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I wrote up a commentary and I'd appreciate your feedback.  No holds barred. ;D

As the 2008 election draws near, it is worth questioning what it is that First Nations people need from the process.  Beyond what we want from an election, it is also worth exploring the role First Nations have played in the development of Canada and the elements of Canadian society we hold most dear. 

Our declared representative, the Assembly of First Nations, is demanding action by the federal government in support of equitable funding for education and child welfare.  These are two very clear cases of inequality - between provincial and federal rates of support – where federal levels of support are grossly inadequate.  When a First Nations child gets an education worth $6,300 per year while their provincial counterpart gets an education worth $9,500 per year the difference is measured in the quality of life of students (and their future contribution to society).  Immediate action must be taken to bridge this gap … this is a no-brainer that must be addressed by all parties in their campaigns.  Further to this immediate action to transform the quality of life of First Nations peoples who have been excluded from opportunities afforded other Canadians, we must take deeper ongoing action and push Canada to examine the role First Nations citizens play in Canada. 

The days of pounding on the table demanding more money are gone.  We as First Nations peoples have to come to the table with solutions and answers, some of which may be transferable far beyond the realm of our communities.  In sync with the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes and John F. Kennedy we have to stop asking, ‘What can Canada do for First Nations’ and ask, ‘What can we as First Nations do for Canada?’ and work with whichever party or parties is ready to work with us.  But before we answer this question, we must first understand what we have already given to this nation and to do that we must look into history. 

In the world of foreign policy there exists a notion of 'soft power'.  Harvard University’s Joseph Nye explains this as the ability of one nation to greatly influence another nation through culture, ideology and beliefs.  In spite of our difficulties, historically speaking there is no more perfect example of two nations co-existing amicably than that of Canada and Canadian First Nations.  The soft power exercised bilaterally in this nation to nation partnership is evident in much of the Canada we see today.  First Nations academics argue that it is displayed in the U.S. Constitution (which arguably was influenced by the Iroquois Confederacy) in the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  All of these documents were influenced by individual rights that were not found in pre-contact Europe but common in First Nations communities during the days of Canada’s legal birth.  The argument continues that these same First Nations rights and tenets have gone on to be the catalyst for greater institutions like the League of Nations and the United Nations.  For those colonialists who first settled in the America's it was often an equitable governance system practiced in the surrounding First Nations that either lured early settler and soldiers away, or forced colonial governance to change in order to stop desertion.  They were surrounded by peoples that had a very strong connection to the land, respect for collective and individual rights, and governance with checks and balances (It is a sad irony that those same rights are currently not found in many reserves). 

Manitoba Elders believe that the extended fur trade period and proximity to First Nations teachings of rights, democracy and respect for the land resulted in a heavy influence of Cree and Ojibway cultural norms on the fur traders.  Again they believe First Nations had agency in all dealings with settlers, and the world at large.  It is not illogical to assert that this translated into shaping business and Canadian identity development in our region and beyond.  I would go so far as to argue that it influenced the development of policy and practice at a national level.  These policies and practices have made Canada global leaders in values based democracy and human rights. 

Looking at ourselves as Canadians and recognizing the root of our consciousness means that our respected position in the world today is due in part to First Nations influence on our development.  The 2008 election should be a day not only for Canadians to push for concrete changes in government policy - like equity in funding - but for Canadians to take personal responsibility for our dealings with Aboriginal peoples, and to recognize the role we have played in Canada’s development, through the casting of their vote.  It is also time for First Nations people to reassert our agency within Canada and to develop and push solutions to the rest of Canada.  After all, past solutions have gone on to become international models. 

Canada has long emerged from its adolescence, and like an adult that slowly realizes he is very similar to the parents he always wanted to be different from, Canada must become aware that the ideals it holds most dear stem from Aboriginal roots.  The same ideals that have brought us prosperity as a nation must be used to bring opportunity and quality of life to First Nations.  We must continue to make sure this message is not lost.