LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Battle lines are drawn, again, between First Nations and Canadians. On one side the police; on the other First Nations’ protestors. On one side politicians and outraged editorials in the papers; on the other, First Nations’ leaders trying to explain to reporters that ‘we have a different understanding.’
The thing about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is that it recognizes that some projects are too big or too dirty, or both, for Indigenous peoples to say ‘yes.’ And it sees that First Nations have a different set of rules for looking at what we like to call ‘development.’ Those rules are what the Saugeen Ojibway Nation listened to when their communities voted ‘no’ to Ontario Power Generation’s proposal to bury nuclear waste beside Lake Huron.
It would be a mistake to think First Nations’ laws are completely buried by history.
Mr Trudeau and Mr Scheer like to talk about ‘the rule of law.’ So do Mr Kenney in Alberta and Mr Horgan in BC and Mr Ford in Ontario. But in all such disputes between First Nations and Canada you have to ask ‘whose law?’
Remember, First Nations have done a pretty good job obeying Canada’s laws over the years. They sent their children to our residential schools. They went off to our world wars and fought with a courage that was forgotten by most of us. They ceased their customary ceremonies and hid their sacred things when we declared them illegal. They gave up their traditional governments – except for some, like the Wet’suwet’en.
Those traditional, hereditary chiefs tried to play by our rules in discussions with Coastal GasLink over the route of the pipeline. They said avoid this area and that area, they are necessary for our way of life. But Coastal GasLink ignored them and offered money to the elected chiefs and councils to get their way. And who can blame those elected chiefs and councils for wanting money to better the lives of the people they represent?
And so the standoff in the bush at Unistoten. And now it has spread into the traditional territories of other First Nations. All of whom have been harmed, one way or another, by following Canada’s rule of law.
Racism against black people is mostly expressed by assertions of control over black bodies, as the number of police shootings and high incarceration rates show, especially in the US. Racism against First Nations people is expressed by control over land or water, as Oka and Ipperwash and Burnt Church and a hundred other standoffs, big and small, testify.
Maybe it’s time we just stopped our developing for a minute, and sat with First Nations, and learned what their rule of law has to say to us.
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