From UK media today:
“One of British Columbia’s most influential First Nations chiefs has turned down an invitation to participate in a reconciliation ceremony with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to Canada, describing the symbolic ceremony as a “public charade” that papers over the Canadian government’s failure to keep its promises to indigenous peoples.”
The staff is currently adorned with three rings, representing the province, Canada and the link to the UK. Prince William is expected to add a fourth ring – engraved with eagle feathers and a canoe – that will symbolise First Nations in the province.
“Reconciliation has to be more than empty symbolic gestures,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs in explaining his decision to decline the royal invitation.
He had been asked to hand the ring to Prince William and invite the royal to affix the ring on the Black Rod. Last week he and the chiefs of the 115 First Nations represented by his organisation decided it would not be appropriate to attend or participate in the event. “The Chiefs-in-Assembly just didn’t feel that it was appropriate to feed into that public illusion that everything is okay.”
When the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, swept into government nearly a year ago, there was a sense of great hope within the indigenous community, Phillip said. Amid crushing levels of indigenous poverty, sky-high suicide rates and thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women, Trudeau had campaigned on a renewed relationship with Canada’s indigenous peoples. He vowed to repeal legislation that failed to respect aboriginal and treaty rights, committed to closing the wide gap in education funding for indigenous Canadians and pledged to address the lack of clean water and dilapidated, overcrowded housing that plagues many First Nations across Canada, among other promises.
“Yet that hasn’t happened,” said Phillip. Instead, the Liberal government has repeatedly ignored a ruling by the Canadian human rights tribunal that found the government was racially discriminating against aboriginal youth by underfunding the welfare system. Its first budget – billed by the government as making “historic investments” in indigenous communities – will not deliver the bulk of the funding until after 2019. “We’re sick and tired of the lofty, eloquent rhetoric on the part of Prime Minister Trudeau,” said Phillip.
A similar situation has played out at the provincial level. “The British Columbia government has proven to be absolutely adversarial to the rights and interests of First Nation people in the province,” said Phillip, pointing to the province’s efforts to fast-track the Site C hydroelectric dam, a C$9bn (US $7bn) project that will see an area roughly equivalent to about 5,000 rugby fields flooded in north-east British Columbia. A campaign launched globally by Amnesty International last month calls on the federal and British Columbian governments to withdraw all permits and approvals for Site C, over concerns that the mega-project tramples on the rights of indigenous peoples in northeast British Columbia.
Philip said the hypocrisy of taking part in a reconciliation ceremony was laid bare last week as the organisation’s chiefs gathered for their annual general meeting. “There were tears and gut-wrenching first-hand accounts of the tragedies in our communities. At same time we’re asked to participate in a reconciliation ceremony that for all intents and purposes would suggest there is a very harmonious and robust relationship between the First Nation people and provincial and federal governments,” he said. “And that’s an illusion. We decided that for us it wasn’t appropriate to participate in such a public charade.”
He wasn’t sure if other aboriginal leaders would participate in the event and stressed My tathe decision was not meant to disrespect anyone. “I apologise for any inconvenience we may have caused with our decision.”
The entire press release from the UBCIC can be read here: http://www.ubcic.bc.ca/royalreconciliation
Now here’s my view.
I was frankly overwhelmed when I read this. Let me tell you why… and in all honesty it’s a bit sad that such moral courage is so rare to see in leaders these days, that it leaves me rather amazed by it all.
I was in the courtroom the day the ruling came down on the Site C campers at historic Rocky Mountain Fort, an entire part of this saga that many new to the Site C debacle are completely unaware of. You can read the posts here for some back history https://lailayuile.com/the-case-to-stop-site-c-construction-links-news/
Grand Chief walks the walk. He is as unpretentious and real as it gets. I saw his reaction then and this is a man who feels and thinks very deeply. And clearly this was not an easy decision when faced with social and political pressures to partake in a ceremony clearly designed to show that things are different now…
Only they aren’t. And Grand Chief didn’t partake in the ceremony for the reasons so eloquently mentioned in the press release and the story above.
I wish we had a premier in BC with this kind of substance. And after an immense amount of reflection today I don’t think there is a leader of a political party in BC today.. and clearly not our new Prime Minister….that has this kind of moral courage either. I see a lot of selfies and photo ops but little substance. Little direction. So very little of that ‘real change’ Canadians were promised. Too many are distracted by the celebrity cachet of his looks and smile…and its getting old.
Nevertheless, Stewart Phillip gives me faith and hope… not for our elected leaders, but for those unsung among us who are working hard to stop what is wrong and make things right. Grand Chief, in not taking part in this ceremony while so much strife and as Jody Wilson Raybould once said, running roughshod over First Nations is happening… shone a light on all that is fake, all that is wrong and all that government will do to pretend it is all ok.
In fact…the ceremony went on and although Justin Trudeau has tweeted little of the Royal visit ( you know how he hates the spotlight) BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald tweeted this tonight:
Imagine that. BC Hydro, who has a ruling against Rocky Mountain Fort campers, who is suing, in addition to the campers that included Treaty 8 women exercising their treat rights,a woman who simply collected donations of food in a freezer on her private property for the campers, was represented at the reconciliation ceremony reception tonight. They are tossing rocks in the river, logged acres years before it was needed and are running roughshod over the First Nations most directly impacted.
If that doesn’t tell you how out of touch this government is…. nothing will. Anything for the photo op.
Now imagine if the elected members of political parties who were opposed to this project in opposition to their parties stance ( Jody Wilson-Raybould) , who wanted to see real change, actually found the courage to stand up and say ‘I will not support what my party has done’.
It would be a game changer.