“Reconciliation is dead”, according to a Globe and Mail article penned by two Indigenous academics. That was also the message on signs carried by protestors blocking rail lines in support of some Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. These people say that by announcing that the rail and road blockades must come down, the federal government has effectively given up on its five-year long reconciliation campaign with Indigenous people. If these people are right, then the only way this Prime Minister can rescue his reconciliation agenda is to give them whatever they want, because he has offered Indigenous leaders more autonomy than any Prime Minister in Canada’s history, and that has not been enough for them.
It was in 2015 that a fresh-faced and brand new Prime Minister announced that he planned to make “reconciliation” his premier goal by adopting all of the 94 “Calls to Action” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) regardless of the cost.
An enormous amount of money has been spent in pursuit of this goal – $21.4 billion. Two years of ambitious meetings with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) were held in secret throughout the country. Those meetings failed because the AFN was demanding something that not even a Liberal government almost desperate to achieve its reconciliation agenda could give it – autonomy for each of the 633 or so “nations”.
According to the AFN view, each of these “nations” has a status similar to that of Germany or France. Each “nation” would be entitled to decide what its own “traditional territory” consisted of. If a national park – or your house – happened to sit on that “traditional” or “unceded” territory, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And the demand was coupled with the expectation that the federal government must continue to finance these “nations” forever.
The Indigenous demands were preposterous and simply could not be accepted by a responsible government. “Dependent independent nations” are an impossibility. But the federal government’s rhetoric has raised Indigenous expectations to the stratosphere. Their disappointment is palpable. Meanwhile, radical climate radicals have taken advantage of this volatile situation. Groups of well-meaning people have joined with radical Indigenous advocates and eco-terrorists to cause mayhem. These people don’t seem to have any qualms about wrecking the economy in their single-minded quest. Canadians are losing patience, and the possibility of violence is very real.
Fifty years ago, Pierre Trudeau had a vision for Indigenous people and Canada that was exactly the opposite of his son’s “nation to nation” model. The senior Trudeau said in 1969 that Canada must begin the painful process of dismantling the toxic Indigenous apartheid system – and work towards a Canada that treated everyone the same. One law for all Canadians, Indigenous and non-indigenous. He failed.
It is doubtful that Trudeau the elder envisioned exactly the mess that Canada now finds itself in – suffice it to say that it was apparent to him even then that a country with different sets of laws for different racial groups could not be successful.
The father did not succeed. He was shouted down by the chiefs, just as they are now doing to the son.
We should have listened to the father in 1969. Maybe it is not too late for all of us – including the son – to start listening now.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy