Against the Assembly of First Nations
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) was first established in 1980 in Ottawa. It claims to be the national representative of Indigenous peoples across Canada, one that fights for our title & rights. In reality, it is a state-funded organization comprised of Indian Act band council chiefs, who act as neo-colonial agents in the interests of government & corporations.
In order to understand the role of organizations such as the AFN & band councils, we need to know our history & be aware of current government strategies in regards to Indigenous peoples.
The Indian Act was first passed in 1876 by Canada. It was, and is, a separate set of laws for Indigenous peoples covering virtually all aspects of daily life (apartheid). It was through the Indian Act that reservations, band councils, and status were imposed. It was also used to ban ceremonies such as the Potlatch & Sundance, as well as fund-raising for land claims. Following the defeat of Indigenous military resistance (by 1890), the Indian Act became the basis for government control of Natives. Despite this, it was always intended as a temporary set of laws, to be used only until Natives had been successfully assimilated into Canadian society.
The ‘White Paper’
In 1969, Canada revealed a plan for abolishing the Indian Act & phasing out reserves. Known as the ‘White Paper”, it ignited protests by Natives across the country. Many band chiefs & councils also opposed it. Opposition was so strong not because Natives wanted the Indian Act, but because its removal would so clearly mean their assimilation into Canadian society. Abolishing the Indian Act would have removed all special legal status for Natives & reservation land. Many feared dispossession of their last remaining land base: the reserves. Removing their special legal status would mean the land could then be bought & sold on the free market. Band councils also opposed the White Paper because it would mean cutting them off direct state funding, & shifting the financial burden for governance onto them. Some were also forced to oppose the White Paper due to grassroots community pressure. Canada withdrew the ‘White Paper’ & claimed it would not be official policy. Despite this, the assimilation of Indigenous peoples remains Canada’s goal.
The Role of Collaborator Chiefs
Canada’s control over Natives has taken many forms, including police & military violence, churches, Residential Schools, & Indian Agents. Today, chiefs & councilors acting as collaborators have become a vital part of the colonial regime’s ability to control Native peoples. Colonialism always prefers to deal with collaborator chiefs, who can more effectively control their people than can direct government agencies. This is most often done by setting up puppet governments comprised of Native collaborators. The state gives its full support and recognizes only them as the legitimate representatives of the colonized. It is a common practise of colonial powers historically and in Asia, Africa & South America. It is sometimes referred to as neocolonialism (see text box below).
These chiefs serve to pacify & confuse Natives, appearing to fight for ‘rights & title’ when in reality they are working right along with the government & corporations. Many are themselves politicians, businessmen, and lawyers, who gain wealth, status & power from the colonial system. This involves acting as a legal agent (i.e., as a band council or political organization) on behalf of Natives, legalizing the theft & exploitation of our ancestral territories. By helping government impose its policies & strategies on Natives, these types of collaborators aid in the assimilation of their own people.
Assimilation of First Nations
In 1969, many chiefs & councilors opposed abolishing the Indian Act; they helped mobilize thousands of Natives into struggle against the ‘White Paper’. Today, many claim it is an obstacle to economic development and should be scrapped. Already, bands have signed agreements that remove them from the authority of the Indian Act (i.e., self-government & modern-day treaties). What’s changed? Since the 1960s, tens of thousands of Natives have passed through colleges & universities. Many were trained in business, administration, or law, skills which were useful for their careers in the Indian Act system as chiefs, councilors, or clerks. During the same time, Indian Agents were phased out and control over local governance was transferred to the band council itself. Today, band councils handle multi-million dollar budgets & are involved in many diverse businesses, including logging, fishing, mining, airlines, garbage dumps, oil & gas, etc. In many cases, they have entered into partnerships with transnational corporations. This development has only been possible through their assimilation into the colonial society (which they seek to perpetuate upon their own people).
The assimilation of chiefs & councilors is not hard to see: business suits, golf tournaments, fancy hotels, etc., are all signs of corporate culture & reflect the real interests of the Aboriginal business elite. In order for them to achieve ever-greater wealth, status & power, they promote the assimilation of their own people into the capitalist economic system as slaves for the corporations.
Today, band councils & their political organizations (i.e., the AFN, First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, etc.) are selling away our lands & resources as part of self-government or modern-day treaty negotiations. They are surrendering our rights & title through their constant erosion in these negotiations & agreements (which always recognize the ultimate power & authority of Canada, its provinces, and its constitution).
Portrayed as some form of sovereignty & nationhood, self-government is the exact opposite. It transforms band councils into municipal governments under provincial & federal control. Reserve lands become fee simple property that can be bought & sold on the free market.
As part of self-government, bands are expected to attain economic independence & the ability to raise their own revenue. This is accomplished by giving them greater legal & economic capacity to sell or lease land, set up partnerships with corporations (i.e., logging, oil & gas, mining), exploit natural resources, impose taxation, etc.
All of this involves significant changes in legal codes & political administration. For this reason, new laws on First Nations governance, financial accountability, etc. are now being enacted, which are designed to facilitate the expansion of band councils to municipal governments. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same goal as the 1876 Indian Act and the 1969 White Paper: the legal, political & economic assimilation of Indigenous peoples into Canada. Some bands are already well advanced in their self-government deals, including the Nisga’a, Sechelt, Westbank, Nunavut, James Bay Cree & Inuit, as well as the Gwich’in & other Yukon bands.
Money & Economic Development
High levels of poverty, unemployment, & social dysfunction among Indigenous peoples are used by the state, corporations, & the Aboriginal business elite to promote ever-greater corporate invasion of our territories under the guise of ‘economic development’. The solution, we are told, is money. The more the better. But is that really true? In Alberta during the 1970s, large deposits of oil & gas began to be exploited by energy corporations. In some cases, they made deals with chiefs to drill on reserve lands, providing royalties to bands. By the early 1980s, some bands were receiving millions of dollars annually from the corporations.
Far from alleviating the problems in these communities, this money served to create new problems. In Hobbema, near Edmonton, a rash of suicides made this area known for having the country’s highest suicide rates in the mid-80s. Drugs & alcoholism, division and internal violence increased; by the late 1990s, Hobbema was known for its gang violence, including robberies, drug dealing, assaults & killings.
On the other hand, the Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta were, until the 1970s, largely self-sufficient. Some 80-90% of the community were self-reliant, relying largely on hunting, trapping & fishing. This all changed in the ’70s, when energy corporations built roads into the north & began operations.
By the mid-80s, the Lubicon were 90% dependent on social assistance. They were unable to rely on traditional food gathering methods as most of the wildlife had been forced out of their hunting areas by industrial logging, oil & gas drilling, road-building, etc. They were also sick & dying, with high rates of disease & suicide.
Clearly, economic development is not the solution. Based largely on resource exploitation or some form of industrial activity, economic development always has a negative social & ecological impact. Money can’t solve problems that don’t arise from poverty. The severe social dysfunction affecting our communities–drug & alcohol abuse, suicide, imprisonment, disease, etc.– may be compounded by poverty, but are not simply the result of a lack of money. Instead, they are the direct result of colonialism & genocide. This includes not only the Indian Act system & Residential Schools, but also the ongoing dispossession of our ancestral lands & their destruction through economic development. These factors lead to loss of culture & identity, which contributes to social dysfunction & makes Natives vulnerable to assimilation.
In the context of colonialism, there are no legitimate representatives of our peoples on any regional, national or international level. The AFN & band councils are illegitimate entities, existing only through the Indian Act and state funding, both of which are the result of colonization (a crime under international law). The main function of the AFN is to assist in developing & implementing government policies on a national level. Without groups such as the AFN, Canada would have far greater difficulty organizing its colonial system. Without the band councils, it would have far greater trouble maintaining its colonial system.
Another term for collaborator chiefs is neocolonialism, which literally means a ‘new colonialism’. It involves the use of state-funded Native organizations, governance & business to indirectly control Indigenous people. To accomplish this, Canada provides billions of dollars annually to literally buy off, co-opt & corrupt our communities, organizations & movements. The late Howard Adams, a Metis militant & writer, explains neocolonialism in his book Tortured People:
“Neocolonialism involves the use of Natives to control their own people. In general, it means giving some of the benefits of the dominant society to a small, privileged minority, in return for their help in making sure the majority don’t cause trouble… the image of successful Aboriginals in government [helps] create the myth that all Natives had a place in the dominant society.
“The change from colonialism to neocolonialism is a change only in how the state controls the colonized people. Colonialism is a system in which the colonized people have no control over their lives –economically, socially, politically, or culturally. The power to make decisions in these important areas of daily life are almost totally in the hands of others, either the state or corporations & business… The state is willing to share some of the wealth of a racist system with a few Natives in return for a more effective method of controlling the majority.
“The most threatening & effective form of neocolonialism devised by the state has been its efforts to intervene & control popular Native organizations which had been previously independent. They began with core grants to help the associations organize; then the elected leaders of the organizations got larger & larger salaries –making them dependent on the state just as the Native bureaucrats in government were. As the years went by more money was provided to organizations– money for housing, economic development & service programs, etc.
“The most important effect of government funding, or state intervention, is that the state, by manipulating grants, can determine to a large extent what strategy the organizations will use. It is no coincidence that when organizations were independent of government money in the mid-sixties, they followed a militant strategy which confronted government. Now, after twenty years of grants, they are following a strategy that requires subservience to the state.”
(Howard Adams, Tortured People; the Politics of Colonization, p. 56-57 Theytus Books 1999)
MORE SAD NEWS ABOUT THE AFN
AFN Collaborators Take Trip to Israel
In February & March, 2006, an AFN delegation traveled to Israel on a “solidarity trip.” According to Grand Thief Phil Fontaine,
“Indigenous people in Canada have much in common with the people of Israel, including a respect of the land & their languages… This mission is an excellent opportunity for us to share our values & our traditional ways of life.”
Among the participants were Fontaine; Bev Jacobs of the Native Women’s Association of Canada; Rick O’Brien, Yukon AFN regional chief; Donna Wuttunee of Industry Canada/Aboriginal Business Canada; band chiefs Peter Barlow (New Brunswick), Kelly Bird (Saskatchewan), Tina Levesque (Manitoba), and others. No mention was made of Israel’s own apartheid regime it has imposed over Palestinians, or the ongoing military attacks & violence in the occupied territories.