During the Macleans/CityTV federal leadership debate, Andrew Scheer, was asked whether he would implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada if elected. While he did indicate in his response that he found UNDRIP to be an important provision with “many laudable goals”, he also said the following:
“We cannot create a system in this country where one group of individuals, one Indigenous community, can hold hostage large projects that employ so many Indigenous Canadians.”
This sort of language is a continuation of centuries-old rhetoric of Indigenous people hindering settler progress.
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Let’s set aside the irony of a phrase like “Indigenous Canadians” for now. Are you truly Canadian if it was forced upon you, if you had no choice whether your homelands ended up being included in what is now the boundaries of Canada? That’s a topic for another day.
As I was saying, for centuries, settlers have viewed the Indigenous people as being in the way. In the way of European resource extraction, in the way of European land ownership, in the way of European infrastructure building.
Indigenous people were relocated onto reserves to get them out of the way of European farmers and a national railroad. The Red River Métis were forced off their land when it was assigned to European settlers, despite the Métis already living there. Inuit customs were criminalized and their spiritual ways Christianized so that settlers could access mineral resources in the North.
But it’s not just the government that views the Indigenous peoples as obstacles. Contemporary Canadian attitudes toward Indigenous peoples reflect this, too. When Canadian people frame Indigenous people as criminals, primitive, lazy, drunk, and burdensome, they frame them as a nuisance. They use myths of free taxes and free education to perpetuate their beliefs of the Indigenous people as interfering with the rest of Canada. After all, if Canada spent less money on Indigenous people, there’d be more money for other initiatives, or lower taxes, for that matter.
And that attitude is heightened when they hear of and see Indigenous people asserting authority―whether it’s the Mohawk defending their ancestral burial grounds or the Wet’suwet’en protesting a pipeline through their territory.
The colonial government of Canada has always viewed Indigenous people as being in the way. And general Canadian perspectives support them in their efforts to do whatever they can to undermine Indigenous sovereignty in order to bolster Canadian sovereignty.
And Scheer’s attitude means none of this will change under a Conservative government.