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.

{ 2 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.

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