Since 1986 I have been working for our communities across Canada. I have met every national chief since George Easmus and am on a first name basis with two of them. I have worked in probably more than fifty communities but have hosted meetings with citizens of almost every First Nation in Canada. Much of my work is geared towards making things better, and in my life time I have seen improvements.
#IdleNoMore is one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my 26 years of working in our communities. It is a grassroots voicing of many concerns and issues, but it focuses on one thing: honour. If you have been wondering what First Nations want, let me break it down for you, because it is nothing new. We are asking for a simple honoring of existing agreements, studies and plans. To make it easy, here is a five point plan for radically changing First Nations communities for the better without doing anything new:
- Implement existing treaties. The Crown made treaties with First Nations starting in the 1700s specifically to manage the relationship between governments. It is a simple matter to continue to implement these treaties as they are existing commitments that both sides can continue to live by. Existing treaty process are simple contemporary ways to work the relationship. Sme First Nations have chosen this path of reconciliation and they should feel free to continue to have that right to invite Canada to a legally binding relationship.
- Update and implement the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples findings. When RCAP was created in 1992 it was in response to the way in which Canada had handled the 1990 Oka crises. It was an acknowledgement of the realities facing indigenous communities and it asked for and listened to thousands of hours of testimony about current conditions and possible solutions. It represented the best and brightest thinking of its time, and it proscribed hundreds of recommendations that would have changed things for the better. Thirty years later, only some of those recommendations have seen the light of day, and they have been half hearted implementations at that.
- Revisit and implement the Kelowna Accord. In 2005 there was an unprecedented process that brought together First Nations leadership, provincial premiers, territorial leaders and the prime minister to reach consensus on a ten year program to seriously and collaboratively address the health, education and social needs of our communities. As one of his first acts in taking office, Stephen Harper scuttled the deal citing the $4 billion price take as too high. It was merely a fraction of what he was eventually willing to spend on fa handful of fighter jets, but it represented an historic opportunity to seriously make a dent in the socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non indigenous people in this country. By the way BC went ahead and implemented many of the Kelowna principles on their own and although there was so much they could do as a province without the Feds involved, they have made bigger strides than any other province since 2005.
- implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada was one of the last countries in the world to ratify this declaration, but ratify it they did in 2010. All it takes now if for the federal government to work with first nations communities to create theologies that would ensure that indigenous rights are protected and responsibilities are implemented by rights holders, such as governments and social institutions.
- implement Canadian law with respect to consultation with First Nations on legislation that may infringe rights. Aboriginal law is very complicated, but the Supreme Court of Canada has been very clear about the processes that governments must follow to adequately consult with First Nations on issues in which rights might be infringed. Whenever the federal government fails to do this, court cases generally go against them. So a cheap solution would be to engage in a consistent, honorable, legal and high level consultation protocol. If such a process had been followed with respect to the current government’s omnibus bills, #IdleNoMore would never have started.
In my lifetime I have witnessed the entrenchment of Aboriginal rights into our constitution and that many major initiatives that never got off the drawing board. My generation did what we could and now the young ones are saying “it’s our turn.”. And they are rightly saying that we haven’t done enough in the last thirty years. And they are speaking from a place of resourcefulness, connection and creativity that is totally different from what we had in the 1980s.
So Canada, make it easy on yourself. Just complete the good things we started together. Let’s just try that. Nothing new, nothing complicated, nothing we haven’t talked about doing before. But this time, let’s commit.