Starting in 2007, officials with the Department of Justice and the former Indian and Northern Affairs spied on Gitxsan activist Cindy Blackstock, after she filed a human rights complaint that alleged Canada’s treatment of Indigenous children was discriminatory.
In late 2012, while young Indigenous activists were leading Idle No More — the largest peaceful social justice movement since the 1960s — the federal government profiled the movement’s leaders and provided regular security briefings to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
In 2018, Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan published Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State, which studied thousands of documents from the RCMP, CSIS, and defence ministry. They found that Indigenous peoples have been regularly targeted and classified as "national security threats" — particularly when they resist Canada’s energy and resource extraction projects.
"Indigenous peoples have historically been criminalized and targeted and labelled as terrorists," agrees Mi’kmaq lawyer and Ryerson University Prof. Pamela Palmater.
On Thursday, during a federal leaders election debate, Andrew Scheer — a man whose political party has the support of one-third of Canadians, according to recent polls — was asked why Conservative senators did not support Bill C-262. It would have ensured Canadian law conformed to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"There are many laudable goals within this piece of legislation, many things that a Conservative government will support, that I will support as prime minister. But 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," he said.
And, with that, Scheer wrapped up history in a bow: in 10 seconds, the Conservative leader framed Indigenous peoples as terrorists, anti-Canadian, and counterproductive.
Name me one time in Canadian history in which Indigenous peoples have invaded Canadian territories, blown up a Canadian building or murdered Canadians to justify a political goal. It has never happened.
Indigenous peoples have stood up against land theft or the violation of their rights — such as at Oka, Ipperwash, Burnt Church, and Elsipogtog — but those events featured Indigenous peoples standing on their own land while the might of Canada’s police and military rained down on them.
To use the language of terrorism when describing Indigenous people is irresponsible, divisive, and inappropriate. If anything, Indigenous people have been the ones terrorized.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a document intended to give countries a path out of conflict with Indigenous peoples, encouraging the full participation and partnership of Indigenous nations with countries they live alongside and share territories with.
The declaration does not give anyone "veto" power over anything, but requires countries to include Indigenous partners while recognizing Indigenous peoples have the right to politically and culturally express themselves with their own governments and laws.
It, for example, commits governments to work non-violently with Indigenous peoples on such things as energy policy, land use and laws.
It also means violent policies, such as the Indian Act, cannot exist under the declaration, because one of its primary articles is Indigenous peoples govern themselves. Indigenous peoples must run their own affairs, write their own laws, and design their own societies — whatever these look like. Canada therefore must act as an equitable partner in a relationship and eliminate laws that define it as a dominating dictator that makes all the rules.
This is hard to imagine, because nothing even close to it has happened in Canadian history.
There is one reason why the declaration was not implemented: Canada won’t give up power over Indigenous nations. Canada wants to dictate everything to Indigenous peoples, and will work only with those who agree with it. Everyone else is a terrorist.
Scheer is sure to bring up time and time again during this election campaign the idea that some Indigenous leaders "want" energy projects and "one group of individuals, one Indigenous community" will evoke their constitutional right to stop projects that impede on their rights.
This is possible; not all Indigenous nations think the same, act the same, or agree. There are more than 640 First Nations, and hundreds more Métis and Inuit communities.
Still, in all of this diversity, most Indigenous cultures hold some collective values: the land is sacred, water is important to survival, and anything that threatens these might not be the best choice for the future.
Pipeline and energy projects that compromise the environment aren’t a choice. They’re a reality when dealing with a nation that imposes laws and policies that hammer you into poverty and refuse to allow you to have an economy or way of life.
Indigenous nations aren’t holding each other hostage, they are standing up for each other to continue to live, prosper and grow.
Scheer doesn’t seem to understand this. And for the record, neither does Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who seems committed to driving through the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and arresting whomever stands in its way.
Standing in the way now are words such as terrorist and hostage, with the future of Canada at stake.
And the campaign’s just beginning.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.