Treaties at Risk: Case Comment on Fort Mckay First Nation

Community of Fort McKay sign

Despite decades of strong Indigenous voices demanding that governments honour the Treaties, and numerous court decisions supporting their calls for action, governments across Canada continue to disrespect and ignore their Treaty obligations.

In Fort McKay First Nation v Prosper Petroleum Ltd., the Alberta Court of Appeal has become the most recent Canadian court to highlight the disconnect between governments’ legal obligations to Treaty people and their shameful and continuing disregard for the Treaty relationship.

What it is about

In 1899, predecessors of Fort McKay First Nation entered into Treaty 8 with the Crown. The Treaty was intended to establish a relationship of mutual respect and benefit, and to set the terms by which the Indigenous signatories to Treaty 8 would peacefully share their territory while preserving their own way of life.
In recent decades, lands surrounding Fort McKay have been subject to extensive oil sands development. In 2003, Fort McKay and the Government of Alberta entered into negotiations to develop a plan to address the cumulative effects of industrial activities on Fort McKay’s Treaty rights in the Moose Lake area. The Province promised, as part of the negotiations, to protect lands in the Moose Lake area from further development.
In 2018, before the plan to protect lands in the Moose Lake area was finalized, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) approved an application for a bitumen recovery project near Fort McKay’s reserves.
Fort McKay appealed the AER’s decision on the basis that the AER failed to consider the honour of the Crown and should have delayed approval of the project until Fort McKay’s negotiations with the Province were completed.

The Court of Appeal Alberta

What the Court said

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered the AER to reconsider whether the project was in the public interest, taking into account the honour of the Crown and commitments made by Alberta in the course of an ongoing negotiation process with Fort McKay.
The Court held that the honour of the Crown requires governments act in a way that accomplishes the intended purposes of the Treaty, and that this overarching obligation may give rise to duties beyond consultation, including the requirement to keep promises made in negotiations to protect Treaty rights.
The Court acknowledged that the reality of extensive industrial development may make it increasingly difficult for the Province to keep certain Treaty promises, including the right to hunt. However, the Court emphasized that the Province remains under an ongoing obligation to honourably implement the Treaty, including by taking into account the cumulative effects of development on Treaty rights.
The Court further held that where a regulatory agency such as the AER is required to consider whether a project is in the “public interest,” it must ensure that its decision is consistent with section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In this case, the AER failed to fulfil its responsibility to consider the honour of the Crown and potential impacts of a project on Aboriginal and Treaty rights as part of fulfilling its public interest mandate.


Why it matters

The importance of the numbered Treaties, and the Crown’s corresponding obligations, have been repeatedly and unequivocally confirmed by the Supreme Court for many years. As the Court held in Mikisew (2005), the honour of the Crown is at stake in the performance of every Treaty obligation. The Treaty relationship mandates an ongoing process whereby the Crown, acting honourably, must ensure that Treaty rights remain protected in the face of industrial development.
Too often, however, Indigenous Peoples’ Treaty rights have been sidelined where large-scale resource projects are at stake. This is particularly true in Alberta, where oil sands development has left Fort McKay and other First Nations unable to use large portions of their lands.
The Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision is an important reminder to Alberta, and other provinces, that the Crown’s Treaty promises are to be taken seriously.
The honour of the Crown requires that it take steps to protect a First Nation’s Treaty rights long before those rights are infringed. This includes taking into account the cumulative effects of resource development and promises made in the course of modern-day negotiations.
Government decisions which fail to consider the impacts of a project on a First Nation’s Treaty rights cannot be in the public interest.

Looking ahead

It is a telling comment on the Alberta government’s systemic failure to live up to its Treaty obligations that it was necessary for the Court of Appeal to remind the Province of its Treaty obligations.
Will Alberta, and other provinces, finally begin to take their Treaty obligations seriously? Only time will tell. Importantly, the Fort McKay decision makes clear that courts are prepared to enforce the Crown’s obligations in respect of Treaty implementation.
Alberta needs to accept the fact that disrespecting the Treaties is both contrary to Canadian law and bad policy. The possibility of cancelled projects creates uncertainty for everyone. Certainty, and honour, can only be realized through fulfilling Treaty obligations.

Kate Gunn is a lawyer at First Peoples Law Corporation. Kate completed her Master’s of Law at the University of British Columbia. Her most recent academic essay, “Agreeing to Share: Treaty 3, History & the Courts,” was published in the UBC Law Review.

Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is principal of First Peoples Law Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law where he teaches the constitutional law of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Bruce is a proud Métis from the Red River in Manitoba. He holds a Ph.D. in Aboriginal and environmental history and is a Fulbright Scholar. A member of the bar in British Columbia and Ontario, Bruce is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in Canada.

Great Creator Gave Us Everything

Oren and Danny at Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth Gathering Yelm Wash, Aug 2019

Chief Oren Lyons Speaks Out For Mother Earth | “Our Clan Mothers watch our children while they are young and growing up. They pick our leaders by studying the youth, even ducks have leaders, and these leaders are given to us by the Creator. As Indigenous people we only stay strong by giving thanks around the clock. Indigenous people learned it makes a strong nation giving thanks to creation and the gifts Mother Earth is giving us, her children.”

Chief Oren Lyons, from the Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy, has been relentless in sharing the message of Indigenous people of North America that Mother Earth is Sacred and is taking care of us humans. If we don’t take care of Mother Earth, she will become sick.

On November 8th, 2007 at the University of Manitoba, Sol Kanee Lecture, Chief Lyons was a keynote speaker. He said “Society must work in unity together with the forces of Nature and change its values for survival. Cooperation is now needed more than ever”, and he was talking in 2007. “We need unity. The instructions were given to us, our sacred duties, by Great Creator. We cannot blame the deer for what is happening to Mother Earth from Climate Change. We can’t blame the buffalo, we can’t blame the cod. The Thundering voices are speaking to us human today. The four winds are speaking to us, the water is speaking to us human beings. Time is a problem for human beings but not for Mother Earth. She will heal herself in the end.” During ‘The Mother Earth Call To Consciousness on Climate Change’ at the Smithsonian Museum on Monday, March 23rd, 2008, Chief Lyons said “Every generation has to renew itself.

There are priorities, injustice, serious problems that are not resolved. Our country has no real democracy, but natives still have traditions that must be lived or there will be a burden to our children’s children that is devastating. Creation is complex. Life is about time, life is about instruction, we have laws in our way of life. The first law is respect. We Indigenous people respect all life as relations, relatives; our ceremonies give thanks to our relations, and our leaders, the leader of the trees is the Maple. If all people had this way of life, they would not cut down all the trees of the world. Humans have a thanksgiving way of life. The Haida is no different from Mohawks, or Coast Salish, Dene, Cree, Ojibway. We are all one as Indigenous People. North America should be protected by their leaders. Our leaders are concerned for Mother Earth and our children’s future. Our way of life is with the Good Mind, but this continent has been distracted and lost its focus on defending and protecting Mother Earth. We have to remember all life: the wolf, the eagle, the deer, because they are living majestic lives! Chief Seattle said we are part of a web of life; what happens to the web of life happens to us human beings. The quality of life has a balance, but on Wall Street it is not the same values as ours and on Bay Street in Toronto, Ontario, the mining companies refuse to uphold the rights of natural world. Scientists are even saying we will be lucky if we last another hundred years with a western mentality, because it is not Indigenous thinking that is killing Mother Earth. The world needs good leaders to help our children.”

We are seeing reports one after another from scientists that the environment is in extreme danger, so this virus is another form of negativity from negative actions. The only way to turn things around is through positive action: create balance, follow natural laws, follow enlightenment, which is not to think of yourself but for the Seven Generations to come. If we take care of the future, we will be taking care of ourselves. At this point in time we are eradicating ourselves from Mother Earth. If we listen to the animals again, we can learn to survive and heal. Ever since those boats arrived we’ve been asking our brothers to respect Mother Earth. Our elders, chiefs, clan mothers have been relentlessly trying to share our understanding of the Sacredness of all creation and Our Great Creator’s Gifts. West Coast tribes shared the Sacred Pot Latch Ceremony with brothers and sisters of first arrivals, until they found it too different from their own ceremonies, so they tried to put a stop to it. We don’t say these things out of hate or anger. It’s just the way things happened during first contact and many social issues or injustices have not been resolved. There are still forms of injustice to Indigenous peoples; same with Indians on the East Coast, when our women were disrespected, and American and Canadian governments laid claim to Indigenous territories because they could not stop fighting until they split the continent in half.


Even our very first breath comes from you know who: Great Creator, who else can do that? The Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Universe is our Great Creator. It’s our old elders who never stop giving thanks; it’s our old elders who pass this way of life onto our next generation just like it all was passed onto them. As we grow older, we realize the gifts from Great Creator and how sacred time is. We learn how to share more and give out what we have learned in our sacred journey with Mother Earth and our Sacred Way of Life with the teachers who had the healing ways and Good Mind to share. Everything we all have seen together on Mother Earth is a memory with creation, and all life keeps moving forward. The memories and dreams can be made with the Good Mind and Healing Ways. The memories are woven together with our teachers, elders, clan mothers, chiefs, our families, friends and loved ones, with the Spirit World, with our Ancestors, with everything that is moving on Sacred Mother Earth, harmonizing, balancing, vibrating, burning, energizing, living and dying.

It is our Great Creator, the Great Mystery, the Universal Power that keeps life moving forward, doing all of this that is learning what our elders taught us in many different ways. The power of the oceans and the healing from the sun come together with our Great Creator to help build the sacred memories of our sacred ancestors and spirit way of life with all colors and sounds. Even sacred music, sounds and vibrations give us Great Creator’s love, balance and healing. It is our Great Creator who made everything on this Sacred Mother Earth. Our old elders have the sacred duty of keeping our way of life alive with their peace, understanding and respect of our traditional ceremonial ways. Even when some things get lost, the sacred fire still burns and Mother Earth’s Blood quenches our thirst, we still have medicine and use all our medicines. Mother Earth is so Sacred to us Indigenous Peoples here in North America, Canada and United States, and South America: from Nunavut to Cape Horn Indigenous Cultures are really ceremonial people dating back before the industrial revolution.

Our sacred healing really comes to us from our connection and relationship to Mother Earth. Our old elders always said “Talk to Mother Earth, tell her everything. You can tell her how happy she makes us. Tell Mother Earth how beautiful she is every chance we get. Tell her NiaWeh as much as you can, when you think of it or feel blessings from her gifts, beauty and spirit. Thank you, Mother Earth, for all the gifts you gave to Alicja and me for fourteen years and for all the gifts you give all people and creation, NiaWeh. When brother Sun comes up, our sacred Sunrise Ceremony is our way of life to begin our day: our old elders have passed this on and on, generation after generation.

Story by Danny Beaton (Turtle Clan Mohawk)
In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

Protecting Our Elders Among Top Priorities During Coronavirus Pandemic #ItsNotAboutYou

Residents at the Wikwemikong Nursing Home took to social media this week to share the importance of social distancing and self-isolation during the global COVID-19 pandemic. (Wikwemikong Nursing Home)

First Nation youth are culturally obligated to learn and never forget our past if they intend to create a better future for our people. Our elders, who are living history and rank among our most-valued cultural treasures, are their best teachers. A priceless resource, elders provide language revitalization, cultural identity, and impart general wisdom gained over a lifetime of real-world experiences.

Our elders deserve respect and protection, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, extra-special care and attention. According to Courtney Skye, a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute in Toronto and member of Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario, today’s health crisis is highlighting one distinction between Indigenous and Western values. “Non-Indigenous young people are still going on spring break, still going out partying. I don’t necessarily see that in our communities as much. Our community understands that collective value that we have and the role that we all play in supporting one another,” says Skye. “Elders don’t just have worth because they are caregivers or because they are knowledge keepers. They also just have human dignity and value themselves as people. For me, that’s a really strong Haudenosaunee value.”

Because First Nation family members visit each other often, Kahnawake Public Safety Commissioner Lloyd Phillips said that our communities are especially vulnerable to a rapid spread of the virus. “We know there’s going to be impacts across the board, we know there’s impacts on individuals, on businesses, and people’s lives, but it’s a requirement to protect the most vulnerable and to protect our elders,” said Phillips. “We have to take extra measures to protect our elders, which also falls in lines with our traditions of ensuring we are respecting our elders.”

Elders at Wikwemikong Nursing Home, whose values are based upon the Anishinaabe people’s Seven Grandfather Teachings, are relying on social media to remind families that it best for them to not visit and keep their distance. This because elders are particularly vulnerable to complications and possible death if infected with COVID-19.

Reinforcing the message of the necessity for social distancing, self-isolating, and handwashing – three key factors in preventing the spread of COVID-19 – the facility, located on the Manitoulin Island north of Lake Huron in Ontario, launched the public awareness campaign after administrator Cheryl Osawabine-Peltier felt people, not just locally but worldwide, were not taking precautions seriously enough.

Physical distancing and self-isolating is not synonymous with not communicating. Since every person, young and old, requires socializing, the Wikwemikong Nursing Home’s campaign includes messages from elders to their loved ones saying, “I know you love me,” and “we can Skype.” Osawabine-Peltier considers all Wikwemikong Nursing Home residents to be her grandparents and treats them accordingly. “As Indigenous people, we always hold our elders to the highest level,” said Osawabine-Peltier.

Peggy Mayo is the president of Golden Age Club in Kahnawake, Quebec. Her facility, like Wikwemikong, were ahead of the curve when they officially limited access to its long-term care facilities well before the provincial government ordered visitor bans. The Golden Age Club’s staff abided by their own rule by ordering employees over the age of 70 to work from home to limit physical contact with elders.

Physical isolation can be troublesome and a difficult adjustment to make for social-minded people, which is why Mayo checks in by phone with her most isolated members and connects them with volunteers who shop for their groceries and pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy. “Every day, I’m on the phone at least five-to-10 times a day, calling various people to see how they are, how’s everything going, thinking of them, and hopefully when this is all over, we’ll get together again real soon,” said Mayo. “It’s very important that we don’t forget about anyone, so they don’t feel alone.”

The Sweatlodge
In memory of Alicja Rozanska,

Uncle Robertjohn Knapp Speaks Out Seneca Ceremonial Leader. I have been running the Sweat since 1975. I was taught by Raymond Stone up in Bishop… Paiute actually…. Big Pine. And I sweated with a lot of elders who offered their two cents. Now I have come to see my own way of seeing. I was taught by one of my elders and I can’t remember which one taught me, but it might have been Pat Chief Stick, one of the kindest people I ever knew when Pat was alive. You have to face your Sweatlodge east (or tepee). What I learned from him was east is preferable, because the Sun rises and we greet the Sun each day. We do our song and prayer then. However, if your lodge is on the edge of a cliff and if you step out the door and go east, you will fall down the cliff, so obviously east is not always the best direction, but maybe the west is near a cliff too, so my point being the energy of the Sun.

That means you could point it at a flower that is the Sun, or you could point it at a rock that’s heated by the Sun; as long as you know what you’re doing, that’s the key… know what you are doing. What you are doing is honoring the energy from the Sun. So that takes away those people who know a little bit, and they’re taught by somebody, or a magazine or a book, and they go around and beat people up with what they know as if they know the one and only true way. When I was young, I was adopted into the Assiniboine and they built their lodges pointing south. They don’t go east and they do different things, they have three doors on their lodge. There’s all kinds of different ways, so you don’t beat each other up because of what you know. If you can’t help people, then you should keep quiet, because power is two elements… healing or hurting. So which one are you… the hurter or the healer? So don’t go to where you’re hurting people, because you can’t do both, you can’t be hurting and healing. At some point you are going to have to choose your path. And it goes on forever, once you get on that path it is very hard getting off it. For me it goes as long as you’re a Being.

The way I learned Sweat was you have to fast for the right to do that and there are reasons for that in our way of life. And I’m not going to get into that, it is the reason to fast. Just like our dances out here… they have to fast for the right to dance. If you want to use different instruments you have to fast for the right to have a bear skin, you have to fast for the right to have eagle feathers, you can’t just pick up these things… like willy nilly. That’s the spiritual context… that’s what fasting is… to meet your helpers. So when you go into the sweat, everybody brings their helpers. Your helpers are to help you, and they work together, they don’t fight each- other. But there are those who have helpers who want to fight you. I Sundanced for twenty-five years and I have seen so many hurt people in the Sundance that were hurting each other. It’s a critical sadness. I don’t like to talk about it. I’d rather work in my own way. A lot of young people want to learn, but I remember the old man. People come up to him and say “Will you help me?” and the old man says, “Yeah”. And you know what happened after that? Then they turn around and say “I want you to do this and I want you to do that”. Then the old man just cut you off and you have to do your own thing. Young people can’t turn around and say “Do this, do that”, it’s better to just shut your mouth and pay attention. We fasted up in the desert hills and in the forests. We used to fast in the mountains. We fasted all over the place and I used to fast some twenty guys at a time and some of them would get it and some wouldn’t. I had one guy fasting with a low lawn chair with a flashlight and his books. So what you put into the ceremony is what you get out of it. Some guys are deathly afraid of animals in the forest, snakes and things. One guy went too fast in the forest with a knife in each hand waiting for something to attack him. But nobody that I knew ever got injured while fasting in my life except one. One renowned elder used to put people in the sweat who were diabetic and take away their diabetic medicine. So there was this young guy who wanted to fast under this elder; so he did and he died there. So the police came and they wanted to arrest him for second degree murder, but nobody would go against this elder because he knew what he was doing. But the police wanted to know if he was malpracticing. But the young guy died because he didn’t have his insulin. So all kinds of things can happen. So you can’t be playing… you can’t pretend to know what you’re doing when you don’t.

I shut down my lodge because I can’t bend down. I can’t even pick up a pencil right now. I am eighty-two years old and I am thinking maybe this is when I stop doing this ceremony. So there are people wanting me to do this and do that… and I know what I am doing. So they say “Let’s go get Jimmie Jones” and let him run sweat, but that’s not the point. He has not fasted and you need to know at least sixteen songs, because I had to know sixteen songs before I was allowed to run sweat. So I knew how to run sweat the way I was taught, not the way I think it should be. The words I say in there are supported by your helpers. You don’t read a text in our lodge, you let your helpers put the words in your mouth. So if you can’t erase some stuff from your head, because the text is from someone else’s mouth, they’re not your own words. The way we were taught was you worked together with the other helpers, helpers from the other guys going in, men or women, so that’s the way it does. So if you can’t trust that and if you don’t have the ability to empty yourself… that’s what all this stuff is about… so that the Spirit World will put stuff in. That’s why we make offerings to the fire. Again offering can be turned down if you’re a Christian. The analogy runs with Jesus who made the offering of himself. If his offering wasn’t any good, it would have been rejected just like anyone else’s. So he had to do it in a humble way; at least the stories I get is that is what he did. So fifty years ago they were saying that Jesus would have been a good Indian. You know why? Because he made an offering and he did it with humility. He knew what he was going into, and if he had the power, which they say he did, he could have stopped the whole thing, but he didn’t. And that was his offering. An offering can be turned down if it’s not offered in a good way. Even if the offering is not presented in a good way.

A lot of people don’t sweat with women or women don’t sweat with men, but we do. Here in California we do, and to us family is more important and so we bring in family, children and women on one side, men on the other. We don’t mix ‘em. It’s really good for men to hear the gentle kindness of women, and sometimes it’s good to hear the real stories of what you’re doing, which they bring out in the lodge. And it’s good for women to hear stories from the men in the lodge. All this has to be done in such a way as dressing modestly. To me, modesty is the best in the lodge. We don’t go to the lodge to find a partner, you do that on the outside. First thing I do when I get ready to run sweat… clean everything up and get the fire going. And the fire has to be done in a proper manner, with prayers every inch of the way. The grandfathers have to be gathered in a prayerful manner and there are ways to do that. Sometimes we go down to the ocean and use ocean water for our sweats. It makes it spectacular.

Then everyone has to make an offering before you go in. The way I do it, because I understand the psyche of human beings, so what I do is I let people come around the sweat lodge and socialize and then I get a talking circle going and give everybody an opportunity to speak and share. These things I was taught too. There are reasons for that. After that, no one gets to talk inside unless you ask permission. Because the rule, I know, is because one person speaks. Because each person speaking is a ceremony… two people talking at the same time, that tells us there are two ceremonies simultaneously, and we can’t do that and have healing. What you get is confusion. You can’t fool around in the lodge, so what happens with confusion is people get hurt and not healed. The earth, air, fire, and water, all work together and you have to be of that mindset. In time you learn songs in the lodge, but the songs are not yours, those songs belong to the person who fasted for them, for the people.

BC Nurses’ Union is Committed to Reconciliation

We recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Métis experience disproportionate levels of social, economic, political, and cultural challenges in our province and across the country. These challenges are rooted in colonialism, residential schools, racialization and a political process that has failed to meet the needs of Indigenous peoples.

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is committed to a genuine and just process of reconciliation based on the calls to action published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

In the Workplace

As nurses, we are uniquely placed to advocate for the dismantling of systems of oppression, because every day we see how the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities are negatively impacted.

The nursing community can support the calls to action through advocating for: funding of Indigenous healing centres; recognition of the value of Indigenous healing practices; encouragement of government to recruit and retain more Indigenous health care professionals; and, nursing school requirement of all students to take a course in Indigenous health issues.

The delivery of health care should be undertaken in a way that is respectful of Indigenous cultures. It is essential that nurses have a strong foundational knowledge of Indigenous health issues in the context of colonialism, social determinants of health (such as housing, education, food and water security), and current policies and legislation that directly affect the health of Indigenous peoples.

We are responsible and accountable for creating a culture of safety and humility in our relationships with Indigenous people and co-workers. We must take our role in the delivery of direct patient care seriously and use this opportunity to change the status quo.

In our Union

To provide opportunities for Indigenous voices to be heard in the BCNU governance structure, we supported the formation of the Indigenous Leadership Circle (ILC) in 2005. The work of the ILC is to help advance Indigenous health status outcomes and to contribute to creating a more culturally fluent organization.
As a union, we will continue to foster cultural safety and humility by supporting on-going education and raising awareness, both with our members and external partners, of issues vital to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Christine Sorensen
President, BC Nurses’ Union

Update on Speech from the Throne – National Chief Perry Bellegarde

On December 5, 2019, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, delivered the Speech from the Throne to open the 43rd session of Parliament and outline the Government’s agenda.

The Speech included, for the first time, a specific section on Indigenous commitments entitled “Walking the Road to Reconciliation.” The section – and other parts of the speech – mirrored many of the priorities set out in the AFN’s Honouring Promises advocacy document, issued prior to the 2019 federal election. The commitments include:

  • action on climate change, including a commitment to the target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050;
  • action to co-develop and introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the first year of the new mandate;
  • new steps to ensure the Government is living up to the spirit and intent of Treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements made with Indigenous Peoples;
  • continuing work on safe drinking water and eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories by 2021;
  • implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls;
  • a promise to close the gap in infrastructure by 2030;
  • continue to invest in Indigenous priorities, in collaboration with Indigenous partners; and,
  • ensure that Indigenous children and youth who were harmed under the discriminatory child welfare system are compensated in a way that is both fair and timely

All of these commitments are important and, where necessary, we will work to get more details on next steps and ensure that First Nations are involved in initiatives that have potential to affect our lands, our lives and our rights.

I am encouraged by many of these commitments. First Nations declared a climate emergency in 2019 and there are many resolutions over the years calling for action on climate destruction. We are the first to feel the impacts, and we are first in leading the way to a cleaner, greener environment and economy. We must be directly involved in developing and implementing Canada’s climate plan.

Legislation on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a top priority. It will guide our work in so many other important areas. It is unfinished business from the last Parliament. The Liberals, NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois committed to it in their campaigns so there is a majority support for legislation. We will get it done. We are already working with all parties in the House of Commons to advance this initiative. Advancing our rights is paramount. We will move on the critical work of giving life to the spirit and intent of the Treaties and our original nation-to-nation relationship of partnership, respect, mutual recognition and sharing.

The commitment on child welfare is something we will watch closely. We want to see a related commitment from Canada to honour the rulings of the Human Rights Tribunal. We will push the government for full support and resources to implement the laws that impact the well-being of our children – the Indigenous Languages Act and the Indigenous Child Welfare Act.  A distinct First Nations approach, as determined by Rights Holders, to implement Bill C92 is the only approach that respects the Inherent Right of First Nations over children and families.

The Throne Speech highlighted some of the past successes of the government, many of which are the result of strong leadership and advocacy by First Nations. These include the elimination of 87 long-term drinking water advisories, more equitable funding for First Nations K-12 education, and the completion of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I commend you for your leadership, support and advocacy.

The AFN outlined its priorities Honouring Promises, which can be found here.

As National Chief, I look forward to working with you as we maintain momentum and progress on an ambitious agenda to make a stronger country for all of us through the implementation of First Nations rights, title, Treaties and jurisdiction.

50 Years Later– Celebrating the New Indian Problem

It’s been 50 years since the Government of Canada tabled the Statement of Indian Policy of the Government of Canada known now as ‘The White Paper’. It’s also been 50 years since the establishment of Indigenous Studies at Trent University. As the government was proposing to repeal the Indian Act and to narrowly interpret the treaties, seen then as historic relics inconsistent with a modern nation state based upon the principles of a just society, Indians, in collaboration with allies throughout Canadian society, pushed back and the policy of extermination and assimilation was withdrawn. 

At Trent University in Peterborough, the newly minted discipline of “Indian and Eskimo Studies” provided a site for a disciplined and passionate discussion of Indigenous rights, culture, tradition and knowledge that would lend support to a new Indigenous political consciousness emerging across North America. The program name was changed to Native Studies, then Indigenous Studies, and has contributed to the development of what I call ‘the New Indian problem.”

I was sixteen years old and living at Six Nations of the Grand River. I remember the fear and anxiety generated when the policy was tabled. My family did not know what would happen; we did not know what the future held; our homes were not secure nor was it clear what would happen to our community. This period was time of great uncertainty. I am constantly amazed at what has happened over the last half century and the foundation that has been built for Indigenous communities. None of the things that I see around me were contemplated at that time.

Since the arrival of Europeans and the establishment of governments in Canada after 1763, government officials have been trying to decide what to do with the Indians: each government over the years has had a particular view of ‘the Indian problem’ as it were.  At various times, the problem was whether or not we were human and had souls; how to make us into good Christians, how to live next to us, how to get our land, how to get us to enter into military alliances, how to civilize us, how to assimilate us, or how to get us to become an ethnic group as part of the multi-cultural environment of Canada. Each of these views of the Indian problem has led to a particular policy solution and a set of actions by government officials.

After half a century of effort to solve the Indian problem, what is the Indian problem at the early part of the 21st century, ie what is the new Indian problem?  Is it a problem of new Indians or a new problem about Indians?

There have been remarkable achievements over the last half century, in politics, in arts, in social services among other areas. And we often forget what we have achieved and how we have achieved it.  It has been achieved by Indigenous peoples speaking, organizing and pushing hard for their own ideas and winning in the public debates of courts, legislatures, policy fora and through the creative use of political allies: Indigenous support groups, Churches, academics, writers, etc. Trent Indigenous Studies’ graduates are leaders in all of these achievements, often at the forefront pushing the boundaries and proposing collaborative decision-making processes.

There is a confident, aggressive, savvy, educated, experienced Indigenous leadership that has emerged over the past two decades who know how to push hard and get what they want.  Behind them are more than 50,000 students who are in post-secondary education institutions across the country and who are moving into positions of leadership in many communities. These people are determined, well-educated, and courageous and want the world to be different for them and their children. 

These leaders and students see self-government within their grasp: they will have experienced aspects of it: in education, in health care, in economic development, in social work, in housing, in cultural programs, in language training and education. These students also understand their own cultures, traditions and histories, are learning their own languages and understand how Canadian society and power work as a result of their university studies. Trent’s embrace of Indigenous Elders and Indigenous Knowledges has contributed to cultural revitalization. 

One of the most difficult challenges will be fostering the development of positive public attitudes towards Indigenous peoples and their governments.  RCAP recommended that there be major public education effort aimed at helping Canadian citizens to understand Indigenous aspirations, cultures, communities and ways of living.

We forget that all the good work that Indigenous leaders undertake takes place within a Canadian context that has had a hard time coming to terms with a continued Indigenous presence, let alone a modern, educated Indigenous one that will challenge it and assert itself and insist upon its own place and possess the legal clout to achieve it. The Indigenous Studies program at Trent has educated more than 10,000 non-Indigenous students on Indigenous issues over the last half century. These students understand Indigenous peoples and the issues that we face and are advocating and working on solutions, oftentimes quietly and out of sight.

A new Indigenous ethos has emerged which I call ‘post-colonial consciousness.’ An individual imbued with this ethos understands what happened, why it happened, the impact of what happened and has the desire and skill to ensure that the damage is repaired and that what happened never happens again.

And so we come to the New Indian Problem.  The problem is what to do with the New Indians.  The New Indians have a post-colonial consciousness and the skills and knowledge to act upon it. Are Canadians ready to deal with the new Indians?

Join us in conversation on February 18 – 21, 2020, when the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies will host the 33rd annual CINSA conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Indigenous Studies; the 20th anniversary of the Indigenous Studies Ph.D. program and the 10th Anniversary of the Indigenous Environmental Studies Program at Trent University.

Trainers From Firefighters Without Borders Headed to Lac Seul First Nations this Month to Educate Residents on Fire Prevention & Ensure All Residents Have a Working Smoke Alarm

Firefighters Without Borders (FWB) has partnered with the Lac Seul Fire and Emergency Services to help improve fire safety in the Northern First Nation Community of Lac Seul, located near Sioux Lookout, Ontario, as part of Fire Prevention Month (month of October).

FWB has enlisted Chris Miller and Jeff Jones, fire prevention officers with the City of Mississauga Fire & Emergency Services, to visit Lac Seul from Oct. 27-30 to help train Fire and Emergency Services volunteers on proper delivery methods of Fire Safety and Prevention information for households and schools.  In turn, the Lac Seul Fire and Emergency Services will then educate the 872 residents (including students) on fire prevention. They will also ensure each household has a functioning smoke alarm. Any alarms that aren’t functioning will be replaced by a First Alert 10-Year Sealed Battery Smoke Alarm.

“October is a time to raise awareness about fire safety in the home and to help ensure you are prepared in case of an emergency. We are very grateful for the volunteers traveling from Firefighters Without Borders to Lac Seul to discuss fire safety with our firefighters and our community,” said Lac Seul First Nation Fire Chief David Gordon. 

Russ Chalmers, Acting President for Firefighters Without Borders, said “Recent studies have shown that residents of First Nation communities are ten times more likely to die in a house fire than those living in the rest of Canada.  To us, this is a vital project, and we’re grateful that these highly skilled fire prevention volunteers from the City of Mississauga are helping to address the dire fire safety needs that exist in First Nations communities such as Lac Seul.” 

“We’re honoured to have these specialized fire prevention officers from the City of Mississauga donating their time to this important project, and to have a strategic partner like First Alert supplying us with much-needed smoke alarms to ensure the safety of all Lac Seul residents,” said Craig Dockeray, vice president of Firefighters Without Borders and project lead for Lac Seul. 

First Alert donated 200 smoke alarms and supplemented its donation with discount pricing to help ensure each resident is protected.

“We always include fire safety training in our projects,” added Dockeray. “However, this is the first large scale project by Firefighters Without Borders dedicated to public fire safety education and a Smoke Alarm Implementation Program.”

“Community risk reduction initiatives such as this are vital in ensuring all areas of the country are better protected from the dangers of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Tarsila Wey, director of marketing for First Alert. “Partners like Firefighters Without Borders are representative of the dedication we see throughout the fire service community, and we applaud their efforts.”  

This fire prevention education project in Lac Seul is the continuation of a project by Firefighters Without Borders to ensure Lac Seul First Nation is better equipped to deal with both fire prevention and emergency response. Earlier this year, a fire truck was generously donated by the City of St. Catharines and donated to Lac Seul First Nation with the help of Firefighters Without Borders.  In addition to the vehicle, firefighting equipment and vehicle instruction on the operation and maintenance were provided to the firefighters in Lac Seul First Nation.     

About BRK Brands, Inc. 
BRK Brands, Inc. (Aurora, IL), is a fully owned subsidiary of Newell Brands. For more than 60 years, BRK Brands, Inc. has been the manufacturer of First Alert®
-branded home-safety products, the most trusted and recognized safety brand in America. BRK® Brands designs and develops innovative safety solutions including Tundra™ Fire Extinguishing Spray, Onelink by First Alert smart home products, a comprehensive line of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and escape ladders to protect what matters most.  Such products are also marketed under the BRK Electronics® brand, The Professional Standard for the builder and contractor audiences.  BRK Brands, Inc. products are found in more than 30 countries worldwide.  For more information, visit http://www.firstalert.com or  

About Newell Brands
Newell Brands (NASDAQ: NWL) is a leading global consumer goods company with a strong portfolio of well-known brands, including Paper Mate®, Sharpie®, Dymo®, EXPO®, Parker®, Elmer’s®, Coleman®, Marmot®, Oster®, Sunbeam®, FoodSaver®, Mr. Coffee®, Graco®, Baby Jogger®, NUK®, Calphalon®, Rubbermaid®, Contigo®, First Alert®, and Yankee Candle®. For hundreds of millions of consumers, Newell Brands makes life better every day, where they live, learn, work and play. 
Additional information about Newell Brands is available on the company’s website, 

©2019 BRK Brands, Inc., Aurora, IL 60504. All rights reserved. 
BRK Electronics® is a registered trademark of BRK Brands, Inc., Aurora, IL 60504. 
Nasdaq® is a registered trademark of The Nasdaq Stock Market, Inc.  

About Firefighters Without Borders
Firefighters Without Borders is a registered Charitable organization, dedicated to providing equipment, training, and support to firefighters around the world, including Canada’s remote and northern communities.  For more information, visit our website at

Harm reduction on the frontlines: The need for policy reform regarding accessibility and affordability of medical cannabis

It has never been more evident that we have more work to do as it relates to education about medical cannabis, as well as its potential as a tool to reduce harm in communities. As research trickles in, funding dollars are beginning to be directed towards novel research in cannabinoid therapy. Our focus must first be to our most vulnerable populations. Those living with addiction remain the most stigmatized population challenged by a chronic illness. Can you believe that, in Canada, one person overdoses on opiates every two hours? Let me repeat that: ONE person EVERY TWO HOURS in Canada dies of an overdose.

I am a physician who has worked in the area of addiction medicine providing opioid replacement therapy (ORT), and the adjuvants or “helper “medicines, for patients to access a clean supply of medication dispensed by a trained pharmacist. Patients are able to stabilize their day-to-day lives and maintain their health. The challenge with these programs and protocols is that patients often have a difficult time tapering off or reducing these medicines and, dependent on geography, they are not easily accessible. Ironically, the “helper” medicines can also be misused, or can be potentially fatal, if mixed with alcohol or other sedating medications. Most patients I see are taking more than four medications.

During patient assessments, which may take upwards of one hour to complete, I have found that many were using cannabis from the illicit/legacy market. In reality, many were using it to reduce their withdrawal effects and anxiety, to help with sleep, or to reduce pain. How was this working for them? Was it really working? And in the back of my mind I remember a patient telling me 10 years ago, “Hey, Doc, there’s weed out there that doesn’t make you high”, and I, with head hanging down, admit at the time, didn’t believe her. What I now know is that given that the overdose profile for cannabis is non-existent, I feel it is a safe option for my patients living with opioid addiction, and the science and evidence-informed data is proving this. After much reading of research, and with a few of my patients stable on opioid replacement therapy (methadone/suboxone), I began providing access to legal medical cannabis for these patients with surprising success. The result? Patients were able to reduce opioids and feel like they had more control of their health and of their lives.

Fast-forward to today, with data collected on almost 6,000 of my patients who have been prescribed medical cannabis, more than 80% are able to reduce opiates and other pain and sleep medications. Patients who have drug coverage and/or are able to cover the cost of cannabis do better and are able to maintain their care plan with medical cannabis. However, for those patients living with addiction who do not have insurance, including many of our Indigenous/Status patients and/or those on low or fixed incomes, financial challenge limits their ability to continue to receive the benefits that legal medical cannabis provides .

Professionally, it has proven to be an eye-opening and humbling experience to assist patients in navigating this legal cannabis system, warts and all. It has changed how I practice. It makes me question every single pill I prescribe and has helped me become a better physician. Additionally, it has turned my patients, for the most part, into willing scientists. I tell each patient as they trial cannabis, “We are doing science!” as they sigh and fill out their umpteenth questionnaire. For those patients accessing medical cannabis, a sharp line between the recreational and medical market is required to address accessibility and affordability. Could you imagine someone with diabetes having to get their drugs illegally? If the supply of insulin was not clean? In an environment where our national physician’s governing body does not actively support medical cannabis, and where those of us working on the frontlines see the benefit and possibilities of this plant, there must be more communication and bridge-building regarding its medicinal properties. Our pharmacy partners, who understand the complexities of medicines, must be involved in the care of our patients.

In a system where physicians are now encouraged to de-prescribe opiates and benzodiazepines (BZD’s), but are left with little else to offer the patient, the disconnect is evident. Current drug policy has yet to catch up with the science that supports safe-use sites, access to clean sources of opiates, and the reduction of deaths in communities in Canada. When building resilience amounts to little more than lip service as the resources supporting substance use and mental health services are limited and finite, it becomes challenging to offer and address the underpinnings of addiction. As a result, our efforts are not enough, and we must challenge the status quo. The advocacy work of all those on the frontlines, actively giving care, must be supported through research, and provincial and federal funding. Let us, on the frontlines, continue to do this work. On a broader scale, we all must focus our efforts and work together to drive the accessibility and affordability of medical cannabis for patients – it is promising as a medicine, for many, many patient populations and, most certainly, for those living with addiction.


Will be a featured Speaker at the national Indigenous Cannabis & Hemp Conference, being held in Kelowna at the Delta Grand Okanagan Hotel. November 26-28, 2019
For more information and registration:

Haudenosaunee Gather for a New Approach to Indigenous Education

David Jock (left) Danny Beaton (right) support Tyendinaga FNTI and Suzanne Brant (middle) for holistic approach to Indigenous Education and Haudenosaunee University

Story and photos by Danny Beaton (Mohawk)

In memory of Alicja Rozanska

This month of March was a good time for the birthplace of The Peacemaker, Tyendinaga, because elders, educators, healers and spiritual leaders gathered to show their support for the communities’ vision and dream to expand the First Nations Technical Institute. Tom Porter arrived at the FNTI to be filmed for future generations and students just before Dan Longboat arrived to participate with the message that western concept facilities could be surpassed with a traditional indigenous Haudenosaunee school of the universal embracement of unity for all indigenous nations and students to learn from Mohawk traditional educators. Mama Bear clan mother Louise McDonald from Akwesasne arrived not long after spiritual leader Tom Porter returned to his home and Iakoiane added a message of urgency that the Haudenosaunee could build up this Sacred Fire on Tyendinaga Territory because Canada was in crisis as were all of societies on Sacred Mother Earth.        

David Jock Bear Clan Mohawk Speaks Out

FNTI Suzanne Brant and all staff and all founders of FNTI Institute of higher learning and understanding are living at this time the great ancient vision of our peoples, which was to come all together in one sacred circle. Everybody represents their colours of the families of the Earth, our Mother, everyone has come together in respect and love for one another, the caring and sharing of one another and all our spiritual gifts. This school has brought us all here to the fire of the sacred teachings. In translation, it means he will always return to us. Remember we will always return to the sacred fire of peace, righteousness and empowerment for all spirits and souls of this Mother Earth. This place is the well. This is the Spiritual Fire. Here in this place we are strong with the sacred sinew of the sacred four-legged, the sacred deer.

It is here that we are all drawn to. We must come here to find it. It is a healing and it is an awakening of the great understanding of the Great Spirit Creator. We are now at a place that is complete. We have found each other and continue to come and learn from each other, continue to be at peace within ourselves. This school will be a place of mind, body and spirit. Let us get strength to live long, well and carry respect in our hearts for each other as well as human kind and all creation. In this school we will learn to create higher beauty and unconditional love for creation and all life. Let us learn to love all things in this beauty as it grows from the earth to the sky world.

Dan Longboat (left) said Suzanne Brant is creating a legacy for all students in Canada wanting to upgrade their understanding of indigenous culture here in Tyendinaga

My grandfather’s words to me were that the Sacred Woman is of this earth and all female life and water and birth. The spiritual village in the sky world is there having ceremony as I speak to you. So you see our school is an ancient vision. We are gathered here and we will continue with all things great and small. We will continue to learn from the living world of our Great Creator and our Mothers of Life and everything moving in the sky world. May we all rise to the highest part of the tree and embrace the heart and it will embrace us back. These are the teachings of importance to all Human Kind.                 

We are learning once again how to speak as spiritual circle people on this Earth, our Mother.

We come from a female blood, a blood river that connects all rivers of life. We are here in Tyendinaga area of the great birth of The Peacemaker, our greatest spirit orator. It all began here with earth, wind, water and fire. Here the fire was met with sky fire, the burning sky fire and when we looked at that, the sky opened. That beautiful spirit came here and gave fruits to the tree of life once again, so that we might visit the spiritual circle of our ancestors. A chance to come home to all the healing powers of Mother Earth, to come home to the Sacred Life of our Ancient Mother, a Celestial Circle. She came here from the priceless sky and her spirit washed all the grounds of earth, and all the clay. From her womb came the birthing of all human life, from birth came all human spirit, through her all the birthing of human life, truth and purity from Mother Earth. We are here in Tyendinaga for the spiritual raise from the Eagle Mound, the birthing place. We are here in that Peacemaker’s spirit with his promise that he would always return here and return to our hearts and minds and body.

We are to keep our life full and our walk spirit clean from the earth to the sky. When we have finished our journey here, we will travel first to the west and then to the star direction of the North Star and that sacred Milky Way with Celestial Mother. We shall receive all the love and support that is needed to live forever, spirit great with the one who has created our beautiful bodies that we are all visiting in at this time to the sacredness of the water shell and that powerful powerful being; we are the continuation of all things great and small. We are the tree, we are the earth, we are the waters, the rivers all connected to one great birthing water. We are also together in the Sacred Family of our Great Creator, sons and daughters of Mother Earth, Rainbow children of this Earth with sacred covenant of Wampum. We have been given so many teachings of that Sacred Fire from our ancestors and their ancestors.

We are learning once again to speak as a spiritual circle people with our Mother Earth and my people are from the land of the partridge, Akwesasne. I have come to the land of the Peacemaker Tyendinaga Territory, birthplace of the Great Peacemaker and here is where I am so honored to return to after many years. I have come here to be with my sister Suzanne Brant and Umar Keoni Umangay, her strong vision and add some of my work to the vision of peace and unity to FNTI. Students are coming to learn but they are also coming to heal; that is part of the work we do here. We will bring the learning full circle and healing to all four directions of our medicine circle of life. Our beautiful way of life will be shared as one family, we will fulfill the vision of our Creator. We can learn so much from plant life, insects and waters, even the stone can teach us something; we are Mohawks. We are White Stone Nation and we are here gathering at the Sacred Fire on Mother Earth once again for future generations to come and who want peace.

Mother Earth is supporting us all, loving us all. She wraps us in her love and here we are still remaining on this earth as spiritual beings having a healing experience and we all will become better Human Beings at FNTI. We will sustain this village so that our children will play in that loving circle of Grandmother, Grandfather, auntie, uncle, Mother and Father, brother and sister of Creation, sons and daughters of Mother Earth. Our Great Creator wishes us to return home when our work here is done and our ceremonies are complete so that we find that beautiful road, the road to our Great Creator. We are here to help each other learn from each other in a good way, a spiritual way. We will become stronger for our communities everywhere, loving each other in a sacred harmony to make the world a better place for all mankind and we will become a part of the Sacred Fire. Everyone in that sacred fire has healing gifts to help creation and we will share our gifts once we leave FNTI.

Living the sacred vision of our ancestors that have called us all together for this great work is such a great honor for myself and our teachers and elders, who have come here to support this new Haudenosaunee University or Universe to seek our spirituality of our people’s loving spiritual beings. To connect our blood linage, all rivers connected, so that we can walk in balance, we might walk in beauty and carry that deep truth of heart, which is unconditional love, forgiveness for all things great and small. That we can leave here when we are complete as one great peaceful spirit that I was born into. Born in the womb of a mother, born of love pure, born of blanket and cradling and love from all female life. So we will leave this world of respect for all things great and small.  Our love for Mother Earth and Grandmother Moon, the Celestial Stars will keep us close to our ancestors. Thank you all for listening.