Category Archives: Politics

Harper Government Pressures Poorest Community To Sign Agreement Despite Court Injunction

By Frank Jr Molley

Burnt Church First Nation, New Brunswick, Canada

It was just another day at the band office on Tuesday when Burnt Church First Nation councillor Mr. Curtis Bartibogue first noticed the files on his desk.

“It’s that time of the year when Aboriginal Affairs Funding Agreements come in, I looked at them briefly and set them aside for thursday’s meeting,” he said during a telephone interview.

Councillor Curtis Bartibogue, Burnt Church First Nation.

Councillor Curtis Bartibogue, Burnt Church First Nation.

It was that same day that he noticed a similar agreement being discussed online which caused him some concern, so he went back to take a closer look at the agreement. Aboriginal Funding agreements are issued across Canada prior to each fiscal year, a process that has the usual outlines on funding dollars.  Particulars involving Burnt Church First Nation include; Education (Elementary, Secondary, Post Secondary), Economic Development, Indian Government Support, Land and Trust Services, Community Infrastructure, Housing, Social Support Services, Social Assistance, and Headstart & Day Camp.

“Certain terminology contained in the prior funding agreements years before were no longer there,” he said as he compared last year’s agreement to this years.  “For example, Section 16 would normally have a non-derogation clause, but that was omitted.  These normally state that signing this agreement does not derogate from any aboriginal or treaty right, this was replaced and I thought that was strange,” he stated. “What I also found was that it said by signing onto this funding agreement our band would agree to the federal guidelines on social programs, which meant we would have to abide by the provincial social rates,” Bartibogue said.

Last year Ottawa planned to impose changes to welfare programs on First Nation communities that would harmonize rates throughout Atlantic Canada with Provincial rates.  But fell short of implementation due to a Federal Court Judge’s decision that effectively placed an injunction until heard in court.  A decision many First Nation leaders of the Maritimes were pleased with.  Despite the existing injunction Chief and Council of Burnt Church were concerned how this current agreement would affect the case currently before the courts.  Calls were made to the Regional Office requesting a meeting with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to discuss the matter.

“We met with the Minister and his staff last night [Wednesday] in Miramichi,” he said.  The Minister was in the province conducting Federal announcements in both Eel Ground and Buctouche First Nation respectively. “We asked Minister Valcourt why he didn’t recognize the injunction and he assured us the reason why they are putting the clause into the agreement is just in case the court votes in favour of the government,” Bartibogue said during the interview conducted with Wabanaki Press on Thursday evening.

“We were told that there was nothing wrong with what they were doing, it was just in case they win that they would be able to enforce those changes,” Bartibogue said.  Bartibogue believes that if Burnt Church First Nation signs the funding agreement, prior to the courts decision on social assistance reform in the Atlantic that is expected in June 2013, it may have major implications.  “So we asked if we did not sign the agreement would we still be able to get the essential funding outside of social assistance.  The Regional Director, Ian Gray, told us we would not get it because any new agreement must go through a process with the Treasury Board’s approval.  He also said that without signing they cannot release any funding to the community for April 1, 2013,” Bartibogue said.

Burnt Church First Nation, also known as Esgenoopetitj, is a Mi’gmaq community comprised of approximately 1,800 band members,  with an 80 per cent unemployment rate.   In February of 2010, CBC news reported that seven of the ten poorest postal codes in Canada were First Nation communities and all of them were within the province of New Brunswick.  Burnt Church First Nation was reported to be the poorest postal code in the country, poorer than Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, according to median income data by Statistics Canada.

“It’s blackmail and it’s the most illegal thing ever done,” says Bartibogue. “We told the Minister it’s like you’re putting a gun to our head and telling us to sign.  He just said if we sign there will be no funding problems,” said Bartibogue.  The meeting took place at Rodds Inn in Miramichi, NB on Wednesday.  Present at the meeting was the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt and his staff, including AANDC Regional Director General Ian Gray, Miramichi MP Tilly O’Neill Gordon, along with Chief Alvery Paul and eight of twelve Council members from Burnt Church First Nation.

Chief and Council of the Mi’gmaq community were told they have until noon Friday, March 15, 2013 local time to sign the agreement.  Coupled with pressing economic issues and an annual dependency of Federal Funding averaging $16 million dollars, the Chief and Council have decided not to sign the agreement.

“The outcome of our meeting today [Thursday] was that we can’t sign.  We asked the public and informed them of the situation and they stand behind us not to sign.  To accept the social reform, the omitting clauses of the treaties and the case before the courts, is something we can’t do to our community,”  says Councillor Curtis Bartibogue.

For the poorest postal code in Canada one would have to believe this to be an area of great concern given the Country’s approach to economic stability and strong Canadian values involving First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities across the land.  However, despite the sudden turn of events for the Mi’gmaq of Burnt Church First Nation, Canada’s Aboriginal Affairs office announced yesterday the designing and construction of a new school in Eel Ground First Nation.  A similar announcement was later made regarding funding for a new water treatment facility at Buctouche First Nation, both communities are located in New Brunswick and both are also Mi’gmaq nations.  Two out of three announcements that prove positive results for the future of these ancient peoples is cause for applause indeed.  The question remains, how many other Mi’gmaq and Maliseet communities were subjected to signing these kinds of funding arrangements?  Wabanaki Press will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Wela’lioq

“The Harper Government remains focused on four priorities, as outlined by the Prime Minister, that Canadians care most about: their families, the safety of our streets and communities, their pride in being a citizen of this country, and their personal financial security.”  Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, March 14, 2013, News Release and Statements. Ref. #2-3768

With files from CBC, Windspeaker and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

INM grassroots voice overshadowed by industry concerns.

7th District Mi’gmaq Territory, Listuguj, Qc.

Location along Gospem Road of Railway blockade. (Listuguj, Qc.) Photo: Frank Jr Molley

Listuguj Idle No More (INM) supporters now remain adamant on blocking all railway traffic pending the outcome of the January 11 meeting between Aboriginal leaders and the Harper government.  The decision was made hours after their Monday afternoon meeting with Listuguj Chief and Council and visiting key regional representatives.

Both governmental and municipal stakeholders along the Gaspé region travelled to Listuguj in hopes to appeal freight train passage, citing concerns over their municipal economies.

“The fact is the railway belongs to the municipalities of the Gaspé.  There is a serious impact with the lack of federal funding.  They have a serious issue with being able to get the federal government to pull it’s weight when it comes to supporting the railway and other files as well.  In particular they want to underline that there’s a lot of jobs that are on the line that this railway supports and he has a particular preoccupation with making sure that those jobs and that industry on the railway can continue.”  Said NDP Member of Parliament for Gaspésie–Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Mr. Phillip Toone, translating on behalf of Mr. Bertrand Berger, Président of Conférence Régionale des Élu(e)s Gaspésie–Iles-de-la-Madeleine.

NDP Member of Parliament for Gaspésie–Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Mr. Phillip Toone acts as translator. (Listuguj, Qc.) Photo:  Frank Jr Molley

NDP Member of Parliament for Gaspésie–Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Mr. Phillip Toone acts as translator. (Listuguj, Qc.) Photo: Frank Jr Molley

Mr. Francois Roussy, President of Société de chemin de fer de la Gaspésie (The Gaspé Railway Company) represented the four Regional County Municipalities:  Avignon, Bonaventure, Le Rocher-Percé, and La Cote-de-Gaspé.  The SCFG president went as far as suggesting VIA Rail passenger trains should be blocked instead of the regions freight trains.  The premise expressed was that of no effect on putting pressure on the federal government in terms of blocking the Gaspé regions freight trains.  Freight trains that are owned and operated by the SCFG’s 325 km railway that runs between Matapedia to Gaspé have a lot more to lose regionally in terms of revenue for the four regional county municipalities.  These municipalities benefit from the use of the Gaspé Railway Company.

In the position expressed by the SCFG’s President on their business relation with Temrex, a leading producer of softwood in the Gaspé, further denial of passage hurts Temrex.

“Temrex is a business that is going to be affected by the protests that are being held right now.  And our intentions is to find a solution that will help unblock that but at the same time allow continued protest and in no way stop the justified protest.”  Said MP Mr. Phillip Toone, translating on behalf of Mr. Francois Roussy.

The Quebec government representative,  Mr. Gaétan Leliévre, Parti Québécois (PQ), Minister responsible for the Gaspésie–Iles-de-la-Madeleine, as an act of good faith asked if there is any other way to help present their ideas in another fashion.  One that perhaps benefits everybody that unifies a way of protesting.

Listuguj Mi'gmaq Chief Dean Vicaire (Listuguj, Qc.) Photo:  Frank Jr Molley

Listuguj Mi’gmaq Chief Dean Vicaire (Listuguj, Qc.) Photo: Frank Jr Molley

Incumbent Chief Dean Vicaire stated that the struggle to provide meaningful employment for the people of Listuguj is not only difficult but is also reliant on government to government relationships that can help provide that employment.  He directed his message to Mr. Gaétan Leliévre,

“Two things we’ve been really pushing and working on is first our Wind Farm, it’s a hundred and fifty mega-watt wind farm that the Mi’mgaq of the Gaspésie, Gespeg, Gesgapegiag and Listuguj, are ready.  We are more than ready and you know that.  It’s just a matter of the Minister putting pen to paper and we can participate on that.”  Chief Vicaire said.

The main industry concerns being affected along the 325 km shortline railway was a topic that consumed the majority of the meeting on Monday.  At best, the INM grassroots voice at the table appeared to be overshadowed by concerns of Regional representatives and that of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government.  No amount of resolution would be achieved in the amount of time allocated for that day’s meeting, but the message was clear.  The Harper government continues to hurt the people of this region and Bill C-45, if anything, forces the local people here to look to each other as ally’s.  How this would be achieved depends solely on the amount of leverage each one can bring to the discussion table.

Alex Morrison, spokesperson for the INM supporters of Listuguj, directed his attention to Mr. Francois Roussy, President of Société de chemin de fer de la Gaspésie (The Gaspé Railway Company).

(Left) Idle No More railway blockade spokesperson, Alexander Morrison. (Listuguj, Qc.)  Photo Frank Jr Molley

(Left) Idle No More railway blockade spokesperson, Alexander Morrison. (Listuguj, Qc.) Photo Frank Jr Molley

“You want us to help Temrex but what does Temrex do for our community?  Those are our trees that you are cutting in our territory.  We made treaties a long time ago that you guys signed with your ancestors and our ancestors.  The Temrex you are talking about is being fed by our resources on our territory.”  Said Morrison.

Temrex plays a major role in the transfer of wood chips and lumber shipped from the four regional county municipalities and the INM supporters blockade of the railway in Listuguj is having a real impact, not on Temrex, but on the regional municipalities that own the railway along the Gaspésie.  If the option to ship is restricted by train, Temrex can simply ship by transport trailers to their destination plants in Riviere-du-Loup and Gatineau, but at an additional cost.

“Only Temrex is using the train, at this time.  In the summer it is different,” says Temrex general manager, Harold Berube during an interview following Monday’s meeting.

“Using the train to ship our chips is the most [affordable] than by truck,” he stated.

When asked whether Temrex arrived here in Listuguj for the meeting to help in the settlement of the issue with the Idle No More railway blockade, the answer was both “Yes,” and, “No.”

“At this time we’ve had a real difficult period for Temrex too, we’ve lost a lot of money.  We’ve lost $12 million dollars in the last year and a half.”  Said Mr. Berube.

Temrex sells their wood directly to White Birch paper plant.  A company that was the second-largest newsprint manufacturer in North America before filing for bankruptcy protection in February 2010.

With files from CBC/Montreal

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