The Obligatory New Year’s Eve Blog Post

I’ve never been one to celebrate much on New Year’s Eve. Like December 21, 2012 was, it’s just the flipping of another calendar page, as far as I can see.  But, everyone seems to be doing it, so, here goes.

When I started back in February throwing things up here I never could have imagined:

Being “followed” on twitter by Shelagh Rogers because of a couple of book reviews (Ghomeshi still doesn’t pay attention to me);

Getting a commission to contribute to the catalogue of an art show in Ireland because of a few art reviews;

Spending an afternoon with the Great Alex Janvier and his lovely wife Jacqueline;

Having a conversation with Professor Anthony J. Hall because of a bunch of Constitutional ravings I posted;

Meeting artist Aaron Paquette and his wonderful wife Clarice through my writings here;

and conversations with so many others I would never have met otherwise, such as storyteller Waubgeshig Rice, lawyer and activist Lise Frigault (weird: my phone just buzzed with a “Happy New Year!” from her!), Artist Paddy Lamb, theatre guy John Kirkpatrick, musician Joel Crichton , Abigail Harrison who, at fifteen, intends to be the first human to land on Mars. . . and so many more.

But, perhaps the biggest surprise has been the wave of visitors that have arrived because of #IdleNoMore.  More than half the views of Behind the Hedge have come this month, making December more than five times busier than the busiest month before.  And the vast majority of the visits in December have been to “Connecting the Dots . . .”.

I couldn’t have imagined that by the end of 2012 thousands of people would actually come to read my understanding of the Constitutional relationship between the Crown and the aboriginal people of Canada (of all things!).

Nor could I have imagined meeting Phyllis and all the other warm #IdleNoMore participants.

And it’s been really nice to find that the Art Gallery of Alberta is a place were (almost) everybody knows my face, if not always my name.

It started out as just a place to mark down my thoughts, mostly about literature and art.  I was always so surprised to see on the stats page that someone actually had looked at something I’d written.  Thanks for the surprises, everyone!

I don’t make resolutions.  I seldom even make plans.  But here are a couple of things I’m expecting in 2013:

Finish preparations for my little exhibition in May;

Continue to mutter about the Constitution and the Treaties;

Try to develop some ability to listen in Cree, even if I don’t get to the point of speaking nēhiyawēwin;

Read a lot;

And maybe I’ll start on that little art project I’ve been rolling around in my head for a few years, the one that celebrates Edmonton, that golden Metropolis of the Future . . .

And maybe eat less and get more exercise.

If anybody is reading this, Happy New Year!

A parable and a paraphrase of an actual conversation

The following is a version of a parable I’ve told repeatedly over the years. The conversation at the end is a paraphrase of one I had with a friend while compensation for the families of Japanese-Canadian Internees was being considered.

A Parable

Once upon a time a society quietly decided to take a family business away from a certain individual simply because of the way certain genes were expressed. The business was given by the government to another member of the society whose genes were expressed differently. The dispossessed family went off to live on the other side of the tracks where they lived a very hard life, looking across the tracks, knowing that they weren’t allowed to enjoy what was right there for them to see. They grubbed through garbage cans trying to survive.

Back at the family business, the new owner walked into a going concern. He worked long hours behind the counter (which he got for free) in the building (which he got for free) and he sold the goods (which he got for free) and when those goods were gone, he used part of the revenue to pay for more goods. In time this member of society passed the business (which he got for free) on to his son (as his daughters had all married [as, of course, had his son]). The son now had a thriving business which he received for free, merely because of the expression of certain genes. He continued the tradition of his father.

The government maintained the dispossessed family on near starvation rations, provided limited funds, but a Minister had to agree to every single purchase made with those funds. The family had to submit requests to the Minister: a toy for my child at Christmas, medicine when she is sick, a funeral for Grandma, school supplies for the children. And the Minister would make the decisions on what, if anything, could be purchased

The family on the wrong side of the tracks was  still looked down upon by the members of the family who had been given their business, as though it were somehow a moral failing that had caused the removal of the fruits of their labour. The members of the family who were given the business complained that the people on the other side of the tracks were getting “special rights” and “free money”, that it was “reverse discrimination”. These members did not appreciate that they had been given a gift by society at the expense of others. They refused to acknowledge the debt they owed to others for the high place they had been given in society.

The people on the other side of the tracks could not find a way to get back across. Despite what were being described as “special rights” they still found themselves going through the garbage to make a living. If any of the daughters of the family actually managed to struggle across the tracks to try to make a better life for themselves and a better society for all, too often they were chased back, or beaten, or raped and killed for their trouble. The member of society who stood behind the counter shook his head when he read of these incidents and said “act of a madman” “Those people on the other side of the tracks should be satisfied with their special rights” or “I work hard for what I’ve got; you don’t hear me bleating about inequality,” or “I’m sick of them pissing away my tax dollars.”

A paraphrase of an actual conversation
“Japanese man emigrates to Canada in 1920. Marries. Works hard. Saves money. Has a son. Buys a little store. Works hard. Saves money for son’s education. WW II starts. Government takes store and assets. Ships family to Internment camp. Auctions assets to White Guy for a pittance.

“White Guy gets married, has a kid, uses new found wealth to send son to university. Son becomes Doctor.

“Meanwhile, war ends, Japanese-Canadian family let out of internment with nothing. Work hard. Eventually son gets janitorial job at hospital.”

At this point in the story I say to my friend “this is why the Government is paying compensation to the descendants of war time internees.”

My friend says “I can see that …. but it’s not the same for the Indians!”

My friend’s grand parents had been given still-disputed land by the government when they came to Canada.

There are, of course, big differences between the crime Canada committed against its citizens in the Internment and the ongoing crime against the aboriginal peoples.  Perhaps the major difference is that while most First Nations are parties to legal instruments binding on the Government (the Crown), much like, but more foundational than the Constitutional guarantees that should have protected Japanese Canadians , the First Nations’ legal instruments  have been consistently violated by the Crown for several centuries leading to a general ignorance in the non-aboriginal community of what the legal situation actually is.  The actual legal situation is that First Nations agreed to share their land with the Crown in exchange for certain modest but perpetual payments.  For virtually the entire history of the Treaties, the Crown has reneged on its promises. 

I’m sure many would like to go on about “old pieces of paper” and “it’s not practical” and “get over the past”.  I say to those people: the Treaties are protected in the Carter of Rights and Freedoms – if the Crown can toss one Right out unilaterally, our Rights and Freedoms are all in danger; and, would it not be more practical to follow the Treaties to self-sufficiency than to continue the cycle of poverty?; and, please, “get over the past”? When has “Get over the past” been something to be said to victims of genocide?  And, I would ask those people,  how can a person so easily see the justice of compensating Japanese Canadian internees and then say (in a panicked voice) “But it’s not the same for the Indians!?”

It is time for all Canadians who care about our Constitution, about the Rule of Law, and about, dare I say it? Peace, Order and Good Government, to be Idle No More!

Thoughts on a Very Cold but Very Warm Day

The morning of Friday, December 21, 2012 in Edmonton was cold, about -20, with a bit of a nasty wind on the flats above the river valley.  I bundled up and walked from Whyte Avenue north on 102 street, through the alley behind the Yardbird Suite, past the Caboose in End of Steel Park and dropped down one of the staircases off Saskatchewan drive.  The shelter of the bare trees was a relief.  I wound my way down Queen Elizabeth Park Road to the south end of the Walterdale bridge and waited for the light to let me cross the street to Kinsmen Park.  As I waited, a happy looking lady of about my middle age came off the bridge toward the same crossing.  The two flags she was carrying made it clear she had the same destination I had: the latest Idle No More rally and march.

As she came closer she said “Hi!” and gave me a mittened high five.  “I’m Phyllis,” she said.

“I’m John. It’s cold”

“Yeah. I’m thinking I should try to buy some longjohns somewhere.  But, people used to have it a lot worse than this.”

We crossed to the parking lot where people were rapidly gathering around the flatbed trailer with the generator and sound system. Phyllis introduced me to a few of the others, including a few organizers. Reporters, camera people and Edmonton Police Service vehicles and personnel were smiling and laughing with everyone. Two MLAs, one MP and a Senator were welcomed to the gathering.  Hand made signs were handed out to augment the banners and flags brought from home.

I helped Phyllis reconnect her Blood Nation flag to its broomstick pole. She’d absentmindedly hung it upside down.  Shortly after she left to get some warmer clothes from the supply donated by Occupy Edmonton.  We hugged and said we hoped to meet up later.

Once Lewis Cardinal arrived (there were many jokes about “Indian Time”) and the Elders had finished their ceremony, the happy and boisterous line of cold people from a multitude of Nations — First and later — began winding its way out of the parking lot.  A number of vehicles had been provided by various Nations  for the transport of the elderly and disabled and safety requests from the EPS were carefully relayed several times from the speakers’ trailer.

The walk across the bridge was mind-numbingly cold with the wind blowing unobstructed along the river.  The pace was a very slow march, ten or so abreast, banners and flags from dozens of First Nations standing out bravely in the stiff breeze.  As the procession stopped to honour the First Nations burial ground in Rossdale, I looked over my shoulder and recognized Phyllis’ flags.  “Hi, John, how ya doin’?” she asked.  Phyllis and I marched together for a good bit then.

Apart from the regular cries of “Idle No More”, the marchers were quite quiet. Now and then there would be a joke exchanged or, more often, a a word of encouragement or query “How ya doin’?” and regular comments on the cold.  As we were passing Telus Field, I noticed that Phyllis was struggling a bit with her two flags.

“Here, Phyllis, why don’t I carry one?”

And this is how I, a bearded descendent of about six generations of Settlers, came to be carrying a parade dress Union Flag (tied to a hockey stick) beside my new friend from the Blood Nation in a march of several hundred warm and friendly but quite restless Natives demanding respect for the treaties between our nations.  It seemed very surreal, but absolutely appropriate.  Part way up Bellamy Hill, Phyllis ran into her home to warm up for a bit, intending to catch up later.  I gave her back her flag.  I didn’t see Phyllis again in the crowd.  If you read this, Phyllis, thank you so much for being such a friendly companion.

At the top of the hill the march paused again and as I stood stamping my feet I noticed a sort of lonely figure standing in a blue parka at the edge of the crowd.  It was my neighbour who had said she was going to try to join the march part way through.  As we talked, a young lady asked if she could take our picture.  Somewhere out there is a photo of two very pink white people in blue coats taking part in Edmonton’s Solstice Idle No More rally.  I bet there’s a story behind that picture.

On we went, past Occupy’s hot chocolate stand, down Jasper Avenue to the space between Canada Place and the Convention Centre.  I told my neighbour that Aaron Paquette, one of the speakers, had told me on twitter that he was going to try to get a round dance going all the way around Canada Place.  Despite the cold, the turnout was almost big enough to make such a ring, but the dance ended up being a huge oval blocking Jasper Avenue.  As Paquette gave his rousing speech, my neighbour leaned over and said approvingly “He’s like a preacher!”

Paquette spoke stirringly of the fact that the warriors were taking their orders from the women. He cried out “No more Missing Women!” to cheers.  Then he swept off his cap and pointed up at Canada Place and called out (I paraphrase as well as I can, which is nothing as stirring as the actual words spoken) “Look at this building!  This building and others like it across this land have brought so much pain!” and there were a few boos directed toward the building. But Paquette continued “But we aren’t bringing pain.  We are bringing love! We will meet hatred and misunderstanding with love!” And he climbed down from the flatbed.

I made my way through the crowd as the drumming started up once more. I leaned over beside his ear and introduced myself over the noise. There was the briefest moment of hesitation before his face lit up and he took my hand and we had a brief hug.  “I read your piece on the Manitou Stone last night” he said and I felt as honoured as I would ever need to, and then he said “very good!”

Aaron seemed to be shaking a little — perhaps it was the cold but I think it was more the emotion of delivering his speech. He said of speaking before the worked up crowd “That’s not really my thing.”

I replied as urgently as I could “No. No, it is your thing.”

Shortly after we shook hands again and said I had to get going.  I left before the continuation of the march to Churchill Square.  I caught up to my neighbour and we rode the bus home together, along with a group from Fort Smith who had come down for the event.

Canadians, please understand that Idle No More is not about handouts or any of the other ignorant or bigotted things that are said against the movement.  Idle No More is at root about nothing other than the Rule of Law.  Yes, there is talk about the environment, about housing, about education, and about money.  But every single one of those issues means nothing without the underlying demand that we all, First Nations, Inuit, Metis, European-, Asian- and African-Canadians, and, most importantly, the Government — the demand that we all honour and respect the Rule of Law in our land. That Law is rooted in the Treaties which created the partnership and sharing which has made Canada.  Tragically, after the War with the United States two hundred years ago the partnership has been obscenely unequal.

Now is the time to educate and be educated. Now is the time to meet ignorance, fear and hatred with love, partnership and sharing.  Now is the time to honour completely the Treaties, the source of all that is Canada. It is the time for all of us to know and to celebrate that we are a Treaty Nation.

Grab your flag, whatever it might be, and march with Phyllis and I and all the rest into the future! We don’t want you to be left behind.

Stereotypes Don’t Trump What is Right, Legal, and Good

I should be working on Christmas baking and my paintings but I got thinking this morning as both The Current and Q on CBC Radio got around to #IdleNoMore and I felt like getting some of those thoughts down. Please forgive the impressionistic disorder.

 

Remember South Africa under apartheid? I do. Well, I don’t remember it in the sense of “I was there”. What I mean is that I was an adult when Nelson Mandela was released, and the events were a bit close to me because a dear old friend from my University days lived and worked and fought apartheid and spent time in jail in South Africa for her activism. Christina Scott was a journalist who, after the end of apartheid worked tirelessly for the education, particularly science education of girls in Africa until her untimely and absurdly tragic death in a traffic accident a little over a year ago, shortly before a new edition of her biography of Mandela came out.

My family’s business accountant in those days was a South African ex-pat who once told us the story of what spurred his families departure from his birthplace.  As a young man, our accountant said to his family’s Black house boy “If the revolution comes, would you kill me?”

The servant looked shocked and answered “Oh, no, Sir!” and paused before finishing “I would ask my best friend to kill you.”

At the same time that Chris was marching against White Rule, a number of years after our accountant’s house boy’s honesty,  I had a customer who happened to be a South African ex-pat, a very polite, gentle-voiced white fellow. The one thing that sticks in my mind about that gentleman is the one time we discussed the situation in South Africa. “The thing you have to realize, John,” he said, “Is that those people will never be able to govern themselves . . .”  I didn’t know what to say.

But I do now.

It doesn’t matter whether you think they can or can’t govern themselves. They have the legal and moral right and duty to be a part of the government of their nation, for better or worse.  Apartheid was an abomination, whatever came after it.  When Nelson Mandela walked down that road from prison, historical wrongs began to be corrected, whatever the pain and turbulence the people — all the people — of South Africa faced and still face in their new adventurous experiment.

I know White people who routinely refer to First Nations people as “savages” and tell stories of the drunken Indians he’s encountered, who think the Government “gives stuff” to the First Nations and then it all gets pissed away in corruption and booze. When I hear these people, I hear “The thing you have to realize, John . . .” nervously calling from the wrong side of history.

There are street people in my neighbourhood. Some are native, many are White. When I think of White people, I don’t think of the bottle picker we affectionately call “The Old White Guy”. I think of Leonard Cohen, or Stephen Lewis, or my sadly missed friend Chris. When I think of Metis, First Nation or Inuit people, I don’t think first of the native bottle pickers in my back alley, I think of artists Aaron Paquette and Alex Janvier, of actor Lorne Cardinal and his political activist brother Lewis, of musician Lucy Idlout. I think of the thousands, the millions of aboriginal Canadians who are just as successful or as unsuccessful, as hard-working or as lazy, as happy or as desperate as their non-aboriginal neighbours.

And, when I think of Canadians of all ethnic backgrounds,  I think of #IdleNoMore.

 

#IdleNoMore is a call for all Canadians to move forward together into a truly shared future, a future founded not on bigoted stereotypes but on the very clearly laid out shared responsibilities and rights protected for us all by our shared country’s Constitutional documents.  When I stand with the others at a rally, I’m not calling for the release of some Canadian Mandela. I’m calling for the release of so many ordinary Canadians from the bondage of stereotypes they’ve been taught, stereotypes which isolate us from each other. I’m calling for people to educate themselves. And I’m hoping they can imagine the future we could have in the Canada envisioned by the Treaties.

And I call back through time to that gentle-voiced man saying “Yes they can govern themselves! And no one has the right to say they can’t!  It is their fundamental right!”

And I say to all Canadians, we all have obligations and rights under our Constitution and as members of the human family.  And the Governments are bound to certain obligations by our Constitutional documents.  It is time for respect, time for Governments to respect our rights, time for Governments to respect their obligations and responsibilities And it is time for us to respect each other and the sharing agreements, the Treaties on which Canada is founded.

Let’s move forward together, idle no more, with the sadly interrupted experiment that is the Treaty Nation of Canada. It’s our fundamental right, and no one can say we can’t do it.

 

A Hesitant Note to My U.S. Neighbours on a Tragic Day

I’ve really agonized and hesitated about posting this note.  It’s difficult to make political observations about a foreign country at any time, but at a time of tragedy, one worries even more about being seen as a nosy outsider.  But, I see such a fearfully difficult road ahead for your country . . .

I will not dwell on the horrible event of today. There is more than enough discussion of it.

My purpose here is to answer questions I’ve been noticing on social media, questions which can be paraphrased thus: “When will/why can’t the U.S. come to its senses and ban assault weapons/institute gun control/stand up to the NRA?”

These questions have been asked by both U.S. citizens and by people around the world.

My brief thoughts on the question are these:

The desired restrictions will likely never be instituted, no matter how many tragedies occur, no matter how frequently.

A little less briefly:

I’m sure everyone has some inkling of the words of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That injunction from the 18th century is the primary reason change will basically never happen. Traditionally, for enough generations, this sentence has been interpreted to mean that it is every citizens constitutional right to possess any weapon, no matter how absurd, with no possibility of any Government interference in that possession. No regulation of arms will be free from the possibility of constitutional challenge unless the Second Amendment itself is amended. Constitutional amendments are intentionally virtually impossible to make: easy constitutional change does not lend itself to stable governance. I would be pleasantly gobsmacked if such an amendment were made in my lifetime.

Now, suppose gun controls of any substantial scope were introduced under President Obama’s watch. This is exactly what the gun aficionados have been warning is on the Presidential Agenda. Obama would play directly into the hands of the private militias and the lone wolves out there. They’d manage to recruit even more heavily armed supporters to their citadels in the woods.

Now, imagine if there were actually an attempt by a Government to seize outlawed weapons.  Remember the Branch Davidians in Waco?  That was small potatoes.  If President Obama made any suggestion of a seizure of outlawed weapons, there would be an instant armed conflict in the mountains, hills and cities. And I would expect police forces and the National Guard to be conflicted themselves, as many in the ranks would feel a devotion to the traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment. I would expect the Secret Service to have it’s hands filled to the breaking point.

If a huge, vocal majority of citizens demand change, I fear that the lawmakers will be in fear for their lives and appease potential assassins rather than carry out the will of the people. Even more, I fear that after all these years of the right to keep and bear arms, too many Americans feel that the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers.

In short, I fear that too many Americans have lived their entire lives in fear of each other to give up the comfort of lethal force on their bedside table.

I hope I am wrong.

My neighbours, will you please do your utmost to prove me wrong?

Update, December 15, 2012

I started looking around a bit, wondering what the homicide rates per capita were in the U.S., fully expecting them to be as appallingly high as the gun murder rates would suggest.  I found this handy chart which I recommend everyone spend some time with.  What I discovered was a big surprise.  For example, only three countries in the Western Hemisphere, Chile, Argentina, and Canada, have lower intentional homicides per 100,000 people than the U.S.  The holiday islands of the Caribbean are far, far more dangerous than the U.S.  And, a big surprise to me, Greenland has a homicide rate almost five time that of the U.S.

I draw two conclusions from these statistics: perceptions of homicide rates in the U.S. have been skewed by discussions of gun death rates, including gun suicide, and so, the U.S. is actually much safer than we all think; and, if gun homicides and suicides were reduced by some means, be it cultural change, gun control, or whatever else, the U.S. would be recognized as a remarkably peaceful society.

Update October 2, 2015: It seems the handy chart has been updated and now the U. S. has only the sixth lowest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere. But, still, imagine if the guns were out of the count.

My Village: the Paintings I’ve Been Working On for So Long

The place I live has been a city for over a century. For a while before that, it was two cities. Before that it was two towns. For a very long time before that it was a village, often seasonally, down in what we now call Rossdale. Today, five times as many people live here as lived in Shakespeare’s London and there are about twenty Edmontonians for every citizen of the Rome Michelangelo knew.

But, as far as I’m concerned, I live in a village. My Village is made up of the people I see each day, the Butcher, the Restaurant Owner, the Poet, the Neighbourhood Children, the students, artists, merchants and, yes, strangers with whom I share my days. No matter how large our city grows, I think we each still live in a village. My new  paintings are portraits of and tributes to some of the people who share My Village.

My hope is that when you look at My Village you will feel an urge to consider and honour Your Village.  And, together, every day, let’s continue to celebrate, build and live in Our Village.

The opening reception for My Village will be held from 6 to 7:30 pm, Thursday, May 23, 2013 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in the heart of Edmonton’s welcoming Old Strathcona community.  My Village is a part of ArtSpirit, a new, exciting and wide-ranging community arts festival.  More information is available, and more will continue to be posted, at My Village‘s Facebook Event page. Everyone is invited. All thirty-five billion of you living in this country named “Village” in a lost Iroquoian language.  And all seven billion of you in this Global Village. But maybe don’t all show up at once: Holy Trinity is beautiful and big, but not that big.

Update March 28, 2013:  ArtSpirit’s Facebook Event page is up and running.

Another Little Update: Here is a pdf of the wee brochure that accompanied the show.

Connecting the Constitutional Dots of #IdleNoMore for the White (like me) Layperson

In 1763, King George III of the United Kingdom issued a royal proclamation as an initial statement of British law and policy concerning it’s territory in the New World, both the old British Colonies along the Atlantic Coast and the newly conquered lands of New France.  Remember the Plains of Abraham?  Also, the Royal Proclamation declared clearly the Crown’s understanding of the status of the aboriginal people of the New World. To be clear, the Royal Proclamation is a statement of Canadian Constitutional law which remains in force today, both on its own and through the Constitution Act (1982).

The Royal Proclamation, together with the Quebec Act of  of 1774,  is the legal reason that Quebec continues to have a distinct Constitutional position as a Nation within Canada and as a Nation with distinct, constitutionally guaranteed legal institutions.

The First Nations are very clearly described in the Royal Proclamation as “Nations” and British Subjects are told that the people of these Nations are “not [to] be molested or disturbed in the Possession of the lands (the vast majority of the continent)] not having been ceded to Us”.

The Royal Proclamation lays out explicitly that, until such time as these lands are “ceded to or purchased by” the Crown, all lands in North America other than those in the Atlantic drainage basin are exclusively the land of the First Nations.

The Royal Proclamation continues in force in Canadian law and is re-emphasised in the Constitution Act (1982).  The lands which it covers have only been legally modified by the Treaties and, in the U.S. by the Declaration of Independence, theRevolution and the resultant explicit rejection of British jurisdiction.

The Treaty Process and the Treaties are direct outgrowths of the Royal Proclamation.  The negotiation of treaties between nations/states is a time honoured tradition on both sides of the Atlantic.  To be effective, careful attention must be payed to language differences.  This attention was not always given in negotiations with First Nations, but the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that the First Nations’ understanding of the Treaty agreements has the same legal weight as the English treaty documents.  The Treaties remain legally binding on both the Crown — Canada — and on the First Nations with whom the Crown negotiated.  Both parties have responsibilities and rights under the Treaties.  The most obvious right gained by the Crown is the right to share the land.

I want to emphasize something about the Treaties, about all international treaties. The Treaties are perpetual unless abrogated by one party, in which case everything is reset, or if they are changed or rescinded by mutual agreement.  This fact can not be emphasized too strongly.  If the Crown or the First Nation unilaterally abrogates it’s responsibilities under the Treaty, the Treaty is finished.  The First Nation is no longer entitled to the benefits of the treaty, such as health care and education — benefits all non-Treaty Canadians enjoy — and, what should be most disturbing for non-Treaty Canadians, the Crown is no longer entitled to share the land which is not drained by rivers flowing into the Atlantic.  That’s a lot of land which, if the Treaties were ever abrogated by the Crown (imagine that!), would revert under International and Canadian Law to the control of the First Nations.

Back before Confederation there was a thing written called The Durham Report.  Seems this British guy called Lord Durham was sent out to the Canadas to try to figure out what to do about the Quebecois Problem.  After tramping about in the back woods of Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City, he wrote a report which said, in brief “make a Confederation of all the remaining British North American colonies, including Quebec, and in a decade or two the French language will disappear and the people of Quebec will be assimilated into the great British melting pot!”

So, in 1867, the British Parliament passed, and Queen Victoria assented to The British North America Act (which remained our most recent constitutional document until 1982), and Lord Durham’s plan was put into effect.  As I’m sure is very clear today, French didn’t disappear and Quebec remains a distinct society.  I, for one, am glad that Lord Durham had myopic foresight.

I mention all this about Lord Durham and the BNA because the First Nations were treated to something similar to the myopic Lord’s report and the BNA.  This parallel bit of legislation was The Indian Act, which remains pretty much the only legislative expression of the Crown’s understanding of the Treaty process and the Treaties.  The fact that it is the only expression of this understanding has made many First Nations leaders fearful of having the Indian Act rescinded, despite all the evils the Act has been responsible for, including the Residential Schools catastrophe.  It is changes to the Act, made without consultation, by the current government’s Bill C-45 which has, in part, spurred the Idle No More movement.

Not remarkably long after the debacle of his government’s earlier White Paper (sardonically responded to by Harold Cardinal’s Red Paper), Pierre Trudeau managed to get the British Parliament to pass and Queen Elizabeth II to assent to The Constitution Act (1982) which included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This document is a startling contrast to the assimilationist goals of the White Paper.  Look!  Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are affirmed!  Oh My! It affirms “any rights or freedoms that have been recognized by the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763”  And, one of my favourite bits: “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”  That’s right, suckers! Assimilation is explicitly declared unconstitutional!  And the Government can’t even benignly neglect Canadian cultures into assimilation. The Federal Government must preserve and enhance our cultural mosaic!

The Foundational and Constitutional documents of the magnificent experiment that is Canada come together in the Constitution Act (1982) and shout out “Assimilation No More! Honour the Treaties”  On Monday, December 10, 2012, the First Nations, Metis, other Aboriginal Peoples, and their non-Aboriginal supporters came together to shout out “Idle No More! Honour the Treaties!” I, an old White guy, am proud to say that I stood and marched among the fifteen hundred in Edmonton.  I, too, am a party to the Treaties.  I benefit from the rights enshrined in the Treaties, and I hold my Treaty Responsibilities sacred.

I, descended of colonial settlers in Upper and Lower Canada, fully intend to be Idle No More!