Tag Archives: government

Hunger Strike 1983

Early morning, April 21st 1983, St. John’s. Atlantic Place offices were just starting to wake up. Thirty-one Mi’kmaq men and women from Conne River went upstairs to the RAND offices. The Rural and Northern Development Department of the Newfoundland Government. They occupied the office.

RAND occupation-daily-news-22-apr-1983
The Daily News, Apr. 22, 1983. Click for larger view.

For over a year, RAND had withheld funds from the Conne River Band Council in a dispute over its administration. Discussion and negotiation had not ended the deadlock. So it was time for direct action.

Conne River (now Miawpukek) was one of the “designated native communities” in the province. Thereby it received federal funding through a federal-provincial agreement. The others, Innu and Inuit communities in Labrador, had continued to receive their funds.

St. John's Telegram Apr 1983 Conne River
St. John’s Telegram Apr 1983. Click for larger view.

At the RAND offices, police arrived and arrested 23 of the protestors. They later got out on bail. And, the next day, the second phase of the protest began.

The hunger strike

Nine men went on a hunger strike. They and about a hundred others from Conne River camped out in a church community centre, along with St. John’s supporters of their cause.

The hunger strikers were determined to win, and winning meant getting the funding released. There was no Plan B.

After nine days, they won. The federal and provincial governments reached an agreement with the band council. RAND released the funds in full.

conne-river-hunger-strike-apr-1983 weigh-inIt was an intense week, and a good week. According to this photo, I was involved in the weighing-in of the hunger strikers. But the main thing I remember was chopping vegetables. We made huge pots of soup and stew every day.

I also remember Michael (Misel) Joe. He had not been chief long at that time. I had spent a bit of time with the previous chief, the late Billy Joe. So I knew Michael had big boots to fill. And he did, especially during those nine days.

The hunger strikers were: Misel Joe, Billy Joe, Andy Joe, Ches Joe, George Drew, Wilfred Drew, Rick Jeddore, Aubrey Joe, and Michael G. Benoit. Thanks for what you did.

Thanks too, Facebook friends, for sharing these photos posted on the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi page.

Living “Equipment”

canine members of armed forces -Augustine G Acuna, Scout Dog, Vietnam Combat ArtArmed Forces Day in the US is the 3rd Saturday in May, honouring those who protect and defend. But what of Military Working Dogs, important contributors to any country’s defence?

Below is a May 2012 email from the ASPCA. With so many touching photos online of present-day K9 teams, who knew this was still the case? I thought the US Armed Forces long ago stopped treating military animals as equipment to be left behind or destroyed. So, please, if you are in the US, email your senators*. If you aren’t, please publicize this and also maybe check into your own military’s practices. I couldn’t find much information on the Canadian Armed Forces, only a couple interesting articles on bomb-sniffing dogs in Afghanistan here.

(ASPCA) Help the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act

Each branch of the Armed Forces uses military working dogs (MWDs) in service to the country. Many of these intelligent, loyal animals serve alongside our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have prevented countless injuries and saved lives.

Unfortunately, these heroic dogs are currently classified as “equipment” by the U.S. Department of Defense. This classification not only trivializes these animals’ contributions, it also makes it difficult to transport dogs serving in foreign lands back to the United States for adoption once they’re ready for civilian life.

The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act will remedy this issue by reclassifying MWDs as “canine members of the armed forces” and instituting programs to assist with their placement and veterinary care after retirement from service—all without using federal funds. This legislation seems like a no-brainer, and yet the bill has only seven cosponsors in the Senate.

Dogs for Defense Save Lives logoWe need to generate greater support for the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act in the U.S. Senate. Please visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center online right now to email your two U.S. senators in Washington, D.C., and urge them to cosponsor the bill.

Thank you, advocates, for standing up for America’s military working dogs.

*Looking for updates on the Bill, all I could find was that it passed, in part, in early 2013. The part reclassifying MWDs as Armed Forces members rather than ‘equipment’ was deleted. That means costs of returning them to the US must be borne by adopters instead of their military service branch. (Republished this US Memorial Day from my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 24/12.) 

 

Idle No More

Our ancestors wanted this land Canada so damned bad that they crossed the ocean, crossed the country in wagon trains, fought each other, fought the indigenous peoples, and cleared forest for pasture and crop land. Subsequent waves of immigrants saved up for steerage passage to the New World.

ox-in-field-hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.caNow we, descendants of these migrants, stand idle and leave it to the First Nations peoples to fight to save the land. Idle No More is not just about protecting existing First Nations and treaty rights. It’s about protecting all of us, and our shared homeland, from legislative changes that may have serious repercussions down the road.

Bill C-45 was a catalyst for Idle No More.  Now passed, it is a 443 page omnibus Bill consisting of changes to over 40 diverse pieces of legislation. Its amendments to two Acts in particular are of concern to first nations panow idle no more protest--dec.-21,-2012-newstalk650.comIdle No More. They are changes to Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act and to the Indian Act regarding reserve land.

Reserve land is owned by the Crown, held for use by the resident First Nation. The band can “surrender” land to the Crown (federal government) for sale or lease in order to have developments not possible under the strictures of Indian Act land title. Until now, doing so required approval by a majority of a majority. Over half of those eligible must vote and, of those, over half must vote in favour in order for it to pass. Bill C-45 has changed this to simply a majority of those who vote. So if 100 of 1000 eligible voters vote, a yes vote by 51 means it passes. The potential for skewed results is mindboggling.

‘Speed things up’

Also, before Bill C-45, the entire federal cabinet had to approve the vote result before it took effect. Now only the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs must approve it. The Idle no more victoria-bc-21-Dec-2012-r-a-paterson-wikicommonsfederal government says the new rules will speed things up. The old system, government says, took months and even years for change to take effect. But why not speed up the implementation instead of changing the ground rules of democracy?

Land surrender might be used for a shopping mall or something wanted by a reserve’s residents and affecting only them. But it also might be used for negotiating agreements between industry and governments. Maybe for plans that only a very small minority of band members, and Canadians in general, want.

Protection of waterways is another biggie in Bill C-45 with potential for huge destruction of Canada’s environment. Although this is not an aboriginal-specific issue, it seems it’s rabble.ca-blogs-2012-12primarily First Nations that are upset about it. By removing most of the country’s lakes and rivers from federal protection, management and development can occur at the provincial, municipal and private levels without consultation with the federal government.

That can be a good thing when you’re talking about small streams and local management that can do quite nicely without federal red tape. The downside is it also lessens the ‘red tape’ of environmental assessment. So large-scale inter-provincial developments can go ahead more easily.

See something similar in both these cases? Less consultation and assessment making an easier process for development. And current large-scale projects like the Enbridge pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, just wishing First Nations, environmentalists and environmental impact studies would go away.

Idle or Action

banner settlers in solidarity with 1st nations beaconnews.ca-2012-12If we think that our immigrant ancestors’ efforts in settling Canada were worthwhile, we should remember that, by and large, they used their new homeland carefully and respectfully. We all have reasons to protest changes wrought by Bill C-45.

Here is an informative interview about Idle No More and Bill C-45 with Pam Palmeter on CBC Radio’s Day 6.

Attawapiskat ‘Solution’

In a Sun Media op-ed column this week, Jerry Agar suggests a solution for the people of house interior Attawapiskat news.sympatico.cbc.ca 9 Dec 2011Attawapiskat, the embattled Northern Ontario reserve: leave it.

He points out that doing the same ineffective thing over and over again is, in general, a good definition of insanity.  His second point is that, in order to solve problems, individuals need to take action themselves.  I agree with both points.

But his solution – go to where the opportunities are – has also been tried and doesn’t slums of Ramos Arizpe Mexico photo by Codowork that well. The shantytowns of Mexico City are testament to the decisions and actions of individuals to leave their rural homes in search of employment and a better life in the city.  On a small scale, it works.  On a mass scale, not so much.

Will it help individuals and Canada as a whole to have everyone flocking to Toronto or Winnipeg?  What about the rest of the landmass we call our country?  The government has to pay incentives to medical students to get them to practice in rural areas.  Everybody, it seems, wants to be a doctor in Toronto, not so many in Nippers Harbour.

I give Mr. Agar credit for thinking laterally.  But let’s go a little further than just “leave the reserve.”  Why not make the reserve a centre of enterprise itself?  If people want to stay in the north or in rural areas, why shouldn’t they?  Who exactly benefits in the long run by having overcrowded megacities and vast expanses of unpopulated land?  In making First Nations communities viable wherever they are, the big stumbling block is the Indian Act.  So let’s think way outside the box and change that.

Miawpukuk Example

Aerial view of Miawpukek, from mfngov.caLet’s use the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq reserve Miawpukek as an example.  It was created from the village of Conne River and surrounding land in 1987.  At that time, Indian Affairs was promoting new measures of band self-government.  The people of Conne River, never before officially recognized as Mi’kmaq, were accustomed to the control afforded over life and actions afforded by regular municipal, provincial and federal government.  They were not about to give that up.  So, from the beginning, Miawpukek had a degree of control over economic and educational development that went beyond the Indian Act.

The prosperity of the community speaks to the success of that.  In the 1990s, former chief Shane McDonald showed me around.  Driving in, he laughed, “see, we’re on reserve land now, and the pavement starts.  Usually the pavement ends when you come into a reserve.”

dancers-from-miawpukek mfngov.caThe reason for its success?  The people used Indian Affairs money in ways that worked best for their community.  They built up a local economy that had people moving back there to find employment.  That development is largely connected with their traditional methods of land use.  The culture and the environment are alive and healthy.

So my solution for reserves like Attawapiskat starts with the Department of Aboriginal Attawapiskat 'solution' photo of town sign firstnations.ca/attawapiskatAffairs.  Redraft the Indian Act so that those who come under it have the same freedom to develop businesses and own property that other Canadians have.  Don’t force depopulation of northern and rural communities by action or inaction.  Let them develop in a way that makes sense for their people and their environment.

Attawapiskat

Look at Google News today:  “Send troops to help Attawapiskat.”   For a month, we’ve read about the Band Chief declaring a state of house in Attawapiskatemergency over the lack of housing and Prime Minister Harper saying that millions of federal dollars have been spent in the northern Ontario Cree reserve.  People have been living in tents and crammed into a construction trailer because there aren’t enough habitable houses.

So, I have just one question about those millions of dollars.  How much of that money was actually spent within the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Development, not only on ministerial and high level bureaucrat salaries and expenses, but also in the low- and mid-level “worker bee” bureaucracy and on consultants?  How many memoranda and discussion papers have been prepared over how many years and at what cost in wages, expenses and materials?

Attawapiskat housing photo huffingtonpost.ca 2011 11 26 Red CrossAnd another question, I guess.  Why does reserve housing continue to be built using southern Canadian designs and materials when it seems pretty evident that neither usually hold up very well to northern weather and usage conditions?  And why is the construction often slipshod in the first place?

Inadequate housing on reserve is not new, especially in the north.  So a rhetorical question, I guess, is when is someone in government going to seriously look at how things are done and find a solution that works better.  The problems have been outlined and witnessed for decades, solutions have been suggested.  Why is a system still in place when it has been shown to be unwieldy, inefficient, and just not working?

Amazon link for The Dispossessed
Click for Amazon link

For those of you who may not know about it or have forgotten it, Geoffrey York’s book The Dispossessed is an excellent collection of his essays on, as the subtitle says, “life and death in Native Canada.”  First published in 1989, it unfortunately is still a valid commentary on First Nations conditions today.  Read Chapter 3 “Inside the Reserves” especially.

When the book came out, the problems outlined in it were already old and patience was running out. Two decades later and it’s like it’s a big surprise that conditions on many reserves are appallingly bad and there are problems with people being able to adequately provide for themselves and their families.

There are calls for the Canadian military and/or volunteer agencies to help out with the crisis in Attawapiskat.  The Red Cross of Canada has already become involved.  That is great, and maybe volunteers and the military can help alleviate the immediate problems.  But why on earth should any of them have to, in Canada, one of the richest countries on the planet?  If this is due to legislation (Indian Act) and bureaucracy, let the legislators and bureaucrats earn their money and get it sorted out – for the long term.