Friday January 12, 2018

​Canada's original promise: Still waiting to be realized


Listen to Full Episode 53:59

As Canada turned 150, the final talk brought the series back home, with Indigenous education advocate Roberta Jamieson. Roberta was the first woman chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, the first Indigenous woman to earn a law degree in Canada, and she holds an astounding twenty-five honorary degrees. She believes Canada is at a make-or-break moment where it has a chance to recast its historically troubled relationship with First Nations for the next 150 years. She sees the hope for that renewal in the very moment of contact between settler Europeans and her ancestors: "Our people consciously decided to share. And we had a choice. We were the majority then. And we made a conscious decision to share. And to help people survive. So I think we still have that choice as Canadians. And I'm very optimistic and very hopeful -- and I'm going to work very hard to see that we live up to that promise." **This episode originally aired June 30, 2017.

"Canada was to become exclusively for the settlers. The settlers own 'home and native land' as Sir John A. Macdonald put it nearly 150 years ago. 'Providence has been pleased to provide us with one nation unbroken from sea to sea. To be one people with one common heritage and a common religion.' In other words, the new Canada would be an Indigenous-free Canada."
"We were legally made wards of the state, [and] regarded as incompetent to make our own decisions. The Indian Act gave legal authority to the government to take over management of our affairs and deny us our rights later our ceremonies would be banned by law. The then Prime Minister called them debauchery of the worst kind. We were imprisoned for dancing our traditional dances more than three Indians gathered together were subject to arrest."
"Duncan Campbell Scott [head of Indian Affairs] told a Parliamentary committee in 1923 that the goal would be to get rid of the Indian problem. He said: 'Our objective is to continue until there's not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question and no Indian Department'."
"Shortly after the government announced that it was throwing out the [1969] White Paper, it was announced that it was accepting a paper First Nations had put before Parliament and that was called Indian Control of Indian Education. We were thrilled by this victory. Then in 1973 came the Calder decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada revitalized the whole question of Aboriginal title, leading then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to say: you seem to have more rights than I thought you did. Well, we could feel it. We were building momentum. We had traction. There was going to be no turning back and there hasn't been any turning back. Ups and downs, but never turning back."
"I'm asking you to take an active role a supportive role. An active role in building Canada for the next 150 years. Find Indigenous movers and shakers in your area and ask them: what support do you need? Support Indigenous organizations and charities doing the kind of work that needs doing. Enroll in cultural competency courses. Call your Member of Parliament, talk to your Provincial elected representative, and ask: what are you doing to push real action in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation calls-to-action? What are you doing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? Do you know what it says? Did you know we've accepted it in Canada? And keep calling until you get the answers you the answers they give you is going to affect your vote. And tell the media when you think they are biased. Call them out." 
"First Nations established roots for the relationship that, unconsciously or consciously, infuses Canadian values still today. These are roots that explain things like Canada's preference for negotiation rather than war. Canada's comfort with social complexity. Canada's approach to immigration, which embraces diversity. It was from indigenous nations that Europeans learned about democracy and its ideas. European intellectuals wrote in great detail about that discovery, surprised that people were capable of governing themselves over here in the absence of royal rulers. They adopted many of our systems of decision making incurring encouraging the building of consensus. Our traditional healing methods, our approach to non-adversarial conflict resolution. So let's celebrate that. Let's celebrate how those Indigenous roots -- roots which already were growing deep in Canada -- have made Canada so great and different, and how they make us uniquely Canadian."

Us and Them - Canada - Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Jamieson is President and CEO of Indspire, the Indigenous-led charity for Indigenous education, and Executive Producer of the annual Indspire Awards. She is Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River, and was the first woman elected chief there, as well as the first-ever Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a law degree, from McGill University in 1976. An expert in alternative dispute resolution methods, she was also the first female Ombudsman of Ontario, a Commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario, and the first non-parliamentarian appointed as an ex-officio member of a House of Commons Committee. She has more than 25 honourary degress, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.



After travelling to five countries on four continents, the Us and Them odyssey finally brought it all home to Canada. I walked from my own apartment, in downtown Toronto, to the lecture hall at Ryerson University, in order to introduce Roberta Jamieson, and hear her talk about diversity from her perspective as a First Nations woman. Not long afterward, we shot the video recording of our interview in the backyard of Roberta's home, at the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, which is just a short jaunt west from Toronto.
Being home makes everything sounds so much simpler, even easier. No long lines at airport security. No more never-ending flights with seats so close together that it's impossible to read anything when the person in front puts their seat back into reclining position.  There is, however, a problem connected with the comforts and conveniences of being back home. Daily existence in a familiar environment can sometimes be just a little bit too comfortable. One of the most important spinoffs from travelling to foreign places comes when the traveller is forced to confront, and even reconsider, some of the convenient assumptions that are too often taken for granted.
Roberta Jamieson did that for me. I won't say it was always a pleasant experience. In fact, there were moments when her lecture made me feel uncomfortable, or even painful. But I will say that I was sincerely grateful for the wake-up call -- even when it hurt. She asked some extremely unnerving questions:
"What are you doing to push for real action in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action? What are you doing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? Do you know what it says? Did you know that it was accepted in Canada?
Of course, I did know about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its epic journey from one end of this country to the other, trying to uncover an ugly reality that most Canadians have chosen to either ignore or deny. It reminded me of the eye-opening art show in Johannesburg called "Can't Remember/Can't Forget". Roberta convinced me that it's going to be impossible to achieve any form of reconciliation with the Indigenous population of this country without first confronting and acknowledging some very ugly truths about what white society has done. It's not going to be fun.  It won't be easy, or even painless. But it's the only possible way for Canadians to aspire towards true diversity in "our home and native land".  READ MORE...

Watch the video of Robert Jamieson's talk presented at Ryerson University

Us and Them: Diversity, Division, and a World of Difference is a five-part series featuring talks presented in South Africa, Israel, India, Germany, and Canada -- all countries dealing with the reality of a diverse population. The series is produced by CBC IDEAS in partnership with  The Laurier Institution

**This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey, Greg Kelly and Paul Kennedy. Video by James Cooper.