Simon Fraser University Professor Kyle Willmott, lead author of a paper on the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's approach to Indigenous issues in the fall 2021 edition of the Canadian Review of Sociology.

Locating the Canadian Taxpayers Federation clearly in the ecosystem of neoliberal advocacy, a recent paper analyzed more than 400 documents published by the CTF over 21 years to argue the organization has pushed “anti-Indigenous political rhetoric and policy.”

Lead author Kyle Willmott, a professor at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, and research assistant Alec Skillings, read almost every blog post, press release, report, or other document posted on the CTF’s website that related to Indigenous peoples and policy between 1998 to 2019. Many of the documents were intended for use by mainstream media.

In their paper, Anti-Indigenous policy formation: Settler colonialism and neoliberal political advocacy,” published in the Nov. 2021 edition of the Canadian Review of Sociology, they concluded the CTF has shown “demonstrable opposition to the idea of the existence of sovereign Indigenous nations and a demonstrated hostility to the exercise of Indigeneity outside the narrow confines of ‘culture.'”

Based on their analysis, Willmott and Skillings wrote, “the CTF traffics in resentment that fosters white settler backlash against Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous forms of governance, and the legal concept of ‘Indian’ itself.”

Based on what the paper terms the CTF’s “Chief-bashing” in articles making claims of waste in Indigenous governments, the authors assert that it’s reasonable to conclude “the politics that animate the CTF cannot be assessed as merely anti-state ‘neoliberal populism,’ but as specifically anti-Indigenous.”

Moreover, the researchers argued, “the CTF has broadly resisted changes in language around how to describe Indigenous peoples, only very recently and in extremely limited circumstances using the term ‘Indigenous.'”

However, Willmott and Skillings noted, the CTF’s interest in Indigenous issues waxed and waned over the two decades they examined, and its tone has varied over time as well, since 2015 relying less on what the researchers interpreted as divisive language. Nevertheless, they argued, over time “the CTF’s antagonistic political tactics have had an outsized impact on one specific target of its campaigns: Indigenous people and nations.”

One would have expected the CTF to challenge the paper’s conclusions. However, it’s been well over a week since I emailed CTF President and CEO Scott Hennig and National Director Franco Terrazzano requesting their responses to the paper. Neither responded. 

“Across the archive of texts we collected,” Willmott and Skillings wrote, “the CTF has agitated for assimilation, called for relocating reserves, suggested that treaty rights amount to ‘race-based law,’ and downplayed the impact of residential schools.”

For example, a 2001 CTF post published on the organization’s website complained that lawsuits against the federal government stemming from abuses in residential schools could “cost taxpayers up to $10 billion.”

“Another piece from 2006 denied the genocidal intent of the residential school system, and defended residential schools, saying in part, ‘residential schools were a practical way to educate Indian children for many years. As well, educational bureaucrats wanted to emulate the best schools of the era in both Canada and Britain.'”

The researchers wrote: “Our content analysis shows a variation in approach, themes, and tone, but a clear and demonstrated hostility to Indigenous nationhood that should undermine [the CTF’s] legitimacy in the civil sphere as a ‘neutral’ group of ‘concerned taxpayers.'”

Yet the organization, they went on, remains “a ubiquitous force within the space of Canadian politics and media,” frequently and uncritically “quoted in media ranging from the National Post to CBC News as characteristic and representative of ‘the Canadian Taxpayer.'”

“Why,” reads the headline over a companion piece by Willmott published on Dec. 21 in The Conversation and later reprinted by The Tyee, “do media outlets still quote them?”

That’s a very good question.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...