commented on Dreaming Healthy Nations: Indigenous stories & the social determinants of health
2015-06-11 13:27:08 -0600
S C, I’d like to briefly respond to the comment you made regarding your discomfort with Indigenous rights. Many Canadians strongly endorse a ‘universalist’ or classic ‘liberalist’ approach to human rights like you and express discomfort with Indigenous rights, which they see as providing more than the rights already universally afforded to Canadian citizens. One of the problems with such a universalist or liberalist approach, however, is that it fails to acknowledge the fact that ‘difference’ exists regardless of whether one’s preferred legal or philosophical theory is able to account for that difference.
Imagine a First Nation’s claim to the lands and resources of their traditional territories. These claims are often based on the occupation of these lands, the use and stewardship of these resources over hundred to thousands of years, and Indigenous peoples’ own legal systems that typically govern use, access, ownership and stewardship of these lands and resources. How is this any different from the claims that Canada or any province or territory makes to the same (their so-called ‘asserted sovereignty’)? How powerful is the justification of a provincial or federal government to the remote Indigenous territories of northern Canada and coastal BC, for example? In many cases it’s little more than a paper-based assertion of sovereignty and ownership, with very few improvements, services provided or even explorations made. And yet these governments purport to have the sole and exclusive power to set the rules for who can develop and exploit the resources within these territories through ‘universally’ available commercial fishing licences or environmental assessment processes that are only universally available so long as you have millions of dollars of capital to work with. This is one of the pernicious practical realities that Indigenous rights need to contend with and universalist perspectives are unable to. Lands and resources that Indigenous peoples always used, owned and governed are sold to third parties based on assertions of sovereignty and ownership by governments that have never so much as stepped foot there.
How does liberalism account for your ability to have the benefits of citizenship in Canada or whatever country you are privileged enough to live in? A Guatemalan citizen cannot step foot on Canadian soil and start to claim our freshwater, fish, oil or timber for themselves, not without entering into a mutually beneficial agreement as to royalties and such. Citizenship in a western democracy has been aptly described as the modern day equivalent of the class privilege nobles were born into in feudal Europe. Most of us are born into it and take it for granted and assume that it somehow has more credibility than the claims of Indigenous nations. If you look more closely, however, you’ll see that there’s little to back up that perspective in many cases. What is dressed up as universal can often amount to little more than an elaborate justification for the expropriation of lands and resources. If anyone is benefiting from treaties in this country it is first and foremost the descendants of the settler population. To then ask that all consideration flowing to the other parties now be stymied so they can join us or disappear is the arrogant underpinning of the hard-line liberalist argument.