The 149th year of Canadian colonization
By Arthur Manuel
July 1 this year marks the 149th year that we have been colonized by Britain under the British North America Act of 1867, Canada’s first Constitution. The primary purpose of colonization was dispossessing Indigenous Peoples of our land so the settlers could economically enjoy and benefit from our land. Colonial dispossession can be illustrated by the fact when you add up all the Indian Reserves in Canada they total only 0.2% of Canada. This has systematically impoverished us generation after generation. It is the travesty of this colonial relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canada and must stop. The international remedy to oppression of colonization is the human right to self-determination under the United Nations Human Rights Covenants.
It is very clear to me you cannot have “reconciliation” with Canada if we continue to only have access and benefits from 0.2% of our lands. We cannot have a new relationship with Canada if we only have ownership and jurisdiction of 0.2% of our territory. If our leadership agrees that we have reconciliation and/or a new relationship with Canada they are merely entrenching the existing disparity between settlers (99.8%) and Indigenous Peoples (0.2%). These figures need to fundamentally change if we are going reduce and eliminate poverty. These figures need to change if we are going to protect our land and stop climate change. Indigenous Peoples need to have land rights adequate enough to protect our languages, culture and be economically self-sufficient.
I know many leaders talk about us owning 100% of our territory but when push comes to shove the government and industry resort to injunctions and enforcement orders to remove us from our land. My daughters spent many weeks in jail standing up for our rights. I know this because I had to baby sit my grandson Tuwiit when he was still breast-feeding. That was really tough situation but we need to exercise our sovereignty over our land. You cannot sleep on your rights or the colonial system will use that argument against you in court.
The reason I raise the issue of July 1, 2016 being the 149th year of colonization is because Canada is going to celebrate next July 1, 2017th as being the 150th anniversary of Canada. Needless to say they are going to allocate all kinds of money to get us Indigenous Peoples involved. They will want us show up with our featherhead dresses and in our regalia to celebrate Canada 150th birthday party. Prime Minister Trudeau will want us to endorse we that have reconciliation and a new relationship. But our people live on social assistance on our 0.2% Indian Reserve will know those words are just political buzzwords. Prime Minister Trudeau is still pushing the termination tables.
The Trudeau government is carrying on negotiations with the Northern Sewepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) and the in-Shuck-ch Treaty Society under the “modified rights model”. Under the modified rights model our Aboriginal Rights are de facto extinguished. Canada has been told by the United Nations to not extinguish Indigenous land rights in any land settlement agreement. Canada has also been told to review the modified rights model to ensure that it does not extinguish Indigenous land rights. Canada has not abided by these UN recommendations and continues to pursue extinguishment under the modified rights model.
If the Trudeau government really wanted to reconcile our relationship and develop a new relationship, he would have a policy where Indigenous Peoples would be given a land base to be self-sufficient. This would mean in BC we would get an Indigenous land base of about 1 to 5 million acres so we can be self-sufficient. Furthermore, Canada would repudiate the colonial doctrines of discovery and recognize that underlying title in our traditional territories is Aboriginal Title and not Crown Title. True and genuine reconciliation and a new relationship needs to be based on our land.
Canada needs to understand that these larger Indigenous land areas will be part of Canada and that Canada will still be Canada when the underlying title is recognized to being Aboriginal Title. The real difference is that Canada will be moving away from a relationship based colonial law to a new foundation based on human rights law. You cannot have reconciliation under colonial law. You cannot have a new relationship based on the colonial hierarchy. It is only though settlers and Indigenous Peoples recognizing each other’s human right can you achieve reconciliation and build a new relationship.
In this regard Canada needs to recognize our international right to self-determination. This right means we will jointly work together to have our land rights recognized and establish a third order of government but if we cannot achieve this we should be able to separate as nations, just like our original colonizer Britain could “Brexit” from the European Union, my people should be able “Secwexit” from a 150 year existence entrenched in colonial Canada.