I was at my childhood home on the reserve when I heard the news -- my father and uncles were likely part of one of these "nutritional experiments," and one with clearly adverse side-effects at that. I felt as though a little piece of history reached out and punched me in the gut. Some friends and I have put out a call to Canadians to shed some of this negativity by uniting across cultural and religious lines. We are calling our gatherings (to be held today at noon) "Honour The Apology." To be clear, the Residential School era is not just "Native history." It is Canadian history. It is OUR history.
What would the future look like if someone were to hit the "reset" button on the Crown-First Nations relationship and just start over? First Nations would be able to manage their own affairs. This would include the ability to access capital at wholesale rates in order to finance major infrastructure projects.
As we enter the new year, it is time for Chief Spence and Prime Minister Harper to pause and reflect about their on-going standoff. Both sides need to feel that they have won and both sides need to find a way to declare victory. Only then can the two sides proceed to the next step which should be fresh dialogue and agreed to solutions for key First Nations issues.
As 2012 ends, what do we in Canada understood as enduring truths that can we take into living forward in 2013? On the home front, we should have understood that democracy in Canada can be taken too much for granted. We take for granted that Parliamentary democracy is only as effective as the power concentrated in the Prime Minister's Office allows it to be. In the wrong hands, it can make MPs mostly irrelevant, as demonstrated by the Harper PMO.
Chief Theresa Spence hasn't eaten in over 11 days. The weather has taken a big turn for the worse and her tent home on Victoria Island is far from ideal. This was a serious business and she told me she wasn't backing down. I knew then I was watching the beginning of a revolution. Chief Spence has put her life on the line. This is not a game. This is not a stunt. Every day that Mr. Harper tries to wait out the crisis, the stakes rise higher. Mr. Harper has a very short window to show leadership. He needs to come the table and begin to address the issues that have driven so many First Nation communities into poverty and despair.
This week will mark the first anniversary since Attawawpiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency over the abysmal housing situation on the James Bay coast. Footage of the living conditions in this isolated community shocked Canadians and resulted in a media firestorm. The crisis became a cultural Pandora's box that unleashed numerous issues and misconceptions regarding our relationship with Canada's First Peoples. Now on the eve of this dark anniversary, Canada's "Katrina" moment has made it to the big screen. And who better equipped to tell the real story of the 2011-housing crisis than iconic filmmaker Alanis Obamsawin?