Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould calls for an end to the Indian Act
During an emergency debate, held last Tuesday in the House of Commons in regards to the spate of suicides in Attawapiskat, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that the Liberal Trudeau government aims to “complete the unfinished business of Confederation.” Referring to Section 35 of the Constitution Act which provides protection for Aboriginal treaty rights, Wilson-Raybould declared that the Liberals want to replace the Indian Act with a “reconciliation framework.”
“For Attawapiskat and for all First Nations, the Indian Act is not a suitable system of government, it is not consistent with the rights enshrined in our constitution, the principles set out in (UNDRIP) or calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. In addition to the need for social and economic support urgently needed in Attawapiskat and all First Nations, all Indigenous peoples need to be empowered to take back control of their own lives.”
Wilson-Raybould indicated that she knew it would be a rough transition. “The nation-to-nation relationship is one of the most challenging public policy issues of our time and I challenge all members of this house to work with us in building this relationship.”
The Justice Minister’s comments were the only ones made during the emergency debate that simultaneously addressed the historical injustices of the Indian Act as well as plans for shaping a vision for the future.
Ucluelet First Nation Chief removed from community for elk poaching
Hereditary Chief of Ucluelet First Nation on Vancouver Island, Wilson Jack has been charged with elk poaching in a provincial court. The precedent setting decision made to remove Jack from his position “demonstrates how the community takes hunting violations seriously.” Jack was charged with poaching elk out of season and will be serving two years of probation. The removal includes several conditions including Jack no longer being allowed to represent Ucluelet FN, his harvesting rights have been suspended, he must host a dinner to apologize to the community and he cannot serve his community hours in Ucluelet. Since 2013, poachers have targeted a herd of elk moved to the area several years earlier, with the aim of creating a sustainable population. Officials from the Huu-ay-aht Nation, also on Vancouver Island, said that, “they are completely opposed to the killing of elk for sport or fun, and the fact that much of the animals were left behind troubles them.”
Lac-Simon tribal police kill man; “illegal” protests ensue
Following reports of a man walking down the street with a knife or another bladed weapon, Anishnabe Takonewini Police Service, which is operated by Anishnabe Nation Tribal Council in Lac-Simon, approached Sandy Tarzan Michel. According to Surete du Quebec Sgt. Melanie Dumaresq, “During the intervention, an impact happened with a patrol car and the suspect and after that, shots have also been fired.” After the incident which resulted in Michel’s death, several dozen people confronted the tribal police, prompting them to call SQ for back up.
Lac Simon is a small Algonquin community, just south of Val D’or. Sandy Tarzan Michel was killed by the tribal police, seven years after his brother faced a similar demise. A “public security crisis” was announced in the community of Lac-Simon, but only after a local police officer was fatally shot following a domestic dispute call last week. Under Quebec law, any incident involving a police officer in which a firearm is discharged must be investigated by a different police force. Last Monday evening, in Montreal more than 150 people gathered for a protest called “Indigenous Lives Matter”. The police shortly thereafter declared the protest “illegal” and told the crowd to disperse. When orders weren’t obeyed, the police used tear gas. The protest ended before 9 p.m. without any arrests.
Constitutional challenge seeks to revive Indigenous languages
Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution entrenches Aboriginal treaty rights, as well as the right to self government. Lorena Fontaine, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba is asserting that the constitution also grants the right to schooling and public services in ancestral languages. “Unless we do something in this generation – the generation of my daughter – the languages will die,” said Fontaine. Section 35 has also been understood to protect customs, practices and traditions and should include language. “We have the right to use and develop these languages in institutions that we create.” Fontaine continued.
Toronto lawyer David Leitch will be joining Fontaine in preparing the constitutional challenge. Aboriginal languages should be awarded “similar considerations” as French and English, contends Leitch. Although he would rather not take it to court, he hopes the Canadian government will address the issue as it follows up on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Leitch expects Justin Trudeau to uphold his commitment to implementing the TRC’s 94 recommendations.
The TRC Final Report includes a call to recognize the responsibility of the Canadian government to provide sufficient funds for language revitalization and preservation. More than 200 languages were spoken across Turtle Island. According to 2011 Census, only 63 are presently spoken, with only three expected to survive: Ojibway, Cree and Inuktitut. INAC says that it will spend $2.6 billion on education, including language support, over the next five years.
Supporting language programs could help to heal the wounds of residential school. “I think we have a moral obligation to repair some of the harm done by racist policies,” said Fernand de Varennas, Dean of Law at the University of Moncton. He also said that there is a good legal case to be made if the challenge goes to court. “I think there is no valid basis for denying this should be in place,” he said.