On Tuesday chiefs attending the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations traveled from Gatineau to Ottawa to voice their displeasure about the government’s budget bill C-45.
The chiefs demonstrated outside centre block and then walked through the building to the entrance of the House of Commons, where security blocked them from entering.
On Wednesday the news was not about what specifically the chiefs are having trouble with in terms of the budget bill. The coverage centred instead on the fact that this group was barred from entering the House of Commons.
The problem with this being the focus of the news surrounding this demonstration is that I still don’t know exactly what the chiefs want removed from the budget bill and, perhaps more importantly, I do know that anyone trying to enter the House floor would have been stopped exactly the same way.
No Canadian can just up and walk into the House of Commons unless they are invited into Committee of the Whole, as was the case during the apology to our First Nations peoples for their removal from their homes and their treatment in residential schools. Even a Senator, someone who is a part of our parliament, is not allowed into the House.
There was no mistreatment here, and in fact the chiefs and the press would have known in advance that there was no way they were entering the house. So why the stunt and why the slant to the coverage?
John Ivison says it demonstrated their frustration at the way they’re being treated, which is a fair point. Our First Nations were told by this Prime Minister that they would be respected and taking seriously. Like so many other promises he’s made, that one has fallen by the wayside. Most Canadians (including me) don’t have any real idea of what life on a reserve is like, but if Attawapiskat showed us anything, it’s that life on a reserve is not safe, not sanitary, and not up to what most of us would consider the Canadian standard of living.
These peoples – all of them with different circumstances, different histories, different languages and traditions, and different problems – they need their voice to be heard but this way doesn’t seem to have captured the heart of their message.