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Is Reconciliation Being Railroaded?Is Reconciliation Being Railroaded?

Is Reconciliation Being Railroaded?

Indigenous land claim protests might spell the death of reconciliation if they continue threatening the rule of law, Father Raymond de Souza argues.

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Is Reconciliation Being Railroaded? February 20, 2020  |  By Raymond J. de Souza
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“Reconciliation is dead and we will shut down Canada until Canada pays attention and listens to and meets our demands.”

That’s Cricket Guest, an Anishinaabekwe Métis quoted in the Toronto Star at solidarity protests in Toronto about the Coastal GasLink pipeline. 

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are upset that the elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs – and all other Indigenous band councils along the pipeline route – have either endorsed or not opposed the pipeline project. Their objection to the decision of their fellow Indigenous chiefs is fierce and they reject the validity of the agreements those chiefs have made with Coastal GasLink and with various levels of government. So intense is their opposition that they have blockaded access to the work site and defied a court injunction ordering them to give way. 

The protests of Cricket Guest and others – shutting down the rail network in Ontario, disrupting ports, blocking traffic, preventing access to the B.C. legislature – are in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs against the elected band councils. 

It’s not easy to track all the factions is this inter-Indigenous fight, but a most admirable attempt to sort out the status of the hereditary chiefs is here.

Andrew Coyne summarizes that Coastal GasLink has been consulting with everyone who will talk to them, but that does not satisfy the hereditary chiefs, who seek not consultation, but a veto over all projects. 

Jody Wilson-Raybould, quondam attorney-general of Canada and minister of justice – the first Indigenous person to hold those posts – writes that all the structures put in place by the “colonial Indian Act” are inadequate, including the band councils. An entirely new governance structure for Indigenous Canadians is needed and an entirely new relationship with the Crown, which sounds like it would be impossible, even in theory, to get Indigenous consent to any project in the short or medium term.

All of which are thoughtful analyses of the complexity of the situation. Yet the matter is urgent. And much is at stake. Reconciliation may well be killed this month in Canada.

That is essentially the position of the hereditary chiefs and their supporters like Cricket Guest. No outcome, no matter how many Indigenous Canadians are in favour of it, is acceptable if the custodians of the land – in this case, the hereditary chiefs – object. Reconciliation means that they have a perpetual and universal veto. That is not on offer from anyone, nor is it acceptable to many beyond themselves.

If that is what reconciliation means, then reconciliation is dead. Hence the call to “shut down Canada,” which does not have a reconciliatory feel to it.

If the federal government, provincial governments, courts and police act in accord with, or defer to, that understanding of reconciliation, then the vast majority of Canadians – including a majority of Indigenous Canadians – will also declare reconciliation to be dead. If the choice is between killing that understanding of reconciliation and shutting down Canada, the choice for the former will prevail. 

Not far from where I live, the Tyendinaga Mohawks have camped beside the rail for 10 days in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en. They have claimed that Canadian laws have no remit on their reserve. 

The local police chief on the Tyendinaga territory is sensing that this protest is doing more damage than good. Arguing that the point has been made, he has asked his fellow Mohawks to cease the protest, not least because ordinary workers have been laid off due the rail blockade. He suspects that laid off workers may not be in a reconciliatory mood.

Meanwhile, the federal Indigenous Services minister Marc Miller entered the fray, hoping to keep the reconciliatory spirit alive. 

He wrote to the Tyendinaga Mohawk leadership, “that pursuant to the principles of the Silver Chain Covenant, I hereby agree to Polish the Chain with you and the Kanien’kehá:ka of Tyendinaga at a location of your choosing (on Feb. 15).”

The ceremonial gesture of Polishing the Chain, though, required an end to the blockade. Or so the minister seemed to suggest: 

“My request, that I ask you kindly to consider, is to discontinue the protest and barricade of the train tracks as soon as practicable. … I hope you will agree to this request and that we can meet in the spirit of peace and cooperation that should guide our relationship.”

Ending the barricade would be “practicable” immediately, I would suppose. A spirit of “peace and cooperation” will be harder to achieve. 

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