November 19th, 2018

Indigenous people’s rights haven’t been upheld

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.

Dave Sheppard


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13 Responses to “Indigenous people’s rights haven’t been upheld”

  1. biff says:

    clearly, something is amiss. there appears to be no lack of money going to various first nations throughout the land, but there is significant and widespread poverty among too many first nations. meanwhile, the ability of first nations to live in a traditional manner, off the land, so to speak, is consistently marginalised and imperiled by callous, corrupt, careless and greedy mining practices that undermine environmental health, and consequently, the health of entire communities. as this is underwritten by gov’ts, it can be interpreted as acting against the ability of first peoples to maintain their cultures.
    it is likely that not all natives wish to live “traditionally”, but it is imperative that they (perhaps even all people) have an opportunity to choose whether to buy into consumerism, or to choose the preeminence of nature. to that end, there needs to be protections of lands – even if such lands at some future time show they hold mineral “wealth” of some sort – that allows one to sustain themselves “off the grid” and away from the creeping madness that has turned into a stupid trampling of once healthy and diverse lands.

  2. Dennis Bremner says:

    So Mr. Sheppard, does indigenous rights extend to Lethbridge having to look after indigenous drug addicts too or is that something the indigenous communities should be doing? Should we be suffering the consequences of increased crime, deterioration of property values etc from this group because they are “special”or should this group be under indigenous care? Just curious if you can separate historical wrongs by one group from present wrongs of another group. Indigenous leaders appear to have plenty of time to expand land claim lawsuits but no time to look after the weakest in their community which negates “special” to me. It would appear they find it much easier to bar offenders from their tribe and reserves and ignore their spiritual,medical and physical issues with ease.

  3. chinook says:

    For all the money we pour into our indigenous people, this sector of society never seems to have enough to create success for themselves. In large this has to do with corruption. I’m fed up reading about the huge sums paid to chiefs and council, money that goes ‘missing’; lack of fiscal accountability. Rather than show honor and care for its people, leaders seem to succumb to greed; every man for themselves and end result is people suffer. Many of the homes are an eye sore; too many people living meager existences or squalor, succumbing to drugs, alcohol; thieving and terrorizing surrounding communities.
    This kind of scenario is contrary to all the talk about spirituality, living in harmony with nature etc. What I see on the streets or Lethbridge are too many lost looking natives who have left their reservation and who have no clue on how to conduct themselves or contribute to our society yet have the nerve to blame us for their problems. I don’t even like to go the the library anymore because they’ve taken it over; not there to read books or gain higher knowledge; but a hangout where they wile the days away doing drugs and with that scaring away people that should be there.

  4. phlushie says:

    The biggest problem we have is that everyone wishes to be special, and the climb to become “more special” is hitting many groups, organizations and affiliations. And really to be special, you have to have a law supporting you. Then we have “hate laws” because other groups that are not considered special react to the “special privileges” those recognized groups have. Like it or not we have a caste system in Canada, where some are better than others and have a higher social status. This has continued in history for as long as man has existed and I don’t believe it will ever change.

  5. IMO says:

    It didn’t take long, did it, Mr. Sheppard, for settlers, lacking in factual historical and contemporary colonial history to display a total lack of ignorance concerning the matters you address in your letter.


    • biff says:

      imo, while i agree with your assessment, perhaps it is not surprising there would emerge a broader backlash as a consequence of conferring a special status to a group, whether supported in legal principle or not. i recognise the problem of prejudice, ignorance and hater opinion; these frail traits remain deeply embedded in too many. notwithstanding that issue, would you not agree that special status for one group relative to all others will mostly foment divide, suspicion, anger, and more? put another way, does special status not undermine the principle of equality?
      meanwhile, i can honestly say that on a personal level i have no worse dealings with natives than with any other group; idiots and fools exist in roughly equal percentages in every package. moreover, i can say that there has been no group more damaging than the giant corporate entities that are big pharm/big chem/big agriculture, finance/banking, and mining. i will further add that conferring the status of personhood on these beasts degrades our humanity as much as those entities degrade the planet.

      • IMO says:

        biff: special status? In view of the information contained in the following, what are you referring to?

        • biff says:

          i see special status as one thing, and the right to self determination another. i agree with the right to self determination. breaking free of the sad system that people erroneously see as democracy will be difficult, and the more there is a threat to this system that primarily upholds the positions of privilege, power and wealth for a select few, the more likely rights/freedoms will be encroached upon even further.
          what i am feeling with regard to this conversation is that the right to self determination is a better brand than is special status.

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