I have been trying to write a response to the comments made by Canada’s Governor General, David Johnston, regarding Indigenous peoples being immigrants to Canada (See the CBC Radio interview on The House or the transcription below by Jonathon Goldsbie of Canadaland), but I am not sure how to proceed. Mr. Johnston is following a straw man argument that is pulled up regularly by colonial governments and scholars who are trying to reinforce the idea of Terra Nullius, or the idea that these lands were uninhabited and therefore open to settlers to control. In this case, they argue that the Indigenous claim to the land over settlers is invalid because we too are immigrants, albeit several tens of thousands of years earlier. I first encountered this argument in the book First Nations, Second Thoughts by Thomas Flannigan, the long discredited but still influential former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom appointed Johnston. I say it is a straw man argument because it has no validity, particularly in light of the face that several tens of thousands of years of occupation means you are no longer an émigré and even if it were, stealing the land of another émigré is counter to the whole legal tradition Canada claims to adhere to.
Regardless, the fact that this is continually brought up, in this day and age, and by Canada’s Head of State, is very problematic. While he may not have many official powers, he is the Head of State and the signatory on all laws that are passed and given Royal Assent. What he says matters, whether we like it or not and he is downplaying Indigenous peoples, our rights and our claims to sovereignty over our lands, unceded or otherwise. That he says this days after the current Prime Minister signed a problematic Memorandum of Understanding with the Assembly of First Nations, a lobby group, to ostensibly renew a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations just furthers the view that Canada is only paying lip service to their statements and promises to First Nations and other Indigenous peoples.
Like I said, I don’t know what to say from here.
|photo courtesy of @goldsbie on Twitter|