Topic: 2001

Mohawks To Continue Fight On Cross Border Trading Rights

By Lloyd Dolha

A 13-year legal battle to establish an aboriginal right for cross-border immunity to taxation ended on May 24, 2001 when the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its unanimous ruling in Mitchell that declared the Mohawks of Akwesasne must pay duty on goods brought across the Canada-US border.

Citing a lack of evidence to support their claim, the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that the aboriginal right claimed had not been established and ordered Akwesasne Grand Chief Mike Mitchell to pay $361.64 in duty on items he brought into Canada from New York in a symbolic border-crossing to initiate the test case.

“While appellate courts grant considerable deference to findings of fact made by trial judges, the finding of a cross-border trading right in this case represents, in view of the paucity of evidence, a “clear and palpable error.” Evidentiary principles must be sensitively applied to aboriginal claims but they cannot be strained beyond reason.” wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Grand Chief Mike Mitchell of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne expressed bitter disappointment at the ruling of the court suggesting that the ruling was, in part, the Supreme Court’s response to the furor ignited on the east coast by the court’s September ruling in Marshall of September 1999, which found a treaty right for increased access to the fisheries for the Mi’kmaq of the east coast. Mitchell, who grew up watching Customs agents confiscating goods at the checkpoint near his home, said he “just lost faith in the Canadian system.”

The decision overturned earlier rulings of the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal which found that the Mohawks have a historical right to immunity from paying duty taxes on goods brought over the Canada-US border.

The Mohawks of Akwesasne number over 5200. They straddle the Canada-US border living on reserves located on Cornwall Island as well as several other islands on the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall and in the St. Regis village and islands in Quebec.

The Mohawks argued the right as a right to bring goods into Canada from the United States for: personal use; community use; and, non-commercial scale trade with other First Nations. They say that, in its decision, the Supreme Court re-characterized the aboriginal right claimed in the case.

“Rather than examine the question of bringing goods for personal and community use, the Supreme Court concentrated only on the trading component of our aboriginal rights. There is nothing in the majority of the court’s reasons rejecting the views expressed by the trial judge and the court of appeal on goods for personal use and community consumption at Akwesasne.” stated the Mohawk Council press release of that day.

In emphasizing the need to establish trade to the north as a central and defining feature of Mohawk society at the time, the court ruled that the evidence showed that the Mohawks engaged in east-west trade before European settlers arrived, but not a north-south relationship because Mohawks on either side of the St Lawrence River were constantly at war.

“In the present case, the evidence indicates that the Mohawks traveled north on occasion and trade was a distinguishing feature of their society. The evidence does not show, however, an ancestral practice of trading north of the St. Lawrence River … Even if the trial judge’s generous interpretation of the evidence was accepted, it discloses negligible transportation and trade of goods by the Mohawks north of the St. Lawrence River prior to contact. This trade was not vital to the Mohawk’s collective identity. It follows that no aboriginal right to bring goods across the border for the purposes of trade has been established.” ruled the court.

AFN National Chief Matthew Coon Come was also extremely critical of the Supreme Court ruling, charging that the ruling is grounded in a colonial mentality that perpetuates poverty among First Nations.

“The Supreme Court seems to be moving in a further direction, recalling Marshall Two, of narrowing the trade and commercial rights of indigenous peoples in Canada. Our socio-economic conditions are terrible; as observed by the Royal Commission, First Nations peoples have been marginalized and locked out. The Supreme Court ruling perpetuates this disturbing trend.” said Coon Come.

Aboriginal rights advocates now argue that the courts are rendering such rights impotent against the political and economic demands of non-aboriginal Canada. Indeed, the ruling states:
“The enactment of s. 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 accorded constitutional status to existing aboriginal and treaty rights, including aboriginal rights recognized at common law. However, the government retained the jurisdiction to limit aboriginal rights for justifiable reasons in the pursuit of substantial and compelling public objectives.”

That statement is drawn from the second Marshall decision of November 1999, when the Supreme Court issued a rare clarification of its earlier ruling, in which the same court ruled that the federal government’s power to regulate the Mi’kmaq treaty right to an extended fishery “extends to other compelling and substantial public objectives which may include economic and regional fairness, and recognition of the historical reliance upon, and participation in, the fishery by non-aboriginal groups.” It’s a direct quote from Gladstone (1996) which argued an aboriginal right for the commercial sale of herring roe-on-kelp and similar wording is found in Delgamuukw (1997).

Nevertheless, the Mohawks of Akwesane are determined to move forward on this issue through negotiation.

“The Mohawk people, through the past three and a half centuries have survived between colonizing nations. First the English and the French. Then between the British and the United States. Then between Canada and the United States. We are determined that our nation and our rights will continue to survive. The Supreme Court’s decision has not, in our view, resolved the border crossing issue. We prefer the court’s conclusion four years ago in Delagamuukw, that these issues are best left to negotiation.”

20,000 Survivors of Residential Schools to Seek Compensation

By Rick Mofina

At least 20,000 survivors of Indian residential schools who are not involved in legal action will be quietly pressing the government for compensation, according to Canada’s top native leader.

Matthew Coon Come, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says the AFN has been researching the issue and is confident that 20,000 to 60,000 people not involved in court actions have unsettled issues arising from the residential school system.

These concerns include such things as the damage done to families, identities and native culture that have yet to be addressed, Mr. Coon Come said yesterday before AFN officials met privately with Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray.

Mr. Gray was appointed last year by Prime Minister Jean Chretien to address critical issues on residential school litigation, in particular, concerns by some leading churches, which face financial ruin over lawsuits from school survivors. The most recent figures show that more than 6,200 individuals who claim to have been victimized within the residential system have unsettled lawsuits. That number could near 10,000 should several class-action suits now pending be accepted by the courts.

Mr. Coon Come said those cases deal with “criminal aspects like sexual abuse.” But for others, “there’s the whole question of loss of language, loss of culture. How do you put that into the picture in order for one to feel that their issues are addressed?” Mr. Coon Come said.

At its Confederacy of Nations meeting last month, the AFN, which represents some 630 First Nations, set out a plan to present the government with a comprehensive settlement strategy on residential schools.

Mr. Coon Come said the government’s Japanese-Canadian compensation model is one that could be adapted and used for residential schools.

During the Second World War, 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were rounded up and detained, victims of racial paranoia following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. In 1988, the federal government apologized for its actions and promised $21,000 to 12,000 of the surviving internees.

Mr. Coon Come sees some parallels with that action and how native children were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools.

Pressure has been growing on several fronts over how best to resolve the controversial issue of abuse suffered by native children in residential schools, which were established more than a century ago by the federal government and administered by church groups.

The aim of the system, which was phased out in the 1960s, was to assimilate aboriginal children into mainstream culture. After the closures, stories of students being subjected to physical and sexual abuse in the schools began emerging.

Referendum Circus Coming Soon to Your Town

By Lloyd Dohla

Gordon Campbell has declared that he will not tolerate any civil disobedience.

If he and his party persist in the stupidity of a referendum he will have to learn tolerance. The battle of the hustings is over.

The long struggle to protect our rights and our identity from yet another government will continue. The hill will simply be steeper and the obstacles higher. The battle will be fought on the streets and in the media as the political party that has control of the legislative assembly will not, can not understand the very nature of treaty rights and negotiations. The battle will be fought with the traditional methods of civil disobedience.

I hope that it will be confined to sit-ins, peaceful protests, marches etc. but expectations were raised and the frustration level is being elevated. No matter, I think that Mr. Campbell will be a very tolerate man by the time he leaves office.

The call for treaties in BC is the recognition that the lack of a treaty between two nations is an intolerable and unworkable situation. Consider the extensive and complex treaty web that exists between the Government of Canada and the United States. These treaties are essential, for no two nations can live side by side without agreements on how each is to be treated and how it will treat the other.

We might also note that the BC Liberals are not calling for a referendum to settle the Soft Wood Treaty dispute. The first step in the treaty process is the recognition that The First Nations are what the title says, here first and a nation. It is therefore impossible to put the treaty process to a referendum.

A referendum can only take place within the same political entity. The First Nations may have been smothered by the Whiteman but they have never given up their unique culture and political identity.

The approach taken by the BC Liberals reminds of a sales technique I was taught when I sold encyclopedias. It was called sale by assumption. From the time I entered the home I assumed that the occupants were going to buy. The BC Liberals assume that they are dealing with a minority group of Canadians and that we can be treated as such under the laws of Canada. I myself take umbrage with our acceptance of being called Canadians.

The Duke of Wellington once said that simply because a man is born in a stall does not make him a horse. Our being born in what the white power structure calls Canada does not make us Canadians. I am Dene.

They speak of bringing the First Nations in line with the rest of Canadians. Therefore they can decry the provisions that release us from income tax and other treaty rights that give us “free services”.

There was a leader from Northern Saskatchewan, whose name I am sorry to say I cannot recall, who said “We gave them the land, how much more do they want us to pay.” The BC Liberals fail to see that the treaties process is to set up the rules and framework the First Nations are to live by as a nation within the nation of Canada.

We have no choice but to work out treaties that allow us to take advantage of this country’s economic possibilities without losing our cultural and political identities. We must then make sure that the foundations of the treaty process are laid with the recognition that the First Nations are nations that were here first and must be dealt with from that perspective and not as a minority group of Canadians.

A second class minority group of Canadians The BC Liberal attitude is racist in the extreme. We should not listen to the measured tones of the party leadership for the real opinion of the party but the strident and ugly tones and statements of the rank and file.

The rank and file the conciliatory sounding leaders have sworn to listen to. The majority opinion was best expressed in a letter published by The Province whose writer stated that the Indians weren’t using the land when the Whiteman arrived and didn’t fight for it when they had a chance.

The writer didn’t see any need for treaty talks because everyone was Canadian now anyway. This is the real voice and thoughts of the ruling party. This is the attitude the struggle is against.

One Dead Indian: The Ipperwash Crisis and the Role of Premier Mike Harris

By Joseph O’Connor

Slippery was now on his back. Someone kicked him in the head. Above him and all around him were forms that didn’t look human; they were just dark shapes raining blows down on his body. He had no idea how many there were, just that they were everywhere, swarming him.

He was beaten and yet soon he could no longer feel any pain. He felt only an odd, dull sensation, before everything went black. He lay face down, his mouth full of sound, and the blows kept coming.

Cecil Bernard “Slippery” George would survive the violent beating he took at the hands of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) riot squad Tactical and Rescue Unit (TRU), on September 4, 1995 at Ipperwash. Unfortunately his cousin Dudley wasn’t so lucky. He was killed on that fatal night and for six years his family have lobbied for an inquiry into his death and the role played by Premier Mike Harris.

One Dead Indian, written by investigative journalist Peter Edwards tells the history of the Dudley George murder, a well-chronicled expose on the unwarranted brutality of the OPP against peaceful protesters.

“The natives first saw the phalanx of officers when the police rounded a corner just outside the park entrance. It was an eerie sight. Under the three-quarter moon more than 30 officers in dark gray were marching upon them in tight ranks known as a “box formation.””

The incident could have been avoided if the OPP had listened to AFN National Chief Ovide Mercredi who requested the police postpone their raid until the next day, which would have given him more time to speak to the protesters. Mercredi was convinced that a confrontation in full daylight had less chance of escalating to violence. The OPP had their own agenda and refused to speak to the AFN chief on the night of Sept. 4, 1995. They had been given orders from the highest office in the province.

Premier Mike Harris denied he was in Toronto on September 4, the first of many lies. He was attending his own benefit party celebrating his election. He also had a meeting that same day with OPP superintendent Ron Fox, a liaison with the Solicitor-General’s office and Sergeant Scott Patrick. It was at this meeting that Harris made it clear to the police that the protest at Ipperwash was to be crushed at the cost of whatever action was warranted.

The premier later admitted he was at the meeting but couldn’t recall who else attended, and in between memory lapses, he hasn’t allowed an inquiry into the incident, which cost the Ontario taxpayers $500,000 in legal fees to keep the case out of court.

The crucial evidence that would either clear Premier Harris or incriminate him was on the files on the meeting of Sept. 4, which should have remained in OPP superintendent Ron Fox’s computer, files were requested by the Globe and Mail, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, by G & M writer Martin Mittelstaedt, who was informed that they had “vanished.”

“Efforts by the stall of the Information and Technology division of OPP to retrieve any records which may have been located in the folders were unsuccessful,” said deputy Soliciter-General Tim Millard, at the time.

Not only was Millard’s department missing files the OPP (claims not to have) had no Polaroid or video record of the arrests that night. There was no audio of Sergeant Ken Deane or any other members of the paramilitary unit responsible for the violence and death at Ipperwash.

This should have been enough to force an inquiry into the shooting death of Dudley George, but the Harris legal team was able to keep Premier Harris a safe distance from the court. Sgt. Ken Deane, the OPP officer in charge on the fatal night went on trial for the murder of Dudley George instead. A veteran police officer, Deane was a senior member of TRU and was highly respected in the OPP force.

Deane testified that the information police had on the protesters was that they were highly armed and when he saw Dudley George, on the road that night “he thought that Dudley had s rifle.

“He was scanning our position with the rifle. I discharged approximately three rounds at the individual. He faltered, fell to the ground, got up, threw his weapon back to the ditch area,” said Deane.

Sgt. Hebblethwaite’s testimony not only contradicted Deane’s, it left the judge doubting any of Deane’s story, Constable Cris Crossitt’s testimony was in the judge’s words “clearly fabricated and plausible.”

Sgt. Deane was found guilty and, for the George family, there was a small sense of retribution which only lasted until the sentencing.

Justice Hugh Fraser handed down a conditional two years less a day, to community service and he could possess a firearm once the sentence is completed.

Sgt. Deane will not even suffer the inconvience of house arrest.

“My brother’s life comes too cheap to these people. My brother gets laid in his grave and this guy gets sent home?” said Dudley’s brother Pierre.

A Call For Answers is one of the chapters in One Dead Indian and author Peter Edwards has done an excellent job in showing in great detail both the First Nation and police account of what actually happened.

The fact remains that the OPP did use excessive force that was not only uncalled for, and resulted in Dudley George’s death and Mike Harris walks away without even an inquiry.

Simon Baker – Renowned Squamish Elder Passes

With the passing of Squamish Elder, Chief Simon Baker, British Columbia lost one of its greatest cultural figures. In Khot-La-Cha : The autobiography of Chief Simon Baker, author and educator Verna Kirkness, described Baker as “an ambassador of his own culture and the human spirit.” Simon Baker was indeed these things and much more. He was the last of the great “North Shore Indians,” famed for their achievements in Canadian lacrosse during his youth of the 1930’s. A dedicated husband and family man, Baker worked as a longshoreman for forty-one years, eventually rising to the position of superintendent of Canadian Stevadoring. He was a prime mover in organizing the first public pow wows and sporting events for Canadian First Nations. A tireless volunteer, Simon Baker served as spokesperson for countless community projects and organizations.

Chief Baker served as councillor to the Squamish Nation for over 30 years, ten of which he served as chairman. So revered by his people, he was the only Squamish member designated “Chief for Lifetime.” He is the recipient of numerous of numerous awards and special recognitions. He was a two-time recipient of the British Columbia Centennial Award of Merit for 1958 and 1971. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1977 and was granted an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the University of BC in 1990. He was a revered elder for the First Nations House of Learning and the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP) at UBC for many years, sharing his wisdom through stories and songs. He assisted in fundraising for the UBC First Nations Longhouse through his extensive network of contacts.

In May 1999, Chief Baker was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame as the only surviving member of the celebrated ‘North Shore Indians’ of 1936 for recognition of his achievements as “Cannonball Baker,” star lacrosse player of the team. In March 2000, Chief Baker received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Heritage and Spirituality.

As an ambassador of West Coast aboriginal culture, Baker travelled across western Europe, New Zealand and Japan throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, promoting aboriginal culture and heritage to the world. In his autobiography, Simon explained the importance of family and home in the retention of his cultural heritage.

” In order for me to keep the teachings of our elders, I had to keep coming home. After I left school , I had to accept the things that my grandmothers keep reminding me of, my grass roots. I tried to practice what they taught me, keeping up my culture from the teachings of my elders. I was glad to listen, to obey and practice our way. I still have the knowledge, wisdom and philosophies of our elders. I had to keep learning my own culture, my language.”

Khot-La-Cha, his Squamish name for ” Man with a Kind Heart”, is survived by his wife of 71 years Emily, one sister, nine children, 38 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild. He passed away on Wednesday, May 23, 2001.

Bee in the Bonnet – Support Your Local Native

As I sit at my desk with my mighty pen in hand, I have to remind myself that I’m a humorist and to keep it light. Because what I’ve chosen to write about, is all the in-fighting amongst natives. The title almost read “You Blankity Blank, Back Stabbing, Blankity Blank!”

As you can probably tell, I’m a victim of the one thing that keeps a lot of natives down on the rez. The major reason you rarely see the words successful, happy and native in the same sentence. If you’re a native, you know of the affliction I’m talking about. Even if you’ve never done it yourself, you’re probably a carrier. Because I’ve seen it infect every generation I can remember.

If you’re a young native that wants to do something with your life, I suggest you get fitted for a Hatchet proof vest because, unfortunately, there are those who will want to stick it to you! If you’re strong willed, some will call you bossy. If you’re clever, you’re a smart ass, witty – mouthy, quiet – stuck up, sociable – show off. I won’t even write what would be said about you, if you’re kind to your mother.

It’s a no-win situation. So what’s a poor little rez boy (or gal) to do move to the big city? Reservation Brain Drain! (He writes, then looks out his window at the brightly lit skyscrapers.) But in my own defense, the city was the only place I could ply my trade. I used to paint windows for car dealerships. I no longer paint sale, sale, sale‚ on windows. So why do I stay in the city? Love, I suppose, is the main reason. You see, many moons ago when I first arrived in the city, I bumped into the most beautiful girl in the world and she introduced me to my wife. (I’m just kidding keep it light remember).

Let’s say that you don’t give a damn what people say. You don’t like city life and you’re determined to start your own business on the rez. Here’s a few things you should consider for your business plan.

Let’s say, you raise chickens and sell the eggs. Then one day Mrs. Runs With Deer walks in, demands credit. After all (she thinks), this is our business, because it’s on our reservation. But you know this woman and you know the odds of getting paid are slim to none. You also know she carries a lot of clout with her family, which just happens to be the dominant clan on the rez. (Representing fifty five percent of your total egg sales).

What do you do? Give her the eggs, or flip her the bird? It’s the age old question what comes first, the egg or the bird?

I hope I haven’t scared off any young native entrepreneurs. If you work hard and smart, you will succeed. And, as they say . . . success breeds success. Who knows, maybe we can tame the green eyed monster (jealousy) and make it work for us. Because, for every native that makes it, there’ll be another native saying “Ah, hell! If he can do it, I can do it too!”

If I may, I’d like to pass along a personal bit of advice, it may help you achieve a successful business on your rez. Don’t punch the future Chief in the nose!

Cash-strapped Tribal Police Winding Down Operations

By Chris Connors

First Nations communities in Cape Breton will no longer be policed by their own. Membertou Chief Terry Paul, who also serves as commissioner of Unama’ki Tribal Police, said the cash-strapped force is winding down and will fold when a five-year funding agreement expires April 1.

The federal and provincial governments had been covering the cost of the native force under a 51-49 per cent agreement.

Paul said that agreement has been extended by three months, enough time for Membertou, Eskasoni, Waycobah and Chapel Island band officials to consider proposals from other police agencies. Wagmatcook, the island’s other Mi’kmaq band, was originally included in the agreement but pulled out after the second year.

He expects final agreements will be in place by June.

“We’re looking at the demise of the Unama’ki Tribal Police as it’s set up now,” Paul said Monday.

The RCMP have been patrolling Membertou cost-free for the past few months because the band lost its complement of three Unama’ki members to other forces. Each of the native communities will negotiate its own police contracts.

“We’ve had several discussions with both the RCMP and the (Cape Breton) regional police,” said Paul. “We’re just waiting for their proposals right now.” Paul said the current funding arrangement never adequately covered the Unama’ki Tribal Police budget.

The government agreement offered just under $1 million in 1995 before ramping up to about $1.3 million this year.

Paul said $1.9 million would provide a “good, sizable force,” of 25 people, including civilian dispatchers and staff.

“It comes down to money and I guess the geographical area,” he said. “We need the bodies in order for it to be patrolled and serviced correctly.

“It shows in the police officers being very stressed out and the amount of overtime they have to do to make sure our communities have at least the basic protection services.”

But he said Ottawa and Halifax haven’t been willing to increase funding.

“They feel what they’re giving now is enough. I’m not even going there anymore. After many meetings I think one kind of accepts the fact that they’re not going to give any more money. So why keep conking your head against the wall when nothing is going to happen?”

While he said giving up on native self-policing, something outlined by the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution, was “very, very sad,” Paul said emphasis will still fall on natives policing natives.

“I think things are a little better today. I think we have a better chance of getting our people into the police forces and we’re still going to continue to do whatever we can to make sure our people are involved in policing our people.”

Atlantic Chiefs Demand Action on Template Agreements

By Jim West

On behalf of the chiefs of the Atlantic region, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs are demanding a meeting with DFO minister Herb Dhaliwal to discuss their concerns over the newly proposed fisheries Template Agreements.

“If Minister Dhaliwal is serious about negotiating with us in good faith, then he should look at alternatives to his template agreements. That’s what negotiating in good faith is all about,” said APC co-chair Chief Lawrence Paul.

The template agreements are detailed agreements between DFO and the Atlantic Chiefs that will replace the one-year interim fishing agreements negotiated in the aftermath of the 1999 Marshall decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Atlantic Chiefs are united in the paramountcy of the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy in any dealings with DFO in regards to the proposed agreements. The chiefs argue that the only way to protect their treaty rights, broadly defined as the right to make a moderate living, is to:

  • make agreements consist with our rights
  • make agreements that are fully “without prejudice”
  • fish without agreements, but with due regard to the legitimate concerns such as conservation, safety and non-aboriginal dependencies.

The chiefs are extremely concerned about the new agreements and the heavy-handed tactics with the Atlantic First nations by federal negotiator James Mackenzie. Mackenzie, who successfully negotiated 30 one-year agreements in the 2000 fishing season, is proposing that DFO virtually assume all control on how First nations are to exercise their constitutionally protected treaty rights. The Atlantic chiefs want Mackenzie to review their proposed template agreements before proceeding further in any discussions.

” It’s more a case where they are telling us how we’re going to exercise our rights with no consideration of our management plans,” said Chief Paul.

The Atlantic chiefs are concerned that the legal implications of the new agreements are not in the best interests of their people because DFO has stipulated in the new agreements that they are honouring federal obligations under the treaties and the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision.

On February 9, 2001, Minister Dhaliwal publicly stated that neither he nor federal negotiator James Mackenzie had the mandate to negotiate or define treaty rights. Yet in a letter from DFO of March 16, 2001, he stated that the agreements are ” providing increased access … in response to the Marshall decision.

” If the Department of Fisheries and Oceans doesn’t have the mandate to define these rights, why is Minister Dhaliwal stating that if we sign the agreements, we are agreeing that he is living up to his obligations under the treaties and the Marshall decision?” said APC co-chair Second Peter Barlow.

The APC has still not received a response from DFO regarding the proposed meeting between DFO and APC legal representatives to address their concerns with the new interim agreements, The Atlantic chiefs say they are under a great deal of pressure from their members to sign agreements.

A letter received from DFO minister Herb Dhaliwal on April 2, 2001, the minister stated that federal negotiator James Mackenzie will continue to negotiate James Mackenzie will continue to negotiate band by band with the new agreements without consideration for the collective concerns.

The Atlantic chiefs say that DFO has expressed a total unwillingness to change any of the wording in the agreements to protect their treaty rights. They characterize the approach of DFO and the federal negotiator as “economic and social blackmail” or “money and access in exchange for treaty rights.”

“It is our view that negotiations have reached a dead-end and now Mr. Mackenzie will attempt to approach each First Nation individually and use poverty and poor unemployment statistics as leverage to get agreements,” said Chief Paul.

Education is Failing Aboriginal Students

By Chuck Tobin

Yukon aboriginal leaders have called for a detailed examination of the territory’s education system.

Grand Chief Ed Schultz of the Council of Yukon First Nations said Thursday chiefs are concerned over what they believe is an education system that’s continuing to fail aboriginal students.

“Some of the initial data that I have seen strongly indicate there is some inequity in the distribution in the public education system for our citizens,” the chief said in his monthly press conference following this week’s meeting of the CYFN leadership. “And that has to be addressed.

“We want to work within the public education system and make it work but … we have our officials coming to us saying it is not working properly.”

The chiefs, said Schultz, are concerned with the drop-out rates of aboriginal students, and the low grades being registered by others. Schultz said it’s necessary to do the detailed research to identify the heart of the problem.

“While first nation leaders prefer to remain within and fix what they believe ails the mainstream system, what will happen in the end has not been determined,” he said.

“The examination may result in recommended changes to the Education Act, or it might mean rerouting education dollars the Yukon government receives from Ottawa directly to first nations, as provided for in self-government agreements,” he said.
“But that will be determined at a later date.”

The grand chief said the Yukon’s education system is seen as a contributor the number of aboriginal street people and the social conditions they live in. The system, he said, does not affirm and uphold their identity as a first nation member.

Schultz said the school curriculum continues to be largely based on western European culture, which is fine for those of western European descent who are receiving affirmation of their roots.
But if you are of aboriginal descent, there is no such affirmation nor recognition of the significance of aboriginal society, he said.
If a student is of Northern Tutchone descent, or Kaska, or Gwich’in or any of the Yukon first nations, he said, they’re faced with going through school learning more about foreign cultures than their own.
“You begin to subconsciously feel that you are not equal,” he said.

Schultz said the situation is improving from the days when he was in school, when there was nothing said about aboriginal culture.
But the Yukon chiefs are nonetheless concerned and have instructed the central aboriginal organization to immediately begin the detailed examination of the situation.

The grand chief said it’s been suggested to the aboriginal community that such a detailed look into the current system would cost too much, and take too much time. “But for every suicide I see, and for every street kid I see who is ruining their life, I do not think it is going to cost too much.”

Education Critical to Moving Forward

By Doug Cuthand

This week the FSIN will host a major education conference in Saskatoon. The conference will include guest speakers from the United States and across Canada and will address a number of issues crucial to the further development of First Nations education.

Saskatchewan has no trouble attracting top aboriginal educators and speakers for a forum on education. Saskatchewan First Nations have a long history of placing a priority on education and today we have some of the most outstanding First Nations educational institutions in the Americas. Saskatchewan is the birthplace of the philosophy of Indian control of education.

In 1972 the revolution began and over the next decade the battle would rage. It all began when the Saskatchewan Chiefs endorsed the document declaring Indian control of Indian education. For the next decade education was identified as a political priority and the change began. Up to this point the federal policy on education had been to integrate First Nations children in the local schools and transfer the responsibility to the provinces. First Nations parents wanted a say in how their children would be educated but instead it was a one-way street that went nowhere. Also at that time there were no institutions that would support further development of First Nations education.

The FSIN received funding for a cultural education centre and it became the focal point. The cultural centre was located in Saskatoon on the university campus; it was a beehive of activity with committed First Nations educators and political animals joining forces to advance the cause.

I remember Ida Wasacase was put in charge of academic programming and the development of a post secondary institution. That was her job description. She would go on to head up the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina.

Osborne Turner was put in charge of skills training and his work resulted in the development of the Saskatchewan Indian Community College, which later became the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.

All this work didn’t fall under the mandate of a cultural centre and the rules were routinely bent and broken much to the dismay of the funding agency, the Department of Indian Affairs. It was poetic justice that the very department that funded the boarding schools and was pushing for integration also held the key to our future education plans.

Meanwhile, the reserve schools were rapidly developing and school strikes were rampant. Numerous First Nations withdrew their children from the local off-reserve school and established clandestine institutions on their own land. These band-controlled schools were a jumble of portable classrooms and trailers but in the end they persevered and became the elementary and high schools we have today. The band-controlled schools were the institutions that drove the larger institutions.

I remember in 1981 attending a graduation for 50 students that received their teaching certificates at Pelican Narrows. The Federated College held an extension program to assist the Peter Ballentyne First Nation to develop its own teachers. Some went on to teach in the band schools and others came south to complete their degrees. It was an example of a program that catapulted the community into controlling their own education program.

While Indian control of education has been a success it is also a race against time and our population growth.

Back in 1972 there were around 40,000 First Nations people in Saskatchewan; today there are over 100,000. Today the province’s aboriginal (Indian and Metis) population is 161,000 and will reach 204,000 by 2011, 250,000 the following decade and 400,000 by 2041. Today one-third of students entering Grade 1 are aboriginal. Thirty-eight per cent of the province’s total student enrolment including university and trades training are First Nations. Close to half of the regional budget of Indian Affairs is allotted to education. This is where Saskatchewan’s future lies.

People who complain of the Indian Affairs budget are not looking at the long term and the good that an educated First Nations population will do for the province. Many Saskatchewan residents also don’t realize the important role our First Nations have made, not only for our development but for the well-being of the province as a whole. The conference will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.