2014-12-11: Same Old Song and Dance?

Yesterday brought us two news story of note. One involved the recruitment of Shawn Atleo and Ovide Mercredi by the oil industry. Their recruitment follows a tired old pattern. It’s the age-old tactic of divide and conquer used by the Coloniszer[1] since the time of first contact—not surprising and nothing new.

What’s interesting is the industry’s choice given each man’s track record as national mayor: Mr. Atleo was forced to resign for siding with Canada in pushing through is education legislation. Mr. Mercredi ran afoul of band mayors and the people during the Charlottetown Accord fiasco. Both are following in the footsteps of Phil Fontaine, who sided with Canada and the churches in negotiating the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement in 2005.

The other news is that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) elected a new national mayor yesterday: Perry Bellegarde. As a communications consultant, I did some work for him, by remote, over the last few years. I also tried working with him directly at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) last year. That was an eye-opener for me.

As a consultant, it’s been getting increasingly difficult to separate myself from my work. I believe in reclaiming and restoring the organic institutions that have sustained us for thousands of years, and I’ve been trying to work towards that since the “Oka crisis” of 1990. In my opinion, Mr. Bellegarde is cut from similar cloth as Mr. Atleo and Mr. Mercredi. The other problem is that I’m a bad consultant because I’m nobody’s yes man. That affected my ability to work as an effective part of his team and we have since parted ways.

On March 26 and 27, 2013, the AFN held a treaty conference at the Dakota Dunes Casino. The day began with a pipe ceremony. Perry Bellegarde then opened the meeting by sharing the elder’s teachings from the Sweat they had the night before. The elder had talked about how the wood for the fire, the hot rocks, the willow boughs that make up the frame of the lodge, the buffalo hides that cover it, the fire and the water all work together in a good way. They remind us of our sacred responsibility towards Creation. He connected that to FSIN’s Treaty Principles. He then talked about how Treaty is also a solemn pact with Creator.

When he was done, I asked his Intergovernmental Affairs person, “Would you bring a chainsaw into the sweat lodge? What about a tree shear or an oil derrick, would you bring those into the lodge”? “Of course not,” she responded.” I then asked, “So why is he trying to do just that?” “What do you mean,” she asked and I answered, “Isn’t that what resource revenue-sharing is all about? Isn’t it about participating in Canada’s economy, which is based on the destruction of Creation for profit?” I got no response to that one.

I caught part of Mr. Bellegarde’s speech on APTN last night. He said the AFN isn’t divided. What about the National Treaty Alliance (NTA)? Derek Nepinak was quite clear, the night before the AFN election, when he said that many member mayors of the NTA wouldn’t be participating in that process. Members of the NTA were once part of AFN but disassociated themselves as a result of the First Nations Summit fiasco that ultimately led to Mr. Atleo’s resignation.

One thing that’s interesting to me is the similarities in the goals of the “leaders” who have gained prominence over the last few years. I’ve heard all of their speeches. In my opinion, they all want the same thing, and they’re just fighting over who will steer the bus as it heads towards the precipice.

They’ve said that resource revenue-sharing is implementing Treaty. I disagree. Resource revenue-sharing is economic assimilation, and that means participating in the destruction of Creation. They all try to legitimize their assimilationist agenda by cloaking themselves in Indigenous regalia—with the exception of Mr. Fontaine, whose regalia of choice has always been the three-piece suit.

National Mayor Bellegarde thinks he can influence the way Canada and the multi-national corporations do business. I don’t think he’ll succeed, however, because traditional Indigenous and Canadian economies exist in mutually-exclusive paradigms. One works in harmony with and preserves Creation and the other manipulates and destroys it.

The traditional economy of my people is based on the principles of the Dish with One Spoon—that the land belongs to no one; that we’re to live lightly on the land, taking only what we need and using all we take. That’s how we safeguard the birthright of the next seven generations. The Coloniszer’s economy is based on continued growth; maximizing profit and an instant turn-around.

Another similarity with all the people I’ve mentioned is that they all talk a good game but they’re stuck on transmit: they espouse unity, transparency and accountability but they don’t really listen to anyone who doesn’t share their views. It’s too bad because they have their good qualities. They’re smart people. Among them, they carry traditional teachings. But they also carry Coloniszer teachings in the form of B.A.’s; BAdmin’s; LLB’s; LLM’s; Masters; MEd’s, etc. They’re adept at holding up legitimate Indigenous concepts on the one hand and undermining them with the other. They do so by allowing Coloniszer teachings to trump traditional knowledge.

One example of such undermining is the tobacco trade that has created controversy over the past four decades or so. Proponents of the First Nation tobacco industry often say tobacco is a sacred gift from the Creator. How, then, do you justify desecrating that gift by commodifying it? We can’t rebuild healthy communities and nations by exploiting the addictions of, not only our neighbours, but of our own people.

I believe that the solutions for my people’s future—the Kanienkehaka, often referred to (incorrectly) as Mohawks—lay in our past: in the teachings articulated in the Ohentonkariwatehkwen (the Words Before All Others, which is our Thanksgiving Address), the Dish with One Spoon, the Kaswentah (Two Row Wampum), the Circle Covenant Wampum and the Covenant Chain to list but a few. I will expand on this in my next blog entry.

I also believe that solutions for other Indigenous nations lay in the reclamation and restoration of their cultures and organic institutions.

I know there are those who are working towards this too but it seems our numbers are small and there’s little apparent unity across the land. That’s partly because Indigenous peoples are not one homogenous group, as the term First Nations would imply, and partly because Indigenous people have little or no opportunity to get together and have the full, free and frank dialogue that’s needed for us to come to one mind.

So, what’s left of the AFN may be somewhat united but it has always been disconnected from the people it claims to represent, its structure is more reflective of Canada than Indigenous nations, and it has become useless as an institution.

Despite the challenges we face, I believe that Indigenous people, at the grassroots, will win out in the end. We have right on our side and we have our spirituality. The Coloniszer and the multi-nationals have no spirit and that will be their downfall.

We are at a critical juncture in our history and that of Creation. Drawing on The Lord of the Rings as allegory, the battle for Middle Earth is upon us. Unfortunately, those who have managed to elbow their way to the front of the cameras and microphones have chosen the wrong side. We are in for interesting times…

[1] My misspelling of the word, Coloniszer, is deliberate. I use it to include Canada and the United States, as well as, the nations that gave rise to their existence in its definition.


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