Justin Trudeau Not Fulfilling Promises Made to First Nations

Canada is about to see struggles like the one against the Dakota Access Pipeline within its own borders, says Pamela Palmater

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. Its been just over a year since Justin Trudeau was elected as Prime Minister of Canada and among his campaign promises was that he would negotiate with Canadian Indigenous people on a nation to nation basis, that he would also mount inquiries into murdered and missing Indigenous women and that his government would have more transparency. So, how has Prime Minister fared in his first year?

With us to discuss these issues is Pam Palmater. She is a Mi’kmaw lawyer and is a member of Eel River Bar First Nation. She’s currently holding the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Her latest book is titled, Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens. Pam, thank you for being here.

PAM PALMATER: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: So Pam, a recent report into possible sexual abuse of Indigenous women in, Quebec’s indigenous community by police officers did not find enough evidence to lay charges however in an interview posted in the Montreal Gazette on Thursday, the author of the report, government appointed independent observer, Fannie Lafontaine, suggested there may be systemic racism in Quebec’s police force in relation to First Nations. Have we seen evidence of this in Quebec and indeed across the country?

PALMATER: We’ve had numerous justice inquiries over the last few decades and they’ve all come to the exact same conclusion: that its not just systemic racism but its also overt racism. Physical attacks, sexual assault, against Indigenous women and girls across the country. And that the most recent inquiry the Ipperwash Inquiry found that its not just one or two bad apples in the police, the police force is infected with racism. Our problem today is that the government has never implemented any of the recommendations from any of these justice inquiries that would have protected us.

BROWN: So what has happened with the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and did Trudeau’s government deliver on his campaign promise of transparency?

PALMATER: Well, that’s a really good question because nothing has happened on the inquiry and this is part of the problem. So, that was his core promise that we would be involved in every stage of the process, and we weren’t. We weren’t involved in deciding who would be the commissioners and we weren’t involved in deciding what would be the terms of reference. Worse than that, however, was that the inquiry started at the very beginning of Fall. In theory, they have lots of announcements, but nothing has been established, there’s no staff, there’s no office, you can’t contact anyone and we have a very limited time for this inquiry and nothing has happened so far.

BROWN: Well, Trudeau also promised to negotiate with First Nations on a nation to nation level. Has that been fulfilled in any way. In terms of, for example, resource extraction on pipelines?

PALMATER: No, and I’m so glad that you raised that because if you see what’s happening at the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States, this is what’s about to happen in Canada. Before Justin Trudeau got elected, he said that First Nations people had a constitutionally protected right to decide what happens on their lands and what doesn’t. He, in fact, said that we had a veto. After his election he had started to backtrack and said, we need to develop these lands for everyone’s benefit and if you’ve been taking note of the media here in Canada, you’ll notice there’s a large number of pipelines across the country that are going forward and we’ve now created what’s called a treaty alliance. Its not just to oppose the pipelines in Canada but to stand in solidarity with the United States against the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well. So he hasn’t sat down with First Nations and talked about this at all. There is no nation to nation relationship as it stands today.

BROWN: So I understand that the government has been conducting some town halls across Canada on some possible revision of the Anti-Terrorism Act formerly known as Bill C51. This was an act brought forth by the previous Administration, the conservative government of Stephen Harper. So are you satisfied with the liberals actions on oversight on this particular act?

PALMATER: Not at all. Prior to the election, they said this was one of the first bills that they would address, the Anti-Terrorism Act because it essentially criminalizes our right to assembly, our right to free speech, our right to privacy and more particularly, it criminalizes what indigenous peoples do to protect their land and waters peacefully. This is something [inaud.] to consult with all First Nations in Canada on. Not this just this piece of legislation but all the legislation that was imposed by the previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper against the will and consent of the First Nation. He has failed to even take minimal steps to start that process with First Nations. Town halls are separate but in the Canadian legal system, we have a legal right to a separate consultation process that deals directly with First Nations Aboriginal Treaty and Constitutional rights.

BROWN: Pam, the Idle No More predated the battle against the pipeline in North Dakota, can you talk about the solidarity of Canadian First Nations with that cause and what is on the Horizon for Canadian First Nations in terms of major upcoming battles?

PALMATER: Well, I think the most significant thing to come out of the Idle No More movement was that it was a coming together of not just Indigenous people but also all of the [inaud.] in society. And that’s really historic cause prior to then, it was individual battles by individual First Nations against pipelines or mining or police racism and abuse. And Idle No More brought together Democratic institutions, non-government organizations, human rights, anti-poverty, you name it, huge ally-ship across the country. And what we see now is that all of the lessons learned and all of the connections that we forged during Idle No More is now coming together against what’s going to be an epic battle against the pipelines set to come into Canada and at the same time, those same strong ally relationships are what we’re using to help support the nations in the United States who are also opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Dr. Pam Palmater. She is a Mi’kmaw attorney she is also a member of Eel River Bar First Nation. She’s currently holding the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Her latest book you should pick it up is titled, Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens. Dr. Palmater we appreciate your time today, thank you.

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