GOLDSTEIN: True Reconciliation Means Indigenous Self-Government

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From media coverage, one would think that the three biggest issues facing Indigenous peoples in Canada today are the discovery of unmarked cemeteries outside residential schools and the burning of churches and the overturning of statues of Sir John A. Macdonald in retaliation for their creation.

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But behind it lies a much larger conflict that is at the heart of Canada’s tortured relationship with its First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

It is their desire to be autonomous and equal partners with the federal government, which means that their status in negotiations with Ottawa would be “nation to nation”.

This is the main stumbling block to reconciliation because Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have never accepted the concept of Indigenous self-government.

Instead, decades of failed federal policies have sought to raise the standard of living of Indigenous peoples in Canada to that of non-Indigenous Canadians, in the context of their remaining wards of the state. under the Indian Act of Canada, originally enacted in 1876.

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As the Quebec political scientist Thierry Rodon wrote about this impasse, “the indigenous peoples do not seek so much to be fully integrated into so-called common institutions (with Canada), which would mean a loss of their identity and their independence. , but rather the recognition of their existence and the rights as equal partners with the federal government and the provinces.

On July 1, Indigenous Senator Patrick Brazeau published an article authored by political scientist Sophie Roy – “Indigenous Issues in Canada and the Inertia of the Federal Government” – which examines the history of this conflict and helps explain the conflict. the anger of many indigenous peoples. Canadians celebrating Canada Day.

The reason, she writes, is that “for many, the Confederation of Canada (1867) was a dark period in Aboriginal history” because, in the words of Quebec political scientist René Morin, whom she quotes: “To At the time of Canada’s Confederation, they were stripped of their lands and reserves were created under the Indian Act. The Indian issue became simply a matter of federal jurisdiction and indigenous peoples were not consulted.

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This, she argues, was a betrayal of the alliances the French and British forged with Indigenous rulers before the creation of Canada, at a time when the country would not have been viable without their consent, as the first settlers did not did not have sufficient numbers or the power to forge a nation on their own.

In this context, writes Roy, on July 1, 1867 began a long period of subjugation of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, whose residential schools were only one of many wrongs perpetrated by Canadian governments.

The main ally of Indigenous peoples in correcting these injustices, she writes, has not been the federal government, but the Supreme Court of Canada, which over several decades has established in law the right of Indigenous Canadians to have a say in government decisions that affect them, and to be compensated for the lands they have received. taken.

Today, the concept of Indigenous self-government is complicated by the fact that there are three distinct groups representing 1.7 million Indigenous Canadians – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – each with their own unique histories, cultures and priorities, living in all 10 provinces and three territories.

Thus, the idea of ​​a government entity representing them all – even if Ottawa (and the provinces) accepted self-government – would encounter enormous practical difficulties.

But if Canadians want true reconciliation with our indigenous peoples, this is the problem we will have to solve.

Tags : federal government
Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera