Letter: We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Indigenous peoples

In the wake of the pipeline decision, we need to look to our relationships with Indigenous nations writes Anton van Walraven.

Dear Editor:

‘Stunning!’ There was clearly overall surprise about the Trans Mountain pipeline ruling last week. 

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I must admit, I was not so much surprised as relieved. The federal Court of Appeal had concluded that the environmental assessment process for the project had been deeply flawed, and that the federal government had not honoured its duty to enter into meaningful consultation with Indigenous groups.

By now, governments being called out by the courts for not honouring Indigenous rights has become an all too familiar theme. This started in 1973 with the Calder case, then the Sparrow case in 1990, the Delgamuukw v. BC case in 1997: the list goes on and on.  

We should all be deeply concerned about this behaviour from our governments and their ongoing colonial efforts.

In effect, Canada remains a country that has colonized Indigenous people, their land and water. In 1867, the rulers of five smaller colonies organized themselves into a larger colony and called it Canada, but it wasn’t the start of decolonization. 

That never happened.  

To illustrate this, resources extracted from Indigenous territories without the consent of these Nations are exported from Canada daily. 

Not surprisingly, all kinds of justifications have been given for this, like the colonial narrative of ‘discovery’, and that the land before European contact was Terra Nullius. The courts have debunked all of them, and have affirmed over and over again that Indigenous people hold rights and title over their land and water. It was enshrined in Canada’s constitution in 1982, Section 35 (1). Since then, win after win has led to the Tsilgot’in v. BC  2014 Supreme Court decision, which affirmed that Aboriginal title extends to the entire traditional territory of the Nation and that governments must also have consent from Indigenous Nations which hold title in order to approve developments on that land.

And yet, governments have carried on trying to extinguish Indigenous rights, ignoring the Constitution and a long string of court decisions.

So what can we non-Indigenous people do about this? How can we stop our governments from trying to extinguish Indigenous rights and title? How can we start the process of decolonization?

If not already done, we have to undo ourselves of the lifelong indoctrination of what Canada is, acknowledge the truth of colonization, and accept how deeply we are indebted as non-Indigenous people to the Indigenous people. 

Not an easy process and we all have to find our own way in this. I have found the books Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk and Unsettling Canada by Arthur Manuel to be very helpful.  Next on my book list is The Reconciliation Manifesto also by Arthur Manuel. 

I hope you will take on this journey, too. Stand with Indigenous people and together make a better, just and more sustainable Canada.

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