On Reconciliation

Canada Continues its Policy of Genocide

Ottawa, seen from Victoria Island
Ottawa, seen from Victoria Island
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As an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe I live and feel Canada’s genocide every day. Actually it is best to say I have lived Canada’s genocide inter-generationally through the denial of my right to my ancestral land and resources. I also live it today in the destruction of my nation’s most sacred places, such as Akikodjiwan, a centuries-old peaceful meeting place where Creator placed the First Sacred Pipe, now called Chaudière Falls and the Islands, which is currently facing further desecration due to the onslaught of a colonial economic paradigm. It does not stop there. Canada’s land claims process, which forces Indigenous people to extinguish their rights, and the never-ending sex discrimination in the Indian Act are also a perpetuation of Canada’s policy of genocide.

Genocide was not originally defined solely as the mass murder of a particular ethnicity of people.

When Raphael Lemkin first coined the term, he included “total annihilation as well as strategies that eliminate key elements of the group’s basic existence, including language, culture, and economic infrastructure.” Genocide thus includes the destruction of a people’s cultural way of life and the imposition of the oppressor’s way of life.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide continues to rely on this broader understanding of the term. Genocide through cultural means (a.k.a. cultural genocide) can happen right in front of people’s eyes in such a way that they are unable to see it. It is not softer or less of a violation; it is in fact a much more insidious form of genocide. As Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission admitted, “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

But sadly, cultural genocide continues in Canada to this day.

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The language that the government of Canada has relied on in their so-called modern treaty process has shifted over time, from the need for Indigenous Nations to extinguish all their rights through a policy known as ‘blanket extinguishment,’ to a policy that imposed on Indigenous Nations the need to ‘extinguish all of their land and resource rights,’ to a policy that imposed on them to need to ‘relinquish and defining their rights completely,’ to what is now called the ‘rights and recognition’ model of treaty making. While the shift in language that Canada relies on appears to be better and colonization has ended, this is not so. Rhetoric is deceptive; what we need to focus on is what happens at the level of practice.

As an example to illustrate that nothing has changed, we can look at the situation of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg in the Ottawa River Valley.

The Algonquin submitted their first petition to the Crown in 1772 asking that the nation-to-nation relationship be respected, and along with it, their land and resource treaty rights. Yet it was not until 1992 that Canada accepted the Algonquin in Ontario’s land claim, and until 2014 that an Agreement in Principle was signed, providing a mere 1.3% of Algonquin territory and a $300 million one-time buy-out. The Liberal government came into power on the platform of reconciliation and respecting nation-to-nation relationships, yet this pitiful settlement mandate has not changed.

Nation-to-nation and reconciliation mean the equal sharing of land and resources. As I told Minister Carolyn Bennett in a letter dated November 21, 2016, it means, “If there are 200 acres of land, the settler Nation is entitled to 100 acres and Indigenous Nations are entitled to 100 acres. From these equal amounts of acreage the Nations are then entitled to the full and complete jurisdiction of their land and resources to then build institutions such as education, health care, laws, courts, and child care programs that speaks to them and their ability to acquire a good life.”

Nation-to-nation is that simple; generous of Indigenous people, yet simple. It does not mean merely recognizing there are a group of people as a nation on whom Canada imposes a unilaterally constructed policy of denial that ultimately means the extinguishment of Indigenous rights. The policy of treaty-making has to be nation-to-nation as well. It is not rock science.

When Canada spends $500 million gained from Indigenous land and resources for a one-day Canada 150 celebration, yet offers the Algonquin in Ontario a mere $300 million one-time buyout, this is an act of genocide.

The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, Member of Parliament for Toronto—St. Paul’s, is complicit in this genocide.

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Treaty rights, such as the right to live on the reserve and health and education rights, are connected to Indian status registration. These are rights we are entitled to for sharing our land and resources with the settler people. Further, the Indian Act status registration process feeds into and shapes our self-governance efforts, as for the most part it is status Indians who become members or citizens of our nations.

Indigenous women have been living under a regime of sex discrimination in the Indian Act for more than a century.

It was in 1869 that Canada first codified the sex discrimination in the Indian Act, where Indian women who married non-Indian men lost Indian status and thus their treaty rights, in a process called ‘enfranchisement.’ The same did not happen to Indian men who married non-Indian women.

Indigenous women have been challenging this since the 1960s, beginning with Mary Two-Axe Early, Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell, Yvonne Bedard, and Senator Sandra Lovelace. Eventually in 1985 this discrimination ended and Canada reinstated the status of women who were enfranchised, but Canada did not allow these women to pass on status to their grandchildren who were born before 1985 ‒ yet Indian men could. This meant the discrimination continued in a new form.

More recently, Sharon McIvor and I have moved through Canada’s court system, challenging this long-time sex discrimination. Despite our over 30 years of effort, and the current Liberal government’s so-called feminist platform, Canada recently passed into law Bill S-3, An Act to Amend the Indian Act, which continues to discriminate against many of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who were born before 1985 to Indian women who married out.

In pushing this bill forward Canada relied on the pitiful argument that there was the need for consultations before they would implement the full remedy Sharon and I called for, known as the “6(1)a All the Way” clause. In short, this clause would make all the descendants of Indian women once enfranchised the same as the descendants of Indian men. Rights are rights, we argued; they are not something that requires consultations with First Nations Chiefs and Councils.

While Canada enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that states Canadians are protected from sex discrimination, Canada refuses to eliminate all the sex discrimination in the Indian Act. This discrimination bleeds into, shapes, and undermines Indigenous self-governance efforts when developing our own membership and citizenship codes. This is an act of genocide through insidious cultural means.

Without a doubt, the Minister of Status of Women Maryam Monsef, Member of Parliament for Peterborough—Kawartha, is complicit in this genocide.

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While within the Indigenous paradigm and worldview all land and waterscapes are sacred, Indigenous people hold particular locations as especially sacred. One such place is just upstream from Canada’s Parliament Hill, known as Akikodjiwan where Akikpautik is inherent. Akikpautik is the land and waterscape where Creator placed the First Sacred Pipe, the ultimate symbol and ritual of reconciliation between father and son, between peoples, and between nations. The larger landscape of Akikodjiwan includes three sacred islands: Chaudière Island, Albert Island, and Victoria Island.

These islands are a special meeting place where different peoples and nations come together to rekindle and reconcile relationships through smoking the Sacred Pipe and associated rituals such as talking, feasting, prayer, song, and dance.

Indigenous people live more deeply within the naturalistic tradition because we value that natural processes exist closer to Creator’s original power. Said another way, Indigenous people respect natural law, and know that living within a respectful relationship with it is far more sustainable than the destruction of the human-created economic paradigm that is currently ravishing Mother Earth.

Regardless of this time-honoured Indigenous wisdom, Canada is claiming to “green-up Ottawa,” allowing a wealthy corporate developer to further desecrate Akikodjiwan and Akikpautik. Presently Canada, Ontario, and Ottawa are opening the doors that will lead to a private condominium and commercial complex where wealthy sports enthusiasts, boaters, and canoers will gain privileged access to the great waterway. This is a clear act of genocide.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, is complicit in this genocide.

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In the work I do and through the conversations I have, I am learning that many Canadians and settler people think reconciliation is really happening. I think there are many reasons for this.

First, Canadian and settler people continue to have an inadequate understanding of Canada’s history, as they are just too busy to complete the reading, thinking, and learning needed to understand it. This is what happens when the economic structures keeps parents and families busy working five days per week, with only the weekends to do the cleaning, shopping, paying bills, cooking, and caring for homes, children, pets, and vehicles.

In this way, oppression against Indigenous people is about keeping us all busy, so much so that we have no time to think.

Second, because settler people are too busy, they have little to no understanding that Indigenous Nations did and continue to have structures of governance, and further that, prior to colonization, Indigenous Nations did indeed have jurisdiction over our land and resources. I am not sure why people do not understand this. I can only imagine that they continue to think Indigenous people were just a part of the landscape, aimlessly roaming and foraging with no governance structures. Of course we had governance structure.

Third, the current Liberal government’s use of the rhetoric of “reconciliation” and “nation-to-nation” is gaining a lot of currency in educational institutions where people are unable to take the time needed to reflect on what they mean in practical terms to Indigenous Nations.

While education is important, Canadian and settler people must keep in mind that reconciliation must be more than about their education. Reconciliation has to have real, concrete, practical significance for Indigenous Nations on the ground. It has to improve our lifeways and this means respecting Indigenous jurisdiction of our lands and resources, the elimination of all the sex discrimination in the Indian Act that continues to bleed into and shapes our self-governing efforts, and it must mean the protection of our sacred places.

 

Cover photo by Hans Bernhard, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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Lynn Gehl

Lynn Gehl

lynngehl.com

Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe and a member of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation. In 2017 she won an Ontario Court of Appeal case on sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Algonquin land claims process. Recently she published Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit.