The Sky is not Falling-Right of Self Determination Alive and Well!

The Sky will not fall if all 633 First Nations do not affiliate with the Assembly of First Nations and the National Treaty Alliance comes into being. The sky will not fall if the Chiefs and people meeting in Onion Lake decide to take another direction on a purely treaty agenda. I feel like every time I read a mainstream media report, they are acting like “chicken little” and make it sound dire and that First Nations are falling apart. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Who ever said there should only be one organization for 633 First Nations? There is no rule or law that I am aware of. Why does anyone expect that one organization could represent all the interests of First Nations across Turtle Island?

For many years, First Nations have struggled to stay together despite the wide divide of issues-that is, treaty rights vs. aboriginal rights. As long as I have been involved with AFN, there was always the friction between the two.

Back in 1983, just prior to the First Ministers conference on the Constitution, the Coalition of First Nations was formed. It represented about one third of the First Nations in Canada. The Coalition objected to the NIB/AFN attending the First Ministers conferences. Just two years later in 1985, the Prairie Treaty Nations Alliance also broke away from the AFN. The problems with the structure and direction of NIB/AFN were an issue for many. Eventually both these groups went back to work with the AFN.

All First Nations people uphold the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP). Article 3 states that Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination and may freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. If the Chiefs of Nations that are signatories to treaties 1-11 decide to create a body/movement to pursue their own political status, interests and destiny, so be it. That must be respected.

National Chief Shawn Atleo calls for unity, unity while still maintaining diversity. In the spirit of unity he said he sent Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde to speak to the treaty gathering. Had he wanted unity, he should have went to speak to the gathering himself to ask for unity, to understand what is missing at AFN and how things could change. That debate did not occur between the National Chief and the leaders and people gathering in Onion Lake. A quote from Nelson Mandela was posted today in honour of his 95th birthday and I thought it applied here:

“A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious or sensitive,
to ensure that at the end of the debate, we should emerge stronger
and more united than ever before.”

I understand that unity may be a desireable thing, but there are many issues that do not have the consensus of all the Chiefs-it is a majority vote when there is no consensus. When you have such diverse issues across the country, you can alienate First Nations that are not in the majority especially when the votes are about critical issues.

People have been asking for changes to the AFN structure for many years. In fact Joe Miskokoman and Wendy Grant John headed up the AFN Renewal Initiative and travelled across the country in 2004 to ask how First Nations peoples wanted to see AFN change. The report was never implemented and the failure of AFN to change has created the need to for First Nations to seek other alternatives. The issues which have plagued AFN have not been addressed and now the consequences of that inaction is surfacing.  Everyone knew the greatest challenge Shawn Atleo would have would be unity.

The controversial decision of the National Chief to attend the January 11th, 2013 meeting with the Prime Minister without the mandate of the Chiefs triggered a negative reaction to those who did not want the National Chief to attend. One commitment from that meeting was to set up “an immediate high level process with Treaty Nation leadership for establishing frameworks with necessary mandates for the implementation and enforcement of Treaties on a treaty by treaty basis between the treaty parties Nation to Nation.” . Setting up this framework in a proper manner would be critical to ensuring the implementation and enforcement process could be carried out. Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde was doing negotiations on this and holding treaty forums to gain input into what that framework would be. Not consultations on a Nation by Nation basis, with the people. This process is part of what led to the Onion Lake gathering and the proposed National Treaty Alliance.

Nothing stops the AFN and the Treaty Nation Alliance from working together on common issues. Nothing stops the AFN from actually transforming the organization that is more representative of the people and the governance structures of First Nations. Unity is a desired objective. But when people get in their own canoes and paddle their journey in different directions, then that should be respected as a right of self determination. Nation to Nation, alliances can be built anew, or strengthened where they still exist. The sky shall not fall as the AFN and the National Treaty Alliance battle the most intransigent Federal Government we have ever had to face, and use the strategies to uphold aboriginal and treaty voices. It is about many voices asserting our rights, reclaiming , reoccupying and renaming our lands and resources for our children today and for many generations to come.

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