Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Rolland Pangowish, "Letter to the Editor RE: Winning the battle, but losing the war" The Hamilton Spectator, n.d.

Dianne Rinehart's "Wining the battle, but losing the war" (June 17, 2006) is a fine example of mucked up thinking. Her attitude clearly illustrates where a good part of the problem rests. For example her faulty assumption that fishing, hunting and voting rights are somehow "race-based" exposes her own racial prejudice, because such rights are in no way based on race. Aboriginal and Treaty rights are recognized in the common law system of Canada and other commonwealth countries because the Indigenous Peoples and Nations were here long before settlers imposed themselves on these territories.

Treaties were made on a nation to nation basis and facilitated the peaceful development of this country. To say that these Constitutionally protected rights and treaties should be ignored or trivialized because some individuals feel they are inconvenient or somehow troublesome to their own economic interests is exactly where the situation gets mucked up. If Governments in Canada truly want to respect thier laws, it wouldn't take generations for First Nation communities to have these outstanding issues resolved. Maybe then people like Ms. Rinehart would realize where the real crux of accountability lies.

Rolland Pangowish
Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve
Wikwemikong, Ontario
P0P 2J0

Direct Line: (705) 859-1275

Winning the battle, but losing the war

By trying to right Canada's past, are we mucking up the future for the natives?

By Dianne Rinehart
The Hamilton Spectator(Jun 17, 2006)

Where do we start? That's the question anyone caught up in native land, fishery, forestry, resource and hunting disputes with native bands across this country asks -- and there is never an answer.

A sliver of land in Caledonia, claimed by the Six Nations Band, sounds easy enough to resolve. Except that to do so might open a Pandora's box -- a legal quagmire of native land claims across the country, where competing claims from various bands overlap with those of other local communities -- including large cities, such as Ottawa and Vancouver.

In short, small decisions must be made in light of precedents they may set before the Supreme Court, which has already laid a few doozie decisions on the federal government over what had seemed small claims in the past.

So small claims remain unresolved, the barricades go up, and, as small as each may be -- a sliver here, a golf course there -- they add up to one big mess for natives, fishermen, hunters, local economies ... and Canada.

This week alone, disputes arose over native salmon fishing rights on the West Coast that threaten salmon stocks, and the future of the entire fishery. Earlier it was crab fisheries on the East Coast.

And how ironic that we read regularly about violence erupting at the barricades in Caledonia -- as we read about an inquiry into what went wrong at an earlier barricade battle turned violent in Ipperwash.

They're all different. But one thing is common: the rage that is inspired on both sides of the barricades is growing.

Ironically, all of this takes place in a multicultural country, among the freest in the world, where native Canadians now enjoy the rights of everyone else -- and more.

Native bands also enjoy rights to race-based fishing, hunting, and voting (bands can tax non-natives living on their lands without giving them the vote, or even letting them see how their taxes are being spent).

Bands must also be consulted on development on lands they claim -- even when, as happens regularly, the bands themselves have disputing claims on the same territories. It's enough to send most businesses -- and future economics for band members -- down the drain.

It's a fine mess. And it's complicated further by the fact no one negotiating knows who's in charge.

The Assembly of First Nations represents more than 600 band councils representing 30 per cent of Canada's native population.

But their views are increasingly at odds with aboriginal women's groups and organizations representing off-reserve natives.

Meanwhile, in Caledonia recently, the elected band ceded negotiating rights -- part way through the dispute -- to the "Confederacy" or hereditary leaders, who refused to negotiate with the province -- though land claims are a provincial jurisdiction -- and
demanded "nation-to-nation" talks with Ottawa.

In other disputes, barricades have been manned by "warriors" -- who may or may not represent the interests of band councils.

For its part, the federal government, not wanting to be seen as paternalistic, appeases the Assembly of First Nations by refusing to implement legislation that would make bands accountable to their own people for the spending of the $10 billion transferred each year to bands to spend on fewer than 300,000 people.

So do natives living in poverty take joy at the victory of the Assembly in not letting Ottawa demand accountability because of native independence?

Did I mention it's a fine mess we're in?

While it begs for inspired leadership on all sides, it also begs for a look at the bigger picture.

In short, as the Birds of Pray sang: "What Are We Fighting For?"

In an economy gone global, does it make sense to think economic opportunities will be better on reserve, or off? If reserves need economic development, does it make sense to scare business away?

In a world that demands equal treatment for all races, does it make sense to entrench separate rights for natives, than non-natives, within Canada?

Do native fishing and hunting rights protect their culture, or endanger resources for future generations?

Is the future of any Canadian - or any culture -- better protected in isolated reserves than in the country as a whole?

It's not that I don't understand the historic reasoning for doing these things, or the basis of native rights.

It's that I don't see the forward-thinking in them for a native future.

Dianne Rinehart is a Toronto-based editor and writer.
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