Liberals taking new approach for First Nations on-reserve education funding

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The Trudeau government is changing how Ottawa allocates nearly $2 billion in annual funding for First Nations education to help ensure on-reserve students benefit from support comparable to what’s offered in provincial school systems.

Starting in April, the federal government will take a new approach it says will mean a more predictable base of money for First Nations elementary and secondary schools.

Education is a service the federal government pays for on reserves but provincial governments handle in much larger systems off reserves. A 2016 report from the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated that the federal government spent $336 million to $665 million less than would be needed to provide educations comparable to those students get elsewhere.

Some First Nations students stay at home and get substandard facilities, resources and teaching. Some leave home for better schooling but lose connections to their homes and families.

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said Monday that the new model was developed after an extensive engagement process involving several organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations.

« This is very good news because we know when First Nations lead these initiatives and when we’re there to work in partnerships with them with funding we know that we will get greater outcomes, » O’Regan said in Ottawa shortly after the new approach was announced.

« This is about communities taking greater control of their education to make sure that it’s specific to their community, that it’s specific to their cultures and traditions and to their language. »

More to do to create equity, says Archibald

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald called the changes a « strong step, » but she stressed there’s a lot more to do to create equity when it comes to First Nations education and communities.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald leads the AFN’s education portfolio. (Supplied/Laura Barrios)

« As the largest growing demographic in the country, investing in First Nations students and young people is investing in Canada’s future, » Archibald, who also leads the AFN’s education portfolio, said Monday in a statement.

« Fair and sustained funding for First Nations children and students, including languages and cultures, will lead to better outcomes for everyone. »

Under the new approach, First Nations schools will also receive $1,500 per student every year towards language and cultural programs. Schools will offer full kindergarten for on-reserve kids aged four and five, O’Regan said.

In a statement, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde credited the new approach as a significant move toward closing the education gap, saying it will enable First Nations to plan and build quality school systems that address their needs.

Changes to make funding more reliable

The funding will be within the jurisdiction and control of chiefs and band councils, O’Regan said. He added that Ottawa will work with the communities on the issue of accountability.

O’Regan said the changes mean First Nations will have an easier time budgeting for education because they’ll know the money will be there for them year after year.

In the 2016 federal budget, the Liberals promised to spend an additional $2.6 billion over five years to improve education for First Nations children living on reserves.

Ottawa is expected to spend $1.89 billion in 2018-19 on First Nations elementary and secondary education. The annual commitment is set to increase each year until it rises slightly above $2 billion in 2020-21.

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First Nations lobby Ottawa for a bigger cut of the multibillion-dollar gambling business

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First Nations leaders want to carve out a bigger slice of Canada’s multibillion-dollar gambling pie, and they are asking the Liberal government to change the Criminal Code to pave the way for more Indigenous-owned casinos.

While about 16 First Nations casinos are already operating in Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, the group that represents more than 600 chiefs from across the country, hopes to significantly boost that number by removing parts of the Criminal Code that have largely kept Indigenous peoples on the margins of the gaming industry.

Section 207 of the code essentially prohibits casinos on Indigenous lands unless they are sanctioned by the province. First Nations leaders want to build more casinos, seeing the gambling industry as a road to prosperity for impoverished communities with few natural resources.

« It’s all about recognizing and respecting First Nations jurisdiction. We’re pushing. We have to make this one of the items on all party platforms: respecting First Nations jurisdiction. It’s about creating really good paying jobs for all people, not just First Nations peoples — and it’s another avenue to creating economic stability, » Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, ​said in an interview with CBC News.

« Gaming has a huge impact on the economy. There is only one economy, and First Nations people have got to be part of that economy in a meaningful and substantive way, and this is just one of the pieces in the puzzle. Looking at Criminal Code amendments just makes good economic sense. »

But a spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti said the government is not considering such a  repeal « at this time. »

Bellegarde is pushing the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to make it easier for First Nations to build casinos. But the government says it ‘is not considering a repeal at this time.’ (CBC)

A 1985 agreement between Ottawa and the provinces devolved much of the regulatory authority over gambling operations to provincial governments. First Nations depend on the provinces to issue licences so any sort of gaming establishment can operate legally under federal law.

And, because gambling has the potential to be so lucrative, the provinces have been reluctant to cede jurisdiction for fear new First Nations properties could cannibalize existing facilities. A tweak to federal law could give Indigenous peoples a leg up in their dealings with the provinces.

Provincially owned gaming parlours have been a tremendous boon to government coffers. In Ontario alone, casinos generate about $1 billion a year in revenue.

Casino Rama, a casino and resort on the reserve land of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation in Orillia, Ont., is jointly owned by the band and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission. It is one of largest Indigenous-owned casinos in Canada. (CBC)

In Manitoba, the group that represents chiefs is locked in a legal battle with the province over the right to build a casino in downtown Winnipeg.

Two Crown-owned casinos in that city have flourished while provincial leaders have restricted First Nations casinos to more isolated, rural regions where returns are modest.

Even in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the bulk of the country’s First Nations-owned casinos are located, operators must hand over a significant portion of their profits to the provincial governments as a condition of their licences.

‘There may be more negatives’

This arrangement has prompted one Indigenous gaming expert to equate the current financial relationship with usury.

« It’s a usury fee in many ways. The provinces essentially said, ‘If you want casinos, you’re going to have to pay.’ It’s a fee for operations that’s stripping millions and millions from the communities that the gaming program was initially designed to help, » Yale Belanger, a professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, said in an interview.

« It’s exploitative. »

Belanger said more gaming opportunities would be financial shot in the arm for some Indigenous communities — especially urban reserves — but he warned it is likely these operations are not « the economic panacea that First Nations leaders are anticipating that they could be become. »

« At the end of the day there may be more negatives confronting First Nations who choose to open casinos — based on social and political tensions — than what they’ll realize economically by doing so, » Belanger said.

An expansion of gaming could lead to a proliferation of gambling addictions among vulnerable and already impoverished people, for example.

Regardless, Bellegarde wants Ottawa to recognize that First Nations peoples have the right to regulate what happens on their lands — and that right should naturally extend to economic development efforts like building casinos.

Bellegarde hopes First Nations across the country can replicate the financial success of Indigenous casinos in his home province, Saskatchewan, where annual profits routinely exceed $80 million a year and up to 2,000 people have regular employment.

In the last 10 years, the six casinos run by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority have made nearly $1 billion in profits. Half of those funds have been distributed to individual Indigenous communities. The remaining funds go to the province and local economic development agencies.

The Dakota Dunes Casino is located on land belonging to the Whitecap Dakota First Nation south of Saskatoon. The six First Nations-owned casinos in Saskatchewan have generated nearly $1 billion in profits for First Nations communities and the province in the last decade. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC)

But a spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti said the government does not support the legislative changes Bellegarde is seeking.

« With respect to Section 207 of the Criminal Code, our government is not considering a repeal at this time; however, our government will continue to engage with Indigenous partners on how to address their concerns and support economic opportunities, » Célia Canon said in a statement.

U.S. Indigenous gaming is big business

The Indigenous gaming industry in Canada lags significantly behind operations in the U.S. American Indian groups have built gaming empires that rival mainstream operators like Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts.

A series of rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s gave tribal governments significant leeway to pursue economic development, including building and operating casinos.

Congress has since sought to regulate that activity through the National Indian Gaming Commission, but gaming is pervasive on reservations.

The Foxwoods Resorts Casino, the largest in the U.S., rises over the landscape in Ledyard, Conn. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation owns the casino. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

The industry has exploded since the early days of the Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut — not far from New York and Boston — which introduced Vegas-style table games like blackjack and roulette in the 1990s.

There are 460 gambling operations run by 240 tribes generating annual revenue of $27 billion, according to data from the National Indian Gaming Commission.

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Canada, First Nations express concern over U.S. Arctic drilling plans

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The Canadian government, two territories and several First Nations are expressing concerns to the United States over plans to open the calving grounds of a large cross-border caribou herd to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it. 

« Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development planned for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain, » says a letter from Environment Canada to the Alaska office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. 

Yukon and the Northwest Territories have submitted similar concerns as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump drafts plans to study the environmental impact of selling exploration leases on the ecologically rich plain.

« Much of the wildlife that inhabits the … refuge is shared with Canada, » says the N.W.T.’s letter to the U.S..

« The conservation of these transboundary shared resources is very important to Indigenous groups. »

It’ll be tough, says Indigenous leader

The Porcupine herd is one of the few remaining healthy caribou populations in the North and a crucial resource for Indigenous people.

In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Associated Press)

Canada says the caribou are covered by one of four different international agreements — including two over polar bears and one for migratory birds — that commit the U.S. to preserve the area. At least three diplomatic notes have passed between the two countries over the issue.

Canada wants assurances from the U.S. about the content of the environmental study. The N.W.T. is asking that hearings be held in Canadian Indigenous communities that depend on the herd.

It’ll be tough, said Bobbi Jo Greenland-Morgan, head of the Gwich’in Tribal Council.

« We’re not dealing with the same government we’ve been dealing with for the past 30 years, » she said.

In December, the U.S. released a draft environmental impact study proposal for the lease sale with a public comment period until Feb.11.

The stakes are high for the narrow strip of land along the central Alaskan coast. The Porcupine herd numbers 218,000 and is growing. Greenland-Morgan said the animals are a regular source of food for her people.

« We probably have [caribou] at least once or twice a week. » 

Development will ‘negatively affect’ caribou, U.S. acknowledges

Adult caribou can co-exist with development, but scientists have shown they avoid any disturbance on their calving grounds. 

« Canada is particularly concerned that oil and gas exploration and development will negatively affect the long-term reproductive success of the Porcupine caribou herd, » says the federal letter.

The U.S. is aware of that possibility. 

Wild caribou roam the tundra in Nunavut on March 2009. Canada wants assurances from the U.S. about the content of the environmental study. The N.W.T. is asking that hearings be held in Canadian Indigenous communities that depend on the herd. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

« Potential impacts, particularly those relating to changes in calving distribution and calf survival, are expected to be more intense for the [Porcupine herd] because of their lack of previous exposure to oil field development, » says the draft plan.

It also points out the herd’s importance to Canadian First Nations and acknowledges they take about 85 per cent of the annual harvest.

« These Canadian communities would be among the most likely to experience potential indirect impacts. »

Craig Machtans of the Canadian Wildlife Service represents Canada on an international committee that manages the Porcupine herd. He said he has a good relationship with his counterpart in Alaska.

« He does keep me informed, » Machtans said. 

But the ties aren’t what they were. 

There’s an obligation to consult that isn’t being implemented right now.– Michael Byers , International law professor 

The U.S. representative used to come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The current member is from the Department of the Interior.

« He has a different mandate, » said Machtans. « I’m not sure it’s the same relationship. »

Officials at Global Affairs Canada say the U.S. is living up to the agreement on the Porcupine herd. American officials were not available for comment due to a partial government shutdown in that country.

Machtans said Canada has no special status as the U.S. considers public input on the draft.

« We’re not in the inner circle, » he said. « We’re participating as members of the public. »

International law professor Michael Byers said the U.S. may have already broken a clause in the agreement that commits both parties to consulting the other before a final decision is made on anything that affects the herd’s future.

« There’s an obligation to consult that isn’t being implemented right now, » Byers said. 

He noted that the U.S. has already said it intends to sell the leases this year.

Greenland-Morgan said her people have been fighting for decades to keep the Porcupine calving grounds free of development — but this time feels different.

« We’ve always had to do this, » she said. « But with the Trump administration, it’s been more challenging. »

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Canada, First Nations concerned about U.S. plans to drill in caribou refuge – National

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The Canadian government, two territories and several First Nations are expressing concerns to the United States over plans to open the calving grounds of a large cross-border caribou herd to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it.

“Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development planned for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain,” says a letter from Environment Canada to the Alaska office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Yukon and the Northwest Territories have submitted similar concerns as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump drafts plans to study the environmental impact of selling exploration leases on the ecologically rich plain.

“Much of the wildlife that inhabits the … refuge is shared with Canada,” says the N.W.T.’s letter to the U.S.. “The conservation of these transboundary shared resources is very important to Indigenous groups.”

READ MORE: When it comes to progress on caribou protection, Environment Canada report finds more talk than action

The Porcupine herd is one of the few remaining healthy caribou populations in the North and a crucial resource for Indigenous people.

Canada says the caribou are covered by one of four different international agreements – including two over polar bears and one for migratory birds – that commit the U.S. to preserve the area. At least three diplomatic notes have passed between the two countries over the issue.

Canada wants assurances from the U.S. about the content of the environmental study. The N.W.T. is asking that hearings be held in Canadian Indigenous communities that depend on the herd.

WATCH: Conservation officers take to the air to enforce Revelstoke caribou closures







It’ll be tough, said Bobbi Jo Greenland Morgan, head of the Gwich’In Tribal Council.

“We’re not dealing with the same government we’ve been dealing with for the past 30 years,” she said.

In December, the U.S. released a draft environmental impact study proposal for the lease sale with a public comment period until Feb. 11.

The stakes are high for the narrow strip of land along the central Alaskan coast. The Porcupine herd numbers 218,000 and is growing. Greenland Morgan said the animals are a regular source of food for her people.

“We probably have (caribou) at least once or twice a week.”

READ MORE: Environmental groups call on federal government to protect caribou in northern Ontario

Adult caribou can co-exist with development, but scientists have shown they avoid any disturbance on their calving grounds.

“Canada is particularly concerned that oil and gas exploration and development will negatively affect the long-term reproductive success of the Porcupine caribou herd,” says the federal letter.

The U.S. is aware of that possibility.

“Potential impacts, particularly those relating to changes in calving distribution and calf survival, are expected to be more intense for the (Porcupine herd) because of their lack of previous exposure to oil field development,” says the draft plan.

It also points out the herd’s importance to Canadian First Nations and acknowledges they take about 85 per cent of the annual harvest.

“These Canadian communities would be among the most likely to experience potential indirect impacts.”

READ MORE: ‘Miraculous’ cross-border caribou sightings a mystery, says conservation expert

Craig Machtans of the Canadian Wildlife Service represents Canada on an international committee that manages the Porcupine herd. He said he has a good relationship with his counterpart in Alaska.

“He does keep me informed,” Machtans said.

But the ties aren’t what they were.

The U.S. representative used to come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The current member is from the Department of the Interior.

“He has a different mandate,” said Machtans. “I’m not sure it’s the same relationship.”

READ MORE: New oilsands seismic exploration tech leaves forest intact, to the relief of the caribou

Officials at Global Affairs Canada say the U.S. is living up to the agreement on the Porcupine herd. American officials were not available for comment due to a partial government shutdown in that country.

Machtans said Canada has no special status as the U.S. considers public input on the draft.

“We’re not in the inner circle,” he said. “We’re participating as members of the public.”

International law professor Michael Byers said the U.S. may have already broken a clause in the agreement that commits both parties to consulting the other before a final decision is made on anything that affects the herd’s future.

“There’s an obligation to consult that isn’t being implemented right now,” Byers said.

He noted that the U.S. has already said it intends to sell the leases this year.

Greenland Morgan said her people have been fighting for decades to keep the Porcupine calving grounds free of development – but this time feels different.

“We’ve always had to do this,” she said. “But with the Trump administration, it’s been more challenging.”

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Anti-pipeline demonstrators force Trudeau to delay and relocate planned speech at First Nations forum

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OTTAWA—The RCMP’s raid on an anti-pipeline barricade in northwestern British Columbia sparked rallies from Vancouver to the heart of the nation’s capital on Tuesday, where demonstrators voicing solidarity with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation forced the prime minister to change the location of a scheduled meeting with Indigenous leaders.

Even in some parts of the United States, people organized events to denounce the arrest of 14 people at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, B.C. on Monday night. The barricade was set up to block the Coastal GasLink project in defiance of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction. Issued in December, the injunction allows for construction of the 670-km natural gas pipeline from the northern Rocky Mountains to the planned $40-billion LNG facility in the coastal town of Kitimat — an export terminal the Liberal government boasts is the “largest” private sector investment in Canadian history.

In Ottawa, demonstrators marched from Parliament Hill to a government building on Sussex Drive, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was slated to address a forum of leaders from First Nations who have signed modern treaties and self-government agreements. But after the demonstrators entered the building and continued to drum and chant slogans inside, Trudeau’s security detail decided to move the location of his speech to another site, an official with the Prime Minister’s Office said.

When Trudeau finally spoke, almost two hours behind schedule, he did not mention the protests or address the situation in B.C. Instead, he highlighted areas where he said progress had been made, such as planned child-welfare reforms, coming legislation on Indigenous languages. He also praised those present for representing how First Nations can move beyond “the colonial relic of the Indian Act” — 19th century legislation that determines “Indian status” and First Nations governance.

“To be perfectly frank, there’s lots of work ahead of us. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but you know, and I know, that previous governments and institutions spent years ignoring your communities and your concerns,” Trudeau said.

Other political leaders expressed solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en blockaders. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was set to join Tuesday’s demonstration in Vancouver. And Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, condemned the RCMP “use of force” as a violation of human rights and First Nations’ rights.

On Twitter, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he is “very concerned with the ongoing situation at the Wet’suwet’en blockade,” and called on the prime minister to address the issue in light of the government’s support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Trudeau cannot remain silent,” Singh said.

According to Coastal GasLink, all elected First Nations bands along the pipeline path — including Wet’suwet’en — have signed benefit agreements to support the project. The deal with the band called Wet’suwet’en First Nation, signed in 2014, means the First Nation will receive about $2.8 million from the B.C. government, including almost $1.2 million when construction of the pipeline begins.

But those opposing the pipeline point out the agreement was signed by the band council defined under the Indian Act, and say that means it only applies to the reserve where that council has jurisdiction. The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation’s five clans say they haven’t given Coastal GasLink permission to enter their traditional territory.

“It becomes kind of an unfortunate conflict: the age-old Indian Act and elected chiefs and council, versus an even older system of traditional governance,” said Stephen O’Neill, a former Ontario Superior Court judge who retired from the bench in 2016 to work in Indigenous law at the firm, Nahwegabow Corbiere.

“These are clans, these are houses, these are ancient systems of governance,” he said.

“Usually you’re not going to get that conflict, but occasionally on something like this, it shows up.”

O’Neill also lamented how the vital question of who has authority over large swathes of northern B.C. is being fought over, 22 years after the landmark Delgamuukw v British Columbia case at the Supreme Court of Canada.

That case marked the first time Canada’s top court described Indigenous land title, when justices spelled out how governments must meaningfully consult — and potentially compensate — First Nations when their title is infringed. Coincidentally, the case also involved hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en nation, who argued their oral histories and traditions showed age-old jurisdiction over the land.

But as O’Neill pointed out, the Delgamuukw case didn’t settle the issues of ownership and authority; the court recognized Indigenous title exists, but ordered a new trial in the specific matter at hand. A generation later, there is still no court declaration or treaty to delineate between Crown and Wet’suwet’en jurisdiction in the area, he said. That leaves the potential for conflict — as seen this week — between the view that the Crown has underlying authority over the area, versus that of Wet’suwet’en, who see no outside jurisdiction over traditional territory they have never agreed to relinquish.

“We can’t be sure where the parameters of the Wet’suwet’en or the Indigenous title in this case lie,” O’Neill said. “A whole generation of people have come and gone…and now we have a rising-up again.

“To me, that’s a failure of the political system and the judicial system.”

With files from Perrin Grauer and Jesse Winter

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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Two First Nations oppose extension of Syncrude oilsands mine

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Two First Nations are voicing their opposition to the extension of a legacy oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray before the project goes to an energy review next month.

The Athabasca Chipewyan and the Mikisew Cree First Nations have both filed statements of concern for Syncrude’s Mildred Lake Extension or MLX. The project goes to a provincial review in January.

Both Nations say they’re worried about the amount of water the project will use, hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination, and the destruction of fish, caribou and moose habitat.

« That area can’t sustain another oilsands mine, especially not the way Syncrude treats the land, » Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said in a news release. « The MLX Project is going to tip the balance, pushing the area beyond the point where it can be restored. »

Syncrude Mildred Lake, as seen from Sandhill Fen — an experimental reclaimed wetland. The acres are a refuge for cattails, songbirds, dragonflies and the occasional passing bear. (David Thurton/CBC)

MLX is a proposed extension that would span 69 square kilometres.

Syncrude noted the mine would be near its processing and upgrading facility, located about 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

If granted regulatory approval the mine would be operational by 2023 or 2024 and would allow Syncrude to maintain an existing 2,000 jobs and create about 1,160 construction jobs.

It’s estimated the mine would produce 738 million barrels of bitumen over 14 years.

Syncrude’s older Mildred Lake operation has been open since 1978.

MLX an extension, not an expansion

Syncrude spokesperson Will Gibson says Syncrude has been speaking with stakeholders since 2012 and has reached agreements with Indigenous groups surrounding the project.

Public regulatory documents indicate the company has resolved issues with at least four Indigenous communities: the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Fort McMurray #468 First Nation and the McMurray and McKay Métis groups.

Gibson also said the company has minimized MLX’s environmental impact and the company purchased a timber quota that will preserve a large swath of boreal forest in northwestern Alberta.

This move earned Syncrude a land disturbance offset that’s larger than MLX’s footprint.

Alberta is now home to the largest area of protected boreal forest in the world, following an announcement Tuesday that set aside more than 13,600 square kilometres of land across much of northeast Alberta. The provincial and federal governments, the Tallcree First Nation, oilsands giant Syncrude and the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced the creation of new protected areas at a news conference in Edmonton 1:13

Gibson said MLX is not an expansion but an extension of an existing mine because there will be no new tailing ponds and Syncrude’s annual carbon emissions and water withdrawals would not increase.

« People who call this an expansion are inaccurate, » Gibson said. « In our view, this project marries the needs for the economic benefits while minimizing environmental impacts. »

‘Regulatory gamesmanship’

But the Mikisew Cree First Nation is accusing Syncrude of playing « regulatory gamesmanship, » because on a long-term basis the mine will use more water, even if the per barrel water usage is unchanged from the current mine. 

« The intensity per barrel is likely going to stay the same, » Dan Stuckless, the Mikisew’s manager of industry relations said. « They’re going to use more water in the end because they’re extending the life of the mine.

« And then, you’re adding more reclamation on top of that. »

The Athabasca Chipewyan and the Mikisew Cree First Nations are located about 150 kilometres away from the proposed mine.

And while these Nations have been vocal about their concerns, two Indigenous groups in the community closest to the mine have been relatively quiet.

McKay Métis president Ron Quintal told CBC Tuesday his community is satisfied Syncrude has addressed their concerns surrounding the project.

Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near Fort McMurray in 2009. (Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images)

« To address our concerns, Syncrude stepped up, » Quintal said. « From our perspective, we came to an agreement. »

Jauvonne Kitto a spokesperson for the Fort McKay First Nation said the Nation would provide a statement. CBC will update this story when it receives a response.

MLX goes to a public hearing on Jan. 22 in Fort McMurray.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 

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Le Bloc aussi a des doutes sur le pacte des Nations unies sur les migrations

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Après Maxime Bernier et le Parti conservateur, c’est au tour du Bloc québécois d’exprimer des réserves quant au Pacte pour des migrations sûres, ordonnées et sécuritaires des Nations unies. Selon le Bloc, le document aurait dû faire l’objet d’un débat avant que le Canada y souscrive. Surtout, il craint que le texte international ne soit utilisé par les tribunaux canadiens pour infléchir peu à peu le droit.

Le Pacte a été officiellement signé à Marrakech lundi matin lors d’une rencontre à laquelle ont assisté 159 pays — dont le Canada —, réputés favorables au projet. Le document n’a pas été soumis à un vote, mais pourrait l’être la semaine prochaine à New York. Le Bloc estime que le Canada aurait dû s’abstenir.

« Il y a des principes très louables dans ce pacte-là, notamment d’intervenir sur les déterminants de ces grands flux migratoires, que ce soit la vente d’armes, les changements climatiques, les dictatures, toute la question des droits humains, explique le député bloquiste Luc Thériault. Sauf que, ceci étant dit, il y a quand même des pays qui considèrent qu’il y a un flou et que ça pourrait porter atteinte à leur souveraineté. Je pense qu’il y aurait eu lieu de faire un débat et de clarifier tout cela. » M. Thériault a tenté lundi de faire adopter une motion à la Chambre des communes déplorant cette absence de débat, mais il n’a pas obtenu le consentement unanime nécessaire.

Le Pacte se veut une invitation aux pays de la planète à adopter les meilleures pratiques en matière de gestion des migrations humaines. Il établit 23 principes, certains très généraux — « lutter contre les facteurs négatifs et les problèmes structurels qui poussent des personnes à quitter leur pays d’origine » — et d’autres plus prescriptifs — « assurer l’accès des migrants aux services de base » ou « ne recourir au placement en rétention […] qu’en dernier ressort ».

Lors de sa conception en 2016, le Pacte avait été appuyé par tous les pays de la planète, sauf les États-Unis. Mais depuis quelques semaines, plusieurs États s’en sont retirés. L’Australie, par exemple, s’inquiète du passage sur l’incarcération, alors qu’elle emprisonne des migrants, enfants inclus, sur des îles isolées. Le Brésil a aussi annoncé son retrait lundi. L’Italie et la Suisse ont choisi de retarder leur adhésion au Pacte afin de laisser le temps à leurs Parlements respectifs d’en débattre, justement.

Au Canada, le chef du nouveau Parti populaire du Canada, Maxime Bernier, a le premier multiplié les sorties pour dénoncer ce qu’il considère être un « dangereux traité ». Le chef conservateur, Andrew Scheer, a emboîté le pas, déplorant que le Pacte « accorde à des entités étrangères une influence sur le système d’immigration du Canada ».

Le Pacte mentionne pourtant clairement qu’il est « juridiquement non contraignant » et qu’il permet à chaque pays de développer ses propres politiques migratoires. Mais M. Scheer estime que ces garanties n’empêcheront pas les tribunaux de s’inspirer du document onusien pour éclairer leurs décisions et peu à peu faire changer le droit canadien. Le Bloc abonde.

« Il faudrait clarifier si, effectivement, la Cour suprême ne pourrait pas revenir et imposer sa volonté. Il y a donc des choses à clarifier », a indiqué M. Thériault.

À Marrakech, le secrétaire général de l’ONU, António Guterres, a dénoncé « les nombreux mensonges » ayant été véhiculés à propos du Pacte. « Nous ne devons pas succomber à la peur », a-t-il lancé.

Avec l’Agence France-Presse

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Feds won’t change Criminal Code to outlaw forced sterilization, despite First Nations outcry

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The Liberal government does not plan to change the Criminal Code to explicitly outlaw coerced sterilization — rejecting a resolution passed by First Nations chiefs on Thursday.

Heather Bear, the vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations that includes 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief herself, in British Columbia — must “do the right thing.”


READ MORE:
Survivors of forced, coerced sterilization demand accountability

“The prime minister of Canada has made all these statements on the national stage about truth and reconciliation,” Bear said in an interview. “We know the justice system doesn’t work for us but this is one way we can put an end to this. I’m really surprised.”

Dozens of Indigenous women say they’ve been pressured into sterilization procedures they didn’t want, or had them carried out without being asked when they were seeing doctors for other reasons.

Coerced sterilization must be criminalized to ensure legal accountability, Bear said, adding the issue is connected to the issue of violence against Indigenous women – the subject of a national inquiry underway in Canada.

WATCH: Alberta woman who successfully sued province for wrongful sterilization dies






“Now it is about killing the ones unborn,” Bear said. “It is really a devastating issue that I hope there is more and more awareness (about) each and every day.”

Bear’s comments come after Wilson-Raybould’s office said in a statement to The Canadian Press that it is taking a public-health approach to the issue.

“Our government believes that everyone must receive culturally safe health services no matter where they live,” said the minister’s spokesman David Taylor. “The coerced sterilization of some Indigenous women is a serious violation of human rights and is completely unacceptable.”

But he pointed to existing provisions within the Criminal Code meant to forbid “a range of criminal behaviour” including forced sterilizations.

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer leading a proposed class action of Indigenous women who allege they endured coerced sterilizations in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that changing the Criminal Code is the most concrete thing the government can do about them.

READ MORE: ‘Monstrous’ allegations of forced sterilization of Indigenous women must be examined, NDP say

Lombard’s firm, Maurice Law, has listed the Saskatoon Health Authority, the provincial government, the federal government and a handful of medical professionals as defendants in its statement of claim.

About 100 women have now come forward to report they have been forcibly sterilized, Lombard said – a jump of 40 women since The Canadian Press published a story on the issue in November detailing a push from Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer to study the issue nationally.

An existing Criminal Code provision speaks to the involuntary termination of pregnancies. Another provision on aggravated assault applies to anyone “who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant.”

A legal void remains, Lombard said.

“We can point to the fact this has been an ongoing occurrence since the 1930s and so the absence of a preventive measure has clearly paved the way for it to continue to happen up until as recently as 2017,” she said.


READ MORE:
National review urged over coerced sterilization of Indigenous women

Saskatchewan appears to be the “epicentre” of the practice, Lombard said, adding her firm has also heard from women from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

“My hope is that the voices of these women will have made a difference and that the voices of these women will ensure future generations of Indigenous girls do not have to bear the same burden of having the same discussion,” Lombard said.

In late November, a rapporteur with the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva said forced sterilization must be seen as equivalent to torture and asked for Canada to consider specific criminal provisions covering it, regardless of whether it’s done by a public agent or private individual.

Human-rights groups – the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International Canada, and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights – are expected to respond to recommendations to be released by the committee on Friday.

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Ottawa could be facing human rights tribunal hearing to settle First Nations child welfare compensation

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The federal government could be headed back before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to settle an outstanding question on compensation for First Nations children who faced discrimination under the on-reserve child welfare system.

When the human rights tribunal first ruled in January 2016 that Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding on-reserve services, it reserved its decision on the issue of compensation to allow the parties to come to a settlement.

Last Friday, hours after Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced upcoming legislation on Indigenous child welfare, Justice Canada lawyer Robert Frater wrote the tribunal to secure hearing dates for possible arguments on the compensation issue.

Frater said in the letter that officials on the file had still not received a mandate on how to proceed on compensation.

« We remain committed to discussing the compensation issue with the parties, and attempting to reach a resolution, » said Frater’s letter.

« But in view of the fact that we have not yet received final instructions, it is apparent that we will likely have to set the issue down for argument. »

Minister wants a negotiated settlement

The window is closing on settling the issue outside of another round of hearings before the tribunal. The tribunal is facing the end of its oversight powers on the issue next March.

The tribunal also ordered Canada to implement Jordan’s Principle, ensuring jurisdictional conflicts between Ottawa and the provinces don’t hinder delivery of services to First Nations children. Families affected by Ottawa’s failure to follow Jordan’s Principle before the ruling could also be eligible for compensation.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott faced questions from chiefs Wednesday about the issue following her speech to the Assembly of First Nations, which is holding its annual December meeting this week at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa.

Cindy Blackstock, who heads the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, holds her Spirit Bear while speaking to reporters during the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Ottawa. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)

She told chiefs that she wants settle the issue through talks.

« I have been very clear that I want to resolve all issues related to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and I want to resolve those directly by working with the parties, » Philpott told reporters following her speech.

Philpott said she would rather deal with the compensation issue outside the tribunal process.

« As soon as the parties to the tribunal are happy to drop that legal mechanism and to work with us directly, we will be extremely happy to do so, » Philpott said.

Philpott said she did not see the letter before it was sent.

A spokesperson for Philpott’s office said the letter does not preclude « other mechanisms from moving forward » and there is still hope a resolution can be reached outside the tribunal process.

John Cutfeet, chair of the Sioux Lookout First Nation Health Authority, said there seems to be conflicting messages coming from the ministers and their officials.

« The minister is saying, ‘We don’t want to go there.’ She wants to work it out, » said Cutfeet. « But why hasn’t she provided direction to Justice Canada to say this is how we are going to do this? »

Compensation could be in the billions of dollars

Cindy Blackstock, who heads the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and led the human rights complaint, said the compensation issue has been on the table for months.

Blackstock said her organization filed questions on the issue in the summer and that Ottawa filed the Nov. 30 letter at the deadline set for its response.

« Canada seems to have changed its position about litigating the compensation that is owed the children who were affected by the human rights tribunal, » said Blackstock.

Drummers at the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Ottawa this week take a break during proceedings. (Jorge Barrera/CBC)

Blackstock said if Canada wants to go back before the tribunal to argue the issue again, she is prepared for another round.

« If there is a rights breach, or if Canada is not prepared to fulfil its responsibility, then for us as the Caring Society, we are prepared to litigate. »

Blackstock said she wants affected children and families to get the maximum amount available under federal human rights legislation — $20,000 for discrimination, plus an additional $20,000 if the discrimination was done willfully or recklessly.

The overall compensation amount could hit at least an estimated $1.5 billion, said Blackstock.

There were, on average, between 8,500 and 10,000 on-reserve First Nations children in care between 2006 and 2018.

It remains unclear how many families and children were affected by the government’s failure to implement Jordan’s Principle before the ruling.

According to Indigenous Services figures, there were more than 165,000 requests for products, services and supports approved for First Nations children post-ruling between July 2016 and September 2018.

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Mi’kmaw women prompt last-minute change to First Nations Self Government Summit

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The First Nations Self Government Summit in Halifax added a talking circle on how First Nations leaders can address the issues of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls after lobbying by a group of Mi’kmaw women.

On Tuesday, while addressing delegates on the first day of the three-day summit, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief Morley Googoo announced he’d made the addition to the agenda following a conversation with the family of Cassidy Bernard.

Bernard, a 22-year-old Mi’kmaw woman, was found dead at her home in We’koqma’q First Nation in October and police have classified her death as suspicious. 

« When I looked at the agenda, I was really upset, » said Annie Bernard-Daisley, Cassidy Bernard’s first cousin.

« I didn’t see any sort of arena for a discussion on missing and murdered Indigenous women. When I went to Morley, I said ‘We need a venue,’ and it was done. » 

Bernard-Daisley, a We’koqma’q band councillor and board member of the Native Women’s Association of Nova Scotia (NSNWA), said she was disappointed that the issues facing Indigenous women in Canada weren’t considered first at an event focused on First Nations self-determination. 

A matter of urgency

Delegates were invited to discuss the issues and share experiences at a talking circle scheduled for mid-afternoon Wednesday. The session fit the format of the summit, which was aimed at gathering and provoking ideas on self-determination in Mi’kma’ki, the territory of the Mi’kmaq.

Annie Bernard-Daisley of We’koqma’q First Nation is Cassidy Bernard’s first cousin. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

« I can’t describe the overwhelming urgency there is to discuss this matter, » said Bernard-Daisley.

« Especially in an arena filled with national leaders, political leaders, all the chiefs and councils across the Maritimes. All of us have to work together. »

Cassidy Bernard’s death was within a week of that of another young Mi’kmaw woman, Candace Stevens, whose death is being treated as a homicide. Both were mothers to young children.

Bernard-Daisley says it’s not just Cassidy’s death that’s driving her advocacy — it’s how she lived. 

« How she took the world on and how she represented herself, that’s carrying over to me, » she said. 

« She’s with me all day long. I feel that fight in her. And I will do that for her, and ask everyone to do that for her. It’s not only her we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for them all. »

Including women’s voices

The talking circle was also a way to emphasize women’s voices, which were lacking at the summit, said Lorraine Whitman, president of Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA) and secretary of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

Lorraine Whitman, president of Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association and secretary of Native Women’s Association of Canada. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

« We’re included, in my mind, only as a token, » said Whitman. « We’re here but we’re not participating at the tables. »

We’re included, in my mind, only as a token– Lorraine Whitman

Whitman, who helped Bernard-Daisley co-ordinate the talking circle, said she thinks the adversity facing Indigenous women is the result of the patriarchal system imposed on First Nations by Canada.

She said the underrepresentation of women in political leadership is an indicator that more needs to be done for Indigenous women to achieve self-determination.

« Our creator has us mirrored as equal, » she said. 

« Our women were companions to the men in the physical, … in spirituality but also in the governance. Along the way, that’s been missing. »

Traditional role in decision making

Karen Pictou, executive director of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, said better supporting Mi’kmaw women translates to better healthier Mi’kmaw communities. 

« We are the keepers of our family, we are the glue of our communities, » she said. 

 « Any time there’s a crisis, it’s our grassroots women that show up and take care of each other. » 

Karen Pictou, executive director of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Pictou said she wants First Nations leaders to consider the roles of Mi’kmaw women traditionally. She said they’ve always been sought to provide the « emotional component » necessary in sound decision making.

Media were asked not to attend the talking circle. Dozens of delegates attended but CBC confirmed none of the chiefs from Atlantic communities were in attendance except for Morley Googoo, who attended the last five to 10 minutes. 

Bernard-Daisley, Whitman and Pictou said that a hopeful result of this week’s summit would be a regional effort to make space in the political realm for First Nations women.

They said they will be drafting a summary of what was learned during the talking circle.

Summit organizers said a report on the findings and results of the summit will be released, but could not provide a timeline.

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