In what appears to be "Shame on You, Canada" Day, the Guardian has a damning piece on how the Harper regime is intent on severing Canada's First Nations from their rightful claims to ancestral lands.
First Nations have been emboldened by this summer’s Supreme Court of Canada William decision, which recognized the aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot’in nation to 1750 square kilometres of their land in central British Columbia – not outright ownership, but the right to use and manage the land and to reap its economic benefits.
The ruling affects all “unceded” territory in Canada – those lands never signed away through a treaty or conquered by war. Which means that over an enormous land-mass – most of British Columbia, large parts of Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and a number of other spots – a new legal landscape is emerging that offers the prospect of much more responsible land stewardship.
...And the Canadian government’s response? Far from embracing these newly recognized Indigenous land rights, they are trying to accelerate their elimination. The court has definitively told Canada to accept the reality of aboriginal title: the government is doing everything in its power to deny it.
This is what dispossession by negotiation looks like. The government demands that First Nations trade away – or in the original term, to “extinguish” – their rights to 95 percent of their traditional territory. Their return is some money and small parcels of land, but insidiously, as private property, instead of in the collective way that Indigenous peoples have long held and stewarded it. And First Nations need to provide costly, exhaustive proof of their rights to their own land, for which they have amassed a stunning $700 million in debt – a debt the government doesn’t think twice about using to arm-twist.
...Despite the pressure, most First Nations have not yet signed their names to these crooked deals – especially when the Supreme Court is simultaneously directing the government to reconcile with First Nations and share the land. But the Supreme Court’s confirmation that this approach is unconstitutional and illegal matters little to the government. What enables them to flout their own legal system is that Canadians remain scarcely aware of it.
Acting without public scrutiny, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to shore up support for this policy – now forty years old – to finally secure the elimination of Indigenous land rights. The process is led by the same man, Douglas Eyford, who has been Harper’s advisor on getting tar sands pipelines and energy projects built in western Canada. That is no coincidence. The government is growing more desperate to remove the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of a corporate bonanza for dirty fossil fuels: the unceded aboriginal title of First Nations – backed now by the Supreme Court of Canada.
...That’s why the habit of government officials, of media and even of Supreme Court judges to call the Tsilhqoti’in “nomadic” bothers [Chief Roger] William so much: his people have lived on these lands for thousands of years, while it is non-natives who are constantly moving and resettling. And what could be more nomadic and transient than the extractive industry itself – grabbing what resources and profits it can before abandoning one area for another.
As Canadians look more closely, they are discovering that the unceded status of vast territories across this country is not a threat, as they’ve long been told. It is a tremendous gift, protected with love by Indigenous nations over generations, to be seized for the possibilities it now offers for governing the land in a radically more just and sustainable way for everyone.
n this battle between the love of the land and a drive for its destruction, those behind the extractive economy have everything to lose and Indigenous peoples everything to win. The rest of us, depending on our stand, have a transformed country to gain.
What this article reminds us is that, in so many ways, Canada's First Nations are carrying the fight for us. They're doing the heavy lifting. They're blocking a rogue government that considers itself above the law whenever that suits it. Maybe it's time we showed a little tangible support for everything our First Nations are doing to defend Canada.