Posts tagged ‘First Nations’

National Chief Bellegarde appoints new Chief-of-Staff


Bob Goulais and National Chief Perry Bellegarde

(Ottawa, ON) ― Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde is pleased to announce the appointment of a new Chief of Staff who will be responsible for implementation of his political agenda affecting First Nation across Canada. Bob Goulais, an Anishinaabe from Nipissing First Nation in Ontario, brings a great deal of experience with indigenous organizations, government and the private sector to the AFN. Goulais will assume his new duties on November 7, 2016.

“I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Bob Goulais as my Chief of Staff. I have great confidence in his abilities and appreciate the diverse skillset he brings to my office,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “He will play a key role in providing strategic advice, political advice and advancing our agenda.”

“There is an unprecedented opportunity for First Nations in Canada to influence the public policy landscape and implement positive change for our peoples,” said Bob Goulais. “I look forward to the challenge of this important position and supporting the National Chief in representing First Nations rights, interests and perspectives.”

“This is an exciting time for the Assembly of First Nations, where we are solidifying corporate and political leadership with the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer and my Chief of Staff,” said National Chief Bellegarde. Mr. Goulais joins Ms. Judy White, a Mi’kmaq from Flat Bay, who assumed the office of CEO on October 31.

Mr. Goulais is an experienced senior executive, public servant and professional communicator who has provided more than 20 years of service to industry, non-for-profit, First Nations and government. Throughout his career, Goulais has excelled in situations requiring significant change management, organizational development and community engagement. Goulais recently served as President of Nbisiing Consulting Inc., the founding Director of Aboriginal Relations for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Senior Communications Advisor to the Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Manager of Cultural Policy and Strategic Policy and Planning for the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and Chief of Staff for the Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde has also expressed his gratitude to former Acting Chief of Staff Wendy Moss for filling the role for the past five months.

The AFN is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Updates.

He’s homeless. It’s below freezing. Then the inevitable happens…

homeless_manTORONTO – It’s early in the morning and a homeless man is leaving the warm sanctuary of a local shelter. He was fortunate enough to have a bed that night. He’s out and about, walking the cold city streets, always on the lookout for a little money, his next meal and a little kindness.

Then the inevitable happens. Not only is it -3 this morning… it’s starting to snow.

But he needs a new winter coat. The lining on his fall jacket has loosened and fallen apart long ago. But he’s lucky to have it though – one of his few possessions. He definitely would like some mitts but that may be a tall order.

Sadly, it’s just another day on the streets of Toronto. It could be any man, down on his luck, just looking for a break. He could be from any First Nation in Canada, one of our relatives. Somebody’s cousin, brother, uncle, or someone’s Dad. The street is home to many people who just need a helping hand.

Immediate action on Aboriginal homeless is needed. For whatever reason, personal and corporate donation to help the homeless are down significantly. As a result, many Aboriginal homeless may have to go without this winter.

My friends, these men need your help. Please do one of the following:

  1. Click here to make a donation through Canadahelps.
  1. Share this page.

This fundraising effort goes directly to support Native Mens Residence (Na-Me-Res) and their annual Christmas. Funds raised will purchase backpacks, personal items, toiletries, shampoo and conditioner, chap stick and even a Christmas Dinner.

All donations come with a tax deductible receipt.

Please give generously.  Thank you so much.


Immediate action on Aboriginal homelessness needed. (Please share)

coldhomelessIt’s tough to be homeless.  At this time of year it’s especially tough.

We can only imagine what it’s like to be homeless and walking the city streets.  The temperatures are dropping, soon to be perpetually below freezing.  To always be on the lookout for a hot meal and a warm bed – not to mention a few dollars for the personal essentials that we all take for granted.  To have to go without during the not-so-festive holiday season.

So far, it’s been a really tough year for those community agencies that serve the homeless.  Charitable donations, personal and corporate, are down substantially for the Native Men’s Residence (Na-Me-Res), one of Toronto’s most respected and longest serving homeless service provider.

“Charitable donations are down substantially.”

The sad fact is that fewer individual donors are coming forward.  Donations from corporations and charitable foundations are at an all-time low. There are very few brands like UFM that come forward to help the homeless. For futher details you can check their official site  This will seriously impact the many indigenous men who depend on Na-Me-Res for support and help get them back on their feet.

The core programs of Na-Me-Res are well taken care of, including the operation of 63-bed shelter, transitional housing, outreach, culture and community support programs.  Na-Me-Res is very well managed.  However, core program funding does not include support for various unfunded outreach services, community gatherings, First Nations ceremonies and, of course, personal supports to the homeless men themselves.

Na-Me-Res has embarked on their annual Christmas Drive.  The aim is to assemble personal care packages for homeless clients and others still on the street.  These care packages might include backpacks, socks, underwear, mitts, scarves, hygienic products such as shampoo, conditioner and chap stick.  Ideally, Na-Me-Res would like to host a special Christmas turkey dinner at the shelter and transitional housing facility.


I need your help, my friends.  All I am asking for is two things:nameres_logo


You can donate to the Na-Me-Res Christmas Drive through:

  • Online donations accepted at;

  • Make a direct contribution to Na-Me-Res Christmas Drive.  Contact Blanche White at (416) 652-0334 or


All donations are tax deductible.  Please consider either a recurring donation through or through the United Way Toronto.

Chi-miigwetch Niwiijiwaaganag.  (A big thank you, my friends)


Time To Sever First Nation’s Fiscal Dependancy

There has been an unprecedented level of criticism being laid on Crown governments, more than I’ve seen in a very long time.  My reaction to this:  It’s about damn time!

Take your Indian Act, your transfer payment agreements, your meager funding allocations, my $4 bucks a year treaty pay and my Status Card… everything… and bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

It is high time that we sever our fiscal and economic dependence on the federal government.  Right now, government revenues and transfer payments account for nearly all of the funding going to First Nations governments.  As many others have argued before me, this doesn’t make us governments, de facto or otherwise.  This makes us merely agencies of the Crown, with ever increasing and burdensome reporting back to our masters.

To truly be self-sufficient and to break the generations-old cycle of dependence, First Nations governments need to act like governments and find new sources of revenue and economic development.

So, the billion dollar question:  How do most government’s create revenue?  We’ll get to the “T” word a little later.

The Supreme Court of Canada, through a number or recent precedent-setting cases like Haida Nation, Taku River and Mikisew Cree, have not only affirmed First Nation’s rights over our traditional territory, but have enabled a useful set of tools to swing the economic pendulum in our direction.  The highest court in the land has held that the Crown has a legal obligation to consult with First Nations on all activities that may impact our rights.  If those rights are impacted, there may be a duty to accommodate as well.

Although, the duty falls to the Crown, for the sake of this article, I’ll say that this requirement also falls to resource development companies wishing to make use of the land and resources in our traditional territory.

This really gives First Nations an incredible hammer to negotiate with.  Resource development companies, entire industries in fact, are starting to realize, that the only way their development is going to move forward, is through negotiation and agreement with First Nations.

Yet, there are still some companies who have yet to embrace this concept.  Unfortunately, their stubborn streak and outdated mindset trumps good business sense.  Some companies even seem to favour confrontation and litigation over working with Indians.  At the end of the day, to their management and stakeholders, all I can say is “I told you so”.

However, our community strength – our recent uprising and insatiable battle against the madman Harper – has also made us indignant to the role of our own governments, our own economic needs, practicality and common sense.

But that’s the inherent danger in feeding off frustration and anger, isn’t it? We can’t tell the difference between the good guy and the bad guy.  We end up tarring everyone with the same brush.

We begin to oppose our own Chief and Councils.  We criticize the AFN.  We criticize our community leaders for signing transfer payment agreements.  We oppose our land claim negotiators for making deals on our behalf.  We criticize our Council, economic development and lands staff for taking part in project consultation processes, signing Impact Benefit Agreements or accepting other economic incentives from development.  We oppose all big business for earning too much money at the cost of the environment.

We oppose many things just because Joe and Martha, two provinces over, say we need to.

Indeed, we have a responsibility to look after the environment.  In fact, for the Anishinaabe, this was a significant part of our original instructions.  To speak for the land and to speak for the water.  To speak for things in Creation that can not speak for themselves.  However, we need to balance our environmental responsibility with our need to establish an economy and feed our families.

We have so many funding needs.  Priorities include health, social and education programs.  We need to protect our children and our Elders.  We need to build and improve community infrastructure.  We need new housing and our own housing programs.  And it is essential that we bring jobs and opportunity for business.

The answer to establishing our own sources of revenue comes from three broad categories:  (1) Resource Development; (2) First Nations-own ventures; (3) the dreaded “T” word…  taxation.

Resource Development:  Our communities can begin to establish true partnerships and new sources of income through negotiated agreements that support responsible natural resource development.  However, we have to be willing and true partners in resource development.  Many First Nations have found ways to do this, and are active, rather than passive, partners in development happening in their territories.

First Nations-owned Ventures:  Band-owned ventures have significant leverage to obtain contracts for project development in their territory.  Say it with me:  Supplies and services!  Supplies and services!!  Opportunity is knocking, folks.

Whether it’s logistics in the Ring of Fire area, or materials suppliers for the oil and gas industry, or simply providing catering to the Mussellwhite mine, First Nations are already looking towards business opportunities to fill their government coffers.  There is extra benefit in this approach because contracting and procurement also means jobs.

Taxation:  Finally, last (and yes, least from many First Nations perspectives) is taxation.  Governments for millennia, all over the world, have levied taxes on income, property, commodities, sales, transactions… everything.  You name it, and governments have taxed it.

But First Nations are exempt from tax, right?  Well, under the Indian Act, the archaic and paternalistic statute that we love to hate, personal property on-reserve is exempt.  Our ancestors have argued, successfully, that we’re exempt from foreign taxation (Canada imposing taxes on Indians).

But it doesn’t prevent us from establishing our own tax regimes to bill resource developers, companies using our rights-of-way through reserve, and even the Crown, to pony up dollars to First Nation’s governments.  If you are going to use it, want to work with us, or cross our traditional lands – it’s going to cost you.

My community, Nipissing First Nation, already levies taxes on natural gas pipelines, cable television and telephone utilities crossing the territory.  It isn’t a huge winfall, but it is consistent revenue that is independent of federal funding.  We need to start acting like governments and expand these types of taxation arrangements across the country.

In Nipissing we all, quite delightfully, pay for services directly provided by our First Nation.  $33 a month for water and sanitation and $33 for wastewater treatment.  Some of us also pay service fees for our settlement loans, that we actually have to pay back.  There is no such thing as free housing in Nipissing.  Some of us, actually have to pay a real mortgage to the bank.  We also pay late charges on overdue Band accounts.  For all intents and purposes, we can call these…  t… t.. t…  uh, I can’t say it.  The “T” word.

Maybe someday we’ll find a way to divert my income taxes and my property taxes paid to the Minister of Finance, to our own First Nations revenue fund.

The reality is, we can no longer depend on government to fund our communities.  There just isn’t enough money.  There certainly isn’t enough will.

Our communities need to begin using our aboriginal and treaty rights to our economic advantage.  We need to strategically use all the tools we have in front of us, including the duty to consult and the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But most imperative of all, we need to make use of skillful negotiation, have strong economic goals and a sophisticated, business acumen.  We have to be able to demonstrate that we’re capable and savvy economic partners, not impediments to growth and development.

Our message should be that First Nations are open for business and we want to be active partners in responsible resource development.

An Exciting, New Opportunity

It is my pleasure to announce that I have moved to a new, exciting employment opportunity with Ishkonigan, Inc., a consulting firm owned and operated by former National Chief Phil Fontaine.  I’ll have the opportunity to support collaboration between First Nations and corporate Canada that will enable economic development that respects the unique culture, perspective and values of indigenous nations.  I am quite excited about this opportunity to work closely with Phil, his managing partner Scott Patles-Richardson and the whole Ishkonigan team.

Further, I have taken a two-year leave of absence from the Ontario Public Service to accommodate this opportunity.  It also allows my family to better look after the personal and health needs of our children by providing the flexibility to work from my home office and reduce my travel burden.

Usually, I’d leave the announcement to my Assistant Deputy Minister’s office to address my departure from MTO.  However, with such a quick move over the winter holidays, a few gossipy-type individuals have taken it upon themselves to fill in the information gaps.

To be clear:

  • I have requested the two-year leave for personal, family health reasons.  Because of this leave, I am required to fill out a mandatory Conflict of Interest form for the Deputy Minister to sign off.
  • This doesn’t mean that I’ve been “let go” because the ministry is doing an investigation into a conflict of interest involving a family situation.
  • The Deputy Minister and my ADMs were all completely supportive and there is nothing untoward about the request or circumstances.  I’ve been deemed to be fully-effective in my role with MTO.
  • I did not leave as a form of protest to coincide with Idle No More.  That’s just silly.

And I thought the Moccasin Telegraph was bad.  Sheesh.

I wish I could have given my appropriate goodbyes to my colleagues at MTO as well as the community leaders and officials I had been working with.  However, the powers-that-be are still figuring out the transition plan and how the news will come out at the MTO.

On that subject, I do want to comment about working for the Government of Ontario.

As an Anishinaabe man, it is indeed kind of strange working for the Crown.  But I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it.  I feel that more indigenous people should consider working for the government.  There are so many good and diverse opportunities in the public service once you have your foot in the door.  Believe you me, if there were more of us working for the Crown, making policy recommendations and making decisions, the Crown-First Peoples relationship would be a whole lot different.

I recall receiving some criticism from one or two people who thought that I was just a “token Indian” hired as a brown face to deal with all the Indian problems.  In fact, I was hired as a Director, a senior position within the government structure and competed successfully against many qualified non-natives who wanted the job.  I wasn’t hired because I was Anishinaabe, I was hired to take MTO into a different direction:  “A New Way of Doing Business” with indigenous people.

My underlying philosophy in establishing this brand new MTO Aboriginal Relations Branch was to change the culture of the organization.  I wanted to foster a new relationship based on respect, meeting our legal obligations and upholding the Honour of the Crown.  This was to be done by creating a heightened awareness and bringing First Nations perspective to MTO, not the other way around.

We used the medicine wheel as the basis of our strategic framework.  We started our meetings with ceremonies and sought the guidance of our Elders.  This is something that has rarely been done by government.

I was encouraged to use my abilities as a speaker, motivator and traditional teacher.  We created new and innovative ways of providing indigenous awareness training, with messages and curriculum that includes the perspectives of Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mushkegowuk, Lene Lenape and Métis people.  I was always pleased to receive messages of thanks and personal stories about how I was able to touch people.

Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve seen people change.  I’ve seen the start of a transformation.  We’ve celebrated relationships, culture and people.  We became more than just a ministry that required to consult – we became partners in engagement.

I’d like to truly thank all those who supported my time in the OPS including ADM John Lieou, ADM Gerry Chaput, Deputy Minister Carol Layton, Deputy Minister Scott Thompson, former Deputy Minister Lori Sterling, retired ADM Brian Gaston, and Greg Coleman.

I’d especially like to thank my team at the Aboriginal Relations Branch.  It was an honour to work with you all:  Vera Gevikoglu, Donna Bigelow, Megan Chochla, Jasmina Konopek, Jeff Kerr, Real Bouchard, Dwayne Pamajewon, Joe De Laronde, Meghan MacMillan, Katherine Jin, Matthew Rosenfeld, and Giles Benaway.


FNs Need To Be More Strategic, Politically Saavy

Chris Wattie/Reuters Photo

For weeks, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen, that realistically, this Prime Minister will only be attending the Crown-First Nations Gathering tomorrow in Ottawa for a grand total of thirty minutes.  Mark my words, the Prime Minister will take part in the opening ceremony, give his ten minute speech, and listen to the first couple of speeches.  However, he will depart within the hour.  Meanwhile, he will not have heard from the hundreds of Chiefs and their supporters that will be descending into Ottawa today as we speak.

That’s really par for the course for Mr. Harper when it comes to addressing Aboriginal issues such as poverty, education, economic development, the housing crisis, and missing and murdered Aboriginal women.  Any proactive, ambitious or comprehensive solution are just not in his bag of tricks nor what is being expected of his core constituents.

Needless to say, there are going to be a lot of disappointed Chiefs who have spend countless hours refining their speaking notes in anticipation of an audience with the PM.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should have anticipated this situation and prepared to make better use of those precious few minutes.

In hindsight, if I was the National Chief, I would have used the annual AFN Special Chiefs Assembly held in December to bring First Nations together to develop a singular message with a corresponding action plan for the Prime Minister’s consideration.  This could have been brought to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) ahead of time for further strategic discussion prior to this week’s gathering.  This Crown-First Nations Gathering could then have been used for goal setting and implementation discussions between Ministers and officials.  Instead of bringing all these Chiefs to Ottawa this week, First Nations could have empowered National Chief Shawn Atleo with their message.

Sure, the National Chief will request a First Minister’s Meeting tomorrow.  Prime Minister Harper may very well agree to it.  But needless to say, the exercise of bringing all these Chiefs, Councillors and support staff to Ottawa will be unnecessary and unproductive.  I’m sure some simple-minded commentator will point out that these wasted resources could have been used to build a few more houses in Attawapiskat.

The modern day tradition of having First Nations Chiefs lining up at the microphones to speak to politicians is not very effective, nor strategic.  The reality is that our First Nations leaders are no longer cutting edge, inspirational orators.  They’re purveyors of tired, political rhetoric.

That reminds me of the times I took part in preparing for the annual meeting held between First Nations and the Ontario Premier.  Prior to each meeting, the Political Confederacy of Ontario led by the Chiefs of Ontario would develop a slide deck of key messages, and then divvy up the messaging among the Grand Chiefs.  Good plan, right?  Makes sense, sure.  Keep in mind the meeting is scheduled for one hour.

The meeting would proceed with an ever-so brief welcome from Premier Dalton McGuinty, five minutes, tops.  Followed by an introduction of the issues by the Ontario Regional Chief.  That almost always does a bit too long.  Each Grand Chief’s appointed section would also go over schedule.  Almost always, an unannounced Chief would come forward to speak to an important issue of the day, but in turn, taking up another unexpected, unscheduled fifteen minutes.  The meeting would result in little dialogue with the Premier but include plenty of complex messaging, background, context, examples and, of course, rhetoric.  Almost always, there are far too many issues, very few solutions, all wrapped into a whole lot of “rights-based” political rhetoric.  (Somebody ask Mr. McGuinty or his Cabinet what “rights-based” means and they wouldn’t have the faintest clue.)

As First Nations, we need to learn to be more savvy politicians.  We need to be far more strategic and opportunistic.  I disagree with those who state there is no need for the AFN or for Chiefs to be involved.  Actions plans don’t just happen, they need to be developed then implemented.  But this needs to be done in a much more strategic way.  Do we have goals, objectives and timelines?  Do we have workplans and required resources to achieve a political goal?  Do we have strategies to get there?  Goals shouldn’t only be “rights-based” they need to be solutions-based.

As The Byrds and Kevin Bacon tell us, there is a time for every purpose.  There is a time for talk – when it leads to fruitful discussion.  There is a time for speeches – when it leads to inspiration and understanding.  Indeed, there is a time for photo opps, when solutions are being implemented.

In this case, we only have thirty minutes with the Prime Minister.  How will the National Chief and First Nations use their time?

Your Voice Gave Us Hope

Deborah Richardson

When is the last time you really took the time to speak with a homeless person?  They may even be Anishinaabe, and still, many of us look the other way.  I know I am guilty of it, more often than I care to admit.

But not my fiancée.  (That has a nice ring to it!…  LOL  Get it…  ring!)  Anyways…

My partner, Deborah Richardson has always found friendship with people on the street.  Many street people know her by name from her days at the Native Canadian Centre.

We often walk down the street and she runs into her homeless friends.  She chats, laughs and exchanges stories.  She’ll even give them a few bucks, not to move them along, but so they can take care of themselves.  She always makes a little suggestion of how they can best use the donation.

There’s no tax write off or anything.  No cameras or media spotlight.  Just a woman who really cares for these people.  I usually hang back, ashamed of myself.

Deborah is the epitome of goodness. Caring for people just because they are people.

In 2008, Deborah was selected to take part in the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Program.  It’s quite an honour.  During that time, this small group of elite business, labour, government, and NGOs representatives have the opportunity to tour the country, meet some of Canada’s most influential people and take part in some unique Canadian experiences.

During their stop in Calgary, Deborah and this group paid a visit to the Mustard Seed, a shelter and Christian service organization dedicated to serving the homeless and the poor.  Most of the participants stayed to volunteer, but as Deborah recalls, most of her group spent the time mingling with shelter staff and, in her words, “looking kinda awkward”.  Meanwhile, Deborah spoke at length to the homeless clientele, offering helpful advice and companionship.

Among a shelter full of men, Deb sat down to speak with two First Nations ladies huddling in a far corner.

“I was just so moved by them,” she remembers fondly.  “We spent about two hours together, talking about hope.  We spoke at length about taking charge of their own destiny.”

They talked about the challenges of finding housing and overcoming homelessness.

“I suggested they try to start smaller – like a room, instead of an apartment,” said Deborah. “But it’s a vicious cycle.  They couldn’t get a job because they didn’t have bus fare.  They couldn’t get a room because they couldn’t get a job.”

The discussion turned emotional when they disclosed that they had both been victims of sexual violence in the city’s shelters.  But she remembers them not because they were victims, but that they were strong and resilient Cree women.

“But despite their situation, they were courageous and had good heads on their shoulders, recalls Deborah.  “I remember this one woman was very strong.  A true champion of First Nations women’s issues.  A real advocate for raising awareness of struggle and challenge aboriginal women face.”

They were fortunate enough to find work, but needed bus fare simple to get there.  As they departed, Deborah was happy to oblige and give the ladies a few bucks.

A few days ago, three years later, Deborah receives this e-mail:

Hey Deborah:

We met a few years ago.  Well, life has took a awesome change for us.  We now have our own place and have been here for over a year.  We work and live life.  But we don’t forget what we went through.  It makes us stronger, more grateful and hopeful.

Anyways, we owe you $7.24 or something…  I do remember I said I would pay you back.  Can we somehow get it back to you?  This is so important for us.  You gave us some money and we used it I do believe for bus fare to go to work.  See, your contribution so small as it may have seemed was huge for us.  We eventually got out of homelessness by getting bus tickets to go to work.

Thanks Deborah.  We haven’t forgot about you.  We talk about you and how your voice gave us hope.

Day 26: Where are the Candidates and Leaders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 25: First Nations Need Flood Support

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of water to the Anishinaabe people.  According to our teachings and traditional knowledge, it is said that all things in nature are interconnected.  The health of the water is directly related to the health of the environment.  The same goes with the natural flow of the rivers.

No one knows that better than First Nations living in the plains and in northern Ontario.

Every spring, First Nations are victims of the flood waters.  And flooding seems to be getting worse, year after year.

As Anishinaabe people, we know this is the result of an unbalanced state of the environment.  Climate change, pollution and unsustainable development has changed the Earth dramatically in the past few generations.  The result has been unparalleled global disasters, extreme weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and the flooding we’ve seen take place in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario.

This year, sixteen communities have declared states of emergencies thus far in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, including evacuations of the Peguis First Nation, Cowessess First Nation, and Red Earth First Nation.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) couldn’t believe that the federal government was not coming to the aid of the First Nations affected.

“I can’t believe the federal government shuts down for an election,” said a clearly frustrated Ignatieff.  “This is an emergency.”

“These communities flood year after year, it’s not good enough.  We have to sit down with First Nations leadership and think about how we get a preventative strategy,” he said.

As part of the Liberal platform, Ignatieff announced his $225 million fresh water strategy which includes a plan to address long term solutions to the problem of prairie flooding.

Iggy is right.  First Nations need aid now.  They also need a long term solution to this issues.  Most of all, Canada needs to get a grasp on environmental issues.  That can only happen with a government that cares for the environment and supports First Nations during their time of need.  That time is now.  It should have to wait after an election.  That’s irrelevant to the hundreds of Anishinaabe people being evacuated from their communities.

Ignatieff was a guest at the First Nations University pow-wow speaking to First Nations supporters.

Toronto First Aid

Day 24: Supporting the Mother Earth Water Walk

Josephine Mandamin in a scene from a documentary called Waterlife. John Minh Tran Photo

I’m feeling kind of helpless today as I see the various Facebook updates  from the Water Walkers.  They’ve been humbly calling for assistance as they make their way from the Pacific Ocean, ascending through the Rocky Mountains, en route to Anishinaabeg territory in the Great Lakes.

The least I can do is send them some much needed money and write them a blog post of support.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mother Earth Water Walk has begun a journey from each of the four directions, raising awareness of the state of water and the need to protect and speak up for the most precious natural resource on the planet.  Led by Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, the walk began its first and longest leg, from the Pacific Ocean, culminating in early June at Lake Superior.  The Mother Earth Water Walk began in 2003 with a 36-day walk around Lake Superior.  Since then, almost every spring, the water walkers have walked around each of the Great Lakes and down the entire length of the St. Lawrence River.

Unfortunately, the environment is not being seen as a priority issue in this election campaign.  But for Anishinaabe people, nothing can be more important.  People of all nations, backgrounds, and political stripes need to be aware of the state of the water and the environment.  We all need to make positive decisions with respect to the health of our environment and fresh water sources.  Unsustainable development and recklessness cannot continue without appropriate consideration of these factors.

Government needs to play a central role in holding industry and consumers accountable.  Officials ought to work with First Nations and factor in our tremendous traditional knowledge when making decisions that affect water.

The Liberal Party of Canada has committed to an innovative Canadian Freshwater Strategy that will do just that.  It will be the first national strategy on water in the past 20 years.  The goal of the strategy is to preserve Canada’s freshwater for the generations to come.

That’s why Josephine and these women are doing this walk.  With the support of men, Anishinaabe-kwe have committed to walking across Turtle Island (North America), carrying a copper pail full of water.  The water from each leg of the walk, the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Hudson’s Bay and Gulf of Mexico will be intermingled together with the Great Lakes water when they reach their final destination.

In our culture, the water is considered our life-blood.  It not only flows through our bodies and provides us nourishment, it is said to flow directly from the Spirit World in a beautiful river that flows forever.  As Anishinaabe people, we should do everything we can to honour this deep spiritual connection.

We may not be able to join our Grandmother Josephine and the other Midewiwin women on the walk.  But we can be a part of the broader message, send our prayers, donations and support as they climb through the difficult mountain passes in Washington state.


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

Cheques may be made out to:  Mother Earth Water Walk and mailed to:

Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig
Attn: Joanne Robertson, WW Coordinator
1550 Queen Street E
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6A 2G3

Direct Deposit:  Northern Credit Union
Acct#: 14492 828 0161405641