We should not be afraid of “equality”
As an Indigenous lawyer and mother, I am greatly saddened by Michael Smith’s letters which perpetuate the false belief that recognizing our rights and title will encourage inequality. This uninformed view leads to misbeliefs and perpetuates racism. Aboriginal people, for over a hundred years, have been denied basic human rights most Canadians take for granted. Many discriminatory laws still exist today, and no other Canadian citizens are subject to such overtly racist legislation.
Aboriginal people have not chosen to be poor. Canada consistently wins the prize for their achievement at 12th place in the United Nations Human Development Index. However, the country’s index slides down to 64th once the Aboriginal people’s wellness is taken into account. The UN Rapporteur shamed Canada recently for its lack of equality, noting how poor Aboriginal Canadians’ life expectancy, income, education and incarceration rates are. How can one argue Aboriginal Canadians have extra rights in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? We want equality too, Mr. Smith. We want our children to eat every day, have opportunities, and have good health … just like yours.
We should not be afraid of “equality” by fearing Aboriginal rights and title. The law of Aboriginal title and rights is a huge step toward realizing some equality and making space for the Aboriginal peoples’ laws and culture. It does not need to be feared but seen as a possible means of finally reconciling settler society with the Indigenous peoples. It is a good thing.
Most of the lands in British Columbia remain subject to Aboriginal title, which was never lawfully extinguished. The laws that support Aboriginal rights and title seek to ameliorate long outdated colonial legacies by incorporating the Indigenous peoples’ laws and rights into our Constitutional framework.
After studying American history, I came to realize that reconciliation is tough. The same sort of debate occurs in the United States respecting other groups seeking equality, including Black Americans, women’s groups and Mexican Americans. There is always going to be a “troll under the bridge” who sees the proposals for reconciling inequalities as a threat to their position of privilege they don’t realize they have. However, I think the progress we are making toward reconciliation will lead to great changes, and one day, Aboriginal Canadians will be partners in a just society.