Change the conversation, support today.

There were no winners in the back and forth between Indigenous peoples and Canada last week. Some have lost already, some may still succeed, and others have lost but will not pay the price just yet. 

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan is the most obvious loser.  After a series of gaffes, demonstrations of ignorance, and an air of disengagement on the file that have led to demands for his resignation in the past, the defining moment came when Chief Spence refused to meet with him, rendering his impotence and ineffectuality plain for all to see. 

As a result of Friday’s meeting, he is now entirely irrelevant. Having failed to maintain control and keep the Indians quiet as he was expected to do, his boss has removed any pretence at Duncan’s authority, passing “oversight” to the Privy Council Office. On the upside for him, he will continue to collect a Minister’s salary without the work.

For Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, an announcement today that he is taking a short medical leave shows the toll the past few weeks have taken on him personally.  Politically, he lost support among some Chiefs who blame him for failing to secure a meeting on Chief Spence’s terms and for attending the one that was offered instead. 

This criticism serves Mr. Harper’s purpose in dividing his opposition. As I said in this blog two weeks ago, Mr. Harper would let hunger strikers die rather than capitulate and no one was going to change his mind.

As for attending the meeting that was offered, that is the National Chief’s job. He meets the Prime Minister, he advocates for the positions mandated in resolutions passed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly, and he reports back for further instructions. If the organization is to function as intended, this is what he must do. Whether the AFN is the kind of organization people want is again a question facing First Nations, but it is a different question.

Chief Spence succeeded in attracting media attention to her issues, embarrassing John Duncan, and in prompting a meeting. Unfortunately, the meeting that she wants is not what took place, nor is it going to happen any time soon, and that may very well cost her life. She may not see martyrdom as a failure. One has to deeply respect that most difficult of decisions.

And Idle No More continues to grow as a movement, gaining support across the country and, increasingly, around the world. But the goals of the movement, the desire to move the Harper government off its agenda, have not been met.

Stephen Harper will not pay the full price for his failure until the next election, but he has failed all of us nonetheless. He has failed continually over the past seven years when it comes to recognizing the rights of over 1.2 million citizens. His bias in favour of a smaller, very select group of Canadians to the detriment of all others is why our country is facing this crisis.  He failed last week to understand or address these fundamental challenges as the relationship continued to worsen.  He has failed in every way except in getting his own way, for now.

The biggest loser in this struggle, however, is Canada. 

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s assertion, his budget bills do not promote economic growth. They incite conflict, they will slow resource development and they will harm Canada’s reputation with its clients. 

Meanwhile, domestic division is being sewn, pitting people against one another. Racism has reared its ugly head, not just in media stories and online comments to media stories, although those should be a revelation to Canadians who don’t know what Indigenous people put up with every day. There was a rape of a First Nation woman in Thunder Bay by a group of men who told her it was in response to the assertion of treaty rights. That some people were far more interested in an audit than in this story should give us all serious pause. This is not the direction of a healthy nation. 

If eventually there is to be a winner from all this, it is our collective challenge to find the path to a shared victory, one that respects the rights of all and the rule of law for all, one that promotes economic growth for all and heals the divisions that threaten our future. Canada can win, if we find ways to come together, for all our relations.