This federal policy draft, attached here, marks a major shift in Canada. The new strategy to “quiet” Indigenous titles and rights is by mutual agreement: “in the spirit of reconciliation.”
Finally realizing the Supreme Court of Canada’s repeated emphasis on “reconciliation”, which can be negotiated, the federal government revised its policies away from denial and towards vague statements of recognition. Along a program of “the concept of reconciliation,” Canada has been advancing Final Agreements and self-government agreements with renewed urgency, since the Haida people’s success in gaining the court’s recognition of their land rights.
Streams of government agreements with Indigenous Peoples, including agreements about child welfare, education, compensation for forestry operations, health care, land management, governance, and financial obligations have now, in specific instances, conceded key areas of Indigenous jurisdiction to Canada. Indigenous ratification of agreements with Canada, or even provinces or territories, becomes a reciprocal recognition. Whereas most peoples and nations never gave their countries away, nor struck a bargain with Canada for shared ownership, in the absence of constructive arrangements these agreements specifically require an Indigenous party to recognize Canadian interests. Once they are signed, and funding programs have shipped, these agreements are not constitutionally protected and “reconciliation” has no legal character.
Since 2004 we have seen “reconciliation” enter the scene to draw attention away from unilateral assertions of Indigenous rights on the ground, and away from litigation to prove claims. Instead: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where no more charges were to be laid in the trial of the residential schools; the flopped Recognition and Reconciliation Act in British Columbia, where a runaway band of elected Chiefs purported to provide recognition of Crown interests in unsurrendered territories; even “reconciliation in child welfare” – a numbing phrase designed to force Indigenous communities to accept existing Ministry interference as the baseline for ‘moving forward’; and so on.
And now we know that many Indigenous leaders have been complicit in those programs while they were completely aware that this is Canada’s strategy to side-step the Indigenous right. It was the Union of BC Indian Chiefs that copied and distributed this secret draft policy document in 2004. Attached above, it has been scanned and transcribed with OCR to recreate the original document. The draft spells out the fact that Canada is in a perilous legal and financial place, with investment evaporating every time Indigenous Peoples win in court – and that future wins are stacked up like an avalanche waiting to happen – and a big diversion is needed.
“Reconciliation” is now entering every area of “Aboriginal rights” negotiations – rights which can be exercised as Aboriginal Canadians – but it is a function of assimilating Indigenous nations into Canada. No one is really prepared to stand up and say “we don’t want reconciliation,” for obvious reasons.
But in this situation, Canada is abusing the concept to shame Indigenous leaders and representatives into subjugating themselves to Canada. Their nations never joined Canada – they were invaded and looted by Canada. And now the self-proclaimed country, having thrown its borders up around all these nations, wants to marry the one it robbed so there can be no more talk about separate possessions and interests and the little matter of injury.
“Reconciliation” is the New Deal. Canada is trying to buy land – and buy the people who own the land – with the promise that it will share the wealth once it has the deed.