Tag Archives: education

Native Vote Could Make The Difference In Canada’s Elections

Hundreds of supporters gather on Parliament Hill, in support of a group of young aboriginal people who traveled 1,600 km on foot from the James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Quebec on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday March 25, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Fred Chartrand

Hundreds of supporters gather on Parliament Hill, in support of a group of young aboriginal people who traveled 1,600 km on foot from the James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Quebec on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday March 25, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Fred Chartrand

The Huffington Post

But voter ID laws could prevent indigenous Canadians from exercising their democratic right.

Canada is facing a critical moment in its history.

The Canadian dollar is at an 11-year low, and some say the country is in a recession. Oil producers in the tar sands are selling at a loss. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which had banked on turning the country into a sort of petrostate, is now mired in scandals. Author Stephen Marche’s scathing critique of the Harper administration, entitled “The Closing of the Canadian Mind,” recently became the most-read story in The New York Times.

Meanwhile, in oil-rich and notoriously conservative Alberta, the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) swept to victory in the May provincial elections — a seismic shift that Globe and Mail columnist Doug Sanders described in a tweet as akin to “Bernie Sanders becoming Texas governor by a big majority.”

With national elections scheduled for Oct. 19, an unlikely voting bloc could play a key role in deciding the future direction of the country: Native people.

The Assembly of First Nations has identified 51 “ridings,” or electoral districts, out of a total of 338 throughout the country, where the Native vote could swing the election. The AFN is a national advocacy organization that represents more than 900,000 status Indians (indigenous peoples governed under the Indian Act) hailing from 634 Native communities across Canada.

“[O]f course, that can make and mean the difference between a majority government and a minority government,” AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde told The Huffington Post. “Our issues matter, our voices matter and our vote counts.”

Canada’s two minority parties, the left-wing New Democratic Party led by Tom Mulcair and the centrist Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau, have taken notice. They’re counting on a strong turnout by Native voters to oust incumbent Harper’s Conservative majority.

This all might be a bit surprising to Americans — who have never had to think about the Native vote in national elections, and are accustomed to campaigns defined by a standoff between Democrats and Republicans, rather than a dance between three or four political parties. In the U.S., third parties rarely factor in national politics. In Canada, where three or four political parties are often embroiled in a tight race, any one political party could rarely, if ever, hope to win a popular majority of the vote.

This is partially because Canada uses a parliamentary system handed down from the United Kingdom. Instead of voting directly for prime minister, Canadians vote for the member of Parliament that will represent their riding in a first-past-the-post election. The party that wins the most ridings usually forms a government with its leader as prime minister.

Recent polls suggest that Harper’s Conservatives will likely lose their majority in October, and that the NDP will form a minority government with Tom Mulcair as prime minister.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

A rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, Canada. CREDIT: MARK KLOTZ/FLICKR

A rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, Canada. CREDIT: MARK KLOTZ/FLICKR

The Idle No More Movement

The Harper years have been defined by unrest among the poorest of Canada’s poor: Native people.

Under the banner of the Idle No More Movement, the indigenous Canadian equivalent of Occupy Wall Street, Native people led marches and protests against Harper government policies that underfunded aboriginal social services and promoted nonconsensual natural resource development in territories claimed by indigenous nations. The movement shut down railways, malls and highways across Canada and sparked solidarity protests around the world.

“We’ve had the Idle No More Movement … because we are saying the status quo is not acceptable,” said Bellegarde. “The poverty, the marginalization is not acceptable, and people want to see that change in our country.”

The impact of Idle No More continues to reverberate in Native communities across Canada, and in the runup to national elections, Mulcair’s NDP and Trudeau’s Liberals have tried to turn Native frustrations with Harper into votes for their respective parties.

Both opposition leaders spoke at last month’s AFN general assembly, taking shots at the Conservatives and making promises to promote reconciliation in line with the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission June 2015 report on widespread abuses inresidential schools that many Native people were forced to attend.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">MP Charlie Angus stands with Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, prior to challenging a federal decision to suppress police and court evidence of abuse against children at the St. Anne's Residential School in 2013.</span>

Charlie Angus stands with Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, prior to challenging a federal decision to suppress police and court evidence of abuse against children at the St. Anne’s Residential School in 2013. CREDIT: VINCE TALOTTA/GETTY IMAGESMP

Ambitious Book Rocks Tight Race

Now, less than two months before the national elections, NDP member Charlie Angus is coming out with a new book, Children of the Broken Treaty. Angus — the MP of the northern Ontario constituency of Timmins-James Bay and one of Maclean’s Magazine’s 25 most powerful Canadians in 2012 — details the fight for aboriginal education rights in the Cree community of Attawapiskat. The community is covered by Treaty 9 in northern Ontario, which was signed by indigenous nations in 1905, relinquishing vast northern territories to Canada.

The community of Attawapiskat is familiar to many Canadians, and has become a symbol for the government’s neglect of Native people. It’s kind of like the Ferguson, Missouri, of Canada.

It’s notable that Angus published a book about Native education in Attawapiskat the same year the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report. It would be like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) writing a book about policing in Ferguson in the runup to the 2016 presidential elections.

Although Angus claims he didn’t write Children of the Broken Treaty to win the Native vote, the publication of a book by a prominent NDP leader suggests that Native issues and Native voters will be important to this campaign.

Children of the Broken Treaty focuses on the story of Shannen Koostachin, a young Cree woman who insisted upon her right to a decent education. Before Koostachin died in a car accident in 2010, she had became a well-known Canadian activist: TV personality George Stroumboulopoulos described her as one of “five teenage girls who kicked ass in history.” After her death, Canadian youth carried on her legacy through the Shannen’s Dream campaign, which Angus introduced as a motion to the House of Commons in 2011 to provide adequate funding to deliver equal education to Native communities. It passed unanimously in 2012.

Throughout the book, Angus makes the case that Canada has denied Native children their basic rights to education through a callous history of broken treaties, empty promises and bureaucratic neglect — an ongoing reality that is central to Canadian history.

“Treaty 9 transferred some of the richest hydro, mineral and timber wealth in the world to the province and the federal government,” Angus explained to HuffPost. “At the signing of the treaty, Ontario is an economic backwater — it’s nowheresville in terms of the economy. Yet, from the access to those resources, Ontario emerges as one of the economic powerhouses on the continent, while the treaty partners [First Nations] in Treaty 9 are some of the poorest, most underfunded failed communities in Canada.”

Angus emphasizes in his book that the promise of education was key to convincing Native communities to sign treaties that relinquished their lands to Canada. But those promises were never kept, and their legacy remains in the chronic underfunding of Native education by the Conservative government, he argues.

“We need to be talking about the systemic inequity in this country towards indigenous children and indigenous rights,” said Angus. “The Harper government is actually trying to set the colonial clock back.”

With the NDP holding a small lead, and Native issues continuing to make headlines, Children of the Broken Treaty could play a key role in the fight for the Native vote leading up to the elections.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Robert Falcon-Ouellette is challenging NDP incumbent Pat Martin in inner-city Winnipeg, Manitoba.</span>

Robert Falcon-Ouellette is challenging NDP incumbent Pat Martin in inner-city Winnipeg, Manitoba. CREDIT: RHODA KWANDIBENS

Liberals Recruit Young Native Politician

Although the Liberals are not releasing any books from the campaign trail, they too are making a case for the aboriginal vote, and their first policy announcement focused on Native education.

In the riding of Winnipeg Centre — which covers the poor inner city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, an area populated by an underclass of Native people — the Liberals have nominated Robert Falcon-Ouellette, a Cree hailing from the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan, to challenge incumbent NDP MP Pat Martin.

Ouellette, 38, was somewhat of a Cinderella candidate in Winnipeg’s mayoral elections, coming out of nowhere to finish a respectable third by talking about issues of race and class facing the city’s indigenous poor.

Ouellette had opportunities to join other parties, but ultimately decided to run for the Liberals. He considered joining the NDP, but said he was deterred by the Manitoba provincial NDP’s troubled record of removing Native children from their communities and families through the provincial foster care system, in which Native children comprise nearly 90 percent of the system’s 10,000 children. Native leaders and critics have compared the foster care crisis in Manitoba to the residential school system.

“The NDP [in Manitoba] has actually contributed to creating this situation of this large indigenous underclass with their child and family services system,” Ouellette told HuffPost. “The reason I believe [this injustice] is perpetrated by a socialist government, the NDP — a government that should be for the people — is because they just take [the Native vote] for granted.”

Ouellette says there are advantages to being positioned in the political center, and sees being a challenger as an advantage. “The Liberal Party is in the middle: it gives me the opportunity to talk to people on the right of the political spectrum and on the left of the political spectrum,” Ouellette said. “This is why I love the Liberal Party: it’s a party that has to prove itself every day.”

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">A Native boy outside his house on the Lil'Wat Nation reserve in Mount Currie, British Columbia.</span>

A Native boy outside his house on the Lil’Wat Nation reserve in Mount Currie, British Columbia. CREDIT: ANDREW MEDICHINI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Voter ID Laws

But in their pursuit of the Native vote, both Ouellette and Trudeau’s Liberals and Angus and Mulcair’s NDP will have to overcome the new, so-called “Fair Election” voting law imposed by the Harper government. The legislation requires potential voters to provide proper identification that includes their address — or to have another person with two forms of proper identification vouch for them. It also eliminates the practice of issuing voter information cards, which enabled potential voters to corroborate their address if they didn’t have the right ID.

The Conservative government claims the law will prevent voter fraud. However, critics say that the new more stringent rules are unnecessary, and will prevent students, the poor and indigenous people from voting — much like the voter ID laws the Republican Party has implemented in the U.S.

For Native people in Canada, an Indian status card is sometimes their only form of identification. Status cards do not include an address, and many rural Indian reserves where Native people live do not demarcate streets and house numbers anyway.

Ouellette illustrates this problem when he discusses his door-to-door campaigning in inner-city Winnipeg. There, Native people are so poor they have no telephone or TV bills to prove their residency, no driver’s licenses or money to pay for government-issued IDs, and no credit cards or health papers, either. It all adds up to no opportunity to participate in elections — when, for the first time, many are actually expressing an interest in voting.

“The Fair Elections Act is the bane of my existence,” Ouellette said. “I think it’s just taking some of the things the Republican Party has been putting forward in the United States to disenfranchise voters and take away their constitutional rights.”

For its part, the Conservative Party is pushing back against the bad name it has received from the opposition parties and many Native people. Against Angus’s research, which points to the Harper government’s underfunding of social services in Native communities, spokesman Stephen Lecce touted the party’s record on education and other issues in an email to HuffPost.

“Under Prime Minister Harper, we have taken action to improve the quality of life of Canadian First Nations by increasing investment in Aboriginal education by 25%,” Lecce wrote. “We have built over 40 new schools for Aboriginals, gave women living on reserves the same matrimonial rights as all Canadians and enhanced skills training to ensure they take full advantage of Canada’s economic prosperity.”

He also defended the Fair Elections Act. “Our changes enable voting while protecting the integrity of the system,” Lecce added. “These changes also reflect that almost 90% of Canadians believe it’s reasonable to require some form of identification in order to vote. Elections Canada now permits the use of over 40 different pieces of identification, including an Indian status card, band membership card or Métis card.”

No polls currently have data that predicts how Native voters will cast their ballots in October. However, history can be instructive, and an analysis of Elections Canada data from 2011 shows the NDP was the favorite on Indian reserves, garnering 43 percent of the vote — an eye-catching 12 points higher than the party’s performance among the general population.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption"><span style="color: #262626; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 16px;">The Idle No More Movement holds a protest on Parliament Hill.</span></span>

The Idle No More Movement holds a protest on Parliament Hill. CREDIT: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Native Visions For Canada

Despite these new bureaucratic obstacles, Bellegarde and the AFN are encouraging all Native people to get out and vote. “We have an opportunity on October 19th to make the difference between a majority and a minority government, to make sure that our issues and concerns are heard,” he said. “We can’t be put to the side any longer. We need to work collectively together to close the gap that exists [between Native people and the rest of Canada], and it’s a great opportunity now to take advantage of that and bring about that change. Our people have a vision for Canada as well.”

Angus agrees that now is the time to seize a historic moment for Canada and its indigenous peoples.

“We will never be the nation we were meant to be until we understand that the real wealth in our nation isn’t what’s in the ground; it’s in these underfunded, isolated reserves where these children are,” he said. “When you look into their eyes and see the possibility of change and power — these are our future leaders. And woe to us if we don’t recognize that we simply can’t afford to squander another generation.”


TRC Report Calls For Better Education, Health; Inquiry Into Missing, Murdered Women

Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair raises his arm asking residential school survivors to stand at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Winnipeg Free Press

Commissioners blunt in assessment of residential schools as ‘cultural genocide’

OTTAWA — Canada has lost the sense of urgency that once existed for properly addressing the legacy of residential schools but there is still hope it will happen eventually, the independent commission tasked with documenting the truth about residential schools and guiding Canada to reconcile with indigenous people said today.

In releasing the first part of its final report, the three commissioners posted 94 recommendations for action by the federal and provincial governments, churches and other Canadians.

Residential school survivors and aboriginal women react as Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the commission in Ottawa on Tuesday..

Residential school survivors and aboriginal women react as Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the commission in Ottawa on Tuesday..

Although the recommendations themselves do not call on Ottawa to label the residential schools a cultural genocide, there can be no doubt that the label fits the bill, the report says.

“For over a century, Canada had a policy to eliminate Aboriginal governments, ignore Aboriginal rights, terminate Treaties, and “through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada,” reads the opening line of the 382-page executive summary. “The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as cultural genocide.”

TRC Chair Murray Sinclair had hard words this morning in his speech upon the official release of the TRC report in Ottawa.

More than 600 survivors, family members, political leaders and religious leaders crowded into the ballroom of a downtown Ottawa hotel for the release.

“Today I stand before you and acknowledge that what took place in residential schools amounts to nothing short of cultural genocide,” Sinclair said, to applause from the audience. “It was nothing less than a systematic and concerted attempt to extinguish the spirit of Aboriginal peoples.”

And, Sinclair said, he and the other two commissioners simply do not believe the current government has much will to do anything about it.

“We believe the current government is not willing to make good” on the promises made in the apology in 2008.

“Words are not enough,” Sinclair said. “Reconciliation requires deliberate, thoughtful and sustained action.”

He said the government’s rejection of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “sends a clear message to Aboriginal people in Canada, all Canadians, and the world.”

Canada was reluctant to sign on to the declaration at first, did so under pressure saying all the while it was not binding, and “shamefully,” last fall was the only country to raise objections to a document that reaffirmed the declaration.

But that declaration is given a lot of weight by the commissioners as a document that can help lead the way to reconciliation.

The commission grounded many of its recommendations on that declaration, said Sinclair.

The TRC notes Canada has been in this position before, in 1996, with the release of the report from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. But that report was largely ignored by government and a majority of its recommendations never implemented.

“In 2015, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada wraps up its work, the country has a rare second chance to seize a lost opportunity for reconciliation,” the report says. “We live in a twenty-first-century global world. At stake is Canada’s place as a prosperous, just and inclusive democracy within that global world.”

The commissioners were clear they are wary of the government.

“The promise of reconciliation, which seemed so imminent back in 2008 when the prime minister, on behalf of all Canadians, apologized to survivors, has faded,” they wrote.

And the relationship between Ottawa and Aboriginal peoples is “deterioriating.”

“Instead of moving towards reconciliation, there have been divisive conflicts over Aboriginal education, child welfare, and justice.”

Too many Canadians don’t know what happened to aboriginal peoples, and that lack of knowledge drives poor public policy decisions and racism.

In the 94 recommendations TRC Chair Murray Sinclair and his two co-comissioners came up with is a blueprint for what they hope will be a way to bring Canada and the Indigenous people who live within its borders to a common understanding and a common goal. From eliminating gaps in educational attainment and health between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, to ensuring there are the policies and funding in place to reduce the number of kids in care and overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in this country’s justice system – both as victims and offenders, the recommendations point in many ways to territory already gone over.

An inquiry for murdered and missing aboriginal women is a must, says the report. The government has flat out rejected the idea for years.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt is in attendance. He was the only person in the room to remain seated during an ovation from the crowd after Sinclair called for an inquiry into the high number of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.

There are calls for medical, nursing, law and journalism schools to include a mandatory course on the history and legacy of residential schools, and skills training on conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

It wants Ottawa to eliminate the gap between funding for education on and off reserve, and draft new education legislation in consultation with aboriginal people, that will improve the educational attainment levels and success rates of aboriginal students.

Only about one-third of aboriginal kids complete high school.

The commission also wants Ottawa to eliminate the Criminal Code provision that allows teachers and parents to spank children as a disciplinary measure. That recommendation largely stems from the large number of aboriginal students who report being beaten at residential schools in punishment for everything from speaking the wrong language to not eating their dinner.

The residential schools existed in Canada from the latter half of the 19th century and throughout most of the 20th. The last of the schools closed in the mid-1990s, although few remained after 1980. An estimated 150,000 aboriginal kids attended residential schools, which existed mainly in the west, the north and parts of northern Ontario and northern Quebec.

The schools were run by the churches on behalf of the federal government and operated out of a federal government policy to assimilate aboriginal children.

The TRC report, based on the stories of thousands of survivors and facts gleaned from millions of documents in archives across Canada, outlines the truth about what happened in the schools.

The racist policies that underlined the entire system. The chronic underfunding that led to dilapidated schools, understaffed and overcrowded classrooms, poor supervision that allowed for rampant physical and sexual abuse.

“The full extent of the abuse that occurred in the schools is only now coming to light,” reported the commissioners in the executive summary.

About half of the survivors who made claims for compensation as former students under the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement also made claims for compensation for physical and sexual abuse. More than 30,000 of those claims have been accepted and $2.7 billion in compensation paid out.

Forty-five former former residential school staff have been convicted of sexual or physical abuse.

The abuse took on many forms. From voyeurism, when staff insisted on watching their students in the shower, to groping and rape. Physical abuses included beatings for speaking the wrong language or not answering questions correctly in class. Some students even reported being forced to eat their own vomit if they were sick after eating food often described as inedible and lacking in nutrition.

“The impact of abuse was immediate and long-lasting,” the commissioners wrote. “It destroyed the students’ ability to function in the school and led many to turn to self-destructive behaviours.”

The abuse from staff also led students to turn on each other, leading students to abuse other students.

The commissioners fully believe reconciliation can only happen if the truths of aboriginal history become part of the Canadian identity. So they call for age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties and the contributions of aboriginal peoples to Canada to be developed and become mandatory for all students from kindergarten to grade 12. The commissioners also want monuments to residential schools erected in Ottawa and every capital city, and plans put in place to commemorate residential school sites.

It wants an aboriginal Language Commissioner created to help promote and protect aboriginal languages. And it wants a National Council for Reconciliation to monitor, evaluate and report annually on the process of reconciliation.

They also ask for $10 million over seven years to fund the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation which is being set up at the University of Manitoba to house a permanent archive of the documents and stories uncovered by the TRC over the last six years.

The commissioners also rely heavily on Canada fully implementing and following up on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That declaration, which Canada balked at initially but eventually adopted with the provision that it was not binding, could be the catalyst for reconciliation, the commissioners believe.

“The commission is convinced that a refusal to respect the rights and remedies in the Declaration will serve to further aggravate the legacy of residential schools and will constitute a barrier to progress towards reconciliation,” the commissioners wrote.

To see the full executive summary click here.

The 94 calls to action by the TRC can be found here.

By: Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press‎, Posted June, 2, 2015

Source: https://shar.es/12gCQd