OTTAWA, ON — In phone calls on Sunday, several of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s cabinet ministers urged him to reconcile with former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould — the first indigenous person to serve as Justice Minister — and invite her to rejoin his cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister.
Indigenous protests across Canada have effectively shut down the Confederation’s industrial distribution system and passenger rail service across the country — and the cabinet is largely ignorant of indigenous political history (with the notable exceptions of Carolyn Bennett, the Minister Crown-Indigenous Relations, and Marc Miller, the Minister of Indigenous Services).
Naming Wilson-Raybould the Deputy Prime Minister — and positioning her as a likely successor to Trudeau — would be a small but meaningful demonstration of the government’s commitment to reconciliation with indigenous nations. Such symbolism could help in forging political agreements that formalize nation-to-nation relationships with the indigenous governments that pre-date Canadian confederation by hundreds of years.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in Northern British Columbia — who hold sovereign title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre swath of land that has never been ceded to Canada — have effectively vetoed the construction Coastal GasLink‘s $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast. It comes following similar indigenous vetos of Kinder Morgan’s Northern Access and TransMountain pipelines.
The RCMP invaded the Wet’suwet’en Nation nearly two weeks ago, arresting dozens of indigenous protesters and removing checkpoints that they had established to prevent the entrance of construction workers and equipment into the sovereign territory. The arrests have outraged indigenous people across the country, and have ignited demonstrations of solidary that have disrupted some of Canada’s most critical infrastructure.
Ongoing railroad blockades have shutdown VIA Rail service from coast to coast, including in the busy Toronto to Montreal corridor, while retail stores have been raising concerns about the now likely prospect of supply shortages of some consumer goods across the country.
The demonstrators are demanding that Canada recognize sovereign indigenous governments whose constitutions pre-date Canadian Confederation, rather than to conduct ‘faux consultations’ with elected band councils, which are federal entities that are constructed and governed by the Indian Act.
Band councils conduct elections on-Reserve, but the vast majority of band members refuse to vote in those elections, seen as illegitimately imposed. Those councils are not sovereign governments and lack jurisdiction to negotiate on the behalf of the sovereign chiefs, who hold sovereign and unshared title to the land.
For generations, it has been common practice for the federal government to defraud indigenous people by negotiating away their rights using Reserve band councils as a counterparty with whom to negotiate. But those band councils, which manage federal programs on Reserve territories, are extensions of the federal government.
It’s easy to see how federal ministers negotiating with federal Indian agents will undoubtedly lead to the defrauding of indigenous people, whose sovereign constitutional governments are often entirely excluded from the conversation — which further undermines the already farcical nature of Crown-Indigenous consultations.