The grassroots have had to remind the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and other First Nation representative organizations that the power and direction of any negotiation, agreement or policy implementation comes from the people, the grassroots people.
In the organizational structure of First Nation leadership organizations, a hierarchal approach has been taken to match federal government’s (INAC) hierarchy. It is clear that throughout First Nation-Federal Crown relations, the nation-to-nation understanding works from the Prime Minister to the National Chief. This is not representative of traditional governance approaches where “leadership” has to come back to the people for assent.
This has been confusing for the non-native entities in their understanding, legislation and policy and court approaches. It continues to widen the chasm that exists between the way mainstream does business versus “the Indian way”.
Prior to contact, First Nations had governance structures that functioned within their communities. These governments were effective for each nation. These governments involved the community as a whole and were guided by ceremony, spirituality and harmonious worldviews. The original people understood that they were part of the “whole”. Therefore, their decisions were transparent to the community, for the benefit of the community, and took the larger interconnected cosmos into consideration.
If you contrast this approach with mainstream’s approach you will see differences. Firstly, the form of government in Canadian society today is “not for all”. Individual rights laden the charter placing the individual above the community. A mainstream government functions with one-man/woman vote so that like-minded individual groups of voters can determine the government’s agenda. There are also external influencers -corporate funders of parties that can further control the government agenda.
This problem between communal versus individual thinking has plagued our population since settler colonial onslaught. The gage to measure First Nation values has always been seen through a Eurocentric lens, which distorts the truths of First Nation systems. It was unheard of for Euro-settlers to understand that First Nations worked together without hierarchy for the good of all. At times there were mechanisms like societies or specific clans that provided “leadership” when the people needed it. The needs of the whole outweighed the needs of the one.
That is why there is dissension among the failed government to government or nation-to-nation interactions. Reconciliation is defined by mainstream methods. This is causing further distancing of the solutions that First Nations have always held for their people.
In 2014, National Chief Atleo had to step down because he met with then Prime Minister Harper agreeing to First Nation education changes unilaterally. Grassroots lead this “Stop Atleo” campaign, notably Alberta Cree artist Dawn Marie Marchand was an effective social media warrior leading this campaign. First Nation politicians, piggy-backed on Dawn’s campaign to call a national emergency meeting where Atleo resigned.
Today, in 2017, the First Nation Treaty Right to education is again coming under threat. Again, it is the National Chief’s office functioning as a “hierarchical leader” dealing away rights with the Prime Minister. However, this time, AFN executive is complicit in the knowledge. Social media posts have gone out alerting First Nation people that AFN is planning to allow the federal government give budget 2018 dollars to provinces or territories instead of to First Nations.
Currently, with any “Indian monies”, the department of Indian (Aboriginal now Indigenous) Affairs and treasury board take “administrative percentages. Therefore another level of bureaucracy will also whittle at the Trudeau promised $1.9 billion. When there is talk of “giving education dollars” (that really is fulfilling treaty and inherent obligations), there is no public or transparent breakdown of where these dollars go. It is assumed by Canadian populace that the First Nations receive incredible amounts of dollars when in fact filtering agencies also receive their administrative cuts. Instead of giving one large superfluous figure, it would be better for Trudeau and the Liberals to give the actual breakdown that will reach reserves and individual students.
Education is only one indicator of the continued dysfunctional relationship that continues between the First peoples and the federal government. Renewed calls have seen the federal government shirk on its child and family services despite a court order to comply with equalizing on and off reserve payments for kids in care. Further to this, the federal government created the “status” category for Indians under the Indian Act legislation and disallowed women who “married” out to retain their membership. A new bill is S3 is going through the senate with ambiguous wording about consultations to amend the membership “mess” created by the federal government.
Education is not only the schoolroom of treaties. It is the right to land based teachings and ways of knowing that have assisted the original people in retaining their distinct culture for centuries.
In Bill c- 33 the First Nation education funding bill that saw Atleo resign, there was an AFN call for increased funding for schools and languages. National chief Bellegarde has surreptitiously been pushing for a language bill. This is the original FNEA bill being put forward again but in two pieces.
AFN does not speak for the grassroots or original people when it seeks to undermine the ancestral obligations that were signed at Treaty or the ways that have always inherently existed for the original people. Education is more than a policy or treaty promise. It is upholding the original teachings, languages and ceremonies that have established a separate system that is far superior to the corrupt and plagued settler state of colonialism.
This new campaign is not only to stop Bellegarde but also to stop the AFN from negotiating without the people. Past traditional government systems addressed the communal whole. AFN seeks to pit communities, regions and leaders against one another to allow for the weakening of Indian control of Indian Education. AFN is using specific individual nations, individual elders and factionalism to direct the outcome in areas that affect all indigenous people. If this is not true, why are their continued dissents and elders being flown cross-country to justify AFN’s gifting of an eagle staff? Perry abdicated jurisdiction in the symbolic gesture of giving away an eagle staff. Is it any wonder that rights are falling into mere policies and procedures now?
Stand up oyate, my people, the ancestors need us to follow through on our original intentions.