Blog and Updates


Trust in Reconciliation over Assimilation

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Media Release: Crown-First Nations Summit

There were two visions for the Crown-First Nations relationship at the summit meeting yesterday in Ottawa: assimilation and reconciliation.

And there was one over-riding concern: trust.

From Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan, we heard self-congratulation for the Conservative record over the past six years and a desire to implement incremental change under the framework of the Indian Act. Their suggested changes include privatization of reserve lands and legislation that, rather than supporting self-government, imposes provincial rules on reserves.

As Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould eloquently rebutted, such changes are unilaterally imposed, emphasize individual rights and continue the colonialist, racist regime established in the 1876 Indian Act. For so long as the Indian Act governs, the policy of assimilation will not change.

As anyone paying attention to the diminishing quality of life on many reserves knows, the Conservatives have nothing to be proud of in their record. That does not build trust.

From National Chief Shawn Atleo, we heard a desire to reset the existing dynamic, with a return to the original nation-to-nation relationship embedded in the treaties, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are the source documents of reconciliation.

And as my friend Ovide Mercredi’s speech on behalf of the treaties pointed out, the answer is not to be found with incrementalism, it is about honouring promises long-since broken. It is about rebuilding trust.

While the Prime Minister says he has endorsed the UN Declaration, his accompanying language claims, wrongly, that it has no legal force and effect in Canada. Such an assertion fatally undermines the endorsement. That does not build trust.

The continued imposition of a Conservative legislative agenda that can only result in the assimilation of first peoples does not build trust.

The Penner Report in 1983, the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, and the repeated words of First Nations citizens and leaders year after year have pointed the same way forward. There must be empowerment of First Nations and an end to interfering control from distant bureaucrats. As Chief Wilson-Raybould said, we are not wards of the state. Only in rejection of paternalism can we move toward reconciliation.

The Prime Minister is right about one thing. There must be concrete action, and that is the basis upon which this federal government will be judged.

There must be mutual agreement toward a better future and that means collaborative legislation, self-government agreements, and honouring the treaties.

There must be a sharing of the wealth of resource development on traditional territories and that means resource revenue sharing on a government-to-government basis, not a passing of responsibility to private interests.

There must be an abiding attention to protecting our fragile environment and its impact on the health and livelihoods of the people who live on the land.

There must be respect for the legal and historical rights of First Nations, just as First Nations continue to respect the rights of all Canadians.

There must be reconciliation and an end to assimilation.

That is how trust will be built.

Building trust between peoples has been my life’s work. I believe it can be done.
That is why I am running to become Leader of the Official Opposition and Canada’s next Prime Minister.


Two Sides of the Same Bay

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I was born and raised on the Quebec side of James Bay, across from Attawapiskat, a community that has been in the news lately. A lot of credit goes to people like my colleague, Charlie Angus, for raising the profile of the housing crisis there and getting people involved. If you haven’t heard yet, Attawapiskat is a First Nation where many people are without homes for the winter. They will go without running water. They have gone without a school for a generation of children.

This is not unusual.

People may recall the stories about Kashechewan that were in all the media a few years ago, or Pikangikum. There are many others. Sandy Bay First Nation in Manitoba wants people to know they are in similar circumstances.

Estimates are that 80,000 new houses are needed and similar numbers are in need of major repair across the country. There are over 100 communities living under boil water advisories. There are over 40 First Nations that have no school for their children to attend.

Embarrassed by the media and public attention, the Harper government leapt into action this week and immediately blamed the people of Attawapiskat. Basically, they said that big money had been spent there, so we’ll solve the situation by sending in an accounting firm to run the government.

Others have analyzed that spending to demonstrate the fallacy on which Harper is relying, an argument that really shouldn’t need to be made. Does anyone think people would choose to live this way? Or is it just that Indians can’t be trusted to manage money?

Outside the government, people are mobilizing, donating items of use, and the Red Cross has gotten involved. Most are treating this as the crisis it is, pointing to the avoidable tragedy and urgently pleading for help to stop it from happening. Let’s hope that succeeds.

But what about the dozens of communities where the media aren’t paying attention? Will crises come and go relatively unnoticed? And what about stopping this from happening over and over again?

That is where people need to see the bigger picture and focus on solutions.

The bigger picture explains why Attawapiskat should not be seen in isolation. The situation there is the result of deliberate policies.

It begins with the Crown breaking the partnerships with First Nations that formed the basis of the treaties and ignoring their own laws, like the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Yes, history matters if you want to understand how we got to this point.

It is followed by a policy of segregation. They invented the idea of “status” Indians, as defined by the Crown, and created reserves, where the Crown chose what it thought was valueless land and compelled people to stay there.

That was followed by the policy of assimilation, where the Crown reversed itself and started encouraging people to leave reserves to join the rest of Canadian society. Encouragement took the form of legislation that stripped people of their “status” and denied them the right to live with their families and communities if they did things like get an education.

The policy of assimilation is still in place. Only now, the Government of Canada uses talk of formal equality — treating everyone exactly the same — to justify treating First Nations like they have no Aboriginal or treaty rights, despite the Constitution of Canada and the UN Declaration.

So, there will be no partnership with First Nations to support them in self-government. There will be no co-operation in planning and implementing effective long-term strategies to make reserves liveable. There will be no money to help catch up from decades of neglect and mismanagement by a distant bureaucracy. There will be red tape and catch-22s and bureaucratic inertia. The plan is that the reserves will fail and people will have to move away. Those who don’t die first.

That plan is what John Duncan is hinting at when he talks about “unviable reserves.” They’re pressing to close them down and send people into the cities as they tried with Kashechewan. They are introducing legislation to privatize reserve lands so that they can be sold or taken in default of loans. The fact that this will make resources, like the diamonds around Attawapiskat, more readily and cheaply available to developers is pure coincidence, I’m sure.

There are solutions. Working in the original spirit of partnership, supported rather than constrained in self-governance, First Nations can move forward. The deal that I helped negotiate between the Grand Council of the Crees and the Government of Quebec called La Paix des Braves has achieved some of that and is benefitting people from all communities in the area, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, right now. It is not the only example. That is what is meant by reconciliation.

On the other side of the same bay from Attawapiskat, their Cree cousins are not living in the same squalor. It can happen elsewhere.


Caterpillar lockout a sign of Harper’s time: Romeo Saganash

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Conservatives’ corporate culture benefitting profitable companies but costs Canadians too much

LONDON – Three years ago, Stephen Harper bragged about giving a $5 million federal tax break to US manufacturing giant Caterpillar. This New Years Day, the company’s subsidiary locked out 400 employees in London, demanding that they accept over 50 per cent in wage cuts and other benefits. The future of the plant is now in question.

Where is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, now that he is needed?

According to New Democrat leadership candidate Romeo Saganash, “The Harper Government likes to talk about families, about safety, about support for communities. But here we have people in real danger, families threatened, a community in crisis. But the Harper Government isn’t in Ottawa for the people. Instead, it’s business as usual.

“Whether it’s the housing crisis in Attawapiskat or the lockout in Alma – or struggling communities anywhere in Canada – it’s clear that these Conservatives do not share our values. New Democrats know that people matter. We want to see a country that works together, not one where we are pitted against each other.”

Romeo Saganash will be in London, Ontario on Saturday, January 14 at 10 am. Joined by London-Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, he will walk shoulder-to-shoulder on the picket lines with the locked out working people of Electro-Motive Diesel, a subsidiary of Caterpillar. The NDP stands with Londoners, asking this profitable global corporation to return in good faith to the bargaining table – the same company that Stephen Harper once used as an emblem for his policies.

  • Caterpillar’s Inc.’s worldwide third-quarter profits grew by 44% over last year, coming in at $1.14 billion.
  • The company has seen similar growth in sales and orders, and expects sales for the year of $58 billion, and projects further growth in the coming year.
  • Electro-Motive Diesel’s last offer to employees would cut wages by more than half, from $35 to $16.50, as well as slashing pensions and benefits.
  • 780 Rio Tinto Alcan workers in Alma have been locked out of their plant since December 31, 2011.
  • Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency due to substandard housing in October, 2011.

Please contact Cam Holmstrom, 613-292-8109 for more information, or to set up an interview with Mr. Saganash.


Laferriere Joins Team Saganash

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Marc Laferriere, the 2011 Federal NDP Candidate for Brant, announced today his support for NDP Leadership Candidate Romeo Saganash. The announcement was made as the two were visiting youth at the Ontario New Democratic Youth Convention in Sudbury, On.

Under Laferriere’s candidacy the Brant NDP won the 2010 leader’s challenge for signing up the most new party members and was named most-improved riding by former NDP Leader Jack Layton. Laferriere was cited by a Global News/Politwitter.ca study as “the most engaged” New Democrat on social media in the 2011 race. Laferriere, a social worker, was also nominated for a J.S Woodsworth Award in 2011 for anti-racist community development work done in Brantford, Six Nations and Thunder Bay.

“I believe in the NDP as a unifying force in Canadian politics. I believe in the grassroots and I believe New Democrats can become government and deliver on the promise of a new kind of politics for all of Canada. I know that Romeo Saganash shares that vision. He’s a man of action who can get the job done,” Laferriere said. “Today I am not just announcing my endorsement of Romeo but I will also be backing up that endorsement with diligent work as an active member of his leadership campaign team.”

”I am very grateful for the support of a terrific organizer like Marc Laferriere. He is the kind of candidate – and Brant the kind of riding – that is an example of how the NDP will win the next 60 seats and form government in the next election,” said Saganash who will be the first leadership candidate to visit Brant Riding.

Saganash will be visiting Brantford and Six Nations on Monday Nov 21st and will be holding public events including a Town Hall-style meeting at Woodland Cultural Centre’s Orientation Room beginning at 6:30pm.


CBC looks at Romeo’s model of Quebec-Cree deals as an example for Canada

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The CBC takes a look at what could be a way forward for Canada.

The deals Romeo Saganash helped negotiate for Cree communities in northern Quebec improved conditions for aboriginal Canadians and are models for the rest of the country, according to the NDP leadership contender.

Saganash said in a recent interview with CBC News he wants to introduce what he helped accomplish in northern Quebec to the rest of Canada to boost the economy while protecting the environment and taking other social interests into consideration.


Romeo on Power and Politics

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Romeo gets profiled by The Canadian Press

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From the Canadian Press profile of Romeo:

Aspirants for high public office routinely claim their life experience has prepared them for the challenges of political leadership. There are arguably few who can give that claim as much justice as Romeo Saganash.


On the Sherbrooke Declaration

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We should not blur the distinction between international law and politics. My remarks were a simple description of international law and the question of secession is one in which I have considerable expertise. Having testified to Parliament and the Quebec National Assembly on this matter on several occasions, my legal opinions are part of the public record and I stand behind them. In other jurisdictions, a higher standard than 50% plus one has been applied to the issue of independence before recognition has been granted, while the Supreme Court of Canada indicated that there must be a clear majority on a clear question but did not define that term mathematically.

Politically, New Democrats have said that they would accept the 50% plus one standard and I support that position unless and until members indicate otherwise. That is what I told the reporters at Canadian Press.

When Quebecers voted for the NDP they signalled their will to see past these divisive debates and I want to continue building those bridges for a better Canada.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Romeo Saganash Challenges Aboriginal Affairs Minister to Apologize or Resign

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In an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network today, M.P. Romeo Saganash called for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan to apologize to residential school survivors or resign his post.

Saganash, a contender to replace Jack Layton as leader of the NDP, is also Canada’s first Cree lawyer and the first Quebec Cree Member of Parliament.

Ironically, Minister Duncan was announcing the government’s plan to install a stained glass window on Parliament Hill in honour of residential school survivors when he told reporters that the tragedy was simply an “education policy gone wrong”.

Having spent ten years in residential school himself, Saganash said, “For those of us who survived residential schools, for those of us who had family die there, for those of us who have seen the damage it has struck at the core of our communities, our families and our culture over several generations, I demand an immediate apology from the Minister. Failing an immediate and complete retraction of his comments, I demand the Prime Minister ask for Minister Duncan’s resignation.”

Duncan’s remarks came in response to a reporter’s question as to whether the policy was cultural genocide, which the Minister was quick to deny, dismissing it as failed education policy, although at the same time admitting the policy would have been “lethal” had it continued.

“To say that denies the intent – as expressed by Duncan Campbell Scott at the time – to wipe out the Indian problem and to kill the Indian in the child. It denies the spirit of the Prime Minister’s apology of June 2009. It denies the Minister’s own logic, as he admits the policy would have been lethal had it continued and yet claims it wasn’t a form of cultural genocide”, said Saganash. “Genocide need not be successful to meet the definition”, he added.

Concluding, Saganash said, “Most importantly, the Minister’s callous disregard for the true impact of what happened denies the pain, suffering and the daily reality still lived by survivors”.


My Vision

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The shore of a lake, deep in the woods of Quebec, was my birthplace and my first classroom. Growing up in the bush, what I knew about life I learned from my parents and thirteen siblings; from the Elders and our small community; from the moose and beaver; the fish and birds; the trees and plants; and the very rock and soil that supported us all.

What I learned above all else was that each of us is connected. I learned that, by virtue of our connection we are interdependent, supporting and supported by each other. And I learned that our mutual reliance – our community – demands that we make the effort to understand and respect each other and the role each of us plays.

Reflecting on these fundamental truths, I find myself deeply concerned about our country, about the direction in which we are headed, and about our leadership.

I am troubled by the divisions that are being sewn between us as people, and between all of us who form part of the environment. These are the divisions of fear and mistrust and are familiar tactics to me. As a child, I was one of those taken from home to a residential school where the purpose was to divide us from our roots, our families and nature. We were taught fear and mistrust. I have seen the damage this does to people and to communities at home and in my work around the world. This is how you set people against each other and weaken a country.

I am dismayed at how easily we dismiss the needs of Canadians, the arrogance we show in acting as though any success is solely our own creation, the ignorance of believing that our future as a country can be separated from the success of its citizens. There are some among the privileged few who deliberately undervalue the contributions of the rest of Canadians, who believe that they are entitled to use what has been created by and belongs to us all in order to profit themselves alone. The growing gap between the rich and the rest of us is the result of this belief and it is in the process of sinking economies around the world.

I am appalled at how Stephen Harper and his “government” are eroding respect for Canada’s own laws and the very idea of governance itself. They ignore our international commitments, they undermine respect for our courts here at home, and they refuse to enforce or even accept their own legal obligations to Canadians. Then they call this strong leadership. This is how we lost our bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. This is why Canadians are disaffected, distanced from their own government and from their own role in civil society.

These actions are the manifestation of an ideology that is at fundamental odds with what we know to be our best interest as a country. These are the actions of a government that ignores the social, environmental and economic bottom lines. These are the actions of a government of and for the few, paid for by the many.

But you and I know there is a better way. We have a vision to share.Canada prospers when we forge the links that make us stronger.

Canada prospers when we invest in young people, providing the best education in the world without the crushing burden of enormous student debt.

Canada prospers when we are healthy: seniors, those living with disabilities, all of us regardless of income, receiving the best care in the world.

Canada prospers when community infrastructure anywhere in rural or urban Canada, on or off reserve, is as strong as everywhere else.

Canada prospers when immigrants and new Canadians receive the help they need to integrate, language training and credentials recognition, so that they can contribute to their fullest ability.

Canada prospers when all of us live in dignity, when everyone understands and shares in equal and equitable treatment under the law.

Canada prospers when we treat each other with fairness, when what we provide to our country reflects what we take in benefits, when we share in supporting others as our society supports each of us.

Canada prospers when we understand and respect all of our relations – each element of our environment, human and otherwise – in the certainty that we must act to sustain what sustains us.

Canada prospers when governments keep their promises, to everyone. When every commitment, contract or treaty signed is honoured, to the letter and in spirit, and when that is demonstrated, transparently and accountably.

Canada prospers when we share this vision for a strong, healthy, fair country. It prospers when we share in the effort of making that vision a reality and it prospers when we share in the benefits of our accomplishment.

I am running to lead the New Democratic Party of Canada, to become Leader of the Official Opposition and to become Prime Minister after the next election because I believe that, together, we can make this vision a reality.

I am asking you to share in this vision with me, to share it within the party, to share it with people from across Canada who will join our party to pursue it, and to share in the hope that it brings for all Canadians.

Share the vision.


MP Pierre Dionne Labelle to support Romeo Saganash in his bid for NDP leadership

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I am officially announcing that I support Romeo Saganash in the race to determine who will be the next leader of the NDP.

Jack Layton’s social policies and his determination to lay the foundation for a broad national reconciliation between Quebec and the rest of Canada inspired me to become actively involved in politics with the NDP. “Let’s work together,” as Jack would say.

This same openness and desire to work together to improve the lot of communities while respecting the rights of individuals, peoples and nations also inspired Romeo Saganash’s throughout his career as a politician and activist.

In 2002, Romeo Saganash played a key role in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Paix des Braves agreement between the Government of Quebec and the Grand Council of the Crees. A distinguished lawyer, he also helped negotiate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Romeo Saganash was one of 14 children who was removed from his home at the age of five and sent to a residential school with his brothers and sisters. His personal experience and political commitment over the past 25 years are proof of the incredible resilience of an individual and a people subjected to forced assimilation.

The fact that Romeo Saganash today aspires to lead the NDP and, eventually, Canada, a country that in the course of its history tried its best to annihilate the aboriginal peoples, is for me an event as pivotal as Barak Obama’s rise to power in the White House.

Jack Layton and Romeo Saganash were the recent artisans of two national reconciliations, the Paix des Braves and the May 2 election, which saw renewed support from Quebeckers for a pan-Canadian party.

But there is still one reconciliation to effect in Canada, one which concerns us as Canadians but has implications for the entire planet. For the sake of current and future generations, we must reconcile economic development, social justice and the protection of ecosystems before it’s too late.

When I think how important this challenge is, I know that Romeo Saganash is the obvious choice for leader of the NDP.

I can think of no one in a better position than Romeo to attest to the negative impact of climate change on the ecosystems and peoples of the boreal forest and Far North or to convince us of the need to act now and implement the principles of sustainable development.

Imagine the renewed relevance and credibility that Canada would achieve in the international arena with Romeo Saganash as its Prime Minister during discussions regarding the follow up to the Kyoto Protocol. What a powerful message of hope we would send to the world!

Equally compelling and meaningful are his call to establish fair global economic rules to ensure a better distribution of wealth among all people and end poverty and social exclusion.
Romeo’s leadership bid would not inspire such enthusiasm were it not for his ability to listen and his sensitivity—qualities that are essential to leading the New Democratic Party in the footsteps of Jack Layton.

One of his many qualities—one that he shared with Jack—is his humility before others and before the vastness and mysteries of life.

When I first met Romeo Saganash, I wasn’t looking for a new leader, or for power or destiny; I was looking for the hidden road that could lead us farther. A flock of geese in the autumn sky making its way to other shores told me that we must “walk together toward the horizon; it is still far off.”


Romeo with Don Martin

Romeo on CTV News
Power Play: Romeo Saganash, Leadership Candidate

Source: CTV News


Olivia Chow talks about Romeo

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National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo talks about Romeo

Atleo ‘excited’ about Saganash’s ‘courageous’ NDP leadership bid

Source: APTN


Romeo on CTV Montreal

Newsmaker; Romeo Saganash, NDP Leadership candidate

Source: CTV Montreal


Nunatsiaq Online on Romeo

Romeo Saganash: nowhere to go but up

“I may be a rookie MP, but I’m not a rookie politician”

Source: Nunatsiaq Online


Christine Moore gives her full support to Romeo Saganash

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OTTAWA – Enthusiastic about Roméo Saganash’s announcement to enter the NDP leadership race, MP for Abitibi-Témiscamingue Christine Moore gives her full support for her colleague.

“It was not an easy choice. High quality people are thinking about entering the race and they all deserve a particular attention. Nevertheless, as for me Roméo Saganash distinguishes himself by his experience, his positive leadership, his humanity as well as his capacity to rally Canadians from everywhere”, declared the MP. “From the very beginning of the leadership race, I was hoping that Roméo would be running. Now that he enters the race, I will support him right to the end.”

Roméo Saganash is the MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou from the federal election last May.  He was the First Cree graduate to obtain a law degree in Canada; he was a Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of Crees in Québec as well as holding the position of vice-chairman of the Cree Regional Authority. His important role in the negotiations that led to the Paix des Braves has been highlighted by many others.

“I am extremely proud to give my support to Roméo Saganash as he takes this step. He is a hard working man, determined, human and engaged in his community. I am convinced he will be an excellent leader for the NDP and he will be able to represent New Democratic values for Canadians,” said Christine Moore.

“The stand I take today is first and foremost as a member of the party. Members are free to give their support to any candidate of their choice. I above all want candidates to have the opportunity to debate and exchange their views about the party and about the country,” points out Christine Moore.

The new leader will be elected at a leadership convention in Toronto on March 24, 2012. The leader will be chosen by every members of the party as of February 18, 2012. The rules stipulate a one-member, one-vote election.