Editors' Note: This excerpt is chapter 17 from Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson, unsettling Canada: A national Wake-up Call (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2015), 223–227. Used with permission from Between the Lines.
One thing is certain: the flood waters of colonialism are, at long last, receding. In 2005, Indigenous peoples watched the Aymara leader Evo Morales launch his campaign for the presidency of Bolivia under the wiphala, the ancient rainbow-coloured banner of the Incan peoples. When he promised to end five hundred years of colonialism in his country, his opponents accused him of calling for revolution. But Morales insisted his objectives were far more profound. Not a revolution, but a refounding of Bolivia as a country that is part of ancient Tawantinsuyu (land of the Inca).
For Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Evo Morales's victory was the dove returning to the ark with an olive twig in its beak. In 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was another sign that the question of the rights of Indigenous peoples was finally being addressed by the world, beginning with a recognition of our basic right to self-determination, which is guaranteed to all peoples by the International Covenants on Civil and Political and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As we have seen, even colonial courts in Canada and elsewhere have recognized the need of Indigenous peoples to give their prior informed consent to any development on our lands, and Canada's Supreme Court in the Delgamuukw decision recognized in principle our continued proprietorship over our territories. A more recent decision, the Tsilhqot'in decision on June 26, 2014, recognized Aboriginal title on the ground to almost two thousand square kilometres of Tsilhqot'in territory.
In paragraph 94 of the Tsilhqot'in decision, the Court could not have been clearer:
With the declaration of title, the Tsilhqot'in have now established Aboriginal title to the portion of the lands designated by the trial judge. … This gives them the right to determine, subject to the inherent limits of group title held for future generations, the uses to which the land is put and to [End Page 244] enjoy its economic fruits. As we have seen, this is not merely a right of first refusal with respect to Crown land management or usage plans. Rather, it is the right to proactively use and manage the land.
The Tsilhqot'in case is the legal and constitutional footing needed to bring into reality the story our Elders told us: Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples should be travelling in two canoes on the river together, but each moving under their own power and in control of their own direction. The recognition of Aboriginal title on the ground is a fundamental decolonizing action. This case is the first in Canada where Indigenous peoples have repossessed their lost—or more accurately, stolen—inheritance. It is a monumental decision for the country and the provinces.
The Tsilhqot'in decision paves the way for this; it recognizes our Aboriginal title, and restates that it is collectively held by the people. To implement the decision on the ground will require implementing our own Indigenous governance, based on our Indigenous laws, not on processes funded and directed by the government.
But we know that the Canadian government has time and again proven itself lawless when it comes to Indigenous peoples. Despite losing more than 150 legal cases on Indigenous rights over the past fifteen years, it insists that it is in control of the Indian agenda and that Indigenous peoples have no rights. In fact, the Department of Indian Affairs' annual Corporate Risk Profiles describe its policy, without any sense of irony, as a "non-rights based policy" in contrast to the "rights-based" position of Indigenous peoples.
Dr. Shiri Pasternak used an Access to Information request to unearth these internal documents, and they show that while the Department speaks with great confidence in its public pronouncements, internally it admits that it is playing with fire in ignoring our rights. As the 2012 report puts it, "There is a tension between the rights-based agenda...