In the history of Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with Canada, there has never been a more ideal time to change the unbalanced colonized relationship that has oppressed our peoples for centuries. One would have expected real change to emerge after the Indian Residential School Apology of June 11, 2008 – but perhaps that’s only in an ideal world. To date there has been no changes in the status quo, or our relationship, in fact, the notorious “White Paper” policy has once again reared its sinister head in the current legislations being discussed in the Parliament of Canada. That’s not to say that people on both sides are not trying. On the contrary, people across Turtle Island are making efforts for real Reconciliation and Restitution. But those within Government seem to be in a world all their own as while many Canadians and Indigenous peoples are working on decolonization together, Government continues to maintain their colonial attitudes.
The Government is like the alcoholic who the day after beating his spouse, apologizes for what he’s done, but the next night he goes out on another binge, gets drunk and repeats the same cycle of violence over and over again: each time apologizing.
Is anyone tired yet? 522 years of contact and we are no closer to living in peace with one another. There is the rule of law, both domestically and internationally that purports to protect our rights. Yet our laws, our traditions our customs are ignored, patented as someone else’ intellectual property and placed upon a shelf to collect dust or reside in museums as folklore and myths. Treaties are international agreements between nations. So why is it when Indigenous peoples protest violations of those treaties and our laws that we are the criminals?! Robert Bourassa (the late Premier of Quebec in 1990) and Brian Mulroney (Prime Minister of Canada in 1990) both stated during the Oka Crisis that “everyone must respect the law, no one is above the law”!! This is the kind of rhetoric that is unacceptable as it this kind archaic attitude that perpetuates the violation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights and are responsible for more recent wars between our nations such as the 1990 Oka Crisis, Ipperwash and the Killing of Dudley George, the murdered and Missing Aboriginal women, the Enbridge Pipeline, Mackenzie Pipeline, the TAR SANDS development and many others. The colonial adage “everyone must respect the rule of law” seems to be only true when used against Indigenous peoples who attempt to protect their sovereign rights.
It is a legal form of intimidation whose goal is not only to eliminate Indigenous peoples rights, but whose aim is to exploit and damage the environment for the sake of “economic security”.
The Federal, Provincial and Territorial Government are all guilty of arbitrarily interpreting the rule of law to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their rights to their lands, resources and territories.
Indigenous peoples are self-determining nations with “sovereign” rights.
Where do we as Indigenous peoples seek refuge from the tyrants who continue to trample on our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights?!. Does such a refuge exist?!
If one examines what is happening in Canada post-apology, the IRRS settlement is causing more pain and harm to survivors, contradicting the spirit and intent of why this process was created. To have to prove the kind of abuse one suffered as a Child is ridiculous. To have a deadline of September 2012 for all survivors to make claims is mean spirited, dysfunctional and goes against the intent of reconciliation.
We must remind Mr. Harper that the Residential School was an act of genocide. Indigenous children in Canada were kidnapped from their families and communities under the authority of the state. It was an act of GENOCIDE and while apologies are necessary to move forward, they must be implemented and acted upon in a way that demonstrates the sincerity of the words for which it was intended.
So far there is no indication of sincerity. No changes in our relationship with Canada. Canadians are still learning about the Indian Residential School system that is part of their colonial history. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is witnessing survivors testimonials of their life in Residential Schools, there is one important component that is missing: RECONCILIATION. It is a difficult process and people may not like what is being said, it is indeed a painful process, but Canadians need to move beyond their feelings of guilt and be brave to be part of the change. Indigenous peoples need our voices to be heard and not stifled by colonial rhetoric whose uncomfortableness blinds them from their own culpability in this whole process.
Not only were children kidnapped but they were abused by those who were supposed to “take care” of them. the multi-generational trauma continues today within a process that is supposed to be about reconciling past violations of human rights. The IRRS settlement process is once again causing pain and suffering to people that were seeking restitution. Once again it is about the “bottom-line” not about reconciliation or restitution and while there is much truth from the witnesses who appear before the TRC, there is no criminal proceedings against the abusers.
I have noticed over the past 22 years that I have been an advocate for Indigenous rights, that there is one important element missing in our discussions with government and their bureaucrats: compassion. As a Hopi elder once told one of my elders, “the longest journey a human being will take in their lives, is the journey from their head to their heart”. It is a journey worth taking if we are to make any significant positive changes in our relationships within Indigenous peoples’ communities, and within society in general.
Skén:nen Shewakwé:kon – peace to everyone