Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Manitoba Aboriginal Political Groups abundant in number and in acronyms.

In Canada the Treaty Indians (also known as Status Indians) are represented nationally by the Assembly of First Nation (AFN). I believe they are our National political voice. At the regional level we have the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC)that is suppose to represent the Treaty Indians; 63 Reserves in Manitoba. There are also two political groups that represent the north and south; the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc (MKO) and the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO). Each of these organizations are political voices of the Treaty-Status Indian. A number of the 63 Reserves in Manitoba belong to Tribal Councils. These Tribal Councils (Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council-DOTC;Interlake Reserves Tribal Councils-IRTC; Island Lake Tribal Council-ILTC;Southeast Resource Development Council-SRDC; Swampy Cree Tribal Council-SCTC; West Region Tribal Council-WRTC) are entities that lend a bigger voice for some of the smaller communities. There is also the economies of scale factor with service delivery of programs and services. Being larger can keep costs down for administration in small communities. Some of the larger Bands (Eight of the bigger populations) have opted out of Tribal Councils and are considered Independent Bands. That is they are independent of Tribal Councils. The Bands are further divided into Treaty Groups. Right now the Bands have not organized into political Treaty specific groups, with the exception of Treaty One. In Alberta the Aboriginal political groups are set up as Treaty areas, i.e. Treaty Seven.

The political groups are elected positions, with the exception of the Tribal Councils. All of the national and regional organizations are elected by the Chiefs of the Reserves. The general Aboriginal population does not have a role in the election of these political agencies. The titles of the Elected officials is Grand-Chief. With the AFN there is also a Vice-Chief elected to each province. The Vice-Chief for AFN is elected again by each regions (Province) Chiefs. That sure makes for a lot of political representation. With so many political representation it should be easy for the average Treaty Indian to have his or her voice heard. I have only once sought an audience with one of the many political groups. I was told that they do not handle personal issues. So if I want my voice to be heard I am to turn to the Provincial government Members of the Legislature (MLA) for my area. The MLA's represent all Manitobans regardless of their issue. MLA's are elected by the general population of Manitoba. As a side note there are three Aboriginal MLA's in Manitoba. I could also turn to the Chief of our community. The Chief of each Reserve is elected by their membership. In many cases both the on-Reserve population and the off-Reserve population (people who have moved off the Reserve to towns, cities or other Reserves)take part in election of Chief and Council. In other jurisdictions there maybe hereditary positions. Most if not all in Manitoba have some sort of election process, be it Traditional Custom or Department of Indian and Northern Affairs format. There is one Reserve that has a Chief for life system (really weird situation in that small Reserve). Weird because of who controls the Band registration and the bloodline discrepancy of the Chief's family (but that is all speculation on other people's part).

There are a number of other Aboriginal groups that are quasi-political representatives of Indians and Metis people in Manitoba. It becomes clouded as to who they represent and where their mandate comes from. There is the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg(ACW). They say they represent all Aboriginal in Winnipeg. There is the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) which represents the Metis or Non-status Indians in Manitoba. There is the Mothers of Red Nations (MORN)an Aboriginal advocacy/political voice for women. There is a national body for Aboriginal called the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC). Not finally but another National group that reports to represent Indians across Canada is the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP). On a side note the last National Chief of CAP, Patrick Brazeau was appointed to the Canadian Senate. CAP refers to their leader as National Chief as opposed to Grand Chief.

I think with all these Grand Chiefs, National Chiefs, and Presidents that the Aboriginal population is well represented and they would have a loud voice. I am not sure of how effective these voices are, or even if they are needed. I would hope that their track record is very good at fulfilling their mandate (whatever it is), but I have some skepticism as to the effectiveness of these organizations.

There are three Grand Chief organizations in Manitoba, the AMC, SCO and MKO. Is there really a need for three political voices. Sure there are a number of political and quasi-political governments in the mainstream system: Federal, Provincial, Municipal (Cities, towns, villages, etc.). There is a bit of difference in this situation where these mainstream governments do administer over people. In the case of the Chief organizations, they have no people and capital to administer. They are suppose to be political advocates for the Chiefs. That is part of their problem, the Chief entities are not sure of their own roles. They have now become service providers of programs and services. This is a problem. It takes the funds away from the communities and puts the funds into an entity that is purely political. There is also the problem of overlap. Each organization doing the same action as the other organizations. Another problem is with saturation, there is the weakening of the voice. With these many voices speaking on behalf of the Chiefs (or the Aboriginal population) which voice is the voice of authority. Which voice is of most value? The Grand Chief organizations are taking over the roles that Tribal Councils were set up for. The Tribal Councils are meant to be a united voice for a number of Bands that are either geographically linked, Culturally linked or politically linked. The Tribal Councils also realize economies of scale as service providers. They can have one worker or office to administer finances, education, counselling, capital projects, social programs, economic development, etc. With the Grand Chief organizations they are trying to justify their existence so they move into these areas of service providers.

The biggest and oldest problem that these agencies face and cause is the "divide and conquer" phenomenon. With so many voices, who does the talking? If you don't like who is talking, just go to another voice. The main issue for Indians stem from the interpretation of the Treaties. The Federal government and the Canadian public (and other Governments in Canada)is who the Grand Chiefs need to speak to about the Treaties and issues. If the Federal government and Canadian public don't like what is being said by the Grand Chief, they can move on down the line to another Grand Chief, until they like what they hear.

The other problem faced by these Aboriginal political voices is the issue of who feeds them. These agencies are funded through monies that flow from the government. All governments, in mainstream and in the Aboriginal community say that there is not enough money to work with. In this case the Aboriginal political agencies try to gain more funds by applying to become service providers. These funds for service provision could be best used by Tribal Councils and independent Bands. Instead the funds go to a political organization. Politics is all about getting back into office. How do you get back in office? By promises, and favours. Sometimes you get into office by being effective at your job. Realistically that is not always what takes place. So there you have it. The other issue with being fed, is that the food provider can take away food if it doesn't like what you are saying. Talk too loud or too strong and your food gets taken away.

The Aboriginal voice is stammering. The reason it is stammering is because it does not know what to say and who is to say it. We need to be clear in our voice. With all these voices, there is no clear message. Instead it becomes a competition among themselves. That competitive energy could be better used to listen to the people and give a united strong voice.

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