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7/26/2009 – 10/29/2009
It is a shame that there is no movement on the Child and Family Services issue, which is stuck in a situation where the province has its fingers dug in, still trying to control the system.Through its recommendations, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (1988-2001) set excellent goals in terms of developing an Aboriginal justice system and an Aboriginal CFS system. Unfortunately, the Progressive Conservative government of Gary Filmon basically ignored the report.
When the New Democratic Party was elected in 1999 expectations were high among First Nations and Metis peoples. Finally there would be a government that was friendly to their causes. The Dark Ages of the Filmon regime were finally over.
For a while it appeared as if the new government would do things that Aboriginal peoples – particularly First Nations citizens – had been seeking. The Doer government seemed enthusiastic.
With gaming, the Doer government’s enthusiasm exceeded its knowledge of how its policies would play out with First Nations. As a result, there was a half-baked policy toward casino development, especially with regard to southern Manitoba.
That has been one of the weaknesses of the Doer government. It has no representation for First Nations in southern Manitoba. Its two First Nation MLAs are from the north, but there is nobody with the NDP cabinet or caucus to explain issues from a southern perspective.
I have also found that the Doer government doesn’t want to listen to a southern perspective. As Grand Chief of the only organization that represents just First Nations in the southern part of the province, my relationship with the Doer and his cabinet has been frustrating. At first the premier seemed eager to grin and exchange greetings, but both he and his cabinet have resisted SCO input on matters that really matter.
I have no doubt that Doer would be happy to deal with a First Nations representative who would “nod” in agreement and grin as he had his picture taken with the premier and cabinet ministers.
But I was elected by the Chiefs and my role is to represent the interest of Southern First Nations. I must never sacrifice this for the sake of making friends in so-called high places. I love the people I meet when I visit First Nations for social events, pow-wows and spiritual ceremonies. Those are my high places. Those are the people whose interests and values I represent.
The current government is an improvement on the Filmon Conservatives, but in some ways the NDP are more difficult to deal with. The old Conservatives had positioned themselves as an obvious enemy and we collided with them head on. No-one within our ranks had any doubt about where we stood.
With the NDP the situation is less clear. Many of the people within the ranks of their party consider themselves sympathetic , or empathetic ,to the situations of Indigenous people. They are keenly aware of the harm done to us by Euro-Canadian colonialism.
Still there is a lack of understanding. Involvement in all political parties is low among First Nations peoples. Many rank-and-file New Democrats have good intentions but they don’t have the knowledge of First Nations life to always recommend a good course of action.
Another problem is that once a party is elected power rests with the premier and a handful of cabinet ministers. What we have now isn’t a New Democratic government but a Doer government. This problem increases over time as the premier and a few of his favorite cabinet ministers strengthen their grip on power, growing more stubborn and less willing to welcome the advice of outsiders or even members of their own party.
I’ve said it before, but I will repeat once more: the Doer government’s attitude is one of “Daddy knows best.” Its’ attitude is condescending and paternalistic.
The Doer government has unilaterally ceased the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission Community Justice services Initiative. Meanwhile, gaming initiatives have withered as the province fought to maintain control over casino development by First Nations.
One of the problems we are dealing with now is CFS. The Chiefs in Manitoba have endorsed a resolution to have responsibility for First Nations input into the system transferred from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) to SCO, bringing it into line with northern Manitoba where this role rests with MKIO. The province has been unwilling to allow this change.
There is no practical reason for the province’s resistance to this change. My guess is that the government doesn’t want to deal with SCO, because Doer and his cabinet know that SCO will fight hard for First Nations peoples; they know we won’t be good little Indians who are eager to please Daddy.
We won’t do the government’s bidding. We strive to create a system that represents First Nations values and traditions. We won’t be satisfied with simply putting more brown faces into a system that mirrors the provincial system that has created so much hardship.
One of the roles First Nations have now is to recommend appointments to local CFS boards. Often these appointments reflect the wishes of the people who administrate the systems. I want to change that so appointments are from the women – the life-givers – in each community. The mothers and grandmothers know what needs to be done and our systems must benefit from their wisdom. We should set criteria for board appointments that reflect this.
Grand Chief Morris J. Swan Shannacappo of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization
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