The number of news articles from the AFN annual assembly in Halifax and the Native Women's conference in Kahnawake, near Montreal is highlighting the media's interest in Aboriginal affairs (for examples of this press coverage, see the five articles below).
Native leader: No more handouts - First Nations should control their own lives, U.S. leader says
By MICHAEL LIGHTSTONE, July 11, 2007
Indigenous people will be better off once they sever their age-old dependence on government assistance, a U.S. native leader told Canadian aboriginals Tuesday at a national conference in Halifax.
Joe Garcia said First Nations communities in the United States have been "conditioned" to accept handouts for too long and must find the resources to improve their lot in life on their own.
"The best resource we have is not the natural resources," he said, "but the resources within our own people."
Speaking to delegates at the annual general meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, Mr. Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said U.S. natives’ dependence on the largesse of Washington "is the wrong thing to do."
"What’s happened to us is we’ve been conditioned to think one way," he said. "That it’s always: ‘The government will provide for me, and so I don’t have to do a whole lot of work.’ And that’s so false."
Mr. Garcia, a Pueblo Indian from New Mexico, said U.S. natives have to "break away" from that mentality.
"The sooner we do it, the better off we’re going to be."
With respect to the new generation of Indians, Mr. Garcia said listening closely to the concerns of native youth is crucial. He encouraged elders and others to give young people the attention they deserve and not adopt a paternalistic attitude.
The paternalistic way of thinking is reminiscent of the relationship between government and natives in the U.S., Mr. Garcia said.
"Too many times, we act like the government" in dealings with native youth, he said.
"We tend to think that we know what the youth want (but) they may have some needs that we don’t know about."
Earlier, the assembly’s national chief, Phil Fontaine, told the conference that a national day of action on June 29 bolstered support for native rights in Canada. More than 100 events across the country helped draw attention to the substandard living conditions and other social issues that many indigenous people cope with.
Mr. Fontaine said his organization wants to keep the native rights agenda in the public eye. He noted the extensive media coverage the national day of action received in Canada and other countries.
"We have to make sure the momentum we’ve built continues to grow," he said in a speech.
The assembly’s executive hopes non-native support will lead to pressure on politicians to change public policy.
Mr. Fontaine said the protest day helped educate non-natives about the plight of First Nations people and raised the profile of many native communities.
Mr. Fontaine insisted that more Canadians now support aboriginals in their fights with government, citing a recent poll that suggested 77 per cent of people are onside with First Nations issues.
He also attributed Ottawa’s decision to reform the land claims process, just weeks before the day of action, to pressure linked to the June 29 events.
Some chiefs in Halifax suggested protests could become regular events and could take on a more aggressive tone if the federal government fails to resolve long-standing grievances that leaders said are leaving their communities desperate.
Today, delegates plan to discuss such issues as health care, education, housing and child and family services.
Funds for new land claim process 'chump change': chiefs
Jul 11, 2007
CALGARY (CBC) - The amount of money the federal government plans to dedicate to creating a system to streamline the settlement of hundreds of long-standing aboriginal land claims disputes is insufficient, some Assembly of First Nations chiefs said Wednesday.
"With this $250 million that has been put forward, we see that as chump change," Chief Cameron Watson said on the second day of AFN's annual meeting in Halifax.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on June 12 that Ottawa was proposing legislation to create a new independent tribunal to settle disputes, and also allocate $250 million a year for 10 years to settle land claim settlements. The bill is to be tabled this fall and in place by early next year.
The assembly passed a motion Wednesday tentatively supporting Ottawa's land claims proposal, with Watson as the sole dissenter.
But he wasn't the only chief who felt the proposal is underfunded.
National Chief Phil Fontaine said the disagreement stems from the government's calculation that there are 800 outstanding specific land claims, the smaller community-based claims filed by individual reserves. First Nations leaders, meanwhile, estimate such smaller claims number 1,000.
Uncertainties about AFN's role
The amount of money proposed by Ottawa won't even cover the claims resolution process, says Joseph Knockwood, chief of the 108-member Fort Folly New Brunswick reserve.
"I've been at this ... since 1968," said Knockwood. "And when you've been at this for as long as I have - there's not enough money to take care of what we have here in Canada."
The settlement of claim currently takes an average of 13 years and must be investigated by the Indian Specific Claims Commission, which can make recommendations but has no power to rule on a dispute. The bill will change it into a mediation body.
"We think it's a significant development but there are some uncertainties around the proposal," said Fontaine, citing concerns over what role AFN will play in drafting the legislation.
The national chief said he wants the assembly to be involved in finalizing details, but they haven't even been shown draft bill recommendations from the federal cabinet.
"We need to be at the table. We have to jointly hold the pen. And the ultimate decision or decisions that will be taken, must be taken jointly."
The 28th annual general assembly wraps up Thursday.
Battle for fairness unites N.S., First Nations
CBC News - July 10, 2007
Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald and Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine united Tuesday in blasting the federal government for reneging on key agreements with them worth billions of dollars.
Speaking to the assembly's annual conference in Halifax, MacDonald said the provincial government and aboriginal leaders are engaged in a similar "battle for fairness and justice" with Ottawa, though he pointed out his fight is not on the same scale as that faced by native people.
"The federal government broke its promise to honour our right to be the full beneficiaries of our offshore [oil and gas] resources," the Progressive Conservative premier told hundreds of delegates as the three-day meeting got underway in downtown Halifax.
"They are forcing Nova Scotia to unfairly abandon the Atlantic accord in this year's budget. That broken promise is a barrier to Nova Scotia's economic independence. It seems like such a basic matter of integrity: make a promise, keep a promise."
'A deal is a deal'
MacDonald said he's only been engaged in a battle to restore the agreement for the past five months, so it doesn't compare to the decades of disappointment and frustration experienced by the First Nations communities.
Fontaine picked up on the theme, comparing the Atlantic accord and other provinces' fights over equalization payments — including Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador — with the AFN's battle to get the federal government to adopt the Kelowna agreement.
"The Kelowna accord is a deal that we struck with Canada — a non-partisan deal," said Fontaine. "In that regard, we take the same position as the premiers have taken with respect to the Atlantic accord. A deal is a deal."
The Kelowna accord, signed by then-prime minister Paul Martin's Liberal government, would have seen $5 billion go toward improved education, housing and anti-poverty initiatives for aboriginal people.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper backed away from the Kelowna agreement in 2006. Instead, he committed $450 million for aboriginals in that year's budget.
Day of action a success
Another key item up for discussion at this week's annual general meeting of AFN members is a post-mortem on the recent national aboriginal day of action and what methods will be used to raise awareness in the year ahead.
Blockades of busy Ontario highways and a major rail line by a group of Mohawk protesters marked one of the few exceptions to an otherwise peaceful day of protests on June 29.
First Nations chiefs gathered Tuesday agreed last month's day of action, organized by AFN to highlight problems facing native communities, was a success they'd like to repeat.
"We may have to do more. We may have to have another day of action," said Fontaine.
A B.C. chief urged delegates to choose actions that will not alienate Canadians in order to keep from diminishing public support.
"Whether we're on the ground in our own First Nations community, whether we're doing it as a larger political organizational body, we need to make sure that we are very strategic in the action that we take," said Chief Doug Kelly.
The 28th annual assembly wraps up on Thursday. By then, the chiefs are expected to outline a plan of action for the next year to keep First Nations issues on the public agenda.
Native leaders call for mind shift to combat violence against women
The Canadian Press - July 11, 2007
Breaking the cycle of violence against native women will require a giant mental shift that includes rethinking approaches to the environment, language and human rights, said several prominent aboriginal leaders at a conference near Montreal.
With statistics pointing to alarming rates of sexual violence on Canada's reserves, delegates at an international conference for native women say fundamental cultural changes are needed before those numbers begin to drop.
"It's a constant struggle to have to address these issues in our community," said Beverley Jacobs, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said at the meeting of the Indigenous Women of the Americas.
"Women have been specific targets of violence since colonialization," she said Tuesday.
More than 250 native women from 17 countries have gathered for the conference on the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve, just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal.
According to a 2006 report by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, aboriginals living on reserves were several times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other people.
Bev Oda, federal minister for the status of women, announced recently that Ottawa would spend $56 million over five years on family violence prevention programs.
Jacobs joined panellists from Canada, the United States and Colombia to discuss methods of dealing with violence against native women.
While some offered concrete proposals, such as continued legal challenges and increased funding, others suggested that wouldn't be enough to counter years of systemic abuse.
Anik Sioui, a Huron-Wendat from Quebec, was among those calling for new cultural perspectives.
"There was culture shock between the European and aboriginal cultures," she said.
"The first role of the woman [in aboriginal society] is to care for the children … and she has been deprived of this role," Sioui added, pointing to child-care services that take aboriginal children from troubled families and raise them in non-native environments.
"That is the greatest violence you can commit against a woman."
Jacobs, a Mohawk from Caledonia, Ont., went further, linking careless attitudes towards the environment to a lack of respect for women.
"The raping of our Mother Earth is the same issue that is impacting our women, the rapes and the violence that are occurring," she said.
Others maintained that their perception of violence has been shaped by their communities using non-traditional languages like English and French.
"When we use those languages we have to be mindful of the meaning of those words that we use, because those words have been used … to colonize us," said Peggy Bird, an attorney with the U.S.-based Native Women Advocacy Center.
"We don't have words for rape, sexual violence, domestic violence. Those are new words for us."
But Bird also stressed it is important for native groups not to only turn inward to solve their problems.
"Not everyone out there who is not indigenous is bad," she said. "We have a lot of allies out there who are wanting to help us."
As for Jacobs, the ultimate solution to violence against native women lies in a return to more traditional forms of governance.
"We have to reclaim our traditional roles as decision-makers."
The conference wraps up on Wednesday.
Native women want Canada to support UN aboriginal rights declaration
CBC News - July 10, 2007
Canada has a duty to support a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples, say women gathered at an international conference in Kahnawake, Que.
The delegates from First Nations across North and South America say Canada's Conservative government erred when it announced it would not support the UN declaration, which upholds Aboriginal Peoples' land rights and ways of life.
The previous Liberal government had said it endorsed the declaration but Stephen Harper's Conservative government has backed away from the UN document.
Canada's lack of support sends a strong international message about aboriginal rights, said June Lorenzo, a lawyer from New Mexico who is attending the conference.
"It's really disappointing, not only for Canadian indigenous people, but all indigenous people, because Canada played such a critical role in getting the draft declaration adopted by the human rights commission [at the UN]," she told CBC News.
More than 250 women from 17 countries have gathered in the Mohawk community for three days, for the fifth Continental Meeting of Indigenous Women of the Americas.
They say violence against native women in Canada is also a pressing concern, with reports reaching crisis proportions.
The delegates say Canadian government policies restrict the role native women can play in their communities.
A gospel meeting is planned in Cat Lake from July12-15/07.
For further information please call Elsie Gray at 1-807-347-2461. Thank you