Welcome to the free knowledge project. Over the past three years, we have been offering a series of free Anthropology and Canadian Studies classes at Solstice Cafe in downtown Victoria and making podcasts of the lectures available on this site. It is our sincere hope that over time we will develop entirely free sets of curricula that are generated by and through community conversation. In the archives, you can access three versions of “Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples in Canada”  taught by Dr. Marc Pinkoski, “Indigenous-State Relations,” taught by Dr. Michael Asch (audio and video), and “Aboriginal Rights, Anthropology, and Resource Development, taught by Dr. Rob Hancock (audio).

The classes are open and free.

Image  —  Posted: March 5, 2014 in Michael Asch, News/Updates, Resources

By the end of the month,  Federal Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, will declare her government’s intentions on a proposal for the development of a large, open-pit gold and copper mine in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Region of Central BC. This will be the Conservative Cabinet’s second decision on the proposed project after rejecting the first one in 2010. If completed, the mine is projected to be the second largest open-pit mine in Canada.

Just like the first decision, the second proposal is being considered after an Environmental Assessment and formal recommendations from an independent panel appointed by the Minister of the Environment. For both assessments, the panels were composed of known experts in their fields who were tasked with reviewing scientific evidence and hearing live testimony from the proponent (company), interested parties, and community members about the proposal. The first panel report is here.

Recently, UBC’s Dawn Hoogeveen and Tyler McCreary contributed an article in Canadian Dimensions arguing that the Minister should reject the current proposal. They write that “[p]oor design is only part of the story of the already once formally rejected mine,” noting that “Tsilhqot’in have never ceded their lands or their right to determine the course of development on their lands.” For these two reasons, this article is important.

First, the authors introduce historical, political, legal, and social (read: cultural) significance to the deliberations regarding large-scale development projects and the particularities of one such project, New Prosperity. In Canada, these deliberations are largely considered through ‘environmental assessments’ and recent changes to environmental acts and regulations are relevant because they affect how we are organising our communities and polities on decisions and projects regarding things like: water, air, and land (If that is too abstract think: salmon, cancer, and jobs).

Here, the article points to Natural Resources Canada’s analyses of the proposal on water quality due to seepage from the tailings pond. NRCan like Environment Canada are not the opponent of the mining company but rather the government’s agencies tasked to help the company meet environmental standards and government priorities. Contributors to the hearings, like NRCAN, present their findings and appear to answer questions posed to them in the hope that the information they provide will be useful in the decision making processes. In this case, independent studies have shown that the proposal raises serious questions about its feasibility and veracity, and they determine that it contains flaws or omissions in its formulation. Hoogeveen and McCreary conclude: “It wasn’t just NRCan that was critical of the company’s claims that it could ‘preserve’ Fish Lake. The BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, the Tsilhqot’in National Government, and several independent scientists questioned the mine on technical grounds.”

Secondly, the article is framed as an Indigenous struggle, reminding us all again that Tsilhqot’in have not consented or conceded to us free-reign to dispossess them from their lands, freely extract their resources, or enforce them into projects and relations that are against their will. Hoogeveen and McCreary remind us about the connection of these same ‘environmental laws and regulations’ to development projects that are fueling a politics of dispossession that is putting Tsilhqot’in and many other Indigenous communities throughout Canada under continued colonial exertion.

*

I was at the second environmental assessment hearings for four days in Williams Lake. I also listened in real-time to the audio broadcasts or after-the-fact to the archived podcasts of the community and technical hearings that I was unable to attend. In the two-year lead up to the hearings, I did my best to keep abreast of the process and information. I presented at the opening and closing sessions of the panel hearings. My comments explaining my involvement and articulating my thoughts can be found here and here (audio @ 20 min mark).

Some of the things I remember from the hearings were of a man, a local politician, calling two Indigenous women who were standing in the foyer of the entrance to the hearing “parasites” as he sneered in gesture at them. I remember a Vice-President of the mining company, in his formal introduction to the project, explaining that his company was improving its relations with Indigenous peoples acknowledging that the hearings would take the panel to five local First Nations – of which they were excited to attend. John McManus introduced the communities he would soon be visiting awkwardly by PowerPoint slide and said of the people he’d been courting: “I’ve been with the company for eight years and I’ve worked quite hard with myself and the staff to consult, engage in First Nations. This is a list of the things we do, work to consult and engage with. I’m not going to even attempt the pronunciations.” I remember talking to Mr. McManus privately later, telling him that it might improve his claim that he and his company are trying hard to change their relationship with Indigenous people if he learned their names.

I remember the plea from a local businessman for all present to acknowledge his admiration for “aboriginal culture” by wanting to put it on display. I remember settlers explaining their love for the area of the proposed mine because they like to use it as their “playground.” I remember many settlers proclaiming their love for the area but petulantly threatening that they’d leave it if the mine were not built; while Tsilhqot’in said they would never leave their home and that they’d continue to defend it.

Of the strongest memories I have from the hearings are the presentations from mining professor and consultant John Meech. In many ways he presented a master narrative of Canada, industry, and development that could encapsulate the sentiment and conditions of many of the other presenters that lobbied for the mine. In his opening presentation he attempted to legitimate his personal authority in Canada, explaining that his name is a direct line to the Reverend Asa Meech, the namesake of the famous Meech Lake near Ottawa that has served in prominent Constitutional discussions. He asserted that Canada is built on industry, and that this proposal is just one necessary project in the assurance of Canada’s integrity, strength, and continuity.

Meech assured the panel that mining practices in BC are strong; and he claimed that stringent demands will ensure that the mining of the much desired metals will take place with proper environmental standards, oversights, and commitment to local and social obligations from the company. Thus, resting on recently changed standards, Meech declares the necessity for such a project in the Cariboo-Chilcotin is economically necessary, safe, and Canadian.

In his story, he recognises a problem; and his description is telling. “Aboriginals” are poor, unhealthy, undeveloped, uneducated, and generally lacking. There is a poverty of essence: character, form, and action. But, the problem has an answer. It is the opportunity afforded everyone in the adoption of modern, proper industry. For Meech, “the Aboriginals” like the greater communities of Williams Lake and 100 Mile House stand to gain from the industry of the mine. The settlers will have the chance of employment at the mine or spin-off businesses, an opportunity that will address losses to their standards due to a massive reduction in local forestry. But “the Aboriginals” will have a qualitatively different offering: the opportunity to develop. If they give up their ineffective ways, accept the mine as the future, their lack/want/poverty/appetites will be satisfied. They have the opportunity to catch-up, to fill the holes of what he asserts is their impoverished culture.

Admitting that he doesn’t like what he sees when he looks toward “aboriginal” communities (high poverty, suicides, uneducated, etc.), he is offering a project for change and development that he declares is natural, evolutionary, and progressive. This story of the development of the growth of rational societies is the story of the enlightenment and Meech shares its Canadian iteration. This is the same rationale that banned the potlatch because of its ‘uneconomic’ behaviour in the 1880s, created segregated townships, implemented the Indian Act, protected residential schools, and reinforced missionaries. It serves to reinforce a state-story of Terra Nullius, that there were no people here before sovereignty assertion by the Crown; or, if there were people, they were not of a level of human social development that recognised them as being of society. This story is patently untrue and serves to create the conditions of genocide.

In this telling, the local Indigenous folks are impeding development, much to their own loss. For Meech, mining is an historic industry in Canada and provides a backbone for the economy. This is a serious clash of positions but a rational decision must prevail. This path requires that Indigenous peoples change their ways, stop the so-called intransigence of their corrupt leaders, and adopt industrial development. Problem identified. Resolution defined. Here the problem identified is the poor Indian and the resolution defined is the industrial development of Canada.

So, Meech’s conceptualization of the proposal is completely out of time. Because BC has a different colonial history than the rest of Canada, there are different legal requirements and political obligations that must be considered and satisfied when pursuing interests in such a development project. In fact, right now Tsilhqot’in have a case before the Supreme Court of Canada regarding rights and title to this area, a legal process that began over disputes of resource extractions almost 30 years ago. To suggest that the solution to the situation is the extraction of resources against their will, demanding that they capitulate in the changing of their ways, and that he knows what is best is a programmatic for colonialism.

In Meech’s concluding presentation, he remarked:

The Meech Lake Accord, now linked notoriously to my family name was an attempt to create a “distinct society” in Canada, a concept that was undefined and divisive. We are all Canadians: First Nations, English, French, and new immigrants who gain citizenship. Our cultural backgrounds may be diverse, but we are all Canadians first.

Necessary questions posed from this claim, then, are how did Canada acquire its “first” status? By war? By treaty? By purchase? By settling it? When and how did Tsilhqot’in lose the ability to enact sovereign jurisdiction over their territory? How Canada? Why Canada?

To some people these are shocking even nonsensical questions. However, at their root are the reasons for the inclusion of Aboriginal Rights in the Canadian Constitution and recent jurisprudence on reconciliation and decolonisation, the rationale for the creation of the BC Treaty Process, and underpins the BC government’s statement on The New Relationship. In fact, these questions are based in an historical reality in that answering them allows us to consider our social and economic decisions in political and legal context. It allows us to examine how we make decisions with respect to water, air, our health, and with each other. It allows us to consider what is possible and to reconsider how we construct our political relationships with ourselves and others by asking how we come to be here.

Clearly, this proposal is troubled. First, there are technical questions that point to dangers in the safety of the mine. Secondly, when consulted and asked, the local indigenous leadership stood together and rejected this project . They reiterated that they are not against mining, but they oppose this proposal and the method of the company.

2013 in review

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Points of Contact, Fall 2013

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Marc Pinkoski

Two important contacts between the Canadian state and Indigenous Peoples located within its borders are about to manifest: The Panel Recommendations to federal cabinet regarding the proposal for a large open-pit gold/copper mine near Williams Lake, BC is set to be released in a few hours; and the Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights and title appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada will be heard November 7, 2013.

The recommendations of the federally appointed panel are important because they will speak to the second significant proposal to mine the ore-body present around an area called Nabas. The three-member Panel’s recommendations are the culmination of about two years of work, including hearing live testimony for almost one month this summer, hearing and receiving evidence to determine “adverse environmental effects” of the proposed mine (and whether they have been mitigated).

A similar proposal was considered by another panel in 2009/10 and their numerous and deep concerns were heeded by the federal minister of the environment at the time, Jim Prentice, when he rejected the initial proposal. Their assessment concluded that if the mine were to be developed as proposed, it would cause irreparable damage to Aboriginal rights, fish stocks and habitats, and at-risk grizzly populations.

Notwithstanding the rejected proposal, the mining company, local politicians and the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce lobbied federal cabinet for changes to various environmental assessment laws and obligations. This lobby was successful and changes to Canadian environmental law are contained in the massive omnibus legislations passed by parliament in 2012. The panel is set to release their non-binding recommendations to the new minister of the environment, Leona Aglukkaq, and she along with cabinet will decide the future of the project.

Below are some of the instructions the second panel has been charged with:

  • The Panel shall conduct an assessment of the environmental effects of the Project referred to in the Scope of the Project (Part 1) in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (the Act) and these Terms of Reference.

The assessment by the Panel shall include a consideration of the following factors:

  1.  the environmental effects of the Project including the environmental effects of malfunctions or accidents that may occur in connection with the Project and any cumulative environmental effects that are likely to result from the Project in combination with other projects or activities that have been or will be carried out;
  2. the significance of the environmental effects referred to in the above paragraph;
  3. comments from the public and Aboriginal groups that are received during the review;
  4. measures that are technically and economically feasible and that would mitigate any significant adverse environmental effects of the Project;
  5. the need for the Project and alternatives to the Project;
  6. the purpose of the Project;
  7. alternative means of carrying out the Project that are technically and economically feasible, and the environmental effects of any such alternative means;
  8. the need for, and the requirements of, any follow-up program in respect of the Project;
  9. the capacity of renewable resources that are likely to be significantly affected by the Project to meet the needs of the present and those of the future.
  • The Panel shall use the information, submissions and testimony generated as part of the 2009/2010 review, including the 2009 Environmental Impact Statement for the previous project (2009 EIS) and the Report of the Federal Review Panel for the Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine Project dated July 2, 2010 (previous panel’s report) to conduct its assessment. This information will be supplemented by a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the proponent and, as required, by additional information generated through the panel process.

The public hearing and the subsequent recommendations will be an indicator of how changes to federal environmental laws will played be out. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said

This bad project is one of the first to be forced through the now gutted federal environmental review process borne out of the Harper Government’ omnibus bills C-38 and C-45. If this review fails to come to the same conclusion as the last one, then we’ll know that the changes to the EA process are indeed about approving disastrous and unscrupulous projects over the objections of First Nations and the general public and at the great expense to the environment.

In this way, the two hearings and recommendations will provide a test case for changes as essentially the same project is considered.

Amongst the raft of environmental changes to federal law is the role public hearings take in fulfilling the government’s constitutional duty to consult with Indigenous Peoples about development projects that occur in their territories, a duty that increases in obligation with the strength of the Indigenous Peoples’ assertion to rights in the area. This means that environmental hearings, like the one for proposed mine, are meant to satisfy the government’s responsibilities and are a sort of microcosm of Indigenous-state relations. They occur in a public forum, are sanctioned by the state, and meant to satisfy a component of Aboriginal rights under Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act.

So for Tsilhqot’in, the hearing and the recommendations that are set to be handed to cabinet within the hour are important for how resources are accessed and developed on their lands and for how the settler-community around them follows the laws of the state that they claim to uphold. The implications for other Indigenous communities are tremendous, as this will be a road map for future development projects and how the state will interact and build relations with local Indigenous communities.

The second important point of contact upcoming between the state and Indigenous peoples is now closely tied to the first and the burden once again falls to Tsilhqot’in. Following decades of litigation to limit and stop certain resources extraction in their territories, Tsilhqot’in have pursued legal remedies through the Canadian court system. For instance, Tsilhqot’in brought a rights and title case against the BC government a process that led to a trial in Victoria, BC. After hearing testimony for much five years, BC Supreme Court Judge Vickers recognised that Tsilhqot’in have Aboriginal rights to the land to which they are asserting control.

I will write more about this case and its appeal in the coming days, but it is important to note that the relevance of this case. Following the instructions of two precedent setting cases handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1990s (Van der Peet 1996 and Delgamuuk’w 1997), Tsilhqot’in Nation also serves to be a test and indicator for how Indigenous Peoples’ are received, understood, and treated by the state. Quite simply, after years of going to court and satisfying settler law if Tsilhqot’in are not fully consulted and have a strong, legitimately heard voice in the goings-on of their community, then this is certainly a death-knell for aboriginal rights in Canadian law.

Robert Phillips, from the First Nations Summit, ominously recognises that

This is also a test case of the federal government’s commitment to First Nations Title, Rights and Treaty Rights. If spending 20 years in court proving our rights means nothing at the end of the day, then we’ll only see conflict on the ground.

FKP is proud to announce that Professor Michael Asch will be offering a 6-week open class starting May 15, 715pm.

Between Canadian Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination:
Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada.

The class will be held at 768 Yates Street, Victoria at Cenote Restaurant & Lounge. The venue is NOT wheelchair accessible and space is limited to 50.

 

The City of Victoria is celebrating its 150th anniversary with what it’s calling “a wide range of events and projects that embrace Victoria’s proud history and its defining heritage characteristics, while maintaining a current and contemporary view of the future.”

In their promotions for the events, the organisers remind us that: “Victoria has been home to some of Canada’s most colourful characters… including architect Francis Rattenbury, painter and writer Emily Carr, newspaperman and ‘lover of the universe’ Amour de Cosmos, hanging judge Matthew Bailey Begbie…” And, one of the planned Victoria 150 activities focuses on the importance of Fort Victoria’s role in helping to build the city. To pay tribute to this history, the organisers have planned what they call a “fun event [that] will register the ‘universal appeal of forts’ while paying tribute to Victoria’s start as Fort Victoria, a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, which is the basis for the modern City…”

To take up the City of Victoria’s invitation to embrace Victoria’s heritage and history, with an eye to engaging the present and future, it is necessary to go beyond ‘celebration’ to raise the matter of our ‘obligations.’ It is necessary to ask probing questions about the past and about our relations today. Positioning the above characters as ‘colourful’ and framing the appeal of forts as ‘universal’ reflects a disturbing gap between unthinking celebration and engaged obligation.

We should ask whether the term ‘colourful character’ is appropriate in the context of a “hanging judge.” We can remember that Judge Begbie tried people outside of his jurisdiction, often finding defendants guilty after trying them without interpreters. Undeniably he is an important historical figure, the restored version of his courtroom resting in the Maritime Museum of BC, located in Bastion Square, the heart of the old Fort Victoria site and the site of planned celebrations is a testament to this fact; but what does it tell us about our celebrations when we denude the context of a hanging judge? Who did he hang and why? Or, what does it tell us about ourselves when we pass off the state’s executioner as “colourful?” What, who, and how are we celebrating?

In the most direct terms, the configuration of the fort as having universal appeal is delusional. It is important to acknowledge that ‘fort’ is a shortened word for fortification and to remember that fortifications are precisely built structures of contest, violence, and exclusion. They exist because of a desire to assuage fear and provide security through the physical separation of peoples, those inside who are safe and trustworthy but who see themselves as under threat from those outside who are dangerous because of their difference from those inside the fort (civilised v. savagery). It is important to acknowledge and remember that our Fort was a structure laden with cannons and directed the entire colonising force on the Island. It helped to organise and perpetrate quick and devastating and long-term acts of violence on people throughout the land – helping the forced removal of people from their lands, the confinement of peoples into ghettos, theft of resources, intensive missionizing efforts and sustained cultural suppression through school curricula and colonial history. Forts, by design, do not have universal appeal and ours is part of a militaristic and violent operation whose effects continue to this day. That the organisers of the City’s celebration could conceive of it so out of time and history — so out of context — that they would contend that a fort is for all is more than naïve, it helps to create the conditions of revisionist history and altered reality.

To celebrate our history and our place in Victoria is a worthy endeavour and the practice of building structures in downtown Victoria is a creative idea that will no doubt yield interesting, provocative, and artistic responses. In the most serious of terms, however, I wonder if we could valorise other institutions and other ideals. Could we think about and plan for what we need in Victoria, and in downtown Victoria specifically? Could we envision a safe injection site, mental health help, care and love for seniors, food, public toilets, and safe places for marginalised and vulnerable people to live and sleep? There is no doubt that the history of the fort is important and undeniably it is crucial to the city of Victoria, where I live and the community that I care about dearly. Nonetheless, could we celebrate and create something beautiful?

Clearly, with the desire to celebrate our heritage there come obligations to understand our past against what we know to be true and how we’d like to organise and live our lives today. That is, at this time of celebration and retrospection, we could ask questions about the past, examine different accounts of events, and reflect upon how these histories effect our relations today. In this way, with the coming Victoria 150 Celebrations, we could reflect on certain specific community building practices and ask how they might shape our lives. We could, then, remember that Fort Victoria is the site of the ‘signing’ of many of the so-called ‘Fort Victoria’ or ‘Douglas’ Treaties that took place in the early 1850s and we could do something daring and work to honour our treaty obligations.

To celebrate our history is to know it.

Tonight the CBC released a leaked copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mid-term report. The following is an introduction to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was struck on June 1, 2008, and is scheduled to complete its work by 2014. It is important to stress that reconciliation, in a broad sense, is conflated with the important but narrow apology to victims of residential schools. The TRC states that it

will build upon the “Statement of Reconciliation” dated January 7, 1998 and the principles developed by the Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation and of the Exploratory Dialogues (1998-1999). These principles are as follows: accessible; victim-centered; confidentiality (if required by the former student); do no harm; health and safety of participants; representative; public/transparent; accountable; open and honourable process; comprehensive; inclusive, educational, holistic, just and fair; respectful; voluntary; flexible; and forward looking in terms of rebuilding and renewing Aboriginal relationships and the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

They go on to state, claiming that

Reconciliation is an ongoing individual and collective process, and will require commitment from all those affected including First Nations, Inuit and Métis former Indian Residential School (IRS) students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada. Reconciliation may occur between any of the above groups.

Specifically, “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has a mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools. The Commission will document the truth of what happened by relying on records held by those who operated and funded the schools, testimony from officials of the institutions that operated the schools, and experiences reported by survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience and its subsequent impacts.”

The TRC states that “the Commission hopes to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.” And that “the Commission views reconciliation as an ongoing individual and collective process that will require participation from all those affected by the residential school experience. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis former students, their families, communities, religious groups, former Indian Residential School employees, government, and the people of Canada.” 

As a directive, the TRC will:

  • Prepare a complete historical record on the policies and operations of residential schools.
  • Complete a public report including recommendations to the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
  • Establish a national research centre that will be a lasting resource about the IRS legacy.
  • Host seven national events in different regions across Canada to promote awareness and public education about the residential school system and its impacts.
  • Support events designed by individual communities to meet their unique needs.
  • Support a commemoration initiative that will provide funding for activities that honour and pay tribute in a permanent and lasting manner to former residential school students.

The CBC reports that the mid-term report offers the following recommendations:

The commission calls for all provinces and territories to develop residential school education materials for public schools. Provinces and territories should hold education campaigns about the history and impact of residential schools in their jurisdictions, the commission says.

The report also asks the federal government to distribute a framed copy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic formal apology to residential school survivors, saying it should be displayed prominently in every secondary school in the country. The commissioners want the apology delivered to every known residential school survivor.

They recommend setting up a mental-health wellness facility in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories, saying such a centre is “critically needed by residential school survivors and their families and communities.”

The federal government and the churches involved in residential schools should establish what the commission calls “an ongoing cultural revival fund” to pay for projects related to the cultural, traditional and spiritual heritage of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

According to the CBC, some other recommendations are:

  • Provinces and territories should review what is taught in public schools about residential schools and develop new materials to address any shortfalls.
  • The federal government should set up centres for grief and trauma counselling and treatment.
  • The concerns of former students who feel unfairly left out of compensation programs should be addressed.
  • The federal government should work with the commission to make sure it has adequate funds to complete its mandate on time.
  • All levels of government and those party to the settlement agreement should use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for ongoing reconciliation work between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
  • The federal government, churches and other agencies should hand over all relevant documents to the commission so that it can continue its work.

I have been reflecting on these recommendations and I want to raise a few points. I find the idea of delivering Stephen Harper’s framed apology to every residential school survivor a poignant token.  And, I find the delivery of the apology to every secondary school in the country a wonderful idea. The prospect is haunting and provocative. But this token, sent to these schools, all of these schools, has to be part of a meaningful public education campaign. How will these plaques be received and displayed? How will they be taught and understood?

In this way, I raise a challenge to the first recommendation that “all provinces and territories to develop residential school education materials for public schools. Provinces and territories should hold education campaigns about the history and impact of residential schools in their jurisdictions.” To me, it seems much more important to know about the conditions that permitted the logic and action of the state and its citizens to create residential schools and maintain them for more than a century. The history of residential schools is highly important but not sufficient to begin to deal with the issues that created them. It might be part of the path of reconciliation, but it does not address the underlying problems that created the schools in the first place.

Why were young Indigenous people taken from their homes and families and institutionalized? I will raise two points. First, the schools were conceived of as a civilizing project. That is, the state in consort with church missions took themselves to rooting out what was considered savage and instilling what was considered proper. In the realm of thinking savagely, it presupposes that there are gradations of human social groups and the level of Indigenous peoples is one characterized by lack, want, and need. How that story plays out is interesting and important, but it is crucial to stress that the civilizing projects that permitted the institutionalization of Indigenous children continue to this day. In fact, the very definition of aboriginal rights in current Canadian law is a project for assimilation.

Secondly and closely related, children were taken because of demonstrations of power, acts of sovereignty, and claims to jurisdiction. In places like the coasts of what is now called British Columbia, colonial powers led with cannons and small armies, clearing village after village after village. And soon thereafter many people from the remaining communities were infected with smallpox, a process that seems less than accidental and not entirely natural.

The residential schools and the civilizing projects were set up because it was claimed and then attempted to be maintained that Indigenous communities did not have sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over their lands and resources – nor could they as savages. The state could fill the void of the lacking humanity of the common savage Indian by taking control of all resources, limiting those who had come before it by claiming that none had come before it.

The Commission recommends that an on-going cultural revival fund be established. If we understand cultural here to mean something like taught and practiced way of life, it behooves us all to understand that a way of life has a relationship to sovereignty, jurisdiction, control, relations, and freedom. It is one thing to apologize; it is quite something else to make  changes to affect the relationships. I believe we need a more daring and robust notion of reconciliation.

Marc Pinkoski