get honoraria, usually $100 to $200 per meeting, with perhaps a small monthly stipend.  Travel budgets for most Councils are quite low and not much of a financial incentive.

With statistics like these, why would an accountant, a lawyer, a financial planner or an MBA even consider working for their own community?  What incentive does a First Nation have to bring in the best, young university graduates?  Why would someone want to be Chief – one of the most stressful, ungrateful, often criticized position you can have in a small community – when they are making less than $50,000 per year?  And they have to worry about getting re-elected every two years, compared to four years in mainstream politics.

And it’s true.  First Nations are losing their best, young minds to urban centres where they can have housing, a better salary and a more comfortable life.  First Nations just can’t compete.

Before we are quick to paint all First Nations with the brush of contemporary stereotypes, we also need to work towards equity for the vast majority of First Nations civil servants.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.

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.

European Cannibalism Proof of True Savagery

Evidence of early-European savagery may have been a pre-historic sign of things to come.

Archaeologists from the University of Bordeaux have unearthed evidence that may point to ritualistic human mutilation of unborn babies, infants and adults including proof of cannibalism by Euro-Caucasian people.

The archaeologists told the BBC that they had found evidence that human bones were deliberately cut and broken – a tell-tale indication of cannibalism.

“We see patterns on the bones of animals indicating that they have been spit-roasted,” said a lead archaeologist with the project. “We have seen some of these same patterns on the human bones.”

This is likely the largest site of mass cannibalism ever found in human history. Up to 500 human remains unearthed near the village of Herxheim in southwest Germany may have been cannibalised.

Contrary to conventional history, Europeans actually have an extensive history of grim, foreboding violence. This evidence may point to the earliest known example of European atrocities and savagery.

Such proof of brutal Eurocentric violence may explain a pre-supposition to violent tendencies. This would later take the form of barbarism, colonialist violence, historic episodes of genocide and forms of violence used in the family and against those most vulnerable parts of society.

Other pervasive examples include the Crusades, the Inquisition, imperialism, genocide and the Holocaust. The greatest hostilities known to mankind include the American Civil War, the World Wars, the development of modern warfare, biological and chemical warfare and nuclear weapons. Indigenous specific examples of European violence includes the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of First Nations children, widespread physical and sexual abuse in residential schools and the assimilation of Aboriginal people. All of these were first perpetrated by European societies.

But such brutal, Eurocentric violence may also explain the roots of such wide-spread concepts as sexual abuse, corporal punishment, gender inequality, violence against women and the elderly. These were all concepts introduced by Europeans and mostly foreign to First Nations people.

Such Eurocentric savagery, although certainly wrong and abnormal, may have been seen as acceptable at the time, just like violence forced upon European adversaries had been seen as acceptable throughout the course of history.

It is well known that Europeans who first arrived to North America called First Nations people “savages”. Early explorers reported unfounded myths of ritualistic human sacrifices and cannibalism.

But this was in stark contrast to archaeological and anthropological evidence. The realities point to early aboriginal people as generous, humble and spiritual people.

However, such negative myths have perpetuated into the present-day, and ironically, is a prime example of lateral violence. Many people continue to believe such unfounded stories of North American aboriginal people today. This perpetuates stereotypes of First Nations people as savages.

Given the savagery of early Europe, the history books may need to be re-written.

Europeans also brought forward the concept of “evil” as well as the embodiment of evil: Satan and a place called “hell”. These were strictly Christian themes. Satan and hell were not aboriginal concepts, and were not a part of our communities until brought in my Europeans.

The Herxheim site is the greatest evidence ever unearthed pointing to a European-based, “hell on Earth”.