Marginalization of Indigenous in the Canadian Justice system

Tina Fontaine, Helen Betty Osborne, Cindy Gladue—all names of First Nation women that have been killed in their own land. These women were killed because they were native and therefore, expendable in the eyes of Canada.

There is no question about justice in this stolen state called Canada. There is an active question of racism and how hate can be legislated.

We see the federal government holding tear jars, making heart-wrenching statements about the injustices in “their” system. They talk and talk while their actions maintain Indian killing systems. We also have people actually listening thinking that ‘this’ time there may be a different outcome.

Settlers came to this land and started a narrative that the natives were “uncivilized” because they wanted the land. What has changed?

Since 1876, the Indians in Canada have been under the Indian Act. They have been kept in concentration camps called reserves hopefully to starve and die off, to wither and die off or to eventually assimilate. This is STILL the goal of settler legislation, colonizer court action, and every policy written by the oppressors. It has not changed since arrival on native land or through successive “civilized” governments.

Helen Betty Osborne’s killers went free for decades. Cindy Gladue suffered the ultimate human indignity when her private parts were taken into an Alberta courtroom. Tina Fontaine’s death started the action for a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry (MMIW). All these women were taken from their families, their clans and their communal First Nations. This is the loss that is not being discussed because non-Indigenous writers and commentators do not understand the impact or power that Indigenous women represent.

Prior to First Nations assisting settlers in surviving on our land, women were the matriarchs who held power over education, health, home and even economic life. Several First Nations have identified that pre-contact, their societies were matriarchal. This power or equality must have been extremely foreign and unsettling to the newcomers.

Is this why First Nation women were attacked or marginalized? Was or is the threat of powerful women with spiritual ties to the land so worrying that First Nation women must be trivialized or dehumanized to such a great extent?

First Nation people continue to state that the land is part of who we are as a people. The land gives life and provides for all of Creation. Prior to the onslaught of the white-man, the original peoples respected the land, waters and all life. For the newcomers, this was unacceptable. The land had to be taken and broken for settlers to see “progress”.

The Indigenous, who have kept their original ways, teachings, language and ceremony; know that there is a spiritual connection between the people and their surroundings. This spiritual knowledge extends to the power that women have in bringing forth life.

When Tina Fontaine was found dead, purposefully weighted down and thrown away into the Red River, a cry went up to stop the senseless killing of Indigenous women and girls. International attention forced the anxious platform of Trudeau who was seeking the role of Prime Minister, to include an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  However, this inquiry like other settler studies or commissions was to be surface only.

The MMIW inquiry was announced with patronizing terms of reference that would not look at policing and would not re-open mishandled or cold cases. Further protests by Indigenous voices have been silenced. The MMIW inquiry has had several staffing and communications issues because it is a whitewashed, coopted process where Canada can announce to the global audience that “something” has been done while in fact nothing is happening. Currently, with the not guilty verdict for the accused in the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine; federal ministers and the Prime Minister are sadly shaking their heads stating: “we must do better”. Doing better requires doing things differently. Doing better requires actively stopping racist policies, legislation and judicial actions. Doing better requires action not talk.

If the Prime Minister or any federal minister wants to stop killing Indians then they must begin by honestly stating Canada’s complicit history and continued racist agenda. Trudeau mentioned, in a visit to a northern First Nation community that the youth want spaces for their canoes. This is how the federal government responds to Indigenous issues: after one visit, there is a quick fix for hundreds of years of social and systemic ills.

Following the failure of the Canadian legal system to bring justice for Colten Boushie, writers across Canada wrote that a fairer process for jury selection was necessary. After the Tina Fontaine trial, where five of the 12-member jury were visibly people of colour, there is no further talk of juries.

The First Nations people will not find justice in one trial, one courtroom or one province.

This is because all the systems in this stolen land are racist systems built to protect white settler privilege while undermining the First Nations. Trudeau says he has to do better. Yet, his federal ministers are in court fighting First Nation youth for orthodontic treatments and dawdling on compliance with a Human Rights tribunal order to equalize child welfare funds on and off reserve.

At the same time, Trudeau is pushing at breakneck speed an education formula and now a “new legal framework” without proper consultation to the First Nation people who are the treaty right holders of land, education, health, housing, and economic development.

The goal of killing the Indian is in every federal policy.

The goal of killing the Indian is in every piece of federal legislation.

If termination through death is not possible, then assimilation is a slightly less viable alternative. Trudeau has effectively divided Indian Affairs. Trudeau’s number one token, Jodi Wilson has released ten principles undermining First Nation sovereignty and allowing the Assembly of First Nations to act as a representative government.

The original people are not dying. We are not assimilating. The land has made us who we are and for Colten, for Tina and for every other marginalized Indigenous person who has been sacrificed, we will rise us as warriors reclaiming jurisdiction, sovereignty and our lands.

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