Indigenous Nationhood

Pamela Palmater's picture
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads their Centre for Indigenous Governance.

Joe Oliver and curing conservative dysfunction

| March 26, 2012

Conservative Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver announced this week that amendments to Canada's regulatory process are needed to speed up the approvals of mining and other extractive industry projects. Part of his justification for speeding up approvals is to transform "aboriginal communities' which he considers to be "socially dysfunctional." The cure for this alleged social dysfunction is to take even more oil, gas, minerals and other resources from their territories at a much faster pace.

As Oliver's heart bled for the poor Indians, he said it was his goal to "give" aboriginals some hope. His plan, in fact, is to "move them from despair to hope" by giving Indians jobs in the extractive industry. I have to agree with Chief Clifton from Gitga'at First Nation that the language was "insulting". I would go further though and say that the language is also consistent with the Conservative's assimilation plan.

Harper made it clear that the objective is to give "individuals" jobs and to keep the Indian Act right where it is and will even impose additional legislation on First Nations to further control our governments and territories. The "problem" as defined by the Conservatives is that we are not fully absorbed into the body politic yet. The problem will never be resolved until Indians are "equal" with Canadians -- i.e., have jobs, pay taxes and their communal lands are "open for business" (i.e. resource extraction).

I am always struck when the Conservatives are able to convince the public that the source of the serious housing, water and poverty crisis in First Nations is simply because we don't have jobs. In one line, Oliver is able to discount hundreds of years of brutal colonization and the well-known inter-generational effects of both the historical and ongoing colonial laws and policies imposed on our peoples.

The residential schools system was not an "education policy gone wrong" (Minister Duncan)...

...nor can Harper say (in truth) that Canada has "no history of colonialism."

Canada has met every criteria for genocide against Indigenous peoples, the only issue is that Canada is not likely to be charged with the offence any time soon. This does not make it any less genocidal, nor is specific intent for physical destruction necessary.

The laws, policies and political decisions that led to deaths in residential schools, forced sterilizations of Indigenous women, small pox on blankets, and gruesome scalping laws are some of the most destructive genocidal acts, but today we have children taken from our families at higher rates than residential schools, we have Starlight tours and deaths of our people in police custody, we have courts and judges who put our people in jail at higher rates than Canadians, we have hundreds of murdered and missing Indigenous women and the list goes on.

Colonization hasn't stopped, nor is the reason for homelessness in Attawapiskat, contaminated water in Kashechewan or child suicides in Pikangikum due to someone not having a job in the mining industry.

But let's talk social dysfunction for a minute. Here are some dysfunctional social conditions I have noted over the last few years:

(1) Canada has one of the highest child poverty rates and when compared to 17 peer countries ranked at 13;

(2) Children account for only 22% of the population, but represent 38% of food bank users;

(3) Homeless population in Canada is around 300,000 and 1.7 million struggle with housing affordability. 50% of Canadian population lives in fear of poverty and 49% believe they are one paycheck from being poverty stricken.

(4) The "measurable" health-related costs of violence against women in Canada is more than $1.5 billion a year!

(5) Meanwhile, some municipal librarians are making 6 figure salaries.
http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/publications/salarydisclosure/2011/munic11a....

(6) Harper's Conservatives were thrown out of Parliament for contempt.

(7) Conservatives are now implicated in robo-calls which may have impacted their re-election.

Before Canada starts pointing fingers about our Indigenous Nations being dysfunctional because we don't run to give up our lands in exchange for a mining job, I think politicians better look in their own back yard and clean up their own dysfunction. At least there are historic and ongoing reasons for our poverty -- we are managed against our wills by the Canadian government. If Canada can't manage its own affairs without dysfunction, how can it presume to manage ours and not expect the same results?

If there was ever a justification for First Nation jurisdiction over our own lives (aside from sovereignty, treaties, and our right to self-determination) this would be it!

To say that First Nation poverty, cultural trauma, and the inter-generational effects of colonization would be cured by a job in mining is ludicrous. Even just framing the discussion this way presumes that the best First Nations can hope for is a job - as if we don't own the lands they want to mine. These lands are ours and it is up to decide to whether we want own, operate or stop mining on our lands. This is the very essence of Indigenous land title and our right to free, informed and prior consent which is now internationally protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Oliver should resign as Minister of Natural Resources and get a job in mining -- maybe that will cure his dysfunctional mouth.

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