What Justin Trudeau doesn’t understand about Indigenous-government relations

OPINION: By offering Jody Wilson-Raybould the position of Minister of Indigenous Services, the prime minister signalled that he still has a lot to learn about reconciliation, writes Charnel Anderson

Jody Wilson-Rabould

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould serves as an MP for the riding of Vancouver Granville. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

One of the federal Liberal government’s stated priorities is to renew the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. It’s among the most important relationships to this country, according to Justin Trudeau — but recent events involving Jody Wilson-Raybould call into question the prime minister’s commitment to reconciliation.

Last Wednesday, during his testimony to the justice committee about the SNC-Lavalin affair, the prime minister’s former top aide, Gerald Butts, revealed that, in January, Trudeau had asked Wilson-Raybould — then the attorney general — to lead Indigenous Services Canada. The offer was more than a political faux pas: it demonstrated an unmistakable ignorance about the government’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. It was an offer she could, and did, refuse.

Wilson-Raybould, a member of We Wai Kai Nation, in British Columbia, hasn’t been shy about her opposition to the Indian Act, which she would have been tasked with administering had she taken up Trudeau’s offer. In 2016, she said that “the Indian Act is not a suitable system of government; it is not consistent with the rights enshrined in our constitution, the principles set out in [the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples], or calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

On the face of it, Trudeau’s desire to appoint an Indigenous person to lead ISC may seem fitting — who better to administer the government’s Indigenous portfolio than an Indigenous person who is aware of the cultures and values of Indigenous peoples in Canada? But even a cursory look at relations between this country and Indigenous communities over the past 150 years reveals why this interpretation is misguided.

Truth comes before reconciliation.

It’s worth reminding readers that the Indian Act, first passed in 1876, was designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples.

This is what Sir John A. Macdonald — who, for nearly 10 years, beginning in 1878, was the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs (the 19th-century equivalent of Minister of Indigenous Services) — had to say about the Indian Act: “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.”

The Canadian government has historically tried to wipe out Indigenous people’s cultures: that is the basis of Indigenous-government relations; it’s also the reason why more than one Indigenous person has told me that they’re vehemently opposed to working in the public sector.  MORE

21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act

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Since its creation in 1876, the Indian Act has shaped, controlled, and constrained the lives and opportunities of Indigenous Peoples, and is at the root of many enduring stereotypes. Bob Joseph’s book comes at a key time in the reconciliation process, when awareness from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is at a crescendo. Joseph explains how Indigenous Peoples can step out from under the Indian Act and return to self-government, self-determination, and self-reliance and why doing so would result in a better country for every Canadian.

“The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.” – John A Macdonald, 1887

The Indian Act has been a lightning rod for criticism and controversy over the years, widely attacked by First Nations people and communities for its regressive and paternalistic excesses.

Here are some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).

The Indian Act:

    1. denied women status;
    2. introduced residential schools;
    3. created reserves;

MORE

First Nations in Canada Are Demanding Property Rights

Changing or abolishing the Indian Act in order to allow private land ownership may seem like a logical solution, but it’s not without its criticisms.


A boy plays on a broken-down RV on the Cote First Nation, near the town of Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Zachary Prong/Reuters

Currently, in southern Manitoba’s Sandy Bay First Nation—a place where winter temperatures often dip below -40 F—people are living in rat-infested homes without heat or reliable electricityRampant mold in northern Ontario’s Cat Lake First Nation is seriously damaging people’s health. In Attawapiskat, some people live in uninsulated sheds. Neskantaga First Nation has had a boil-water advisory for 25 years. In Nunavut, tuberculosis infection rates among Inuit are 26 times the national average due to overcrowded housing. Most people can’t afford to do better; 80 percent of reserves have median incomes below Canada’s poverty line.

Not all Indigenous people in Canada live on reserves; many have separate land treaties and settlement agreements, while others have yet to reclaim their land. Still, housing shortages are a common problem across most First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. This article speaks mainly about First Nations reserves.

Changing, or abolishing, the Indian Act in order to allow land ownership may seem like a logical solution for much of the First Nations housing crisis—but it’s not without its criticisms, either.

Many Indigenous people believe that private ownership brings with it a looming threat of foreclosure, which could ultimately chip away at Indigenous territories and rights. It could also disrupt the communal spirit of many communities. MORE

 

Wilson-Raybould battled Bennett, other ministers over Indigenous rights framework

Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick denied Globe and Mail report he rebuked Wilson-Raybould over speeches


Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick said former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, right, battled Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, left, and other ministers over an Indigenous rights framework. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government’s top bureaucrat revealed Thursday that Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Justice minister, was locked in a fierce battle with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and other ministers over the direction of a promised piece of legislation central to the government’s reconciliation agenda.

Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick said a Sept. 17, 2018, meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, which has emerged as a key event in the SNC-Lavalin affair, was actually in response to cabinet tensions over the direction of the promised recognition and implementation of an Indigenous rights framework.

The framework was meant to enshrine the Constitution’s section 35, which affirms Aboriginal rights, in federal law, allowing First Nations to reconstitute their governance structures outside the Indian Act. Trudeau announced the framework during a speech in the House of Commons in February 2018.

Wernick said the prime minister met with Wilson-Raybould to discuss “very serious policy differences” between the former justice minister, Bennett and other ministers over the framework. MORE

 

Indian Act to blame for pipeline gridlock in northern B.C.: federal minister

Canada’s Indian Act blamed for creating a gridlock in northern British Columbia where some hereditary clan chiefs say a liquefied natural gas pipeline doesn’t have their consent.

 

VANCOUVER — Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations is pointing her finger at the Indian Act for creating a gridlock in northern British Columbia where some hereditary clan chiefs say a liquefied natural gas pipeline doesn’t have their consent.

Carolyn Bennett would not say whether she believes the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have jurisdiction over the 22,000 square kilometres they claim as their traditional territory, saying that it is up to each community to determine its leadership structure.

But she says the situation is an example of why the federal government is working to increase First Nations capacity for self-governance, including a new funding program to rebuild hereditary structures. MORE

Will Ottawa heed UN on rights of First Nations women?

A recent UN decision is about more than Indian status; it is about restoring the political rights and powerful voices of First Nations Women

Image result for If sex equality is a constitutional guarantee, and the Constitution Act, 1982 trumps all other federal laws in Canada – why were McIvor and others forced to spend time and money fighting for the same rights Canadian women get to take for granted? The answer lies in our colonial history. Canada has always targeted First Nations women for exclusion from the Indian Act as part of its overall Indian policy geared towards the elimination and assimilation of Indians. When colonial governments could no longer murder Indians or starve them or infect their blankets with smallpox, they tried residential schools to torture the Indian out of them. When that didn’t work, they stole their children and had them adopted into white families. When Indigenous people kept making babies, the government engaged in the forced sterilization of Indian women and girls – often without their knowledge or consent. Knowing they could not eliminate Indians by force, the government designed the Indian Act to eventually legislate Indians out of existence. To speed up this process, they targeted Indian women and children for exclusion from both registration as Indians, and membership in their communities in a variety of ways. Indian women who married non-Indians lost their Indian status, as did their children. Daughters born to Indian men out of wedlock were excluded from registration. Indian agents, the government’s representatives on reserves, could also protest the registration of children born to Indian women out of wedlock. In fact, the success of assimilation depended in part on targeting Indian women. In the words of the department in 1920: “It is in the interests of the Department… to sever her connection wholly with the reserve.”

Sharon McIvor has been engaged in an epic 33-year battle against the federal government to prove that she, her children and her grandchildren are entitled to be recognized as Indians the same way her male relatives and their descendants are under the Indian Act. Earlier this month, McIvor, who is from Lower Nicola Band in BC, won yet another landmark legal victory. The United Nations Human Rights Committee released a decision in her favour and directed Canada to end the sex discrimination.

But while Canada has lost every court case since the 1980s on this issue, the federal government refuses to stop discriminating. This not only advances the government’s goal of legislative extinction of Indians, but it limits the number of voices who might oppose its resource extraction agenda on First Nations lands.

If sex equality is a constitutional guarantee, and the Constitution Act, 1982 trumps all other federal laws in Canada – why were McIvor and others forced to spend time and money fighting for the same rights Canadian women get to take for granted? The answer lies in our colonial history.

Canada has always targeted First Nations women for exclusion from the Indian Act as part of its overall Indian policy geared towards the elimination and assimilation of Indians. When colonial governments could no longer murder Indians or starve them or infect their blankets with smallpoxthey tried residential schools to torture the Indian out of them. When that didn’t work, they stole their children and had them adopted into white families. When Indigenous people kept making babies, the government engaged in the forced sterilization of Indian women and girls – often without their knowledge or consent.

Knowing they could not eliminate Indians by force, the government designed the Indian Act to eventually legislate Indians out of existence. To speed up this process, they targeted Indian women and children for exclusion from both registration as Indians, and membership in their communities in a variety of ways. Indian women who married non-Indians lost their Indian status, as did their children. Daughters born to Indian men out of wedlock were excluded from registration. Indian agents, the government’s representatives on reserves, could also protest the registration of children born to Indian women out of wedlock. In fact, the success of assimilation depended in part on targeting Indian women. In the words of the department in 1920: “It is in the interests of the Department… to sever her connection wholly with the reserve.” MORE

 

Pipeline blockade is a sign of deeper troubles

 

Governments of B.C. and Canada claim agreements with elected band councils constitute consent, even though Supreme Court cases — including 1997’s Delgamuukw versus the Queen, which involved the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en — have recognized traditional governance forms, including the hereditary chief and clan system, on traditional territories. Elected band councils are more like municipal councils that have limited jurisdiction only over reserve lands.

The hereditary chief system was in place long before settlers and colonizers arrived. Chiefs, clans and house groups are responsible to the land and the people, and chiefs can be removed if they fail to fulfil their duties. The band council system is a product of the Indian Act, which also gave us residential schools.

As my good friend Miles Richardson, David Suzuki Foundation board member and former head of the B.C. Treaty Commission and Haida First Nation, told the Vancouver Sun, “When you look at the political world and the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, there’s a mighty struggle going on between two world views. There’s the Indigenous worldview manifested in the nation-to-nation commitment, and the colonial view, a 200-year-old, failed policy that was denounced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apologized for.” MORE

 

 

The Unist’ot’en Movement, Not the RCMP, Has the Law on Its Side

The facts about aboriginal rights and title support the Wet’suwet’en peoples in their pipeline protest.

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The Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters attempt to stop RCMP officers from enforcing an injunction. Photo by Michael Toledano.

The people defending the land are comprised of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their people, who want to ensure that their lands are protected so they can continue to practise their rights to hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering, and exercise their right to clean air and water and a healthy environment. Pipelines, they say, are a threat to these rights that the Wet’suwet’en people value.

Neither the elected chief and band councils that support the pipeline, nor the federal or provincial governments, nor Coastal GasLink ever obtained the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters. And that’s what’s at issue here. MORE

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There are two kinds of Indigenous governance structures, but Canada has been listening to just one

UNDRIP Implementation and use: It’s complicated

“We don’t have access to a court system to judge Canada at the UN, but we can embarrass Canada.” —Russ Diabo


Russell Diabo is an expert in legislation and strategies used by Canada to colonize First Nations

….A lot of grassroots Indigenous people wonder why Indigenous Nations don’t take Canada to the world court for breaches in dealings and wrong-doings against them, said Diabo. But the world court just doesn’t function as an option in that way.

Under the United Nations’ system, Canada could only be brought to the world court by another State party, he said. And there are no nations clamouring to bring Canada up on charges. Indigenous peoples themselves have little standing at the UN, because they are not member States.

Diabo also made an important distinction off the get-go. UNDRIP is a declaration not a covenant (or convention). A covenant of the UN is a legally-binding treaty, which once ratified requires the parties to adjust their domestic laws to comply with international obligations. A declaration is not legally binding. A declaration is meant to be inspirational in its intent. And, in fact, the Canadian government has described UNDRIP as aspirational. MORE