Participate or perish.
First Nations, the early French and English settlers are what John Ralston Saul calls in his book Reflections of a Siamese Twin the three pillars on which Canada was founded. Should any of these three pillars fall, Canada is history. These pillars--to use a bad metaphorical mix--must stand alone to remain strong; each must be able to carry its share of the weight for Canada to survive.
The weakest of these three pillars at this point in our history, in my opinion, is the First Nations. Next, is the English pillar, with the strongest being the French-Canadian or, more accurately, the Quebec pillar. It is my belief that the Quebec pillar will be the last one left standing. Why? Because they have a complete political and bureaucratic structure that is dedicated to making and keeping Quebec united and strong.
First Nations have no large, efficient bureaucratic structure dedicated to First Nations' interest and, more importantly, have no political structure that is committed to promoting Native interest where it counts, and that is in the Canadian Parliament. The department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, which is supposed to look after First Nations interest, reports to Parliament and is responsible to Parliament, but in Parliament, First Nations have little or no representation.
Instead of a Parliamentary presence, First Nations rely on various Native organizations, including the all embracing Assembly of First Nations (AFN), to make their voices heard and safeguard their interests. All these organizations never stray too far from the official government position--their funding, their very existence is dependent on this same government they are trying to influence.
On May 31, 2005, with great fanfare, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that leaders of five National Aboriginal Organizations had met for a policy retreat and that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Metis National Council, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Native Women's Association of Canada had all signed joint accords with the government of Canada that will ensure their direct involvement in Aboriginal policy development.
The very next week the Prime Minister announced the same type of role granted First Nations in policy development for municipalities. For large cities, this may actually translate into real influence. For example; Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are more than adequately represented in Parliament and can ensure that policies hatched behind closed doors and in committees of Parliament actually see the light of day. First Nations may get a say in policy making, but they will continue to have to depend on the charitable work of others in Parliament and in Parliamentary committees for its implementation. And even then, any Parliament can undo the work of the previous. They may find in the future that it would have been better if they didn't have to depend on others to make sure that their interest are protected but had been in Parliament to defend them themselves.
While I am of the opinion that Canada needs the First Nations just as much as they need Canada, I don't believe that this is an opinion that is widely shared. Those who don't share my opinion will have to be convinced and there is no better place to start the convincing then in Parliament.
If First Nations don't insist on Parliamentary representation based on their numbers they will remain invisible to the ethnic and religious strategic and tactical alliances that will increasingly dominate the work of the Canadian Parliament. Also, Parliament is where that sense of "a shared history"--which is so important to the survival of a nation--is created.
First Nations would be well advised to follow the lead of newcomers to Canada. To protect and promote your interest in a democracy you must participate.
When the United States wanted to bolster black representation from the southern states in congress, it created federal electoral districts that contained a majority of black voters and expected them to vote their race.
Canada could, for instance, create new constituencies grouping Aboriginal communities by First Nations (bands), by tribal councils or any other arrangements that would be acceptable to Canadians, and that includes First Nations.
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|Title Annotation:||rants and raves|
|Article Type:||Letter to the Editor|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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