Building on Idle No More's momentum, B.C. chiefs lined up last week behind National Chief Shawn Atleo, endorsing the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) blueprint for "fundamental change, remedies and actions required immediately."
"It's going to bring light to the communities across Canada," Sechelt Nation Chief Garry Feschuk said after attending the two-day B.C. chiefs meeting in Musqueam Nation territory on the Lower Mainland, Jan. 24 and 25.
In a declaration titled "Driving change for our children," Feschuk and other B.C. chiefs formally endorsed the AFN's eight-point action list, which Atleo tabled and discussed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper when they met on Jan. 11.
"To me there's two ways of doing it," Feschuk said in an interview on Jan. 28. "We can either sit down and do this together, or all you're going to see is that Idle No More is going to start to escalate. The downside is the people who have the most to lose are First Nations."
The AFN list calls for Ottawa to move quickly on treaty implementation and land-claim resolution and develop a framework that allows equitable sharing of revenues and benefits from resource development. It demands a stop to legislation that contravenes treaty and inherent rights, including provisions in Bill C-38 and C-45, the federal omnibus bills, and a "fundamentally transformed fiscal relationship" between Ottawa and First Nations.
"The issues are all the same. It's about the relationship we have with the government of Canada," said Feschuk, who noted that Idle No More began in protest over the federal omnibus bills. "The omnibus bills are awful policies. We want to be able to protect the waterways in our territory, protect the streams. We have a land-use plan that governs our territory and we're following it, whether the government recognizes it or not."
Like many other B.C. First Nations, Sechelt did not sign a treaty with Canada, but Ottawa continues to impose a treaty-based funding formula that penalizes non-treaty Nations, Feschuk said.
"We have no problem paying our own way. We have been paying our own way since 1996 where we're probably supplementing what we get from Canada by 40 per cent. Forty per cent of our budget is coming from our own source revenues, providing services back to our community. But the more money you have, Canada wants to give you less," he said.
"So how can you get out of the level of dependency? We don't want to depend on Canada for program dollars forever -we would like to do that on our own. But we need access to resources. We want to be able to resource revenue share within our territory and have access to the benefits from all these resources."
First Nations, he said, need "formulas that work for each Nation, where you're sitting down government to government and negotiating something that each side can live with, not imposing pre-set formulas that don't work for that Nation."
Feschuk said he agrees with the prime minister that resource benefit sharing has to mean more than a cheque being cut at the end of the day.
"I totally agree with him on that point, where if there's a project happening in the territory then there's employment, there's contracting and subcontracting, there's supply chains, there's royalties, there's equity and to me that's all about becoming self-governing, self-sustaining."
Feschuk said he also agreed with Harper that the provinces have to take part when First Nation access to resources and revenue sharing are addressed.
"The provinces are going to be at the table, because we have no treaty and our land was never sold, surrendered or ceded, so that there is still underlying Aboriginal title. And if we don't have access to these then the only thing that our Nation has going for us is providing uncertainty to everybody."
Currently, Sechelt Nation receives some revenue sharing through forestry and mining, but sand and gravel is excluded and only new mining operations are counted, Feschuk said.
"I don't want to find out that you have to develop the rest of your territory to have those benefits," he said.
The AFN list also calls for an immediate commitment to a national commission of inquiry on violence against indigenous women and girls, a guarantee "of First Nation schools in every First Nation that each and every First Nation parent and child can be proud of," and "a fundamental change in the machinery of government" that will include direct political oversight of the process.
Education is a major component of First Nation renewal, Feschuk said.
"To me it's all about investing in our youth now," he said. "And whatever is concluded from these meetings with the prime minister and the mandate given to his government, and meeting with the provinces, they have to look at it in a different light now - that they're investing in First Nation communities and the investment will be short term. Because then the First Nations can take care of themselves."
In a statement issued three days before the B.C. conference, Atleo said the Jan. 11 meeting in Ottawa "achieved unprecedented movement" on one pivotal issue: "We won a commitment to political oversight and direction from the highest level of government - from the prime minister, his senior officials and those of the Privy Council Office."
Atleo said there was "a frank exchange on each of the eight items" and commitments from the feds to deliver on some of them.
Meanwhile, Sechelt's second major Idle No More event is scheduled for this Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Sechelt Indian Band Hall. It will include speeches and signing stations for petitions and protest letters, and will end with a march through downtown Sechelt to the public library. The event starts at 1 p.m.
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