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CONTRIBUTION · 14th January 2013
Arthur Manuel

It is clear that the AFN again consolidated around the weakest.

Needless to say the stronger elements of the AFN, those who did not want meet, did not attend the meeting. And of course the ones who wanted to meet did meet.

Decision making in the name of the AFN is not designed for fighting government but merely consulting with government. That is how the weak elements took control in a controversial situation we had in Ottawa last week.

The National Chief obviously is responsible for what his Office does in these kinds of situations. One thing is clear, certain Indigenous leaders only know how to meet with with government and not fight with government.

In situations like last Friday's, they say it is important to "engage" with government when they open the door to discussion. The real problem is how one gets sucked into basically supporting the government's position unless they walk out. And in this case it was just another "process" and not a "change in policy" the AFN had participating in the meeting room.

The "opportunists" (those in the room) will say that if we did not "engage" we would not have this "process" but the process does not offer any guarantee that Harper's unilateral policies will be reversed or replaced with policies supportive to Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.

There is basically a "fundamental change" that Harper must make before "engaging" with Harper could be useful.
Foar starters;

1) The Harper government does not recognize Aboriginal and Treaty Rights on the ground.

2) Indigenous Peoples believe in Aboriginal and Treaty Rights on the ground.

This is the "fundamental difference". Harper must recognize Aboriginal and Treaty Rights 'on the ground' before we can engage. The engagement in this case must be based on; - How do we divide up decision making regarding "access and benefits" to Aboriginal and Treaty territories?

To try and engage and negotiate beginning with opposite positions on "recognition" and "extinguishment" is dangerous and will go nowhere. This is why the negotiation under the federal 'Comprehensive Land Claims Policy' and the 'British Columbia Treaty' process has cost 20 years of 'Go-No-Where' negotiations. Add to this those who participated in the negotiations took crippling loans of an estimated $500 million dollars.

We always need to be careful when establishing "processes" with government, like the one initiated on Friday. The government has lots of time and money to negotiate.

It is the Indigenous Peoples who get hurt by the 'Go-No-Where' and undermining processes.

Some Indigenous Leaders actually just negotiate to "create processes" because processes equals getting "jobs and money". This is because processes such as these also "include government funding pots".

These kinds of leaders I call "Opportunists" because they take advantage of the "pressure created" by the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence and "Idle No More" (INM) to get the meeting with Harper on Friday.

The Opportunist then push a process and get their pot of money. Kind of like a political Slot-Machine for Indigenous politicians and consultants.

In BC, I think the INM has to seriously question the First Nations Leadership Council, First Nation Summit, the BC Assembly of First Nations and especially the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

I highlight the UBCIC because when the Union was under the leadership of my dad and brother it was for the people.

I know that Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the UBCIC was not at the meeting but I think he should be clear on how this meeting will affect his participation in the BC First Nation Leadership Council and the First Nation Summit.

I know that the small BC delegation of leaders at the AFN Ottawa session led the way to going to the PM meeting.

That reflects on all us here in BC, even the grassroots. Indigenous Peoples at the INM have to let the leadership know who is in charge.

I have been spending years trying to get the federal 'Comprehensive Land Claims Policy' changed and the government's first line of defense are the Indigenous Peoples who are negotiating.

I know when my father was president of the National Indian Brotherhood and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs our enemies where white bureaucrats in the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA). Now the emimies are Indigenous leaders and groups who have decided to adopt federal policies and processes to take money from the government; even with strings attached.

The Idle No More movement is a means to reverse this kind of decision making system that has been imposed on us by the government funding programs.

I know the media has the picture all mixed-up as they do not understand the powerful forces pulling at Indigenous Peoples. Forces such as the 'Recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights', Economic-Racism, Systemic-Poverty, Government Funded Programs and Services, Lack of Self-government and even basic Human Rights.

Nothing was agreed to in Ottawa but to drag out the frustrations on these matters at a higher level.

No fundamental change was agreed to.

Idle No More therefore is still the only effective voice of the Indigenous Peoples.

I thank all of you, many - nameless - but very important, committed, thoughtful and helpful Indigenous Peoples and Supporters.

My best regards.

Arthur Manuel.
How Canada deals with human rights
Comment by David on 15th January 2013
Perhaps the AFN could learn a lesson or two from the Conservative federal government. When Harper's government wants to take a stand on human rights, they do so by walking out, not by "engaging" those whose views they disagree with. That's why Canada walked out of the last international human rights conference and is no longer part of the United Nations Human Rights Council.