INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' SOLIDARITY: Struggle, promise, despair, repeat--Indigenous rights activism in the age of 'reconciliation'

21 December 2017
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' SOLIDARITY: Struggle, promise, despair, repeat--Indigenous rights activism in the age of 'reconciliation'

Last November 2016, CPTers accompanied a women-led, silent, peace procession at Standing Rock (ND).

On 5 December, Cree Member of Parliament (MP) Romeo Saganash “extended his hand…for reconciliation to all Canadians and all Parliamentarians” with a 2nd reading of Bill C-262: the Indigenous Human Rights Act. During the first hour of debate in the House of Commons, the Liberal party affirmed their support for the Bill and the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[1]

In response to the 2nd reading of Bill C262, esteemed Mohawk activist, Ellen Gabriel, blogged:

As in Canada’s opposition to the support of the Declaration 10 years ago, the current government of Canada continues to agonize over the notion of what it views as a right of “veto” by Indigenous peoples in regards to development. Having experienced firsthand the malicious deceptions and deflection from the government bureaucrats, I have a cynical view of what happened in Parliament on December 5, 2017. The bureaucratic culture embedded in Canadian politics is one which organizes and creates policies that delay justice for Indigenous peoples until the next election when another government can find more administrative red tape of exhaustive criteria for even just beginning discussions.[2]

These days it can be easy to get caught up in the hype of “reconciliation,” especially if we ignore the decades of struggle Indigenous peoples, such as Ellen Gabriel and Romeo Saganash, and their allies have invested to advance Indigenous rights in Canada. While we celebrate support for Bill C-262, we are also reminded of the regressive steps governments are taking towards the land and Indigenous peoples, such as federal approval of Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipeline projects as well as the construction of Muskrat Falls dam in Labrador and the Site C dam on Peace River in Treaty 8 territory. In these times, “reconciliation” can be a form of Orwellian doublespeak. 

For example, many had hoped the British Columbia election of Green and New Democratic Party minority government—the more “progressive” parties—would put the final nail in the coffin of the estimated $10.7 billion Site C dam project. To the chagrin of many people, the government made an about-face in announcing its approval despite its election promises. This decision violates the Crown’s Treaty obligations and threatens to flood the traditional territory of West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations despite their opposition.[3] Both First Nations are now seeking a court injunction to halt construction.[4] a

So, what was BC Premier John Horgan’s response to his government’s broken promises for reconciliation and fully implementation of the Declaration? “When it comes to reconciliation or working with Indigenous leadership, look, there has been over 150 years of disappointment in British Columbia. I am not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous peoples.” 

For Canadians desiring reconciliation with Indigenous peoples based in justice, we have an uphill battle ahead of us to ensuring Indigenous rights are respected and fully implemented on the ground. The hard truth is that we have no reason to have faith in government rhetoric or electoral politics. As Ellen Gabriel and the experience of other Indigenous rights activists indicate, ensuring implementation of Indigenous rights on the ground, such as the right of free, prior and informed consent, will require strong alliances, bold and effective advocacy strategies, and often, direct confrontations with the powers that be (i.e., struggle) to stop this colonizing, capitalist juggernaut that continues to put profit and economic growth before the land and its peoples. 

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