Part 2 in a series of blogs on issues of importance to me that helped me draw my conclusion about voting intention. As a political Christian realist, I’m considering the two parties most likely to form government.
The foundation article for this analysis is Marking Your X With Neighbourly Love published at Convivium. The first blog was Decision 2021: Candidate Character and International Religious Freedom.
The issue of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada is personal for me. Through work, worship, and the wonders of life, we are blessed to have a nationwide network of Indigenous friends and family.
Within a month of our wedding, Gloria and I were off to our first pastoral appointment together; driving in January 1983 from Toronto, Ontario to Port Simpson, British Columbia to serve the Tsimshian people of Lax Kw’alaams as pastors. Living on a remote fishing village First Nations reserve, loving the people who lived alongside us, and being loved back, changed us.
I learned to drink coffee and tea because we lived with frequent boil water advisories. The last one I saw posted for the community was July of this year, 2021.
Having accepted our home would be childless, an unexpected phone call started the process that brought our beautiful Ojibwe-Chippewa daughter into our lives. Our grandson is affectionately called Oji-Cree as his dad is Cree.
Before Europeans, Africans, Asians or others arrived on North American (Turtle Island) shores in large boats, Indigenous Peoples were here. The French built trade relationships. The British followed. Treaties were signed. Then, in 1867 a new nation was birthed.
Alexander Mackenzie’s Indian Act of 1876, and the residential schools that flowed from it, established a colonial structure. Treaties were set aside, and European ways entrenched to rule the day.
It wasn’t until John Diefenbaker in 1960 that Indigenous Peoples were able to exercise voting rights without forfeiting Indigenous status. Pierre Trudeau’s Constitution Act, 1982 restored recognition of treaty rights as the entrenched reality, and new treaties continue to be negotiated as government and the courts are sorting out application of old ones.
The last residential school closed in 1996 during Jean Chretien’s prime ministership. This was years after initial apologies and the start of efforts toward reconciliation by the churches that had run the schools until 1969, when then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Chretien transferred them from church to government leadership.
Stephen Harper’s apology for the schools in 2008 was a necessary step in advancing efforts at reconciliation, as was his decision to proceed with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC had been agreed to by Paul Martin in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement just days before his government lost the confidence vote that resulted in Harper’s election in 2006.
The TRC’s final report was delivered to Justin Trudeau within weeks of his party’s electoral success in 2015, won partly on a promise of reconciliation through nation-to-nation dialogue. Trudeau separated Indigenous Affairs in two, Indigenous-Crown Relations and Indigenous Services. Initial momentum was driven by Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould. Philpott addressed boil water advisories and on-reserve infrastructure. Wilson-Raybould spearheaded internal realignment of Justice Department policies for interaction with Indigenous peoples. In its first year Trudeau’s government also initiated the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The resignations of Philpott and Wilson-Raybould from cabinet, followed by their expulsion from the Liberal Party by Trudeau, through the effort into disarray. I describe the current situation with more detail in Pierre’s Vision Begot a Justin Society. Although, there was a positive development just prior to the election when Trudeau signed a nation-to-nation agreement with the Cowessess First Nation, transferring child welfare responsibilities to the First Nation as the first step to remove 150 children from the non-Indigenous foster care system.
The Liberal Party campaign platform (starting at page 55) commits to continue the pursuit of reconciliation. But, as Gitxsan child and family activist Cindy Blackstock said, “It sounds good — if they do it. And it’s always been the ‘if they do it’ where there’s been serious problems.”
The Conservative Party campaign platform outlines plans for working with Indigenous Peoples to advance reconciliation in relationships, both on-reserve and urban. It identifies areas where Indigenous Peoples have expressed interest in new or continued partnering on efforts at conservation and resource development, among others. O’Toole commits to developing First Nation by First Nation self-governance infrastructure, and to continuing implementation of the TRC recommendations. (The key section starts at page 114, but comments are scattered throughout the document in sections generally addressing commitments on other issues.)
Both the Liberal and Conservative platforms provide statements of reasonable hope for positive efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
I think one can assess the Liberal Party plan as Cindy Blackstock has, asking if they have learned from early headway and later inaction. Was the Cowessess agreement pre-election good press or an indication that priorities are getting back on track?
One might also look at the selective history outlined above and conclude that forward movement on reconciliation and Indigenous rights has taken place benefitting from changes in government as party priorities align in different areas with priorities for reconciliation.
I lean toward concluding the Trudeau government has not lived up to past commitments or learned from its mistakes. I think it’s time for a new government to, hopefully, take the next steps in positive progress toward reconciliation.