Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Harper government plans backdoor restructuring of First Nations governance

Leaked memo: Harper government plans backdoor restructuring of First Nations governance
by Corvin Russell, from Rabble, February 24, 2009.

APTN broke a story about the Harper government's secret plans to bring in First Nations governance reform.

From the days of Jean Chretien's White Paper in 1969, federal governments have dreamed of completing the process of colonization and assimilation through making Aboriginal rights disappear through a strategy of deceit: making Aboriginal rights disappear in the name of "giving" Canada's Indigenous peoples the "same" rights as other Canadians. This dream has taken several forms, beginning with the White Paper itself. More recently, Bob Nault, Indian Affairs minister in Chretien's Liberal government from 1999-2003, tried to bring in many of the same policies floated in the White Paper. These were not about abolishing the Indian Act and replacing it with a fundamental policy of respect for Indigenous peoples' right to self-determination; they did not seek to end the Canadian government's policy of extinguishment of Aboriginal title by any means possible; they did not seek to improve Ottawa's accountability to Indigenous peoples, or the accountability of First Nations' leadership to their communities. Rather, they sought to increase First Nations' accountability to Ottawa, entrenching the colonial view of First Nations governance as a delegated power bestowed by Ottawa; establishing First Nations as corporate entities like municipalities, without any inherent right to self-government; further attacking the subsistence economy by subjugating on-reserve populations to the cash economy through "tax reform"; and implementing changes like conversion of reserve lands into fee simple, which ultimately would result in the erosion both of First Nations' permanent land base and the relation of Indigenous peoples to their traditional territories.

Now the Harper government is trying to implement much of the same agenda through the back door. Harper's American mentor, Tom Flanagan, thinks he knows what's best for First Nations in his book, First Nations, Second Thoughts. And much of that has to do with the abolition of Aboriginal rights and the municipalization of First Nations, with a concomitant increase of dependence and "accountability" to Ottawa, instead of to Indigenous Peoples: as Flanagan says, "Call it assimilation, call it integration, call it adaptation, call it whatever you want: it has to happen."

This leaked secret memo to cabinet and this memo sent to chiefs and councils suggest that once again, white bureaucrats and politicians in Ottawa are devising solutions to the "Indian problem" that will make life easier for the colonial government and business interests. This time, they've learned the lesson of overly public, overly explicit changes to First Nations governance -- instead, they are pursuing a strategy of administrative reform whose main advantage, according to the memo to cabinet, is that it can be done without "the need for extensive or time-consuming engagement with First Nations or third parties."

Here's a memo to cabinet: start by acknowledging and respecting Indigenous rights. Sign on to and respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. End the policy of extinguishment of Aboriginal title. Respect Indigenous Peoples' rights to self-determination and their right to determine their own systems of government. End the exploitation of Indigenous lands without free, prior, and informed consent. And make the "apology" for residential schools real by making restitution and implementing far-ranging programs to restore Indigenous languages, cultures, and ceremonies.

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