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COMMENTARY · 7th February 2013
Merv Ritchie
Just What The Hell Is Going On Here?

Confusion reigns when Indians and Non-Indians attempt to involve themselves in the multi-faceted world of Canadian Indian Politics. What is happening today with the Idle No More movement requires understanding the present reality.

One must separate the Provinces from the National political systems and the Indian political bodies must be identified separately as well. This effort proves to be fairly basic yet many do not understand.

Reserves are all separate and unique, administered and run by federal government approved Band Councils.

Treaty Nations are separate from Band Councils and Reserves.

There are various Provincial Organizations also separate from Treaty Nations and Reserve Band Councils.

Then there is a National representative body called the Assembly of First Nations (AFM). This organization is only representative of Elected Band Council Chiefs of Reserve communities.

British Columbia is unique from all the other regions in Canada. Canadian Treaty making stopped prior to BC becoming a part of Canada. Therefore BC has next to no Treaties and today in their place there are Treaty Societies.

Due to this unresolved treaty and land settlement issue specific to BC, along with the desire of the resource companies to access unceded Indian territories, various Economic Development Organizations (EDO’s) also participate in Indian Politics.

Finally there are the traditional hereditary systems of government in BC, which were previously outlawed, surviving today attempting to exert their influence into Indian politics.

Everyone of the actors in this uniquely Canadian drama wish to promote their perspective as being the rightful and legitimate voice for the Indian people.

Another aspect of Indian politics, not to be ignored, are the groups attempting to expose the crimes of Canada (and the British) committed against the Indian peoples. There are volumes of books, movies and manuscripts which attempt to enlighten the general population.

Writing about these issues exposes the writer to charges of bigotry, racism or challenges to the writers ‘right’ to address the topics. An Indian person faces charges of disrespecting traditions or elders. It is a minefield for all.

Organizational Behavior

Almost all organizations horde their specific knowledge on their area of control or authority. Band Councils sometimes refuse to fully inform their own members or even their traditional leadership.

Treaty societies tend to micro manage all the releases of their operations while depending on the financial support of the BC Treaty Commission, the Provincial and the Federal government.

The AFN struggles in an attempt to remain relevant as it is the federally regulated Band Councils who provide their authority, along with funds provided by the federal government, which allow them to survive financially.

Indian Industrial or Economic Development Organizations depend on funds provided by resource extraction companies. Some are managed by Band Councils and others by Treaty Societies. Many accept substantial funds for exploration rights and access to traditional territories.

Seldom are the Indians themselves informed or consulted by these organizations. Just like the Band Councils, Treaty Societies and the AFN, the continual supply of money tends to guide the decision process and the actions of those involved.

There is only one group of Indians involved in Politics which receive no funding. These people beg and borrow, drive broken down vehicles and generally live in conditions considered to be third world.

They are the traditional hereditary peoples of the various Indian Nations; the people whose social structure was outlawed.

In effect it is still outlawed today as virtually none of the other political organizations assist. Many are complicit in continuing the subjugation of their own people. It is generally, and easily understood with the phrase, ‘the oppressed becoming the oppressor of the oppressed.’ It was a trait learned in the residential schools where a cooperative Indian child would ‘squeal’ on another to the priest or nun. The child would be rewarded. It is no different than the southern black slave who became the boss of the other slaves. His family would have their own cabin as long as he continued to oppress the oppressed.

The Changing Politics Today

This is likely the foundational principles of the Idle No More movement. Very few of the participants belong to any political organization. They are generally all struggling to survive themselves.

And the momentum is growing still. This will be the challenge for the money accepting politicians. The easy solution is to marginalize the effort, hope it goes away and continue to accept money to do nothing. The difficult thing to do would be to look deep inside and recognize the truth about Indian politics. That of accepting money to look good and talk pretty while doing the will and bidding of others.

After the Kitamaat Village elected Indian Act Chief, Steve Wilson, sold out his peoples land and rights through the BC Utilities Commission during a secret hydro electric power deal with Gordon Campbell, he complained in Court how his calls were no longer being answered by the Minister and deputy Minister.

“I was being treated persona non-grata” stated Wilson while under oath in the Terrace Courtroom on October 6, 2009. He complained about a visit to Harran’s Lounge at the Fairmont Hotel where Mike de Jong pretended he didn’t exist. “I could tell that he saw me and he didn’t want to associate with me.” This transpired after he sued the hereditary chiefs and peoples of the Haisla Nation when they challenged his authority and his councils admitted fraudulent use of a signature stamp.

Full Details on Trial and Ruling Here

Gitxsan negotiator and Treaty Society principles Elmer Derrick, Bev Clifton Percival, Gordon Sebastion and Jim Angus are facing the same ‘persona non grata’ future as their law firm, Bull Housser & Tupper filed papers in the Vancouver Court in early January stating they no longer represent the illegally operating society. The GTS (Gitxsan Treaty Society) has been engaged in a lawsuit against hereditary and traditional chiefs since 2008. Fortune Minerals is now attempting to coerce other Indian leaders to assist them with access to Klapppan Mountain so they can extract the coal.

The Tahltan elders blockaded the Telegraph Creek Band office for 9 and a half months to get rid of Indian Leader Jerry Asp, who in 1985 started the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC). Today he still has significant influence in the BC Mining Association having received numerous awards. He will receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal on March 5 in Toronto for assisting in providing access to the Tahltan territories for mining and exploration.

Last weekend in Terrace, at Kitsumkalum, hundreds gathered to celebrate the victory the Tahltan elders achieved after they got rid of Jerry Asp; saving the Sacred Headwaters from Royal Dutch Shell’s fracking plans. It continues to be a struggle, an oxymoron or sorts, as every victory of the elders, the traditionalists and hereditary Chiefs is followed by more efforts by industry and government to belittle the efforts.

Today one of Gordon Campbell’s previous Ministers, an associate of Mike de Jong (the man who apparently ignored Wilson), Roger Harris, has ingratiated Kitsumkalum elected chief Don Roberts. Roberts has been entertained on numerous occasions with Harris, politicians and CN representatives in Vancouver as they negotiated access to the rock in the mountain next to the homes in the Village of Kitsumkalum. Their recent agreement to get access to the rock doesn’t even include the rock.

Read Details on the 'No Rock Included' Agreement Here

Who are they allowing to negotiate on their behalf? It was Roger Harris, an ex government Minister, an ex Enbridge Northern Gateway VP, the man who first signed the Enbridge deal with Elmer Derrick.

Only those who are accepting money from this quarry venture act pleased. One was straight faced as he stated he couldn’t hear the blasting, even though he lived just a few blocks away; a straight line to the quarry. An absurd claim as residents miles away are shaken by the blasts required to release the rock. It remains to be seen when, not if, Roberts will also be considered ‘person non grata’ by the politicians.

Kitsumkalum complained we didn't write about the atrocious logging practices of Coast Tsimshian Resources (CTR) along with Wayne Drury from Brinkman and Associates. And they are correct in their assessment yet the Terrace City Council and the politicians accepted their application (April 2011) to be awarded a “GreenTech” award from the Association of Technologists of BC. Anyone who knows finds this laughable at best. But again, they too do as they are told for money. Lots of allegations of mis-appropriation surrounds some of these people.

And that is the world of Indian politics. As long as one, as an elected or appointed Indian leader, does the bidding of the governments of Canada and of the resource extraction companies, the money will continue to flow. The leader will be wined and dined, treated like a member of the club. As soon as his or her usefulness is over they will be tossed aside like waste.

Traditionalists and the hereditary peoples generally always accept and care for their own because they are family. Not because they have a purpose they can be used for, but because they genuinely love each other. Even in poverty they will live in happiness and with humour.

Wilson complained about being isolated; he got depressed and started drinking. He broke down on the stand crying about how his relationship suffered when the politicians ignored him, “my whole life was turned upside down.”

A Sign of the Times

Recently the Society called the Coastal First Nations announced they were no longer going to be able to attend the Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings as they had not been granted more money. They were given over $280,000 to participate and claim to have spent three times that much money engaging lawyers and studies.

The Idle No More movement has received no moneys except that which people spend on themselves to get to the rallies and make signs. They will likely continue to participate. For these Indians politics is not about money, it is about dignity truth and justice.

Canadians from Coast to Coast to Coast are banding together, Indians and Non-Indians. Even themselves, they are struggling to understand what they are doing, they seem to believe whatever it is; it is the right thing to do.

This might be the most difficult thing for political people to overcome; selling out morality and integrity for money. It has a history going back long before the beginning of Canada. The Canadian Government is at the forefront of this and some Indian politicians are participating. When one considers the desperation many Indian peoples endured all their lives one can understand and have compassion for their weakness. Respect is another thing altogether.

Even the politicians who they sell out to do not respect them. Just ask Steve Wilson. Wilson needs to get back into bed with them like Jerry Asp did and Elmer Derrick still aspires to do. It is like doing drugs. One keeps searching for the next hit of money to keep the high alive.

Whether they know it or not the withdrawal from the addiction is coming. Today it is called Idle No More. Tomorrow it might be called something else. Others are calling it “Idle? Know More!”

Idle No More has unified the people where the Provincial and Federal government has been funding different organizations to keep the people divided.

Every year there appears to be another representative group acting separate and apart from the rest. Maybe that is what is behind Idle No More - everyone coming together as one, no longer allowing themselves to be used, one against the other, for money.

Only time will tell.