Tag Archives: Canada

The Prime Minister’s Indigenous Rights Framework Changes Nothing

Indigenous people have had to fight for recognition of every right we have. And we always will.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | February 15, 2018 • Politics


N A WEEK WHEN Indigenous people announced that reconciliation is postponed, if not cancelled, the Prime Minister sprinkled us with the sunshine of his forthcoming legal framework on Indigenous rights. Mr. Trudeau used bold words like engagement and implementation, even uttering the C-word, and claimed that his government would complete the unfinished business started by Trudeau the Senior, with the repatriation of the Constitution.

The fashionable words were all there: rights, recognition and engagement, partnership and reconciliation. Not any, old partnership, but full partnership—a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. Team Trudeau even had social media hastags, like #IndigenousRights and #decolonization. What a historic reconciliation engagement of full partnership respect recognition historic rights day it was.

A little background might help. Never forget that the federal government didn’t give Indigenous people Section 35 of the Constitution. Indigenous people—natives, as we were then known—weren’t even invited to the conversation, at first. Pierre “The White Paper” Trudeau had no appetite for discussing native rights, which in his view were simply the rights of all Canadians, and made no mention of a Section 35 in his 1980 proposal. Indigenous people made a stink, and you know the adage about squeaky wheels and grease. Eventually the Indian politicians got a seat at the table, and quite a few native people protested that, too, not wanting to be a part of whatever dirty work they suspected the feds were up to.

I’m not an expert on what happened next, but I’ve talked to every AFN National Chief involved in the repatriation talks and beyond. The Assembly of First Nations led the charge for recognition of inherent Indigenous rights, and met the resistance of Team Trudeau and the provinces, who whittled a much more robust series of proposed clauses into the now-familiar language of Section 35:

35.(1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed. (2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. (3) For greater certainty, in subsection (1) “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired. (4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the aboriginal and treaty rights referred to in subsection (1) are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

The resource-extraction provinces, particularly Alberta, took the position that Section 35 (existing aboriginal and treaty rights) was an empty box, to be filled in the future at the discretion of the courts. The premiers had seen similar work in Australia, where existing Aboriginal rights were interpreted to mean rights that come into existence, from this moment forward. But of course that’s not how it’s gone in Canada. Indigenous people have taken their Section 35 rights to court, over and over again, and fought like hell to get our rights into the box. And in many instances, certainly more than Canada would have preferred, we’ve won.

Constitution Express

The Section 35 fight for Indigenous rights, recognized and affirmed by the Constitution of Canada, has been a restless work from 1982 to the present. The view that we’ve made progress is not universal, with people like Mary-Ellen Turpel and Art Manuel and Russ Diabo arguing that the post-Section-35 world is a colonial world, just like it was before. Instead of Indigenous sovereignty over our lands and resources, and a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada, colonial interpretations of Section 35 give our communities municipal powers and brown bureaucrats. We can choose the day Rez garbage will be picked up, and our signs say Tésta’n instead of STOP. We get to say Yes to pipelines, and if we’re lucky receive a share of the take, but we don’t get to say No, because we are a minority sub-sect of Indigenous-Canadians.

What we all agree on as Indigenous people is that we’ve had to fight for everything we’ve ever had. Someone once said that government doesn’t give you your freedom, you have it already—if you exercise it. That’s true of all people, but it’s doubly and triply true for Indigenous people, who would have vanished entirely, like a narrow river into the ocean of Canada, if things had gone as originally planned. There isn’t an Indigenous right on Earth that we’ve been given by a colonial government, and there never will be. And Trudeau’s rights framework changes nothing.

Podcast 95: “Indigenous, Canadian, Indigenous-Canadian, or….” How do you identify?

Podcast Season 5

Thank-you to my guests this week: Chelsea Vowel, Brooke Torgerson, Carey Newman, Conrad Saulis, Doug Jarvis, Karen Lawford, and Nahnda Garlow

Colten Boushie’s Death Must Have a Purpose

For Indigenous people, change is often a matter of life or death

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 30, 2018 • Current Events


CMP ROOFTOP SNIPERS were at-the-ready when Gerald Stanley arrived in North Battleford last April for his three-day preliminary hearing. There was drumming and a show of support for the family of Colten Boushie but no violence. There’s been no violence of any kind in the months since this Indigenous Rodney King (as some have called Boushie) was shot in the back of the head while sitting in a car stalled on Stanley’s Biggar, Saskatchewan property. The family has made it clear that what they want is not blood but justice and change.

Colten’s death must have a purpose. While his death revealed a deep divide that exists between many within this province, it has also brought us here to this courthouse, where we could come together and ask for a fair trial for everyone involved. We, Colten’s family, hope that this preliminary hearing and the issues that it raises about our relationships with each other will generate further discussion and dialogue to help us bring our communities together.

Biggar, Saskatchewan

It’s an understatement to characterise this sentiment as dignified, but then what isn’t an understatement when speaking of confronting the death of a child. As the family were grieving their dear lost son and grandson and brother and nephew, strangers were posting hateful comments on social media. The rooftop snipers, presumably deployed to snuff an incipient Indian uprising, turned out to be unnecessary. But there was rabble rousing and racial hatred to be shot down in the other column of the deep divide ledger, so the Premier stepped in to denounce racists and their racism. Before long a Browning municipal councillor named Ben Kautz had resigned over a posting on the Saskatchewan Farmer’s Facebook group, where a number of other mean-spirited comments could also be found. As if losing Colten wasn’t bad enough, random citizens heaped contempt on the family’s pain, and still the family called for healing.

There are good reasons why Indigenous people call for healing and peace at times like this. The first and perhaps most compelling is that we need healing and peace. At roughly five percent of the population, Indigenous people are not going to win a contest of force against Canada, and we know it. But there also isn’t an appetite for perpetuating the hatred and violence that has been commonly experienced by Indigenous people, for generations, whether in the residential schools or on the street. Far too many of us have become experts in trauma, intergenerational violence, and hate. We don’t just want something better, we need it, in a life-or-death way.

Last week the RCMP cleared themselves of a charge of misconduct made by the family of Colten Boushie. The officers can’t recall doing or saying the things that witnesses affirm that they did and said, in the course of their investigation of the Baptiste home. At the time of Colten Boushie’s death the RCMP issued a press release suggesting he was connected to an investigation of property theft. Then the RCMP allowed the 2003 Ford Escape in which Boushie was shot—a critical piece of evidence—to go to the salvage yard before it had undergone forensic (blood spatter) anaysis, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of any later trial. “The RCMP were, best case scenario, negligent,” the family lawyer Chris Murphy told a journalist. Still the RCMP seem to think they have done nothing wrong, which apparently means that they haven’t.

Next Spring Gerald Stanley will go to court, where he will face a charge of second-degree murder. In the meantime his rural Saskatchewan house has been put up for sale as he prepares for a new life either inside or ouside of prison. He has expressed regret for the death of Colten Boushie, just as Ben Kautz has expressed regret for his Facebook post, just as the RCMP has said it’s sorry for offences taken in the course of its faultless  investigation. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) meanwhile agitates for a broadened right to defend property against trespass. The two solitudes of Saskatchewan, the reserve and the farm, remain as estranged as ever, and Indigenous people everywhere hold their breath in anticipation of a trial they don’t dare allow themselves to believe will be fair and impartial.

Colten Boushie is gone and the white cattle ranchers found guilty of property theft of their neighbours remain alive and well in the community, despite their crimes. There is indeed a deep divide, deep as the chasm between life and death.