A timeline: the movement for Indigenous justice

Until very recently, the story that Canada has told about itself has been one-sided and half baked.  

In the story of “colony to nation,” Indigenous Peoples were part of helping settlers in the early days. They participated in the fur trade, signed a bunch of treaties, then went quiet for 200 years. Then, in the 1960’s, they suddenly started showing up demanding their rights. 

For the story of what was really going on: read on, but also check out our new online education portal, “Home on Native Land”. It’s open now for monthly donors and will be ready for everyone else January 9th. 

Let’s be blunt: successive governments carried out genocidal policies aimed at eradicating Indigenous Peoples. This was a terrifyingly calculated attempt to destroy languages, cultures, and families. 

Through it all, Nations suffered immeasurable losses, but refused to give up defending what was most precious.

Leaders never stopped advocating for justice, be it to protect lands that were being expropriated, resist the onslaught of cultural genocide, or uphold laws that were in place to keep the balance between humans and our ‘more than human’ relations.

In the face of enduring Indigenous resistance, Canada put in place roadblock after roadblock, passing legislation to prevent Indigenous Peoples from practising law. Enacted in response to movements such as the Nisga’a Land Committee and the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, a $200 fine was levied against anyone who tried to so much as hire a lawyer. 

That’s right: until the 1950’s, RAVEN’s work – and the groundbreaking legal gains Indigenous Peoples have made in the past 70 years – would have been illegal. 

But then a 1951 Indian Act amendment lifted the ban on legal action, and Indigenous political organising swept onto centre stage. 

Here’s a quick timeline: 

1969: The White Paper, which sought to convert reserve lands to fee-simple private land, and revoke Indian Status nationwide, was met with fierce opposition. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ response — the “Brown Paper” — was delivered to Trudeau Sr’s cabinet by leaders in full regalia, who successfully stopped the assimilationist policy in its tracks. 

1982: The Constitution Express was launched to demand recognition of Indigenous rights & title in Canada’s new constitution. A cross-country train journey by thousands of Indigenous Peoples, followed by a European lobbying tour and visit to the Queen culminated in Section 35, which recognizes inherent Indigenous rights and enshrines the duty to consult into law. 

2007: UNDRIP was decades in the making, and was championed by Indigenous leaders like RAVEN’s own board director Ron Lameman. The authors of UNDRIP crafted an instrument that emphasises the responsibility of governments or corporations, to obtain “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” from Indigenous Peoples before they set about potentially harmful activities on their lands.

These were boss moves. How thrilling it would be for ancestors like Pauline Johnson, John Tootoosis and Arthur Manuel to see the movements — that took root from the seeds they planted — flourishing today. 

From Meares Island to Kanehsatake to Wetsuwet’en territory and Grassy Narrows, Indigenous peoples have confronted powerful interests to protect sacred land and waters. 

If you need proof that it’s possible for a bunch of fiercely committed people to change the course of history: take a look at how much ground Indigenous Peoples have gained in the past half century. 

Thanks to Section 35, we’ve seen an incredible winning streak in the country’s courts. Hard-fought gains have been made to return jurisdiction over vast territories back to Title holders. Projects like Taseko’s open pit mine and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline have been halted. And better laws are in place, requiring much deeper levels of consultation and — watch for it — consent from the original stewards of lands and waters. This is happening not because of government benevolence but instead, thanks to the fierce advocacy of Indigenous rights holders, backed by people like you. 

Make no mistake: there are powerful interests who would like nothing more than to bury Indigenous Nations in impossible deadlines and debilitating red tape. There are corporations who very wrongly imagine that allegiances to ancient stewardship responsibilities could ever be traded away. 

And then: there’s you. There’s us.  We know Indigenous Peoples have some of the strongest environmental rights in the world — if they can afford to get to court to defend them in court.

There are people like Beaver Lake Cree Nation’s Crystal Lameman, carrying on her uncle’s UNDRIP legacy and passing it on to her children. There are legions of lawyers, like our board president Jeffrey Nicholls, who are braiding the legal traditions of their own Indigenous ancestors with the instruments of Canadian law. 

We are the authors of the next chapters in the story of ‘Canada’. And… we are so excited to make history with you.

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