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Opinion

Time for a new proclamation

Respect, sharing, co-governing is true founding law of country

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner</p><p>Indigenous pipeline protester Kolin Sutherland-Wilson speaks at an anti-pipeline rally in Victoria, Saturday, Feb.8, 2020. Protesters supporting efforts by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to stop the natural gas pipeline lit a ceremonial fire at the legislature. About 300 people gathered for the protest. </p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner

Indigenous pipeline protester Kolin Sutherland-Wilson speaks at an anti-pipeline rally in Victoria, Saturday, Feb.8, 2020. Protesters supporting efforts by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to stop the natural gas pipeline lit a ceremonial fire at the legislature. About 300 people gathered for the protest.

On Oct. 7, 1763, King George III of England issued a Royal Proclamation, claiming all of North America for himself.

Having just defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War, and worried about anti-British sentiment in the Thirteen Colonies (what would become the United States), he was attempting to extend his control and domination.

The problem was: the land he claimed wasn’t his. Indigenous nations lived there; they had governments, laws, and civilization since time immemorial.

Europeans, of course, were in the midst of claiming the world via the Doctrine of Discovery (also known as "whichever European arrives first wins the land"). This was based in the idea that terra nullius, or "empty land" could be claimed by any "civilized" person who set foot on it.

If all of this sounds unjust, it was.

King George’s solution to deal with Indians was to recognize they were "nations" with claims over the land (later called "title") but, as monarch, he held "dominion" over it and them. On one level, this was a recognition of Indigenous rights and land claims, but basically meant these were ignored or cast aside once the King or his representative showed up.

According to the Proclamation, the role of Indigenous peoples was solely to enter treaty and sell their land to the Crown "freely" and "willingly" at a price of the King’s choosing. In return, the King would "reserve" land for Indigenous peoples and "protect" them as his loyal subjects.

No one else — especially those in the Thirteen Colonies — could negotiate for land or enter into treaty with Indigenous peoples (a leading cause for the American War of Independence 12 years later).

Indigenous nations also could not negotiate the terms of the Proclamation. It was simply foisted upon them.

Cue, Canada.

The Royal Proclamation became law in 1867, forming the basis for treaty-making and the template for this country’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. Canada’s claim over every inch of its territory is based on the principle that King George III proclaimed everything was his, only his rules mattered, and nobody else did.

This is called stacking the deck, making the rules, and then telling someone to play. The game isn’t fair and it never has been.

So, for decades — since the moment Indigenous peoples have been able to hire lawyers — First Nations have spent countless hours and billions of dollars fighting the game.

Every battle — often ending in the Supreme Court — has represented another inch along this struggle.

This is why Wet’suwet’en land defenders in northern B.C. are being arrested as they resist the Coastal GasLink pipeline being hammered through their territory.

This is why four B.C. First Nations oppose the Trans Mountain Pipeline extension over the lack of consultation.

This is why Indigenous peoples are fighting the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine in northern Alberta, the frac sand extraction project in eastern Manitoba, and virtually every other resistance to land and resource projects.

Some Indigenous leaders support these projects, too, but often because they have little choice. The Indian Act, for example, makes economic livelihood impossible on First Nations — so what would you do if a company came and promised money and jobs?

Following the lead of King George III, for a century-and-a-half Canada has exerted its control and domination over anyone who stands in its way.

This is why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called in 2015 for a new "Royal Proclamation" to make Indigenous nations "full partners in Canada’s confederation, reject the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and fully commit to including Indigenous peoples in the governing of Canada."

The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called for virtually the same thing.

What would this look like?

It would look like what happened in 1764, when Indigenous nations rejected the Royal Proclamation and held a meeting at Niagara Falls. There, 24 Indigenous nations adopted the British into a legal framework, called the Covenant Chain, written in wampum, ensuring the two sides would share resources, protect one another, and care for each other’s children.

The most important part of the Treaty of Niagara was Indigenous nations and the British would govern collectively and consider one another in all decision making.

Another word for that is called respect. Sharing. Family. Co-governing.

That is the true founding law of Canada.

A new proclamation might be something Canadians want to call for. As more and more people reject the politics of control and domination and stand up against unjust laws and violent actions, the true values of Canada are becoming more and more evident.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

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