Now that the raw emotions of the Idle No More movement have temporarily receded it is time to think clearly about how to resolve the longstanding social, political and economic issues among aboriginal people which have been at the core of the protests.
There are tangible, workable solutions to what ails aboriginal people, both rural and urban. These solutions must begin with recognition by Canadians that those who are indigenous have been, and will continue to be, a significant contributor to the nation as a whole with distinct, unalienable rights and status affirmed by custom and law.
Canada could not exist, in name, identity or national standing without the contributions of aboriginal peoples. Whether as teachers, guides, soldiers or leaders, through the use of indigenous natural resources or the adoption of Native customs, technologies and language Canadians have come to enjoy their current status because of its ability to blend the talents of the immigrants with the vitality of those who were here first.
But beyond owing a debt of gratitude there are ways to improve our collective national lives. It begins with elimination of the patriarchal Indian Act, that set of laws, which has frustrated Native creativity because it is based on the assumption of racial superiority and the avarice of the most wicked Pope Alexander VI through his affirmation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Along with this must come the change in ownership of Native lands from the Crown to aboriginal territory with attendant resource control and management rights.
This should be done in tandem with the application into law of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples whose provisions cover such pressing concerns as cultural preservation, protection of human rights and equal partnership in resource development. When it is enacted it will mark a dramatic social and political shift since it will empower aboriginal administrations to rise to become a third level of government in Canada equal in authority to the provinces.
But are aboriginal governing councils equal to this task? Not at the present time. Decades of active suppression have obliterated most indigenous governing systems. The band councils as now constituted do little more than oversee social programs and are, by design, inefficient and subject to corruption. Native leaders must relearn how to govern effectively and democratically. This can be done through the creation of a National Aboriginal Institute on Victoria Island across from Parliament in Ottawa. This Institute will provide instruction in all areas of aboriginal governance with a pool of experts ready to assist in areas like fiscal management, contracts, environmental protection and so on. It will also house the Aboriginal Museum of the Americas to become the centre for the study, preservation and teaching about this hemisphere’s indigenous peoples.
None of the above has any chance of working without a strong Native economy. This nation’s aboriginal peoples have enormous natural resources within and upon their indigenous lands. With a water, mineral, timber and oil hungry world looking to Canada native peoples had better get ready for the coming rush. A national native free trade act would spark growth, one in which goods can move from native nations in Nova Scotia to the Yukon unencumbered by Ottawa but subject to the licensing of aboriginal government. This would require the endorsing of the 1794 Jay Treaty in which goods may move across the international border and will bring an end to the smuggling crisis along the southern borders. The only way to break the current reliance on Canadian taxpayers is to reform the ineffective band council system into governments which have historical legitimacy and the power to act.
Then there is the Assembly of First Nations, an entity representing the Indian Act band councils, but not the Native nations, while also excluding the majority of aboriginal people who now reside off their homelands. The Assembly must be reformed. Once the Indian Act is rescinded Native governments will move towards the formation of regional alliances that may then select a national representative with an administration funded by their own resources.
A new spring will soon arrive and with it an opportunity to bring about the great and historic changes needed, ones in which the aboriginal peoples of Canada are acknowledged as full partners in the growth and preservation of the greatest land on this planet.
Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. He is the author of “Iroquois on Fire” among other books. He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-415-7288.