Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
Don’t look to the chiefs. They have no clue. They demanded a meeting with the prime minister — as if there has been a lack of meetings over the past century. To their surprise, he agreed. So the chiefs promptly came up with a new demand. They wanted to meet with the governor general, too.
And he agreed to meet with them after their session with the PM. Which threw the chiefs into a panic and a rage.
It’s tough to take yes for an answer, when you’re looking for a fight.
A fight is precisely what the chiefs wanted, or at least the noisiest ones. Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of all Manitoba Indians, called for a massive shutdown of the Canadian economy if he doesn’t get what he wants.
He’s not sure exactly what it is that he wants. But he’ll shut down the economy if he doesn’t get it. “We’ve got the geography covered,” he yelled at reporters.
It wasn’t just rich chiefs from poor bands. “If we have to shut down this economy then we will,” said Wallace Fox, chief of the Onion Lake band. His band is oil rich, with its own oil company. But he was trying out his Occupy Wall Street script, and the chiefs cheered him on.
Fox and Nepinak and a hundred others had been cooped up in the Delta Hotel in Ottawa, ostensibly to hammer out a negotiating position to take with Harper. But they invited the media into the room. One does not prepare for a political negotiation in public. The meeting became theatre. And the free-for-all descended into a contest of who could out-crazy the others — with Theresa Spence, the snacking hunger-striker from Attawapiskat, as the baseline.
The climax came when the Ontario chiefs announced that if the PM and GG didn’t meet the chiefs, at the same time — this was the cleverest demand they could make on behalf of their people — then they would shut down the province’s roads and railways on Jan. 16.
What kind of leaders demand a meeting with the prime minister, but then refuse to attend over a trifle? Unserious leaders, malicious, spoiled and coddled. The lack of media scrutiny, the lack of financial responsibility, the lack of police response to lawbreaking, have shaped their political culture.
There is no quick answer. Bill C-27, requiring chiefs and band councillors to publish their incomes is a baby step towards fiscal responsibility. Bill C-45, allowing ordinary band members to vote in referendums over real estate decisions, opens the door to democracy on reserves, just a crack. Both are pitifully small increments. The real problem is the Indian Industry — the mass of chiefs, lawyers and consultants that profit off Indians’ misery. Only an Indian Affairs minister with patience, toughness, credibility and the prime minister’s trust could drain that swamp and bring freedom and prosperity to ordinary Indians.
There is such a man, though he will surely rue the suggestion: Jason Kenney, the minister who took five years to fix the second-most corrupt, red-taped, broken, wasteful department in Canada: Immigration.
Kenney didn’t listen to the Immigration Industry — the cousin of the Indian Industry that preyed instead on vulnerable immigrants and profited off a confusing and complex and slow system. He ignored them, and changed the law to fix it.
He found those bureaucrats in Ottawa who wanted to actually solve problems, not to live off those problems.
Kenney’s work in immigration is done. Indian Affairs needs a man who will stare down the entrenched interests. Someone who can respect the cultural authority and traditions of Indian bands, but can fuse them into Canada — to make them Canadian first.
And Indian bands need a champion of their own — from one of their own. Someone on the ground, going band to band, who will seek to reform the corrupted, dependent, extremist political culture that has calcified once-proud and independent bands.
Alas, for that quest, I know of no name.