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Our colonial history, the colonial agenda and Bill C-15

This Opinion piece was written by Wendy Lynn Lerat, who teaches Indigenous Studies at First Nations University of Canada.

For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ,

For another take on Bill C-15, see Andre Bear’s piece here.

The stated purpose of Bill C-15 is to begin aligning Canadian law with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

When asked to write a piece on Bill C-15, I took a day to reflect on the history of this once-“land of the free” and on my concerns, fears and hopes.

UNDRIP provides hope for a more just, sustainable and decolonized future at a time in history when ecosystems are collapsing as a consequence of global over-exploitation of Creation. Some call this “development,” but in reality it’s a time of human-caused climate change unprecedented in its magnitude and reach.

An authentic, bottom-up enforcement of the articles of UNDRIP will usher in a future when as human beings we are walking together on a new path and have reconciled our relationships with each other and, more importantly, with the land beneath our feet. However, one of my greatest fears is that colonial states around the world will foolishly implement UNDRIP’s articles top-down and, in the process, stand as a barrier to that path of hope. 

Canada began the process of implementing UNDRIP unilaterally and top-down, ensuring that Canada’s own version, with its own definition of self-determination, becomes entrenched in law through Bill C-15. I have concerns about the process. 

First, provincial education systems have failed to teach the true history of this land, leading to widespread ignorance and blind acceptance of the colonial agenda. There should be an education process led by informed grassroots voices that ensures that free, prior and informed consent is obtained for any decisions made that will impact our rights.

Second, as Indigenous peoples we have the right as recognized by UNDRIP to participate in the process through representatives chosen by ourselves with procedures determined by us. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is front-and-centre as the lead organization representing Indigenous peoples. The true rights-holders are the grassroots voices, not AFN. 

Also, neo-colonialism is pervasive among those in the positions of power, authority and control within Canada’s colonial Indigenous governance system. Governance is a colonial institution that is contrary to traditional Indigenous leadership models. We are now being colonized/recolonized by some of our own Indigenous people. I fear the foolish actions of our own will lead to the end of ourselves as distinct peoples.

Not just any individual who calls themselves Indigenous can be part of this process in an authentic way.– Wendy Lynn Lerat

As someone who teaches the true history of global colonization and knows her inherent/UNDRIP rights, it is maddening to witness Bill C-15 being pushed through Senate. A nation cannot be built upon a foundation of lies.

My take? It’s all smoke and mirrors. Gather the neo-colonials who like the taste of the crumbs that fall off the master’s table, place onto podiums “Indigenous” voices who do not know their history enough to provide authentic leadership, then engage in a courting dance like Wonderland is not melting.

My last concern is Bill C-15 being pushed through during COVID when protesting in the streets is impossible or unsafe. This is unethical, wrong, unjust, and deceitful.

My hope? More awake real human beings come to a quick realization of the hope of UNDRIP and its critical significance in being enforced globally today. Canadian mining companies make up around 75 per cent of the world’s extractive mining companies. Indigenous people make up about 5 per cent of the world’s population, yet protect 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Canada has a significant leadership role to play today.

I appreciate the words of the late Arthur Manuel. He ends his last book reflecting on “when we will know Canada has decolonized.” He states, “Indigenous peoples are exercising our inherent political” and “legal powers,” to the standard of the United Nations, when there has been policy reform based on Indigenous rights standards and we are able to live in sustainable ways designed by Indigenous Peoples.

Not just any individual who calls themselves Indigenous can be part of this process in an authentic way. There must be a deep understanding of the dark colonial history of Canada, recognition that decolonization is crucial for all peoples around the world, and recognition that the colonial agenda is not a thing of the past but continues today.

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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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