Treaties that were signed or agreed upon between the encroaching settlers and original people involved two world views.
The initial treaties from the Eastern door are called peace and friendship treaties, but this is a recurrent theme in all treaty making that involves the original people. Peace and harmony between different nations or agreements with Creation are necessary to maintain the balance that supports life for all people, plants and animals on Turtle Island.
Treaties were spiritual undertakings or covenants that the original people made with the newcomers. Common references are made about the spirit and intent of treaty, which means that there is a sacred understanding that the Creator and all Creation have witnessed these discussions.
The path of understanding diverges here. The original people, the First Nations understood that they would always live in peace, friendship and with a lifestyle that respected the earth and all inhabitants. The colonizers looked at the treaty as a document that gave them rights to take the land.
How do we find treaty relevance in today’s current indigenous struggle? We find the spirit and intent that looked to the Creator, the people and all Creation being compromised in the form of modern day agreements and memoranda of understanding.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) latest media hype has been to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Federal Government “to look at a new fiscal relationship”. This MOU signing shows the ongoing interference of a lobby group acting as a representative body speaking for the First Nations across Canada.
AFN is an advocacy group. They are to lobby at the federal level and try to bring a cohesive voice to the table on First Nation issues. After voicing the concerns of the individual nations, AFN has completed their role. They must then step back or take a seat.
Further to this, Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) is not the Crown or a nation. The media hype has stated that this is a nation-to-nation agreement. Where are the nations? Canada is a state that has yet to produce a bill of sale or a document that they can rely upon to claim the territories and resources of all the Indigenous nations who are presently within the state of Canada. So in fact this MOU signing was between an advocacy group and representatives of the state of Canada. This is not a nation-to-nation signing.
These players are out of their league and out of their jurisdiction. Indigenous affairs also known as Indian affairs has had more than 150 years of poor relations with the sovereign nations via the Indian Act legislation. Recent calls for the ending of this apartheid act have seemingly driven the AFN into action, firmly establishing that they are the organization that will be discussing fiscal matters.
The Assembly of First Nations has overstepped their boundaries. Is this action similar to former AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo’s signing of the First Nation education agreement behind closed doors with the Harper Government? This led to all the chiefs of the assembly calling a special assembly and eventually led to Atleo’s resignation. Is this not the same issue for current AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde?
It is clear at the 2016 AFN Annual General Assembly, there was some tension with the Ontario Chiefs under Chief Isadore Day abstaining from signing the Niagara 2016 MOU. This agreement was touted as the beginning of a new fiscal relationship. All the talk centred on removing the two per cent cap that the Liberal government (under Paul Martin) had originally instituted. Bellegarde talked about communities having more certainty in financial planning and as always “closing the gap”.
Is there more certainty with this MOU? The remarks at the national level are very confusing, because it seems that the regions were not aware of this event. There have been questions raised on the Missing and Murdered Women’s Inquiry and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action (UNDRIP); however, funding remains a contentious issue because national figures that trickle from Indian Affairs to actual communities is often the same amount or less. There are also questions about the onerous reporting tasks that come with Indian affairs program dollars. This has led many indigenous analysts to criticize the role of “elected leadership” as being not actual leaders but in fact only administrators of program dollars.
Furthermore, this MOU was made following the announcement by indigenous Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould’s statement that implementing the UNDRIP into Canadian law would be “unworkable”.
It seems more likely that the MOU or the signing, complete with chiefs in headdresses and ribbon shirts, was a photo op to make it appear that the Liberal government is in fact honouring the many pre-election promises made to the indigenous people. The fact remains that the liberal government is not acting any different than their predecessors in the Harper government.
One size fits all approaches are not respectful of the different linguistic and geographic sovereign original peoples who have constitutionally entrenched rights. It is the original laws and ways of the first people that have been entrenched. It is not subject to the Crown — federal or provincial or the state of Canada to undermine or derogate from the original treaties or covenants that were undertaken by our indigenous ancestors.
It seems almost comic or coincidence that the UNDRIP was found to be unworkable into Canadian law while this MOU was being “rammed through” (quoting Chief Isadore Day). It is comical because UNDRIP states that the original people must have free prior and informed consent with regard to resource development. In establishing this MOU, the AFN has effectively stepped in to re-negotiate or start a new fiscal relationship without the free, prior and informed consent of the very people they purport to represent.
Colonizers improperly took land and resources from the Indigenous people of Turtle Island. It is the dollars from this theft that continue the contractual nation to nation relationship between the descendants of the original peoples and the state who enjoy their lifestyle, based on theft. Resolving this issue, will take more than a hastily concocted photo op MOU.