Sunday, January 3, 2021

Decolonization: Is C-15 an action to encourage the gradual civilization of Canada?

Quoting from the Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

In 1857, the Province of Canada passed an act to "Encourage the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes". It provided the means for Indians "of good character" (as determined by a board of non-Aboriginal examiners) to be declared, for all practical purposes, non-Indian. As non-Indians, they were invited to join Canadian society, bringing a portion of tribal land with them. Only one man, Elias Hill, a Mohawk from the Six Nations, is known to have accepted the invitation.
The full text of that bill is available on Canadiana, a site hosted by my workplace where I am the sysadmin.

People who think of themselves only as individuals, as is encouraged in European/western cultures, will not see any responsibility for the past or responsibility towards the future. Even for those where that is the case, the reality is that Canada still exists today and its governing institutions still has aggressive and paternalistic attitude towards the nations that have existed in parallel with Canada since the British created these provinces and later the Dominion of Canada (see: Systemic Canada).

A conversation we should be having is whether we have a different understanding of the concept of "Civilization" today than subjects of the British Crown had at the time.  Are Canadians still subjects of "Her Majesty", or is it possible we have become something different.  And if we have become something different, shouldn't we change the underlying systems that govern us to reflect this change?

What is Canada?

To avoid confusion I want to clarify that when I say "Canada" I mean the systems (government, courts, laws and law enforcement, etc) which were created by the British as a subsidiary to be part of the British Empire by the British North America Act 1867.

When I say "Canadians" I mean those persons which the systems of "Canada" have granted citizenship.  I was born on this homeland and feel loyalty to the peoples of this homeland. I am a Canadian citizen, but I am not British citizen or a British subject.  I do not feel any loyalty to this foreign nation or their subsidiary government, and when this foreign nation and the peoples of this homeland come in conflict I will always choose the peoples of this homeland.

Other language biases

We need to be aware of biases built into language, with language forming part of the systems around us. Historically European anthropologists used the term "tribe" to describe human social groups that were not structured like Europeans had, but were just as legitimately understood as nations as European nations were. In most cases when you read the word "tribe" you should understand it in the same way you would think of a nation in Europe.  You may notice the difference in western cultures between the term "tribalism" (something that has a negative connotation) and "nationalism" (something that is granted a positive connotation).

What is civilization?

Do Canadians today have a different idea of what constitutes civilization than the British did in the 1800's?

Much of the focus on what defined a civilization was based on European worldviews, with the roots of the English word civilization coming from the Latin word "civitas" or city. Some Europeans suggesting that non-nomadic European style urban development was a requirement of being considered "civilized".  I doubt many would consider this a relevant part of the concept today.

Europeans thought of any society which was different than Christian European societies to automatically be inferior, and that forcibly converting other civilizations to become more European and Christian was not only civilized behavior, but was required to make these "others" civilized. Do a majority of Canadians still consider this to be civilized behavior?

When Europeans first started to take control over Turtle Island, it was the subjects of Christian Monarchs that were sent there by the Catholic Pope as part of a series of papal bulls that created the doctrine of discovery.  In many cases what these subjects found were advanced civilizations, but that was ignored because what they found weren't subjects of Christian Monarchs. Do Canadians believe that what the pope did was civilized behavior? (See: resources from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on this question)

If we take the example of the Haudenosaunee, this was a group of nations that joined into a confederacy similar to what the European Union eventually became within Europe. While scholars debate whether the first five nations (Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca) came together in 1192 or 1451, there seems to be consensus that the sixth nation (the Tuscarora) joined in 1722. That is almost 300 years of the Haudenosaunee nations remaining together.  The European Union was founded in 1992, but with Brexit it seems that union won't even last 30 years.

Canada was created as a subsidiary of Britain to rule over what they called British North America. Given the UK isn't capable of getting along with other nations well enough to remain part of the European Union, why should we trust a British subsidiary to be capable of getting along with the peoples of this homeland?

This all makes me curious to know if Canadians, even if living under 150+ years of pro-European government propaganda, would have a different evaluation of which nations or groups of nations should be considered at "the stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced." (Definition of 'civilization' from Oxford Languages).

The Formation of Canada

Many Canadians believe that Europeans came to Turtle Island, won a war against the inhabitants, and that this conquest was completed a long time ago. They believe that even if mistakes were made in the past, it has nothing to do with them today.

The reality of Canada is very different. Europeans set up many treaties with the many different nations on this homeland. Some of these treaties were clearly to only share the land in peaceful coexistence, and some look far more like rental agreements. In most cases the Europeans broke their own laws, and continue to do so today.

Canada is in violation of its own laws even if you only accept the European interpretation of that law.  It gets worse when you compare what the Europeans claimed to indigenous leadership when these "agreements" were being signed. Europeans regularly lied about what was in the text, even when not "negotiating" with the barrel of a gun.  This is why international human rights law is finally recognizing the need to require "free, prior, and informed consent". Treaty making, and the honoring of treaties, should not be treated with less respect than governments interpret contract law.

The Canadian government has quite a bit of work to do to to deal with all its ongoing and historical violations of domestic and international law.

Decolonization should be the goal

In my mind, decolonization should be the goal.  The systems which govern this land should be based on domestic laws and worldviews rather than foreign.  Those persons who wish to live in a European country have many options available to them in Europe, and should not be demanding that this homeland also be European.

I believe in this century that people are starting to recognize the nature of having a European derived system of government ruling over the peoples of non-European lands.  A typical dictionary definition of "White Supremacy" is:

the belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups.
If we disagree with the idea of white supremacy, then we should disagree with the idea that what we call North America (and many non-Europeans who already lived hear call Turtle Island) should be governed by European systems.

This does not mean going back in time. While indigenous civilizations have changed over time as all peoples do, many of the civilizations that existed prior to European contact still exist today. While the concept of indigenous self government is an appropriate early step, the long-term goal should be to remove the foreign European governance entirely.
This also does not mean that non-indigenous persons will be asked to leave (See: Decolonizing and landback: they don't want your pool).  What it should eventually mean is that anyone who is not currently a member of a domestic nation would go through an immigration process, and become a citizen of a domestic nation. I was born on this homeland, and should have become a citizen of a nation that is not foreign to this homeland.


This is going to be the hardest part of this change. While there are many people who feel they have waited long enough already, I don't believe Canada is at a stage to allow for some quick fix.
One set of opponents you will see are representatives of the Conservative Party who are opposed to the concept of "free, prior, and informed consent". This is the suggestion that Canada shouldn't need to treat treaty partners with at least the same level of respect that is expected with enforceable contracts. It is not surprising that this dishonor of treaty partners regularly ends up in the courts, and finally Canadian courts are acting in a less racist manner and recognizing when the Canadian Governments are at fault.

Another set of opponents I've seen are indigenous representatives and groups that are opposed to Bill C-15 tabled on December 3, 2020 , primarily because it doesn't do much to fix the problems of Canada. The First Nations Strategic Bulletin June - Dec 2020 includes an example of this discussion.

While I agree that the bill is only a tiny start, I have yet to be convinced that it is a backward step. Canada's design flaws aren't going to be corrected overnight, and at this point I suspect the vast majority of Canadians aren't yet even aware that Canada needs correction.

The Bill is quite small (Look for "Latest Publication" under Text of the Bill). It is worth everyone reading on their own before reading someone else's summary.
Most of the summaries I have read are much longer than the bill itself. This bill does not make major changes to Canadian law, but includes a copy of UNDRIP resolution adopted from the United Nations assembly and provides a mechanism to (in the future) amend Canadian law to be consistent with the declaration.  I don't consider it legitimate for the resolution text itself to be critiqued as somehow being "too much human rights" for Canada to be willing to respect.

This bill does not attempt to modify the Canadian Constitution, and clarifies that it remains consistent with the constitution. This is why it is able to be passed into law by the federal parliament and senate at all.  The process for modifying the constitution is quite hard, and I believe that modifying other laws to make Canada more consistent with human rights and other international law will be a prerequisite for any successful amendment of the constitution.

Russ Diabo correctly notes that Bill C-15 doesn't modify the constitution, and doesn't repeal the colonial Doctrine of Discovery within Canadian law. While I look forward to that change being enacted, I don't consider it reasonable to expect that to happen within a bill designed to start the process of making Canadian law consistent with international human rights.  Canadians generally believe they are citizens of a law abiding country that promotes human rights domestically and internationally, and it will be a gradual process for people to discover this isn't the case in order to move forward with fixing this problem.

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