(Protest sign used during a resent demonstration on Parliament Hill. APTN/File photo)
By Delaney Windigo
APTN National News
SASKATOON–One the eve of Tuesday’s Crown First-Nations Gathering, B.C’s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip warned of a potential youth uprising if talks didn’t go smoothly.
Phillip made those remarks saying the prime minister didn’t provide a clear indication that his government would take the concerns of First Nations leaders seriously.
That rhetoric from Phillip, president of Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, leading up to the historic event got the discussion of possible civil unrest going.
“As offensive as the remark was, I feel obligated to give a voice to the poverty that (represents) the reality of the Aboriginal people in this country,” said Phillip.
Phillip says poverty breeds frustration. One only has to look at the housing crisis on the Attawapiskat First Nation and many other First Nations across the country. However, it was Attawapiskat’s housing crisis that spotlighted Canada’s Third World conditions.
Pictures of dilapidated housing had Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people across the country frustrated with the federal government’s lack of a swift response.
Yet, the idea of an “uprising” is nothing new. Former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine and former Roseau River First Nation chief Terry Nelson both hinted at unrest in the past.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak recently told APTN National News that “there is room for civil disobedience, when people aren’t being heard, action does have to happen.”
Confrontations have occurred in the past. Like the 1990 Oka crisis and Ipperwash, with the shooting death of Dudley George. Yet, some say these are isolated incidents, usually occurring because of outstanding treaty issues.
Regardless of the fact some people say the risk of a national uprising is low, APTN National News has reported in the past that the RCMP and Aboriginal Affairs regularly monitor potential “protest and occupation” hot spots.
With all of the talk of potential youth unrest, Colby Tootoosis, considers himself a politically conscious youth and he says if youth feel the need to start an uprising, it should start from within.
“It has to start inside, it has to include me being clear, and willing to look inside myself and open into that original compassion that exists within the consciousness of who we are as Indigenous people,” said Tootoosis, “Uprise within your family unit first, uprise within your own community first, then there will be clarity for better direction of what action needs to be taken.”
Tootoosis describes the federal government’s relationship with First Nations as an abusive one.
However, he says some of the unrest felt by youth is directed at their own leadership.
“A lot of the unrest amongst are young people is also geared towards our own leadership and the invitation is (there) for our current leadership to be open (up) to what our young people have to offer,”said Tootoosis. “There is a lot of intelligent young people out there who can see things differently from a more organic perspective than the current state of our current leadership.”
Some have said the recent Crown First Nations Gathering was the first step in improving the nation to nation relationship.
Phillip says this is the opportunity for the federal government to make positive changes. However, at this point, it’s unclear whether First Nations will move towards peaceful diplomacy or civil disobedience.