Let’s move forward, not backward, in reconciling the injustices committed against Canada’s indigenous people ~ Nathan Forestell

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I am writing to express my severe disappointment in the views expressed by Hugh Holland in his commentary, SNC-Lavalin has overshadowed earlier concerns with JWR’s extreme views on indigenous rights, published on Doppler earlier this week. The commentary piece, which reiterates the arguments of Conrad Black in his article, SNC-Lavalin is a sideshow to the real Wilson-Raybould issue, contains an objectively racist, extremely damaging, and misinformed commentary on the issue of indigenous territorial rights. Holland’s commentary on the root cause of the SNC-Lavalin scandal being Jodie Wilson-Raybould’s “extreme views on indigenous rights” has no factual basis and is merely the reiteration of the bigoted musings of one of Canada’s most distinguished convicts, Conrad Black.

Before discussing the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Holland’s commentary commences by stating that “the idea that perhaps 200,000 native peoples who travelled nomadically through a largely vacant land actually owned that land is ludicrous.”  As western property laws (obviously) did not “exist when the Europeans arrived [in Canada],” Holland argues that indigenous people do not have any legitimate claim to their territory. The very argument that Canada’s indigenous peoples are not entitled to having any say over their ancestral lands because they have no western-recognized “legal ownership” over them is ignorant, incorrect, and reinforces the extremely damaging “white saviour complex” that colonial and western societies and norms are “right” while indigenous societies and norms are inherently “wrong” and “backwards”.

Holland continues to reinforce the illegitimacy of indigenous people’s territorial claims by stating that Canada was built into “one of the greatest nations on earth” solely because of the “settlers who arrived.” While Canada prospered into one of the world’s wealthiest nations in the 19th and 20th century largely due to immigration, this statement dangerously discounts any contribution of indigenous people to the Canada that exists today. Moreover, the article as a whole neglects to mention the fact that Canadian “settlers” who purportedly allowed our nation to prosper also conducted: a  systematic campaign of cultural and ethnic genocide against Canada’s indigenous peoples; took 150,000 indigenous children from their families and assimilated them into “Western culture” in residential schools where they were subjected to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; and established a number of oppressive and racist institutions that continue to exacerbate the social, economic, educational, and political obstacles disproportionately faced by indigenous people today.

The racist undertone of the article aside, the central argument of the article—that Wilson-Raybould was attempting to “give” all of Canada’s natural resource development control to Canada’s indigenous people by amending Section 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—is simply untrue. The Liberal government’s proposed Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework giving Canada’s indigenous people the rights to “self-determination and self-government,” would not entail 1.5 per cent of all Canadians (Canada’s indigenous people) monopolizing all of Canada’s natural resource development as erroneously stated by Black and Holland. The purpose of the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework is to provide further recognition of indigenous rights in legislation and in no way explicitly gives Canada’s indigenous people the governing rights to all of Canada’s natural resource development. Further information on the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework can be found on the Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada’s website.

The ignorant and racist tone of this misinformed commentary that portrays indigenous reconciliation as something that is “naïve” to undertake and calls recognition of the cultural and ethnic genocide committed against Canada’s indigenous people “extreme” is disheartening and demonstrates that rather than moving forward in reconciling the injustices committed against Canada’s indigenous people, many Canadians are moving backwards.

Nathan Forestell is a Huntsville native who is studying International Development at the University of Ottawa

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18 Comments

  1. Whoa…Genocide…really Nathan? You might have some good points, but unfortunately, using this term minimizes the legitimacy of your position.

  2. Thank you Nathan, my hackles are still up from that previous column. The term cultural genocide is used actively in Indigenous Rights conversations. When a culture’s language is prohibited and therefore lost over generations, this is deemed cultural genocide Peter.

    • Pam Carnichan on

      Well said Nathan. Your points were accurate and well researched and it gives me hope that thoughtful well spoken young people are not going to stand idly by and let these racist comments go unchallenged

  3. Nathan Forestell on

    Thanks for your comment Peter. The term genocide is generally considered by many Canadian historians and scholars to be justified in the historical treatment of Canada’s indigenous people. The Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has found that the state pursued a policy of cultural genocide through forced assimilation, and their is currently an open investigation into whether a physical and biological genocide against Indigenous populations occurred.

    • Allie, and Nathan, thanks for the comments on the term Genocide and its wider use in the broader topic discussions and reports you cite. We are apparently of different minds when it comes to this issue.

      Without dwelling on this specific point of this Opinion piece too much, let me expand a little.

      Websters defines the term Genocide as “…the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group”. Also, “…the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political or cultural group”. Websters associates the word with “Homicide”, and cite Rwanda as an example.

      I’m sorry, but there’s not a circumstance which I’m aware of where I would apply this term as a description of treatment of First Nations in Canada, either formally as in the circumstances you both mention, or casually. The term has a loaded meaning and in my opinion has no place in the discussion. I’m not saying there was no harm. I am saying the term is inappropriate to describe the harm, and there is no means for me to agree it is appropriate.

      I understand the historical use of the term in the context you both mention but I can’t help think it fits right in with the current dynamic of using extreme terms to describe certain things to evoke extreme reactions; “Tar Sands”, “Dirty Oil”, “Ecological Destruction”, or “Final Solution of our Indian Problem” (thereby invoking a Hitleresque similarity).

      Not saying I am schooled in all things First Nation, but I have been associated with three First Nations quite intensively for the best part of 27 years, working directly as a Business Manager for one of those three in Ontario for 4 years. I continue to be closely associated with the other two, in BC.

      • Karen Wehrstein on

        You’re not reading the comments carefully, Peter. Cultural genocide — the purposeful destruction of a culture through forced assimilation — is established, and you are not touching on that at all. Genocide *per se* is under investigation, meaning it is legitimate to be of the opinion that it happened. Nathan has not written anything out of line here.

  4. In moving forward as a nation, we have to ‘uncover’ and know where we have come from – and granted that can be very difficult and divisive at times. In ‘uncovering’ the past, especially the narrative around the infamous federal Indian Residential School system and some of the nuances associated with that narrative, it’s worth exploring the story of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce (1853-1932), an Ontario-born ‘old white guy’ and an internationally recognized figure in public health.
    In 1907 as the Medical Inspector to the Department of the Interior and Indian Affairs, he issued the ‘Bryce Report,’ which was a devastating indictment on the health and living conditions – and consequential high death rates among the students – of 35 residential schools in Western Canada that he had inspected. The report was suppressed, very little was done, and further research funding was terminated by his bureaucratic boss within the Liberal Laurier government, Duncan Campbell Scott, because the findings were at odds to the Department’s ‘final solution of our Indian Problem.’
    Dr. Bryce now rates a place both at the Museum of Canadian History in Gateau, and the online Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
    For more on the story of this ‘whistleblower,’ Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, check out this link at the website of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada:
    https://fncaringsociety.com/who-was-dr-peter-henderson-bryce

  5. Gladys Middlebrook on

    Nathan, thank you for your commentary. Well said and explanatory. I totally agree with your statements. Also it is sad to finally hear some truths as presented by Peter.

  6. Hugh Holland on

    I must apologize for not expressing myself accurately in my article. Those who know me would call me anything but a racist. I have spent a great deal of time over the past years trying to understand the history and current standing of our First Nations people. I am totally sympathetic to their cause and the urgent need to address their concerns. However, I think it is safe to say that First Nations people also can make mistakes.

    I think we can all agree the 1876 Indian Act has been the source of many problems and needs to be repealed and replaced. One factor in the complex SNC-Lavalin case appears to be a disagreement between Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Carolyn Bennet, the experienced Minister who has been working hard on her difficult assignment of drafting legislation to replace the 1876 Indian Act. Also, I would submit that not enough people have any idea of the importance of SNC-Lavalin to this country at this time. Sadly, the case has become too politicized and is raising all the old specters of Quebec alienation, Western alienation, and even First Nations alienation.

    I care deeply about Canada and all its parts and assets, including our First Nations people, and our few world-class business organizations that are so hard to come by and so easy to lose. It is difficult to deal with this complex mix of issues without offending someone. If I did that, I sincerely apologize.

    • Karen Wehrstein on

      I think your first error was using a criminal whose career and life has been a study in naked and unadulterated greed as a source. There’s always going to be a cog or two missing in such a person’s intellect.

      • Emmersun Austin on

        ” i have spent a great deal of time over the past years trying to understand the history and current standing of our First Nations people”

        “I care deeply about Canada and all its parts and assets, including our First Nations people…”

        the idea of “our” > ownership or possession is questionable

    • Charles Wilson on

      Dear Editor:

      I had earlier written to comment on Mr Holland’s false premise and specious conclusions. I note he has now provided your readers with a sort of half-hearted apology/explanation in which the Indian Act and the need to respect all Canadian institutions are commandeered as a bucklers in his defence.

      In my earlier comments I had repudiated his notion that pre the arrival of the European this place was a sort of unpopulated wilderness. I had suggested he was under estimating the population by several million. This led to further inquiries on my part and I now find Mr Holland has under estimated the pre 1492 population of North America but about 55 million and that that society was not as he suggests exclusively hunter gatherer but agarian as well.

      https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/01/how-the-little-ice-age-changed-history?utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Magazine_Daily_032519&utm_medium=email&bxid=5be9d43e3f92a40469e3077c&user_id=39312521&esrc=&utm_term=TNY_Daily

      So it seems it wasn’t Cortes and his 150 horseman in armor that destroyed the new world but the new world’s own efficient road system which allowed the european bugs to travel rapidly.

      What Mr Holland hasn’t retracted, and perhaps if he thought about it more might, is his eurocentric notion that somehow ours is a superior society allowing for a superior lifestyle — a notion that John Maynard Keynes first foisted on us in the 1930’s, shortly after his failure to convince those he was advising in Paris 1919 not to propagate WW2 with punitive reparations.

      The evidence is otherwise. The first farmers had a worse diet than the last hunter gatherers. Modern Man has to work longer and has less leisure time that the 2300 calorie a day hunter-gatherer of 100,000 years ago who only needed to work 20 hours a week.

      Look don’t get me wrong, a lot of my friends are engineers and when I cross a river on one of their bridges or use one of their planes to get me from one part of the earth to another in a blink of an eye, I am grateful to them, but there is a notion that technology solves problems which is foisted on you in first year engineering. Technology merely shifts the focus of those problems. Only changing attitudes solve problems and the pressing problem we currently need to solve is there are seven billion humans occuying a very small blue planet and we have no where to go if we screw it up with all our technological “advances” which we arrogantly think allow us to exempt ourselves from living in harmony with each other and this planet and everything on it. I repeat not only must we respect the land right of those here before us but we need to learn from them for our own survival.

      I should say, I do not conclude That Mr Holland is racist as some of his critics did. But I do conclude that nobody has told him there is less genetic difference between a human and a chimpanzee than there is between a chimpanzee and a gorilla and there is no significant difference between a native of North America and any of us currently living here. It appears we are all to quote Alexander Pope:
      “Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind
      Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
      His soul proud Science never taught to stray
      Far as the solar walk or milky way;
      Yet simple nature to his hope has giv’n,
      Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heav’n. “

  7. Our first Prime Minister enacted the policy of assimilation by inaugurating the residential school system. Cultural genocide is the only appropriate term for it; your personal feelings notwithstanding. Canada systemically destroyed aboriginal culture: their language; their history; their unique methods of healing and justice; and their entire families.
    .
    And not forgetting the thousands who died in residential schools (or trying to escape from them), consider the missing aboriginal women today, and the native adolescents murdered by classmates in Thunder Bay. “Seven Fallen Feathers” by Tanya Talaga is a highly readable mini-treatise on the fully intended destruction of aboriginal culture (and many aboriginals) in Canada.

  8. Karen Wehrstein on

    Thank you, Nathan. Well-argued on all points. I found the argument that First Nations people have no stake in the land on which they live because they didn’t use European laws of ownership particularly egregious. “Whitesplaining” doesn’t get any worse than that.

  9. Marlene McBrien on

    Brilliant Nathan. As for Mr. Holland, if you are unable to express yourself accurately in writing perhaps you should try radio. However, this time I am glad you did because it motivated Nathan to accurately and magnificently express the truth.

    • This has been interesting to read all the opinions of a very big problematic situation. As Nathan, whom I have never met, says “let’s move forward, not backward.!” I agree and we all should, on the current situation re the living situations, of the need to have professional help situated in the north for the young people, so a life with the same opportunities as we were presented with, and have in place for our grandchildren can be given. Nothing else matters but to get our politicians to get moving on this. This is a human tragedy. Words are not enough, action has to happen to give a belief of reconciliation.

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