While the state arrests land defenders and the press, a new report highlights government apathy toward climate change

Josh Kaye

Josh is the main author of Northern Currents – A Leftist perspective on Canadian politics. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow on Twitter at @ncjoshkaye.


An all-to-familiar juxtaposition has arisen with the recent arrests of Indigenous land defenders and journalists by the RCMP. On the one hand, we have politicians like Justin Trudeau and John Horgan insisting on the importance of climate change and that we must act now. On the other, these same politicians buy or approve new pipelines, grant fossil fuel subsidies, and arrest protestors.

Under the cover of catastrophic flooding that displaced thousands of people in British Columbia, the RCMP saw their opportunity and seized it. While most of us, including the media, were hyper-focused on these mass-flooding events (how could we not be?), the RCMP flew about 50 officers to a remote service road to arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders.

The RCMP was heavily armed, equipped with machine guns, military equipment, K9 units, and even threatened to use a chainsaw to break in to a building to “extract unarmed Indigenous land defenders inside.” Defunding the Police has never looked so good as now.

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All of this for a pipeline that could have been re-routed. All of this while Wet’sewet’en hereditary chiefs were in the process of finding a diplomatic solution.

Lessons learned?

More recently, The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development have released a new report, Report 5 – Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change. The report was very critical of Canada’s (in)action on climate change, stating:

Canada’s record on climate change should be judged not only on the
targets and commitments that Canada has made over the years, but also
on its actions. Despite commitments from government after government
to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past
3 decades, Canada has failed to translate these commitments into real
reductions in net emissions. Instead, Canada’s emissions have continued
to rise.

Repeated commitments, strategies, and action plans to reduce emissions in Canada have not yielded results. According to Canada’s 2021 National Inventory Report, Canada’s emissions were 730 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, while its target for 2020 was 607 megatonnes. Canada’s new target for 2030 equates to approximately 406 to 443 megatonnes. Despite progress in some areas, such as public electricity and heat generation, Canadian emissions have actually increased by more than 20% since 1990.

On our current track, Canada will come up short on the goals of the Paris Agreement, that is, keeping global warming below 1.5-2 degrees: “current global commitments fall far short of [the Paris Agreement], leading to projections of warming by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.”

The report does acknowledge that Canada has made some progress in “decoupling emissions from population growth and its gross domestic product.” Canada’s emissions have slowed down relative to population and economic growth. At the same time, it finds policies such as Trudeau’s buying of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion as being “incoherent” with progress toward averting climate change.

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Luckily, it isn’t all doom and gloom. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown what strong, concerted government action can do for large-scale societal problems. If our governments were serious about dealing with climate change, they could invoke emergency measures to get things done, rather than insufficient market-based remedies like the carbon tax.

Market-based remedies miss the underlying issues of our economic system that have created the climate crisis. Our economic system relies on constant, never-ending growth and consumption, on a planet with finite resources. This inherent contradiction of capitalism is manifesting itself in the form of climate change.

Provincial problems

Another core issue related to climate change is the infiltration of economic interests into our democratic systems. Even our left-leaning, social-democratic parties (in name at least) are highly susceptible to this process.

For a clear example, take a look at the career of Mike Farnworth, BC’s Minister of Public Safety. Previous to his career in politics Farnworth worked for energy and resource extraction companies like CP Rail, Gulf Oil, and Mt. Isa Mining. Is it really that surprising that the BCNDP, and indeed it’s federal counterpart, has sided with large energy companies? Or that they have remained relatively silent about the crackdown on Wet’sewet’en protesters, Hereditary Chiefs, and journalists?

Is that not an obvious example of large corporations exerting influence into our democratic institutions? The RCMP are simply there to do the bidding of large corporations, in this case.

The Maple reports that “the B.C. Civil Liberties Association published a letter sent by Farnworth to the RCMP’s ‘E’ Division in January 2020 which authorized the temporary redeployment of police resources to ‘maintain law and order’ in the construction area of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.” According to the same report, David Milward, a law professor at the University of Victoria said that “even if such a directive was not issued, said Milward, it would still be appropriate for Farnworth to speak up publicly if he believed the police’s conduct was inappropriate or unlawful.”

This is emblematic of a larger shift within the NDP over the last 20 years. In an effort to recover from near-collapse at the polls in the 90’s, the NDP sought to meet voters where they were at and moderated their platform and image. This has culminated toward the present day, in which the party boasts many small business owners as elected MP’s and MLA’s.

Some of us, with more socialist sensibilities, would say this shift has gone way too far. It’s one thing to meet voters where they are at, but not at the expense of major issues of climate change and Indigenous reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a sham to our political leaders

Josh Kaye

Josh is the main author of Northern Currents – A Leftist perspective on Canadian politics. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow on Twitter at @ncjoshkaye.

Given the recent events in which Wet’sewet’en land defenders were arrested by BC’s militarized RCMP, it is obvious now that what we call reconciliation is a sham, in the most literal sense of the word, when spoken of by our political elites.

Reconciliation has a double-meaning in Canada. To most of us, it refers to “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country,” as defined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Photo: Gidimt’en Checkpoint Facebook

This implies a nation-to-nation relationship – between many nations in fact – in which each nation stands on equal footing. Indeed, many reconciliations are required to overcome the Canadian state’s colonial acts of aggression toward Indigenous communities.

Unfortunately, our political leaders have another deficient definition of reconciliation though. What they want to reconcile are the contradictory interests between Capital and Indigenous self-determination. Ultimately, our political leaders, embodied by the Canadian state, side with Capital.

RCMP arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders

Under the cover of catastrophic flooding that displaced thousands of people in British Columbia, the RCMP saw their opportunity and seized it. While most of us, including the media, were hyper-focused on these mass-flooding events (how could we not be?), the RCMP flew about 50 officers to a remote service road to arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders.

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At least 14 have been arrested by the RCMP so far.

The RCMP was heavily armed, equipped with machine guns, military equipment, K9 units, and even threatened to use a chainsaw to break in to a building to “extract unarmed Indigenous land defenders inside.”

All of this for a pipeline that could have been re-routed. All of this while Wet’sewet’en hereditary chiefs were in the process of finding a diplomatic solution:


Surely the cops could be put to better use, given that the province is under a state of emergency due to mass floods driven by climate change? Nope, the interests of capital always prevail, it seems. The RCMP are simply doing the bidding of Coastal Gaslink.

It’s almost a yearly ritual at this point. Land defenders make a stand and claim what is theirs, and soon enough RCMP swoops in to crush democratic expression. Maybe it’s possible that policing isn’t the solution to all of our problems?

To me, this sounds all much more like reconciliation from the barrel of a gun, for the benefit of oil and gas companies.

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Silence at the top

To bring the focus back to our political leaders, the most unsettling fact about these recent events is the sheer volume of complete silence from our political leaders. If one were following Justin Trudeau or Erin O’Toole in recent days, one wouldn’t even know this was going on. No statements or even acknowledgement of these developments. This isn’t surprising to those of us on the left.

Even worse, our social-democratic (in name at least) leaders have been nowhere to be found. Leader of the federal NDP, Jagmeet Singh, was very quick to comment on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict – happening in another country – but has still remained silent on the issue. John Horgan, premier of BC and leader of the BCNDP, has also remained silent. These are arguably the two most relevant leaders with the ability to center attention to this issue in national media.

It’s worth noting the NDP has finally put out a statement, but it’s simply too little too late. If acted upon earlier, the reckless RCMP invasion could have been avoided altogether.

Other lesser known political leaders have made statements of solidarity with the land defenders such as Dimitri Lascaris, Leah Gazan, Niki Ashton, and members of the Communist Party of Canada.

Equality vs Autonomy

This double-meaning of the word reconciliation has been elucidated by others. In his essay Paved with Comfortable Intentions, published in the book Pathways of Reconciliation, David B. Macdonald has made the distinction between two conceptions of reconciliation: liberal equality and a more radical, transformative Indigenous autonomy, including over land.


His essay spells out how most Canadians (here I would include our political leaders) view reconciliation as an issue to be resolved under a liberal framework of equality under the law. In this view, everyone within the borders of Canada becomes a Canadian citizen, the Indian Act is abolished, and private property is instituted in reservations defined by the Indian Act. Indigenous authorities and Canadian governments “work together” under the same system and the colonial government retains its control.

This view is very convenient for our political and corporate elite; if Indigenous people become solely subjects of the Canadian state, they are therefore subject to its laws, without any special protections or right to self-determination. Thus, an injunction becomes valid, and the RCMP have the right under Canadian law to enforce the interests of Capital, even on unceded land.

This view contrasts with a more transformative view of reconciliation in which emphasizes political autonomy over liberal equality. Macdonald brilliantly explains:

Transformative reconciliation, by contrast, is about fundamentally problematizing the settler state as a colonial creation, a vector of cultural genocide, and one that continues inexorably to suppress Indigenous collective aspirations for self-determination and sovereignty. In this type of reconciliation, we will see the rollback of settler state control over Indigenous individuals and communities, commensurate with Indigenous lands, cultures, laws, languages, and governance traditions. […] We might understand Indigenous self-determination as the “right to political autonomy, the freedom to determine political status and to pursue economic, social, and cultural development.”

In this more radical, anti-colonial interpretation of reconciliation, injunctions and RCMP invasions into politically autonomous regions are invalidated, and Indigenous law would overcome colonial state law.

Understanding the distinction between these two competing concepts is crucial to grasp how our political leaders use words like “reconciliation” or “nation-to-nation relationships.” Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, recently went as far as asserting, “it’s time to give land back.” Does anyone think he has any intention of ceding land in any meaningful sense? Or is it the corporate-friendly framework of liberal equality under the law, which turns Indigenous communities existing on this land for millennia into Canadian state subjects?

Real nation-to-nation relationships require substantive political autonomy as a precondition for determining how the Canadian state interacts with Indigenous communities and individuals. This conception of reconciliation is largely omitted from mainstream news sources, political leaders, and corporate stakeholders. This is for good reason too: it threatens their esteemed positions within capitalist power structures, therefore undermining their ability to profit from environmental destruction and displacement of people.

Chrétien comments show that being out of touch is a feature of the Liberal Party

Josh Kaye

Josh is the main author of Northern Currents – A Leftist perspective on Canadian politics. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow on Twitter at @ncjoshkaye.

A recent Hill Times article had an illuminating claim in which Liberal Party MP’s are demanding “an explanation from the leadership and the party headquarters about why the party failed to win a majority for the second time in a row.”

The answer is becoming increasingly clear. The Liberal Party is out of touch with the needs of working-class and Indigenous people. More and more people are realizing this as time goes on.

Photo: CBC

Never mind the fact that Justin Trudeau called an election during a pandemic. Or that there are still no plans to implement universal pharmacare or dental care. Reconciliation is nowhere to be found. The Liberals are uninspiring, elitist, and stagnant. They are not a progressive party. The younger generation in Canada is becoming increasingly attuned to this stagnation, turning to other parties for inspiration.

This is not new, either. Given the recent comments of former Prime Minister and Minister of the (previously named) Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien, this out-of-touchness seems to be Liberal Party standard operating procedure.

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Chrétien made a series of horrific claims – horrific in most part because of the fact that he held both the office of PM and the ministry devoted to administering Canada’s apartheid system of the Indian Act – the first about being unaware of abuse in Canada’s residential schools. This is despite the CBC reporting:

A cursory look at the historical record reveals that while Chrétien was minister, his department received at least four reports outlining allegations of abuse and mistreatment of children at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, which operated in the Fort Albany First Nation, along Ontario’s James Bay coast.

This made the waves on social media. Chrétien then went on to compare his experience with a boarding school, to being in a residential school. Keep in mind that the entire point of the residential school system was the elimination of an entire race of people. Out of touch, much?

And it gets worse. The cherry on top of this debacle was his insistence that he had tried to improve the lives of Indigenous by adopting an Indigenous child himself. “I even adopted an Indigenous son, to lead by example,” he said. “This proves my investment in this issue.”

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Some on Twitter have likened this to the 60’s scoop, in which Indigenous children were removed from their communities and placed in the child welfare system, and then adopted into white families. This was described by the Truth and Reconciliation as being part of the harmful legacy of colonization. Indigenous activists such as Pam Palmater have been calling on the federal government to finally reform the child welfare system by putting child welfare in the hands of Indigenous communities themselves.

All this just goes to show that the Liberal Party has always been out of touch with many communities that reside within the borders of Canada. It’s time for some real, progressive change.

Tearing down colonial statues is making history, not erasing it

With yet another discovery of 182 more unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school near Cranbrook, BC, the conversation around Canada’s colonial past exploded on social media and the general public. 

Photo: Getty Images

It is virtually impossible to scroll through any social media feed these days without coming across various posts showing solidarity with First Nations people – and that is a good thing. Even on my trip to the local grocery store on Canada Day, orange shirts were a common sight. Hopefully, everything that has been brought to light in the past few weeks will signal some type of meaningful shift toward reconciliation


Maybe the Canadian government will even lift a finger. Maybe Trudeau will stop fighting Indigenous kids in court. Maybe…

Monuments of a colonial past

The common saying is that when the USA sneezes, Canada catches a cold. The explosive growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has undoubtedly influenced Canadian politics over the past few years. Racial issues and Canada’s genocidal history have pretty much become dinner table conversations in many homes.

While confederate statues get bashed down in the south, Canada’s own architects of genocide and apartheid have also come to a crumbling demise. Statues of John A MacDonald and Egerton Ryerson have been defaced and torn down across Canada.

My opinion on this is very clear: this is a good thing.

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For most of us white Canadians, we have been walking past these statues without so much as a second thought. “John A MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister,” we would think to ourselves. For Indigenous people within Canadian borders, the story is radically different. 

Their ancestors were the target of explicit genocide; I would argue that this is still an ongoing genocide as evidenced by the MMWIG inquiry and foster care system. Currently, blood quantum laws restrict the right of Indigenous People to define themselves. Not to mention the Indian Act still mentions “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” as the exclusive property of the Government.

Yes, property. This is an apartheid system. There is just no justification for these statues if Indigenous people don’t want them. And many, such as the Epekwitk Mi’kmaq Chiefs and leaders of the Esquimalt Nation don’t.

A Symbolic step forward

Still, even after this, the standard conservative reaction is that removing these statues from public spaces is erasing history. As if we were taking a Mr. Clean magic eraser and simply scrubbing the past. As if these protesters were burning books and libraries. I mean, how else would we know what happened in the past without these statues? 

It’s just a non-sensical, knee-jerk reaction, without any thought ever considered before they hit the share button.

It’s kind of funny too because in many other historical situations, both those on the left and the right view the toppling of various statues of oppressive regimes as making history, not erasing it. Despite cries of “erasing history,” this is what is happening: history is being made.

Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth Statues toppled

One of my first political memories was the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was widely seen by the world as a symbolic victory over an extremely repressive regime.

The revolutionary Paris Communes in 1871 were a significant influence on Marxist thought. This loose coalition of trade unions, worker’s organizations, proto-political parties, and emigrant associations attempted to overthrow an emerging capitalist elite class and institute a form of worker’s democracy. During this revolutionary time, the Communards toppled the statue of Napoléon I as a symbol of democratic victory. 

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Surely, after the centuries-long history of genocide and apartheid of the Crown toward all Indigenous people in their way, removing a few statues is the very least we can do as a society. More than that – it’s a necessary step along the way towards reconciliation. 

In the place of these old, colonial statues, why not erect historically relevant Indigenous leaders?

Leftists should abandon the term “Anthropocene” in discussing the climate crisis

Andrew McWhinney
Andrew McWhinney

Andrew McWhinney is an MA student at McMaster University, looking at class politics and Canadian fiction. He is also an editor at Negation Magazine.

For some on the left concerned about the climate crisis, the term “Anthropocene” has been a useful go-to term for describing the state of affairs that has led us to the ecological disaster we’re currently facing. I would implore leftists using the term to discard it, for it merely serves to paper over the real core source of the climate crisis: capitalism. 

Photo: JuniperPhoton

The term “Anthropocene” refers to an unofficial geological epoch, named in order to signal that we currently live in a time where human activity is having a massive impact on the Earth’s ecologies and geologies. The most prominent of these impacts is anthropogenic climate change, and its use has begun to become popularized through its use in documentary films such as Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018), which documented various areas on Earth where human activity — mostly industrial — is having massive geological effects.  


Etymologically, Anthropocene is built from the term Anthropo — Greek for “human” — and cene — from the Greek kainos, meaning new or recent. The term lends itself for specific problematic use in our environmental narratives — ones that take place in late capitalist societies and are thus characterized by their emphasis on individual responsibility — that assume equal responsibility of all human beings for the devastating ecological effects of the Earth. It’s presumed that we, as a species, have made this devastating impact together; in some extreme examples, this can lead to thinking that presumes that humans are a virus and that with the elimination of humanity, the Earth can return to an ecologically “pure” state. 

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Like the assumed universal human subject of liberal democratic states — presupposing equal treatment under the law while eliding the structural realities that prevent such things from happening — the dangerous lie of the Anthropocene omits the political and structural history of anthropogenic climate change, which, as many on the left know, has been and continues to be propagated primarily by capitalist industry.

Capitalism’s ecocidal logic

The inherent ecological destructiveness of capitalism can be demonstrated through how it alienates humanity from nature. 

One of the key components of capitalist alienation that Karl Marx highlighted was the alienation of humanity from nature. In a Marxist model, humans and nature interact in what Marx referred to as the “social metabolism” of matter. In pre-capitalist times, with humanity recognizing themselves as a part of the natural world, mineral matter from nature used to produce means of life as shelter, clothing, food, and technology would eventually be returned to the soil, thus allowing for nature to continue to reproduce itself and make matter available to humanity once again. 

Nature and humanity are able to reproduce each other and co-evolve together over time through a balanced exchange of matter. As Marx puts it plainly, “that (humanity’s) physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for (humanity) is a part of nature.”

With the rise of capitalism, humans have become alienated from nature, just as they become alienated from the products of their labour and other human beings around them. Alienation from a healthy social metabolism means that nature is conceived of as infinite and costless, to be extracted and exploited without compensation, instead of cared for. 

With this new attitude towards nature, capitalist production pushes ecologies past their metabolic limits, causing lasting ecological damage that even the use of fertilizers can’t solve. As Marx aptly stated in Capital: Volume 1, “all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress towards ruining the long-lasting sources of that fertility.” 

Colonialism and its disproportionate effects of ecological destruction 

As capitalism’s insatiable drive for profits comes up against its exhaustion of local ecologies and resources, capitalism must begin to look outward for resources and populations to exploit. To this end, capitalism has and continues to employ violent seizure of land through imperialism and (settler) colonialism, a process Marx referred to as “primitive accumulation.” 

In his book Red Skin White Masks, Yellowknives Dene political theorist Glen Coulthard reformulates primitive accumulation to focus on the colonial relation and the question of land, rightfully claiming that in the Canadian context, “the history of dispossession, not proletarianization, has been the dominant background structure shaping the character of the historical relationship between Indigenous people and the Canadian state.” 

In the colonial context, capitalism dispossesses Indigenous populations through the seizure of land, not only causing ecological destruction but also enacting genocide through the transformation of the land from “a system of reciprocal relations and obligations” to a resource to be exploited. Thus, the destructive logics of capitalism and settler colonialism disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples in Canada more than anyone else — something that maps with global data demonstrating how marginalized groups are disproportionately suffering the effects of industrial climate change.

Two recent examples can illustrate this point. The effects of the oil sands on Dene and Cree communities in Alberta, for example, has been well-documented; in a 2019 review of literature pertaining to the oil sands and Indigenous peoples, the literature overwhelmingly proves the presence of carcinogenic and toxic pollution from oil sands runoff that has lowered biodiversity and harmed ecosystems. This ecological destruction negatively impacts the ability of these communities to engage in traditional practices of hunting, fishing, and gathering, as well as access sacred land, halting the transmission of traditional knowledge and contributing further to genocide. 

All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil

Marx, Capital: Volume 1

More recently in Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq fishers, exercising their Treaty rights, began fishing in the off-season. Racist, colonial violence erupted, resulting in the cutting of Mi’kmaq fishing lines, the assault of the chief of the Spikekne’katik First Nation, attacks on two lobster storage pounds, and the destruction of a Mi’kmaq lobster boat. Arguments made against the Mi’kmaq fishing in the off-season cited the fear that lobster populations might not have the time to reproduce in order to return to sustainable levels. 

The painful irony of this claim is twofold: firstly, the increasing temperature and acidification of the oceans caused by industrial climate change are what pose the most risk for the sustainability of fisheries, even as short-term warming brings more lobsters into Nova Scotian waters. Secondly, Fisheries and Oceans Canada found that out of 2,252 charges laid between 2015 and 2019 related to conservation policy violations, all but “a small fraction” were related to non-Indigenous fishing crews. The violence in Nova Scotia simply proves that the dispossessive logic of the colonial relation, working alongside capitalism’s ecologically destructive logic, is still at work today. 

We are living in the Captialocene 

With the facts in front of us — and with even further evidence that corporations have and still overwhelmingly produce the majority of our global greenhouse gas emissions — it’s clear that responsibility for the effects of climate change is not universal and flat like the Anthropocene narrative claims. 

Any leftist who cares about the environment recognizes the disproportionate impacts of and responsibilities for solving climate change and recognizes the key role that Indigenous communities and knowledge play in combatting the climate crisis, should eject this word from their vocabulary and adopt an alternative. Out of the existing options being floated around, the best, I argue, is “Capitalocene,” which centres the true cause of the crisis in its name and thus cannot be pulled into “equal responsibility” narratives. 

So speak of the Capitalocene, and rally against capitalism and colonialism’s destructive logics; speak not of the Anthropocene, which masks the structural reality of the climate crisis. 

The truth about Reconciliation: it’s really not that complicated

Assiniboine hunting buffalo – Paul Kane – National Gallery of Canada

Reconciliation with First Nations has been described as many things: complex, difficult, and multifaceted. I’ve even seen it described as a “shitshow.” One is tempted to throw their hands in the air and walk away in confusion and dismay.

When it comes down to things like the details of exactly how to proceed, or how to alter Canada’s institutions, or how to move past the Indian Act, this may be true. But broadly speaking, to make concrete, permanent progress in all of these details the solution is quite simple

So simple that most of the answers have already been given to Canadians. Both First Peoples themselves and various Canadian and International commissions have provided recommendations for the first steps to progress. 

Canada simply has to acknowledge First Nations’ rights as titleholders and decision-makers on their own land. 

That’s the first step that the Canadian government has refused to take. This has been true since before 1867; this is an appalling lack of political will.

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A roadmap for reconciliation

Arthur Manuel was a widely respected Indigenous leader and activist from the Secwepemc Nation who passed away in January 2017. In his book The Reconciliation Manifesto, he lays out a convincing argument for how to proceed toward meaningful reconciliation. His six-point map towards decolonization is summarized as follows:

  1. Formally denounce the racist “doctrine of discovery” and “terra nullius.” These ideas simply mean that the land in Canada was “empty” and therefore was not owned by anyone prior to European contact.
  2. Recognize First Nations right to self-determination.
  3. This right to self-determination must be in accordance with international human rights standards.
  4. At this point, only then can we turn to talks of “who [Indigenous people] are, and what we need, and who [Non-Indigenous people] are, and what you need, and we can then begin to sort out the complicated questions about access to our lands and sharing the benefits.”
  5. Clear jurisdictional lines of authority based on free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people. 
  6. Striking all colonial laws from the books, while making Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution comply with UNDRIP.

In short, Canada must give the land back. First Nations must be given the ability to have a say in how their lands are developed. Having a say doesn’t mean merely having an opinion heard, as is usually the case so far. An opinion heard can easily be discarded. On the question of land development, it means being able to definitively say yes, no, or yes with conditions.

Land is wealth

Currently, Indigenous people occupy (not own) 0.2% of land in Canada in the form of the colonial reserve system. Reserves are a creation of the Indian Act, which has served as an oppressive, paternalistic force against First Peoples. Reserves are not in any way a form of ownership of land for First Nations; in fact the very opposite is true. It is a system of denying land and title rights. As First Nations throughout Canada expand in number, the size of the reserve stays the same, leading to overcrowded conditions on reserves.

It must be understood that land itself is a significant form of wealth. It has sustained nations across Canada for thousands of years. The Canadian government has systematically taken away a significant source of wealth from these communities.

What if First Nations’ title and land rights had been respected as Canada grew as a nation? What if they had a significant say and a share in the wealth Canada produced? 

It is no surprise then that 1 in 4 Indigenous people and 4 in 10 of Canada’s Indigenous children live in poverty. Poverty has many negative downstream effects that also disproportionately affect First Peoples in Canada. This includes discriminatory treatment from all areas of society, including the police.

Treaties: We stole the land fair and square

The legal justification for Crown land, that is land owned by Canadian federal and provincial governments, is summed up by Arthur Manuel as, “Okay, we stole it. But we stole it fair and square.”

The land of Canada was far from empty when Europeans arrived. Most estimates put the population of North and South America in the range of tens of millions of people. This is roughly the same as Europe at the time. 

Terra nullius, the doctrine of land being uninhabited, was often combined with the “doctrine of discovery” as a main legal underpinning for Crown ownership of land. Clearly, this idea is bankrupt both factually and morally. 

A good chunk of Canada including parts of British Columbia, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador did not make any treaties with the local Indigenous population. Therefore we can say that the Crown simply stole these areas, not so fair and square.

Aside from this, much of Canada is covered by a patchwork of still legally-binding treaties between the Crown and various Indigenous communities. What exactly those treaties cover is another story. The signing of a treaty doesn’t necessarily mean that a nation has ceded their land ownership claim. There are a few reasons for this:

Cree Chief Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear)
  • Some saw the decimation of their traditional economies, such as buffalo hunting on the Prairies. Signing a treaty thus was an act of coping with this destruction.
  • Some First Peoples sought protection from the Crown, both from other nations and colonizing forces. Any treaty signed on these grounds could easily be invalidated by the genocidal intent of the Indian Act and the residential school system. 
  • Many First Peoples considered treaties to be offensive in principle. Cree Chief Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) refused to sign Treaty 6 calling it a “rope around our necks.” He resisted the signing the treaty with settlers for years until the threat of starvation became too real. With the buffalo population disappearing and not enough other food sources available, Chief Mistahimaskwa signed the treaty in order to prevent the starvation of his band.

Most nations that did sign treaties did so under their own understanding of land ownership and according to their own customs. These differed wildly from Crown interpretations:

Even in modern times, the federal and provincial governments tend to interpret treaties in legalistic terms, contending that Indigenous peoples “ceded, surrendered, and yielded” their ancestral rights and titles through treaties. In other words, treaties can be seen as real estate deals by which the Crown purchased Indigenous lands and provided them with reserves and one-time or continual payments in return.

This narrow view of treaties has produced a huge divide between the Canadian government’s perspective and that of Indigenous peoples. On the one hand is the government’s view of treaties as legal instruments that surrendered Indigenous rights. On the other is the Indigenous view of treaties as instruments of relationships between autonomous peoples who agree to share the lands and resources of Canada. Seen from the Indigenous perspective, treaties do not surrender rights; rather, they confirm Indigenous rights. Treaties recognize that Indigenous peoples have the capacity to self-govern. Bridging the gap between these two views of treaties poses a huge challenge to people and lawmakers in Canada.

The Canadian Encyclopedia – Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Moving Forward

One of the most striking aspects of Arthur Manuel’s six steps toward reconciliation is that the first three do not require much from Non-Indigenous Canadians at all. Simply recognition and acknowledging First Nations right to title on their own lands. 

That’s it. Only after that can we all move forward towards real, meaningful reconciliation.

Want to defund the police? One gigantic problem: they don’t care

At this point, we are all aware of what it means to defund the police. It simply means moving money and tasks away from police departments and then funneling that money into new social programs that can properly deal with public health issues. One example of this could be social workers showing up to a mental health crisis.

Photo: @Lulex

Protests have erupted throughout Canada and the USA in response to all-to-familiar accounts of police brutality. One would think that maybe the police might start paying attention?

Wrong. They’ll just punch you in the face.

A pattern of violence

That’s what happened to Genesta Garson of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation. Video has recently surfaced of three RCMP officers in the Thompson, Manitoba detachment trying to get Garson into her cell. 

While surrounded by three officers she struck one officer with her belt. Without hesitation one of them punched Garson right in the face, knocking her out instantly. Then the officers proceeded to drag Garson on the floor to her cell. And the crime that started all of this? The officers arrested her on the “suspicion of being drunk.”

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Or there’s the story of Celine Samuel, 44, from Northlands Denesuline First Nation. She died in a cell in the same detachment in Thompson, Manitoba. Another victim of the province’s Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA), which is used disproportionately against Indigenous people.

Another similar event happened earlier this year. On Thursday, June 4th of this year, Police Officers were sent on a wellness check of a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, Chantel Moore. The result of this ‘wellness check’ was that she was shot and killed by the police. 

Clearly, even after protests erupting and calls to defund the police, they are still willing to harm Indigenous people. 

A systemic problem

It gets worse, too. The superintendent of Manitoba RCMP, Kevin Lewis, dismissed the violence, saying that the police were simply “reacting to the situation at hand.” When Garson filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, police showed up at her home and workplace and pressured her to withdraw the complaint.

There are other ways in which policing has failed Canadians. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry has sharply criticized the RCMP for “rotating their most inexperienced officers in and out of remote Indigenous communities” and that they should “instead find ways to install veteran detectives and specialized Indigenous squads,” for example.

“The continued racism and sexism by many RCMP officers directed at Indigenous Peoples, the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women … have caused many Indigenous Peoples and communities to lose trust and confidence in the Canadian justice system, the RCMP, and police services in general,” according to the report. Consider also that between 2007 and 2017 one third of people killed by police were indigenous. Shifting funding to civilian watchdog groups would be a highly effective measure to provide a counterbalance to often unquestioned police narratives and pressure police to take Indigenous people’s concerns seriously.

There is no doubt that dealing with mental health issues on the spot can be a huge challenge, with split-second decision making and crucial de-escalation tactics needed. That is the point. These challenges require specific training and psychological expertise. The police have 2 major insurmountable problems associated with them: 1 – they are not mental health experts, often with minimal training, and 2 – the mere presence of the police during a mental health crisis can escalate the situation due to perceived hostility of the police toward vulnerable communities.

The idea of redirecting police funds to a new Emergency Crisis Assistance Force is not a new, far fetched idea. In Oregon, the CAHOOTS program has been active since 1989. This program responds to emergency crises such as suicide prevention, conflict resolution and mediation, grief and loss, substance abuse, housing crisis, first aid and emergency care, domestic violence and many more services, free of charge. They respond to roughly 22000 requests annually, making up 20% of all public safety requests in the metropolitan area. This program has been wildly successful and if implemented on a provincial or national scale, could save countless lives and provide effective services that the police simply cannot.

This shift in public safety policy must be done strategically. The last thing Canada needs is to defund policing without having alternative programs in place, leading to a possible power vacuum and ultimately defeating the entire purpose which is public safety. Let’s get to work and build non-authoritarian, non militarized, alternatives to policing. Then we can shift our funding from the police to these new, more effective institutions.

Racist blood quantum laws still define First Nations in Canadian Law

Since signed into law in 1876, the Indian Act has used Blood Quantum laws to define who is legally a First Nations person in Canada. These laws were born out of racist, paternalistic ideas of controlling and colonizing First Nations People by the Canadian government. They were an attempt at defining those who have lived on this land for thousands of years in a way that suits colonial interests.

The Indian Act is a legislative tool used to subjugate and control one race of people. Blood Quantum laws are one part of this project.

Blood quantum laws define people based on a percentage of ancestry, that is, how many descendants a person has that are also first nations. If a person has enough descendants, they are considered to have ‘status’ in Canada and therefore qualify as ‘Status Indians’ who are subject to benefits and restrictions of the Indian Act.


Historically, these laws have been complex, exclusive, and discriminatory. They do not apply to Inuit, Metis, and ‘Non-status Indians’ and there are several ways in which one could lose their status. If a woman were to marry a non-status person, she would lose her status. But if a man were to marry a non-status person, that person would gain status. Matrilineality, kinship through the female line rather than male line, was present in some indigenous societies for thousands of years. The Indian Act and Blood Quantum laws ignored and attempted to eliminate this aspect of some cultures.

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There were many other roadblocks built into these laws. Going to university and earning a degree was off limits and would result in removal of ones status. Living off reserve could also result in a loss of status. If one had status they were not allowed to vote. Live outside the country for more than five years? You guessed it, status would be lost. Passing on status to ones children could be complicated or impossible if one parent did not have status.

In 1985 bill C-31 was passed and attempted to fix these some of these discriminatory laws. The fact is that the main problem of defining ‘status’ based on blood quantum remained; This colonial way of thinking denies the right of First Nations to define themselves.

First Nations have lived on the land we call Canada for thousands of years before this land was “discovered.” Over this time they already ran into the problem of who is and isn’t a member of their nation and had developed their own systems. These systems are what should be used to determine who is First Nations, rather than blood quantum laws. Letting nations themselves decide is a necessary condition of self-determination.


There is no one definition of what makes a person indigenous and there are many different factors to consider. This is because there is such a wide variety of cultures, customs, politics, and beliefs among nations with thousands of years of history. To simply lump this diverse group of people into one group is wildly unhelpful. Nonetheless, the best way to determine if one is indigenous is provided by United Nations:

  • Self-identification as an indigenous person at the individual level and
  • Acceptance by the community as their member

Another key point of bill C-31 was to separate legal status from band membership. This did allow bands to manage their own membership. This is a step in the right direction although, there is one glaring problem: even though bands can determine their own membership, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development provides funding to bands based on the number of “Status Indians,” not band members.

So, we can see here that one could be a member of a First Nations band, but also not have status. This is what the Canadian government needs to fix. Blood Quantum laws need to be removed.

According to a discussion paper by the Assembly of First Nations, this can have negative financial effects. Programs like community infrastructure and housing would not receive proper funding:

As a result, the following situation takes place: should a Band that doesn’t have its own-source revenues introduce a membership code where its criteria takes a less strict form than those depicted in the Indian Act, then the non-status members of such Band will saddle it with additional financial burden.

Many bands that have their own membership codes do use hereditary connection as one path to membership. At first glance it may seem odd to advocate against blood quantum laws while many bands choose to use similar approaches, but this misses the point entirely. The point here is that bands should be able to determine their own membership laws, not have a colonial state prescribe them.