Real or Fake Promises?

As you know the throne speech came down a few weeks ago and our conservative government decided to throw the first nations a bone. The Government will finally take action to address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women. When the budget came down the following day the Sisters in Spirit initiative were awarded 10 million over two to help draw attention to the 100’s of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. The Government will also work hand-in-hand with Aboriginal communities and provinces and territories improve the situations in most first nation communities. And after all this talk the Native woman’s shelter of Montreal will lose it’s funding at the end of this month, jeopardizing the health and welfare of native women who desperately need the services of the shelter.

After reading the speech and seeing so many goodies for first nations in it, it makes you wonder why now? According to the speech the government will recognize the contributions of Canada’s Aboriginal people. “Too often, their stories have been ones of sorrow. Our Government will continue to build on its historic apology for the treatment of children in residential schools. After settling 17 specific claims since this Parliament began, it will continue to work to resolve additional claims.” The problem I have with this is the apology would have been historic if the Harper Government hadn’t down played the crimes committed during that era. Acknowledge the fact that some did not die in those schools, tens of thousands died due to Tuberculosis and other violent crimes.

I have to say that I am not surprised by the government’s throne speech, after an Olympics where the government promoted a happy and respectful relationship with it’s first nations. Naturally VANOC (Vancouver Olympic Committee) neglected to mention that many first nations communities live in third world conditions, are on boiling water advisories, high suicide rates and drug and alcohol abuse. I guess the government was a victim of their own PR because now they have to live up to their claims of a happy relationship with first nations. It’s also not surprising, political pundits have been hinting at an election for some time and this may be just the government trying to hold on to power by making grandiose statements like those in the speech!

The most surprising of all the announcements was the governments decision to acknowledge the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Our Government will take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.” When this document first came up at the UN all but four countries refused to sign it, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia, The U.S and Australia who recently changed governments have taken steps to sign the Declaration. The former Liberal government had planned to sign but were voted out of office before it was ready and the Harper govt had out right refused to sign it believing that to would affect the land claims already in affect.

So what changed their minds?

Can it be that the Olympics were a good idea?
Can it be that all it took was the magnifying glass of the Olympics to raise the awareness of first nations problems within Canada?

Or is this all just another empty election promise?

The Olympic opening ceremonies

So, the opening ceremonies took place Friday night, and the only word that I could come up with to describe the whole shindig was hypocrisy. Yes, it was nice that they acknowledged the First Nations, but to make it sound like we are all one happy Canadian family is wrong. I am all for Olympic sport, but in the way it was back when it was about the sports and not the big business. VANOC (Vancouver Olympic committee) really screwed the pooch when they first started planning for these Olympic Games.

Since they first got the bid for the Games, the city of Vancouver has done everything in its power to hide what it considers the ugly underbelly of the city. It has tried to cover up high rates of unemployment and the homeless. It’s also done its best to portray a warm and fuzzy police force when in fact, the downtown east side has suffered considerably since the games began, and the poor have been pushed out of the city and treated inhumanely by the city of Vancouver. Not to mention what has happened to the sex workers working the downtown east side. Let’s face it – the Olympics is about celebrating humanity, yet the Canadian government and everyone who’s participated in hosting these games have done their level-headed best to hide the truth of what they’ve done to the poorer people of this country.

First Nations are not one gigantic happy family within the Canadian mosaic. They are one of the poorest societies on the planet. The amount of money that the Canadian government has spent on hosting these games could have cured many of the ailments First Nations are facing today. First Nations would have had better housing, better water, better infrastructure, better safety. Unfortunately, big business once again won out.

The only way VANOC can actually improve their image among the poor people of the country is if a lot of the housing that they’ve built to house Olympic athletes, their trainers and coaches, could become low-cost housing for the poor and homeless. All of this new housing shouldn’t go to the yuppies – it should go to people who desperately need it.

This past weekend, I was at a fundraiser for one of the poorest communities in Canada, Attawapiskat. Attawapiskat, when you say poor, it makes housing in the Gaza strip look like mansions. They have had bad water for years, contaminated ground, and yet Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs have refused to lift a finger. The people in Attawapiskat live in shacks with very litle heat. 50% of the community is homeless. EVen the chief gave up her house so that a family of four could live there instead. There’s very little employment, and yet we spend billions of dollars hosting a bunch of athletes from around the world while hiding what really goes on in this country.

Chuck Strahl, the Minister for INdian and Northern Affairs Canada for weeks stonewalled the fundraiser, saying that we needed a designated set of questions – we can’t ask this, we can’t comment on that. Then, the day before the fundraiser was to happen, his office sent us a letter saying that he was truly sorry he could not make the fundraiser, because he and his family were taking a vacation. What I’d like to know is, how does Chuck Strahl sleep at night when thousands of Canadians really can’t? I mean, what does it take for one of the richest nations in the world to look in the mirror and truly acknowledge what goes on in this country: missing women, poor water, high suicide rates, thousands of homeless people, and third world conditions.

When Health Canada was approached about the contaminated land in Attawapiskat, they refused to declare a state of emergency, because they said there was no proof, even though there was proof. And when I say there was proof, what they did was they fired the person who had the proof. Naturally, what I just said was from a source that’s anonymous. All I can say is that the person is a health care worker who was hired by Health Canada and when asked certain questions, was told to drop it.

I would hope to see that at the end of these games the athletes take something away from here that isn’t just medals, but knowledge. Knowledge that this country isn’t as great as it claims it is. Knowledge that there are people who need help in this country. Knowledge that sure, this may be an athletic competition, but the Olympics is just like a mining, logging, or oil company that goes into a beautiful area and destroys it.

The opening ceremonies, as pretty as they were, neglected to mention that not all First Nations in this country accept that the Olympics are here. They are downright against it. They see the economic impact, but they don’t see any of the economic returns. See, I would be very supportive of any organization that came in and had an event that had an economic impact and also had economic returns, because it would mean that they were taking something, but they would also be giving something back.

Unfortunately, that’s not how big business works in most ways. Capitalism as big and as powerful as it is will eventually die because all it does it take. Big business is more like a cancer than a cure. Sure, big business gives some people jobs, puts food on some peoples’ tables, but it doesn’t really help society because it gives nothing back. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor.

I may sound like a curmudgeon, but I am a realist. I see things for what they are. I see past the fancy suits, the expensive dinners, the shiny shoes. I see what they truly stand for, and that is greed. I will admit, one of the highlights of these games is that they are the greenest Games ever, and that is important – because it is the little things. Now if only we can get big business to start thinking about their impact, their footprint. How hard would it be for one business to help build low-cost housing. Would it truly effect their bottom line? No, it wouldn’t. But it would help their karma.

During the fundraiser, one of the speakers, Cindy Blackstock, mentioned that it wasn’t important to be remembered. It was important to have a good life, to live well, and be kind to others. Because in the end it doesn’t really matter if people remember you. Frankly, I don’t care if anyone remembers me ; just remembers the work that i did.


Irkar Beljaars January 31 at 9:13pm
Hey folks, I’m emceeing this event next month and wanted to know if you could pass the word along in your circles to drum up support for the project. Here is the website for registering and here is some discription of the project itself!

This documentary will celebrate the First Nations people’s will and strength while witnessing the current predicament in which they find themselves. Set on the Attawapiskat First Nation community, this documentary follows this Indian reservation, its current third world conditions, and the heroes of the community working at creating awareness and change. We explore the negative and positive effects that their physical proximity to western civilization has had on their lifestyles, specifically the installation of the DeBeers mining company on their territory.

Being such a young country drives us, as a collective, towards learning more about our history, towards defining ourselves as a compassionate society, towards making things right and just for all who chose to live in our great country and those who were here before us that call Canada home. This documentary will reveal the fact that presently many of our First Nations people live in third world conditions(1) and that without Canada’s collective enlightenment our people will continue to suffer these conditions. As we are currently experiencing, there are great social and economical repercussions when we ignore these types of issues. It is time for hope, it is time to build, it is time to care for all of the people of Canada.

Native communities provide their inhabitants with a sense of belonging, and a rich history and pride in their culture and language. The James Bay Treaty, Treaty no. 9 was portrayed to the inhabitants of the land as a means of protecting their land and culture while being provided the adequacies of Western civilization. “The Indians were giving their faith and allegiance to the King, and for giving up their title to a large area of land of which they could make no use, they received benefits that served to balance anything they were given.”(2) Throughout the years many Canadians as well as governments, whether federal or provincial, have increasingly become aware that the situation of many First Nation reserves is anything but balanced. The standards of living to which most Canadians have become accustomed are not being met in many remote Native communities, such as Attawapiskat. In many cases the federal government has stepped in to “urbanize” the community only to retreat when the funds have run out. This has resulted in inadequate housing, sub standard water treatment facilities if any, challenging access to education, sub standard health care, and inaccessibility to other essentials that many Canadians would consider to be necessities.

The story of the plight facing our First Nations People must be told. We will produce a documentary on this subject through the voices of the people on the Attawapiskat reservation.
Voices of the People fundraiser – Online Event Registration Service plugged in by
Voices of the People fundraiser, Invitations/Parties,Theatre/Movie/Film/TV,Fundraisers/Donation

A little about me!

My name is Irkar Beljaars, I am Metis from Montreal, I have been working in social justice radio for nearly 5 years now. I work as a radio producer, producing Native Solidarity News and The Longhouse webcast on My next project is producing The Longhouse Program, a 30min weekly radio feature airing on the Pacifica network in the United States.

I also help organize events like the Sister’s in Spirit vigil, Day of actions and film nights. I am called on to speak about various first nation issues at universities and community centres in Canada. I sit on the board of Directors of the National Campus Radio Association as director of the Native caucus. I’m currently writing a play for this years infringement festival which takes place in Montreal every year. Other work includes doing freelance writing work for the Nation Magazine which focuses on the issues facing the Cree up in Northern Quebec.