In the News
Trudeau Government’s Indigenous Relations
Mandate of Minister of
Crown Indigenous Relations
The “mandate letter” given to the Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations reveals that the Trudeau Liberals are on the same colonial path as previous governments, trying to extinguish the hereditary rights of the Indigenous peoples and their right to be.
The directives are so pompous as to be truly offensive. Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, is directed to work to build “nation-to-nation relationships and support self-determination, including supporting First Nations communities as they transition to self-government and move away from the Indian Act.”
The racist conception that the problem with the Indian Act is that Indigenous peoples are “wards of the state” and not “self-governing” is offensive. The problem with the Indian Act is that it is a colonial arrangement which oversaw the theft of Indigenous peoples’ lands, destruction of their cohesion, culture and nations, destruction of their thought material, all in the name of imposing British racist notions of “self-government.” The conception of “self-government” is a kind of “white man’s burden” where “the natives” are taught or cajoled and brutalized into governing themselves on the basis of the Westminster system so that the power stays in the hands of rulers who govern while the subjects who are governed must prove themselves loyal. On the basis of contrived elections, some people are provided with positions of privilege to say they “represent the people” and have a mandate to speak in their name.
According to 19th century liberal ideology, if the “noble savages” are taught to govern themselves, then they merit systems of self-government. It has nothing to do with building “new relations” which is why from coast to coast to coast the Indigenous peoples have rejected prior attempts to void the Indian Act. Indian Act abolishment, without prior recognition of Indigenous peoples’ sovereign rights and stipulated legal protections and remedies in place, including the payment of rents for occupied lands, reparations for crimes past and present and recognition of fiduciary responsibilities, means that their lands would be under provincial jurisdiction and subject to provincial governments’ extractive, development and other agendas while they would be abandoned to fend for themselves on reserves which are in a disgraceful state harmful to the well-being of the people who live there.
The Minister is also mandated to “hold the federal government accountable.” This is a laugh. What does it even mean? Accountable to whom? How? The Minister has sworn an oath of allegiance to the very Crown that imposed the colonial relations to extinguish Indigenous peoples in the first place! Nothing has changed in that regard. Canada’s “rules-based order” applies domestically as well as internationally. The government makes the rules up as it goes along and people have to follow them or be criminalized. This has not been accepted by the Indigenous peoples, Canadians or even the courts. The aim of the Trudeau government has revealed itself to be to pass laws so that it is no longer encumbered by whatever the Constitution, or the Indian Act or the courts mandate it to do.
This is a time for the peoples to lay their claims on society as they see fit, work them out together and work out what is required to provide them with a guarantee. It is this social cohesion amongst the people the government seeks to undermine at all costs.
It is not the first time the Canadian government has talked about transitioning away from the racist Indian Act. Pierre Elliot Trudeau proposed it in his 1969 “White Paper.” That was rejected by Indigenous peoples. It was reintroduced in the Canada clause of the Charlottetown Accord. That was rejected when the Canadian polity registered a No vote to the Charlottetown Accord in the 1992 Referendum.
Transitioning from the racist Indian Act has never been about recognizing Indigenous peoples’ right to be as sovereign peoples, with their own forms of governance, their own laws based on their own thought material, on their own territories. The intent has always been to do away with the “Indian problem” by imposing a so-called “third tier” of governance, no less an instrument of the colonial Canadian state, but without the overt racist trappings. In fact, so long as these trappings are there, the resistance of the Indigenous peoples will reveal them for all to see. That is why any effective resistance is made illegal. But that too reveals the racist trappings. Thus government pledges and mandates and hypocrisy are doomed to end in failure for the government.
1. “… the complexities of the Indian Act goes beyond racism. It also serves as a legislative tool by which to hold the federal government accountable for their legal responsibilities. There are various legal protections within the Act, like tax exemptions for property on reserves and the protection of reserve lands from seizure. First Nations have less than 0.2 per cent of all their traditional lands as reserve lands, and preserving the integrity of those collective lands has been identified as a priority by many First Nations. The Indian Act also serves to protect — at least to some extent — from interference by the provinces. This is another major concern of First Nations who know that Indian Act abolishment, without other legal protections in place, means that their lands would be under provincial jurisdiction and vulnerable to the provincial governments’ voracious extraction and development appetites.”
Pam Palmater, “Abolishing the Indian Act means eliminating First Nations’ rights,” Macleans, October 10, 2019.
(Renewal Update, posted January 20, 2022)