It wasn’t just the rain that put a damper on many Canada 150 events last week. What was billed as a national feel-good party was tempered by questions raised throughout the nation about whether 150 years of Canada was worth celebrating at all. National headlines were made when the Bawating Water Protectors erected a teepee on Parliament Hill just a few days before Ottawa’s Canada Day celebrations (see: “Teepee erected on Parliament Hill highlights pain of Canada 150, activists say,” the Toronto Star, June 29, 2017). In Halifax, a Mi’kmaq ceremony was interrupted by several off-duty members of Canada’s armed forces, who were later revealed to belong to a Western chauvinist group that requires members to beat up left-wing protesters as a part of its admittance process (see:“Canada’s top general apologizes for incident at Indigenous ceremony,” the Toronto Star, July 4, 2017). And in Thunder Bay, Barbara Kentner, a member of the Waabigon Saaga’igan Anishinaabeg nation, succumbed to injuries she sustained after being hit in the stomach by a trailer hitch thrown from a moving vehicle – an incident which may have been a racially-motivated hate crime (see: “NAN – Deeply Saddened by Death of Barbara Kentner,” NetNewsLedger, July 5, 2017).
Clearly, there’s a lot of work and effort that must be undertaken if Canada is to become a nation that takes seriously the need to reconcile with indigenous people, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That work starts with acknowledging the wrongs inflicted on indigenous peoples by our governments and social and religious institutions. It requires us to acknowledge that the harm continues to this day – and will continue as long as the relationship between Canada and First Nations remains unbalanced. Changing that relationship will require institutional overhaul. Amending Canada’s constitution may have to be considered, in order to provide a framework consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – a declaration Canada has supported since 2007.
Should we choose to continue to ignore the need to change Canada’s relationships with indigenous peoples, the risks to Canada are considerable. Resource projects are already on the front-lines of indigenous legal challenges. Our courts are adversarial and create winners and losers. What’s needed going forward is a commitment to a more collaborative process – one that has at its very heart the notion that the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples must form the starting point of true nation-to-nation co-operation.
Canada’s legal traditions, based on the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, have led to the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the dispossession of their lands and resources (see:“‘Doctrine of Discovery’, Used for Centuries to Justify Seizure of Indigenous Land, Subjugate Peoples, Must Be Repudiated by United Nations, Permanent Forum Told,” The United Nations, Meetings Coverage, May 8, 2012) . The primary beneficiaries of this racist doctrine have been the Crown – or more specifically, Canada’s federal and provincial governments and institutions. At the very heart of our civil society exists a culture of oppression that we are slowly coming to acknowledge.
Fear is a part of any change – and fundamentally altering the unbalanced relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada is no exception. Some fear that a shift may give indigenous peoples and First Nations a veto over resource projects like bitumen pipelines. However, as pointed out by a recent paper on indigenous consent and resource extraction, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, nation-to-nation collaboration that starts with free, prior and informed consent has a better chance of minimizing adversarial legal actions and confrontational protests (see: “Indigenous Consent and Natural Resource Extraction,” Institute for Research on Public Policy, July 4, 2017).
Rest assured that if Canada doesn’t begin the process of taking seriously the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and fails to implement UNDRIP, the future will be filled with confrontation that perpetuates a culture of oppression and wastes our scarce collective resources.
Our nation’s 150th birthday reminds us that we Canadians have a duty and an obligation to fundamentally alter the settler/colonial relationship that we have benefited from – not as a way of atoning for the actions of our ancestors, but as a way of demonstrating compassion and equity for the generations yet to come.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)
This post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "Sudbury Column: Collaboration needed to reset relationship,'" online, and in print as "Collaboration, not confrontation, needed to reset relationship," July 9, 2017 - without hyperlinks.