By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued his efforts to refashion the Canadian mythology by describing a country founded by “pioneers” in a Throne Speech delivered Wednesday that treated pressing First Nation issues as an afterthought.
The Throne Speech, delivered by Gov. Gen. David Johnston in the red-carpeted Senate chamber, set out the government’s agenda for the coming Parliamentary session.
It was just 10 months ago–spurred by cross-country Idle No More protests and a hunger striking Attawapiskat chief camped out in an island on the Ottawa River–that Harper met with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and a delegation of chiefs inside his offices in Langevin Block.
The national attention had been seized by flash mob round dances, highway and railway blockades and chiefs attempting to storm the House of Commons.
That all has since faded. Idle No More held a “bee die-in” protest on Parliament Hill the same day as the Throne Speech, but barely two-dozen people showed up.
Wednesday’s Throne Speech revealed the government no longer sees First Nations issues as a priority heading into what many believe to be the last Parliamentary session before the 2015 election.
The speech mentioned Ottawa’s plans to deal with First Nation education, address the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and the need for Canada to share its natural resource “inheritance” with First Nation people, but it offered no concrete details.
While the speech also mentioned the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation as a foundational document that acknowledged the “rights of Indigenous peoples” and laid the foundation “of their relationship with the Crown,” it also painted an image of a country hewed from an unorganized landscape and fashioned into a nation state.
Referring to coming 150th anniversary of Confederation, the speech described a country founded by “leaders or courage and audacity” that faced down “geographic, military and economic” challenges to create the country.
“They were undaunted. They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then, few in number, reached across a vast continent,” read Johnston. “They forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.”
The speech also described the country’s natural resources, which are currently at the root of tensions between First Nations and Ottawa, as “our national inheritance” that the Harper government would ensure is shared with all.
“In particular, Canada’s Aboriginal peoples must have every opportunity to benefit,” read Johnston.
The speech also referred to the necessity of new pipelines to tap into Canada’s vast energy reserves.
“For Canadians to benefit fully from our natural resources, we must be able to sell them,” read Johnston. “A lack of key infrastructure threatens to strand these resources at a time when global demand for Canadian energy is soaring.”
To address fears pipelines like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway threaten coastlines, the speech said the Harper government would create a “world-class tanker safety system in Canada” and re-introduce legislation to “protect our oceans and coasts.”
The speech made no mention of the federal government’s plan to introduce the First Nation Education Act to govern on-reserve education. Instead, the speech made vague reference to continuing work with First Nations leaders on the issue.
“Our government recognizes the tremendous potential of Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations to strengthen the growing Canadian economy,” read Johnston. “It will continue working with First Nations to develop stronger, more effective and more accountable on-reserve education systems.”
First Nations leaders, including Atleo, have widely criticized the Harper government’s plan to introduce legislation. They say the proposed legislation is not the product of proper consultation and does not give First Nation control over First Nation education.
The speech also mentioned, will little detail, the government’s plan to address the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
“Aboriginal women are disproportionately the victims of violent crime,” read Johnston. “Our government will renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”
Harper has dismissed calls, including from the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, to create a public inquiry to examine the issue.
The speech said the Harper government would continue “dialogue” on treaties and comprehensive land claims.
“And our government will continue to work in partnership with Aboriginal peoples to create healthy, prosperous, self-sufficient communities,” read Johnston.
The speech did give more of a detailed nod to the Arctic.
The Harper government pledged to complete the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean. The speech also said that a High Arctic research station would be operational in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
The speech also said that the deep water Arctic port in Nanisivik, Nunavut, would soon be operational and service new Arctic offshore patrol ships. Neither the port nor the ships are approaching completion.
The speech also committed the government to continue the search for Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition would continue.
“As we approach the 150th anniversary of our great land, we look to the future. A future we will face true to our character, the character of a determined and enterprising people,” read Johnston. “Who take the same pride in raising their children as they do in being citizens of the best country on earth.”