Blackstock Says No to Bribe from INAC

There’s no such thing as just a gift
Justin Bige

Cindy_Blackstock_01

Cindy Blackstock speaks at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in Edmonton on March 28, 2014. (United Church/Flickr)

Renowned Indigenous children’s advocate Cindy Blackstock knows well enough not to fall for an obvious bribe, even if it’s offered by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). A $149,000 donation by INAC was rejected by The First Nations Child and Family Services Society (FNCFSP) when it failed to meet the society’s “ethical screening.”

“We don’t accept funds from groups that are harming children or who are violating Indigenous rights,” Blackstock told APTN National News on Jan. 22. “Their conduct falls outside of our ethical screen to receive funds from donors.”

This kind of decision making is familiar for students at KPU, when in 2015 Trans Mountain agreed to donate $300,000 to KPU over 20 years—with an additional $40,000 towards KPU’s Environmental Protection Lab building—if the Kinder Morgan pipelines expansion program was approved. This “donation” also gave Trans Mountain exclusive naming rights on the EPT lab.

Blackstock, alongside the Assembly of First Nations, spent 10 years on a case filed with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Just one year prior to this donation rejection, they ruled that Canada discriminates against First Nations children by regularly underfunding programs and services in comparison to non-Indigenous children. This especially happens on reserve.

Despite this ruling, INAC has twice failed to rectify the situation, and the tribunal issued non-compliance orders both times. This discrimination is so ingrained that the department has opted to disobey the courts rather than fully commit to properly funding First Nations children. In fact, they dispute this by saying they have committed over $600 million of funding over five  years, though that funding plan was in place before the tribunal made its ruling a year ago.

Blackstock has clarified by explaining that the bare minimum to deal with current conditions for First Nations children would require $200 million up front, which INAC has failed to produce. Rather than follow the court orders, INAC attempted to bribe FNCFSS with its $149,000 donation, and in a strong principled response, they rejected this donation.

As exemplified with the KPU/Kinder Morgan agreement and INAC’s attempted donation, there’s always strings attached. Over the course of that summer in 2015, the unified pressure led by the Kwantlen First Nation, alongside the Kwantlen Student Association, Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group, Pipe-Up Network, and the dedicated faculty and community members of KPU eventually caused the university to cut those strings. The pressure’s epicentre was Kwantlen First Nation’s status as an official intervenor in the National Energy Board process, which the university sought to respect as a name-holder of Kwantlen.

Had the university used a similar ethical screening process, the whole situation may have been avoided from the get-go. Now is a time where principled stands against outside interests influencing education, particularly post-secondary education, are greatly needed. Luckily, the end-result was the same, with the agreement being rescinded.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion was approved on November 26, 2016 by Justin Trudeau’s federal government. Had the Memorandum of Understanding with KPU gone forward, their say on Environmental Protection Technology’s curriculum would undoubtedly proven nefarious, and now there is a large, unified voice across Metro Vancouver saying that this pipeline does not have community’s consent.

Like the underfunding of Indigenous children on reserves, many First Nations are put at risk with the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline. The federal government is at the root of both issues. Tactics used by the federal government and corporations rely on buying legitimacy from communities and organizations fighting for environmental and Indigenous rights. This will only continue to become clearer as children’s advocates, environmentalists and Indigenous people firmly stand to protect and secure their livelihoods for the next seven generations. Only with a shared understanding that no gift comes without obligations, will we be prepared to resist.

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