By Joey Krackle
The Anishinabek leadership has a proud history of emphasizing the need for government to renew its relationship with First Nations. In August, Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day’s announcement of a historic accord with the province of Ontario is the result of a long period of discussions and is a concrete step and sterling example in building new relationships with government.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair predicted that Canada is headed for conflicts similar to the Oka crisis unless Canada’s political leaders commit to renewing the country’s relationship with indigenous people during an interview on APTN on September 29, 2015.
He laments that although the TRC historical report on Indian residential schools was released a little over two months ago, and caused a nation-wide reaction and urgent calls came to address and fix the relationship with indigenous people, the TRC and its recommendations have nearly been forgotten in this election campaign.
During the APTN interview, Chief Justice Sinclair stated “Right now there is a lot of complacency among the political leadership in this country that they feel the pressure is not there anymore, the need for attention is not there anymore and I think people need to be careful because there is growing awareness of rights among young Aboriginal people and that has been fed by court decisions recently which have recognized the rights of Aboriginal communities.”
He predicted that “The result is we don’t have a lot of leeway when it comes to ignoring the plight of Aboriginal people and change is going to have to be part of the discussion going forward.”
The TRC issued a list of 94 recommendations which provided a road –map for Canada to finally fix the relationship. The Conservative party has in essence rejected the recommendations, while the Liberals, NDP and Greens have accepted them all.
Justice Sinclair emphasized that the continued avoidance by the political leaders to take the issue head-on and the simmering tensions over resource development projects that could produce serious confrontations. He asserted:
“With the current climate of discussions around oil extraction and resource development and the desire by some within industry and government to ignore Aboriginal rights and allow those kind of activities to take place without respecting those rights is certainly going to result in there being a reaction from the Aboriginal community, particularly among young indigenous people.
Environmental issues are at the forefront of a lot of thinking in Canada and Aboriginal people have been part of the debate. I am concerned that if we fail to see the importance of changing the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this country, and in particular Aboriginal people and the governments of this country, that we will be setting ourselves up for there to be more and more confrontations.
“My concern is that if we don’t come to terms with the relationship question, we are going to have another Oka.”
Justice Sinclair is not alone in his concern that political parties cannot continue to ignore Indigenous issues and Section 35 rights.
Professor Timothy Stanley of the History department of the University of Ottawa stated that he believes “that racism is the reason political parties are ignoring Indigenous issues on the campaign trail” while being interviewed on the APTN broadcast of October 1, 2015. He emphasized that the Indigenous people are the fastest growing population of young people in Canada and that the failure to address treaty and Aboriginal rights cannot be ignored.