In a talk entitled “Colonial Canada 101,” members of Defenders of the Land, a cross-Canada network fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples, exposed the audience to the origins and manifestations of the injustice faced by indigenous peoples in Canada today.
Former Daily editor Martin Lukacs and Courtney Kirkby, activists who work in the Barriere Lake community five hours northwest of Montreal, led the workshop. They spoke on the existence of an alternate Canadian history to the one taught in schools, a history of malicious imperial agendas, and of repression of Native people by the Canadian government.
“One of the aims of the workshop is to help people to understand what the government’s role has been in propagating problems and not creating solutions,” explained Lukacs
A pattern brought up by Lukacs and Kirby during the workshop was the Canadian government’s systematic attempts to either repress Natives or assimilate them. They described how the Indian Act of 1876, which remains a part of the Constitution today, was designed to transform individual Natives into “wards of the state” with no Native-specific rights.
Lukacs referred to the Indian Act as “assimilation 2.0” and referred to the reservations it designated for Natives as “little factories for their demise.”
Kirkby and Lukacs explained how these patterns of oppression have continued into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
“Pierre Trudeau is supposed to have been a good prime minister,” said Lukacs, describing Trudeau’s reservations toward the 1969 White Paper that proposed the abolition of the Indian Act. “But he believed that since Natives faced discrimination, they should be assimilated.”
Kirkby brought the discussion back to Montreal when she announced the Barriere Lake community had received that morning notice that it would lose its right to internal governance and would be forced to hold monitored elections.
One of the most striking points during the workshop was that Canada continues to violate Native rights even though they are firmly established under Section 35 of the Constitution.
“The Canadian government is in violation of its own laws,” said Lukacs. “Section 35 is talked about as being a treasure chest or an empty box. The Canadian government wants it to be an empty box.”
Canada remains one of three countries, with the U.S. and New Zealand, which have not signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.