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Idle no more 'has it right': LaForme

|Written By Yamri Taddese

The Idle No More movement “has it right,” said Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Harry LaForme in a speech at the OBA Institute’s Aboriginal law session.

Justice Harry LaForme says a reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians should allow for equality. (Photo: Yamri Taddese)

Aboriginal Canadians continue to be treated as “wards of the state,” said LaForme, the first Aboriginal appellate judge in Canada, in an impassioned speech yesterday.

“In law, a ward is someone placed under the protection of a legal guardian. The state takes responsibility for the legal protection of an individual, usually a child or an incapacitated person,” he said. “In Canada, the Indian Act is the central tool by which the federal government rendered itself the authority, under s. 91(24), to completely manage the affairs of Indians, thus making hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people wards of the federal state.”

The declaration was part of LaForme’s look into what the Idle No More movement is speaking to, particularly what’s behind the its maxim of “resetting and restoring the relationship between indigenous people and Canada.”

In a brief summary of a complex history, LaForme — a member of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation — said the original intent of early relationship with Aboriginals was to bring Canada’s indigenous people “as partners, as invested nations.”

But this structure began to change in the 1800, when Aboriginal people came to be seen as a barrier to economic and political gains, added LaForme, who also spoke of residential schools and officials’ desire to “kill the Indian in the child and save the man.”

After centuries, “Canada finds the Aboriginal-Canadian relationship unworkable and extremely expensive. Go figure,” he said. “The response from many quarters — and I say this sadly, regrettably — is that somehow the Aboriginal people, we are the ones to blame for the broken relationship.”

He added: “It must be understood and appreciated that this current relationship only exists because of what is universally defined as a legal fiction and a refusal to honour history.”

A reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians should allow for equality between them, said LaForme, noting Canada and its first inhabitants must agree on the “the rightful place of Aboriginal people.”

A resolution should also include modern treaties based on “goodwill and honest effort” that reestablish the original intent Aboriginal Canadian relationship, he added.

“Canadians, I believe, are owed nothing less. In the end, Idle No More, it would appear, has it right.”

  • Adrian Nadjiwon
    Geery, your definition of equality is to demand natives abrogate their treaty and inherent rights, and assimilate with non-natives and non-native society. Do you honestly think that is a fair and equitable imposition? You completely miss the point, (Or deny it...) that natives have been treated like children by the federal government as a point of policy. The resulting poverty, high unemployment, low graduation rates and sociological problems are not the errant results of Canadian policies, they are the intention. So rather than continue to treat natives like children, maybe it's time you accepted that they are in fact, people. People who deserve the same per capita spending as non-natives, to live their own lives and culture, and to speak their own language. Remember, natives are not calling for non-natives to assimilate into their culture, only non-natives are doing this, no. Natives want nothing, but the same freedom to chart their own course as non-natives have...
  • Chris J McLeod
    Being a "Ward" of the state creates a Trust because Indians were removed from section 92 of the Constitution and placed under section 91 which is the section that gives the fed gov't the responsibilities of section 92 towards Indians and Indian governments. It was Indian government which Canada made treaties with not individuals Indians. The lands reserved for half the Indians in Canada were for families of 5 and the Bands, although promised "a fair apportionment of land" were reserved nothing. Or is this the "tradional lands" that were given to provinces with the Natural Resources Transfer Act os 1930?
  • R McLeod
    Don't be confused go to the library and make your opinion count and also talk to Firts Nationand humbly ask the key question you need to be on your way of better and courtious understanding of the original occupants of this land...you won't regret it
  • R McLeod
    You people of no First Nations blood must understand that we are the owners of this land, don't meke it sound like you own the land as Canada. There is no document out there that indicates Canada owns the land, if there is I would like to see it and I'm sure the world would like to see this document as well, Canadian citizens don't want to see it for abvious reasons.
  • Roger Loubert
    To Geery Gagnon… it would seem from my point of view that the Reservations ( in and of themselves )…have created the Situation that you fear . Ie. THE BALKANISATION OF CANADA …. /

    What I believe this appellate Judge is trying to say is that in fact a RELATIONSHIP… ie TREATIES .., in and of themselves..- had they been respected - would have us now Matured as a Nation… as a Country… as equals among Nations… ( had we respected our engagement at the time )…

    What we have now is Broken Promises and a People that obviously is IDLE NO MORE on the Questions at hand… and in fact this Judge is simply pointing this out to all of us ..

    And I for one appreciate his candor and his Courage…!!! And would like to hear more from one who Roots from the Land itself.. that we now call Home !!!!
  • Ed Azure
    appreciate the effort at honesty my friend but I think your spell check is busted or something....your Post Script is all goofed up! I think you mean to say that, "Because he is an EDUCATED and INFORMED indian, shouldn't he be silenced?"
  • A native
    Geery, what's the confusion, are you saying Indians shouldn't partake in the negotiations on aboriginal affairs? More third party management? If that's the case, all european settlers don't have a right partake in negotiations either.
  • Geery Gagnon
    After reading this, i must say i'm confused. The general article implies a desire for 'equality', which virtually all Canadians agree with -- that all of us should be equal before the law, and not have to suffer discrimination that interferes with one's life pursuits. However, it seems to me that the judge isn't talking about equality of citizens, but equality of nations. This is unacceptable to millions of Canadians and if it means abandoning our treaty obligations to stop the Balkanization of Canada, then that is what must, and will, be done -- politically.
    P.S. Shouldn't a public official (in this case, a judge) stay out of controversial subjects, particularly when he has a vested interest (as an Indian) in the outcome?
  • Siusaidh
    So I guess no one can comment. We all have vested interests.
  • Johnny Canuck
    First the treaty obligations need to be respected, or at the least equitably and cooperatively managed, because up until the current IDLE NO MORE movement First Nations have been marginalized and socially abused by the colonizers and settlers through direct means and via unconsulted legislation. Bring the First Nations people to equality in all areas BEFORE attempting to re-write laws and treaties that at the moment are the only thing protecting their rights and the rights of our environment.
  • Michael Kaer
    Mr Gangnon; You really need to do do more research and read some history. The natives have been ripped off for centuries and now you just want to do away with all their treaty rights. So you suggest Canada hands over the trillions of dollars owed to the Natives? You advocate stealing MORE up to ALL of their land? How blatant a thief are you? Canada NEVER had the the authority to change a single thing in the treaties between Briton and the First Nations people.
  • David Moyer
    Excuse me, Geery, but are you really saying that any public official who is "Indian" is disqualified from speaking on this "controversial" subject? In other words, only non-"Indians" are allowed to talk about it, because they don't have a "vested interest"? Please tell me you didn't mean what you said. And by the way, judges (as well as other "public officials", for example MPs, cabinet ministers, and even prime ministers) speak publicly on controversial subjects all the time. Just check any newspaper front page.
  • Northerner
    Don't all white judges have a vested interest as well? White judges have been handing down rulings for years.
  • Maureen Hanley
    Mr.Gagnon balkanizes his own comment by implying an "Indian" should stay out of commenting on "Indian" issues. So "Canadians" can abandon their treaty oblgations without any interference from those who he separates in 5 sentences. Yes, treaties are made between nations. Canada bears responsibility for their legal actions, and we all bear resonsibility to our brothers and sisters. The horrors of war in the Balkans can be attributed to nations not listening to nations and brothers and sisters no listening to brothers and sisters. Let's be careful when throwing about words that call up violent strife; a dash and addition of the word politically nullifies nothing. I know it has come into the lexicon and common usage but using the term generally trivilizes the torturous road the people in the Balkans went through and is just sensational hyperbole aimed at justifying your opinion. It's a bogeyman that trivilizes the First Nations issues and is not useful in finding a solution.
  • read all
    # Geery Gagnon..it seems you are confused only because you only read part of the article and don't want to know the history of Canada. The Federal government makes the aboriginal natives 'wards'??? so as a parent to the aboriginal you would complain about your children having needs? I say this because that is what the federal government has deemed itself to the aborigina peoples. Treaties were not written to make the aboriginals wards. Now that aboriginals have education levels to make sense of what the federal government has written you put a PS to fault the writter. You just want to continue to oppress.
  • Everett E, Jerry
    Geery your leery on all accounts and sound more like the yankee Flannigan from here out west. Do some sound research so you can make some sound comments with some respect and substance. Other than that your ignorant and don't know what your talking about.

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