Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has criticized a remark by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada does not have a colonial past.
Harper made the comment on September 25 at a press conference during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.
“We also have no history of colonialism,” the Conservative prime minister said. “So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them.”
Yesterday (October 1), Atleo released the following statement:
The Prime Minister must be held to the highest standard especially when speaking to the international community. There is no room for error. The current line of response from federal officials that the Prime Minister’s remarks were taken ”˜out of context’ is simply not good enough for someone in his position.
I have spoken with the Minister of Indian Affairs and urged him and the Prime Minister to meet with First Nations in good faith to address this matter and, equally important, begin the work of reconciliation that lies ahead. The Prime Minister stated in his apology to students of residential schools that, ”˜There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again.’ The Prime Minister must ensure that such commitments inform every statement and action.
The effects of colonialism remain today. It is the attitude that fueled the residential schools; the colonial Indian Act that displaces traditional forms of First Nations governance; the theft of Indian lands and forced relocations of First Nations communities; the criminalization and suppression of First Nations languages and cultural practices; the chronic under-funding of First Nations communities and programs; and the denial of Treaty and Aboriginal rights, even though they are recognized in Canada’s Constitution.
Internationally, Canada has been scrutinized and harshly criticized for its treatment of Indigenous peoples and failure to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights. Canada is increasingly isolated as one of only three nations in the world that has refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that rejects the doctrine of colonialism.
The Prime Minister’s statement speaks to the need for greater public education about First Nations and Canadian history. It may be possible to use this moment to begin bridging this gulf of misunderstanding. The future cannot be built without due regard to the past, without reconciling the incredible harm and injustice with a genuine commitment to move forward in truth and respect.
First Nations leaders and Canadians call on the Prime Minister to honour the apology and to make clear the path to reconciliation.
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