Thursday, September 13, 2012

Harper cuts like b-movie madman, but it's up to us to flip the script

No one can accuse the Harper government of causing death by a thousand cuts. The federal government is going after national and regional Native organizations like a B-Movie madman wielding a chainsaw. The recent announcement that the federal government is going to slash funding to Aboriginal Representative Organizations (ARO) has also caused the appropriate B-movie reaction. People are running and screaming and fearing for their professional lives.
The reaction is knee-jerk but it shouldn't be that surprising. Like any B-movie, this plot is thin and see-through. If you didn't see this coming following the election of a majority conservative government. You haven't seen enough movies.
Perhaps the  chiefs that make up the Assembly of First Nations thought that by re-electing Shawn Atleo as National Chief they could be spared some of the carnage. Atleo had faced re-election under accusations that his conciliatory style had made him far too cozy with the Harper government. His main challenge came from Pam Palmater who made that relationship the deciding factor in the campaign. In the end the chiefs in assembly decided to stay the course. Afterall, when the AFN had last elected a truly adversarial National Chief in Matthew Coon Come, the federal government responded by cutting the organization deeply.
As we have now found out, the choice of Atleo didn't make any difference. If the chiefs had really thought about the plot of the movie, they would have known better. You can't make friends with the guy wearing a goalie mask and carrying a butcher knife.
Now, I'm not really the guy that is going to defend the job that is being done by the ARO's. I've worked at the national level in Ottawa and have participated in those high level meetings. I've slept at the Four Seasons in those delicious King sized beds with 14 pillows of all shapes and sizes. I showed up at the morning meetings and went straight to the back of the room to help myself to those decadent oatmeal muffins that were spread out on a silver platter which were washed down with copious amounts of Starbucks coffee. I listened intently and took notes during the bi-lateral, tri-lateral, multi-lateral discussions that led up to the fruitless Kelowna Accord. I had travelled across the country and saw national leaders and executive sitting in first class as I headed to the back of the plane with the rest of the grunts and the wonks.
It never felt right to me. I couldn't accept the rationalization "why should we stay in cheap hotels if the government isn't?" If I could have wrapped my head around that idea I'm sure I would reaching out to you from a higher soapbox than the one I have today.
The current story doesn't only remind me of a b-movie it also makes me think of another story. Watership Down is the story of a group of rabbits that are looking for a new home after one of their prophets has visions of imminent destruction. In their travels the homeless rabbits come across another warren that appears to be utopia. Each day carrots and other vegetables are found dumped into the warren. The food is plentiful and requires no effort to attain. But something doesn't seem right to the homeless rabbits. The rabbits in their new home seem to be dazed, muted. They say they are happy, but they don't act that way. Just as the homeless rabbits begin to put their intuition aside and accept that this may be the home they've dreamed of, one of their own is caught in a snare. It appears that Man is keeping this warren for his own food supply and the free food is merely a way to fatten up the rabbits for slaughter.
This is what we are seeing manifest today. The food supply may be plentiful but there is a price to be paid at some point. One day the food can be taken away and after years of surrendering your survival skills how can you make it on your own.
What our story requires is that we go back to a grassroots movement, that energizes, inspires and empowers the people. There is no lesson of value that can be passed onto our children in making the claim, "the government took away our ability to speak and organize by cutting our funding and now there is nothing we can do".
This is the equivalent of hiding in the closet and screaming in the b-movie or turning away from your brother rabbit with the snare around his neck and saying, "there is nothing we can do, just turn away and forget it ever happened."
This is the point in which the story can be rewritten, this is the part of the movie where we can still flip the script. It wasn't that long ago when all these movements were created by the efforts of our elders, our parents and grandparents. There was no money back in the 1960's and 1970's. Everyone was working together for a common goal and against a common enemy. It was the creation of government sponsored advocacy groups that weakened that movement. Now, nobody does anything for free and everyone is looking at how the other one is getting paid. The pie is only so big and we can't afford to share it.
Yet, that is not the truth. In fact there are numerous activities, events and actions that take place all the time in all parts of the country that are not funded by the government. People travel to ceremonies and gatherings all the time with their own resources and with the support of family and friends. It is the way it's supposed to be and it is a movement that is growing exponentially. People pull together and make something out of nothing with the sheer force of their will and spirit. This is how its supposed to be. This is how it is. These people don't fear the government axe or the snare. If our leaders wish to lead they would go back to the example of their elders. They would be inspired by the movements taking place amongst their people and they would earn, not by vote, but by action the title of leader.