By Rita Button
The concept is that to live together freely and honestly, we must establish a culture based on Truth and Conciliation. Respect for and appreciation of differences lead to understanding and inclusion. In a society that has been broken by historical unjust practices, certain redresses must occur. While apologies recognize previous wrongs and mistreatments, they also offer a way forward by repairing what has been broken and working toward a society whose fabric is unique, sometimes flawed, but always open to helping the healing occur.
The Truth and Reconciliation Report, June 2, 2015, has called on various organizations and governments to act as a way of beginning a world in which all are accepted as a valued part of the tapestry.
To understand the nature of the relationships between Aboriginal people and the Europeans, it is enlightening to look at the history, in particular treaties and proclamations. Terra nullius and The Doctrine of Discovery are elements of our past that have been repudiated by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2016, with a vote of 8:0, the Supreme Court ruled that terra nullius had never been a part of Canadian law or sovereignty in the lands that became known as Canada. Terra nullius is the idea that no one actually owned the land before Europeans claimed sovereignty. The Doctrine of Discovery closely follows the idea of terra nullius, and in spite of both being repudiated by Canada’s Supreme Court is still sometimes used in Canadian courts. Truth and Reconciliation calls upon Canadians to repudiate this concept.
Aboriginal people call upon the Canadian government to develop a Royal Proclamation based on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara, 1764. The 1763 Proclamation establishes precisely how lands are to be ceded, bought and sold between Europeans and Aboriginals, making it illegal to buy or sell land without the presence of the Crown and representation from the Aboriginal people. The Royal Proclamation was written by representatives of the Crown.
The following year, The Treaty of Niagara was enacted. This was the result of a gathering of Indigenous people and representatives of the Crown. The Treaty “established a familial relationship binding the King to Indigenous Nations. This is a personal connection that remains important to this day to both Indigenous Peoples and members of the Royal Family and their representatives” (p.1). Sir William Johnson, in presenting the 1764 Covenant Chain and the 24 Nations Wampum as a result of the negotiations at that July gathering, clearly stated that Indigenous Nations’ jurisdictions “cannot be molested or disturbed without Indigenous consent.” (p. 6, IBID)
If we are to move toward Reconciliation, we must return to the spirit of The Royal Proclamation of 1763 as well as The Niagara Treaty of 1764.
I thought it might be enlightening to add a small part of a report on Indigenous Studies at UBC ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS, “Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery,” January 2018.
A new paradigm to replace the Doctrine of Discovery It is essential to ensure a paradigm that is truthful about the history of past relations between First Nations and settlers.
We must ensure a just process for resolution of outstanding issues of land rights, consistent with our right of self-determination.
Such a framework is essential for advancing the reconciliation process between First Nations and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
Everyone must recognize that Indigenous Peoples in sovereign nations occupied the land before contact.
Settlers are not expected to surrender occupation of lands they live on and return to their ancestral countries of origin.
We are all here and must live together.
Each step contributes to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians living together in harmony, respect and understanding.