As protests and Idle No More rallies continued across the country, with some escalating to temporary blockades of roads and railways, Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam described his take on events of the past few weeks.
Adam credits Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger protest with playing a large part in why Prime Minister Stephan Harper agreed to meet with chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) at a mini-summit in Ottawa on Jan. 11, 2013. For Adam, who was in Ottawa at the time but not at the event, it was a productive meeting.
Chief Shawn Atleo, AFN National Chief, told Adam that it was his intention was to ‘set the table for First Nations to negotiate with the federal government on a high level.’
“I think he achieved that,” said Adam.
Atleo’s achievements aside, Adam expressed some frustration with what he called the ‘moving goalpost’ of demands that Chief Spence iterated regarding conditions that would end her fast from solid food.
“Originally, when Chief Atleo went to see her [Spence], she said that she wanted a meeting with the prime minister and then she would end her fast,” said Adam.
When it became clear that the Harper would have a meeting with Spence and representatives of the AFN, the chiefs worked together to develop a framework for discussions.
“All the executives of the 10 provinces [provincial assemblies of First Nations] and of the two territories unanimously agreed to an eight-point plan to present to the prime minister,” said Adam. “You can’t just ask for a meeting with the prime minister without having something in place.”
The eight-point agenda calls for a renewal of high-level ‘nation-to-nation’ treaty talks, resolution of land claims, resource revenue sharing, the repeal of some aspects of C-38 and C-45 omnibus bill legislation, a transformed fiscal relationship, a national public inquiry into violence against indigenous women, schools in every First Nation, and a special cabinet committee dedicated to First Nation/Crown relationships.
In the final days leading up to the meeting, Spence modified her demands. She now wanted to include the governor general in the meeting with all the chiefs present.
“That really took things off keel for a while,” said Adam. “They lost focus a little bit.”
As of Jan. 16, 2012, Spence was maintaining her hunger action despite calls from some chiefs to end her fast as the meeting between the AFN and Harper had happened.
The Jan. 11 meeting was accompanied by many Idle No More rallies across the country in support of the ‘day of action’.
Adam supports Idle No More, although he is concerned by the possibility that the grassroots movement could be co-opted by more militant activists.
“Some of the chiefs in the prairies were very militant and wanted to shut down the whole province, anything that moves,” said Adam. “It’s a big concern. I hope they heed the words of the co-founders, that it is a peaceful movement to educate the public.”
Adam continues to work with the B.C. Assembly of First Nations to deal with the local challenges his band faces, like solving housing and treaty issues.
“Here in B.C. there’s only a few First Nations that have signed treaties,” said Adam. “In our case, we do have a treaty of 1906, but it’s not recognized by the government. That’s one of the things we’re putting on the table.”
Adam expects the agenda set forth in the eight-point plan will continue on track under the direction of the AFN.
“Our next step is to meet in Vancouver on Jan. 24 and 25 with all the chiefs in B.C.,” said Adam. “That’s our next step so that we can move the agenda forward.”
Burns Lake Band Chief Albert Gerow shares Adam’s sentiments regarding keeping things under the direction of the AFN.
“I would like to call upon all chiefs from across Canada to join together and follow the direction of our National Chief Shawn Atleo, and your respective Regional AFN Chiefs,” said Gerow. “It’s only through the strength we bring forward collectively, that will achieve the change we desire, and our people deserve.”