Thursday’s fifth ballot win that made RoseAnne Archibald the first ever female National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations sealed the Week of the Indigenous Woman in Canada.
Fittingly, it came only seven days after the wave of soul-searching national angst over residential schools that led to overwrought cancellations of Canada Day in some corners of the country, and long-faced looks of self-loathing in others.
At a minimum, Archibald’s triumphant indefatigability in breaking through what’s been decried as the “old boys’ club” of the AFN turned a certain tweet by the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Union from shocking to utterly fatuous.
Even as the AFN readied itself to vote in the election that brought Archibald to the headship of the national organization that represents 900,000 First Nations people, BCCLU boss Harsha Walia was on Twitter exhorting “burn it all down” in response to acts of arson and vandalism against churches mainly in B.C. and Alberta.
Thunder rolls of condemnation from Indigenous leaders such as former Senator Murray Sinclair, plus reports of police inquiries into whether the tweet counselled violence against identifiable groups, sparked Walia to illuminate her Twitter intentions. Her tweet was meant “metaphorically,” she insisted. She was not specifically urging the burning of churches. She wanted only to provoke generally setting fire to “it” – that vast pronoun encompassing the entire system of Canadian governance that includes such horrid historical offenses as creation of residential schools.
Right. Burn down the very “it” wherein a RoseAnne Archibald could, through her own mettle and the support of her home community as well as First Nations chiefs across the country, reach such a historic milestone in her 31-year political career. Could, as she said in her victory speech, “break the glass ceiling” of AFN leadership.
“Today is a victory, and you can tell all the women in your life that the glass ceiling has been broken,” Archibald said after two days of voting ended with concession by her final opponent, Reginald Bellerose. “I thank all of the women who touched that ceiling before me and made it crack. You are an inspiration to me."
It’s an inspiration that will doubtless be matched, without anything burning down, by Archibald firing the hopes of hundreds, if not thousands, of young Indigenous women to engage politically for reforms their communities want and need.
Nor need Archibald carry that inspirational responsibility alone. All of us, Indigenous/non-Indigenous/Unidentified, can take great heart in the promise of justice by this week’s appointment of Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary Simon. As a public republican myself, I see such monarchical offices fitting Lord Chesterfield’s description of another human activity: “The pleasure is fleeting, the position ridiculous, the expense damnable.” That said, let there be no question that Simon’s ascendancy to the office stands to elevate it to the enormous benefit of the country.
Pecksniffians who kvetch about her inability to speak French fail to understand that, as Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet took pains to point out, no one in Quebec cares if she can speak French. After all, appointment of the GG belongs to the Queen, and few in Quebec care about Her Majesty either. Simon’s rich and highly esteemed pedigree in Indigenous-non-Indigenous work, as well as her reputation for graciousness and calm, bode exceptionally well for her transcending any mere figurehead status. They excite a hope that lights the path toward genuine reconciliation.
Nowhere is the paradox of hope itself more evident than in the week’s decision by former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to leave federal politics rather than run again in an expected late summer or autumn election. Some are reading her departure as yet another triumph for petty vengeful politics or, as one solon said this week, “laying waste to anyone who crosses you in any way.”
Certainly, Wilson-Raybould crossed a lot of powerful petty people with her principled stand during the SNC Lavalin scandal. She herself, in her ripsnorter of a published farewell letter, laid ample blame on the toxicity of internecine politics and the quagmire of adolescent ego jockeying within Parliament itself. “I have not made this decision in order to spend more time with my family,” she said with characteristic (cheeky) bluntness.
I get the realism of that read. In her departure, however, I also tend to see….Wait. Full disclosure first. Since watching her during the SNC Lavalin debacle, I have become an unabashed journalistic fanboy of Jody Wilson-Raybould. Decades of reportorial discipline to put not my faith in princes (or princesses), break down when it comes to watching her do politics. Precisely because I disagree with her dialectically on many issues, I can’t but admire, to the point of a natural benefit of doubt, what I have witnessed of her courage, her perspicacity, her straight ahead candour and her die-hard integrity that we all yearn for in our politicians.
I reflexively take as a given, then, the truth of the hope she expresses in the kiss-my-carcass goodbye letter she released in mid-week.
Consider these words in her fourth from last paragraph: “For me—and for you, too, I believe—it all leads to the same destination: A stronger Canada and a place we can all proudly call home. A continuation of the work required to build the most diverse and welcoming country in the world with the most stable, accountable, and efficient government.”
Consider the hopefulness of those words coming from an Indigenous woman who has fought, albeit who has been obliged to fight, for what she has achieved and who now sees her achievements mirrored in the achievements of two Indigenous sisters this week, who sees those achievements pointing toward a place where the horrid wrongs of the past are recognized and reconciled so we can all proudly call it home.
Burn it all down? Nah. Let’s try something else instead. Let’s celebrate the Week of Indigenous Women. And then stretch it out for a year. And then for all the years to come.
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