Protests to Black Rod Ceremony exemplify that Canada’s reconciliation with indigenous communities is not yet upon us
By Brady Coyle, Staff Writer
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge toured Western Canada last week, and while many Canadians were excited about their visit, not everybody was rolling out the welcome mats.
Part of Prince William and Kate’s visit to British Columbia was to attend The Black Rod ceremony, a gathering in reconciliation with members of B.C.’s indigenous communities. Prior to the event, Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), announced he would not be attending the ceremony, as a form of protest.
“The Chiefs in assembly felt it would not be appropriate for me to participate in a ‘reconciliation’ ceremony at this time,” said Grand Chief Phillip, in a statement on Monday September 26th.
The Black Rod is a ceremonial staff that was created in 2012 in order to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Before last Monday, The Black Rod had three rings on it; one that represented British Columbia, one that represented Canada, and one that represented the connection to the U.K. Prince William added a fourth ring to the staff. This new ring represents the connection between the Crown, the indigenous population and the province.
The problem with this ceremony for Grand Chief Phillip, and many members of the aboriginal community, is that they do not agree that this ceremony truly reflects the relationship between the indigenous population, the Canadian government and the crown.
“The current Crown approach of deny and delay cannot continue,” said Grand Chief Ed John, a First Nations leader who attended the event. “The status quo has not served indigenous people well.”
It is tough to disagree with Grand Chief Ed John when there are major issues affecting Canadians today and Indigenous peoples are not being factored into any decision-making.
Take the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline for example, one of the most pressing national issues over the past decade. One of the primary reasons the Federal Court of Appeal decided to overturn approval for the pipelines in late June was because Indigenous concerns had not been taken into consideration as previously promised.
“The inadequacies… left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well being, entirely ignored,” read the judgement. “Many impacts of the project… were left undisclosed, undiscussed and unconsidered.”
How can it be that, of all things omitted from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, it was the rights and livelihoods of entire indigenous populations? An even more concerning question is – how was the proposal approved in the first place?
While this approval did occur under Stephen Harper’s conservative majority government, there are many who feel that Canada’s current federal government, led by Liberal PM Justin Trudeau, has not delivered on promises they have made to renew relationships with Canadian indigenous peoples.
“We’re sick and tired of the lofty, eloquent rhetoric on the part of Prime Minister Trudeau,” said Mr. Phillip.
Justin Trudeau, who won a majority government in the 2015 federal election, ran on a platform that focussed on indigenous rights, repealing anti-aboriginal legislation, bridging the poverty gap, and investing more money into indigenous education efforts. So far, indigenous leaders, including Phillip, do not feel that Justin Trudeau and the liberals have lived up to their commitments.
So far the infamous, “Elbowgate” (the incident in which Trudeau was accused of having manhandled two opposition MP’s in the House of Commons) and restoring Canada’s relationships with foreign governments have dominated Trudeau’s first year in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). In terms of actual change, the liberal government’s first year in office has been one of the least productive in history, passing only nine bills, none of which involved indigenous rights.
“For a government that really talks about real change, and high ambition… there hasn’t been much change,” says Conservative MP Erin O’Toole. “They haven’t done a heck of a lot.”
And based on the statistics, change is needed. According to a study done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 60% of individuals who live on reserves, live in poverty. While the Liberal government’s first budget indicated that there would be investments in housing, clean water and education for First Nations people, the majority of that money will not be spent until 2019.
It is a step in the right direction that government money is being properly allocated to indigenous communities and reserves, however when help is needed imminently, it is difficult to justify a three year delay in providing economic support. However, Prime Minister Trudeau insists that Truth and Reconciliation is still progressing.
“Let me say once again: I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship,” says Mr. Trudeau. “We will remember that reconciliation is not an Aboriginal issue, it is a Canadian issue.”
It is true; reconciliation is an issue that affects all Canadians. Even Gord Downie touched on indigenous rights during the Tragically Hip’s final concert. While stating support for Prime Minister Trudeau, he urged Canadians to hold the Liberal government accountable for their promises of improving the quality of life for the indigenous population.
Hopefully, the continued promises from the Liberal government will result in renewed and stronger ties between Canada’s indigenous population and parliament.
While many of Canada’s indigenous leaders do not think the time to celebrate reconciliation is upon us, they do believe it is achievable. British Columbia’s Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson, who attended the ceremony, believes it was a step in the right direction. After the ceremony, he reminded Canadians and the Crown that there is still a ways to go.
“We must remember that reconciliation is not merely symbolic, nor is it a destination,” said Gottfriedson. “It is an action and a journey that must manifest in relationship building.”