Open Letter to Industry – Joe Desjarlais

One sunny afternoon recently I chatted with a senior executive in the real estate industry.

He admitted to a lack of knowledge on Indigenous people.

His entire world as a business leader was oblivious to Indigenous people, then about 10 years ago, they opposed a development.

The idea came up they had to be consulted. This opened up questions like, “Do Indigenous people still have rights? Flashpoints like the recent Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain controversy and the divisive rhetoric overshadowed our discussion that afternoon. It brought even deeper questions into focus as we chatted.

He stated, why are at this place in the relationship?

I countered that most of the public rhetoric is more reflective of stereotype and ideology and misinformation and less by a search for common ground and shared knowledge informing relations.

This executive was thoughtful and revealed openness, empathy to do right by them and a desire to learn. He suspected that there is something more to the historical relationship that he and his staff needed to know to make informed policy decisions.

We chatted a bit about my own family history and that of Métis people.

The executive stated his uneasy feeling that governments have not done a good job in facilitating meaningful partnerships, that they were all words and no action.

I explained to him that there is a movement toward partnership model where Indigenous peoples, First Nation’s and Métis are partners in Canadas future.

I was reminded that one year ago, Canada released 10 principles supporting self determination and self government as the basis for future relations like economic development and other files. Recently the Province of BC released a similar document.

But they both have yet to act, to ensure that action is grounded in legislation, mechanisms and policies at the community level, by and for Métis as full partners.

I wanted to explain to him that for my Métis nation, governments and ‘national’ groups like the Métis National Council (MNC) have NOT been accountable to support the vitality of local selfdetermined Métis communities and the well-being of repatriating self-identified individuals through community knowledge partnerships. On a deeper scale these Métis leaders are looking for legitimacy but ignore a ‘history of dispossession’, lack of voice, subjugation and how this continues in Métis communities today.

In my Métis community in BC, Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan have still done nothing as a first step to recognize in law and affirm and facilitate Métis community self determination in areas of Métis control of economic development, resources and the environment among other issues like child welfare.

Instead these leaders drag their feet, still play identity politics with favoured national Métis “organizations in exchange for government ‘handouts’ while affiliate Métis groups like Métis Nation BC subvert community self determination by diverting industry funds meant for consultation and subverting proper community governance and jurisdiction and funding in areas like child and family and education.

Into the vacuum, we see ideology and identity politics abound. Surface arguments and politicized rhetoric usually erupt during flashpoints like the current Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain controversy, where people draw artificial lines in the sand and compromise and common ground is sacrificed. In the face of division, business leaders are now calling for governments to do a better job with Indigenous peoples and negotiate a middle ground, a shared stake.

What is industry doing to educate their executives on a deeper understanding of the historical relationship to speak to these important issues?

Métis traditions, including that of my own Métis nation with roots in MB- include inherent lawmaking authority and a tradition of negotiating with industry and Canada on the basis of sovereignty (land rights). Métis have negotiated and still do- negotiate from a position of strength. Academic James Tully put it this way: “Negotiations cannot extinguish the status of aboriginal societies of nations with independent systems of property and traditions of thought.” Tully: “There exists in Aboriginal and common law traditions and practices a cross cultural form of recognition of and negotiation between two different systems of property in North America.”

But the fact remains Government leaders such as Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Horgan still misrecognize and seek to limit Aboriginal and common-law traditions.

As an example, they handpick Métis organizations and dispenses “handouts” to co-opts Métis leaders in a piecemeal Métis nation “Accord” in British Columbia without proper consent of all communities as a cheap substitute for negotiating land and jurisdiction as the basis for Métis nation sustainability.

What about other Métis communities and nations with 200-year histories in BC with little or no connections to Manitoba? This is only just becoming clearer in BC with the completion of the Knowledge Partnership Project by the BC Métis Federation this past March, where a comprehensive report provided clear recommendations but governments so far seem to minimize and invite legal action by discriminating against our Métis members/people and our traditions.

Métis communities and nations have inherent sovereignty (land rights) and knowledge partnerships must inform relations. Canadians and their governments will yet have to face ownership and jurisdiction of First nations, Métis and Inuit systems of property.

Tully: “As a result, Aboriginal peoples cannot be brought under the sovereignty of nonaboriginal laws, institutions and traditions of interpretation without their consent.”

What are Métis fighting for in this time of reconciliation?

  1. Métis coexistence in Confederation and redress for past injustices including marginalization of culture, alienation from First Nations, subjugation within the state, and dispossession from land
  2. Negotiated capacity for self determination, self government and self sufficiency and respect for and protection of Métis nations
  3. Nation-to-nation treaty relationship where ‘partners’ (eg. BC Métis Federation and Canada) facilitate reconciliation for ‘partner’ communities and nation(s) based upon mutual recognition and respect for historical difference.

Are governments and industry taking steps to establish partnerships with communities and nations to facilitate better mutual understanding, knowledge sharing and advocate for policy that is right/best for community well being as well as needs of industry?

I wanted to tell this executive my hope amidst the heated pipeline rhetoric of the day – I have to believe that multi-national corporations want to be involved in something bigger than themselves and it is possible to enlist their partnership in the Métis movement back to self-government in all its forms, not simply a Canadian endorsed ‘national’ Métis org with no accountability to repatriation of historic communities and homelands.

I wanted to express my view that capitalism is here to stay and has brought many good things to both Canadian and Indigenous peoples. What is missing is a partnership model where capitalism is put to work for Indigenous people instead of working against them by exploiting their natural resources so that the wealth can be drained from their communities to line the pockets of corporations.

Métis are well equipped with the skills to understand how to bridge the gap and to help everyone to understand the concept of ‘sustainability’ in a new way, mainly through creating dynamic, creative and healthy homelands! Self determination is a key and echoing academic John Borrows, “Indigenous peoples must be partners in Confederation’.

I left this senior executive with a challenge. I explained that increasingly, industry is realizing it takes education, intention and planning to build economic partnerships that are grounded in a search for common ground, relevant to the needs of industry as well as what is right/best for Indigenous communities within their own unique traditions.

BC Métis Federation can help government officials, executives and staff – wherever they may live- to catch this vision and show them how it is in their best interests to work with a principled way- this means the language of partnership.

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