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.
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.
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.