We should repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery

On Wednesday, February 14, the leaders of each party delivered speeches on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights, prompted by the unjust court proceedings of the Colten Boushie case.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, we stand on traditional territory of the Algonquin people and accept their extraordinary generosity, again with thanks. In the language of the people whose territory I am deeply honoured to represent here, the W_SÁNEC people, I raise my hand to all people this place and say Hych’ka Siem. It is with honour and gratitude that I address them.

I am deeply grateful to the Prime Minister for taking this opportunity to make a major statement of commitment to address historical and current wrongs that are reflected in the recent and deeply unsettling case of Colten Boushie’s death and the absence of justice.

I am very grateful to the Minister of Indigenous Services, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and to our Minister of Justice. I do not think there has ever been a time in our country when broken promises set that aside. As individual human beings of deep integrity, I know those ministers mean what they say and will do everything possible to make it so. I join with the honourable and astonishingly courageous member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou in saying that we will do anything together to make it so.

I think this place is deeply colonial. Look around us. Could anything look more like the vestiges of Queen Victoria? We are in a deeply colonial place, and we need to de-colonialize; we need to indigenize. We will do that better if we leave partisanship aside.

We are members of Parliament dealing with the reality that we have 150 years of injustice, of deep and systemic racism, and, as my hon. friend for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo has referenced, a history of a system of separating children from their parents, generation after generation, for the purpose of breaking their spirit and denying the reality of who they are. We have a long way to go, and one afternoon of speeches does not get us there. However, as it has been an afternoon of speeches, I will be brief.

With deep respect to the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, I want to suggest something humbly, because of the idea that as a non-indigenous person I should add anything to the list of principles we should adopt. We should also repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. If we are to de-colonialize, we need to start there. To recognize the sovereignty of the nations of the indigenous people who were here first, we really need to find a way to roll back 150 years. As the Prime Minister said, and surer words were never spoken, “It won’t be easy”.

I turn to the pages of a very important book for settler-culture Canadians to read, which is Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian. He said:

The fact is, the primary way that Ottawa and Washington deal with Native people is to ignore us. They know that the court system favours the powerful and the wealthy and the influential.

When Thomas King was referring to that court system, he was referring to the long, protracted, and financially exhausting process of pursuing treaty rights, of chasing fishing rights through the court, and of chasing the right to say “you can’t log that place”. However, it applies to the court system as visited on the Boushie family.

We have some very specific recommendations that I hope the Minister of Justice will consider, such as abolishing pre-emptory challenges in jury trials, as recommended recently by legal scholar Kent Roach. There are things we can do and there are things we must do.

We also need to put out a message of love and embracing hope that says to those, as I know indigenous communities and first nations as the voice of non-violence, that this is a plea for non-violence that permeates all calls for civil disobedience. It permeates all calls for justice. It lets them raise their voices higher. Let us ensure that we pray for mutual understanding, love, and deep consideration.

My friend, the former president of the Haida Nation, Miles Richardson, was asked what reconciliation meant. What did it look like once we had gotten there? He said, “If you can see me as I see myself, and I can see you as you see yourself”.

In other words, it is the foundational principle of mutual respect, of human rights for each and every one of us, which means that in this country, with the history that we have and the present that we experience, we have a long way to go. That road is made possible through the resilience, courage, and incredible leadership of indigenous peoples and we hope to be deserving of their ongoing patience, consideration, and friendship.