David Swanson, in his “Broken Promise” in Time magazine, calls for people to rise up, especially non-indigenous people, to defeat the new Constitution – which was cooked up by an unelected commission that never got a national plebiscite in the end.
He claims that the new Charter undermines Indigenous rights, strips away existing laws and prevents the Crown from making treaties. He is right that all three elements are false. His argument is that the Charter will allow non-Indigenous people to have too much power.
I think it’s dangerous for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to allow and facilitate the establishment of tribes, so-called corporations, geographical communities and all manner of Native peoples – because we are building a monument to the idea that Indigenous rights can only be secured by taking away their autonomy and choice.
The lawyer holding up one sign during the blockade says, “the more the judiciary hands Canadians to corporations, the more we can sue.” We must defend Indigenous peoples against unconstitutional and illegal land grabs by those who do not live, or have ever lived, on those lands.
All we have to show for it are Indian names on streets, names on the building on Parliament Hill, a slight carve-out of the water tanker ban but no other changes. The usual exercise of non-Indigenous choice is gone. The Liberals want to retain 100 per cent of Canadian Indian Act land which they do not own, because they are the only ones who can, but non-Indigenous citizens are not allowed to have any claims against the Crown.
The 600 backdrops around the University of Toronto are all reserved, so students and academics can have the privileges that pass for rights because other people can’t. If they are Canadian citizens they can have rights to never have to pay taxes, like non-Indigenous people, but non-Indigenous people cannot have rights or claim anything from those things.
The politics of settlements are at issue, not the symbolism of the space. When settlers used to say, “What do you have to say for yourself?” they were contemptuous of the fact that First Nations people came on their own, but now they also will say, “What do you have to say for yourself?” If Native peoples say they are being ignored and their voices are not heard, that will change, not make anyone upset.
The Trudeau government is not the first to be involved in illegal land grabbing. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau swept into power in 1968 after saying, “the reason we have been in negotiations with the Indians is that we have had to shunt and shove them off the land.” He received international scorn for what he was doing. A new prime minister, Jean Chrétien, took office and quietly asked his cabinet to approve the sale of 3.4 million acres of former reserve land to settlers. Nothing was said to any native groups, which were thoroughly blindsided.
Former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier received international praise for his settlement of the Upper Sioux Canadian wars of the 1800s. He said, “I have the duty of the federal government to try to settle this thing.”
These Canadians are reaping what they sowed.
If federal politicians want Indian lands, at least they need to listen to it. And they need to stop violating our rights.
John C. Osler, a lawyer and former judge, is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Justice.