Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 30, 2006
Make peace at home first – Mercredi
Canada's good reputation undeserved, says Aboriginal leader
"Tell me how my people were included in the definition of the Canadian state?"
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Canada should make peace with its indigenous people before trying its hand at world peace, former chief Ovide Mercredi said at the Building World Peace Conference.
Speaking to more than 500 people at the Shaw Centre conference, Mercredi said Canada's reputation for inclusion is not deserved because it continues to marginalize Aboriginal people and to violate their rights.
"Not much has changed (over the years). The original intention of the settlers to take our home and native land is still the primary imperative that justifies violations of our basic human rights."
Aboriginals passed by
Economic progress and wealth continue to pass Aboriginals by and resources contained in their traditional lands continue to be exploited, he said. "We are a people who have traditional lands and territories that the Canadian state still attempts to control and extinguish."
In his presentation, Mercredi was trying to answer the conference's question: Is Our Reputation for Inclusion Deserved?
He said in Canada only the dominant group gets to implement its definition of inclusion.
"Tell me how my people were included in the definition of the Canadian state? I suppose you can say Aboriginal rights are recognized and affirmed in the Canadian Constitution. I suppose you can say this is inclusion. Should I accept this inclusion or should I leave?
"Your Parliament does not recognize my people's political and social and cultural rights and freedoms. Even treaties of the crown are neglected and ignored intentionally by Canada. Oil and gas and forestry companies have more rights in our homelands than our people do."
Mercredi said Aboriginal people have never accepted the notion of the nation state or the sovereignty of Canada, which he defined as a symbol of exclusiveness.
"Is inclusion the answer for Canadian or world peace?" he asked. "I guess that depends on what you mean by inclusion. Economic dominance by one group is the antithesis to peace."
An activist and constitutional lawyer, Mercredi was chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 1991 to 1997.
"Your government requires us to negotiate for the self-government, which is one of the basic human rights to all peoples," he told the conference. "Why should we negotiate for a basic human right, the right of self-determination?"
In Canada, Aboriginal people have little or no say in what becomes of them. The Indian Act, white judges and federal and provincial legislation dictate what they get, the chief said.
"If you read the decisions of the judges, who are all white people, on the meaning of our aboriginal rights, . . . they make decisions to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Canada."
Individual rights inflexible
The Canadian way with its notions of individual rights, property, jurisdiction and the rule of law is not flexible enough to include the collective rights of indigenous peoples, Mercredi said.
He argued that in Canada there is no room for indigenous knowledge, beliefs and ideas. "In this land inclusion is dictated by the power that now occupies our traditional lands and territories," he said.
Mercredi warned about new Aboriginal conflicts and said, "Canada needs to learn what peace means at home before it tries to teach other countries about peace."
"Why not make peace with indigenous people now right here in Canada beginning with a peaceful resolution of the land and territorial dispute in Caledonia, Ont.? I wish you success in your quest for world peace."