Sit not idly b’y

A little story about joining Canada, promises unkept, the erosion of our sovereignty, and redefining our future together

Imagine that you come from a place that was once a proud and independent little nation. A little sovereign of federated communities, loosely strung together by a common history and a strong connection to the land and sea. A heritage forged by the daily struggles of eking out a living for your family, and indeed, your people – a people who lived and shared amongst each other and used those lands exclusive of other peoples for over 500 years.

Now imagine that one day, you saw that your people were becoming more impoverished – particularly in comparison to other nations around you. Many wars and battles with your neighbours’ common enemies have seemingly taken a greater toll on your nation than others. Your leaders begin to consider new ways in which to help their people, but a new world order has been imposed. The economies of bartering away the fruits of the sea and land are no longer as profitable as they were in them days.

Care for health, education, and general social well being is being provided better for people in other jurisdictions – but you can’t afford to provide them in your little nation. You need help to adapt to the rapid industrialization and diversification of the economy. The world has become a very different place in a very short time.

Sounding a little familiar?

So in order to help your people adapt to this new world so that they too may grow strong and prosper, you look at ways to work with the other nations. You put the question to your people – do we go it alone? Or do we cede our sovereignty to another, larger nation? On the one hand, independence might well mean you remain the masters of your own misery. On the other, you are being wooed by another nation with promises of welfare, employment, education, health care, policing, justice, development of stronger governance for your region, and a whole host of promises that will help develop your economy.

What’s more, they promise you will remain the masters of your own house. You will forever be able to use your lands and waters as you always have. You will always benefit from the development of your lands. You will always have control over what you had control over before. That’s what you get when you join the Great Dominion of Canada – all the good things and you get to keep control over your lands and the development of them.

We will forever be equal partners in this confederation.

They put it on paper, you signed it.

We know how this goes right?

It doesn’t take but a generation or two to see that you didn’t get what you thought you were getting. The once vast and proud resources of your forefathers (and grandmothers!) are being developed around you, and the benefits seem to go not to your government or your people but to the one that you joined. Your power seems to have diminished greatly since the time when you were allies, and since you joined in partnership. You don’t seem to have control over the resources that your people brought into this confederation.

Your fish are all but gone.

Your rivers are dammed, for someone else’s gain.

Oil, minerals, trees.

It’s a struggle just to get some kind of agreement to benefit from the impacts of resources developed in (what was once) entirely your back yard (and front yard, and the waters all around). Your partner in confederation is in Ottawa, and manages your life through books of regulations.

What can you do about it?

I s’pose you could vote for change, now that voting is available to you. You could help elect people to the legislature, and if you’re lucky they’ll be the same kind of people as you, and once in a blue moon they’ll be in a position of power. But in all likelihood your representative isn’t even from your community, and most certainly the member(s) for your region are vastly outnumbered in the legislature so the point is generally moot.

What’s more, the local government that you have, has often been accused of pandering to Ottawa. Or they’re just downright ineffective. But even those times that you have a good local government – one that delivers health services, education programs, social assistance, infrastructure, emergency services and all the other good things that government is supposed to do – they often argue they don’t have enough money.

Rurality/remoteness compounds the problem

I mean it’s harder and costlier to deliver the same level and quality of programs to your people as your other provincial counterparts receive, when you have so few funding sources – particularly if your government was (made to be?) accustomed to having the federal government as a major contributor for so many years. It’s even harder to deliver the same level of programming in the rural communities which your region of the country is known for.

So what do you do when you look at your provincial counterparts, at the level of funding/quality of programs/services they receive, and you feel you aren’t receiving the same level of care? What do you do when you see revenues flow from resources (that you feel you brought into this confederation in the first place) to other jurisdictions?

If only you could be the full beneficiary of the resources you brought into this great country – instead of getting scarce revenues transferred from the federal government.

The sneak

While you might think this second-person narrative has been of you as a Newfoundlander, or your government, it is not (for once); it is from the vantage of an Aboriginal person. I’ve heard time and again how Newfoundland brought so many resources into Canada, and how Canada has been raping them for decades. I’ve also heard time and again how Newfoundland has been tricked or hard-done-by in its negotiated agreement to join Canada.

I’ve heard how you feel how the Canadian wolf has reneged on those promises, and how Ottawa disrespects your people. How Ottawa has allowed other provinces, and other jurisdictions, to trample on you.

How you have no say in how Ottawa is run – how a bunch of bureaucrats in some up-along tower arbitrarily determines the health and employment funding your government receives, the programs you can access – and you are politically powerless to do anything about it.

Except occasionally your political leaders can take pot shots, or make bold public attacks, and attack the federal government. It makes for good poll results.

And other times, you can have a grassroots protest

And that’s essentially what is happening with the “Idle No More” protests. The grassroots people are tired of their leaders, and those of the federal and provincial governments. They are tired of substandard programs and services (this is what they allege, my official stance as a government employee is that I don’t have a public opinion – i.e. I’d rather get fired for something really good).

They are tired of a patchwork of social supports that other jurisdictions have unified – like quality regional education systems rather than ones organized community by community – or health care,  housing and social assistance funds. If you want to read more on what the Assembly of First Nations has published in regards to First Nation funding go here.

There’s lots more information out there – and even more misinformation – but suffice it to say that “your tax dollars” aren’t being wasted. Canadians got a pretty good deal by being able to build this amazing country on the Lands that Aboriginal people shared. You wouldn’t have tax dollars if they didn’t share the land with you in those treaty dealios.

And it was a deal.

As far as I can tell, all the Idle No More protestors are asking for is to honour those deals. I for one believe that we must deal with the grassroots’ perceived inequities (aside from the political grandstanding by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal politicians). Because if we don’t, this kind of movement will only get bigger, more powerful, and escalate to seriously disrupting economic corridors. And it will spread.

Like, to this province.

The system probably does need to be reformed, from local governance right on up. Our relationship with each other needs to be reaffirmed and we need to make our society more equitable for everyone.

They want the same things you do, and if you believe Greg Balone’s (sic) view that the terms of our union aren’t what they seemed, why not help guide the change instead of having it imposed on you?

(P.S. – NO, Aboriginal governments are NOT flush with money and corruption, but with a few exceptions as is the case with non-Aboriginal governments)

(P.P.S – This column has precisely 1491 words, for those who share my silly and dry sense of humour. The number indicates a unique time in history and also an Aboriginal comedy group of the same number).

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