It’s truly amazing the amount of mainstream news coverage Aboriginals saw concerning the emergency debate in Parliament on funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, on March 30. The response the next day from Indian Affairs was to congratulate First Nations on getting the vote 50 years ago. While most First Nations people in Canada were granted the right to vote in 1960, for some reason Aboriginal Peoples in Quebec had to wait until 1968.
While First Nations Peoples everywhere are glad that they could have a voice in the workings of Canada they have been shaking their heads over government actions for decades.
This past week was an especially terrible example of a bad government decision, in particular, the elimination of federal funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Let’s remember that the Foundation is responsible for everything from healing circles to residential-school recovery to providing shelters for Native women who are victims of violence. This last mandate is especially relevant at a time that our women are disappearing in alarming numbers.
On the same day that the emergency debate took place, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl issued a press release in which he stated that March 30 “is an important milestone and a cause for reflection. It was under the Diefenbaker government that the Canada Elections Act was amended to extend the right to vote to First Nations individuals back in 1960, and today, this government is moving forward to protect the rights of Aboriginal people.”
Hmmm. Great words but the actions evidenced by the government leaves much to be desired. Take for example the recent flak over the Arctic Council where Canada was to host a meeting with the United States, Norway, Russia and Denmark to discuss Arctic issues that included boundary disputes and search-and-rescue capabilities.
Some members of the Arctic Council like Iceland, Finland and Sweden were not invited – nor, just as importantly, were the many Aboriginal nations who also have a place at the Arctic Council.
It took U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to say, “Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region.”
While some may be upset that an American politician made remarks involving a Canadian decision many First Nations and the Inuit are happy they did so.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said, “While it is important to mark this day, we must also continue to work towards eliminating all barriers to the participation of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples within the political system. We must ensure Aboriginal Canadians are represented in all forms of government and continue to be fully consulted and engaged in public policy making.”
It seems to be something the Canadian government forgot, even as they gave themselves a pat on the back for giving Aboriginals the right to vote, with Strahl remarking, “Canada has shown significant leadership in protecting the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We will continue work to advance and uphold the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples at home and abroad.”
Even with such rhetoric it still took an outsider like Clinton to ensure that Arctic Aboriginals are now firmly placed on the diplomatic map when discussing Arctic issues.
Any future meetings will more than likely involve the people who live in the Arctic regions as Clinton’s comments show that the world is watching Canada to see if words can become actions.
With climate changes the Arctic is becoming increasingly the latest frontier to exploit and the people living there should be a part of that potentially bright economic future. Fish stocks are moving further north, the Northwest Passage is opening up and will be a godsend to transportation, and potential oil fields are now becoming accessible. It may be the start of a true economic boom that could benefit the Arctic peoples and they should have a say and a part to play in their traditional territories.