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Generational Shift: From Oppositional to Cooperative Justice

  Justice takes time: the chief of the Sechelt Indian Band measures time in generations. [1] From a perspective of generational patience, justice for First Nations is proceeding at an adequate pace, especially with a number of factors in their favour: the 1763 Royal Proclamation, the tone and principles of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Supreme Court’s Delgamuukw decision.

  The first and second Royal Commission principles for renewed relationship are respect and recognition. They and the Delgamuukw decision’s recognition of the admissibility of oral history reaffirm what had been asserted in the Royal Proclamation 240 years ago: the recognition of Aboriginal self-governing societies. But these attitudes have not always been prevalent, leading to some viable doubt about the possibility of meaningful aboriginal justice in Canada. The BC government refused to recognize aboriginal title upon joining Confederation in 1871 [2] despite the Royal Proclamation 108 years earlier. The Canadian government impeded First Nations’ ability to pursue claims with Indian Act amendments in 1921,[3]  an act which affects not only Indians’ political goals, but also contributes—often negatively—to their self-identity. [4] In 2001 the BC government began their treaty referendum process that pollster Angus Reid called, “one of the most amateurish, one-sided attempts to gauge the public will that I have seen in my professional career” [5] with vague or double-barreled questions that would allow the government to pursue any policy regardless of how citizens responded to the questions. Since question 5 is worded “Province-wide standards of resource management and environmental protection should continue to apply,” [6] a yes or a no answer cannot reflect the public’s will regarding the justice of negotiating treaties. An Okanagan white supremacist group that campaigned for the “yes” side also does not bode well for conciliatory attitudes. [7]

  Justice, however, will endure in the long run because public and political will demonstrate reconciliation, reflecting the second pair of Royal Commission principles: sharing and responsibility. During the BC treaty referendum process, a CBC poll indicated that 58% of British Columbians felt resolving treaty issues was important and 55% of those who were not undecided were somewhat or strongly opposed to the referendum. Further, only 11% of those who felt properly informed of the issues voted yes and merely 2% of those who did not feel properly informed voted yes. [8] Even though the provincial government reported “overwhelming support for the B.C. government’s views” [9] it is not clear from the referendum questions what those views are, nor is it clear that they garnered overwhelming support when less than 40% of the 2 million ballots were even returned. [10] Further, the unanimously accepted 1991 Report of the British Columbia Claims Task Force recommended a new “relationship among the First Nations, Canada and British Columbia, based on mutual trust, respect and understanding, through political negotiations,” [11] reversing the BC government’s adversarial tone from 120 years earlier. And if a European-based sense of justice is oppositional, “indigenous communities, to grow institutionally, must develop cooperative agreements with other governments” [12] and non-native governments need to adapt that paradigm for mutual peace and prosperity. And for this to happen, the Sechelt generational perspective is appropriate.


[1]  Personal interview (November 17, 2003) with Colin Mills, Geography Professor at Langara College regarding his discussion with the Sechelt chief.
[2]  “Why We Are Negotiating Treaties,” BC Government Treaty Negotiations Office, viewed at http://www.gov.bc.ca/tno/prgs/why_we_negotiate.htm on November 17, 2003.
[3]  Ibid.
[4]  Bonita Lawrence, “Gender, Race, and the Regulation of Native Identity in Canada and the United States: An Overview,” Hypatia 18.2 (2003): 4.
[5]  John Bowman, “BC treaty referendum,” CBC News, April 23, 2002, viewed at http://www.cbc.ca/news/features/treaty_referendum1.html, on November 17, 2003.
[6]  Ibid.
[7]  “Racist groups campaigning for ‘yes’ vote,” Canada Now, April 17, 2002, viewed at http://vancouver.cbc.ca/regional/servlet/View?zone=Vancouver&filename=bc_racist020417 on November 17, 2003.
[8]  “Provincial Survey on BC Government Referendum,” Canada Now, viewed at http://www.cbc.ca/canadanow/bc_referendum.html on November 17, 2003.
[9]  “BC treaty vote results favour government,” CBC News, July 4, 2002, viewed at http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2002/07/03/treaty020703 on November 17, 2003.
[10]  Ibid.
[11]  “Why We Are Negotiating Treaties,” BC Government Treaty Negotiations Office, view at http://www.gov.bc.ca/tno/prgs/why_we_negotiate.htm on November 17, 2003.
[12]  Bruce G. Miller, “Justice, Law and the Lens of Culture,” Wicazo Sa Review 18.1 (2003): 137.

Stephen Buckley
Copyright 2003

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