By Letter to the Editor on July 12, 2018.
Kudos to our mayor and city council for creating a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and for including an Indigenous representative on the “Heart of the City Committee.” I was dismayed, though, to see a recent letter in The Herald criticizing the “Heart of the City” appointment. The gist of that letter is that we are all equal, and Indigenous people shouldn’t have any special consideration. This sounds democratic, but the fact is that Indigenous people do have special status in Canada. There are several reasons for this:
1. Indigenous people are the original occupiers of the land and international law for hundreds of years, despite numerous violations, has condemned the invasion of foreign lands without just cause.
2. British law since 1763 has recognized that it is necessary to reach agreement and sign a treaty with Indigenous people before settlement can occur.
3. Most Canadian treaties with Indigenous people were not the result of war, but were negotiated between free and independent nations. They are treaties of peace with an agreement to allow settlement to occur. Our local example, Treaty 7, also grants special rights to Indigenous people. These rights are further supplemented under the Indian Act.
4. Our Canadian constitution recognizes the special status of Indigenous peoples.
5. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, which our governments have agreed to, describes these special rights.
6. In a number of recent cases, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the special status of Indigenous peoples.
So Indigenous peoples are special Canadian citizens with special rights. Since 1867, we have done our best to deny them those rights using the twin excuses of assimilation and equality for all. It’s not surprising, then, that some Canadians still think this is the right path. But it isn’t. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission says it’s not. Our governments have told us it’s not. So we have to acknowledge this special status and encourage participation by Indigenous people in our governments and communities, which is what our mayor and council have tried to do. I applaud them. So should we all.
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