SNC-Lavalin has overshadowed earlier concerns with JWR’s extreme views on indigenous rights ~ Hugh Holland



I seldom agree with Conrad Black, but he is a keen student and writer of history and his March 16, 2019 article in the National Post, SNC-Lavalin is a sideshow to the real Wilson-Raybould issue, made some sense.  As he states, the idea that perhaps 200,000 native peoples who travelled nomadically through a largely vacant land actually owned that land is ludicrous.

The best guess of anthropologists is that perhaps a million homo-sapiens survived the last ice age in central Africa and all modern societies gradually migrated from there around the world. They believe that about 14,000 years ago, the earliest North Americans migrated from Asia during a lowering of the level of the Bering Sea. They now think of themselves as the indigenous peoples of North America.

Land ownership is based on laws that define how to claim and prove one owns the land and the ability to enforce the ownership through courts, and if necessary, police and military action.  None of that existed when the Europeans came here.  Saying that the descendants of those 200,000 nomadic people own Canada today is like saying each of them is entitled to 12,330 acres of land and all the natural resources within them, and that all settlers that migrated later from around the world, and built Canada into one of the best countries in the world, are entitled to nothing.

Since there were no laws or records of title, the early Europeans used the established laws of France and England.  The land was designated as crown land or public land and was parceled out to natives and settlers according to an organized system.  Even today 89 per cent of Canada remains as crown land or public land (41 per cent federal and 48 per cent provincial) which includes all the resources existing thereon.  Anyone wishing to access those resources must buy the land from the crown or pay a royalty to the government (us).

Certainly, the first peoples and their descendants had and still have many legitimate grievances which must be addressed.  To appreciate their feelings, how would Canadians feel if the USA depletes their oil reserves in about 20 years and then decides to annex Alberta instead of just paying a fair price for Alberta oil?  Like the first peoples, we would be very upset but unable to stop them militarily.

The question is how best to resolve the grievances of our indigenous people. What are the alternatives?

  • Continue the low-grade civil war that has been going for 400 years to the detriment of both sides and the country.
  • Have a hot war to sort it out once and for all. The indigenous 5 per cent would surly lose and any survivors would be more distressed than ever.
  • Address the grievances where possible, replace the Indian Act of 1876, and bring our 5 per cent indigenous population into full and equal citizenship. Surely that is affordable. It is the right thing to do as well as a good investment. But as many governments have discovered, it is easier said than done.

Many past governments have tried and made some progress.  Many First Nations people are now having the same success as the general population, but social problems among First Nations remain much higher than the national average.  Having 634 chiefs who consider themselves legally equal to the Prime Minster but presiding over an average of 1,800 people each, makes the First Nations as a group ungovernable and prevents their full participation in Canada.  First Nations like to blame the 1876 Indian Act for the problems, but the 634 chiefs rely on the Act to hold onto their jobs.

Perhaps naively, but with the best of intensions, the Trudeau government made Indigenous Reconciliation one of its top priorities. Trudeau made Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) the first indigenous Minister of Justice. He later appointed Minister Jane Philpott to manage the daily affairs of the Department of Indigenous Affairs, and the experienced former Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennet to propose legislation to replace the 1876 Indian Act.  As always, agreement on the details of the legislation eludes the 634 First Nations leaders themselves. Black’s article outlines in detail how the SNC-Lavalin case became a sideshow to the real Wilson-Raybould issue.  He outlines how JWR’s views of the law would give the 634 chiefs control over anything to do with natural resource development anywhere in Canada.

That left Trudeau with the very delicate job of arbitrating between warring ministers and getting JWR reassigned to a file where her extreme views on indigenous rights would be less damaging.  And of course, in an election year, the whole thing became embroiled in partisan politics.

Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.

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  1. I believe, Hugh, that you were the only one to actually include the fact that JWR was the daughter of an hereditary chief in one of your SNCL articles. Your point, however, was that the PM may have been easing her out of her Ministries to avoid the oncoming conflict of interest over the conflict. The backstory uncovered by Mr. Black (belied by a totally in-control) JWR at the inquiry is difficult to believe. Given her upbringing, nevertheless, who of us would have turned out any differently? Perhaps, if the SNCL fiasco had never come to such a head; JWR would have been the absolutely perfect individual to work with Minister Bennet on replacing the disastrously flawed Indian Act? Why was the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs awarded to a non-aboriginal in the first place? Maybe JWR or Ms. Phiipott (doubtless less radical) would have been a superior choice?
    Of course, then the AG would have likely fallen to a member of the “old boys club”; and the PM would have obtained his DPA quietly (instead of facing an incredible uphill climb to the election). I have nothing but respect for JT’s attempt to change the way the feds are always composed; not so much for the way he handled SNCL (where an early, sincere apology would have made all the difference).

    • Gladys Middlebrook on

      I believe that the whole human race came from one source. Also JWR is being truthful. How to fix this mess I don’t know but it must be fixed and give the indigenous people back their dignity.

      • Hugh Holland on

        Gladys, I could not agree more. The question is how. I also believe minister Dr. Carolyn Bennet was being truthful. Many good people from all political parties have tried and failed. Maybe if they would work together and stop playing petty politics, more progress could be made.

    • Kevin Farley on

      “Why was the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs awarded to a non-aboriginal in the first place?” The best explanation I’ve heard was that to have an indigenous person head up that department, which is tasked with instituting the Indian Act, would be akin to a Black person being tasked with overseeing Apartheid.

  2. I suggest Mr. Holland that you do some research into Residential schools and the 60’s scoop before you spew conservative assertions from Conrad Black. Better still, please talk to people who are survivors. Or go to Banff Centre for Indigenous Leaderhip and enrol in a course to see things from ‘their’ perspective. I am saddened by the ignorance of this article and the safe house that it is coming from. If we are ever to see truth and reconciliation, we will need to listen. Listen to what has happened for generations to create the internalized oppression that now holds many Indigenous people hostage. It is slowly changing, thank goodness, as Indigenous leaders begin to emerge on all fronts. Can we please move forward and not backwards?

    • Hugh Holland on

      Actually Allie, I have spent a great deal of time on this subject and am very sympathetic to the indigenous cause. But at some point there has to be a conclusion. Most people have put Ww1 and WW2 behind them where the atrosities visited upon each side were far more severe.

  3. This has nothing to do with Lav case look at the other politicians involved and why the Liberals will not let others testify other than they might give even more evidence of interference and maybe even worse crimes. It looks to me like this writer is a liberal and campaigning to save the liberals from defeat this is poor journalism as the news should not be party orientated. I am not native but they have rights which as Canadians that have been here a long time should be given it seems like the Liberals prefer to bring in immigrants and support them before looking after issues with the people who made this country.

  4. Charles Wilson on

    Dear Editor:

    I’m not sure I agree with your correspondent’s premise or his conclusions. His estimates of pre-1492 north American inhabitants are much lower than reliable archeological evidence would support.

    His assertion that the absence of land titles negates all aboriginal land claims arising from their historical association with the land is at best specious.

    The relationship between families on the land and the land itself prior to the arrival of the European is much more akin to the relationship on European lands prior to the Enclosure Acts of the 18th century.

    Entitlement to land imposed both rights and obligations. The general theory is that the North American populations exceeded 5 million and that the lands whether hunter-gatherer or farm were arranged very carefully so as to provide both raw materials and food source. The fact that it took the arriving Europeans a very long time to understand this relationship does not in anyway negate it.

    An excellent starting point for anybody wanting to understand that relationship better and to put it into a local focus is Dr. Donald B Smith’s useful opus “Sacred Feathers” published by U of T Press, 1987.

    Since it was written a great deal more archeological evidence especially on the West Coast has uncovered an extraordinarily complex and workable society in existence 10,000 years before the founding of the Roman Empire

    I carry no brief for Canadian native rights but there is much to learn from the aboriginal relationship with our land in today’s world where we seem to be determined to exploit and destroy it.

  5. Hugh Holland on

    Mr. Wilson
    I have read extensively on this subject and visited First Nations territories on several occasions. There may have been 5 million indigenous people in North America, but the population in Canada in 1600 is estimated at 200,000 to 250,000. The official Statistics Canada website shows census details for the year 1800. It lists a total of 102,000 indigenous peoples in several communities from coast to coast in Canada.

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