By David Newman, Q.C., Co-chair, Rotary District 5550 World Peace Partners
Born in 1867, Canada lost the last vestiges of external colonialism in 1982. That year, The Constitution Act (1982) opened the door for healing and reconciliation with our “Indigenous Peoples”. The Courts of Canada have been widening that opening and Canada has become more and more a multi-cultural, multi-faith country with a diversity representative of the global human family.
As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, are Non-Aboriginal Canadians going to make a concerted effort to advance understanding, goodwill, peace and compassionate action in relation to our Original or “First Nations” Peoples?
Non-Aboriginal Canadians born and educated in Canada since 1867 have relied on schools, faith organizations, elected officials, the Courts, governments and public media sources to understand the nature of the Treaties and values, philosophies, cultures, spirituality and traditional livelihoods of our Indigenous Peoples.
Over the last 50 years, however, it has become clear that misinformation from such sources which we trusted to provide truth, simply didn’t. In fact, the situation was made worse by Hollywood cowboy and Indian movies and other works of fiction. This has caused accumulated ignorance.
Such ignorance manifests itself in racism, residential schools and other assimilation policies. Treaty violations and narrow, unfair and unreasonable interpretation of Treaties, Court Judgments, and the Indian Act have been all too common.
Parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of Non-Aboriginals have passed on to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren these distortions of “the truth”.
This kind of misunderstanding and ignorance is not peculiar to Canada. It led to civil war and slavery and severe discrimination against African Americans and Native North Americans. It led to colonialism throughout the world by powerful countries arrogantly – but often with the best of intentions – imposing their laws, cultures, religions and forms of government on Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
The human family today is divided into many sovereign nations that have not yet overcome the negative effects of colonialism or other causes of oppressive regimes and inter-tribal violence and civil wars. Canada has no moral right to judge, condemn or criticize these challenged parts of our global family.
Our wealth, privilege and favoured history call on all Canadians to be humble and grateful. We need to seek to understand cultures, and Peoples and their histories when sovereign nations are in trouble. It is our calling to advance understanding, goodwill and peace in those sovereign nations and among their Peoples. Canada can in this manner contribute to peace, social justice and human rights within and amongst sovereign nations.
To earn credibility with other Peoples and nations, to mature as a country and to be on a strong moral foundation much remains to be done by Canadian Non-Aboriginals. We Non-Aboriginals must go beyond the apology for residential schools, other Federal and Provincial Government initiatives and even the recent progressive Court decisions. Since 1982, new processes and more modern treaties and agreements have been set in motion to correct the historical wrongs.
However, in Manitoba the remaining material wrongs and consequences of historical wrongs must be addressed with a sense of urgency. The consequences of both wrongs include poverty, dependency, inferior education and despair.
In Manitoba and the rest of District 5550, one of these wrongs is the lack of fair and reasonable opportunities for First Nations Peoples, as individuals and families, to engage in meaningful jobs and small businesses so as to enhance traditional livelihoods and ways of life, like hunting, fishing and trapping.
One solution is to open up resource development and small business opportunities and meaningful jobs with ethical and qualified resource development corporations for our First Nations Peoples.
A serious and generous commitment to invest in education and training and massive affirmative support and fair and reasonable revenue sharing from resource use and development revenues is required and urgent.
Small businesses, the backbone of any sustainable economy, must be allowed to be created on Crown lands by Indigenous entrepreneurs with the support of their Indian bands. Provincial permits and licenses to facilitate this must be more readily available on an affirmative action basis. Provincial and Federal policies or laws must be changed to allow and encourage it.
For example, trapline license areas can become ecosystems for sustainable small business development consistent with the culture, values and philosophies of Indigenous licensees while adding value to traditional livelihoods of trapping, hunting and fishing.
This opportunity to do what could have been done 147 years ago and any time since must be allowed. It is long overdue. Demand for resources is high. Access to resources is critical. Indigenous Peoples in Manitoba must support and agree to such access. This approach to economic development for Indigenous Peoples in Manitoba is an urgent moral and humanitarian necessity.
If Canada is to be a beacon of hope for the world and a credible participant in advancing understanding, goodwill, peace and compassionate action among our global family, it must rectify its most egregious historical wrongs. One of these wrongs is the inequitable impediment to resource development which, since 1867, have hurt our Indigenous Peoples and prevented them from becoming free from dependency and successful, economically in and around their home communities, in a manner that is consistent with their cultures, values and philosophies.
May the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017 be a time to celebrate the steps taken to right this historical wrong in Manitoba and the rest of Canada. Then, not only Canadians, but oppressed peoples in other nations can hope that a better world is possible. It proves democracy can work for the benefit of minorities. It shows violence is not an acceptable or necessary means to achieve peace and human rights. It shows that we are a country worthy of being the home of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and an authentic beacon of hope for a better world.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in “First Nations Voice”, April 30 2014. The version here has been edited for a District 5550 readership.