Rights, Responsibility & Reciprocity

Wet’suwet’en Nation’s Coastal GasLink legal action is one way of asserting Wet’suwet’en “rights and responsibilities on and to the land.”

That phrase – Rights and responsibilities – shows up again and again in emails and conversations with members of the Indigenous Nations RAVEN supports. Not just rights, but responsibilities. And not just ‘on’, but ‘to’ the land: pointing to a relationship of reciprocity between humans and all other living beings.

At RAVEN we often speak about the moral imperative to uphold the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples. Much of the advocacy and activism in support of Indigenous Peoples in Canada has focused on pushing Canada to respect and uphold these rights. Given Canada’s record of foot-dragging and outright violations, this is important and essential work. 

From the Wet’suwet’en perspective, and the perspective of many other Indigenous Nations, rights are only half the story.

I come from a European framework that views human rights as something that governments must uphold. People have rights, governments have responsibilities. The two are separate.

However imperfectly we live up to it, that framework nevertheless can give victims a voice and promote accountability at the highest level. I witnessed the former Yugoslavia break apart as war swept through my birth country; seeing a president, government officials, and generals tried and convicted before the International Criminal Tribunal for large-scale violations of human rights was a moment of truth that still resonates with me, and in the affected communities, 25 years later. 

The Indigenous framework of reciprocal relationships that include both rights and responsibilities goes much deeper. Because it’s both a legal framework and an ethic that’s embedded in the culture, these practices and principles have endured for millennia.

RAVEN exists to bring that sense of responsibility into a Canadian justice system that is often slanted against Indigenous Nations. For instance: with your taxpayer dollars Canada sent teams of lawyers to argue that the court should revoke Advance Costs awarded to Beaver Lake Cree Nation because they chose to invest in a drinking water delivery truck. Canada obliged Coldwater Nation to spend four years in court to reroute the Trans Mountain pipeline around Coldwater’s only drinking water aquifer. In these and – unfortunately – many other examples, Canada’s true intentions behind the reconciliation whitewash are laid bare. 

The entrenched colonial power has no intention of giving an inch unless forced to do so in court. In the meantime it plans to make the courtroom very expensive indeed – so far out of reach that the majority of Indigenous Nations don’t even try. 

You can help level the playing field: sign up as a monthly donor and provide backbone support for Indigenous Nations’ legal challenges. 

There is no doubt that the work of supporting Indigenous Nations in fighting for basic rights will have to be a major focus of RAVEN, and the broader progressive movement, for a very long time. 

At RAVEN we’re working not just for justice, but for a reordering of Canada based on a relationship of caring, loyalty and respect between Indigenous Nations and settler Canada. Your participation in upholding the broader and deeper vision uplifts us and lights our way through the darkest times.

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