Blood on their hands!

“We are with you in spirit” The words spoken by Rona Ambrose July 5th has proven once again that the Conservative Govt doesn’t care about the issues of native women or of first nations at all. Can’t say I was surprised when I heard the news, Ambrose has a proven record of voting along party lines and not with her conscience which what the minister for the status of women should have been doing all along. Her decision is a betrayal to every woman in Canada, by doing nothing she has essentially said that violence against native women doesn’t matter to this govt but more prisons and fighter jets does. Earlier this year Senator Patrick Brazzeau tweeted that the missing women issue was taken care of, a pretty ignorant statement coming from a sitting senator.

The Harper govt has talked about fiscal responsibility, jobs and various other issues so why are we getting more prisons when the crime rate has been slowly decreasing for years. The Canadian people are at the mercy of conservative ideology or should I say reform ideology which has been all about cuts……..to social programs. The Conservative government has cut $127 million from First Nations reserve housing since 2008. The Sisters in Spirits funding was not renewed even though the govt had promised 10 million to deal with the issue of missing and murdered. First Nations Child and Family Caring society had their funding cut when they and the AFN launched a human rights complaint against the govt for under funding first nations children.

And the cuts keep coming, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada FUNDING REDUCTION, First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Control Program ELIMINATED, Natural Resources and Environment Climate Change Programs, including the One Tonne Challenge, 40 public information offices across the country, and several scientific and research programs on climate change – 40% BUDGET CUT and there’s a lot more cuts.

When the govt said they endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples did they really mean it? Their cuts make me think not! The Governments position frankly is bullshit, here they are facing international pressure, being one of four countries at the time to refuse to endorse UNDRIP and facing criticism at home they decided to endorse UNDRIP hoping that it would be business as usual. But the cuts continue and in clear violation UNDRIP, but and there’s always a but. The cons said that they would endorse UNDRIP but it would not affect govt policy. So was their support of UNDRIP just a smokescreen? They’re behavior since the endorsement would seem to think so.

What I don’t understand how did Harper win a majority when 60% of Canadians didn’t vote for him and can Canadians sue the govt for not respecting the UNDRIP? Someone told me on election night that I should get ready to see the real Stephen Harper and that’s what Canadians should be worried about. As long as the economy is in good shape Harper will be untouchable because that’s what Canadians care about and they should but they should also care about the health and well being of all Canadians, no matter their social status, creed or culture. We currently have a govt who has a history wasteful spending. (You just have look at the G20 report and MP Tony Clements riding)

One note about these cuts the Harper government has made, throughout the election, Harper talked about jobs jobs jobs. Did he ever think about the jobs that have been lost because of his cuts? Looks to me like Harper’s economic action plan is more of an inaction plan!

Thousands of women have gone missing in the last couple of decades and the way I see it, this governments inaction on the issue means that for every native woman who goes missing or is murdered, their blood is now on the governments hands. Ambrose is right about one thing, they are with us in spirit because spirits can’t do anything but continue to watch as more of our sisters go missing.

Irkar Beljaars  (Twitter) mohawk_voice

You can listen to Irkar on

Native Solidarity News www.ckut.ca

and Red Power Radio http://irkarbeljaars.podbean.com/

Election Time part 3: The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

We’re into the final week of the Federal election season and no matter how many scandals Harper has had thrown at him nothing seems to be sticking. Like the last two posts we are focusing on what First Nations in Canada really need from our absent government. Late last year the Harper government finally lived up to one of their promises, which was to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights on of Indigenous Peoples. Now that it’s done I feel that it was an empty gesture: Harper’s policies over the last 5 years have shown no respect for Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Instead of respect we have gotten disrespect, and the cuts to so many important programs and groups have begged the question… what was the point?

In 2006, 2 weeks into his mandate, Harper killed the Kelowna Accord – a process that took over ten years to build gone because “it wasn’t fiscally responsible.” Since then the cuts have been numerous and hurtful: the Montreal Native Woman’s Shelter, Native Healing Foundation, First Nations policing, Action travail des femmes, First Nations and Inuit Tobacco Control Program, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Status of Women (mandate also changed to exclude “gender equality and political justice” and to ban all advocacy, policy research and lobbying), Sisters in Spirit, and the list goes on.

Harper can say that he now endorses the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples because he’s already done enough damage to set us back for awhile. And people ask why there’s such apathy among voters! Just recently Chris Alexander, the Ontario Conservative candidate for Ajax-Pickering, said during a March 17 forum on poverty that Canada had wiped out Third World-levels of poverty. The comment caused a small flurry of controversy during the opening days of the election after they were posted on YouTube, but Alexander stood by his statement. You can chalk this up to another one of the many Conservative denials about what is really going on in this country.

In September 2009 Harper made this statement: “We also have no history of colonialism…” This outrageous comment is a shocking testament to his own profound ignorance and to the pervasive racism-fuelled historical amnesia and denial in Canadian society. Yet he claims to endorse the Declaration. Then there’s Conservative Peirre Poliveres’ comments during a radio interview which came on the same day as the Residential School Apology. “Now along with this apology comes another $4 billion in compensation for those who partook in the residential schools over those years. Now, you know, some of us are starting to ask, ‘Are we really getting value for all of this money, and is more money really going to solve the problem?” If I ever meet Mr. Poliveres I will tell him that we are sorry that the abuse we suffered at the hands of the church is costing the Governemnt so much money.

Everyone that I have spoken to about the Declarartion has given pretty much the same answer: Canada is not doing enough – which leads us into our crtique of the NDP and the Green party. We’ll start with Jack  Layton  and how fortune has finally turned in his direction, especially in Quebec.  Layton’s popularity has surged in Quebec which has  Bloc boss Gille Duceppe scrambling, and the Conservatives and Grits mired at the bottom. It seems to me that people have begun to see the NDP as a viable alternative to the same old parties. Layton was the only one who spoke up about the issues faced by first nations communities in the debates. The Greens have made similar promises but I don’t expect them to make much of a splash this time around – like the NDP, the Greens have to be patient.

On a final note, get out there and Vote! Young and old, rich or poor, get out there and vote, it may not feel like much but in this election every vote counts!

Election Time part two: Will someone please think of the children?

The child welfare system in this country is problematic at best, but when children who already have strikes against them gets less services because of the color of their skin, then what is left to be done? That is the case for the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFC), who launched a discrimination suit against the federal government for short-changing first nations children. First Nations children on reserve receive less child welfare funding than other children in Canada despite the fact that First Nations children have higher child welfare needs, repeated reports by the FNCFC have said.

In 2007 the FNCFC along with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) filed a human rights complaint alleging that the Government of Canada is discriminating against First Nations children on the basis of race and national ethnic origin. Shirish Chotalia, Chair of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, dismissed the case on a preliminary motion brought by the Federal Government even though the Federal Government had tried, and failed, to get the case dismissed on similar grounds in Federal Court on two previous occasions. Executive Director Cindy Blackstock spoke with me over the phone about the case and what it means for the complaint now.

“Canada has been trying to get out of it facing a hearing on the facts, and the chair gave them that opportunity, she never considered the facts and ruled on a technicality,” said Chotalia. Which begs the question: where do they go from here? “The Canadian Human Rights Commission is on board and vows to keep fighting this,” Chotalia added. And that’s all they can do. In the end this will probably end up at the Supreme Court of Canada, where the Feds will fight tooth and nail not to accept responsibility for short-changing our youth. When I first read about this I felt sick to my stomach because it reminded me of the residential schools, this time not because of physical but financial abuse. Once again, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has proven that they don’t know how to do their jobs.

It seems to me that Canada’s history of harming first nations children is still alive and well. The decision has brought condemnation from first nations groups across the country. Chief Angus Toulouse from the Ontario Chiefs had this to say about the decision, “We’re talking about our children that are most vulnerable, that they [should be] taken care of properly, yet the ruling tells me that the government and the court system is willing to discriminate against our children.” That is at the heart of the matter: legal discrimination against children… didn’t the government just apologize for harming first nations children (see: apology for residential schools)?

I’ve watching politicians for several years now and the thing that bugs me the most is the consistent refusal to accept responsibility for what they have done. This matter would be easily resolved if INAC would work to correct the problem instead of making excuses and playing the blame game. This country would move more smoothly if our leaders would just sit down and work out the problems. With that, here is a critique of the official opposition!

In this election the Liberals have promised a great many things. Things like proper health care, commitments to a national task force for missing and murdered native women, re-funding of the SIS, and bringing the chiefs and provincial leaders back to the table to reconstitute the Kelowna accord. “The Kelowna accord was a process, the first time Federal, Provincial and Aboriginal leaders sat together around a table on the basis of equality. We will make commitments on health, on education, and housing and those remain the issues that have to be fixed in aboriginal Canada,” said Ignatieff when I asked him about it on March (listen to the full interview on The Longhouse). He went on to talk about the need to bring people back to the table to address the issues facing first nations in Canada. I haven’t decided yet who I will vote for but when it comes to the Federal parties, the Grits seem to be the only party that can unseat the Conservatives. A recent Nanos poll showed that the Conservatives’ comfortable lead has dwindled since the announcement of the election. It could become a real race if Ignatieff does well during the two debates. Canadians will just have to wait and see…

Election time part one: the Missing and Murdered

Since there is an election coming up within the next 4 weeks we have decided to spend that time talking about what elections mean for us: first nations. Each week we will focus on one particular issue facing first nations and share our opinion on one of the five federal parties (yes, I count the Green party, because all our voices need to be heard!).

When Shannon Alexander, 17, and Maisy Odjick, 16 went missing near Maniwaki Que, on Sept. 6 no one said “boo!” It was a week later when the mainstream media finally picked the story and reported that the two teens were missing: no Amber alert, no massive search with hundreds of volunteers, no media and police. There was no Victoria Stafford-like attention to the case. Stafford was the 8 year old Canadian girl abducted from Woodstock, Ontario on April 8, 2009, and murdered. She was last seen on security footage walking with Terri-Lynne McClintic who was convicted in her murder and sentenced to life.

The things that bothered me most about the differences between the Alexander/Odjick and Stafford cases was how they were treated by the police, media and public. Little blond girl goes missing and they call out the army, two native teens go missing and… nothing! The Stafford case was tragic, but what’s even more tragic is that not all abduction cases are treated like that of Victoria Stafford’s. From what I’ve seen, cases are not always judged on their merits, but on skin color and social class. How else can you explain the thousands of natives that have gone missing or have been murdered since the 1980’s? Which brings me to my next point: what does it take for the government, police forces and justice system to act? I mean, really act?

I was part of a press scrum involving Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, and I asked him about the Sisters in Spirit and a National task force to investigate missing and murdered native women. He said, “You can’t have a country where 500+ people go missing and there’s no judicial attempt to find out the truth. Finding out the truth is an homage to these women so to make sure that this doesn’t happen to their daughters!” When asked if the Sisters in Spirit would be part of that plan? “Absolutely! The Sisters in Spirit has done wonderful work. The Harper government cuts them and makes false promises. We think they do good work and we want to sustain that support for them!”

Since the Harper government came to power, not just native women have suffered because of his policies, but all women. By not directly addressing the issue of missing and murdered women Harper has made it clear that all women in Canada don’t count! You just have to take a look at the cancellation of the national child-care program, the product of years of negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces’ women’s groups. Then there’s the closure of 12 of 16 regional offices of the Status of Women Canada across the country. It has also eliminated funding for the Status of Women Independent Research Fund.

In 2010 the Harper government (he likes it if we refer to the government that way) allocated ten million dollars to the issue of missing and murdered native women, but he did not renew funding for the Sisters in Spirit initiative, whose database compiled the cases of nearly 600 native women. I understand that we need to be conservative in these recession era times, but this is conservatism on crack! Especially when instead of taking care of the people, he’s spending billions on fighter jets and giving corporations tax breaks, all the while talking about being fiscally responsible!

Which leads me into my critique of the Conservative party in this election. The Conservatives have been power for 5 years, and what have they done? We know that they have proven not to be a friend to women, but what else? The Native Healing foundation: funding slashed. Native policing: funding slashed. Montreal Native Woman’s shelter: funding slashed – and there is much more! Then there are the scandals that have to led to contempt of Parliament charges. Do we want another conservative government that blatantly disregards the rules, or should we go with a party that has the vision to see what needs to be done in this country?

Irkar Beljaars is the producer
of Native Soidarity News on
Ckut radio and the Longhouse
on podbean.com. You can reach him
@ native@ckut.ca or Mohawk_Voice
on twitter

December the 6th

A Day I’ll Never Forget

Yesterday was December the 6th. It’s been 21 years since the massacre at the Ecole Polythechnique. No matter how much time has gone by, I remember the day like it was yesterday. I remember coming home and watching the news, without knowing what had happened, and seeing all the ambulances, police cars, and emergency personnel responding to some shooting that had happened earlier in the day. By the end of the hour I would find out that 14 women lost their lives.

One of the images that still sticks out in my mind is a picture from that day. The bullet holes in the walls. The blood on the floor. And one of the victims slumped backwards in her chair in the cafeteria. I don’t remember the magazine that this appeared in, but I found it an extremely tasteless way to portray a victim. I felt it was just a way of selling magazines. At the same time, it did drive home the horror of such an incident. Sometimes, people need to see the ugliness of humanity to understand that change needs to happen.

That day is always going to be marked in infamy, and the aftermath is always going to stay with me as well. I was 17 at the time, and I remember what it was like to go to school the next day. Everyone was talking about it. The school was pretty much shut down because of the subject. Math, gym, social sciences … all of that was replaced with what had happened at the University of Montreal.

The girls in my class would stay away from the boys. There was constant whispering. No one wanted to step out of line for fear of being likened to Marc Lapine. One of the most disturbing pieces of news came out a few days later. A woman was calling various hospitals and threatening to kill all the male babies so that they wouldn’t grow up to hurt women.

It wasn’t a good time to be male in this city. Everyone was afraid of you. It was like Mark Lapine imprinted his malice towards women on the city. I remember getting into a fight in school and someone yelling out “Oh, he might have a gun!” Marc Lapine changed everything. Not just in Montreal, but in every city across Canada. He took violence against women to a whole new level. In the days and months afterwards, questions flooded in. How was Lapine able to get a rifle? Why he didn’t receive psychiatric treatment…? Why, why, why? And nobody seemed to have any answers. Especially not the politicians.

Everyone has that day they’re going to remember, whether it’s good or if it’s bad, because of its life-altering quality. Even at the age of 17 I knew that Lapine’s actions were going to have repercussions for decades to come. Naturally, the politicians said that swift action needed to be taken, so that women could be protected and could feel safe in the community. One of those things was the long gun registry that the Conservatives have been adamant about destroying.

When I think about all of this now, I feel like things have just gotten worse.

Violence against women is on the rise. There’s more apathy than ever. It’s true. 1989, 21 years ago, there were hundreds more Native Women on this planet who had not yet gone missing. Though violent crime has gone down, crimes of other sorts are on the rise. You just need to look at the rape statistics at any University in this country, and you’ll see its not getting better, it’s getting worse. Sometimes I think people have forgotten the message that came out of Lapine’s massacre. People have forgotten that a man killed 14 women because he believed they were feminists. He believed the world was out to get him. He’s definitely still not the only man that thinks this way.

December 6th should be a National day to remember violence against women. And not just one kind of women, but all women, of all walks of life, be they sex workers or students, lawyers or the homeless women. Women all together.

Mark Lapine succeeded in doing two things. He reminded us how savage humans can be, and he made us realize that no one is safe. While we can try to be vigilant in our everyday lives, the problem runs deep, and is systematic. We shouldn’t feel sorry for Lapine. What we need to do is understand mental illness better. We need a better health care system so men – people – like him don’t fall through the cracks. Because when people like him fall through the cracks, we’re all to blame.

************* ************* *************

There is something else my girlfriend pointed out, in her brilliance:

There is a well publicized and nationally recognized vigil for the Polythecnique Massacre every year, but few and sparsely attended vigils for the 582 missing and murdered native women in Canada. This shows the difference between violence that happens suddenly and in the open, versus in alleys, on back roads, and homes – the kind of violence we call “domestic,” and to the people who have fallen through society’s cracks. We remember some violence (towards people of education who society approves of), but blatantly ignore systemic violence – much of it just as gruesome as the massacre – when it happens to the people we have cast away as a society.