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Where does AFN draw the line on corporate sponsorship?


By Jennifer Ashawasegai of BAMOSEDA

Bamoseda is an Aboriginal news magazine radio program which features national Aboriginal news, current affairs, features on community and culture, spotlights on entertainment and a cross section of musical genres from very talented artists in the Aboriginal community.

Article Featured in Windspeaker

The Assembly of First Nations has thrown its weight and influence behind the 61 First Nations opposed to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project. But some see a disconnect between what the AFN says and what it does.

Monies from Enbridge were accepted when a gala event associated with the AFN was hosted in Calgary in 2009. An Enbridge Aboriginal relations newsletter from September that year states National Chief Shawn Atleo took his oath of office at the Calgary assembly where he was elected, then met with supporters and well-wishers at the National Chief’s Reception hosted by Enbridge.

Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Team Marlene Thistle (Administrative Assistant), John Carruthers (President), and Leonie Rivers (Director) with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo.

The company news bulletin of Atleo’s election in July 2009 is accompanied by a photo of the national chief with three company representatives, including Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project President John Carruthers.

Peter Russell, a retired political sciences professor from the University of Toronto, says corporate sponsorship is something organizations need to think about.

“When any organization accepts sponsors’ funds for any activity or event, they have to consider very carefully the source of that money and whether, at the source, the organization that’s giving them the money might be in conflict with any of the principles of the organization itself or any of its members.”

Enbridge spokesperson Gina Jordan deflected a question about the contradiction of the corporate sponsored event, which was followed by public opposition from the AFN more than a year later.

“I certainly can’t speak for Mr. Atleo,” she said. “I do know that every project will have its opponents, as well as its supporters, and we certainly do feel that as people learn more about the Northern Gateway Project, and understand the details of the application, that they will understand that the project can be built safely and operated safely.”

Jordan added that she could not comment further on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Assembly of First Nations is not taking any credit for the Enbridge-hosted gala. An email from the organization’s communications department stated, “…the event you are referring to was a “farewell gala” for outgoing National Chief Phil Fontaine. This was not part of the AFN AGA, but did take place that same week. Enbridge was one of a number of sponsors for the event.”

First Nation opposition of the Enbridge project didn’t crop up overnight. According to Terry Teegee, vice-tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, its member First Nations have been against the project since it was first proposed in 2005.

Russell said he would be troubled by an oil company sponsoring a First Nation event.

“There are a number of situations in Canada, (for example) particularly right now around the Mackenzie River where the Dehcho Dene are. The interest of oil companies are in conflict with the First Nations. The oil companies are pressing for a very quick settlement of land issues that would extinguish the title of Aboriginal people, and the Dehcho Dene are holding out for a much more fair and just agreement.”

“So, getting money from an oil company is supporting one side of that debate.”

Russell recommends that organizations have specific policies about corporate sponsorship. As a member of the Canadian Political Sciences Association, he said there are very strict rules about corporate sponsorship. For instance, he says the CPSA does not accept any money from political parties for fear of party bias.

It’s unknown whether or not the AFN has any policies around corporate sponsorship. The organization didn’t respond to email enquiries on the issue.

Policies or not, Russell has a dire warning about corporate sponsorships.

“He who pays the piper will try to call the tune, and there are some tunes that the member nations of the AFN are opposed to and you have to be very careful accepting funds from organizations that may have a different view of the Aboriginal relationship with Canada than the ones that the AFN espouses.”

Link to Engridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Propaganda which features Shawn Atleo 2009

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