Local First Nations and municipal councils must co-operate

First published:
June 20, 2001

With the Alderville band council election quickly approaching on July 13, it is important for Northumberland to watch closely as local aboriginal people select a leader who will be addressing some key issues that will reach out beyond the reserve’s boundaries over the next year.

Denise Graham, band administrator for Alderville, said the band council is facing a host of issues. One of particular significance to the outside community is the relation between Alderville and the newly amalgamated municipalities of Alnwick and Haldimand townships. The band developed a strong working relationship with Alnwick over its history. Now it is meeting with the new municipality.

But these local discussions will pale in comparison to the ones set to take place with the federal government regarding the future of the Indian Act. This 125-year old piece of legislation has not seen a major overhaul as the one currently being proposed by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault. He wants to have a new act ready for first reading by the fall of 2002.

“In broad terms we would like to look at sharing and developing best practices in the way first nations under the Indian Act govern themselves. We need to build a bridge towards full self-government under the inherent rights policy, which draws on the successes of first nations and respects your traditions and your culture,” said Nault in his announcement on April 30 to a group of Native people.

The reaction from the Assembly of First Nations was swift and angry. National Chief Matthew Coon Come clearly rejected the proposal, calling on all First Nation communities to boycott the federal government’s consultation.

“First Nations citizens and governments are asking for fair and equitable treatment. This means giving them the tools to manage their own affairs and provide for their communities,” he said.

Any negotiations to take place will be done on a “nation-to-nation” basis, he added.

Certainly the stage is set for a national debate on First Nation’s governance. For our community, it is a good opportunity to take stock of our relationship with the Native people in Northumberland.

To begin, it is important to recognize the precedent for nation-to-nation negotiations between aboriginals and Canadians. One little known example of this was the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701 where a peace accord was signed by 1,300 native envoys representing the Iroquois nation. Native leaders from as far away as the Missouri River to the Ottawa Valley met with Louis-Hector de Calliere, New France’s governor, to end years of French-Indian war.

There are many other examples. Unfortunately, longstanding ignorance, prejudice and racism have meant generations of Native People have been left on the sidelines. It is no surprise Coon Come is telling Canada enough is enough. He has even suggested there may be civil unrest similar to Oka, when the military and Native warriors squared off in 1990 over a sacred burial ground on the Mohawk territory of Kanehsatake.

The Alderville band council has not held any formal discussions, nor taken a position on the consultations with the federal government, said Graham. The band council is working on a number of issues, hence there has not been enough time to devote to a full discussion, she explained. No doubt with a band election on the horizon, there might also be some reticence to leap into such an important discussion until after the new council is elected.

But that does not need to stop the rest of us from sitting down and reflecting on this landscape. During Oka, Northumberland County residents watched as some Native people set up roadblocks on Highway 45 in sympathy with the Mohawk warriors. While there was not violence, it was a chilling reminder that the level of despair is so great that civil disobedience is exercised in order to generate action.

Graham says she personally hopes the newest confrontation with the federal government does not result in similar actions. But the broader community needs to respond in a positive way.  We need to become educated about what is going on, both in Alderville and the country. Ignorance will be the greatest ally of both sides. It will allow those who wish to manipulate the discussions to prey on prejudice and racist attitudes, ending any chance of moving forward. Broader pressures from outside the Native community can assist them in reaching their objectives, without taking away from the integrity of their self-determination.

Finally, Northumberland MP Paul Macklin must step forward and take action, with the same heart and determination he shows for the ITER project or farmers or economic development.

Lastly, we should take this opportunity to build stronger relations between Alderville and the rest of the community. Findley can provide leadership both as reeve of Haldimand and as county warden. The candidates standing for election should also seek to build a revitalized relationship with the broader community. The new council could take this as part of its new mandate.

Our history shows there is beneficial, mutual strength when Canada and First Nations are allies. Let us find the common ground once again.

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