Hold the rations: The Canadian government vs. First Nations

| December 23, 2014
Photo: flickr/Stephen Harper

I was wondering when the first media report speaking about the resource revenue received by First Nations in relation to the First Nations Transparency Act (FNTA) would come out. And then there was a swarm of media articles.

This sudden interest in First Nations governance prompts the question: What is the real reason why the Canadian Government is forcing the issue of financial transparency amongst First Nations people?

My guess is access to band business ventures to dismantle our economic sovereignty.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), under the federal government of Canada, chronically underfunds First Nations. This same system that is set up to fail First Nations people is the same system that is demanding financial transparency relating to all funds -- even from revenue sharing investments that have absolutely nothing to do with the monies generated by the federal government; monies that in part, come from the resource revenue created on Treaty land.

So they implement a system set up for failure, and when those Nations who incur debt cannot manage, they place that community under different levels of Remedial Management.

Even for those that can manage -- based on economic development, investments and resource revenue -- the communities are forced to report to this same system that has perpetuated the financial, economic and social issues in First Nations communities. This government has a fiduciary obligation to First Nations people of Canada.

I am not suggesting that these communities should not report on the federal monies; however refusal to report on resource revenue is currently connected to security for First Nations economic development.

Economic transparency is not about transparency at all

First of all, this legislation is not about disclosing salaries and expenses. It is about putting First Nations at a severe economic disadvantage that would allow consultants or corporations the ability to prey on the revenue generation of First Nations.

This system is based on bidding. When these companies come forward looking for contracts they have the ability to look to the FNTA and the revenue generated, which gives them the opportunity to underbid First Nations companies.

This places First Nations contractors at a disadvantage, which yet again perpetuates the systemic issues in the relationship between this government and First Nations.

This is part of the larger continual cycle of breaking trust obligations between the federal government and First Nations, as well as the taking of First Nations resources without accountability.

So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper yells from the highest peak, "The Government of Canada and First Nations have an enduring historic relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and support. The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening this relationship." I reply, "Prove it."

Who is actually accountable, and to what?

Second, the Canadian government should not be throwing around the idea of "accountability to tax payers" because First Nations leadership are responsible and accountable to the members of their individual nations and not to Canadian taxpayers or the colonial system forced upon us.

As sovereign people we are entitled to self-government, which is also enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. First Nations do not have to report to an outside government. First Nations governments that are refusing to report under this colonial Act are taking a stand. They are asserting their right to Self Determination, Free Prior and Informed Consent, and Sovereignty over their lands and resources.

Let us turn to the tar sands -- what this government considers an economic imperative -- to understand what this means for First Nations in my region in N.E. Alberta.

For the period 2014-2038, tar sands production is projected to go from the current 1.98million/bpd to 3.7million/bpd by 2020, with reinvestment projecting to exceed $514 billion CAD. Total investment in new projects will reach $2,484 billion CAD.

Currently, First Nations by way of their traditional territories are subsidizing Canada through forests, minerals and water. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation in N.E. Alberta, for example, has a traditional hunting territory that spans 38,972 sq/km of natural habitat with 34,773 sq/km of that totalling tar sands, natural gas and forestry resource extraction and development sites, yet are seeing significantly low royalties from these developments.

As these communities assert their jurisdiction, government finds more ways to enforce legislation that shuts First Nations out of the resource-revenue generating process.

Impact Benefit Agreements between First Nations and Resource companies have not been made public in the past and cannot be made public under a confidentiality agreement between the two entities.

However, the FNTA opens that door to disclosure under the guise of transparency. Underfunded and poverty stricken First Nations are now forced to throw their private business ventures to the public.

Yet, no one is asking any of the federal and provincial government representatives for their private business ventures, or demanding that the federal government report where the billions of dollars that went missing is.

So, let us understand the oppressive tactics before anyone supports the extermination of First Nations people and our collective rights. 

Hold the rations; Starve the Indian

Finally, as we look to the failing market, I cannot help but wonder if the falling oil prices have something to do with the federal government's scramble to secure their investments in the Alberta Tar Sands oil.

With the global price of oil and the Canadian dollar on a continuous decline, the cost of Alberta's Tar Sands oil is becoming harder and more difficult to bring to market. This could mean game over for this carbon intensive, dirty oil production.

So it is no coincidence that this same government is attempting to back First Nations people into a position of economic desperation and keep us compliant.

We are a people that already face the Indian Act system, forced to seek approval from the AANDC. We are a people being legislated out of the economy, forced to seeking approval from a system that has forced a land management system onto us rather than land and title and rights under the original Treaties.

The introduction of an Act that will force First Nations people to report on resource revenue, and failing to do so under the Indian Act system this government will, "Hold the Rations!" until the Indian reaches submission1.

This forces us to trade freedom for rations. 

When Minister of Indian Affairs Bernard Valcourt threatens to launch lawsuits against those First Nations who refuse to comply with the FNTA, I am reminded of the CPR building days, when government officials withheld food from First Nations people until they moved onto the reserves. It is reminiscent of a time when Sir John A. Macdonald, acting as both Prime Minister and Minister of Indian Affairs, boasted that the Indigenous population was kept on the "verge of actual starvation."

But there are several First Nations that are collectively holding the line and yelling back, "Hold the Rations, but either way you will not take collective control of our lands, forests, and waters!"



Crystal Lameman is a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Treaty No. 6, in N.E. Alberta. She is a registered teacher and the Climate and Energy Campaigner for Sierra Club Canada and is a fellow of the Indigenous Environmental Network. 

1 Daschuk James Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, 2013

Photo: flickr/Stephen Harper

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