Tag Archives: Justin Trudeau

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


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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.

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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.

One Day There Will Be An Indigenous Prime Minister

And I couldn’t care less.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 23, 2018 • Politics

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OMEWHERE ON THE INTERNET there’s a video of Bill Wilson telling Pierre Trudeau that Wilson’s two children, “for some misguided reason,” want to be Prime Minister. His children, he adds, are both women. It’s worth a watch. Trudeau, not surprisingly, has a clever retort and draws approving laughter. And there it would have ended, for most who went one-to-one with Trudeau the Elder—but Bill Wilson is not most people, as his riposte (and Trudeau’s telling reaction) show.

I met one of Wilson’s daughters years ago at an event where she gave a speech, and I left with no ambiguity concerning her ambition. She was going somewhere, probably a place with a name that rhymes with Schmottawa. Bill Wilson hadn’t said only that she wanted to be Prime Minister, he said lawyer as well, and as it happened Justice Minister and Attorney General were in her future. In 2015 Jody Wilson-Raybould became the first Indigenous person to be named to this position, in a year when a record number of Indigenous Members of Parliament were headed for Ottawa. She may yet become Prime Minister, adding another first to her account, to the cheering of many Indigenous people. But I will not be one of them.

Everyone remembers the firsts, or at least they should. Firsts are history’s way of provisioning a word to the wise. The gates parted for the reception of Canada’s first Indigenous Attorney General just as the first Inuk cabinet minister, Leona Aglukkaq, was being told by her constituents not to let the door hit her backside on the way out. Some of my Indigenous friends were given to rapture when Wab Kinew became leader of the Manitoba NDP, as if every time a charismatic Onkwehonwe wins a vote, an Indigenous angel gets its wings. But who knows, maybe Kinew will be a brilliant champion not only of his constituents broadly, but of Indigenous people in particular. Or, another Leona Aglukkaq. The point is that you should cheer only after the points are on the board and not at the first sighting of the ball.

This week St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was in the news, again. For years Canada denied the existence of evidence disclosing abuses, until an OPP investigation made this claim untenable. The government refused to release documents in its possession, with the result that former residential school students could not prove their claims of mistreatment and deprivation. (St. Anne’s is the residential school most known for the electric chair used by its administrators on the children in their “care.”) When the government was at last forced to release their files, Justice Canada fought efforts of survivors to re-open their cases, and the government won. Now Canada wants them to pay the government’s legal costs.

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Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, superintends the administration of matters such as the preceding. In this capacity she has prevailed over a small and powerless group of Indigenous people who say they are victims of abuses in an Indian residential school, and that the evidence which proves it, and which was long hidden by government, is now available and should be considered. Although much of the St. Anne’s story happened under former governments, these late decisions, to shut down the Independent Assessment Process and to pursue government costs from the claimants, belong to the administration of Mr. Trudeau.

Beginning in January of 2016, or in other words with the onset of the Trudeau regime, the Attorney General has so far spent over $700,000 fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that says Canada discriminates against Indigenous children, by providing health and social services funding below the amounts allotted to their non-Indigenous counterparts. It’s the residential school system all over again: Indigenous children suffer and in some cases die, and what does the government do? It lawyers up, naturally. The government has lost its appeals and is in violation of three compliance orders, and with each passing month the legal bill goes up, all in the service of denying equitable care to Indigenous children.

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Federal Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould was asked to provide the legal costs spent fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order. (ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Today, from sea to shining sea, frustrated Indigenous people resort to fighting Canada in a colonial judicial system whose face is the mottled Kwakwaka’wakw visage of Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Many of them are going to lose, and if the Minister of Justice has her way then Canada will prevail at every turn, because it’s her sworn duty to make it so. Under Section IX.128 of the Constitution Act, every Member of Parliament (and every senator and every member of a provincial parliament) must “take and subscribe” an Oath, stating, “I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” Keep her faith and true allegiance in your mind, my Indigenous friends, when you hear this servant to Her Majesty talk about the “Indigenous-Crown relationship.” And for the love of god don’t cheer when she, or someone like her, for some misguided reason, becomes Prime Minister.

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First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada versus the Attorney General. Cindy Blackstock took Canada to court over discriminatory policies, and won. Canada refuses to comply with the ruling to this day.

The Reconciliation Scam

Ottawa isn’t going to change, ever, and Indigenous people should know it

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 24, 2017 ◈ Current Affairs

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ROM THE DAY I first set my eyes on Justin Trudeau, I thought he was an inconsequential narcissist, and I said so. I would say it to his face, to both of them in fact. Yes, Trudeau is charming. But that’s a problem, not a solution. Bill Clinton taught me long ago to mistrust charisma and charm, which is to say the political art of working out what a credulous audience wants to hear and then delivering it. If you’re a sucker for a schmoozer and a charmer, consider yourself warned: you really do get what you ask for.

Phoney TrudeauA phone for a phony

A lot of people fell for the Trudeau pitch, but the shrink wrap has been off a while now and buyers’ remorse has set in. Especially for Indigenous people. Just look at the ledger: discriminatory chronic underfunding of on-reserve child and family welfare, continuing lack of clean drinking water in communities, Ottawa’s refusal of non-insured health benefits, and a list of unfulfilled promises. It’s as if the principal interest of the federal government is in creating aspirational terms it has no intention to fulfill. Gathering Strength, The Aboriginal Action Plan, Self Governance, Nation-to-Nation, Reconciliation, A New Relationship. Nice, shiny charismatic words.

The charismatic Liberal is a compassionate feminist who rolls up his shirtsleeves to serve a beloved middle class, but the real Liberal has a trust fund and a bottomless budget for self-serving propaganda, like the $212,000 cover of the 2017 budget. The charming Liberal happens to jog past your wedding, where he poses for selfies, but the real Liberal planned the stunt in advance and used your nuptials as an occasion for personal PR advancement. The charming Liberal goes to the UN, where he cringingly displays his Liberal guilt, but the real goal of this contrition is self-serving—a Canada seat on the UN Security Council. The charismatic Liberal thought it would be cool and fun to box Senator Patrick Brazeau—for charity—but the real Liberal contrived to beat up an Indian, to show the voters how tough he was.

Reconciliation is just another Liberal scam from a government that is scam-ridden. A government that claims to stand for the middle class but that has spent $400 million to hire CRA employees who harass clerks and waitresses and other low-wage, service industry workers, all while the Finance Minister fattens himself on conflicts-of-interest. A government that promised to help small businesses but didn’t, until public outrage forced them to. A government that is more interested in cutting deals with a brutal communist regime in China than it is in human rights. A government of arrogant and entitled trust-fund millionaires.

The Liberals are not going to take Canada in some bold new direction, because they can’t. No government can. A loud segment of Canadians would never accept the disruption and inconvenience, no matter how small. As bad as it is for many Indigenous people, the status quo has worked well enough for the country, which is why it’s the status quo. The Crown hasn’t solved its Indian Problem, but it has managed it. Canada is sovereign from sea to sea to sea, and it has its fingers in all of the resources, and Indigenous communities are under thumb. This isn’t ideal (total assimilation and disappearance of a distinct Indigenous population, the original government plan, was the ideal) but it’s not bad. So the politicians concentrate on political damage control, trying to contain things like the news of youth suicides, or class action lawsuits for residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. There’s no reason Canada can’t go on like this for another 500 years, and as far as I can tell, there’s no compelling reason it won’t.

That’s why I think all the Ottawa talk of reconciliation is just part of an ongoing branding effort, by governments looking for shiny words to put into expensive budgets and aspirational press releases.

Reconciliation within our families is another matter entirely. It’s meaningful and real, beautiful and necessary. So, too, reconciliation of community members. I am encouraged by every survivor who learns to express the love of a parent, love that he was denied in a residential school, to his own children. I am encouraged by the communities that cast their eyes into the pit of collective historical trauma, determined to understand and to heal. I am encouraged by open and honest conversations between ordinary Canadian citizens and Indigenous people. I believe in the power of everyday people, and not in the empty words of career politicians. We don’t need Ottawa for real reconciliation, and that’s a good thing, because Ottawa is never going to give it to us.