Colonial Government of Canada and Treaties
An Interview with Ray Bobb
By Aaron Mercredi
Despite the passing of 10 years since the landmark Delgamuukw decision in the Supreme Court of Canada, the fight of Indigenous people to have recognition of their rights over their land and resources continues with as many government barriers as before. Despite that decision which acknowledged Aboriginal Title, Indigenous nations within Canada today are in the same position of dealing with governments that are hell-bent on their extermination.
While Indigenous people fight for the fundamental right to have control over their own land, resources and form of governance, Canada and the provinces are undermining that by pushing through different agreements and, in BC, modern-day treaties. These are meant to secure more land and resources from Indigenous people and to secure ‘economic certainty’ for investors, continuing Canada’s long colonial legacy of trying to exterminate Indigenous nations.
The following is one of many views from the community on this issue. We were able to discuss the following questions with Ray Bobb, a long-time Indigenous activist living in Vancouver.
Aaron: In one of the agreements between Canada and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), they introduced a way of speeding up the unresolved land claims through the Specific Claims Tribunal Act. How do you think this Act will affect the status of land claims in Canada?
Ray: I am not familiar with the proposed Act. However, specific land claims are different from comprehensive land claims that I addressed in the previous issue of Fire This Time (See Fire This Time Vol.4 Iss.9-10). Specific land claims relate to reserve of treaty land that has been illegally seized by government in the past. There are now over 800 such claims in Canada. Comprehensive land claims, on the other hand, are the subject of modern day treaties which deal with aboriginal title. Aboriginal title exists in Canadian law but remains undefined. The treaty process is circumscribed by the federal government’s Comprehensive Land Claims Policy that requires tribes, upon entering the treaty process, to cede aboriginal title, disenfranchise as Indians under the meaning of the Indian Act and incorporate into Canada as, first nations, municipalities.
Aaron: What do you think the government of Canada is trying to accomplish with this?
Ray: Government spokesmen have stated that billions of dollars in investments are being lost annually due to unresolved land claims based on aboriginal title. The federal government’s treaty process is designed to achieve “certainty” for investors by removing the legal source of uncertainty, i.e., Indians.
Aaron: How do you think this proposed act will affect the treaty process in Canada?
Ray: I don’t know, but, as I’ve said, they are different things. In regard to specific land claims, Indians only want redress for land unjustly seized by the government in the past. Specific land claims do not require treaties. Treaties, by definition, are made between nations and, in the comprehensive treaty process, small groups of Indians are recognized by the government as nations for the purpose of legally extinguishing them. Indians are internally colonized by Canada and, therefore, there exists a national question and a right, under international law, to self determination. Present policy of the federal government is aimed at “decolonizing” by legislation the colonized out of existence.
Aaron: In your opinion, in what position does the treaty process and this way of dealing with unresolved land claims put Indigenous people in this country?
Ray: In the comprehensive treaty process the government has spent (in B.C. only) nearly 1 billion dollars. One quarter of that billion is in the form of loans to tribes in the treaty process. This means that government desperately wants to do away with Indian status. What the government is doing in the comprehensive treaty process is totally racist. Indians fully comprehend that the government wants to eliminate them.
Aaron: Is there reason for Indigenous people in Canada to have faith in this sort of process?
Ray: In the system operated by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Indian leaders, although elected by the people, acquire their funds from the government and can only implement government policy. Present policy as seen in the treaty process is to eliminate Indians as a legal entity. Indian policy on the part of the Canadian settler-state has never deviated from genocide. Indians have faith only in their own survival.
Aaron: Thank you, Ray.
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