Yesterday, Liberal MP and Aboriginal Affairs Critic Carolyn Bennett visited Brantford-Brant riding for the whole day to participate in discussions on Native Housing issues as well as to tour Six Nations and New Credit territory (though she’s been here so many times, Chief Ava Hill of Six Nations said Ms Bennett could have probably lead the tour herself) and then to participate in a “listening” roundtable, where Six Nations leaders and people could express their issues and concerns.
Ms Bennett was accompanied by Brantford-Brant Liberal candidate Danielle Takacs for the whole day, and later on for the tour and roundtable, they were joined by LPC candidates Joan Mouland (Haldimand-Norfolk), Karina Gould (Burlington), Jennifer Stebbing (Flamborough—Glanbrook) and Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas), all who wanted to hear these same issues as well as to see the 6 Nations and New Credit territory.
The tour took about 1 1/2 hrs to complete, with narration from the Six Nations leaders and elders on various landmarks, historical points, current social services and schools. The roundtable actually went for 2 1/2 hours – longer then expected, mainly because there was a lot of issues brought up and a lot of listening to be done. Some of the main points I took away from the First Nations speakers:
– There was mention by a youth worker in the form of a poem she performed about the facts that more then half of First Nations people are below the poverty line, how there is a higher chance of one of First Nations youths committing suicide then graduating, how the unemployment rate for Frist Nations people is around 30% etc.. and how the cycle locally of sexual assault, beatings, bullying and so on seems in her experience to be getting worse locally, not better, when she started as a youth worker six years ago.
– There was mention by Six Nations Chief Ava Hill that First Nations education is extremely under-funded – funded 30% less then other Canadian students – and then told how they were forced to turn away 400 kids who wanted to do post-secondary education, because the federal government was not funding them enough (she also mentioned in general, the federal government was if anything, cutting back funds to them). She told the Liberal delegation that they expect them to speak for their First Nations Children.
– A lot of First Nations speakers believe there is a general Canadian policy of extinguishment (that is, to null and void treaties made by Canada or under the “Crown” in the past with various First Nations peoples) and extermination (or assimilation). They prevailed upon a new Liberal government to treat them as equals, not adversaries. They used words such as “angry”, “ashamed” “aggrieved” to describe the frustration at Parliament attempting to not honour or recognize past treaties.
Carolyn Bennett was asked if she would speak at the end of the round-table, and she acknowledged that past governments – including Liberal governments – had not done well with the First Nations as they could have or should have, and she and all of the candidates if elected and if made the government would commit to working with the First Nations people and the Six Nations people as partners to try and resolve these outstanding grievances. Danielle also spoke and told the round-table attendees and crowd that she was personally committed to fighting for local First Nations issues, that she would continue to fight for them and engage with them as a candidate and if she were elected as an MP for Brantford-Brant.
Regarding this tour and roundtable, I will say as one who was also there, that it was a very humbling and eye-opening experience, and that there is frustration and anger from the Six Nations people – not just to specific issues and grievances they had, but how they feel the First Nations people in general are treated by Canada. I talked to some of the other LPC candidates and they told me that they had learned a lot about the issues and frustrations that took place, and they said if there was another round-table organized, they would like to participate again.
I’ll also say that in helping to organize this format, Danielle and the other candidates could have played this safe(r) by merely having a round-table with the Chief and local council and elders, rather then having an open forum where they would potentially expose themselves to more tough comments and questions (which did happen), so I think that shows they were genuinely dedicated to hearing what these issues and grievances are, in the hope that they can resolve these problems if they become the government. I applaud them for having the guts to do this format.