Judith Sayers, a.k.a. Kekinusuqs, has been a respected B.C. First Nations leader, academic, lawyer, and sustainability advocate for decades.
She's also an officer of the Order of Canada and president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which includes 14 First Nations with about 10,000 members on Vancouver Island.
Today in a statement, Sayers pointed out that if trust is broken, it can always be rebuilt.
She knows this from her people's own history of colonization, being forced into residential schools, cultural genocide, and the theft of huge tracts of land.
"First Nations have always said that trust with Canada is nonexistent, but we are willing to work with the federal government to try and repair the relationship," Sayers said.
Yet she wonders why Justin Trudeau is not willing to invest the effort to rebuild trust with two expelled members of his caucus: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Janet Philpott.
Wilson-Raybould is a former justice minister and attorney general; Philpott held three cabinet posts—health, Indigenous services, and president of the treasury board.
"If First Nations who have had trust broken time and time again and yet are still willing to work with the federal government, why is he not willing to work with two valuable individuals in his caucus?" Sayers asked.
"The prime minister says that Jody Wilson-Raybould has not expressed her confidence in him and the government," she continued. "The mere fact that Ms. Wilson-Raybould wants to remain in a party that has not treated her well says to me that she has confidence in the prime minister and the caucus. Otherwise, why else would she want to stay in a party where tension runs high if she didn't believe they could continue to work together?"
Sayers pointed out that Trudeau's decision to "remove a resilient Indigenous woman, Jody Wilson-Raybould, speaks volumes to Indigenous peoples across this country".
The Nuu-chah-nulth leader questioned if Trudeau truly values his relationship with Indigenous peoples and if he's a prime minister who supports women.
Sayers noted that Trudeau has a poor track record in keeping promises to Indigenous people and this recent move will only heighten mistrust. She added that with an election looming in October, she doubts that the prime minister "can repair the damage he has done over the SNC-Lavalin affair" with his treatment of Wilson-Raybould.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also speaks out
There was no mention of the May 6 by-election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council statement. But Indigenous voters could make a difference there.
According to a Statistics Canada riding profile, 11,430 residents are of North American Aboriginal origin out of a population of 119,495.
The NDP is running an Indigenous candidate, Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Yesterday, that organization issued a thundering denunciation of Trudeau's actions.
"We are absolutely disgusted that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have been kicked out of the Liberal caucus and dropped as candidates because they chose to act honorably and with integrity regarding the SNC-Lavalin scandal rather than kowtow to Liberal political pressure," UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a statement. "Apparently, this equates to being 'untrustworthy' in the shifty eyes of Justin Trudeau, who is clearly committed to propping up cronyism and the old boys’ network.
“SNC-Lavalin faces charges of serious corruption and fraud in Libya under the notorious dictator Muammar Gaddafi, charges that Trudeau and his party are ready to sweep under the rug via a deferred prosecution agreement that will result in nothing more than fines for the company," the grand chief continued. "This type of shoddy, slimy backroom politics, is the exact opposite to the ‘new kind of government’ that Trudeau and his sunny ways promised. How can the Liberals be considered a united team if members of their office have inappropriately sought to interfere with and undermine Jody Wilson-Raybould’s actions regarding the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin?”
The federal Liberals have also generated a backlash in Sto:lo country over their decision to turf Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from caucus.
Louis De Jaeger, an Indigenous entrepreneur and Liberal candidate in Chilliwack-Hope in 2015, has announced that he has quit as vice president of the local Liberal riding association.
In a statement on Facebook, De Jaeger also said that he has withdrawn his name from consideration as a Liberal candidate in Chilliwack-Hope in the upcoming federal election.
"It has become clear to me that my values and the values of many of the supporters in Chilliwack-Hope do not align with the current direction of the Prime Minister and those within the PMO," De Jaeger, a member of the Sto:lo nation, wrote. "It has also become clear that the current actions by the Prime Minister will not undo the damage done to the Liberals and the Trudeau brand before the upcoming election in October.
"One of the most valuable assets we have in life is to be trustworthy. It is this erosion of trust that the Prime Minister mentions when speaking of blame for the current SNC fiasco…the breakdown of the relationships between himself, the PMO, the former Attorney General and the former Treasury Board President. It is an erosion of trust that many of the 17,100 supporters in Chilliwack-Hope will demonstrate when voting this October."
Then there's this: