Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brazeau symbolic of Harper's indifference to First Nations

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The latest problems of Patrick Brazeau raise much bigger issues than his personal fall from grace and Senate reform. Brazeau represents all that is wrong with the Harper government's approach to First Nations.

First Nations have long claimed the Harper government doesn't take their concerns seriously and that they can't trust the prime minister. These feelings started when Brazeau was paraded out as the Harper government's "go-to boy" on all things "native".

At that time, Brazeau was "chief" of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; the derivative of the Native Council of Canada. Notwithstanding the fact CAP's credibility had been in decline for years, that its leaders were routinely re-installed by acclamation by a small control group of bureaucrats and that it loosely represented so-called non-status aboriginals in just a few provinces, the Harper government increased funding for CAP while decreasing funds for the official and accredited representatives of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations.

Brazeau was completely in line with the Harper government's imposed policies of fiscal reform; a good Tory in all ways. First Nations people throughout the land decried Brazeau as an "apple" (red on the outside and white in the middle) but he was Harper's toady and the government was sticking with him.

Some concerns about misspending at CAP were dismissed by claiming they took place before Brazeau became chief, but with allegations of sexual harassment and drinking on the job swirling around, the Harper government decided to try and hide Brazeau in the Senate.

Despite the fact the Reform/Tories had campaigned against all things Senate, they tried to sell the idea Brazeau would provide value by providing them with expert advice about aboriginal affairs from the red chamber.

And Brazeau, ever the dutiful soldier, proceeded to criticize the Idle No More movement and make fun of Chief Theresa Spence. Unfortunately for the Harper government, Brazeau also got embroiled in charges he was falsely claiming his primary residence was back in Maniwaki, Que., which made him eligible for a Senate subsidy (as if his $132,000 a year stipend to set a record for not attending Senate meetings wasn't enough).

Then, on Thursday, he was arrested at his home in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa and charged with domestic violence and sexual assault.

Oh yeah, his salary is being garnisheed for falling behind in child support payments.

It is bad enough the Harper government trotted out such an individual as representative of First Nations and relied on him for advice on important issues; it was obvious to First Nations people the Harper government doesn't care enough about their issues to undertake even the most cursory research.

And it has continued to do this.

Everybody knows that changes were needed at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. So what does the Harper government do? It changes the name to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Anybody who knows anything about First Nations in Canada knows that the term "aboriginal" is on the way out. Yes, it is going to cost a helluva lot to re-print business cards and letterheads, let alone office signs, but the only reason most indigenous organizations are sticking with that name is because government is so choked up with it and that affects policies, programs and funding. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has gone so far as to say it won't do business with organizations that use the word aboriginal in their name.

Next move: The Harper government makes the request by First Nations to have the Governor General attend meetings appear naive and frivolous.

Yes, the Governor General has very limited power over Parliament, but the sacred treaties signed by First Nations were with the Crown, and the presence of the Governor General indicates the federal government, which represents the controversial Indian Act, is taking this process seriously and is willing to return to the treaty negotiation process seriously.

Impressions are important and if it looks like you don't care, then people will think you don't care.

The Harper government doesn't care because it appears not to care.


Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer and the editor of Grassroots News.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2013 A11

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