Opinion

In a true nation to nation relationship, actions speak louder than empty promises

The Trudeau government has repeatedly indicated that it would implement UNDRIP into law without condition. So why then would Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould allow Justice Canada lawyers to appeal this case and argue against the duty to consult?

The Trudeau government promised consultation, yet picked up where the Harper government left off

Chief Steve Courtoreille and the Mikisew Cree Nation in Alberta launched the lawsuit that eventually led to the Supreme Court challenge. (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

In 1971, the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, now the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, presented our position paper "Wahbung: Our Tomorrows" to then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Our paper was in direct response to Trudeau's 1969 White Paper, which advocated our assimilation into Canada and the end of treaty rights. The government's position, in its pitch for total assimilation, was that "special treatment has made of the Indians a community disadvantaged and apart."  

Our position is the same now as it was then: we are sovereign nations with the inherent right to be self-determining, and we will continue to resist any attempts to diminish our Aboriginal rights, treaty rights and title.

When I heard the Supreme Court of Canada's (SCC) decision in the Mikisew Cree First Nation case — that is, that Canada does not have a duty to consult Indigenous Peoples before introducing laws that may affect constitutionally-protected Aboriginal and treaty rights and title — I was angry. I was angry because it feels that Canada has not changed since Wahbung was written 47 years ago.

We've come a long way, yet we haven't. In 1982, Canada took the bold step of including protection for Aboriginal, treaty and title rights within Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Supreme Court has continued to build on Section 35 and the legal duty to consult First Nations for decisions that might impact our rights. It is this legal foundation (in part) on which we have attempted to build our legally binding relationship with Canada.

Response to Bill C-45

Chief Steve Courtoreille and the Mikisew Cree Nation in Alberta launched the lawsuit that eventually led to the Supreme Court challenge after the Harper government introduced the omnibus Bill C-45, which included changes to the Indian Act and Navigable Waters Act. Those changes infringed on environmental protections and Aboriginal and treaty rights, and it was also the catalyst for the Idle No More movement. First Nations in Manitoba — and indeed all over Canada — rallied against the imposition of federal legislation over our peoples without our consent.

We should all rally together again, now — not only against this SCC decision, but also against Canada's paternalistic disregard for its constitutional obligation to proactively protect our rights.

The duty to consult before legislation is drafted will help achieve agreement and reconciliation of First Nations and Canadian government interests. This consultation has to happen as decisions are being made — not simply after. 

The federal government and its staff should not be unilaterally drafting legislation that will not only impact Section 35 of our constitutional rights but, also, the health and wellness of First Nations citizens living in Manitoba and the rest of Canada. These pieces of legislation, drafted without any consultation, impact sovereignty of both current and future generations of our First Nation communities across this country.

The government's resistance is especially disappointing given that Canada has, at least verbally, committed to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into law. Article 19 of UNDRIP says: 

"States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them."

The Trudeau government has repeatedly indicated that it would implement UNDRIP into law without condition. So why then would Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould allow Justice Canada lawyers to appeal this case and argue against the duty to consult? In a true nation to nation relationship, actions speak louder than empty promises.

The First Nations in Manitoba will continue to work with First Nations across Canada to protect our collective rights. It is what our past leaders and ancestors would want. They left us a road map decades ago in "Wahbung: Our Tomorrows." We must continue to follow it.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Arlen Dumas

Arlen Dumas was elected as Grand Chief to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in July 2017. A citizen of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from his alma mater, Mount Allison University, earlier this year.