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Where is the voice of the First Nations people?

Author: 
Letter to the Editor
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
9
Year: 
2001

Page 5

Dear Editor:

When did we agree to be silent?

Where have we heard that before? Was it during a time of political expedience and vapid rhetoric? Was it during a time when it was acceptable to win at all costs? We know who said it and we know why he said it. But why did he agree to be silent now?

We have been witness in recent times to thundering silence emanating from the sanctuary at 10 Nicholas Street. Agreements have been signed, disastrous Supreme Court decisions have been rendered, hidden agendas have been revealed and still we have heard nothing but silence.

The National political leaders debated in French and English and there was not a mention of First Nation issues. When did we agree to be silent?

The provincial health ministers signed an agreement with the federal government. Yet our people suffer the indignities of epidemic chronic illness. Diabetes is ravaging the eyesight and limbs of our people. HIV/AIDS infections are multiple times higher in our populations than in other Canadians. TB has returned to our people. And yet the national chief and his office have paid silent witness to the ministers signing their agreement without any consideration given to the health crises in our communities. Why has the Assembly of First Nations agreed to be silent?

The Supreme Court of Canada has obtusely determined that a scarce, finite and unique resource is worth half that of generic property. We have learned that not only is Musqeaum land worth less than comparable lands across the street but that the court has decided that all our lands are worth less.

The factors that determine value in the Western societies (scarcity, uniqueness, etc.) do not apply to lands that make up less than two per cent of Canada?s land mass. Yet the national chief remains silent.

The Canadian Alliance?s hidden agenda of legislated assimilation has been exposed for our people to witness. Their blatant disregard for the Charter of Rights and for the living treaties has been met with silence from the national chief. Are we to assume that his silence is tacit approval? I don?t think that is the case. However, the silence emanating from the national chief?s office on this issue is an insult to our people.

During the televised leader?s debates there was no mention of First Nations. Had there been a leader who recognized that the importance of our issues must form part of the national discussion, we would not have had to watch something that did not have anything to do with us. We again have been forced into the shadows by an early 1990s?style of empty promises and bombastic bluffing. We do not deserve this treatment.

When a person goes on record as stating on many occasions, ?when did we agree to be silent,? that becomes fact. When statements become fact, to do the opposite of what was stated becomes a lie. When it happens once, it is a mistake. When it happens twice, it is forgivable. When it happens three times, it is a pattern. Are First Nations people so contemptible to the national chief that we can be misled by silence?

When we hear that the national chief finally has come out of hiding to speak on an issue, we are momentarily thankful that he is still among us. But when we hear that the public pronouncements regarding the softwood lumber issue are driven by the interests of the Grand Council of the Crees and the B.C. Interior Alliance we again wonder if he truly cares about all First Nation people. Where is the recognition and understanding that cronyism should not come at the expense of his other constituents? Where is the inclusion of all our interests?

When our leadership decides during the course of an election campaign that may shape our role in Canada that it is more important to stay in Geneva for three weeks, it is time to question the silence. The United Nations debate on Indigenous Peoples has been slowly ongoing for 17 years. Three weeks will not benefit our people. We must not accept the silence.

erhaps now is the time when we can also begin to question the practicality and political logic of demonstrating need rather than demonstrating our capability to govern ourselves. Perhaps now we can instruct those that represent us we are not beggars in our own lands and that the politics of poverty and hopelessness must be replaced by the politics of real change and strength.

We who have gotten so little have endured, thrived and created spectacular results from the inadequate tools we have been given. Imagine the results if we were to receive what is ours.

I urge the national chief to end the silence; to become cognizant of current issues and be aware of emerging issues. We did not agree to be silent. And we will remember a candidate?s track record in three years. After all, were we not promised universal suffrage by the current national chief?

Mike Fontaine

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