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Canada’s government should be “idle-no-more”

Posted by Ralph Goodale on January 2, 2013 | No Comments

Over the past few weeks, a remarkable movement has taken shape among indigenous peoples in Canada. It’s called “Idle-No-More”.

Beginning with four women from Saskatchewan, the movement is driven largely by grassroots organizers using social media like Twitter and Facebook. With the advice of elders, it’s committed to peaceful public events highlighting unacceptable realities in the lives of First Nations people, the Metis, Inuit and others.

Their spontaneous activities have reached across Canada and beyond. The initial spark was Stephen Harper’s second Omnibus Budget Bill (C-45), and a host of legislation passed by the Harper government without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people impacted by these measures.

In that incoherent hodge-podge of dozens of unrelated measures – all lumped together to prevent intelligent scrutiny – the Conservatives slipped-in several items that detract from the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, including weakened environmental rules and intrusions on First Nations’ land. There was no prior consultation or consent. There was no respect for the original treaty relationship. It was totally arbitrary.

But Idle-No-More is about more than C-45.

It’s about this government running roughshod over the rights of First Nations – something the Conservatives were bluntly warned about by none other than former Cabinet Minister, Jim Prentice.

It’s also about Mr. Harper’s failure to take any meaningful action to help build some genuine hope for the future following his 2008 “apology” for the tragic legacy of Indian Residential Schools. All those fine words are proving vacuous.

And then, just over a year ago, along came the housing crisis and human misery at Attawapiskat. The government’s reaction was a combination of indifference and scorn. They were shamed into meeting with indigenous leaders last January, but 12 months later the results are nil.

In the spirit of Idle-No-More, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is now on a hunger strike in Ottawa, trying to get Mr. Harper to pay some attention. He doesn’t seem to realize that he has a personal constitutional obligation toward Chief Spence and all other Aboriginal people.

What’s needed is a rekindling of the hopeful sincerity that generated the “Kelowna Accord” of 2005.

It took 24 months of personal effort by then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to establish trust, respect and a genuine government-to-government partnership upon which progress could be based – engaging the federal government, all provinces and territories, and all national Aboriginal organizations. Sadly, that ground-breaking initiative was cancelled the moment Stephen Harper took power.

And nothing of consequence has been accomplished since. On things that indigenous peoples need, the Harper government has been painfully idle far too long.

Ralph Goodale

MP, Wascana
Deputy Leader

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Please note that comments are moderated with the goal of stimulating an intelligent and fruitful discussion. As such, we ask that you use language that is civil and respectful, and refrain from attacks of any kind. We reserve the right to remove or not post any comments or information that does not meet these requirements.
  1. Avatar of Peter Skipper Peter Skipper said on

    Right Honourable Ralph Goodale,
    Thank you for highlighting this issue. The Kelowna Accord was a coordinated cross jurisdictional agreement that had great potential to improve conditions for Aboriginal peoples. Certainly the poverty, high rates of unemployment and lack of educational attainment among Aboriginal peoples on a comparative basis is a national disgrace. Inadequate housing is a symptom of such conditions. It is Canada’s civil rights movement of our time. I hope our party will create policy once again to address these issues. It is a complex challenge that cannot be resolved over night but certainly should be part of Liberal policy priorities. The status quo is not in Canada’s interest.

  2. Avatar of Patricia Beurteaux Patricia Beurteaux said on

    Right Honourable Ralph Goodale,
    Thank you for reminding us all that PM Harper has a constitutional obligation but he doesn’t feel, as has he has demonstrated so many times, that these are of importance to him and his. His refusal to met with Chief Spence is, from a human-to-human view, shameful, and his continuing silence and his followers labeling the Chief’s actions `emotional blackmail’ and worse in the media has, of course, let loose some of the racism that lies just below the surface, it appears. Perhaps that is his motive. He is King of Divide and Conquer by any means, after all, and FN are easy targets.

  3. Avatar of Peter Haley Peter Haley said on

    Excellent points all. But even we, as Liberals, have betrayed the trust while governing. Is there not some way to align the Party with Paul Martin and his initiatives over the past couple of years, towards a Kelowna Accord, nation to nation, approach? He is more than able, and seems to be willing to devote much of his time to the matter…it could be/should be an LPC policy going forth into the next election, but we don’t have to wait 2 years to embrace it.

  4. Avatar of Peter Skipper Peter Skipper said on

    Peter Haley, good idea, the next leader of the Liberal Party should approach Paul Martin to do such a thing. What a wonderful legacy to have including his balanced budgets and deficit reduction. Use of Paul Martin, if he is interested, as a statesman and elder in this way acknowledges his wisdom and experience in such matters and is in keeping with Aboriginal traditions of respect for those of long life experience. Let it be so.

  5. Avatar of Susan Dykhuis Susan Dykhuis said on

    I support First Nations and Idle No More. In fact, I would like Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with Chief Theresa Spence within the next few days. My view is Canada must work with First Nations People to enact an arrangement between First and the rest of us (whom I call “Second” Nations) regarding sharing of resources, land, status, in an equitable way. It is time for our proud Nation of Canada to include First Nations fully and to work with First Nations to reach the dream of Canada which is a just, humane country for all Canadians of all backgrounds. We cannot go forward as a united country until First Nations people are truly our partners in Canada.

  6. Avatar of Gregg Guptill Gregg Guptill said on

    Well said Ralph.

    Most Canadians have forgotten the Kelowna Accord and Harper’s shameful cancellation of it. Reminding non-natives of the Kelowna Accord will not do much for First Nations in the short run -but- Canadians, in general, DO need to be reminded.

    The more Canadians are made aware of our (Liberal) history in dealing with First Nations, the more they (Canadians) will realize just how committed we are to alleviating First Nation hardships.

    As to Paul Martin’s potential level of interest in Peter Haley’s suggestion, check this out >

  7. Avatar of Gregg Guptill Gregg Guptill said on


    I spent some time today ‘brushing up’ on the Kelowna Accord and felt those who read Ralph’s post may wish to do the same …

    1. Wikipedia:

    2. Library of Parliament:

    3. Kelowna ‘undone':

    4. Is the Kelowna Accord Constitutionally Binding? (a long read, but worth it)

    5. Implementation Act:

    6. Searching for a balance (MacLeans; April, 2012):

    7. Kelowna Accord holds key to native renewal (The Star; January. 2013):–kelowna-accord-holds-key-to-native-renewal

    If you have read even ½ of the foregoing, perhaps you see more clearly how the Liberal Government under Paul Martin dealt with First Nations; how Harper has let them down and what ‘Idle-No-More’ is really about.

    I hope this helps.

  8. Avatar of Ray Lorenz Ray Lorenz said on

    A great article by Liberal Senator Nick Sibbeston entitled “Guaranteed Aboriginal Representation in Parliament” is becoming more & more relevant:

  9. Avatar of Phil Chubb Phil Chubb said on

    I’m also unhappy with the Conservatives’ first nations policies and am convinced we Liberals could improve on them considerably. It won’t do the party any good, however, to associate with the likes of Chief Teresa Spence – an incompetent at best, corrupt at worse chief who appears to have helped considerably to run her dysfunctional community further into the ground. Check out some details of her administration on this admittedly right-wing video:

    Considering the material therein, Chief Spence appears to be a prime example of everything that’s wrong with first Nations governance and rather than meeting with the Prime Minister, her prime concern should be preparing to defend herself against possible future criminal charges.

  10. Avatar of Mark Mark said on

    It is heartening to see the Liberal Party of Canada getting deeply involved with this issue, and taking clear steps to show support for those aboriginal leaders and band members who are fed up with the federal government’s lack of understanding when it comes to treaty rights, environmental issues and long-standing problems on reserves, caused by past federal policies and attitudes. It is my hope that the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of this country will see the leader of the federal Liberal Party as (1) a person of true goodwill, and (2) a person with the wisdom to see a way forward for aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike.


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