“Unless we start making some vast changes, we are going to relegate ourselves to the bottom rung for decades and decades,” said John Beaucage, an Anishinabek Nation Chief running for National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
The kind of change Beaucage is seeking is dramatic but it would serve not only to see all Aboriginals with the right to vote for their National Chief, he would also create a new kind of government.
The Ontario Chief is looking to do away with the Indian Act. In its place, he believes that the AFN would be the most ideal branch of government to deal with funding for First Nations. Once in power, Beaucage would create a “blue ribbon” team to start working on an amendment to enshrine the rights of First Nations self-government in the Canadian constitution.
“It should be a government-to-government relationship and funding should be done by way of transfer payments and fiscal arrangements that are long-term and not based just upon a contract that goes from year-to-year,” said Beaucage, who is also an economist.
Given the present sate of affairs between have and have-not reserves and a multitude of Canada’s Aboriginal people displaced in urban centres where they have no access to Aboriginal-specific funding, the scenario sounds unlikely. But, Beaucage has a plan.
Since the province of Ontario is starting to discuss resource-benefit sharing, Beaucage believes that this could set a precedent across the country as one province is actually acknowledging the inequity. Should the precedent be set nationally, along with the transfer payments from the federal government to the AFN instead of Indian and Northern Affairs, sufficient funding that is on a par with the rest of the general population would happen.
“It became clear during the Ipperwash report and the final discussions at Ipperwash that treaties have looked after non-Native Canadians better than it has looked after Native Canadians. There is an aspect of working with the provinces and with the Feds on getting our fair share of the resources that come from our territory, which we agreed to share in the first place,” said Beaucage.
Though Beaucage said he would not dismantle INAC immediately, it would certainly be a goal and an ideal means of ensuring that reserves in distress would not have to get government permission from bureaucrats for funding.
Within Beaucage’s campaign there is also a strong emphasis on equality, not just for on- and off-reserve Aboriginals but also between men and women. To ensure this, 50 per cent of his campaign team is comprised of women and at that, powerful, educated women who are no strangers to politics.
Beaucage’s campaign co-chair is Ginette Corbeil Laval, whose challenge of the Indian Act (the “Laval Case”) brought about Bill C-31. University of Toronto professor Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Chief Lesley Shaver and former Chief Judith Sayers are also all part of the Beaucage team.
“One of our traditional teachings is that when you build a lodge or a community, you need 50 per cent input from the men and 50 per cent input from the women. So I look at building the campaign and building a new AFN as being a logical extension of this,” said Beaucage.
According to Beaucage, the participation of women at the AFN has been minimal, a trend he would like to see changed as 80 per cent of Aboriginal leadership in Canada is represented by men. In his mind, some of the best-educated, best-trained and most-driven First Nations individuals in Canada are women and he would like to encourage their integration into leadership.
By championing Aboriginal women, Beaucage is also seeking to champion urban Aboriginals who are without access to funding, services or programs that are too often reserve-specific. By allowing every person who is over 18 and a citizen of a First Nation to vote for the office of National Chief, he wants to bring about accountability for the leadership to do the right job for everybody.
Though Canada’s Chiefs won’t be voting for a new National Chief until July 22 in Alberta, Beaucage is already campaigning strong and hard for change. More information can be found on him and his campaign at: