by Dr. David Swann, Guest Columnist
First Nations people’s movement began as a result of four Saskatchewan women who were deeply concerned about the undemocratic process that brought the federal Omnibus Bill C-45 into effect just before Christmas. It built on significant changes to federal environmental law in April 2012 in its predecessor Bill C-38.
These origins in themselves are remarkable since some of the First Nation chiefs endorsed the Omnibus Bill and these courageous citizens are challenging their own leadership at the same time as the federal government. The uprising may appear unfocused but in my view it focuses on three issues which all conscientious Canadians should support:
1) The rejection of the Omnibus process (Omnibus bills hide unpopular changes in order to pass them along with important changes such as the federal budget, in this case);
2) The rejection of a weakening of environmental oversight, particularly related to fresh water (navigable rivers);
3) The lack of consultation and accommodation in changes to the Indian Act which could benefit some on reserves but further disadvantage the most disadvantaged.
The prompt action and growing movement has captured the imagination of many citizens in and outside of Canada and from many cultures and backgrounds. It is uniting many citizens who previously lost faith in the willingness or the ability of elected officials at all levels to act in the long term public interest.
Undoubtedly, some practical and efficient changes are made in parts of Bill C-45 and C-38 but, even environmental law experts are unclear as to how Bill 38 amendments square with the new amendments in C-45. This also raises serious questions about what environmental monitoring will be offloaded to the provincial governments, Alberta included.
The Idle-No-More movement presents an important opportunity for us all to engage in our democratic rights and responsibilities, and press for the changes in our public processes and institutions to get reform. One key area needing reform is public access to information and strict accountability for politicians that serve themselves or do not serve the interest of all people and future generations.
This movement is also an opportunity to recover a sense of solidarity with First Nations and stop the ‘blame game’ that serves neither First Nations nor other Canadians. The truth is that we are all responsible for the conditions of our society, including First Nations, and we all pay dearly when any group or individual is marginalized and wounded. Together, we must find a new way forward and expand the healing circles of our lives. Each one of us has the ability to listen, to reflect and to walk with others in their journey to healing. The divisions and wounds across our society will never be solved by government policies, or programs or more money alone. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is finding, a new approach is needed to engage each other as brothers and sisters seeking community.
Far from dismissing or disrespecting Idle-No-More, all Canadians should take the opportunity to meet First Nations, learn about their lives and contributions, learn from them and be part of healing the most important social, economic and environmental challenges of our time.
A majority of Canadians see that our democracy is not functioning well and, sadly, many of us have given up. First Nations are reminding us that we have a country and people (including our children) that are too valuable to give up on. It is time for each of us to resolve to be idle no more.
Dr. David Swann is the Liberal MLA Calgary Mountain View.