Thursday, 27 December 2012
(Part 2) Those Who Live in Glass Houses Should be Wary of Casting Stones: The NDP and Indigenous Relations (Part 2: 1979-1992)
As stated in the first part of this write-up, the last month has been a rocky one – a consistent sight every decade of the deplorable state and relationship between Canada and the Indigenous Nations who the state shares this territory with. As my involvement has increased for the protection of my rights, the rights of my family, community, the Anishinaabeg Nation and all Indigenous Nations, I of course find myself being ‘attacked’ throughout social media by those who are attached to other Canadian political parties.
If many did not yet know, I am a Liberal by the Canadian political standards (a Moderate one who is very big on the rule and respect of law, fiscally conservative, and so on. My view of Indigenous rights, nationhood, and jurisdiction is one viewed not through a leftwing lens but one through a ‘rule of law’ lens. After all, treaties are legally binding and this law to be followed right? (But this is another write-up for another day). My point today is to counter some of the heavily partisan criticisms I get shot at me over twitter and facebook by, specifically, the NDPers who are so steadfastly seeing orange that they don’t see anything else. This specific entry will take into consideration the NDP actions and voting during the Constitutional crises of the 1980s and early 1990s (With the first entry looking at the 1880s-1978 - showing that the assimilationist, eurocentric, and paternal mentality existed in the early form of the NDP and its predecessors).
I will state now as I always state: The Liberal Party of Canada has made many mistakes, even into the 1990s – I acknowledge this and I don’t hide it or defend it. However, I argue that no party – whether in forming government, as opposition, or as a third party, can be saved from guilt of past policies and legislation that has been implemented. Unfortunately this is just met with more partisan mantra by my ‘orange’ friends to the left. So, after many attacks on not just me and my choice of party, but also my family and the mindset I, and those Indigenous people who vote Liberal, are helping to assimilate ourselves, I decided to do some research. This research is specifically on the NDP and the hypocrisy it espouses when it attacks another party for policy that is decades old, such as the White Paper.
The Constitutional Crises: 1979-1992:
Throughout the 1970s the Indigenous nations and its people were climbing out of the dark spots of the Canadian psyche. During this time there was becoming an increased push from Pierre Trudeau to patriate Canada’s Constitution from Great Britain. By the early 1980s this began to come to fruition as Trudeau began negotiations with the provinces. Fear, concern, and protest came from the Indigenous nations as concern rose about what would happen to the duty of the Crown and Canada in relation to Indigenous rights, jurisdiction, and treaties.
As the negotiations and debates were occurring, some Indigenous leaders opted to take their case directly to the British House of Commons and the House of Lords, where the amended Constitution would need to obtain final approval. This was considered a sure way to have their concerns and claims acknowledged as the Trudeau government denied them the right to be at the table for Constitutional negotiations. Although the federal NDP were committed to the entrenchment of Indigenous rights in the constitution, this was not always the case for its provincial counterparts – The Saskatchewan NDP being one such example.
The Blakeny government of Saskatchewan considered that "rights were best left to the realm of politics and dealt with by the people, as represented by their politicians, rather than enshrined in a constitution and adjudicated by the court." This was the same argument that was espoused by other provincial counterparts and some federal MPs of various stripes – most noticeable by Prime Minister Trudeau in relation to his majority of Quebec MPs being Liberal and thus having Quebec inclusion. Things would get worse for the NDP standpoint on Indigenous rights as the caucus would form a division from within.
On October 2nd 1981, an announcement by Trudeau had expressed that in the absence of agreement among the provinces, he would, unilaterally patriate the constitution. Ed Broadbent, as NDP leader, gave tentative approval to this plan. Broadbent would later admit that the split over the unilateral patriation of the Constitution had more to do an increased dislike of Trudeau in the prairie provinces, where the NDP had most of their seats and thus a fear of losing them, rather than with the failure to define Indigenous rights and proper consultation with the Indigenous nations. This does not mean that there was no one in the NDP who were sympathetic to the demands for recognition by the Indigenous nations – just as there were sympathizers within the Liberal caucus.
Eventually there was a final First Ministers Conference that would lead to almost unanimous support for the new Constitution, sans Quebec of course. The agreement came at a price to Indigenous people as British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba argued for Section 34, which entailed Indigenous rights, to be dropped. This was done without proper and dutiful consultation with the Indigenous nations. But alas, this was while some Indigenous people had taken their case to the British House of Commons and House of Lords. Contrary to popular belief, not all NDPers were cheering the Indigenous people on during their question in Great Britain.
Roy Romonow, a future NDP Premier of Saskatchewan, recalled that the NDP Attorney General and Deputy Premier of Saskatchewan at the time of patriation had expressed that “the Indians’ antagonistic conduct before the joint parliamentary committee was being re-enacted in a public battle in London." Despite this, the Indigenous push in the British House of Commons and House of Lords was successful and the reimplementation of Indigenous rights was restored as Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, albeit with the clause ‘existing’ - which was pushed by the Progressive Conservative Premier of Alberta to re-solidify the support of the provinces who originally opposed this section.
The addition of ‘existing’ was not warranted by the Indigenous nations and concern was expressed about this. However, the Act was passed with support from all but two NDP Members of Parliament: Svend Robinson and Jim Manly who both had the most vocation for Aboriginal affairs. Ed Broadbent’s reply to the NDP’s stance was that “the best legal opinion he could find suggested that the insertion of the word ‘existing’ was probably without any serious legal significance." Today, this is quite debatable and written about by Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, scholars, and legal experts.
The wishy-washy/flip-flopping views on Indigenous people in relation to the Constitution would continue from the NDP with the negotiations of the Meech Lake Accord. This Accord was heavily unfavored by Indigenous nations for its lack of consultation and properly including them at the table. The NDP were at first quite happy to see this accord as they had, since 1961, had a clause in their constitution and policy about recognition of Quebec as a distinct society – they never had something similar for Indigenous people. Thus the NDP found themselves in a difficult spot and the actions of their provincial counterparts must be examined The Meech Lake Accord required full and unanimous approval from all who sat in each Provincial Legislature. Only two provinces did not see this occur, which effectively killed the Accord: Newfoundland and Manitoba.
In British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, where the NDP were the Official Opposition, they would vote in favour of the Accord, despite heavy opposition from the Indigenous populations in the areas. Only one NDP MLA would stand alone to defeat this Accord in the Manitoban Legislature: Elijah Harper. He did this on his own accord and on behalf of the Indigenous nations throughout the territory Canada shared with them. Harper would leave the Manitoba NDP caucus and party, eventually running, successfully, for the Liberals in the riding of Churchill for 1993. With the death of the Meech Lake Accord, attention would now turn to what became known as the Charlottetown Accord.
The Charlottetown Accord heavily included the opinions and voices of Indigenous people and organizations. This allowed the federal NDP to show their support for the Accord without problem, or so they thought. Indigenous people and NDP would be at odds over this as the NDP would push for its ratification and the Indigenous population would overwhelmingly vote against it. Despite this, it had become more clear that it was more so in the early 1990s that the NDP had begun to fully wake up to a more proper stance on Indigenous people and their place alongside Canada.
Conclusion of Part 2:
This second part, along with Part 1, will have hopefully given you a clear picture of the NDP’s history up to the 1993 election. The history of the NDP, whether in this name or the name of CFF, Labour, Progressive, and so on, is not one that is stroked with progressive thoughts on Indigenous nations but one that was shared by all parties.
The most telling of this comes from the 1940s to the 1980s with the direct quotes provided in parts 1 and 2. Thus, I again reiterate, for the period from 1979 - 1992 that “those who live in glass houses should be wary of casting stones.”
The party’s position on key issues affecting Indigenous peoples has been a contradictory one at best. Additionally there has been evidence of rifts occurring in the caucus between those who are supporting the status quo and those who want to move forward –just as within the Liberal Party of Canada. No party is perfect, I again acknowledge this and am mindful of the dark history of some of the acts implemented by the LPC. All I can hope is that the NDP would consider doing the same rather then spreading hypocrisy.
The question that comes next and needs to be answered: What of the NDP and its understanding of Indigenous rights post 1993? This will be considered in Part 3 of this write-up.
Sources for Part 2 (As this is a blog I have not directly cited the sources I have used but have listed where my information comes from below):
Kieth Archer and Alan Whitehorn, Political Activists: The NDP in Convention (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997)
Russell Barsh and James Youngblood Henderson, “Aboriginal Rights, Treaty Rights, and Human Rights: Indian Tribes and Constitutional Renewal,” Journal of Canadian Studies 17.2 (1982)
Laurie Barron, Walking in Indian Moccasins: The Native Policies of Tommy Douglas and the CCF (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997)
David C. Hawkes ed., Aboriginal Peoples and Government Responsibility: Exploring Federal and Provincial Roles (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1991)
House of Commons, Issue No. 40. Special Committee on Indian Self-Government, 20 October 1983
House of Commons, Minutes, 23 October 1980
Joseph Levitt, Fighting Back for Jobs and Justice: Ed Broadbent in Parliament (Ottawa: LLA Publishing, 1996) 30
Roy Romonow, “Aboriginal Rights in the Constitutional Process,” in The Quest for Justice: Aboriginal Peoples and Aboriginal Rights, eds. Menno Boldt and J. Anthony Long (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985)
Special Joint Committee, op.cit., 5 January 1981
Frank Tester, Paule McNicoll, and Jessie Forsyth, “ With an Ear to the Ground: The CCF/NDP and Aboriginal Policy in Canada, 1926-1993, in Journal of Canadian Studies, 34.1 (1999)
Mary Ellen Turpel, “Aboriginal Peoples’ Struggle for Fundamental Political Change,” The Charloettetown Accord, the Referendum and the Future of Canada, eds. Kenneth McRoberts and Patrick Monahan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993)