Imagine a world where women, in particular, Indigenous women are respected, that gender and economic status are irrelevant – turn the coin on its opposite side and you will see what Indigenous peoples’ politics are today.
Marinated in colonial standards, the Assembly of First Nations is a male dominated arena in which a large portion of its’ “members” believe that only a ‘treaty Indian’ and a man can properly represent a national organization. And as well, that a woman has no business being the head of AFN. This is a belief held by some, not all but remains in an organization whose original intent was for the defense of ‘its’ rights holders – Onkwehón:we (Indigenous) peoples.
Consider this: when Pam Palmateer, along with others and myself, entered the AFN election ring in 2012, we encountered this narrow definition of who can be the leader of AFN. Perhaps we will never be able to shake off the effects of colonization and the paternalistic Indian Act which continues to dominate lives. And while we may never agree politically on who is right, who has the better solutions to the colonial rooted socio-economic problems that continue to plague us, then maybe, just maybe we should start addressing what we have in common: the fact that our very existence as a species on Mother Earth is in peril due to the anthropocene of Climate Change.
And so the next elected leader of AFN must therefore put the priorities of the peoples first, not the agenda of Canada and wealthy capitalists. How much do we love our children to set aside egos and fight the capitalistic colonial monster that has made a mess of our environment?
While we gaze at our navels within the tiny postage stamp size pieces of lands we live on called “reserves”, the global society forges on ever strong in its willingness to forgo human rights, for economic rights. Sadly, some leaders fall for this skewed view of the world where economic and energy security is far more important than the rights of Mother Earth, the environment, and human rights. It is these status quo proponents that have hindered the success of Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination: our sovereignty.
According to our ancestral teachings, traditional leaders are chosen for their knowledge of their language, their customs, their traditions and they do not make a decision without the approval of the people. On the opposite side of this spectrum of choosing leaders is the colonial structures in which leaders don’t need have be accountable to anyone except the Minister of Indian (Indigenous) Affairs and to Canada. This is the nature of Indigenous politics often mired in chaos, innuendo, coercion and secrecy.
Because of that, we often forget that we are not solely battling assimilation policies of Canada, but something more insidious; hidden away in within the structures of government and society: corruption, conspiracies and mobster like actors. It manifests itself through criminal acts propped up with colonial laws in the name of prosperity, and ‘progress’, However, it is in fact unrestricted and unabated capitalism at the expense of the human rights of Indigenous peoples and our environment. Multiple generations have faced off against this authoritarian and archaic form of government propelled by the agenda of the wealthy; slathered in racism, sexism – promoting fear and greed in order to advance the agenda of the 1% of the 8% .
Consider the so-called racist “land claims process”: while negotiations take place, third parties interests are protected and development continues, with a promissory note by government to compensate Indigenous peoples after negotiations are finished. Consequently, Indigenous peoples become increasingly dispossessed – because adopting the values of the colonizer means money trumps the real intrinsic value of the land upon which our ancestors’ blood was shed.
We naively, along with the rest of global society, have been hoodwinked into being good little consumers; an Orwellian type of assimilation telling us what we need and controlling in all aspects of our lives through colonial standards and laws. Thus causing many to be unwilling to defy the colonizers laws lest we be called “radicals”, unreasonable, or trying to “live in the past”.
Yet there are people who remain defiant to the status quo- those who are the grassroots warriors: land and water defenders, who must bear the brunt of assimilation and suffer dehumanization through being called criminals by government and by some of our own people’. While arm chair ‘warriors’ play footsie with government, they betray their own people colluding with government into accepting government’s insistence of ‘confidential’ secret meetings; making public denouncements of those willing to stand against bulldozers, dogs, pepper spray and para-military forces. And if that’s not enough, those very same arm chair ‘warriors’ will sully the reputation of those who disagree with their agenda.
Indigenous peoples have been given little choice in our self-determination, let alone tolerating the pseudo forms of ‘democracy’ implemented by the Indian Act band councils. In reality, these councils have little power as it is a broken system designed to continue the oppression of Indigenous peoples, for the prosperity of Canada and its provinces, its municipalities and any third party willing to shell out the cash.
Canada’s bureaucratic culture is really the governing body of society as they make the recommendations to ministers and government. It is this force in government which tries to seduce Indigenous communities into thinking that progress can only be made by more development – that Indigenous peoples may as well profit from these forms of destructive development as these projects will go ahead anyways. This form of coercion is the status quo. It in essence makes all Indigenous peoples human rights accomplishments null and void reducing us to stakeholders, not rights holders.
Reconciliation! Restitution! They have become another money making fad for institutions and government agencies who have long ignored and neglected the colonial rooted problems of Indigenous peoples.
And while there may be agencies with a genuine spirit of reconciliation, we are far from what this actually means.
We as Indigenous peoples are anxious to be free from the shackles of colonization and are happy to hold out our hands to our allies who try their best to help us overcome the plague of racism in society and its institutionalized racism.
An elder once remarked: We as Onkwehón:we peoples do not now what it is like not to struggle or fight!
What must it be like to feel free? To live one day without a struggle to exist and push back against colonial assimilation; what is it like not to worry about land dispossession or whether or not our languages will survive; not to have to confront racism, ignorance, or sexism on a daily basis. To feel real self-determination where the people are making decisions and deciding for ourselves our destiny.
For too long, we’ve been led to believe that REZ democracy is more civilized, more progressive and that we can’t live like our ancestors did…! We have been fed this malarkey for so long now and assimilation has been so gradual, that in communities like Kanehsatà:ke, there is fierce and violent confrontations against anything to do with tradition and customs. People live under threat of losing their jobs if they defy band council, and so they remain quiet. This is the so-called ‘democracy’ we live under.
Over the past 28 years I have watched so many opportunists who pound their chests to say they fought in 1990 when they never lifted a finger to help. Instead they chose to publicly oppose the grassroots peoples who defend our lands. They accuse us of trying to start another “1990” but yet outside the community, they call for one! These are the Indigenous Trumps we have to deal with.
In the communities AFN is viewed as a distant cousin, to haughty to take our calls, to busy to meet with us, treated as undesirables at their functions, unless we can cough up the cash or tow the line. As rights holders this is unacceptable and while it is the cost of meetings in hotels is understandable, this is not conducive to democracy and we must ask ourselves what are we getting out of it for our money?
With all due respect to AFN and its accomplishments, it must change drastically to keep up with thegrassroots people in the communities doing the actual work of defending our sovereignty.
AFN meetings only allow ‘chiefs’ to speak, to vote to make any decisions that will most certainly affect rights holders lives. This is contrary to any democracy; so why is this accepted and why does Canada treat it like as if it is a government if the people – the rights holders, are not allowed to speak at AFN public forums? And why are those who still practice the traditional forms of government excluded from the ‘negotiations’ with government?
As Canada spins its marketing of reconciliation, and a purported rights based framework for reconciliation, in the meantime the status quo remains. A ‘rights based framework’ should include traditional forms of government like the Haudenosaunee – but Canada continues to ignore traditional forms of governments and considers them illegal. It makes me doubt that Canada is serious about respecting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples if it cannot even consider traditional governments which have survived colonization, and who are also rights holders.
Canada’s 151 years of existence ignores the human rights abuses against Indigenous families, and their children: a description that fits the definition of a Crime Against Humanity. Like any abusive relationship, the abuser must not be tolerated anymore. We need real warriors who understand the preciousness of life and the worth of the land which is priceless. We need to give the babies, children and youth a fighting chance for the future that will look drastically different than today.
The plundering of Indigenous resources and trampling upon the our economic, social and political rights continues must STOP.
So as band Councillors get ready to vote for their next representative, I ask several questions:
- How will they make AFN a more open environment at their assemblies for grass roots peoples and community members?
- What does gender equity look like to them and how can AFN embrace this?
- How will they deal with the continuation of land fraud and theft that continues each day?
- How do they see “rebuilding” our nations?
- How do they see AFN supporting the grassroots Indigenous peoples on the frontlines fighting against pipelines, land fraud and theft, and all forms of development?
- What are their solutions for a sustainable and environmentally friendly economic and energy base?
- How can they help communities to achieve this?
- How do they see AFN helping the revitalization of Indigenous languages?
- Do they agree that AFN should not take any money for Indigenous languages revitalization so that it can go directly to the Cultural Centers to create the human resources needed to maintain and revitalize our languages?
Our reality as Indigenous peoples today is that we only have rights if the colonizer allows us to. If we assert our traditional forms of sovereignty, we are always met with the threat of the use of force. So how on Mother Earth can we achieve peace among all our peoples and the settlers who continue to arrive in droves?
there are many solutions to our problems: it’s deciding which path is best for each nation and what kind of legacy we are going to leave behind abased upon a human rights framework and using the principles of Free Prior and Informed Consent.
In the meantime, as egos squabble over who gets the biggest piece of the half eaten pie, the babies and youth of today will be the ones trying to survive in this messy, chaotic, and scary world that we leave behind.