- Category: news
- Created: Friday, 18 October 2013 15:41
- Published: Friday, 18 October 2013 15:41
- Written by Administrator 3
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By Doug Cuthand, The Starphoenix
To say the speech from the throne was shallow and unfocused would be generous. From a First Nations' point of view, it was an insult.
Very little of substance was directed toward First Nations. There were several oblique stabs at aboriginal issues, but the speech opened with the same old self-congratulatory settler racism that, for many, represents Canada's foundation.
Describing the brave men and women who settled Canada, Gov.-Gen. David Johnston stated: "They faced down incredible challenges - geographic, military and economic. They were undaunted. They dared to seize the moment that history offered.
Pioneers, then few in number, reached across a vast continent. They forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed."
This comment was not missed by Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo, who stated that Canada was not an empty land or terra nullius as described in the doctrine of discovery. Settler racism is based on the misconception that the First Nations played no role in the development of the country and that the land was unoccupied before settlers arrived.
The fact that we still have to deal with this form of racism in the 21st century is an indication of how backward this government and the country remain.
First Nations and aboriginal issues were largely ignored in the speech. The pending First Nations Education Act was sloughed off as developing "more accountable on-reserve education systems." The comment that the federal budget would be frozen was lumped together with other topics, but what does it mean to any changes in funding for First Nations, particularly for education?
The government is planning to introduce the education act in the fall, but the speech was silent about it. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has stated that there will be no additional funding for First Nations education until after the bill is passed, despite the fact that the AFN is on the record requesting funding on par with the provinces. This top-down piece of legislation has been rejected universally in Indian Country, so it will be an issue later in the fall.
Concerning resource development, the speech stated: "Our government recognizes that the future prosperity of the North requires responsible development of its abundant natural resources. Northerners must benefit from this treasure. Our government will work alongside Inuit, First Nations, territorial governments and industry to ensure that Northerners are well trained to take their full place in this new economy."
Nowhere was there any comment about resource revenue, or the fact that many resource projects are located in First Nations territory where no treaties exist. Nor was there any recognition of First Nations' traditional territory. Our people are only seen as a source of labour and not an equal participant.
However, the speech contained the veiled threat that resource projects would go ahead in spite of any opposition.
"Canada's energy reserves are vast ... A lack of key infrastructure threatens to strand these resources at a time when global demand for Canadian energy is soaring ... Our future prosperity depends on responsible development of these resources." Again there is no mention of First Nations title or treaty obligations.
Perhaps the saddest shortcoming of the speech from the throne was its lack of a serious commitment to an inquiry into the tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women - an issue that has been festering for years.
In 2005, the Native Women's Association of Canada began a program called Sisters in Spirit. They were to concentrate on missing and murdered aboriginal women. The group documented 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, making the issue a national disgrace.
The Assembly of First Nations' call for an inquiry has been supported by Amnesty International, Canada's premiers and United Nations envoy James Anaya. Ryan Leef, the Conservative MP from Yukon, also is on the record supporting the inquiry.
This was the Conservative government's chance to do the right thing and call an inquiry into this serious issue, but instead it offered this mealymouthed response in the speech from the throne: "Aboriginal women are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. Our government will renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's response so far has been that aboriginal people should go see the RCMP if a woman goes missing.
AFN Chief Atleo was present for the speech, but he left with very little. Our people were insulted both racially and financially. It's becoming increasingly clear that this is a federal government that doesn't care about aboriginal people.