Truth Before Reconciliation
I’m calling my campaign “Truth Before Reconciliation” because I don’t believe the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action are sufficient to address the colonization that we have historically experienced and which continues today particularly under the colonial policies and legislation passed under the Constitution Act 1867.
The Trudeau government has appropriated our terminology like “nation-to-nation” and “reconciliation” and is misusing it for their own purposes. The Prime Minister wants to focus on his version of “reconciliation” while ignoring the “truth” about Canada’s contemporary racist and colonial laws, policies and practices.
From the Indian Act to the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy, to the ‘Buffalo Jump of the 1980’s’ to the suite of legislation from the Liberal government of Jean Chretien and now the Trudeau government’s 10 Principles, dissolving the Department of Indian Affairs and the “Framework” to define “rights” in legislation, the government of Canada has been implementing a plan to terminate our collective Aboriginal and sacred, historic Treaty rights.
Now I believe the AFN has lost control of the agenda and allowed the Trudeau government to define our “rights” through its federal self-government, land claims and fiscal policies.
While the Prime Minister and his Ministers are telling Chiefs they aren’t using the federal ‘Inherent Right’ policy or their Comprehensive Claims policy, at least one long-time legal advisor in B.C. has publicly stated the federal government hasn’t changed its position denying First Nation rights in the courts and they haven’t changed their negotiation mandates at the tables, not to mention the approval of the Site C Dam and the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline without the Free, Prior, Informed Consent of all of the First Nations affected.
1. Protection of Mother Earth, Lands, Waters and Climate is consistent with our Original Instructions from the Creator
From our community land-base to our ecological/cultural territorial landscapes all Indigenous Peoples were given original instructions about our responsibilities to protect our lands and waters for future generations of all life.
Since the 1980’s even the United Nations has recognized Mother Earth’s biological processes are impacted by human development activities globally, which is why global agreements on climate change and biodiversity have been signed by most countries.
This has led to a false debate between development versus environmental protection, partly because First Nations have been left out of the equation. Access and benefits to shared lands, territories and resources needs to be based on clear jurisdictional lines of authority that include First Nation governments, and that apply the standard of free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples. This should include decision making that incorporates effective environmental reviews and oversight in accordance with Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous laws. This also includes the protection of the environment in our communities: safe and sustainable drinking water and infrastructure.
2. Implementation of First Nation Self-Determination must be based on Treaty and Aboriginal Rights, and consistent with International Standards and Principles
We have fought hard to obtain international recognition of our rights and international standards - like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But current approaches to “rights and recognition” are intended to hijack and domesticate these important gains, to keep our nations under the thumb of federal and provincial governments.
We need to work to develop an approach that lifts-up our ancient and inherent rights as a basis for our renewal as nations. An approach of discussion and negotiation, which is based on rights recognition and respect rather than denial and extinguishment, that it is not for the Crown to dictate the rules of engagement - that should truly be mutual and based on the nation to nation relationship. This is what the historic Treaties were based on, including the pre-confederation Maritime Treaties, the Treaty of Kahnawake, the Niagara Treaty, the Robinson Treaties and the Numbered Treaties.
3. Our Land and Resources are the key to First Nation Renewal
First Nations today have control over less than 0.2% of Canada’s land base. This dispossession is the cause of our poverty and underdevelopment. International standards, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, require Crown restoration of First Nations stolen lands, territories and resources, or restitution where lands, territories and resources are not returned.
Existing “land claims” policies don’t do this, and these policies are not transparent or consistent with international standards. We need to work towards authentic approaches that provide our nations with a sufficient share of our lands to prosper. Talking to Canada alone won’t resolve this, since it’s the provinces that control much of our lands. We need to develop a strategy to ensure that the provinces and territories do what is required to support the implementation of international standards, and the restoration of traditional lands and resources. This will require creative approaches to issues like compensation and jurisdiction.
4. Empowerment of Our Children and Youth
The inspiring work of Cindy Blackstock and her organization the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada has contributed to significant systemic changes for the future of our children and youth, but we need much more effort to build upon Cindy Blackstock’s tireless work.
The legacy of residential schools, the ‘60’s Scoop and now the systemic and widespread apprehension of our children and youth by provincial child and family services needs to be stopped!
The linkages to First Nations children and youth being taken into the child welfare system and placed into the youth detention system then the criminal justice system, resulting in the over-representation of our First Nation Peoples in the corrections system, in what some describe as a “cradle-to-incarceration continuum”!
The Canadian racist, colonial system, of land theft, forced removal to small often uneconomical reserves, resultant impoverishment and imposed policy and legislation denying First Nations jurisdiction over our children, youth and families are the root causes of the disruption of families within our communities and Nations.
The linkages between the child welfare, criminal justice and corrections systems is a far more effective assimilation process of our First Nation Peoples than the residential schools ever were!
As someone who has experienced being placed in foster homes as a child and even an orphanage at one point I completely understand how our children and youth are lost to our First Nation communities and Nations. We must make child and youth apprehension and over-representation of our First Nation Peoples in jails priorities to change!
Indigenous youth are resilient young leaders who continue to persevere and thrive, despite the ongoing impacts of colonialism and colonialization resulting from the dispossession of our lands and the inter-generational impacts of Indian Residential Schools. Providing indigenous children and youth with cultural regeneration opportunities assists in instilling confidence and strengthening their identities through various activities that inevitably addresses the social issues affecting them.
To build a culture of hope, resilience and strength among Indigenous children and youth requires we listen, believe in and support them to be who they are. Proactive, positive self-empowerment initiatives help to build strong identities while providing a place of belonging for Indigenous youth in our communities as the next generation of nation-builders.
The many negative social indicators in our communities are a direct result of our dispossession and colonization. Concerns about youth suicides and the need to promote hope, confidence and more positive place for them in Canada, building on support from Canadian citizens as a result of growing awareness around impacts of Indian Residential Schools and colonialism.
5. Protection of Our Women and Girls
The strengthening of Indigenous Nations requires that Indigenous women and girls be central to any governance and decision-making processes. Re-envisioning how we govern, lead and move forward in our Nations must include dismantling and addressing structures that exclude Indigenous women and girls. Central to advocating for the protection of Indigenous women and girls is raising awareness around systemic institutionalized structures like racism, marginalization, poverty and inter-generational colonial impacts that normalize the perpetuation of violence against women. The inclusion of intersectional and Indigenous centred gender-based analysis within national and regional programming and policy development should be considered.
The Federal Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) by most acceptable standards has been a poorly managed process from the beginning. The narrow terms-of-reference that excludes police and the disrespect shown to many victims and their families is unacceptable. The MMIWG Inquiry should be concluded as quickly as possible and have its report issued. Following the Report of the MMIWG Inquiry, a national and regional strategy should be developed that outlines concrete timeframes with appropriate resourcing and funding allocated to address solution-based initiatives that aims to reduce and prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls.
To add external pressure following the release of the MMIWG Report, an invitation to various United Nations human rights mechanisms should be considered for external review against the findings of the Report to ensure the findings and voices of Indigenous women and girls are captured accurately to enable lasting systemic changes. Specifically, an invitation should be issued to the United Nations “Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences” to visit Canada and to conduct an external study on the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls.
6. Nation Building and Reform of the AFN
Renewing and rebuilding our nations will take time and effort. Things like Band status, reserves, and provincial and territorial boundaries have all impacted on our traditional nations, and our social and political organization. They have created vested interests which we will have to acknowledge and take on if we are serious about renewal of our nations and our political institutions.
Current efforts that are supposed to be aimed at renewal of our nations seem mostly intended to create more effective service delivery units to administer federal and provincial programs. Reform of our political institutions needs to take place at all levels.
The National Indian Brotherhood and the Assembly of First Nations began as organizations to advocate for First Nation rights and interests. They have gone down a slippery slope over the years to the point where advocacy and fighting for the recognition of rights gave way to “partnership” and party politics. This approach compromises the ability of the national organization to properly advocate for First Nation rights and interests.
Presently, AFN is a Chiefs’ organization it is not a peoples’ organization, the AFN structure and role needs to adapt to changes in our communities and Nations from the ground up. Also, the AFN is not following its own Charter, which is in bad need of reform.
The role of AFN should be advocacy and lobbying in Ottawa as directed by a decentralized leadership structure that includes input from traditional leaders and grassroots peoples. It is also essential that AFN support grass-roots peoples—such as the land defenders and water protectors standing up to the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline demanding that the internationally recognized right of Indigenous Peoples to Free Prior Informed Consent to any development on Indigenous lands be respected.
If our First Nations are to really and truly decolonize and we expect Crown governments to implement the minimum standards contained in the United Nations Declaration, then our Chiefs and Councils also need to respect our Indigenous Peoples right of self-determination.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions. [emphasis added]
Indian “bands” and “band councils” are not “indigenous decision-making institutions” they are colonial institutions imposed by the government of Canada through its racist, colonial Indian Act under its Constitution Act 1867.
How this is done needs to be discussed widely across Canada. What is certain, is that by standing together and developing an Indigenous agenda based on our rights as set out under international law, we can advance our people much further than by passively accepting the federal government’s watered down and self-serving version of our rights that the current AFN leadership seems prepared to accept.