Canada’s aboriginals face a multitude of issues in 2012, as always. Some of these have been grabbing headlines for quite some time, others more recently. Will 2012 be the year that headway is made on chronic problems such as housing and education? Which land claims will be settled and launched? What will the aboriginal-federal-crown relationship look like this time next year? Below are 10 stories that are sure to be at the forefront.
1. Attawapiskat. This remote First Nation on the shores of James Bay has become a poster child for all that is wrong with aboriginal housing and living conditions in general. As public and then international attention became riveted on the deplorable conditions that had been allowed to develop in the 1,800-member community, the United Nations even stepped in to chastise the Canadian government. As 2012 dawns, this slow-motion unfolding disaster is set to remain at the forefront of the nation’s attention.
2. New Democratic Party (NDP) election. Indigenous Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash is running for president of the New Democratic Party to replace his mentor Jack Layton, who died in 2011 of cancer just after leading the party to victory. The NDP unseated the Liberals to become the Conservative government’s official opposition. If he wins, Saganash would be the first aboriginal leader of a major political party. The election is in March.
3. Northern Gateway. The decision on this controversial pipeline that is slated to wend its way across mostly First Nations territory from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast in British Columbia will be delayed through 2013. But hearings and environmental assessment will be ongoing, as will resistance by most of the First Nations of British Columbia.
4. Aboriginal Education. The report of a national blue-ribbon panel studying aboriginal education is due to be released early this year, though the preliminary findings are unsurprising: The condition of schools and educational infrastructure on reserves is not conducive to improving minds. With all the information assembled and aboriginal leaders increasing pressure for action, the Conservative government is bound to do something, anything, to improve the lot of aboriginal students. Meanwhile, three major aboriginal treaty organizations have released an alternate report, saying that the Assembly of First Nations undertook this joint review with the Canadian government without a mandate from the chiefs.
5. Transparency. Wending its way through Parliament is a transparency bill requiring chiefs to reveal their salaries. First Nations leaders say this represents everything wrong with the Indian Act—namely, treating them like children, with the federal government overseeing matters rather than letting First Nations deal with their own affairs.
6. Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. Caught up in controversy over funding and aboriginal involvement, the panel known as the Oppal commission (after chair Wally Oppal) has been hearing testimony since October about the cases involving serial killer Robert Pickton. The goal is to shed light on why he was not apprehended earlier, and what role the invisibility of aboriginal women and issues might have played.
7. Taseko’s New Prosperity mine. This proposed mine has been the bane of the Tsilhqot’in of British Columbia for years now. First it was rejected soundly by Environment Canada as Prosperity Mine, then reintroduced with tweaks as New Prosperity in mid-2011. In either case, Taseko Mines Limited wants to dig out the gold and copper that underlie traditional Tsilhqot’in lands. Plans would include draining Little Fish Lake, which the Tsilhqot’in say would not only disrupt their traditional way of life but also destroy their livelihood.
Most recently, the provincial government allowed Taseko to conduct test drilling, even as the federal government agreed to conduct an environmental review to determine whether the project is feasible. The Assembly of First Nations has vowed to support the Tsilhqot’in in their fight against the mine. Both the Tsilhqot’in and Taseko have gone to court, with the former trying to get work stopped at the site and the latter objecting to a blockade that is impeding its efforts.
8. Residential Schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada continues its hearings, with two years left in its mandate, and begins viewing proposals for a national research center. Meanwhile, schools around the country are still looking for status as residential schools, and some lawsuits are being filed. The year will see many developments.
9. Tobacco. Wars between the provinces and the tribes and the federal government are heating up. Rainbow Tobacco, based in the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake, is enmeshed in lawsuits across the country as its owner insists that the seizing of his cigarettes throughout the year is unconstitutional.
10. Land Claims and Treaties. These are always noteworthy, but the landscape (so to speak) is shifting. Many claims are being settled, but more are being levied and the government and First Nations want them to end. Many may be resolved this year.