Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The 1969 White Paper: Moving Forward Means Acknowledging the Mistake

I write today on a topic that I have learned about for the majority of my life and continuously hear about as not only a Liberal, but more specifically as an Anishinaabeg/Canadian Liberal. The topic I refer to is one that is a part of the Liberal Party of Canada’s dark past and one I have continuously brought up in Liberal circles:  the 1969 White Paper.

            For many of you, it is no doubt that I am passionate about my Anishinaabeg background, the respect deserved in the Canadian/Indigenous relations, as well as Canadian politics in general. I consider myself an individual who is using his talents to help in bridging the massive gulf that exists between Indigenous peoples and Canada. One such example I have continuously tried to educate people on and explain about is the impact the White Paper has had on the Liberal Party of Canada since 1969. Although the impact may seem like it is not that great, the reality is that if Indigenous peoples, especially after the ‘Idle No More’ awakenings of November and December 2012, opt to cast ballots to other parties – all because of the 1969 White Paper.

            Many of those entrenched in Western education and philosophy, such as notions of individuality and never looking backwards but only forward, have a hard time comprehending why this is so important for many Indigenous Liberals and Indigenous peoples in general. There are many reasons for why Indigenous peoples, specifically First Nations as it was them who would be impacted by the documents implementation. Prior to further elaborating on these many reasons, one must first understand what the White Paper was, came to symbolize and relates to the present day.

What is the White Paper?

            With the election of Pierre Trudeau and the Liberal Party to a majority government in 1968, the beginning of multiculturalism, integration, as well as the ‘Canadian identity’ was developing threefold in the Canadian context. Additionally, more people were noticing the issues many First Nations people were facing her were on the reserves. It was decided under the Trudeau government that there would be a cross Canada tour and consultation process with various First Nations in order to comprehend what the issues were that they faced and caused them to be in sub-standard conditions compared to that of Canadians.

            The consultations were quite amazing, in my point of view, as many First Nations peoples got to highlight what has been impacting them for years, decades and over a century. Many thought that this would be a turning point in the Canadian/Indigenous relationship – perhaps one that would lead us back to an understanding of mutual respect, friendship and recognition. However, that would not be the case in June of 1969 when the White Paper was introduced to the House of Commons.

            The White Paper, when introduced, was actually the opposite of what First Nations peoples told them during the consultations. The document introduced sought to abolish the Indian Act, as well as all treaties, treaty rights, Indigenous lands, and any recognition of the Indigenous nations. Originally, the policy was applauded in the House of Commons, with both the CPC and NDP speaking in favour of it (in fact the NDP had actually passed, as policy, what the White Paper espoused to do in 1963). First Nations peoples became angry and this may have been one of the final attacks that assisting with mobilization and the re-emergences of concepts of Indigeneity as well as items like Indigenous organizations, Cardinal’s Red Paper, etc. The NDP quickly did a 180 and reversed their support of the White Paper and within a year the Liberals would also distance themselves from it and consideration of implementing it. Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging the ignorance of the White Paper, the Liberals dropped it and moved on. Although it is today acknowledged that by not adopting it that it should be considered I sign of rejecting it by some party brass and past politicians, that is not acknowledged as the case by many Indigenous peoples. In fact, who knows how much it impacted support and willingness to become further entrenched in the Liberal party – I sure don’t.

Its Significance Today:

            Over the last ten years that I have been involved I, and fellow Indigenous Liberals that I have met and worked with, have continuously heard about it.Whether the First Nations peoples I talk to are politically involved in Canada, their own Indigenous nation, or not at all – many still know of the policy as one that was meant to effectively wash away our recognition and what remnants, at the time, still existed. Even though the Liberals did not implement it, even though the Liberals acknowledge internally it was a bad idea and a sign of the intellectual ignorance of the time, the need to say that and recognize it officially is still needed to show First Nations peoples that the party institution itself has evolved.

            People in the party may replace those who sat as Liberal MPs and Senators in the past; replace those elected to executive positions in the party, and may even replace past card carrying members – it does not necessarily change the connotation some have to the name of the political party itself. I take stride in the fact the Liberals have been able to came their party name they had since before federation, and not have to change it to mislead citizens on who they truly are or were. But, I do believe that if the party truly wants to work with the Indigenous nations and show the ability to work nation-to-nation and obtain a relationship based off of mutual respect and recognition, the party needs to acknowledge publicly that the White Paper was a mistake and that the Liberals, which truly have, learned from it.

            I, as well as others I know, can heavily attest to the change in Liberal mentality – most noticeable being Martin’s push for the Kelowna Accord, National Child care and Kyoto; Dion’s commitment to environmental stability and protection of the earth; Ignatieff’s commitment to revamp education funding and remove the caps currently imposed; and, most recently, Justin Trudeau’s commitment to a respectful relationship where he agrees we must work together. Even Trudeau himself said at the APC’s event in Whitehorse, July of 2013, that no party is clear of the historical pasts in Canada’s history. The key, in my view, is who has learned.

Concluding Points:

            Despite some of these commitments, some Indigenous peoples still look to the Liberals in a weary way, with even more not casting a ballot period (which relate to other reasons yet to be discussed in my blog). Although the majority of those who did vote, at least in 2006, voted Liberal, there is many more who we are potentially missing out on to show the party mentality has changed.

            Now, I know many are wondering what my point is – the policy was almost 45 years ago (a common argument used about almost all things related to Indigenous rights and recognition). The fact is, that Indigenous philosophies are apart of this. For almost all Indigenous nations I have had a chance to meet people from, an aspect of their cultural and logical philosophy is that one cannot move forward until the past has been properly dealt with. In other words, for many First Nations peoples the fact that the party itself has not yet acknowledged the pain such a policy assisted in causing means that moving forward and embracing the party may not be the route to go just yet, especially since there are couple past examples when the party had the chance to officially acknowledge the mistake.

            Additionally, we are in a period when the current government is using NDP and Liberal ideology of the 1960s and now trying to implement it (much of the legislation being imposed currently, including the Omnibus Bill of November/December, are rife with the smell of the 1969 White Paper. Why not then act and acknowledge it as wrong and highlight clearly how much damage such a policy can do, since the CPC are pursuing it 45 years after it was recognized as not acceptable. That’s where we all must come in and push for such acknowledgement – especially from fellow Liberals, Indigenous Liberals, and Indigenous peoples in general.

            The LPC Policy Biennial is just around the corner and the federal election of 2015 is only two years away – recognizing the White Paper as the mistake it was not only moves the party forward but also assists all Liberals, whether Indigenous or not, in doing their duties in outreach, policy, and votes.

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