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Wednesday, 16 January 2013 08:32

Gov’t can’t Idle No More: must address First Nations issues

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One can only wonder if Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence truly expected what has played out between the federal government and First Nations leaders would have happened as a result of the media attention garnered by her fasting and subsequent Idle No More protests.


As of Jan. 14, the Ontario band chief has refused to eat anything but fish broth and tea as a hunger strike to protest the lack of communication and poor funding between First Nations in Canada and the federal government.
The Idle No More protests have brought a lot of attention to First Nations issues — some good, some bad.
While critics of the federal government have called it a smear campaign against Spence, there are issues with federal funding arrangements to bands across Canada. More attention has been focused on First Nations as the media shines the light on the social problems which coincides with the squalor and deplorable conditions of housing on some reserves. The questions totals are increasing about why this is taking place. The federal government insists it’s transferring millions of dollars to First Nations.
Why are there so many problems then?
Many critics and so-called experts have theories, but until the federal government cleans this up for the sake of First Nations people and for themselves and the Canadian taxpayers, this will continue.
Despite the fact there is a lot of finger pointing going on towards First Nations band administrations, including Spence’s, maybe public pressure will finally push the federal government to act.
Another positive in all of this is the fact Canadians are getting educated and familiar with First Nations on a political level. All of a sudden, people know Aboriginal leaders. National Chief Shawn Atleo, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde and federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan are becoming household names and people are finding out what the Indian Act entails.
Even Gov. Gen. David Johnston is getting politically involved — at least far more so publicly than a lot of governor generals in recent memory.
Harper needs to address this and while many politicians generally hope social protests will eventually fade in the collective memory — remember Occupy and the G20 Summits for example — the Idle No More protests have two things going for it.
One, they have a common denominator of a social group with a rich cultural heritage, organized leaders and political and financial clout.
First Nations have money, lands which have natural resources and leaders who understand the political system. There is a solid foundation for those protests.
Two, the media attention this has received will put pressure not only on the federal government but on native leaders as well. They want to diffuse all of the criticism about “where all the money went.”
This in turn will generate some enthusiasm for all of those of First Nations decent across Canada.
If southwest Saskatchewan is any example, First Nations people have worked hard to celebrate their culture and improve their economic situation.
The Living Sky Casino’s success and the Nekaneet’s move to be the first band in Canada to collect and use GST to improve their lives are just two such examples, not including the social events celebrating their heritage such as the upcoming and now annual, powwow in Swift Current inFebruary.
At least for Spence, people are talking and while she and her band have taken a lot of criticism, Canadians and the federal government are at least talking about First Nations. The situation needs to be rectified one way or another so we can all just move on.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor of the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Read 1922 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 January 2013 08:48
Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor