Fire This Time: To start off, could you tell me who you are and where you’re from?
Art Manuel: I’m Arthur Manuel, and I’m from the Neskonlith Indian Reserve in the Secwepemc Nation near Chase, BC, Canada. I’m also spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economy and Trade, but here I was involved in being the spokesman for the Grassroots People’s Coalition. We were organizing in response to the First Minister’s conference here in Kelowna during the 24th and 25th of November 2005.
FTT: What do you think is the significance of the meeting that was held between the First Ministers, Paul Martin, and some of the major Aboriginal organizations in Canada?
AM: I think the main significance of it was that the Canadian government has been able to basically co-opt our national Aboriginal organizations into a strategy to deal with the symptoms of poverty as opposed to trying to deal with the cause of our poverty. Indigenous people at the grassroots level, especially the ones who have gathered here in Kelowna, have always been struggling with the federal and provincial governments with regards to Aboriginal title and Aboriginal fishery rights. And we’ve always been demanding the government recognize Aboriginal treaty rights, but that is not being done.
And with this agenda that they’ve sort of adopted across the street, what they’ve done is they’ve basically gotten the Indian/Aboriginal organizations to abandon Aboriginal treaty rights too and instead focus on social programs like education, health, and housing, and economic development. And they’re going to use that signed-on agenda against the people who are struggling to have rights recognized and dealt with, because what they’re going to do is they’re going to do how Sun Peaks does by charging people with trespassing, or they are going to charge people for fishing without a permit, or fishing during a closed period or something, what they call ‘closed.’ The things which in those cases, they are asserting their authority over us and they are trying to say that we are breaking their rules, whether they use the Land Act or the Fishing Act, and when we go to court the government prosecutors use agreements like this ten-year agreement and other agreements, any kind of sweetheart deal that they’ve got with Indian people.
They use them to say “OK, the good Indians, the responsible Indians. They signed this real good agreement about housing, education, health and economic development. That’s what the good Indians want to do.” And they look at the youth, especially a lot of the youth and elders, and they’re going to say, “Oh you’re bad Indians so we’re going to send you to jail for 45 days to smarten you up.” And so that’s how those agreements actually bite back on people. You sort of somehow think that they are going to help, but they are actually really dangerous, especially the way they use these agreements. And it shows they are basically managing Indian people. But, I have no confidence in them because in the end, 10 years from now, they’re probably going to spend another $5 billion, and its not going to make a hell of a difference to us, simply because poverty is still going to be there because you’re not getting to the root.
The root cause is non recognition of Aboriginal treaty rights. The minute they recognize Aboriginal rights here, that means that the Okanogan own the property underneath this building and are entitled to revenue because it’s raised as a consequence, the use of this building for their commercial purposes. So that is not there now. It’s just not there. They are not going to provide that kind of dialogue to address poverty from that perspective. You know, the real thing that needs to be fixed isn’t Indian people vis a vis health, education and housing. The real thing that needs to be fixed in this country is the Canadian economic system, because the Canadian economic system isn’t based on recognizing Aboriginal treaty rights. It means that the entrepreneurs and government can just basically steal the land from us, from underneath our feet. That isn’t possible in other countries. The Chinese have been buying and selling land for centuries, the Europeans have been doing it for centuries too, buying and selling land. They have to deal with the real cost of a ski resort. Sun Peaks didn’t even steal it from the Shuswap. Get a couple of Shuswap chiefs to agree with it and it’s actually a real fraudulent form of capitalism because it is based upon non-recognition of the primary land interests that the industry and government are using.
FTT: We read about how good this deal is going to be for Native people in this country in the major media. How do you think Indigenous people are really going to be affected by this new 10-year agreement?
AM: The one that doesn’t recognize fundamental rights recognized under the constitution and recognized under the courts. That’s the problem and that’s the thing that needs fixing. Not us. So, we’re going to assume the blame for that. And we’re going to run around and try to have programs and that kind of thing, but the problem with that process is that they look at the federal and provincial government as having mutually exclusive jurisdiction on all money and all programs. So, we’re outside still, looking at those two governments and that’s the dialogue that the meeting is going to be like because the money is going to come from those guys. And through that money, they are going to be manipulated in the direction of an agenda.
They are going to be co-opted, and they’re [the government] still going to wind up with the exclusive jurisdiction at the end of the day. In terms of Indian education, take a look at it. They’re not really talking about Indian control of Indian education with a separate resource base. They’re looking at recognizing the provincial government as having the primary constitutional responsibility. And what the feds want to do is suck the province into it so there is some shared responsibility there, you know, because if you study the background of social programs in this country, the federal government takes the position that they have no obligation to provide any of these services like healthcare, education, and housing. They feel that they don’t have any obligation to do that on an Indian reserve. They feel that it is the provincial government’s responsibility. They feel that the post secondary education, they are providing that as a humanitarian and moral obligation and not as a legal responsibility.
The provinces on the other hand, say “no, we don’t have any legal responsibility for providing those services because they’re services provided for Indians and under the constitution they are responsible for Indians, and so you guys will be handling it. So the thing is that both of them deny any responsibility. That’s why we’re as poor as we are. That’s the consequence. When two governments deny any liability or responsibility for something, obviously you’re going to suffer the consequences. And that’s what’s happening right now. In fact, I feel that because of the sort of very uncertain area of who has authority with regards to programs, we need to claim that jurisdiction because it is ours. Reading under Section 35 (1), where we talk about self-government. We have a right; therefore the right is to do the things that we need to do to get money through the use of the land through the federal and provincial governments. When they use any of our land, they owe us. No ‘ands,’ ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it are a part of that. So the thing is that that is what we need to get on our side. That’s a direction that I see that we have to take. What’s going on over there is a real travesty.
FTT: It has been inspiring seeing grassroots people come together. Just the fact that there have been meetings over the past couple days countering what’s going on over there and people coming from around to discuss these issues. What do you think is the next step?
AM: Well the next step, like I told these people, is to maintain solidarity amongst ourselves, and build the coalition between our different groups. Because our different groups are really are actually active. You know, we have to pull together here. In these other areas, there are activists who I know from our ongoing work under INET and other things. When I hear action happening out there, I’m always out there trying to meet the people and to talk to them. But after making that contact what we need to do is to get together and start consolidating our own coalition, ongoing coalition that will support what our rights are as Indigenous people, as grassroots people. We can’t depend on those guys. I hate to say this, but they’re kind of addicted to federal funding. Like, we’ve had problems in our communities with drugs and alcoholism. We’ve attended healing societies, and there are different views. On my reserve, alcoholism is really there, and we’ve really changed our position, but things like dependency, anyone with a dependency, whether it is on drugs or on federal funding for political purposes, I think we need to seriously question it.
The issues that are so critical now, are the land issues. That conference over there happened because the province and the federal government are scared. That’s why it’s happening. It’s because the legal rights that we have been acquiring and accumulating over the centuries are being heard reporters and media in New York, and people who validate Canada’s credit rating. They know that Indian people are a substantially high hidden cost that Canada has been hiding. The other doctrine you need to put in this perspective, and this gets really complicated, is the financial statements of Canada with reference of Aboriginal liabilities with regard to Indian land and treaty rights. And also the province, the same thing, the financial statements. We’re actually in page 60 of the BC financial statements under what they call ‘contingency modes and liabilities’ and they sort of highlight the whole thing about Canada’s BC treaty process in there in about four or five paragraphs. They highlight it. They have to highlight it because they need to let the people who lend BC money, the international investment banks, they need to let them know what all their liabilities are, and we are one of them as Indigenous people, and we have to tell them.
In this agreement, we’ll end up in their next financial statement saying we got this thing, because what they need to show to the financial investment banks out there is that ‘we’ve got the Indians under control. We’re managing them.’ I know that in their present statements, they say that ‘we’re lending them money to negotiate, and two-thirds of them are negotiating, but we don’t expect an agreement in the foreseeable future.’ They say that right in their financial statements, you know what I mean? The reason they do that is because they are using our land as collateral to borrow the money that they turn around and give us the $100 million, which is real chump change when you talk about the deficit of some of these companies. General Motors runs a $4 billion deficit on its GM plant in Canada. It’s nickel and dime when you really nail it down to corporate interests, and here is our leadership thinking it will mean big change. It ain’t going to help nobody.
Back to Article Listing