Friday, September 30, 2022

National Truth and Reconciliation Day: treaties and crowns

Today is National Truth and Reconciliation Day. It's important to acknowledge the residential school survivors, to salute the Orange Shirts that honour children who did not survive, and to consider again the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At some point, treaty implementation will be understood as the key to the long future of reconciliation and to Indigenous-settler co-existence on the treaty territories (i.e., Canada).  And on that topic I was glad this morning to see the good counsel of Douglas Sanderson/Amo Binashii who is a law professor at the University of Toronto and a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.  

The passing of Queen Elizabeth has brought into sharp focus the Crown’s relationship with Indigenous people in Canada.

The traditional thinking goes like this: Indigenous people signed treaties with the Crown, and the Crown is the monarch. Ergo, Canada’s Indigenous people have a special relationship with the monarch, now King Charles III, and he should be held to account for broken treaty promises.

But this is wrong in almost every respect.

Sanderson underlines that the treaty agreements bind the Crown, not Charles. In 1867 all treaty commitments previously accepted by British officialdom became the responsibility of Canada.

The current relationship between Indigenous people and the federal government – the true, modern-day embodiment of the Crown in Canada – is the result of conscious policy choices by successive Liberal and Conservative governments over the past 150 years.

A monarch isn’t to blame for any of this – we are. And it’s time for us to take responsibility.

Sanderson has other good sense to offer on what the treaty relationship consists of, and the difference between agreements actually made and written texts filed in Ottawa. But until we understand the profound (and welcome!) irrelevance of the British monarch to Canadian affairs, reconciliation is just another item on a long list of things we seem unable to deal with adequately. 


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