Exactly seven years ago on February 15, 2007, Honourable Mike de Jong, the “then” new Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation in British Columbia released his 2007 Service Plan and Accountability statement, setting direction for the next decade for aboriginal people in this province. Since his mandate however, Métis/Provincial relations under the Liberal government has degenerated into a dystopia situation affecting current reconciliation prospects in Canada.
At the time, many Métis were celebrating to be included in De Jong’s touted ‘Accountability Statement,’ because up until that point, Métis were scarcely mentioned, if at all, in Ministry Service Plans. According to De Jong, the plan he ‘decreed’ by authority of his role as a Minister of the Provincial Crown was to be the continuation of the New Relationship with First Nations, Métis and Aboriginal organizations. His mandate signaled hope for better days to come in the relationship between the Province and Métis people.
His first promise was that “this New Relationship will continue as it began – based on principles of mutual trust, respect, and recognition of Aboriginal rights and title.” The Minister went on to state that “in conjunction with other Ministries across government, the Ministry will support the negotiation of agreements.”
The stark reality is that Minister de Jong and his successors, in their self proclaimed ‘advisory’ role, have had no plan for any relationship based on real negotiated partnerships, ongoing dialogue, or affirmation of Métis rights.
Behind the scenes, tinkering with Métis identity came to be very important to the government. The Province under De Jong’s leadership was on track to limit and streamline Métis identities and to foster assimilative development logic as Métis organizations came more into public focus. The Liberals appeared to favour co-opted Métis leaders that employed centralized administrative structures and policies that were divergent with Métis people and their local community needs and aspirations.
The Ministry arbitrarily began to support a one window approach to ‘being Métis’ through the Provincial Métis Nation of BC (MNBC) governing apparatus, a structure that imposed registry systems based upon racial criteria. Diverse Métis peoples and communities in BC and elsewhere with historic claims to sovereignty were increasingly appropriated as ‘rights bearing citizens,’ subject to the ‘benevolence’ of governments.
It became apparent that the BC Liberal government never intended to willingly negotiate or meaningfully consult with Métis communities. They continue to insist to this day that Métis people must choose their identities based upon narrow definitions, fixed boundaries. It has always been about coercing Métis people into a certain kind of life. These colonial attitudes and actions have come into sharp focus in the wake of recent events leading up to the human rights cases against both governments, on behalf of BC Métis people. In spite of reality, the Province of BC continues to dismiss meaningful, inclusive negotiation. They hire lawyers to divert or stall issues and tie down discussions in technical talk or propaganda.
In 2007, Minister De Jong also stated that “our goal is to bridge the social and economic gaps between Aboriginal people and other British Columbians by the year 2015.”
Next year is 2015, when Métis people will supposedly achieve equity with other Canadians. After seven long years of De Jong’s ‘plan,’ the dystopia reality on the ground in these communities has been far different, judging by a study on poverty at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a study last summer that included Métis children:
“Indigenous children trail the rest of Canada’s children on practically every measure of well being: family income, educational attainment, crowding and homelessness, poor water quality, infant mortality, health and suicide.” Métis children have well over double the child poverty statistics than other Canadians.
As a Minister of the Crown, Mr. De Jong committed himself and his government at that time that he was accountable for achieving the specific objectives in it. Instead, De Jong and his successors have failed in their role as leaders of reconciliation with BC’s Aboriginal people. For Métis, they have broken every promise they made to a Constitutionally recognized aboriginal people in Canada and the ‘New relationship’ legacy lacks any credibility.
More recently, in spite of social movements, legal rulings and increased public pressure supporting consultation with Métis communities, the Province continues to abdicate its fiduciary responsibility.
Governments across Canada would do well to recall that the sustainable agreements in Canadian history were grounded in indigenous resistance to settlement and real negotiation grounded in Indigenous agency and contribution, rather than arbitrary government ‘decree.’ Métis have a proud history in Canada as negotiators, in addition to resisting state or corporate encroachment as necessary. Several historical encounters come to mind:
The Treaty of Niagara and the corresponding Royal Proclamation Act in 1763/64 was one of the first such bilateral negotiations resulting from First Nations and Métis resistance. Then in 1817, following a clash at Seven Oaks, the conditions were created for treaty making when the Selkirk settlement infringed on the interests of the North West company as well as Métis hunters and traders. In another encounter, in the 1840’s, alarmed that the colonial government had authorized exploration and mining on a large number of tracts near the Upper Great Lakes, the First Nations along with local Métis first petitioned and later threatened to eject the entrepreneurs when their objections were not heeded. This led to the Robinson treaties that set the pattern for Post Confederation agreements in Western Canada.
The Red River resistance by the Métis in 1869 forced Canada to negotiate belatedly with representatives of the local community and to concede their inclusion in more congenial terms. This led to the establishment of the Province of Manitoba.
For a century and a half, successive Canadian governments, including the current Liberal regime, obsessed with clearing ‘encumbrances’ to settlement, have broken promises time after time with Canada’s indigenous peoples. They ignore history and function outside of historical, legal, political and Constitutional precedent in Canada. This is an issue that affects every Canadian moving forward. As at Niagara, as at Seven Oaks, as at the Great lakes, the Red River, and now in British Columbia in 2014, many people recognize that transformative change and reconciliation will never be achieved by high-handed government policies fueled by broken promises to Canada’s historic Métis.
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[ilink url=”[ilink url=”http://www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2007/sp/pdf/ministry/arr.pdf” style=”download”]2007/08 – 2009/10 Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Service Plan [/ilink]