I was one of many who emailed Prime Minister Stephen Harper the other day and asked him to meet with aboriginal leaders to start the long path to correcting the problems with the relationship between the Canadian government and the aboriginal peoples. I might have said long, winding path, because there is no direct route to solutions.
Now that Prime Minister Harper is at least dragging his feet toward a January 11 meeting, we continue to see government and aboriginal leaders contradict each other about the effectiveness and sincerity of government efforts.
The problem is a very complex one. Some of the complications result from imperfections in the performance of the aboriginal chiefs and some from imperfections in the performance of Canadian government chiefs. However, none will be resolved until both sides decide to talk openly and to trust one another. Obviously, changes must happen.
The aboriginal chiefs are no more perfect spokespeople for their constituents than Stephen Harper is for his. The Idle No More movement is making that clear by the day. Indeed, Assembly of First Nations Chief Sean Atleo had to engage in a dialogue with Chief Theresa Spence while negotiating with the Harper government. Whether Pamela Palmater actually leads The Idle No More Movement or not is unclear.
This should not surprise us for the First Nations comprise many historic tribes from a wide cultural and geographic background. Some of those tribes have coped more successfully with the relationship with federal governments than others. Some have distinct geographic disadvantages.
The poster community for that has to be Attawapiskat, a community without easy access to either the "outside" world or jobs. There are bureaucratic layers in that community just as there are in any other and the release of financial audits for the use of federal funds indicates that Attawapiskat's leaders have not been careful with the money.
Oh yes, there are treaties. I have two basic stones in my shoe about treaties. The first is that the people who write them want to preserve their version of the proper status quo and the second is that they actually think they can do so. The net result of these two flaws is that treaties tend to get signed and then either ignored or enforced too strictly. Either way, they get out of date soon after the ink has dried on them.
In the case of treaties between Aboriginal peoples and the British government, cultural differences led to some real disasters. As far as I can tell, the chiefs who signed many of the original treaties did not have any concept of land ownership and, so, thought they were just giving the British permission to use the land or even just to share it.
The British, of course, knew differently and were happy to let the misunderstanding lie. Of course, when it served them to have the Aboriginals think exactly the opposite, as in the treaties granting the Six Nations land on either side of the Grand River, the British played that end of the piano.
Did I mention issues of trust?
By the way, speaking of change, have you noticed that the British are no longer in charge in Canada and that many of the current Aboriginal leaders are lawyers and have doctorates in governance? Are they confused about what is in the treaties?
Treaties should be re-negotiated or mutually amended periodically. Both sides are qualified to do that.
Now we are back to what I said in the first place: both sides need to sit down and talk. Enough with the political posturing that has gone on through governments controlled by both Liberals and Conservatives over the centuries and by the succession of Assembly of First Nations Chiefs.
Sit down as equals. Figure out what the key problems are and work together to solve them. Did I mention that I am an idealist?