Assembly of First Nations communique from National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

Submitter Name: 
Brian Beaton
Submitters Email: 
brianbeaton@knet.ca

A Communiqué from National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo

October 2009

The Assembly of First Nations issues regular updates on the National Chief’s activities and work underway at the national office. More information can be found on the AFN’s website at www.afn.ca

The Assembly of First Nations is embarking on a strategic and forward-looking agenda. I believe this is our time, a time for Indigenous peoples to come together in recognition and respect to lead the change that is required for our people. In that spirit, I am pleased to provide the following update on recent activities.

H1N1 Preparedness and the Government of Canada – AFN Communications Protocol

With the arrival of Fall, First Nations are concerned about the possible return of the H1N1 virus. As such, there is a need to improve communications at all levels to ensure the best preparedness and planning possible. The Assembly of First Nations has been working hard to ensure the government deals directly with First Nations and is responsive to our needs and proposals. On September 19, I signed on behalf of the AFN, a Communications Protocol with the federal ministers of Indian Affairs and Health Canada.

The Communications Protocol – titled Working Together on H1N1 Preparedness - commits the Government of Canada and the AFN to work together to plan for and respond quickly and effectively to an H1N1 flu-virus pandemic in First Nation communities. The protocol also enables the AFN to review a Joint Action Plan between Health Canada and INAC that outlines how the two federal departments are working together so that First Nation communities are prepared to respond to H1N1 and pandemic issues. The objective is to ensure that the federal plan sets out a comprehensive and coordinated approach.

The protocol also commits the Assembly of First Nations and Health Canada to co-chair a “virtual summit” on H1N1. The virtual summit will be broadcast on-line and will feature a panel of experts who can update First Nations on the most recent information about H1N1. It will be interactive, and First Nations will have an opportunity to raise their issues and concerns and get the answers they need. We hope the virtual summit will improve transparency and access to information about H1N1, control and management for First Nations on and off reserve as well as on settlement lands. Currently, we are planning for the Summit to take place some time in the month of November. We will provide specific details very soon.

The H1N1 Communications Protocol can be found at http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/hb/cmprtcl-eng.asp and the Health Canada – Indian Affairs Joint Action Plan can be found at http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/hb/h1actpln-eng.asp There are links on our website as well.

While H1N1 remains a top priority there are many other health concerns to be addressed. One of those issues I recently raised with Minister Aglukkaq is the renewal of the Upstream Programs that represent over $700 million for community programming. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of the First Nations leadership to actively advocate for these renewals. The absence of these critical resources will cripple any efforts presently being undertaken to advance the health outcomes of First Nations people. I would not feel confident that tri-partite discussions, for example, would advance any further in the face of significant program cuts. I will continue to press on other fronts on issues such as mental health, health human resources and governance issues. For further information on these critical renewals and other issues please contact the AFN Health Secretariat.

The AFN Women’s Council and Action for First Nations Women

October is Women’s History Month, a time to remember and honour the many contributions First Nations women have made to our communities, our nations and this country as a whole. Of course, the work of First Nations women and the AFN’s actions on these issues is not confined to a single month. The AFN and the AFN Women’s Council are pursuing an aggressive and ambitious agenda.

First, I want to congratulate Kathleen McHugh, Chair of the AFN Women’s Council, on being awarded the “Aboriginal Women in Leadership Distinction Award” at the 10th Annual National Aboriginal Women in Leadership Training Conference. Kathleen McHugh and the AFN Women’s Council are central and essential in all our work at the AFN.

On September 30, Kathleen McHugh participated in the release of Amnesty International’s report No More Stolen Sisters. The report called for all governments to work with Indigenous leaders and women on a National Plan of Action on missing and murdered women.

Kathleen McHugh and I also participated in the October 4 Sisters in Spirit vigil organized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) to raise awareness about missing and murdered women. We support the call for a National Plan of Action on this issue and we have called on Parliament’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to strike a joint committee to review the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls and to ensure that Canada’s report to the United Nations has input from Indigenous women and leaders.

First Nations Child Welfare and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Complaint

On September 14, a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began hearing a historic case that says the federal government is discriminating against First Nation children in the federal child welfare system. It is the first time a human rights complaint case involving discrimination against First Nations has been filed with the Human Rights Commission.

The AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) filed the case with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) two years ago. It is based on the fact that the federal government is not funding First Nations child welfare agencies at the same level as provincial services, the result being unequal services. This reality has been substantiated by a number of reports, including the Auditor General of Canada (2008) and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (2009). Our children deserve the same care as other children in Canada. We would hope all parties could work together to address the inequities in the system, yet the government has refused mediation on three occasions and is instead spending thousands of dollars to try to derail the complaint. This is not the way to proceed and this is not in the interest of our children.

I attended the opening of the hearing and participated in a press conference with the FNCFCS later that day. In all these efforts, I want to thank the FNCFCS and their CEO, Cindy Blackstock, for their work, their support and their strong advocacy on this issue. We have asked the Tribunal for a stay in proceedings until November 16, which was granted, so that we have the time to build the best case possible. The federal government launched a judicial review in September challenging the Tribunal’s right to hear the case, and we are waiting to hear the result of that review as well.

The numbers, sadly, speak for themselves: currently there are 27,000 First Nation children in care (approximately 9,000 in First Nations Child and Family services, the remainder in provincial services). The main reason First Nations children come into care is neglect due to poverty.

The Tribunal proceedings are open to the public. Updates on the tribunal will also be available at www.fnwitness.ca Everyone can help by going to the website and signing up to be a witness to the tribunal, stating that you will follow the case through the media or by attending in person.

The McIvor Case and First Nations Citizenship

First Nation citizenship and identity are fundamental to Nationhood. First Nations have never ceded authority in this area. Yet our systems have been undermined by Canada’s laws and policies, most notably the Indian Act, that have served to divide our families and communities.

The McIvor case touches on many of these problems, including gender discrimination and discrimination against the status of children. The case was launched in 1987 and the BC Court of Appeal issued its ruling in April 2009. It stated that the 1985 amendments to the Indian Act were discriminatory against First Nations women and children, but that only provisions in sections 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) need to be addressed. The ruling gave the federal government one year to amend the legislation.

This narrow ruling means that much of the discrimination will still remain in the Act and full rights would be extended only to a small number of the descendents of women who lost status before 1985. The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but there has been no decision as yet as to whether the Supreme Court will hear the appeal.

In the mean time, the federal government announced that it will amend the Indian Act based on the BC Court of Appeal’s decision. In August, INAC released a discussion paper outlining its approach and its proposed options, which you can find here: http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/br/is/mci-eng.asp

INAC is conducting “information sessions” across the country but is not consulting with First Nations and maintains that it has no requirement to do so. How the government can maintain it does not need to consult on a fundamental matter of First Nations rights and jurisdiction is not clear. INAC says it will introduce amendments to the Indian Act in early 2010. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the appeal, the government will halt this work.

The AFN continues research and policy development that will assist in the transition from the Indian Act to First Nations’ systems. This includes a comprehensive legal and policy review of INAC’s options. AFN will make this information available to First Nations as soon as it is ready. As well, AFN will urge Canada to take this opportunity to address discrimination, move forward on the broader issue of First Nations jurisdiction and address the matter of First Nation citizenship once and for all.

If you have questions or would like to let us know your views on this, please contact Karen Campbell at kcampbell[at]afn.ca

Upcoming AFN Special Chiefs Assembly – Resolutions Deadline November 9

The Assembly of First Nations is pleased to announce that a Special Chiefs Assembly will be held at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario from December 8 – 10. Information and a detailed agenda will be sent out very soon, and watch the AFN’s website for more information. The theme for this session will be First Nations - Crown Relations and we are looking at options to enable full discussion and dialogue among Treaty groups and Nations to set the right framework to discuss all the important matters before us.

By way of update, resolutions from the 2009 AGA in July have been passed on a provisional basis, with only a few exceptions, by the AFN Executive. These resolutions will be put before Chiefs-in-Assembly as an omnibus resolution. Any outstanding resolutions will be brought forward for individual consideration.

The resolutions deadline for the upcoming SCA is November 9 (one month prior to the SCA). Please ensure you provide any proposed resolutions to the AFN Resolutions Committee by that time at: resolutions[at]afn.ca

This is the first national gathering since the election in Calgary and it promises to be an exciting opportunity to share information and plan our strategy and activities for the coming year. I look forward to reporting to you on the transition process, the newly accepted Strategic Plan of the National Executive and important recommendations related to focusing and stream-lining AFN to directly respond to your needs and create a sustainable, effective organization for the future. I look forward to seeing all of you in Ottawa in December!

National Chief’s Schedule - Community Visits and Key Meetings

I continue to be pleased and honoured to travel to so many First Nations communities across the country. Since my election, I’ve been to almost every region and more visits are scheduled. We have also been setting up key meetings and presentations to advance our agenda. A very brief rundown on some of these activities both past and upcoming includes:

September 22 & 23 – Address at Treaties 1 – 11 Gathering in Enoch, Alberta
October 5 – Meeting with federal Deputy Ministers
October 6 – Presentation to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Northern Affairs
October 13 – Presentation to the National Congress of American Indians
October 15 – Trip to Island Lake Tribal Council First Nations in Manitoba
October 22 – Special Presentation to the Conference of Canada School of Energy and Environment
October 28 – Presentation to University Presidents
October 29 – Participation at the Provincial Aboriginal Affairs Ministers’ Working Group

I look forward to meeting many of you over the coming weeks and months. Please contact the AFN office at any time to get in touch with me.

Assembly of First Nations, 473 Albert Street, Suite 810, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 5B4
Toll-free: 1-866-869-6789 Fax: (613) 241-5808 or www.afn.ca