Follow the leader?

Over the last few weeks I have come to the realization that politics really don’t matter anymore, be honest folks is there really a politician who truly cares about the people because I can’t think of one. I’m a Mohawk journalist and have been for about 8 years but I’ve been a political junkie for at least twice that and I can safely say that there is no one that I feel I can place my faith in. Jack Layton was the only politician that came close to what I wanted in a leader. With Stephen Harper rejecting calls to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women and Pauline Marois’s blatantly racist Charter of Quebec values, it begs the question, is there a responsible ethical leader out there and if so will he or she please stand up?

Harper has done so much damage to the relationship between First Nations and the government that it is doubtful that it can be repaired. The AFN has not done enough to push for better conditions either. The AFN needs to be a stronger voice for First Nations, it also needs to stop being an all boys club. Native women need to be able to take their place at the table, after all we do come from matrilineal societies. First Nations voices are strongest when united and it’s time all our chiefs stand shoulder to shoulder with our native women.

Harper’s refusal of a national inquiry into missing and murdered native women has proven that he is not a leader but a coward who can’t face the fact his government, the RCMP and most police forces have dropped the ball on this issue. It is almost certain that if by some miracle an inquiry were to happen, it would expose massive misconduct on the part of the police and the justice system. Then there are the omnibus bills that Harper has rammed through Parliament, which has reduced First Nations treaty rights and limited environmental regulations protecting Canadian lakes and rivers. He has muzzled scientists that speak out about the long term damage of the tar sands and other environmental issues as well.

How can First Nations have faith in the leaders we have today, we only hear from them at election time and they don’t exactly have the best track record. It’s about our vote in the end and more empty promises. What is really needed in a leader is someone who is going to take an active role in dealing with the issues facing First Nations once and for all. First off the government needs to stop treating First Nations like children and give them control of their natural resources so their communities have a chance at sustainability which would in turn force big business to deal with first nations on an even playing field.

Second the government needs to start being fair with First Nations children they aren’t getting a fair deal and the government needs to acknowledge that fact. A serious prime minster would honor the Kelowna accord, the Trilateral agreement and the various treaties the Harper government has tried to circumvent with various omnibus bills. Violence against native women must be dealt with and that means revamping how the police forces veiws and treats native women. They need to see that native women are people not stereotypes, police officers need to look past skin color. Renewed funding for Sisters in Spirit, the Native healing foundation and Native women shelters would go a long way to helping native women feel safe.

There are so many ways to help First Nations become stronger and that is through education, education can be a powerful tool to rebuilding stronger healthier First Nations communities. It also wouldn’t hurt to start educating our youth about First Nations history, the good and the bad. Wouldn’t be nice to have youth in this country understand what First Nations have been through? It would go along way to eliminating racial sterotypes. Job creation programs for First Nations people on reserve would help curb the unemployment rate and give hope to endangered native youth.

Those same programs could be used to help rebuild communities, had the Kelowna accord been honored by the Conservative government, communities like Attawapiskat might not be in the shape that it’s in now. At the same time the accord could have been used to create jobs, build schools and give hope to Aboriginal youth who’s suicide rates are in some communities 5 times the national average. A strong leader may be able to curb those statistics.

Another important issue, First Nations need to be included in any and all environmental legislation, a lot of mining and oil companies have caused havoc on First Nations land, these companies have poisoning lakes and rivers with impunity and that needs to stop. They need to be held accountable for their actions and the government can start in Fort Chippewa in Alberta where the people are suffering from rare forms of cancer. I saw how quickly the government responded to the Wakerton tragedy, it’s time that they investigate why so many First Nations communities are under boiling water advisories.

Discrimination within the justice system is another serious issue, a recent report by Correctional investigator Howard Sapers exposed the chronic underfunding of Aboriginal prisoners compared to non Aboriginal prisoners. The report calls for an end to over classification of Aboriginal prisoners which has led to longer stays and less services for Aboriginal inmates. These discriminatory issues are even more pronounced in the case of female Aboriginal offenders who spend more time behind bars than their non native counterparts. The report has called for changes in order to curb this over representation of Aboriginal prisoners so that they can receive the rehabilitative programming and services while incarcerated. Services that can lead to a quicker release.

These are just a few of the many problems we face as First Nations and that is the reason why we are so untrusting of the government. It’s because these problems still exist, when the United Nations is asking why are there so many of us in prison or why are there so many missing native women or why do First Nations still live in such poor conditions. We say it’s because our government would rather build prisons or purchase fighter jets but the real reason is that the government just doesn’t care accept at election time when the leaders look in our direction and make hollow promises. By the next election Stephen Harper will have been in power for 8 years 281 days. Will the next PM undo the damage he’s done or just continue on that path?

What Canada needs is a Prime Minster who has the will power to break the cycle and help First Nations gain equal footing in a country that was once theirs. Does a leader like that even exist?

Irkar Beljaars is a freelance Mohawk journalist living in Montreal.