Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday February 29, 2020
Blockades have exposed the contradictions of Justin Trudeau’s ambitious reconciliation agenda
The on-again-off-again rail blockades in support of a handful of Indigenous hereditary chiefs have demonstrated how easy it is to bring Canada to a halt. They have also underscored the contradictions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ambitious reconciliation agenda.
Trudeau came to power five years ago vowing to make reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people his No. 1 priority. And to some degree, he delivered.
Under his Liberal government, more (but not all) First Nation reserves gained access to potable water. A commission of inquiry was set up to look into why so many Indigenous women and girls went missing or were murdered in recent years.
But the centre point of the reconciliation agenda was political. The Trudeau Liberals vowed to establish respectful nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples, one that would eventually redefine their legal relationship to the Crown.
Among other things, the Liberals promised to write the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which in its present form is an unenforceable statement of general principles, into Canadian law.
However, exactly what was meant by a nation-to-nation relationship was left unclear. Did the Liberals mean nation in a vague cultural sense, in the way that Quebec is viewed as a nation inside Canada? Or did they mean something more substantive?
More to the point, with whom would the federal government have this political relationship? Elected band councils? Hereditary chiefs? Or both?
In much of Canada, this question is moot. But in British Columbia, Southern Ontario and Quebec — where traditional clan-based governments remain strong — it is not.
In B.C., there is a second wrinkle. Unlike the rest of Canada, few treaties have been signed with First Nations in that province. To whom then, does the land not covered by treaties belong?
Many First Nation leaders, including the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, argue that since this land has never been ceded, it belongs to them.
If that were true, the argument goes, then the hereditary chiefs alone have the right to decide who enters this land and who, if anyone, polices it.
For the governing Liberals, committed as they are to respectful nation-to-nation relationships, this is a hard argument to counter.
But if the Wet’suwet’en have the right to keep outsiders from their traditional lands, then surely so do other First Nations — including the Mohawks of Tyendinaga near Belleville, Ont.
That, at least, was the logic behind the decision of some Mohawks and their allies to block the CN Rail main line for days on end, an action that threw much of the country into an economic tailspin.
The Liberal government tried to resolve that blockade by sending Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller to Tyendinaga to engage in a respectful, nation-to-nation political relationship.
That took nine hours and accomplished nothing.
Eventually, with Ottawa’s implicit blessing, the Ontario Provincial Police went in and arrested protestors. That, in turn, provoked more rail blockades. (Toronto Star)