Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses the contrast between Theresa Spence's selfless efforts to improve the lives of First Nations citizens, and Stephen Harper's callous indifference:
Is a hunger strike the answer? I honestly do not know, but then I have not known Chief Spence’s anguish. After all, she says her act is not about “anger, it is about pain.”

But I do so worry about this brave woman who starves herself while waiting for a meeting with the prime minister. I worry because Stephen Harper is a very stubborn man.

And Chief Spence is asking him, for once, to govern with his heart. I fear, and so want to be proven wrong, that this is not possible for this prime minister.

As I write this, Chief Theresa Spence had spent 15 days, including Christmas Day, on a hunger strike. By the time you read this, more days will have passed.

It is impossible not to compare the differences between this woman and the man she is trying to meet. She inspires hope. He trades in fear. She unites, while he divides.

And yet, this prime minister may have finally met his match. A match made out of desperation, hope, courage and a whole lot of heart.
- Meanwhile, Sixth Estate offers a much-needed primer on the relationship between First Nations and the government of Canada:
(S)ince aboriginal peoples had pre-existing sovereignty over the land, that sovereignty must be extinguished and the land formally ceded to the government of Canada by means of treaties. That’s not their law, or a made-up modern myth: it’s our law. In the Western legal tradition, cession must occur either by formal agreement or by military conquest. Conquest didn’t happen in Canada, and it has been a war crime since 1945, so that option’s out. The only alternative is treaty. This principle was established as legal precedent in Canada by the British after the Seven Years’ War, and it has at least in theory applied ever since.

To that end, and leaving aside some fairly huge additional complications, there are basically two types of First Nations in Canada: ones that have ceded their territory to Canada by means of a treaty, and ones who have not done so. In the latter case, which covers most of British Columbia, for instance, technically “Canadian” society is an extra-legal occupation of aboriginal land. Of course, recognizing this, the First Nations have little incentive to settle for relatively low compensation (the way bands on the Plains did), and the federal government has little incentive to agree to high compensation now, as opposed to kicking the can down the road. As a result, the treaty process is basically a quagmire.

In Ontario and on the Prairies, though, land treaties were signed. The Attawapiskat Cree’s relationship with the Crown was laid out in Treaty Nine. That treaty states, among other things, that in exchange for surrendering all lands, the “Indians” will have continuing hunting, trapping, and fishing rights; that they will have reserves equal in size to 128 acres per capita; that they get $4 each per year in perpetuity; and that the cost of all aboriginal education will be covered by the government. There is no promise to provide healthcare in the written text of the treaty, but it was probably guaranteed verbally, and in any event by the time Treaty Nine was signed the federal government had already agreed to cover the medical costs of all aboriginal people living on reserves as a matter of course.

So there you have it. You can’t abolish reserves, or aboriginal welfare programs, unilaterally and without their consent. I’m sorry. It’s out of my hands, and it’s out of your hands. Now, you may feel — as I do — that we should abolish the Indian Act, shut down the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, get rid of reserves, and do any number of other things, and that as long as things like reserves and the Indian Act and Aboriginal Affairs persist in their present form, aboriginal peoples can never be truly free and their status will always be in some sense colonial as a result.

But none of those things can be done unilaterally. Ironically, the people presently braying that we get rid of the Indian Act and “make the Indians” modernize are doing exactly the same thing as the people who passed the Indian Act in the first place: saying that we know what’s best for aboriginal people in this country, and we’re going to provide it for them, whether they want it or not.
- Lisa Johnson gives her take on Simon Enoch's study of corporate power in Saskatchewan:
Mapping Corporate Power in Saskatchewan suggests that Saskatchewan corporate leaders like Paul J. Hill, Bill Doyle, Gavin Semple and others play a prominent role shaping provincial policy. It also connects some dots between these leaders and national corporate advocacy groups such as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute — which, the report says, points to the “growing political clout of Saskatchewan’s corporate leadership beyond the province.”

 Of course, special interest groups have been purchasing access to and influence over public officials long enough for Canadians to know that the political field of play needs to be regulated. Remember that Stephen Harper, at the helm of the business-backed National Citizens Coalition back in 2004, took the federal Liberal government to court in an effort to remove the $150,000 cap super-rich donors had on their gifts to political parties or politicians. The Supreme Court ruled that even if spending limits appeared to violate individual freedoms, it was for good reason. Limits prevent those with the deepest pockets from dominating public discussion and controlling the whole democratic process.

But the lesson is clear. When money talks, the public needs to watch.
- David Olive discusses how the F-35 fiasco makes for a case study in poor decision-making.

- And finally, Ralph Surette highlights the Cons' attempts to import a U.S.-style gun culture to Canada.

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