Justice minister’s father the latest First Nation leader to get fed up with Ottawa’s handling of indigenous file
If Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples wanted a figure to embody the frustrations they feel in dealing with Ottawa, they could do worse than Bill Wilson, the father of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Wilson is a hereditary chief of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. On Wednesday, he unloaded publicly on one of the key parts of the Liberal government’s attempt to reverse decades of failed policies and bitter relations with First Nations communities. Among the dozens of pledges by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — including a promise to implement every one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee — was a vow to establish a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Despite the usual stage-managed feel-good moment that accompanied the pledge, the inquiry has been going nowhere fast. On Wednesday, Wilson tore a strip off the entire operation, denouncing it as an expensive farce run by people collecting big payments for doing little or nothing.
“What a bloody farce!,” he raged in a Facebook post.
“I can only imagine how those people who FORCED THE CREATION of it must feel. 8 months, $6 Million and nothing has been done except pay salary and expenses.
‘What a bloody farce!,’ Wilson said in a Facebook post
“…When asked why there would be no hearings through the summer time the lady replied that it was Powwow season and people would be taking vacations. What the heck is going on? WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM ? …
“I guess it must be nice to sit on your ass doing nothing while getting paid 3 or 4 thousand dollars a day. YOU HAVE FAILED MISERABLY ! – IT IS TIME FOR ALL OF YOU TO RESIGN !!!!”
Wilson is far from the first to complain about the snail-like progress of the inquiry. Just a few days before his outburst, a group of 30 Aboriginal leaders and family members issued an open letter charging that the Liberal effort is in “serious trouble.”
Addressed to chief commissioner Marion Buller, the letter asserted that communication has been poor, leadership lacking, time inadequate and respect for native procedures absent from the process to date.
“It is now clear that you must take immediate action to mitigate the damage and fundamentally shift your approach in order to move forward in a credible way,” it stated, adding that “we are deeply concerned and confused as to why so many of the most renowned family leaders, advocates, activists, and grassroots … have not been asked to help.”
For the Liberals, the criticism must come as a rude awakening, given how carefully they ignored all the signs that could have alerted them to the dangers they were courting. Trudeau basked in the praise he drew for his many assertions that this government would be different from previous versions, and that the days when Aboriginal Peoples felt they were being shoved aside and ignored were over. He did the photo ops, posed in the native garb, delivered bold speeches promising a new era of respect and change.
Now it turns out that pledges aren’t enough, that First Nations communities want progress, and they’ll be the ones who decide whether it is being made. This is a lesson that has confronted previous governments, but never seems to be absorbed. The Harper Conservatives, much maligned by opposition parties and indigenous advocates, made serious efforts to improve aboriginal conditions, but were stymied when First Nations leaders belatedly balked at a package of educational reforms that had been painstakingly negotiated with the Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo. Though Harper maintained that it was First Nations leaders who reversed their position and scuttled the deal, he was the one who bore the brunt of criticism from a country that is absorbed with guilt over the past.
Former Chrétien cabinet minister Bob Nault suffered a similar experience when he introduced The First Nations Governance Act in 2002 (aimed at making band councils more accountable to members), only to see it denounced as “racist” before he could even finish his press conference. Ottawa’s belief in its ability to cure past ills by cobbling together new packages of Ottawa-centric remedies runs back decades, yet each new prime minister stumbles anew into the complex and often contradictory world of indigenous politics, seemingly clueless as to the labyrinth they’re entering.
The efforts of Trudeau and his hapless Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, have been true to the template. Trudeau blithely signed on to an impossible package of reforms on the campaign trail, and has been breaking them ever since. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will not be enacted in whole, not that the pledge to do so ever made sense. Dozens of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will never see the light of day, because they are wholly impractical or ruinously expensive. Pipelines will be built, and dams constructed. The realities of a modern society built over the grave of past injustices will not be miraculously reversed, no matter how wrongful those sins were. Canada’s First Nations will not be treated as a sovereign entity, because they are not one entity but dozens of them, with many leaders and many agendas that are often in competition, or open conflict, with one another.
This was all there for the Liberals to see, but they chose not to. Insincerity and political ambition won out, again. No wonder Bill Wilson is fed up. But is he really surprised?