mike mitchellAKWESASNE – On Monday, November 4, 2013, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt and Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Grand Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell announced the signing of Agreements-in-Principle on governance and the management of lands. The signings represent significant steps for the Entewatathawi (“We Will Govern”) process that is working to give Akwesasne greater control over the decisions that affect the community in a number of key areas.

In signing the AIPS, Grand Chief Mitchell noted

“After years of deliberations with the Department of Indian Affairs, the MCA has come to the conclusion that there are many key elements of the Indian Act that are outdated and no longer useful for our community.” He added, “A 15-year community process has also identified that there are only a few elements of the Indian Act that protect our Aboriginal Rights and should be retained.”

There were two Agreements-in-Principle signed on November 4th: one is concerning governance, the other concerning management of lands. The goal on governance is to update the relationship between Canada and the MCA and ensure accountability to  the community.  The focus is also to provide the Mohawks of Akwesasne with greater control and authority in other key areas of the community, such as lands.

One area that previously hasn’t worked for the community of Akwesasne is the election of Chiefs and Council, which was previously conducted by Indian Affairs under the Indian Act and experienced legal challenges at nearly every election. As a result, a community referendum was held in 1986 that has since allowed all decisions regarding elections to be dealt with exclusively in the Akwesasne community.

The following year, in 1987, the MCA continued to exercise Akwesasne jurisdiction by taking over membership, with the end result giving the community the authority to decide who shall be a member of Akwesasne. In the same year, the community took over education and set up the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education to establish local education criteria for the hiring of teachers and incorporating culture and language into our school’s curriculum. Since that time, we have had a graduation rate of 75 to 80 percent, which has placed Akwesasne amongst those communities having the highest graduation rates across the country.  With that success behind us, we found that taking over authority and jurisdiction from Indian Affairs works better for the Mohawks of Akwesasne.

Through consultation with the membership, the MCA has been identifying other areas of governance that are deemed important enough for Akwesasne to take over authority and responsibility from the Indian Act.  One such area is Land and Estates, which has caused great heartache and frustration for community members over the years due to government officials, who know nothing about our customs and traditions, using the Indian Act to make decisions involving the settlement of estates in Akwesasne in the absence of wills.

Following the November 4th signing of the Agreements-in-Principle, the MCA noted that it will continue to identify more key areas of the Indian Act that may be brought before the membership, in accordance with our community referendum process, to decide if Akwesasne should continue to exercise more control and take over more authority from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

The most significant accomplishment from the November 4th AIP signing took place during a pre-meeting with Minister Valcourt that was attended by the Grand Chief Mitchell, along with MCA District Chiefs Steve Thomas, Brian David and Louise Thompson. It was assurances from Minister Valcourt that Akwesasne will be exempted from unfavorable federal legislation that has been introduced by the Harper Government: including Bill S-8 (Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act), Bill S-2 (Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act), and the proposed First Nations Education Act. The exemption also applies to legislation that has already been passed, such as Bill C-27 (First Nations Financial Transparency Act), Bill S-6 (First Nations Election Act) and other acts that are not in the Akwesasne’s best interests.

The MCA noted that Akwesasne has appeared before Standing Committees to make presentations on legislation that concerns Akwesasne. In 2012, a presentation was made on Bill S-2 and development of the Akwesasne Couples Law before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. A presentation was also made to the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (May 2012) and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (May 2013) on Bill S-8 and submission of a proposal to establish an Akwesasne water regulatory framework.

It was also shared that Akwesasne has put a lot of time into establishing a law-enactment process that includes a community vote for the development of laws and regulations. These efforts are assisted by the Political Protocol that was renewed in 2012 with the Canadian Government that calls for the development of “new and innovative approaches to address Akwesasne’s unique circumstances.”

As a result of this discussion, the Minister was advised that he could exercise his discretionary powers to exempt Akwesasne from federal legislation—something that is not being provided to other First Nations. It is on the condition that a community vote is held at the conclusion of Akwesasne’s law-enactment process.

There are some elements of the Indian Act however, that help protect our Aboriginal Rights and will be kept, as they continue to serve the best interests of the community. A few items are the continued recognition of our people’s tax exemption and protection from seizures. Other areas pertain to future governance and will be decided upon by community members in a referendum that will be held within the next three years.

It is important that the community understands the process and that no change in the present legal arrangement be made without the clear approval of Akwesasne Members.

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  1. Seems to me that our Aboriginal people continue to get away with anything they wish to do at the expense of the Canadian Taxpayers . In New Brunswick they burned 6 RCMP cars at taxpayers expense .
    Right here in Akwesasne the are advertising an ANTI – FRACKING MARCH for Nov. 9th at 10 AM which march they state will happen proceeding South to North across the Seaway International Bridge, I for one do
    wonder why they would be allowed to get away with this ?

  2. Seems to me that our White People always rant and rave of taxpayers dollars without providing any real financial reports/statements to back up these allegations. As if there isn’t people being held for torching the police vehicles! And, apparently, millions upon millions of resource dollars don’t flow from FIrst Nations’ traditional territory, and that these communities most affected by development shouldn’t be given the right to refuse.

  3. Love or hate Ezra Levant, he asks questions. I really would like to see all Canadians working towards a better Canada, not individual groups working for themselves and using more funds from all.

    Fed up, this is older but look at the costs.
    The whole treaty system is outdated and not helping the people much is it….?

  4. Thank you Eric for supplying the information key that should certainly provide the proof to Fed Up’s statement re Taxpayers dollars , however it’s a 64 dollar question if it will be accepted by him or her ?

  5. All the articles from Sunmedia and Caledoniawakeupcall is nothing but {MODERATED} and propaganda ! Much like the same BS used by Nazis and Japanese during the war.
    If you actually look up true facts, you would already know, not one penny goes to reservations !!

  6. Not one penny of taxpayer’s money, not one..

  7. What if Natives Stop Subsidizing Canada?

    There is a prevailing myth that Canada’s more than 600 First Nations and native communities live off of money — subsidies — from the Canadian government. This myth, though it is loudly proclaimed and widely believed, is remarkable for its boldness; widely accessible, verifiable facts show that the opposite is true.
    Indigenous people have been subsidizing Canada for a very long time.   Conservatives have leaked documents in an attempt to discredit chief Theresa Spence, currently on hunger strike in Ottawa. Reporters like Jeffrey Simpson and Christie Blatchford have ridiculed the demands of native leaders and the protest movement Idle No More. Their ridicule rests on this foundational untruth: that it is hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians that pays for housing, schools and health services in First Nations. The myth carries a host of racist assumptions on its back. It enables prominent voices like Simpson and Blatchford to liken protesters’ demands to “living in a dream palace” or “horse manure,” respectively.   It’s true that Canada’s federal government controls large portions of the cash flow First Nations depend on. Much of the money used by First Nations to provide services does come from the federal budget. But the accuracy of the myth ends there.   On the whole, the money that First Nations receive is a small fraction of the value of the resources, and the government revenue, that comes out of their territories. Let’s look at a few examples.   Barriere Lake   The Algonquins of Barriere Lake have a traditional territory that spans 10,000 square kilometres. For thousands of years, they have made continuous use of the land. They have never signed a treaty giving up their rights to the land. An estimated $100 million per year in revenues are extracted every year from their territory in the form of logging, hydroelectric dams, and recreational hunting and fishing.   And yet the community lives in third-world conditions. A diesel generator provides power, few jobs are available, and families live in dilapidated bungalows. These are not the lifestyles of a community with a $100 million economy in its back yard. In some cases, governments are willing to spend lavishly. They spared no expense, for example, sending 50 fully-equipped riot police from Montreal to break up a peaceful road blockade with tear gas and physical coercion.   Barriere Lake is subsidizing the logging industry, Canada, and Quebec.   The community isn’t asking for the subsidies to stop, just for some jobs and a say in how their traditional territories are used. They’ve been fighting for these demands for decades.   Attawapiskat   Attawapiskat has been in the news because their ongoing housing crisis came to the attention of the media in 2011. (MP Charlie Angus referred to the poverty-stricken community as “Haiti at 40 below.”) More recently, Chief Theresa Spence has made headlines for her ongoing hunger strike. The community is near James Bay, in Ontario’s far north.   Right now, DeBeers is constructing a $1 billion mine on the traditional territory of the Ahtawapiskatowi ininiwak. Anticipated revenues will top $6.7 billion. Currently, the Conservative government is subjecting the budget of the Cree to extensive scrutiny. But the total amount transferred to the First Nation since 2006 — $90 million — is a little more than one per cent of the anticipated mine revenues. As a percentage, that’s a little over half of Harper’s cut to GST.   Royalties from the mine do not go to the First Nation, but straight to the provincial government. The community has received some temporary jobs in the mine, and future generations will have to deal with the consequences of a giant open pit mine in their back yard.   Attawapiskat is subsidizing DeBeers, Canada and Ontario.   Lubicon   The Lubicon Cree, who never signed a treaty ceding their land rights, have waged a decades-long campaign for land rights. During this time, over $14 billion in oil and gas has been removed from their traditional territory. During the same period, the community has gone without running water, endured divisive attacks from the government, and suffered the environmental consequences of unchecked extraction.   Sour gas flaring next to the community resulted in an epidemic of health problems and stillborn babies. Moose and other animals fled the area, rendering the community’s previously self-sufficient lifestyle untenable overnight. In 2011, an oil pipeline burst, spilling 4.5 million litres of oil onto Lubicon territory. The Lubicon remain without a treaty, and the extraction continues.   The Lubicon Cree are subsidizing the oil and gas sector, Alberta and Canada.   What will Canada do without its subsidies?   From the days of beaver trapping to today’s aspirations of becoming an energy superpower, Canada’s economy has always been based on natural resources. With 90 per cent of its settler population amassed along the southern border, exploitation of the land’s wealth almost always happens at the expense of the Indigenous population.   Canada’s economy could not have been built without massive subsidies: of land, resource wealth, and the incalculable cost of generations of suffering.   Overall numbers are difficult to pin down, but consider the following: Canadian governments received $9 billion in taxes and royalties in 2011 from mining companies, which is a tiny portion of overall mining profits; $3.8 billion came from exports of hydroelectricity alone in 2008, and 60 per cent of Canada’s electricity comes from hydroelectric dams; one estimate has tar sands extraction bringing in $1.2 trillion in royalties over 35 years; the forestry industry was worth $38.2 billion in 2006, and contributes billions in royalties and taxes.   By contrast, annual government spending on First Nations was $5.36 billion in 2005 (it’s slightly higher now). By any reasonable measure, it’s clear that First Nations are the ones subsidizing Canada.   These industries are mostly taking place on an Indigenous nation’s traditional territory, laying waste to the land in the process, submerging, denuding, polluting and removing. The human costs are far greater; brutal tactics aimed at erasing native peoples’ identity and connection with the land have created human tragedies several generations deep and a legacy of fierce and principled resistance that continues today.   Canada has developed myriad mechanisms to keep the pressure on and the resources flowing. But policies of large-scale land theft and subordination of peoples are not disposed to half measures. From the active violence of residential schools to the targetted neglect of underfunded reserve schools, from RCMP and armed forces rifles to provincial police tear gas canisters, the extraction of these subsidies has always been treated like a game of Risk, but with real consequences.   Break the treaty, press the advantage, and don’t let a weaker player rebuild.   Idle? Know More.   The last residential school was shut down in 1996. Canadians today would like to imagine themselves more humane than past generations, but few can name the Indigenous nations of this land or the treaties that allow Canada and Canadians to exist.   Understanding the subsidies native people give to Canada is just the beginning. Equally crucial is understanding the mechanisms by which the government forces native people to choose every day between living conditions out of a World Vision advertisement and hopelessness on one hand, and the pollution and social problems of short-term resource exploitation projects on the other.   Empathy and remorse are great reasons to act to dismantle this ugly system of expropriation. But an even better reason is that Indigenous nations present the best and only partners in taking care of our environment. Protecting our rivers, lakes, forests and oceans is best done by people with a multi-millenial relationship with the land.   As the people who live downstream and downwind, and who have an ongoing relationship to the land, Cree, Dene, Anishnabe, Inuit, Ojibway and other nations are among the best placed and most motivated to slow down and stop the industrial gigaprojects that are threatening all of our lives.   Movements like Idle No More give a population asleep at the wheel the chance to wake up and hear what native communities have been saying for hundreds of years: it’s time to withdraw our consent from this dead-end regime, and chart a new course.

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