On July 16, somewhere deep in the bowels of Edmonton, the future of Canada’s status Aboriginal people will be decided. The election of the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nation (AFN), Canada’s leading first Nations political and advocacy group, is proving to be one of the most contentious in recent history. Facing each other across the election floor will be incumbent Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, former Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, and challenger Six Nations Chief Roberta Jamieson (one of the few women to run for the office but the first to be a real contender for this position).
Several provocative issues make this election a most pivotal one in recent Aboriginal history. The controversy surrounding the universal opposition to First Nations Governance Act (FNGA’s) Bill C-7, and the best way for the AFN to deal with the Federal Government, to negotiate, litigate or demonstrate, or all three. The grassroots issue of exploring the possibility that all Status Indians have a vote in the election, not only the Chiefs of the 633 bands which AFN represents. All these issues have made the 24th Annual AGA one to watch.
I feel it is in my duty as a proud, card-carrying Native person interested in doing my bit for the people to officially declare my candidacy for the office of Grand Chief. Granted, the deadline for nominations ended on June 11, but I am counting on a strong write-in campaign to bring my message to people in all four directions. I have no political background, never went to University, never held any type of office and have voted only one in my life (because my girlfriend of the time made it quite clear the NDP ruled her ethics, heart, and other parts of her body). It’s hard to counterpoint an argument like that. I am going to plan my whole campaign upon my election slogan. Imagine a picture of yours truly and underneath it, printed in bright red letters, “You Could Do Worse.”
That being said, if I am going to succeed in nailing this $125,000 a year job, I will need more than just a pithy catch phrase. I will also need a platform, and to take a position on the relevant issues. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that FNGA is universally disliked. Most candidates believe it is fundamentally flawed because it is built upon the Indian act and introduces even more legislation, rules and regulations to First Nations. The FNGA strengthens the Ministers power and gives him new powers over the First Nations, thus giving the Federal government yet more control over Aboriginal lives.
Politically aware First Nations people think the Indian Act should be put aside and any legislation if required, should build on Section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act which recognizes inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights. This would call for a Treaty-making and implementation process dealing with lands and re source issues and real self-government at the national level. As an official candidate, I say that FNGA should stand for “For Now, Go Away.”
There is criticism of how the AFN’s profile in Ottawa has lapsed in recent years . Mr. Fontaine thinks it has been reduced to “a protest organization.” Ovide Mercredi, the former Grand Chief, had a highly publicized confrontational and antagonistic relationship Minister of Indian Affairs, Ron Irwin. Rumour is, it got to the point where the Minister refused to take the Mercredi’s phone calls. As a result, communication between the two organizations aimed at improving the lives of Canada’s Native people suffered an all time low.
I blame it on suits. Throughout history, wars have been started, lands swindled, Residential schools planned, and other atrocities in history (Aboriginal or not) have been orchestrated by people wearing suits in one form or another. I think the monochromatic colour scheme of suits, tight collar buttons and ties restrict blood to the brain and encourages aggression and confrontation. I’ll bet David Ahenekew was wearing a suit when he said those anti-Semitic remarks.
Yes, I know the argument. Suits don’t hurt people, people hurt people. Still, it does seem awfully suspicious. Anytime a Native person goes to jail, and raises the already incredibly high Aboriginal incarceration rate, there’s always a couple of suits nearby. People who took our kids away for adoption, in suits. Government officials saying our tax free status is questionable, in suits. Oil executive that were harassing the Lubicon Lake people for their natural resources, in suits. People at the Canada Council who denied me my last grant, in suits. There is a definite theme here. I do own a couple of suits myself; but I only wear them for self-defence.
Upon my election, the first thing I would do is ban the wearing of suits at any organizational function, meeting or conference of the AFN. Historically, I feel suits promote a confrontational attitude. So, I would hold all official gatherings, meetings and sessions in a hot tub. It is my experience that it can be quite difficult to get adversarial while in a hot tub. Everybody is laid back, comfortable, enjoying the hot water, and much more agreeable in nature. I definitely feel more could be accomplished through hot tub negotiations than by wearing a tie. It’s a radical alternative to present First Nations and government relations, and would make all those official discussions and dialogues a little more interesting. The practice might even catch on. Imagine a First Ministers Conference with John Chretien, Ralph Klein and Ernie Eves in a hot tub...then again, maybe you shouldn’t.
There is so much more to the job, but a candidate needs to start somewhere. Every journey starts with a first step. If the Liberals can have a Red Book, so can the Aboriginal Nation, except ours will be white... just for irony’s sake. What’s politics without some form of irony.
Drew Hayden Taylor