January 03, 2013

Arguments against Idle No More

Peter Foster: Misguided hunger strike is manufacturing dissent

By Peter FosterAs for Idle No More, the title is profoundly ironic. One of the main problems for native people is the idleness that comes with living on remote reserves such as Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario. However, the Idle No More movement is not aimed at attracting more jobs. In fact, it opposes the very legal changes—contained in Bill C-45—that would facilitate development, such as making the leasing of reserve land easier, and loosening draconian environmental regulation (a process started last year with Bill C-38). Thus the movement might more appropriately be named “Idle Some More.”

Chief Spence’s handlers have recently had her invoking the fact that “precious diamonds from my land grace the fingers and necklaces of Hollywood celebrities.” Presumably, her scriptwriters were aiming at dramatic contrast (and perhaps angling for a visit from James Cameron), but in fact development of such resources represents the only route out of dependence (and Attawapiskat has benefitted from the diamond developments to which Chief Spence referred).

The roots of aboriginal plight are not lack of goodwill on the part of Canadians, or even of political will on the part of the federal government. That plight is the legacy of failed policies past, and of resistance from native leaders to changes in accountability, transparency, education and property rights that would inevitably undermine their own power.
Many of these arguments are weak. For instance, "draconian environmental regulation" means any regulation that corporations can't bypass in their rush to rape the earth. People attended the Idle No More rallies because they took place over the Christmas holidays, when workers and students alike were on breaks.

And how is the dissent "manufactured" when it's happening spontaneously in a few dozen cities? If that's manufactured dissent, what would unmanufactured dissent look like?

John Ivison: Simplistic arguments from Theresa Spence, Idle No More could have tragic consequences for natives

By John IvisonAnother area where the government is attempting to make structural changes that could end the cycle of poverty and despair is by creating a First Nations Education Act, aimed at dragging native education into the 21st century. Currently, reserve schools have no regular reporting system, there is no dispensation for kids who fall behind, there is no way to certify, regulate or discipline teachers and there is no way to monitor attendance. A panel on native education last year said 100 schools are “unsafe learning environments.”

But in October, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) walked out of those discussions, claiming Ottawa was “making decisions behind closed doors.” In time, legislation will pass through the House of Commons and the AFN will howl that it wasn’t consulted.

But who’s to blame for that?

The narrative that the heartless Conservatives and their business friends are ripping off the Indians appeals to the righteous mind. Theresa Spence repeated it herself when she said “precious diamonds from my land grace the fingers and necklaces of Hollywood celebrities.”

That is highly charged language. But it is disingenuous. De Beers is investing $1-billion in the Victor mine near Attawapiskat. It agreed to pay the band about $30-million over the 12-year life span of the mine. A further $325-million in contracts has been funnelled through companies owned by the band, to supply catering, helicopters, dynamite and the like. One wonders how Attawapiskat Resources Inc. has only made profits of $100,000 on that level of revenue, but that’s for another day.
Who's to blame when the government crafts laws without consulting the tribes, the Natives walk out in protest, and the government continues to craft laws without consulting them? Um, the government?

$30 million over 12 years equals $2.5 million a year. That's not a whole lot for a remote community with pressing needs.

A better question is what percent of De Beers' annual profits from the mine is $2.5 million. At a minimum Attawapiskat should be getting a standard 15% in royalties, if not more.

Idle No More isn't being realistic: Crey

By Terry Glavin"These celebratory protest gatherings are all very good, but they're not going to get us anywhere," says Ernie Crey, the 62-year-old former vice-president of the United Native Nations, veteran aboriginal fishing rights activist and co-author of the award-winning Stolen from Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. "It's really colourful and everything, but it's really unrealistic stuff. What's not going to work is all this stuff about transformational change in the consciousness of white North Americans."

It's not that Crey is claiming knowledge of some other, more magic way forward. His point is that there isn't one, and we all need to stop looking for it.

"We've got to get past this stage," Crey told me. "There is no magic policy bullet that's going to come out of some meeting with the prime minister or the Indian affairs minister. We're dealing with issues here that have bedevilled the very best of the aboriginal leadership for years."

Aboriginal self-government is all well and good and "nation to nation" relationships sound just fine, but hiving off aboriginal people into separate health and welfare streams, for instance, can have disastrous results.

Establishing separate aboriginal support systems in the cities might seem perfectly consistent with a respect for aboriginal culture, Crey said, but what that has come to mean for Vancouver's suicide-prone aboriginal kids is their relegation to "social-service ghettos."

Last summer, the segregated social-service system in Vancouver was identified by aboriginal agency workers as a major cause of a "suicide pact" involving 30 aboriginal kids in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. These kinds of complexities are not going to be resolved by stirring speeches about Turtle Island at shopping mall rallies, Crey said.

"You're not going to get anywhere by throwing around big words like 'sovereignty' and 'colonization' and telling white people they need to decolonize themselves."
Comment:  I think Crey makes some valid points. I had similar thoughts when I read Idle No More's goals, or lack thereof.

Talk is one thing; action is another. While people are gathering and dancing and waving signs, who's doing the work of organizing volunteers, writing position papers, registering voters, building databases, raising funds, etc.?

Marching in the streets helps mobilize people and publicize the cause, but it isn't a substitute for politicking. Once you have people's attentions, you have to give them compelling reasons to keep listening, and to change.

For more on Idle No More, see Idle No More vs. Chiefs and Idle No More Part of Super-Movement.

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