The new year has begun with the pandemic wearing on, white supremacists running amok over the U.S. Capitol – and an insult to First Nations people.
On Jan. 1, the Crown’s representative and chancellor of the Order, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, granted the highest provincial honour to former premier Mike Harris for “exceptional achievements” that left a “lasting legacy.”
That is one way to put it. Indigenous people see a man with blood on his hands being rewarded by the tone-deaf ruling elite in this province, who have signalled that they do not care about having a true relationship with Indigenous people who live here on this shared – not surrendered – land.
When I hear the name Mike Harris, I think of Dudley George, the unarmed, 38-year-old man from Kettle & Stony Point First Nation who was shot by the OPP after he refused to leave Ipperwash Provincial Park on Sept. 6, 1995. The day before, the newly elected Mr. Harris had met with advisors, ministers and staff – including an OPP First Nations liaison officer – and declared that he wanted, according to the ensuing inquiry, the “fucking Indians out of the park.”
To put it another way, a sitting premier sanctioned the police to do whatever it took to get Indigenous people out of the way of park-goers.
Mr. Harris’s appointment comes as Ontario and the Canadian government continue their decade-long legal battle against the Anishinabek people over the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty. In fact, the provincial government has, once again, appealed the latest ruling by Ontario Superior Court Justice Patricia Hennessy that the government must live up to its constitutional obligations concerning responsibility for the treaty.
Two Robinson treaties were signed in 1850. Robinson Superior was signed first on Sept. 7, 1850; days later, on Sept. 9, Robinson Huron was signed. Without these two treaties, the province of Ontario and the country of Canada would not exist. The goodwill behind the signing of these two treaties allowed settlement all along Lake Huron and Lake Superior and throughout the middle and near north of the province. Everyone living on this land now should know this, honour it and understand the treaties were signed in partnership, nation-to-nation. Justice Hennessy even described treaties as part of the “constitutional fabric” of Canada.
The Ontario Superior Court understands this. It has paved the way with two decisions which will mean Ontario and the Crown must raise the annuities promised to all the descendants of those who signed the treaty from $4 a year to current market rate – a fair share. And not only that, the province and Ottawa must compensate for lost income based on the taking and using of the resources in the area, including minerals in the land, timber, water – everything that was used to build Canada.
This case has been separated into three phases. Concerning the first two phases, the court ruled in favour of Robinson Huron/Treaty beneficiaries, but Ontario has challenged both decisions. Ottawa has not done the same, but the federal government refuses to negotiate without Ontario. The third phase of the case concerns compensation, and that is set to begin in September of this year. And as to who ultimately is going to have to pay this whopping redress, it is now a court fight between Ontario and Canada.
Ogimaa Duke Peltier, chief of Wiikwemkoong First Nation, says both governments have done nothing but stall and fight their own laws. “The last increase happened in 1874,” he said. “They stopped or consolidated the counting process shortly after that, so there was no accounting of the net benefit of the treaties.”
For First Nations leaders such as Chief Peltier, this abdication of responsibility by Canada to follow its own laws is the definition of systemic racism. “We see it because we live it,” he said.
We see what Canada has done federally, by opposing the rights of First Nations children, who are said to be protected by Jordan’s Principle – by which First Nations children can access all public services with the provincial and federal governments working out who pays the bill later, a policy that Ottawa has fought for more than a decade – but are not.
We see it every single time a provincial or federal government takes First Nations to court over land and resources, to debate what it means to honour a nation-to-nation agreement.
And we see it again, with Mike Harris being celebrated with the Order of Ontario. “Whoever’s making the decision on providing these types of awards truly doesn’t understand the impact [Harris] has had on not only the Stony Point people but to all Anishinabek people and First Nations across the country,” said Chief Peltier.
Ipperwash is still unresolved, and the issue that Dudley George died for has not been settled. Need we say more?
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