Idle No More. The hunger strike. Friday’s meeting of chiefs with Stephen Harper. In a week when Canada’s first nations are dominating the news agenda, The Globe looks at the hot issues and how they’re all connected
Started: In early November by four women, Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilson, who organized a small rally at a Saskatoon community centre.
The issue: Ms. Gordon has said they titled a Facebook page Idle no More “as a way to get our butts off the couch to work on this.” The phrase quickly spread as a hashtag on Twitter, becoming a grassroots movement. Participants at protests and rallies across the country have raised a wide range of specific grievances, but are generally opposing the status quo when it comes to aboriginal policies in Canada.
Connected to: Treaty rights, 2012 omnibus budget bills, Theresa Spence's protest
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence speaks to reporters during a press conference outside her teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa on Friday, January 4, 2013. Ms. Spence has been on a hunger strike for more than three weeks. Sean Kilpatrick
Theresa Spence's protest
Started: Dec. 11
The issue: The chief of Ontario’s Attawapiskat First Nation declared on Parliament Hill that she was launching a hunger strike and is “willing to die for my people.” Setting up camp on nearby Victoria Island – a small piece of land in the middle of the Ottawa River that is reachable by bridge – Chief Spence is refusing solid foods, but does consume fish broth and medicinal tea. She originally demanded that Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet with first nations leaders and that Ottawa respect its treaty obligations.
While not initially connected to the Idle No More movement, her protest has been championed at various demonstrations. She also said Monday that the government’s latest budget bill is a violation of treaty rights and should be partly rescinded.
Connected to: Treaty rights, Attawapiskat, 2012 omnibus budget bills, Stephen Harper's Friday meeting
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Dec. 7, 2012. Chris Wattie
Stephen Harper’s Friday meeting
Started: On Friday, Jan. 4, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Mr. Harper will meet with “a delegation of first nations leaders” – co-ordinated by the Assembly of First Nations – on Friday, Jan. 11. The PMO statement made no reference to Chief Spence, but she will attend.
The issue: Some Idle no More protesters took the meeting as a sign the movement has caught the government’s attention, but many – including Chief Spence – are maintaining a skeptical, wait-and-see stance. The PMO is billing the meeting as a continuation of a process started in January of 2012, when Mr. Harper played host to a Crown-first nations gathering to discuss treaty rights, education and economic development. Ottawa says the meeting will focus on “the treaty relationship and aboriginal rights and economic development.”
Connected to: Treaty rights, first nations education, Theresa Spence's protest, Conservative focus on accountability
Started: In November, 2011, the remote Northern Ontario reserve declared a state of emergency over the community’s poor housing conditions as winter was setting in. The images of extreme poverty captured international attention.
The issue: Ottawa responded quickly to the publicity, providing money for 22 new modular homes, but also ordered an audit of the band’s spending and placed the community under a third-party manager. In August of 2012, Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan ruled Ottawa’s response “unreasonable.” His ruling blamed Attawapiskat’s problems not on “political masters but … the bureaucracy.” On Monday, Aboriginal Affairs released a federally commissioned audit that found Attawapiskat’s leadership has not properly accounted for how it spent millions in transfers from Ottawa.
Connected to: Theresa Spence's protest, Conservative focus on accountability
2012 omnibus budget bills
Started: Bill C-38 was introduced in April, 2012, and Bill C-45 was introduced in October.
The issue: From the government’s perspective, its two 2012 budget bills were all about cutting red tape to speed up economic development – particularly when it comes to natural resources and natural-gas pipelines. To many first nations, the changes are viewed as an infringement on treaty rights and environmental protection. Also, Bill C-45 includes changes to the Indian Act that make it easier for band councils to lease land. Some protesters have claimed the bill goes further and makes it easier for reserve land to be sold outright. The AFN’s legal adviser, Kathleen Lickers, has contradicted those claims, however, telling senators in November that while the government’s process is flawed, the changes are an “improvement.”
Connected to: Treaty rights, #IdleNoMore
Children rally for first-nations education reform as they take to Parliament Hill on June 11, 2012, to mark the fourth anniversary of the Prime Minister’s apology for the residential-school system. Sean Kilpatrick
First nations education
Started: June, 2011
The issue: Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo announced joint plans with Ottawa for a study of new ways to deliver education on reserves. But while Chief Atleo initially supported the recommendations when they were released in early 2012, he revoked the AFN’s support in October, citing objections from first nations. The Globe reported this week that Mr. Harper is expected to commit to work with first nations leaders on a draft First Nations Education Act before it is introduced in Parliament.
Connected to: Stephen Harper's Friday meeting, treaty rights
Conservative focus on accountability
Started: The Jan. 23, 2006, election of a Conservative government marked the death of the $5.1-billion Kelowna accord, signed with aboriginal leaders in the dying days of Paul Martin’s Liberal government.
The issue: The new Conservative government balked at the price tag and said the deal lacked accountability. Scrapping the accord – along with other changes under the name of accountability, such as requiring more financial disclosure by band leaders – has been an ongoing source of tension between Ottawa and first nations leaders. The government insists accountability measures serve taxpayers, but also grassroots band members.
Connected to: Theresa Spence's protest, Attawapiskat
Leaders of the Kaska Dena announced Monday that they will hold off on any action until they’ve had a face-to-face meeting with Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, Dec. 7, in an attempt to head off growing conflict over oil and gas development. Andrew Vaughan
Started: Signed before and after Confederation, these treaties are land agreements between the Crown and aboriginals.
The issue: Treaty lands are much larger than individual reserves, but the rights of aboriginals on those larger treaty lands is the source of ongoing legal disputes, primarily over natural resources. First nations argue that natural-resource development on treaty lands requires their support and that royalties should be shared.
The Constitution Act of 1982 recognizes and affirms – but does not define – “existing aboriginal and treaty rights.”
Connected to: #IdleNoMore, Theresa Spence's protest, Stephen Harper's Friday meeting