Ending colonial relations with Indigenous peoples must be a central demand

Two-Row Wampum leads the march against Bill C-51, Parliament Hill, May 30, 2015. Participants affirm nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous peoples as the basis of unity in action in defence of the rights of all.

Two-Row Wampum leads the march against Bill C-51, Parliament Hill, May 30, 2015. Participants affirm nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous peoples as the basis of unity in action in defence of the rights of all.

  • Government’s agenda for First Nations sidesteps crucial issue of where sovereignty lies – Philip Fernandez
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report underscores need to end colonial relations with Indigenous peoples
  • Highlights of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report
  • First Nations and Allies demand full participation in National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
  • Profound opposition in Quebec to police abuse of Indigenous women – Diane Johnston

Government’s agenda for First Nations sidesteps crucial issue of where sovereignty lies

By PHILIP FERNANDEZ

On December 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at the annual Special Chiefs Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Among various pledges he made there, he called for a “renewed nation-to-nation” relationship with First Nations based on “respect, co-operation, and partnership,” guided by “the spirit and intent of the original treaty relationship; one that respects inherent rights, treaties and jurisdictions, and the decisions of our courts.”

Trudeau’s speech was received with optimism at the AFN Special Chiefs’ Assembly, surely because his words promise an improvement over the Harper government’s abysmal relationship with First Nations. But what the Trudeau government claims will be a “renewed nation-to-nation” relationship has as yet to be fully revealed.

Trudeau speaks of “nation-to-nation” relations while referring to the “decisions of [Canadian] courts.” However “nation-to-nation” relations start from the recognition of the sovereign jurisdiction of indigenous peoples over their affairs – they are not bound by the decisions of the Canadian colonial state and its courts. The Two-Row Wampum describes the relationship between Canada and the Indigenous peoples as that of two canoes travelling side-by-side with neither interfering in the steering of the other’s canoe. This is the principle underlying the Two-Row Wampum agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in 1613, as well as subsequent treaties governing relations between the Crown and First Nations. From this it is clear that when Trudeau speaks about the principle of “nation-to-nation” he is not speaking about the rights of First Nations as sovereign nations, which Canada will treat as equals. He is not talking about a veto or the sovereign decision-making power that belongs to First Nations by virtue of their being. He is talking about approaching relations with First Nations on a pragmatic basis of “respect, co-operation, and partnership” as it relates to resource development, territorial land rights, etc.

Following the Trudeau Liberal electoral victory on October 19, Hayden King, the Director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance and an Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchi’mnissing pointed out that during the election, Trudeau often returned to the theme of “renewing nation-to-nation relations” with the First Nations, Métis and Inuit. He cautions that it is not clear as yet what Trudeau means by this. King suggests that in practical terms “nation-to-nation should mean the closure of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and an end to interventionist policies and attitudes.” King also suggests that Trudeau’s promised review of all the laws introduced by the Harper government unilaterally in violation of the Indian Act should include the Indian Act itself as well as the 1867 British North America Act, which were also imposed unilaterally on Indigenous Peoples.

130325-Ottawa-JourneyofNishiyuu-12crKing warns that “Federal Liberal governments have a record of breaking promises when it comes to Indigenous Peoples. After the 1967 pro-rights Hawthorne report, Pierre Trudeau committed to a ‘just’ new direction on Indian policy. But what he delivered was a 1969 white paper aimed at assimilation. In 1993, the Jean Chretien Liberals drafted a progressive Aboriginal platform for their first election, but once elected completely ignored it and any semblance of Aboriginal rights. In fact, soon after they implemented a strict funding cap that has resulted in a de facto decrease in resources for communities every year for the past 24.”

An unfolding example that is instructive is the opposition of the Mohawk of Kanesatake and Kahnawake to the Energy East pipeline, which is directly pitted against monopoly right. On December 10, the Mohawk rejected the review consultation on the pipeline that is planned to carry crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to New Brunswick, traversing some 155 First Nations communities including Mohawk territory. The Mohawk point out that the Crown has not fulfilled its obligation to consult and get their consent about the pipeline and that therefore they as sovereign nations will resolutely oppose it.

Mohawk women take stage at Energy East Pipeline consultation meeting in Montreal, September 23, 2015, affirming that “This is Kanien’ke, this is Mohawk Land and we are tired of occupation, we are tired of environmental disaster.”

Mohawk women take stage at Energy East Pipeline consultation meeting in Montreal, September 23, 2015, affirming that “This is Kanien’ke, this is Mohawk Land and we are tired of occupation, we are tired of environmental disaster.”

In other fields, it can also be seen that the Trudeau government has affirmed itself as a government in the service of private monopoly interests over the sovereign right of the people to decide. Take, for example, the Trudeau Liberals’ unprincipled support for the neo-liberal Trans Pacific Partnership, signed by the Harper government during the election campaign. A secret sellout deal negotiated behind the backs of Canadians did not cause a ripple of concern in the Liberal Party. Thus, given the Trudeau Liberals’ contempt for the right of Canadians to decide those matters that affect their lives and refusal to uphold Canadian sovereignty against monopoly right and foreign interests, what can one expect of this government when it comes to respecting the rights and sovereignty of First Nations?

Another important point to keep in mind is the Trudeau government’s support for Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015. During the months of opposition to the bill it was pointed out that First Nations activists are already under state surveillance and face the most brutal state violence when they oppose monopoly right and affirm their rights and sovereignty, even without the expanded power to violate rights now granted to police and state security agencies by Bill C-51. The role the police authority has played in the conquest of the Indigenous peoples and establishment of criminal colonial institutions and relations on them is central to their experience in the past 500 years. This matter cannot be lost from sight.

Canadians must not permit the Trudeau government’s talk of “renewed nation-to-nation relations” to be used to impose the status quo, which maintains the longstanding colonial relations that have wrought great hardships on the Indigenous peoples. Canadians and Indigenous peoples living in Canada cannot be disarmed by Liberal illusions which push neo-liberal arrangements. The peoples must rely on their own thinking and organizing on these important questions to provide this problem with solutions that make a breakthrough on this crucial issue.


Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report underscores need to end colonial relations with Indigenous peoples

“Walk for Reconciliation” in Ottawa, May 31, 2015 began the final gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission | B. Powless

“Walk for Reconciliation” in Ottawa, May 31, 2015 began the final gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission | B. Powless

On December 15, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its six-volume final report on its investigation into the Residential School System and its brutal legacy. The report was released at a moving ceremony in the Shaw Convention Centre in downtown Ottawa attended by hundreds of people including residential schools survivors and their families, Indigenous elders and leaders and representatives of Indigenous organizations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some members of his cabinet, as well as members of the Opposition were also present.

Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, the three Commissioners of the TRC, all spoke with cautious optimism about a positive shared future for the Canadian people and the Indigenous peoples if Canada takes the necessary steps to acknowledge its colonial past and oppression of Indigenous peoples, redresses these wrongs, and most importantly, engages in a new and respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights. Justice Sinclair, the Chair of the Commission, noted that the way in which Indigenous peoples and Canadians from all walks of life have been proactive in discussing the TRC and its work, taking various measures to respond to its recommendations even before the official circles responded, gives him hope.

The overarching theme of the TRC’s final report is that little has changed in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples since the days of the residential schools. The report points out: “The beliefs and attitudes that were used to justify the establishment of residential schools are not things of the past; they continue to animate much of what passes for Aboriginal policy today.” The report states: “Reconciliation will require more than pious words about the shortcomings of those who preceded us. It obliges us to both recognize the ways in which the legacy of the residential school continues to disfigure Canadian life and to abandon policies and approaches that currently serve to extend that hurtful legacy.”

Little more than pious words are what we have heard so far from the Trudeau government in response to the TRC’s historic report. The Prime Minister pledges to act on all 94 recommendations of the TRC’s “Call to Action.” The Liberals already claim that they are well on the way with the announcement of the launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls last week and the pledge that Canada will vote in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the Harper government refused to do. The Liberals would have no credibility whatsoever if they did not move on these obvious agenda items.

In his speech at the release of the Report, Prime Minister Trudeau stated among other things: “Today, we find ourselves on a new path, working together toward a nation-to-nation relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.” Some of these exact same words were used by Crown Agents who negotiated the numbered treaties and other agreements which were then dishonoured by the Crown and led to the theft of Indigenous lands, and the displacement and oppression of Indigenous peoples that continues to this day. What content the Trudeau government plans to give to “nation-to-nation” remains to be seen.

On the theme of reconciliation the TRC Report says that “Reconciliation must inspire Aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share.”

The starting point of such a transformation must be political and constitutional renewal which vests sovereignty in the people. It is the working class of this country which has the interest to build a Canada on a modern basis which means it must uphold the rights of all and abolish the notion of rights based on privileges and discrimination against those who are lower down on the totem pole. Nation-to-nation relations are a matter of recognizing the Indigenous nations in a meaningful manner and making sure their hereditary rights are upheld, especially their right to be and everything that flows from that right. To end the colonial relations and injustice Canada’s colonial legacy must be buried once and for all. Any attempt to once again pay lip service to nation-to-nation relations but continue to trample the right to be of the Indigenous peoples and steal what belongs to them by right will be met with ever-greater and greater opposition until this problem is solved.

On the occasion of the release of this report, TML Weekly pledges once again to give the defence of the rights of Indigenous peoples top priority. It will contribute to the best of its ability to making sure all Canadians are informed about this crucial matter, which concerns the entire polity and the kind of future they want to built.


Highlights of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report

150531-OttawaWalkforReconciliation-BPowless-09crThe Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has presented its final report which is 3,231-pages long and contained in six volumes. The Report will be available in English, French, Mi’kmaq, Ojibwa, Inuktitut, Cree and Dené.

That the TRC was even able to complete its work is testimony to the determination of its Commissioners and the Indigenous peoples in the face of the sabotage and stonewalling of the Harper government. This meddling was such that the first Chair of the Commission, Justice Harry Laforme, resigned. The TRC was part of the Residential School Settlement Agreement in 2006, a court-mandated agreement between the federal government and the 80,000 survivors of the residential school system in Canada, their families and organizations such as churches and Indigenous organizations that were party to the Agreement. The Commission finally got under way in 2009 with Chair Justice Murray Sinclair from Manitoba; Dr. Marie Wilson, a journalist and academic; and Chief Wilton Littlechild, a lawyer and Cree leader from Alberta as its Commissioners.

In its six-year mission, the Commission examined the experiences of the 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit students who were snatched from their parents and communities by the colonial Canadian authorities and sent to church-run residential schools to “take the Indian out of the child,” which the TRC identifies as cultural genocide.

The TRC commissioners travelled to more than 300 communities and received 6,725 statements from residential school survivors and their families, amongst others. In addition, the Commission examined archival documents in detail and solicited the views of expert opinion to paint a harrowing portrait of what took place and its legacy today.

In addition, the Commission’s final Report includes the experiences of the Métis people, and the Indigenous peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador who were also victims of the residential school system, but were excluded by the Residential School Settlement Agreement.

The TRC Report covers the broad themes of child welfare, education, language and culture, health and justice as they relate to the lives of Indigenous peoples today put in the context of the residential school system. For example, data is provided showing that of all children and youth living in foster care today, 48 per cent are Indigenous, while the Indigenous population comprises only 4 per cent of the population of Canada. The authors of the report link the experience of the residential school system and the current foster care system in Canada as in both cases children are removed from their families and sent to live elsewhere with little support or respect for their cultural identities.

The TRC report also links the high rates of unemployment and poverty, ill-health, mental illness and incarceration, suicide and other issues affecting Indigenous peoples today as consequences of the ongoing racist discrimination, violence and abuse that Indigenous peoples still face at the hands of the Canadian state and its institutions.

The Commission’s Report contains 94 recommendations in a Call to Action that is being put forward to assist the reconciliation process between the Indigenous peoples and the Canadian people. The overarching demand made by the TRC is that the federal government and governments at all levels adopt and implement the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is the international law that recognizes Indigenous peoples as sovereign.

Within this, the TRC recommends that the “Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown” that would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764 “to reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown.” In addition, the new Royal Proclamation would, among other things, commit the Crown to “repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius. The Crown is also called on to “Renew or establish Treaty relationships based on principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect and shared responsibility for maintaining those relationships into the future.”

Additionally, the TRC calls for the reconciliation of “Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation, including the recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and legal traditions in negotiation and implementation processes involving Treaties, land claims, and other constructive agreements.”

The Commission proposes various strategies for governments to implement in order to inform Canadians about the true history and consequences of the residential school system and to correct the disinformation about Indigenous peoples that is being taught in the institutions of the Canadian state.

The TRC report places great emphasis on the federal government and all governments taking measures to address the crisis in education, child welfare and justice confronting Indigenous peoples, by immediate increases in funding and providing culturally appropriate supports to Indigenous communities as a matter of right. For example, the TRC calls for action to reduce the huge number of Indigenous people in prison (who represent 25 per cent of those incarcerated while representing only four per cent of the overall population in Canada) by removing minimum sentencing provisions and establishing alternative community-based programs for Indigenous inmates. Similarly, the TRC calls for increased funding for Indigenous schools and programs that would close the gap between Indigenous students and Canadian students in one generation.

In light of the destruction of Indigenous languages as a result of the eurocentric residential school system which aimed at assimilation, where Indigenous children were forbidden to speak their own languages, an Aboriginal Languages Act is proposed as a means to fund, recover and encourage Indigenous languages. The report also proposes an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner be appointed whose job it would be to monitor the implementation of this law and ensure that the many Indigenous languages on the verge of extinction today as a direct result of the residential school system, are revived and enabled to flourish.

The Commission is calling for additional funds to maintain the National Residential School Student Death Registry that it created as part of its work. The registry was established to be a repository for the documents confirming the deaths of some 3,000 children who died while attending residential school and an estimated 3,000 more whose records have not yet been found – children and youth who died as a result of malnutrition, disease, torture and suicide, or while escaping and who are buried in unmarked graves – so that their families and communities can put to rest what happened to their children. The Commission is calling for $10 million over the next seven years to fund the work of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation housed at the University of Manitoba to carry on the work of the TRC.

The TRC calls for the Canadian Parliament to enact legislation to create a “National Council for Reconciliation” as “an independent, national, oversight body” with membership jointly appointed by the government of Canada and national Indigenous organizations to “monitor, evaluate, and report annually to Parliament and the people of Canada on the Government of Canada’s post-apology progress on reconciliation to ensure that government accountability for reconciling the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown is maintained in the coming years.”

The Call to Action also urges the Pope to issue an apology to the survivors of the residential school system and their families on behalf of the Catholic Church, as well as from all other churches which administered the residential schools on behalf of the Crown and for these churches to take measures to facilitate the healing of the survivors by funding Aboriginal-based programs such as language-revitalization projects and by other means.

Last but not least, the Commission is calling for commemorative events such as a “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” to honour the survivors, their families and communities as well as a Residential School Monument in Ottawa and in other cities as part of events leading up to the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

The full report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report can be found at www.trc.ca.

(Photo: B. Powless)


First Nations and Allies Demand Full Participation in National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

The demand for a national inquiry is put on the agenda outside the leaders debate in Toronto, September 28, 2015.

The demand for a national inquiry is put on the agenda outside the leaders debate in Toronto, September 28, 2015.

On December 8, the Liberal Government announced the launch of the first phase of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Minister of Justice Judy Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett and Minister for the Status of Women Patricia Hadju, who are tasked with organizing the Inquiry, spoke at the press conference on Parliament Hill where it was launched.

The families of the missing and murdered women made it clear during the election campaign that were an inquiry to proceed, it must be with their consultation and approval. Thus, Wilson-Raybould said that the first phase of the Inquiry is to be a period of consultation with families of the missing and murdered women and girls, Indigenous organizations, front line workers, experts and others. This is to continue until spring 2016 to determine the scope of the Inquiry. She stated among other things that the Inquiry will respect the conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report, understanding that “reconciliation cannot be achieved without addressing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.”

Bennett stated that the “aim of the inquiry is to address and prevent further violence against Indigenous women.” She said that the government hopes to engage not just Indigenous peoples but Canadians in this important issue through its “open and transparent” approach. She informed that the government had no strict timelines for the Inquiry. The main thing Bennett pointed out was that the government wants to incorporate the suggestions of the victims’ families and the Indigenous community “to get it right.” She stated that she and her colleagues expect through the consultation process to determine who the Commissioners on the Inquiry will be.

150214-Toronto-MemorialMissisngWomen-APike-01While the Liberals have announced the launch of the Inquiry, the key factor in getting to this point has been the decisive battles waged by the families, organizations and communities of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as their allies. For decades they have been calling for justice and a national inquiry into this crisis. Since the 2014 report by the RCMP which found that 1,181 Indigenous women were killed or disappeared between 1980 and 2012, another 32 Indigenous women have been murdered. The Trudeau Liberals would have no credibility whatsoever if they did not establish an inquiry, particularly after the Harper government’s dismissal of this important issue with Harper himself stating last year on the CBC that the call for an inquiry was “not high on our radar.”

Various First Nations and others responded to the announcement to affirm their right to participate fully in the Inquiry as they have been in the forefront of this fight and therefore are the experts on this issue. In the Chiefs of Ontario December 8 press release, Deputy Grand Chief Denise Stonefish of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians emphasizes “the announcement comes after months of organizing and pressure from First Nations communities and leadership and is a collective success.” Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day states: “The way forward is through the involvement of First Nations people of Canada in the inquiry. The most effective way of addressing this systemic issue is to engage in a community-driven process to examine the collective safety of Indigenous peoples.” Chief Day said that the Chiefs of Ontario played a large role in getting to this point. They are carrying out their own First Nations-led inquiry that began in January of this year and will feed into the national inquiry.

Memorial march for missing and murdered Indigenous women, Vancouver, February 14, 2015.

Memorial march for missing and murdered Indigenous women, Vancouver, February 14, 2015.

The British Columbia Coalition on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also responded. In a press release December 10 they point out that the Coalition “honours families and advocates who fought tirelessly for a national inquiry, and looks forward to participating in the pre-inquiry consultations and the inquiry itself.” The Coalition has already forwarded proposals for a “thorough pre-inquiry consultation process” based on its experience with the BC Missing Women’s Commission led by Commissioner Wally Oppal, that was convened in 2010 and tabled its report in 2012.

The BC Coalition is comprised of a broad membership of close to thirty organizations including First Nations, faith groups, human rights organizations, legal organizations, front line workers and others that has been in the forefront of demanding justice for murdered and missing women and girls in BC and Canada. They were completely shut out of the BC Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry. The Coalition warns that the BC Commission of Inquiry “cannot be used as a model for any aspect of a national inquiry, given its exclusion of key voices, narrow mandate that failed to address root causes, and only partially implemented recommendations.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which represents close to a million First Nations people living in 634 First Nations communities and in cities and towns across the country, issued its own statement. AFN BC Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, who has responsibility for this issue at the national level, stated in the press release: “We have made it clear that families, Indigenous organizations, women’s organizations and civil society organizations must inform the work of a national inquiry, and this includes being involved in the pre-consultations and setting the terms of reference. We look forward to full participation to ensure the pre-consultation process and the scope of the inquiry will draw the required and necessary results. This cannot and will not be another report to sit on the shelf. This inquiry must lead to real action and results that achieve safety and security for Indigenous women and our families.”

Indigenous peoples, their organizations and allies have every reason to celebrate their success in getting the Inquiry launched after decades of political unity and concerted and determined action. It is critical that the initiative remain in the hands of those in the forefront of this fight – the families of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, national Indigenous organizations, local organizations and their allies who fought so courageously and consistently for the Inquiry.

It is surely not a mystery that the Canadian state’s ongoing cover-up of the role of its own police agencies in the disappearances of the women and refusal to investigate is a key factor. The continued racist and sexist treatment of Indigenous women and girls who are considered “fair game” which then justifies their killings is a very ugly and heinous legacy in this country. The basis of the Inquiry cannot be that either the causes or the facts are not known, but to eliminate the causes and those state arrangements that keep them in place.

Will the Inquiry corroborate the established body of knowledge on the circumstances of Indigenous peoples and lead to concrete action to address the situation? Will it ascribe blame and take corrective measures and provide redress? Or will attempts be made to obfuscate the truth and promulgate more racist, paternalistic and patronizing stereotypes?

TML Weekly is certain the women of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous origin and all progressive-minded Canadians will not let it happen. Let’s get at the truth! Let the truth come out!

(With files from AFN, Chiefs of Ontario, Coalition of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.)


Profound opposition in Quebec to police abuse of Indigenous women

Allegations of police abuse of Indigenous women in Val D’Or are protested on Parliament Hill, November 3, 2015. The red dresses symbolize the demand for redress for those victimized.

Allegations of police abuse of Indigenous women in Val D’Or are protested on Parliament Hill, November 3, 2015. The red dresses symbolize the demand for redress for those victimized.

By DIANE JOHNSTON

Allegations of sexual abuse by eight Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers against First Nations women in Val-d’Or were brought to the attention of the SQ as well as the Quebec Ministry of Public Security through the airing of Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête on October 22. The program created such public outcry that the government quickly transferred the investigation from the SQ to the Montreal police (SPVM).

150214-Toronto-MemorialMMIW-003cr2After a meeting with the representatives of seven of Quebec’s ten First Nations, Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, demanded that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard immediately meet with Quebec’s First Nations leaders to address the situation. Picard also called for an independent inquiry into the actions of the police officers working in Val-d’Or. “The chain of confidence between our authorities, our communities and the police authorities has been broken, whether it be the Sûreté du Quebec, the SPVM or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

It took over a week before Couillard finally met with First Nations representatives. Though he did not rule out holding a Quebec inquiry to examine the relationship between the Indigenous peoples and the police, he said he would wait and see what the federal government of Justin Trudeau decides in terms of an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women. As well, Couillard announced the appointment of an independent observer to the SPVM investigation, despite the fact that originally he had proposed that an independent observer be mutually agreed upon by First Nations’ representatives and the government. He also said, “The federal government has long withdrawn from its fiduciary duty toward First Nations […] while known situations persist, for example housing, access to potable water and electricity. I call on them to re-exercise this role they should not have left aside.”

On November 17, at a parliamentary commission meeting organized by the Quebec government’s Committee on Citizens Relations, Edith Cloutier, Executive Director of the Val d’Or Native Friendship Centre where the revelations were first made, said,

“a lot is being said about Indigenous peoples, First Nations living on reserves, and the responsibility of the federal government […] with regard to the Indigenous peoples, however the violence and abuse of Indigenous women in Val d’Or took place in the city. These are women who live in the city, who are citizens of Quebec over which it is the responsibility of the government of Quebec to ensure their full and complete safety. There is no jurisdictional ambiguity whatsoever on the issue of Indigenous peoples in an urban milieu in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. […] As opposed to those living on reserves, Indigenous peoples living in the city are not covered by the Indian Act. […] Full and complete jurisdiction falls under the Quebec government. […] In Canada, 60% of status Indians live off reserve. […] In Quebec that tendency is on the rise. […] We’re talking about close to 50% of Indigenous peoples living in Quebec cities.”

Walk against violence in Val D’Or, October 25, 2015.

Walk against violence in Val D’Or, October 25, 2015.

At the second meeting on November 25, Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women, presented numerous proposals made in recent years by her organization to the Quebec government to stop and prevent the violence toward First Nations women and families.

The Quebec Ministry of Public Security is responsible for public safety and security of all residing in Quebec. Indigenous women against whom serious offences are alleged live in cities which fall under Quebec jurisdiction. Yet they receive separate, discriminatory treatment when it comes to protecting them as citizens and punishing those responsible in the Sûreté du Québec. It is just like during the “reasonable accommodations” inquiry, when the government told the commissioners they were not to include First Nations in their investigation of mistreatments under the pretext that it was “a different problem to be investigated in itself” (which of course the commission has yet to take up). Now the excuse is that the Trudeau government has promised to hold an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, so the Quebec government can wash its hands of the abuses suffered by the women in Val-d’Or at the hands of the Sûreté du Québec officers.

Those responsible for these crimes must be brought to justice and punished in accordance with the law. Without this, the Quebec government will only continue Canada’s shameful colonial practice of treating Indigenous peoples as “wards of the state” with no rights, who are second-class citizens and are considered “fair game.” The fight over what level of government is responsible for the well-being (and life) of “wards of the state” is proof of that.

These events remind us that despite all the renewed talk about how Canada is the best country in the world, Canada has not solved any of the fundamental aspects of guaranteeing rights. The rights of citizens and residents are subject to “reasonable limits” as decided by the police authority and are subject to a hierarchy of whether one is First Nations, immigrant or belongs to one of the “founding races,” etc. The fundamental law of Canada has not divested itself of its colonial foundation. The failure to guarantee the hereditary and treaty rights of First Nations, the preservation of the racist Indian Act and the refusal to deal with the demands of Indigenous peoples on a nation-to-nation basis are at the heart of the injustice and anachronisms that Indigenous peoples in Canada continue to experience.

(Photos: TML, Leveller, M. Coonishish)

Source: TML Weekly, December 19, 2015 – No. 40

 

 

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