It’s unavoidable, if unpleasant, to address the case of Senator Patrick Brazeau. I have often questioned his credentials as a credible Native leader in the pages of The Nation. For instance, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), which Brazeau led before being appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claims to advocate for all off-reserve Natives, is not elected by the people it purports to represent. The Corbiere court case and ruling forced First Nations communities to allow off-reserve members to vote in local elections and publicize the times and ways they could do so. Unfortunately, this legal judgment and democratic philosophy does not appear to apply to a national organization that receives millions in federal subsidies.
I have tried to interest my non-Aboriginal friends in the CAP model so they could create an organization to represent non-Natives who live on reserves. They wouldn’t be allowed a choice of who would represent them, of course. Not surprisingly, my non-Native friends weren’t interested. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Harper expressed his view of democratic legitimacy by claiming, “When Mr. Brazeau was appointed to the Senate he was the national chief of one of the country’s largest and most respected Aboriginal organizations.”
Sidestepping fundamental foundations of democracy, CAP has no individual members, offers no services or programs other than research and lobbying yet receives over $6 million a year from the federal government and toes the government line. While Brazeau was the “national chief”, CAP claimed to represent over 800,000 off-reserve Aboriginals through affiliates. I am still unsure exactly who or what these affiliates mean in terms of representation.
Yet CAP and Brazeau loudly and proudly expressed partisan support for the Conservative Party. After the 2006 federal election that put the Conservatives in power, the rewards were many. Brazeau profitably parroted party propaganda in his highly visible role as Canada’s new “Uncle Tomahawk,” leading to his appointment as Canada’s youngest senator. As senator, he continued to squawk the talk written for him by his Conservative handlers. In doing so, Brazeau harmed many First Nations bands, organizations, movements and peoples. Gilbert Whiteduck, Chief of Kitigan Zibi First Nation, of which Brazeau is officially a member, didn’t mince words when he observed that Brazeau was exploiting his background as a pretext to attack Natives and their organizations, issues and actions.
Now Brazeau has to pay the piper for selling out and shilling for those who had no respect for him in the first place. His political friends dropped him like the hot potato when he was charged with sexual and domestic assault. They were aware of potential problems beforehand but Brazeau was willing to be their puppet so they were ignored it until the media frenzy.
I wish I could say I was sorry for Brazeau, but I am not. He made his lifestyle and political choices and now he has to pay the price. I am sorry for his alleged victim(s) – there are previous allegations – and regret the arrogance he displayed in thinking he could get away with his reprehensible actions.
In the end, Brazeau has given Canadians one important gift: he has galvanized public attention on the way our Senate operates. Now all Canadians know this institution must be reformed to eliminate publicly funded rewards for party hacks and cronies who have no allegiance to the people they are supposed to represent. Perhaps now we will see a productive change in Canadian politics.