Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Political Dilemma
Justin Trudeau’s current political dilemma began in 1876. This was when the colonial legislation, the Indian Act, became law to govern the ‘Indian’ people of this land. The settlers know Canada as ‘the land of plenty.’ The Indian Act corralled the ‘Indian’ people into reserve lands which is about 2% of Canada’s land mass. The legislation was introduced to allow settlers to easily move westward and unmolested in the greatest government sanctioned land grab.
The Northwest Mounted Police, now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), was established in May 1873 to quell any disturbances in the west, including Indians, in matters affecting Canada’s laws. Most importantly, it protected the colonial settlers in their newly acquired lands. Since that time, as a federal police force of Canada, the RCMP has been involved in numerous encounters to pushback the ‘Indian’. The RCMP is a government instrument of Peace Order and Good Government (POGG) for past, present and future governments.
When the Indian Act became law, the legislation usurped all Indigenous laws and governance structures that had been in place since time immemorial. Throughout all, the government, ever since the Indian Act came into law, has been at odds with the Indian people. The traditional governance structures, where the hereditary chiefs would have been the rightful leaders, were excluded when the Indian Act created elected band councils controlled by the government. The traditional and cultural practices of the Indian either went underground or were replaced by Christianity since the government outlawed anything that was ‘Indian’.
In the last few decades, the general public has heard about the negative treatment of the Indigenous people, the residential school experience, language not allowed to be spoken in the company of settler rulers, removing children from reserves, the 60’s scoop, and the introduction of education on reserves. The litany of cultural genocide against the ‘Indian’ is vast if one wants to self-educate. Having mentioned a few atrocities, and hearing a constant echo from the privileged settlers, ‘just get over it’, I would challenge settlers to work through a hundred plus years of compound trauma with limited resources.
The damage done for more than a hundred years is too much to cure the compound traumas that have been inflicted upon the Indigenous people. I do not want to start griping about health services on-reserves other than to point out that on-reserve basic health service is doing what it was intended to do, killing the ‘Indian’ in the guise of wellness.
With the solidarity unrest among the Indigenous people, it is a pushback against Canada. This will not be the first or the last time that Canadians will feel the impact of solidarity amongst the Indigenous people. The Government of Canada has had over one hundred years to reconcile the inequities of its legislation, the Indian Act.
The Government of Canada boxed itself into a corner when it created the Indian Act. This is the crux of the prime minister’s current dilemma. Nowhere in the Indian Act will you find reference to ‘hereditary chiefs’ mentioned. As part of cleansing the ‘Indian’, the legislation wanted to erase the hereditary chiefs as a form of traditional governance of Indigenous communities. Therein lies Prime Minister Trudeau’s current dilemma. The prime minister is fearful to set a precedent by meeting with the hereditary chiefs as they are not Canada’s construct.
Canada does not recognize the hereditary chiefs as a governing structure of Indigenous communities. What the government did in the past by excluding the traditional governance of Indigenous communities, namely the hereditary chiefs, is back to haunt Canada. Yes, the government will say, we have consulted and have agreements from Indigenous communities, it is within Canada’s own legal construct that the government operates. In this regard, band councils sign benefit impact agreements to the exclusion of certain segments of their communities.
To this day, some Indigenous communities have dual governance structures. The settlers believe that there is one ‘god given’ governance structure granted by Canada and all Indigenous people are suppose to bow to it. It does not work that way. These Indigenous communities existed before the Indian Act with their own structures. Today, they must co-exist with traditional governance and the Indian Act elected councils because of government divisiveness. The Indigenous people were forced and coerced under the Indian Act rule without their full and informed consent.
So. where does it leave the prime minister? The NDP leader has pointed that the prime minister will meet with everyone but the hereditary chiefs. Almost three weeks later, the prime minister has not made any commitment to meet with the hereditary chiefs, and I believe he will not. The hereditary chiefs are deemed not to have the same recognition or significance as other world leaders. Most importantly in 1876, Canada excluded reference of the hereditary chiefs when it passed the Indian Act.
The Wet’suwet’en, making a stand to protect their share of the 2% land mass, has thrown Canada into a spiral. It is dividing families, friends and neighbors. Most critically, it has divided the country, never mind the political parties, all because of Canada’s past legal glitch, not recognizing or writing the hereditary chiefs into the Indian Act. It is a hundred plus year old problem and it will continue to be so until it is amended.
The Indian Act of Indian misery is not all that inclusive!
Written by James Cutfeet