OTTAWA – The election has not yet been called, but the race is underway nonetheless.
The Two Row Times conducted a telephone interview with Federal Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Critic, Carolyn Bennett, about a number of issues facing Onkwehon:we families, should Steven Harpers Conservatives retain control over Parliament Hill in Ottawa after the next election.
Bennett was quick to let it be known that she was fully in favour of the Idle No More movement, because through it, many non-Natives are becoming aware of the issues, and that the protection of the environment is one point both Native and non-Natives can agree on.
But she said that in order to really begin to understand these and other issues, which have become epidemic in Canada, education is essential.
“The 96% of Canadians who are non-Aboriginal need to better understand the history, the culture, the rights, and be part of the solution, so they can be a part of pushing the government of Canada into doing the right thing, and get on with these things,” said Bennett.
“Without it, it is creating these huge gaps in health, education, educational outcomes for First Nation, Inuit, and Mete in Canada. For this to happen, education of non-Natives is vital.”
What Bennett finds really exciting about Idle No More is that it involved young people.
“From the various events I’ve been at, I have been so impressed with how young people are really beginning to understand things and are taking this seriously,” she says. “This is a very exciting time in terms of rebuilding a movement that isn’t going to take it any more.”
She said that her Liberal government is looking beyond Canada’s boarders for approaches and programs that include knowledge of Indigenous people as a core value.
She added that the RCAP (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples) said that within the next 20 years there would be a comprehensive approach to the shared history and the ability to document what all Canadians need to know.
She noted that TVO held a education seminar at Trent University with a lot of teachers from the Peel region that, without waiting for the change, went out on their own and changed it.
“I’ve been very impressed with Suzan Stewart’s work with Dino Sullivan. Now every teacher coming out of the Ontario Institute of Social Education will have some core content in Indigenous issues, and have some increased comfort and confidence at least to be able to invite First Nations, Inuit or Metis leaders into the classrooms to actually work with them.”
When asked about the duty to consult issue, she had this to say.
“In caucus the other day, we were talking about pre, prior and informed consent,” said Bennett. “We talked about a much more respectful way of going about meaningful consultation. I think there is an increased awareness, certainly from members of our caucus and the Liberal Party. We have seen and have lived what happens when that doesn’t happen, Particularly with this Conservative government, even since the apology and how they can rain down legislation that practically every witness at a parliamentary committee articulates huge concerns with it, yet it’s rammed through anyway. Because it’s quite clear from other so-called consultations that they are just wasting their breath.”
Increased funding for First Nations Education is a priority, according to Bennett.
“I think the most disturbing thing to us is that they are refusing to accept that the per-capita funding per-year for young people on reserve is so much reduced from what a student from off reserve would get in funding in a provincial system.” she said. “When you are denying the gap, it’s pretty hard to persuade people to help fund something that doesn’t exist. That has been really worrying to all of us. This is an ongoing reality.”
We asked if the Caledonia talks should reopen.
“The Caledonia discussions should be restarted,” she quickly responded. “Although I think we would hear from a lot of tables across the country that the federal negotiator really has no power to negotiate. They have been sent with a message of take it or leave it. That is pretty disappointing everywhere in Canada. Obviously they should be at the table negotiating in good faith. Caledonia is a significant land claim that requires resolution.”
She was pleased about the emergence of the Two Row Times and called it an important and much needed thing.
“Having more Indigenous media has made a huge difference as well as a huge presence on social media,” she said. “I also think APTN has played a really important role. Whether I am in Owen Sound or wherever I am across the country, especially during Idle No More, non-Indigenous Canadians say to me they really enjoyed watching the news on APTN and know they can go there or to more local Indigenous media and get an accurate view of what the issues are and a way forward.
“More Indigenous media and social media plus a National broadcaster (APTN) makes a huge difference in terms of my ongoing project of irradiating ignorance,” concluded Bennett. “I will be following you on social media, I do that myself, and maybe tweet you a few comments and help celebrate what you are doing.”
While I applaud Carolyn Bennett’s perspective on First Nations issues, I do believe that Land Claim Settlement, be it General, Specific or Comprehensive, should be a priority with the Liberal Party of Canada and the Government of Canada. Prosperity results from land tenure, political boundaries and resource royalties. Quality education follows from the revenues that finance services that most non-Canadian citizens take for granted. Focusing “too much” on education fuels ‘assimilationist viewpoints’ that we’ve seen too much of in newspaper editorials and other policy discussions from around the country. Don’t misquote me here. Education is important. But, Constitutional Governance, Resource Rights and jurisdiction should be priority. Quality of life for First Nations is guaranteed once these issues are resolved. Only then does true prosperity follow.
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