St. Andrews – A flyer about First Nations’ spending circulated by Conservative MP John Williamson irked many of his Charlotte County constituents for its attack on indigenous sovereignty and its racist overtones.
Williamson and many MPs send regular “householders” or flyers to constituents at public expense to update people in their ridings about what they have been doing in parliament.
The topics covered by flyers from Conservative MPs include cuts to government-funded environmental science, changes in immigration laws and reductions of services to refugees, and changes to the criminal justice system that will see more people incarcerated.
A recent flyer entitled, “Native Chiefs Should Report Spending,” arrived in mailboxes in Williamson’s Southwest New Brunswick riding in March. The flyer was timed with legislation aimed at “increasing financial transparency on First Nation reserves,” which became law in late March after passing in the Senate. The law will require First Nation governments to publish audited financial statements and the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.
The flyer includes a survey which residents are encouraged to fill out and send back to Williamson. Readers are encouraged to check a box beside either “Yes! I agree with the Harper Government’s plan” or “No! First Nations are sovereign and don’t need to disclose their finances to taxpayers.”
Passamaquoddy Chief Hugh Akagi points out that Williamson’s survey pits transparency against First Nations sovereignty. A vote for transparency is treated as, effectively, a vote against First Nations sovereignty.
Chief Akagi is currently negotiating with the government of Canada for the return of recognition of the Passamaquoddy in their indigenous territory within Canada. This territory extends from Point Lepreau through to Passamaquoddy Bay and the St Croix River, much of which is known today as Charlotte County. Unceded Passamaquoddy territory, which is subject to treaty and constitutional rights, makes up a significant portion of Williamson’s riding.
While Chief Akagi supports transparency from all governments, he does not believe that a call for transparency has anything to do with inherent sovereignty. “There is a lack of transparency in my territory. The federal government, represented here by Mr. Williamson, has failed to be transparent on where it stands regarding the implementation of international commitments such as the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” says Chief Akagi.
Of all the issues facing indigenous people in Canada, most recently articulated in the Idle No More movement, Williamson has apparently limited the discussion to perceived issues of corruption on reserves.
Terry Wishart, resident of Harvey, was not pleased when he received the flyer in the mail. “The first thing that struck me when I received the flyer was that it had racist intentions. This seemed like a set up, a way to throw negative light on one community. Given that this was coming from John Williamson and that I have not received anything else relating to First Nations Issues, I had to wonder about ulterior motives,” comments Wishart.