This week we learned of a RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report on Colten Boushie. The report detailed the RCMP’s “diplomacy” in relating the death of the 22-year-old Indigenous man from Red Pheasant First Nation to his mother Debbie Baptiste. They asked whether she’d been drinking while she was being told to “get it together.”
With my own two sons, I know that their lives can be challenged every day. Young Indigenous men are targeted by white officers, they are hunted by white civilians. Even if they mind their own business, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or reacting in the wrong way could get them killed. The incarceration and mortality rates tell a shameful story about the value of our young people’s lives. From Saskatchewan’s starlight tours – dumping Indigenous men outside the city in sub-zero weather to the modern day version of it – turning blind-eyes to Missing and Murdered Women, Girls and Two Spirited people, we see racist targeting. Policing seems to have adopted a “shoot-first policy” using the thin excuse of Indigenous “wellness checks.’”
We live in a time when our subjugation to the police state and governmental authority results in lost lives. In a world where an innocuous wellness check for an Indigenous woman sleeping can end in a deadly police rampage, what can we do to protect our young people? How do we stand up for them against racism when they are already deemed a menace to society, with a trigger happy white police force standing ready to end their lives?
Policing systems have not listened to Elders and Knowledge Keepers to develop community policing systems that work in First Nations settings. They continue to jam everyone into a one size fits all box, responding to community tragedy with after-the-fact, too-little-too-late mitigation in corrections reports, Gladue sentencing or in review and complaints commission findings.
No one ever responds that it is our sovereignty that is at issue. It is the ability to govern ourselves, with our own culturally-relevant systems that balance community relationships with governance and the wisdom of our Elders. Off-reserve it’s even more of a crapshoot, where communities are ghettoized, where poverty abounds, and where cultural identity is in short supply.
This sovereignty issue is being played out on many fronts. We see the repercussions of a failing system in our midst: a growing boom of Indigenous people in our inner cities, inadequate education funds resulting in failed potential, leading to few job opportunities. This in turn spirals into further poverty and growing dependencies on drugs, gangs, addictions and human trafficking. Is it any wonder that our youth are rising up against this systemic oppression?
Canada’s continued racist policies will result in more blockades, skirmishes, protests and outright fighting. It is already happening at the eastern door, where inherent rights holders of fish harvesting will not back down from their hereditary way of life. The angry mob response from non-native fishermen lead to the Supreme Court “clarifying” a 1998 decision in Marshall 1. This is the one and only time the Supreme Court of Canada has felt it was necessary to take back, to provide “certainty” for their ruling.
The Supreme Court passed the ruling back to Canada and it has sat at the department of fisheries office for twenty-one-years without resolution. In 2020, with a pandemic and new economic paradigm, violence erupted on the eastern shores between native and non-native fisherman. Mainstream media reported using neutral language to downplay the violence directed at native fishermen. What will the result be by next year in 2022? Are we going to be reading another RCMP directed complaints commission report about how the police stood by as angry non-native fishermen threatened native fishermen by burning down buildings and shooting at boats?
Indigenous rights still have efficacy. Our systems, though maligned and obfuscated by our own pandering Indigenous chiefs and council, have not completely lost their purpose and direction.
Is this reconciliation? Today in 2021, it would seem that the world is much more politically correct in the treatment of human beings. Studies, courses, laws, and whole departments can be dedicated to the pursuit of human rights. However, these “human” rights have to fall under the proper values of the ruling humans who make the rights or acknowledge if these rights have been violated. Is this reconciliation?
It is only today, in 2021 that the entire globe is coming through a pandemic brought on by scarce resources, overcrowding and changing climate. Will this be the last pandemic, or will this be the “new normal” because global energies must favour billionaires, the wealthy and economic stability over other global life?
At the eastern door in Canada, the Mi’kmaq nations have subsisted for generations with fish for food and trade with other nations. This approach to harvesting is not limited to storage and trade; there is a ceremonial value or teaching respecting the spirit of the animals, sea beings and waters that are not discussed because they hold non-empirical value.
It is a teaching that our people take enough to feed the village, with extra to trade and for ceremony. It has never been and never will be a license to kill everything in the ocean. You only have to look to Western Canada and the plains Indians to see that they did not hunt the buffalo to extinction. That was accomplished once the settler newcomers hit the plains.
The Mi’kmaq do not have “special rights” to harvest fish. They have First Nation sovereignty practicing “their way of life” that has been enshrined in treaty and upheld by the highest court and protected by the Canadian constitution. Can that sovereign right that holds community and spiritual balance be swept aside? Yes, it can.
Canada’s double, indeed triple-dealing has been setting up meetings with the provinces, the federal government and the Indian Nations. Every few years new governments or players come to the table, so talks begin anew. Colonization breaks First Nations. The federal government has been so stealthy in this endeavor that the elected officials in Indian Affairs sanctioned First Nation governments do not even realize their complicity.
So, when the federal government makes an announcement or releases a report confirming what Indigenous people already know, our people are not alarmed. We continue to exist despite genocidal and racist policies because we are resilient, filled with the spirit and blood memory of this land. Expect our continued resistance.