Idol no more: Spence, PM tarred by partisan rhetoric on federal budget bills

Toula Foscolos
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How the Idle No More movement got hijacked

The stark contrast currently being observed between the unbridled support some Canadians have lent and the contemptuous vitriol others have reserved for Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, and by association, the Idle No More movement, is proof of how people’s pre-conceived notions can shape their conclusions before they even know the facts. It’s time to re-examine everything we think we know and stop confusing apples and oranges.

Toula Foscolos

First of all, there is much to support about the Idle No More movement; a movement that was borne out of frustration at the passing of Bill C-45, which changes the legislation contained in 64 acts, notably the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act, and the Environmental Assessment Act. Aside from the fact that Natives weren’t even consulted about changes that would affect their land, there is much here to considerably alarm most Canadians. For example, under the act, major pipeline and power line project advocates aren't required to prove their project won't damage or destroy a navigable waterway it crosses. This isn’t an Indian issue. The sustainable management of our resources is everyone’s issue, and it should be treated as such.

Now, on to Chief Spence... It’s important to clarify that Chief Spence (however you may feel about her) is not officially part of Idle No More. Yes, she’s become the movement’s public face, but doubting her, her motives, or her conduct, takes absolutely nothing away from the movement itself. Don’t conflate the two.

The issue here is not one person's alleged behaviour, or how some have jumped in to paint her as a saint and others as a villain (the truth is often found somewhere in the shades of grey that one-track minds prefer not to delve into). The issue here is Native people, a long-standing history of abuse and contempt by the Canadian government and their rights to dignity and self-determination.

Now, on to the federal audit report on Attawapiskat. When it was released, depending on which side of the fence you were on, you either saw it as damning evidence of fraud, opportunism and severe financial mismanagement, or a perfectly-timed smear campaign and hatchet job by the Harper government who chose to release the audit only days before a meeting was finally set. Again, the facts would serve us well here.

The audit has indeed revealed a serious lack of documentation for many expenses (most of which, it should be noted, were incurred before Spence was even elected chief), but that in itself is not proof of fraud or theft; just lack of a paper trail -- for now. With an average of 81 per cent of files failing to have adequate supporting documents and over 60 per cent having no documentation of the reason for payment, it’s certainly time to clean house and establish accountability in Attawapiskat. But alluding that financial mismanagement in one Native community is damning evidence for financial mismanagement in them all, is like damning Peter for Paul’s discretions simply because they share the same initials.

Kahnawake Chief Ryan Rice’s interview with the Gazette revealed someone who runs a tight ship and is resentful of Attawapiskat’s audit findings, because it has caused many to unfairly paint all First Nations with the same brush.

It’s important to clarify that Chief Spence (however you may feel about her) is not officially part of Idle No More. Yes, she’s become the movement’s public face, but doubting her, her motives, or her conduct, takes absolutely nothing away from the movement itself. Don’t conflate the two.

“Should Toronto be put under third-party management? That community has been running a deficit for years,” asks Lorraine Land, a lawyer that practices Aboriginal and environmental law. She goes on to reveal that “almost every time a First Nation goes into third-party management, it comes out with as much debt as it had going in — or more. A good indicator that the problem is not fiscal mismanagement; it’s the insufficiency of resources to deliver the programs needed.”

Most telling to me about how most people have opted for one-sided punditry instead of neutrality were the reactions to Spence's, extremely disappointing to me, move - kicking a television crew out of Attawapiskat. Left-leaning supporters and haters of all things conservative shouldn’t get to cry 'tyranny' if Harper refuses to speak to media, while at the same time remaining silent on Spence's decision to prevent journalists from doing their jobs. No one should be above criticism. Even those you agree with.

“You can’t lament Third World conditions and then act like a Third World despot,” wrote the Globe and Mail in a recent editorial. They’re right.

But if you put all of what - mostly amounts to distractions - aside, Idle No More is a precious opportunity. An opportunity for us to have a much-needed national conversation on the treatment of our Native communities - the misconceptions, the falsehoods, and the racist stereotypes that have been perpetuated down generation after generation. We seem to have conveniently forgotten that the “money that First Nations receive is a small fraction of the value of the resources, and the government revenue that comes out of their territories.”

Right here in our province, it behooves Quebecers whose motto is 'Je me souviens' to try and remember all of our province’s history and slights. Not just the ones committed against francophones. There’s an opportunity here for some sort of acknowledgement, rectification and a settling of scores. An opportunity for important decisions affecting our country’s resources, revenues and environmental protection to be taken together, with First Nations as equal partners -- not as second-class citizens.

Nota Bene

A number of links have been included with this story. Those interested in getting a clearer idea of the issues, are encouraged to click on them.

 

 

 

Organizations: First Nations, Gazette, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Attawapiskat, Toronto, Lorraine Land Canada

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Recent comments

  • harry
    February 10, 2013 - 22:40

    shame on the native leaders...for years they have been recieving billions of dollars yet they're people live in extreme poverty...lead by example...quit blaming everyone else for your short comings....idle no more...get to work ...get educated..just think of what you could be if you got your people to work and educated with all the billions and billions of dollars you recieve!!!!!

  • harry
    February 10, 2013 - 22:34

    shame on the native leaders...for years they have been recieving billions of dollars yet they're people live in extreme poverty...lead by example...quit blaming everyone else for your short comings....idle no more...get to work ...get educated..just think of what you could be if you got your people to work and educated with all the billions and billions of dollars you recieve!!!!!

  • joe
    January 11, 2013 - 15:25

    Every day i see comments in the news on the internet or in the paper talking about first nation and harper government. its not harper's government its our canadian government one we elected to represent us, we choose who will represent us to the rest of the nation, our leader works for us and i'm sure he needs to work hard if he wants to keep his job, just like any other member of the working class. the situation in Attawapiskat did raise some concernes, like why is their povrety in a community that received so much money and still receives money from DeBeers in large amounts it breaks my heart to see so much desolation and povrety, the people of attawapiskat should ask their leader to show them the money to be accountable for the life they are subjecsted to .they should not be mad at our canadian government but frustrated with their leaders. i dont no much about first nation affaires, but my modo is if you want a better life dont have someone else choose your path. idol no more came at a very bad time for the first nation people, the situation at attawapiskat makes it very hard for canadianes to understand the meening of idle no more. as for je me souvien i tought that was rememberance day (jour du souvenir world war)

    • blusatin
      January 16, 2013 - 10:57

      hi Joe, wanted to know who pays the taxes on the land the Indians claim to own...the Harper Government gives them money to live on these reserves ..out of that do they pay taxes on the land..if so wouldn't that make the tax payers the owners of the land they claim to own..in my life something has never been free, have always had to pay my fair share as well as alot of other Canadians, my house pay morgage, my land pay taxes ..what do they pay, or have ever payed for the land they clam to own.. as far as I can figure out we the tax payers own the land, pay their way, wages way over what any tax paying Canadian makes working..funny how they all think we owe them something, I feel they owe us for living free, to bad they don't take better care of the land, housing, feed their children out of money we give ..as for T Spence she is a sad excuse for a Chief, does she get payed our tax dollars for sitting , drinking fish soup.. hummm probably.. my thoughts

    • Whyzguy
      January 18, 2013 - 15:32

      Hi Blusatin, while i'll agree certain things have been a certain way during our lifetime, why are we so sure this is the right way for all of us to live humanly. What comfort do our imaginary lines on this planet give us and why do some identify themselves separately from supporters of the natural orders of the universe. Idle no more or the Occupation movement or your great-great grand-parents,....what is the difference? Are we paying our fair share when raw products are systematically hoarded by small but wealthy groups or other humans are used at next to slave labor so we can have a t-shirt at 9.99 (or perhaps the same one at 99.99 if it has a silk screened signature of the athlete du jour)? Would you really mind being taken done a peg or 2 if everyone on the planet could live better? And if you really know anything about world history, you know we are only benefiting because of the direction of gunfire. Our rights, freedoms and property are all man-made illusions. You have no more "real" rights to the land you stand on than the rest of us regardless to what military you pay dues (taxes) I believe the subtext in most protests, you'll find exactly this sentiment.

  • Cara
    January 09, 2013 - 20:10

    Thank you for being clear that, while Idle No More and Chief Spence have similar goals, Chief Spence is not officially part of Idle No More. Having said that, many of us have great respect for the sacrifice that she is willing to make and most people keeping track have noted how Attawapiskat has improved since she became Chief in 2010. As for why people are remaining silent about Global being asked to leave Attawapiskat, it has nothing to do with thinking that Chief Spence is above criticism and everything to do with the fact that Global knows that fly-in reserves aren't public for anyone to drop in on; Global didn't notify anyone that they were coming, let alone ask if they could. So obviously it was a stunt and why should we react to manufactured distractions?

  • Clifford Testawich
    January 09, 2013 - 15:40

    I would have to disagree with the Globe & Mail. Prior arrangements are usually made in advance with First Nations for most media stories. Anytime a story related to my reserve is going to be written, they usually call ahead, make arrangements and conduct interviews accordingly. When I see news of the Globe & Mail being turned away I am reminded of stories where a reporter is (example off top of my head) doing a report on someone being accused of being a pervert or criminal... they show up unannounced at this persons house, sometimes early AM and when they are turned away or asked to leave the property then we hear the reporter say, "Why don't you want to talk to us? What are you hiding!?" Responsible journalists will always make prior arrangements before making a trip to do a story. At least that is what I believe.

  • Randy
    January 09, 2013 - 15:37

    Great Article, good perspective on the whole situation. I have noticed many Canadian media outlets taking a very one-sided approach to IdleNoMore, coming off as not knowing what they're talking about at all, or not having their facts straight... And noticing a lot of press from outside of Canada being very supportive of the movement #IdleNoMore