Open thread: decolonization in Canada


in History, Law, Politics

Supposedly, Canada is in the midst of a national effort at moving toward reconciliation after centuries of exploiting and oppressing its Indigenous populations. Signs include efforts to protect and investigate crimes against Indigenous women and girls; the renaming of buildings and monuments to people who played a role in Canada’s troubling past; and supposedly efforts to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – though here, as in so many other areas, there is good cause to question the sincerity of the Trudeau government.

Of course, there has been resistance from white supremacists and others.

It’s encouraging to see Halifax taking down Cornwallis monuments (put a bounty on the Mi’kmaq in 1749) and the Langevin block in Ottawa renamed (helped set up Canada’s genocidal residential schools). I would like to see everything named after Columbus renamed, though ultimately renaming is a small and symbolic part of what decolonization will need to include.

In the long term, Canada needs to recognize that its sovereignty has always been illegitimate – based on coerced treaties that Canada has routinely violated or the naked use of force. The path toward reconciliation can’t be seen from beginning to end in advance, but some of the actions we ought to be taking seem pretty clear, starting with providing services in Indigenous communities comparable to those in the rest of Canada, helping Indigenous peoples built toward self-government, and no longer imposing economic and resource projects on them despite their political and legal opposition.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan February 22, 2018 at 5:58 pm
. September 18, 2018 at 2:25 pm

The collective of B.C. First Nations who defended their claims at the Federal Court are the same ones who tried for a very long time to get government to meaningfully consult with them. First Nations don’t want to spend millions on litigation when those funds could be spent on nation-building. At a time when the government should have been acting in the best interests of Canadians, First Nations, killer whales and our entire ecosystem, they focused exclusively on corporate interests and their own political agendas. Federal and provincial governments should be celebrating that the appellate court upheld Canada’s constitution and the Aboriginal rights protected within section 35. Instead, it seems they are trying to figure out how all of this impacts them personally and politically. What does this mean for the next federal election? Is this a sign that Trudeau can’t deliver? Is this good for the Conservatives? What about Alberta’s NDP? Is this the death knell of their time in office?

These are all ridiculously self-centered and irresponsible considerations. The B.C. First Nations who defended their rights did more to stand up for Canadians and our environment than Canada’s own Prime Minister. Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples seems to be okay so long as it is limited to tearful apologies, a national day of recognition or a few name changes on government buildings. But when reconciliation requires governments respect constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights—then all systems launch into panic mode. Commentators have referred to the requirement for meaningful consultation where Aboriginal rights are concerned as “holding the government hostage”—very negative and alarmist language implying catastrophe if immediate action isn’t taken. A bit dramatic considering the atrocities committed against First Nations and the ongoing violation of their basic human rights, let alone their specific Aboriginal rights.

Prime Minister Trudeau campaigned on a promise of renewed relations with First Nations and in particular, a relationship based on the respect for Aboriginal rights. He promised to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which is the international standard that requires free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for any development on their lands. He also promised to conduct a complete review of federal laws to ensure they were section 35 compliant. Had he actually done what he promised, none of us would be talking about this case today. Had he lived up to his promise that he would respect the First Nations right to say no to development on our lands—we wouldn’t have needed this court case.

. December 17, 2018 at 9:21 pm

The Trudeau government didn’t think it was cutting corners when it last consulted First Nations on Trans Mountain in 2016. After judges overturned the Harper government’s approval for the now-cancelled Northern Gateway pipeline because of a rushed and inadequate process, the Liberals insisted their Trans Mountain dialogues would allow for more time and thoroughness. But quantity is no replacement for quality, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in its latest rebuke—not when Ottawa showed no willingness to accommodate Indigenous misgivings. This time, the government aims for bigger and better consultations. It will double the capacity of its consultation teams, Sohi says. “Be assured that our teams will have the mandate to offer accommodations where accommodations are possible.”

. January 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm
. January 15, 2019 at 10:22 pm


With respect to Indigenous issues, as MOJAG, I have publicly expressed my opinions in various venues about the ongoing challenges in transforming what the Prime Minister has stated is the “most important” relationship, that between Canada and Indigenous peoples. One of my main motivations for seeking public office was to see the work of reconciliation accelerate and advance in real and tangible ways.

The work that must be done is well known. We have the solutions. Indigenous peoples have advocated and brought forward what must be done for decades. Countless Commissions, studies, reports, and analyses have reiterated the work we must do together to reconcile.

The foundation for moving forward is understanding that the dire social and economic realities that Indigenous peoples continue to face – including lack of clean drinking water, over representation in the criminal justice system, inadequate housing, high rates of poverty, and violence against Indigenous women and girls – are directly linked to legislative and policy regimes that have disempowered and divided Indigenous peoples, eroded their systems of governance, laws, and responsibilities, harmed their economies, and denied their basic rights and systems. Long overdue legislative and policy changes based on the recognition of title and rights, including historic treaties, are urgently needed, so that Indigenous peoples can accelerate and lead the work of re-building their Nations and governments, and a new climate of co-operative relations can emerge.

While our government has taken some very important steps, and hard work is being done, the necessary shifts have not yet been fully achieved. Rather, a number of the proposals that our government has been pursuing so far require substantial work in co-operation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples to reset the new foundations for this most important relationship.

. February 12, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Jody Wilson-Raybould resigns from cabinet

OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is quitting the federal cabinet days after allegations became public the Prime Minister’s Office pressured the former justice minister to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

In a letter published on her website Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould says she has hired former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to tell her what she can say about “matters that have been in the media over the last week.”

. June 30, 2019 at 4:19 pm

Conflicted and worried: CBC News poll takes snapshot of Canadians ahead of fall election

Poll finds high levels of anxiety – and a low level of confidence in politicians – ahead of fall election

The poll finds that Canadians are concerned about the future for themselves and their families, with 72 per cent saying they are worried or somewhat worried. Just six per cent report feeling optimistic, while 22 per cent are somewhat optimistic.

Asked what was worrying them most, 32 per cent of all respondents said it was the cost of living — a concern that was highest in British Columbia and among those between the ages of 25 and 44.

An overwhelming 83 per cent who said they were concerned about the cost of living pointed to the cost of basics, like groceries, electricity or gas, while just over half said they were worried about the cost of housing or whether they would have enough to retire.

Second on the list of concerns was climate change, at 19 per cent. Anxiety about climate change was highest in Atlantic Canada, B.C. and Quebec, and among more educated and younger respondents.

The poll found significant disillusionment among Indigenous Canadians, with 86 per cent saying that the country needs to do more for them (59 per cent agreed strongly). That was significantly higher than the 69 per cent of Canadians overall who believe the country should be doing more for Indigenous Canadians.

There was a similar degree of difference in dissatisfaction with the track record of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While 52 per cent of Canadians said that Trudeau was doing not very well, or not well at all, at improving the welfare and conditions of Indigenous Canadians, that increased to 69 per cent among Indigenous respondents themselves.

. December 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Trudeau government moving forward on UNDRIP legislation, says minister

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said law would be co-developed

. March 6, 2020 at 2:01 am

Cabinet approves $240M Mohawk settlement for 132-year-old land claim

Payout will see Mohawks of Akwesasne renounce their claim to disputed land

. March 9, 2020 at 1:33 pm

What If We’d Gone Hard for Treaties Instead of Fossil Fuels?

Our politics likely would be more stable, our economy more diversified

. August 9, 2020 at 9:29 pm

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