Thursday, December 17, 2009

AFN Special Chiefs Assembly Part I

I waited to post about the Special Chiefs Assembly (and btw – I have no idea what made this one ‘special’) that was held last week because I wanted to digest all that I heard. (That’s my excuse anyway). In truth I had a lot to think about but in the end I wonder about the cost vs results and if we don’t bother then what do we do instead? I wasn’t alone – I heard a lot of Chiefs ask the same question over the course of the three-day event.

Ten-years after attending my last full December confederacy meeting (at least that’s what they used to be called but I guess times have changed) I decided to attend and just listen. I wasn’t without the want of direction and guidance myself and so really wanted to listen, share, learn and just maybe strengthen my own personal journey.

My first obstacle was the inability to really participate as anything other than an observer – And that’s all that my $150.00 allowed me to do. If the AFN truly want to engage the voices of their urban citizens, as they stated many times in their assembly, then they must try harder. Policy forums were offered (topics decided on by the AFN) but only Chiefs and community/regional organizations were allowed to speak.

I’m going to focus this blog entry on those policy forums that occurred the day before the actual assembly and was actually free for participants.

I chose to participate in the forum on Citizenship and looked forward to a discussion about nation building – constitutional discussions and law making authorities that would provide our nations with the tools to create citizenship laws but it was a discussion on the recent McIvor decision - which is more about band membership rules under the INAC registry. A Chief from 6 nations stood up and gave his wife’s 24 year-old paper on what section 6 1 (a) and 6 2 (b) meant. And that was a shame because the previous three presenters had more updated, and brought a great deal more clarity to the issue – Chiefs get the floor whenever and for however long they want. Further had the Chief been present from the beginning (instead of walking in and taking over) he might have known that. Most disappointing was that his arrogance interrupted what WAS an interesting discussion on the issue of Citizenship laws and collective rights vs individual rights. I wished the moderator or facilitator had brought the discussion back but it appeared they really wanted to hear support for their McIvor court case and therefore appreciated the interruption.

It was a Chief from Manitoba who brought forward the argument that historically Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island developed citizenship laws and values to protect and improve the interests of the nation of the collective good. He questioned the value however, if an individual like McIvor under Canadian law can challenge through the Canadian court system and win under the rights of the individual. Under the Charter of Human Rights – individual rights trump collective. I’m not a lawyer and wish I knew more but on the surface I would say he is correct. I wanted to discuss this more but.....the big puffy winded Chief from Six Nations wanted to talk about his and his wife’s 24 year-old dedication to the plight of the Indian Woman and her identity....(yes I am rolling my eyes)

I totally ignored a forum of great interest to me Children – because the discussion was only about the Human Rights challenge the AFN and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society launched (without consultation). I simply want to know why we want to give more effort, resources, and authority to policies that are based on provincial laws and that have done nothing but irreparable harm to our children and families? The AFN has a one-tract mind and despite asking for clarity on the issue “will the number of Aboriginal children being apprehended by Child Welfare Agencies decrease with the additional 22% funding they are requesting?” They push forward because they don’t want to try anything else. It’s easier to make people angry and fight for something right? It’s a lot tougher to actually fix social issues. The answer to the question btw is no – the numbers will not stabilize or decrease but nobody wants to talk about it or admit to it.

So why are we not talking about a better system – a system that would reflect the needs, capacities and values from our Nations? Imagine a system that wrapped a family in care...a system that understood that removing a child will not fix outcomes in our communities.

My friends in Alberta did it.....The Alberta Chiefs had the balls to challenge the Federal and Provincial governments AND their child welfare agencies. The Alberta Chiefs tore up the “delegated authorities” and forced the Province to take on the delivery – and full responsibility to deliver the child welfare program on reserve. The province FREAKED! They don’t want the authority, responsibility, and liabilities that go with delivering a program “on a reserve”. So they negotiated and what do they have now? A Band designate model. The band (as close as they can get to the “nation” status) is the designate authority. This is important because it recognises that the authority over their children’s welfare is not delegated to them through a policy anymore. It is recognized that the band (as a collective) IS the authority. It’s the first step towards an autonomous system – lots still to be done but how freaking exciting is that. But again no forum to discuss potential models just the forum to fight for more money for old programs.

I think I know why the government plays the games it does with us – and maybe why nothing changes year after year - because we allow individuals with their own agendas to speak for the collective. (UPDATED)I'll bet the strongest motivation not to change anything is money. Who stands to make money off children placed in care? And please don't try to tell me money is not the issue - it's always the issue. We just get played everytime and follow the red herring rather than set our own trails. (end updated section)

The AFN (they say because of its funding structure) can only implement work that is approved by the federal government – They parallel government programs even though they are not a program delivery organization. We listen and agree we are underfunded and we get angry because our frustrations are close to the surface. It’s very easy to prey on what people don’t have and make them angry to fight for the injustice. Government knows that it’s cheaper in the long wrong to pay the 22% than it is to provide real tangible results in nation controlled programs. They’ll let us get good and angry for a few years – settle with us and then walk away knowing they got off lucky – and us...we were again suckered into tinkering with a bad policy rather than a concentrated effort to improve conditions for our families.

Innovation and great ideas are out there – the AFN must find away to tap into them.


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