The Globe and Mail: TANYA TALAGA SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Sacred law binds Anishinabeg to safeguard the land, water, four-legged creatures and each other. It is our duty to make sure the planet is protected for future generations.
There are 634 First Nations throughout the country we now call Canada, including 133 here in Ontario. Each nation is different, with its own laws, governance and ways of being, but we do share commonalities: the Indigenous laws that establish First Peoples as protectors of the Earth.
But this work has proved nearly impossible over the course of our relationship with Canada, which has been marked by violations of treaties and the rights set out in the country’s own Constitution.
Three provincial governments have recently shown just how deep this disrespect runs.
In November, Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan government introduced the Saskatchewan First Act, which asserts the province’s “exclusive constitutional jurisdiction over natural resources.” In doing so, it signalled its willingness to ignore Section 35 of the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms “Aboriginal and treaty rights” and obliges the Crown to consult First Nations when these rights could be adversely affected. While the government claims it will not abrogate these rights, the power grab has been enough to spur members of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to threaten to widespread blockades.
In the similar pursuit of autonomy from the federal government, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act passed earlier this month, after just two weeks of debate. Bizarrely, she defended her motivations by comparing Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa to that of First Nations under the yoke of the Indian Act, a statement for which she half-heartedly apologized, “if it was taken that way.” Onion Lake Cree Nation has already filed a lawsuit alleging that the legislation is “contrary to the spirit and intent” of Treaty 6, and chiefs in both Saskatchewan and Alberta have said they were not consulted before either bills were introduced.
In Ontario, meanwhile, the Doug Ford government passed Bill 23 – the More Homes Built Faster Act – in November, just a month after it was introduced. Despite efforts by First Nations chiefs to meet with Housing Minister Steve Clark first, the bill passed without Indigenous consultation. The audacity of Bill 23 builds on the sneakyomnibus Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, which was passed in the summer of 2020 in less than two weeks with basically zero consultation. That law eviscerated the need for any environmental assessments to take place on ecologically sensitive areas, which are home to endangered species, and has effectively allowed for the bulldozing of northern Ontario’s carbon storehouses in order to quickly develop the mineral-rich Ring of Fire region.
Both pieces of legislation reduced First Nations’ input to the merely performative. Bill 23 also removes requirements for public meetings on certain planning matters and the right to appeal certain planning decisions, meaning community members wouldn’t be able to challenge decisions made on developing land and natural areas.
Mr. Ford, Ms. Smith and Mr. Moe have all claimed at various points that reconciliation is important, but that sentiment seems laughable. It is apparent that they simply do not care about the rules of law built by Canada’s system that they were elected to uphold. Instead, these premiers are behaving like ridiculous, greedy children, choosing to be willfully blind about federalism and Canada’s self-professed creed of peace, order and good government.
By ignoring their duty to consult First Nations, their governments have shown their true colonial colours. First Nations are sovereign nations, as Section 35 enshrines, and they should be treated as such. Canada is a nation, after all, only because of the treaties that were signed.
Mr. Ford, in particular, has consistently ignored his province’s treaty obligations. His government continues to refuse to provide the necessities of life as outlined in Treaty #9. It refuses to settle the 1850 Robinson-Huron Treaty annuity case, even though both the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal have ruled against the provincial and federal governments. And recently, more than 7,000 acres of land were suddenly removed from Greenbelt protection areas; investigations have shown that key parcels are owned by developers who have made large donations to Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party.
Mr. Ford clearly feels it is necessary to get rid of ecologically sensitive wetlands and forests in order to alleviate a housing crisis in Ontario. Sure: Who needs wetlands anyway? Let’s just fill them in, so we can bring on higher risks of flash floods, forest fires, unsafe water and disease, along with a scorching hot planet.
First Nations are not stakeholders or lobbyists. We are the caretakers of the land for all who live on it. We don’t just deserve respect; respecting us is the law. Canada’s governments appear to be breaking it.