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The Sacred Covenant of Kamloops: Replacing Truth and Reconciliation with Secrecy and Self-Abasement


38 minute read

From the C2C Journal

The Roman Catholic Church is steeped in centuries of mystery and ineffable truths. Its time-honoured rituals and beliefs offer an important sense of comfort and continuity to its 1.4 billion worldwide adherents. Yet a mysterious “Sacred Covenant” signed recently between two Canadian Catholic organizations and the Kamloops First Nation concerning unproven allegations of human remains on the grounds of a former Indian Residential School will bring neither comfort nor continuity. Instead, it points to an existential crisis deep within the Church itself. Hymie Rubenstein takes a close look at what is known about this strange agreement, and what it means for the future of truth and reconciliation in Canada.
Earlier this spring the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, legally known as the Kamloops Indian Band, announced jointly with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and Diocese of Kamloops that they had agreed on a unique “Sacred Covenant”. Signed on Easter Sunday – a day sacred to all Christians – the document states that the agreement “[reflects] our mutual acknowledgment of past wrongs, particularly the Catholic Church’s role in the Residential School System, and a shared commitment to truth, reconciliation, and the future.”

The event was noted briefly in the legacy and Indigenous media, then disappeared. And in some ways, it was minor news. Yet another apology from a mainstream church over its role in the now-reviled Indian Residential School system. We’ve seen all that before. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss this latest event as mere ecclesiastical virtue-signalling.

On Easter Sunday, a “Sacred Covenant” was signed between the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation of Kamloops, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Diocese of Kamloops to mark their “mutual acknowledgment of past wrongs” and “a shared commitment to truth, reconciliation, and the future”. (Source of bottom photos: Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, retrieved from (left) Victoria Now and (right) Castanet)

Belying its limited media coverage, the Sacred Covenant should be seen as a significant and worrisome indicator of the continuing damage done by the explosive May 27, 2021 media release from the Kamloops Band that claimed “confirmation of the remains of 215 children” on the grounds of the former Indian Residential School located on the reserve. In fact, a closer look at the context of this unusual agreement reveals the many ways Canadian public discourse has been degraded by unsupported allegations of what many have called a genocide, and how this now threatens the very survival of the Church.

Three common features now appear in almost any discussion of Canada’s residential school legacy. First are incendiary accusations made by Indigenous groups about grotesque or murderous acts perpetrated on students who attended the schools. Second, secrecy and vagueness that frustrate critical review of the details or corroboration of the accusations. And finally, abject acceptance and ritual self-abasement by the accused – often the Government of Canada or a church organization – who appear unable or unwilling to defend themselves. The Sacred Covenant is one more example of the moral confusion and self-hatred now embedded in Canadian history. And within this mysterious document lie important lessons for all Canadians concerned about what reconciliation really means and where it is heading.

What We Know About the “Sacred Covenant”

The Kamloops Sacred Covenant was signed by Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir, Vancouver Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Michael Miller and Kamloops Bishop Joseph Phuong Nguyen. It was followed by a native spiritual sunrise ceremony and Easter Sunday Mass with hymns sung in the Secwepemctsin language at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on the Kamloops reserve attended by Indigenous leaders from around B.C. and the North.

According to a press release from Casimir, the agreement affirms “the dignity and rights of First Nations peoples [while also] repudiating past injustices.” The Covenant document itself reportedly “outlines practical commitments, including honouring and memorializing residential school students, facilitating access to historical records, and retaining scientific expertise to support the Nation’s efforts in uncovering the truth and promoting healing.”

In his formal statement, Miller clarified the difference between a covenant and lesser agreements. “A covenant…entails a profound and significant undertaking, not a trivial matter. In our case, the Sacred Covenant involves the honouring of your ancestors and the children who died or endured great suffering during their time in a Residential School.” He also accepted without question an obscure native interpretation of the 15th century papal “Doctrine of Discovery” that seems designed to undermine the entire concept of Canadian national sovereignty. Clearly it is meant as much more than a run-of-the-mill apology for past sins.

“No trivial matter”: In addressing Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir (left), Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller (right) stressed the uniqueness of the Sacred Covenant as “a profound and significant undertaking…honouring your ancestors and the children who died or endured great suffering during their time in a Residential School.” (Sources of photos: (left) Ben Nelms/CBC; (right) The Catholic Register)

The Kamloops Sacred Covenant, according to media reports, is the work of longtime Indigenous activists Phil Fontaine and Manny Jules. Fontaine played a central role in the creation of the broader narrative that residential schools were explicitly malign institutions with his explosive 1990 CBC interview in which he claimed that “every single one” of the approximately 20 boys in his grade 3 class had “experienced some aspect of sexual abuse.” Lost to time is that Fontaine’s recollection was about abuse perpetrated by his fellow students. Today, it is universally accepted that it occurred at the hands of school staff – especially priests and nuns.

Jules is a former Kamloops chief (now termed “Kukpi7”) and was chief of staff of the Assembly of First Nations when Fontaine was the AFN’s Grand Chief. Jules attended the reserve’s residential school as a grade 1-7 day student in 1959 to 1967 – the period when schoolchildren are now alleged to have died (or been murdered) and secretly buried beside the institution. In an interview on CBC’s The Current a week after the Kamloops Band announced “finding” the graves of 215 children, Jules claimed secret burials of students were common knowledge within his own family and “other residential school survivors.” Curiously enough, he never said anything about such outrages for nearly 50 years – not even when he was band chief nor when he testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2013.

Phil Fontaine, former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is reported to be one of the authors of the Sacred Covenant. He played a central role in initiating the broader narrative that residential schools were places of widespread abuse and horror. Shown at right, students and staff at St. Paul’s Indian Industrial School, Middlechurch, Manitoba, ca. 1901. (Sources of photos: (left) Ontario Chamber of Commerce, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0; (right) Library and Archives Canada/PA-182251)

While we may know who is behind the Sacred Covenant and roughly how it came about, it remains unclear why it was done. Beyond a vague and somewhat ominous discussion of the Doctrine of Discovery, Casimir’s press release talks at length of the need to access church records and to make use of “scientific evidence” to ascertain the truth about the alleged graves. James Borkowski, Miller’s delegate for reconciliation efforts, similarly told The B.C. Catholic that, “What kept us progressing was a commitment to truth, wherever it takes us, and a desire to avoid divisiveness in this work.” Truth appears to be a major preoccupation of the Sacred Covenant. But if that’s the case, then why all the secrecy?

Sacred, or Merely Secret?

The Easter Sunday mass celebrating the covenant was restricted to selected invitees and was closed to the media. The text of the Sacred Covenant has also not been made public. Multiple requests to obtain a copy by this writer and other researchers have been rejected, as were requests from other legacy and Indigenous media outlets. The secrecy appears to be at the request of the Indigenous parties to the agreement, although church representatives say they hope to release it eventually. Beyond frustrating journalists, this reticence flies in the face of Christianity’s 2,000-year-long belief that God’s truth must be universally accessible. What would have been the point, for example, if Moses had come back from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments – but decided to keep them to himself?

Why keep it a secret? The refusal to release the text of the Sacred Covenant runs contrary to Christian belief that God’s truth is universally accessible. Shown, Charlton Heston as Moses returning from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets listing the sacred Mosaic Covenant from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments.

Secrecy and misdirection, however, are entirely consistent with current practice by Indigenous groups involved in the “missing children” and “unmarked graves” controversies. Regarding the May 27, 2021 media release, for example, each of the declarative words “confirmation”, “remains” and “children” were later revealed to be either false or unverified. That is because such claims were based on preliminary findings of a survey performed with ground-penetrating radar, which can only detect subsurface anomalies, and not what those anomalies might be. The Kamloops Band continues to withhold the actual survey report, as does the UBC academic who performed the work. More recently, the Kamloops Band has acknowledged the weakness of its original claims.

A short-lived police investigation: While Kamloops RCMP under the direction of Chief Superintendent Sydney Lecky (top) began an investigation into the buried children allegations soon after the May 2021 press release, it came to an abrupt halt after Senator Murray Sinclair (bottom) complained the Mounties were “intimidating people, rather than helping them.” (Sources of photos: (top) Doug Herbert/CBC News; (bottom) Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

We are still waiting for a coherent police investigation into what are alleged to have been horrific crimes. The RCMP began to investigate immediately after Casimir’s May 2021 press release – but equally quickly faced strident objections. Senator Murray Sinclair – former chair of the TRC – publicly accused the RCMP of “intimidating people, rather than helping them” and suggested the Mounties should restrict themselves to combing through documents.

The investigation was dropped within days of Sinclair’s complaints and turned over to the Kamloops band’s small Indigenous police service, who clearly lack the capacity for such a large-scale undertaking. Of note, the RCMP commander in Kamloops at the time, Chief Superintendent Sydney Lecky, is a member of the Peskotomuhkati First Nation of New Brunswick. He later transferred out of Kamloops and subsequently left the RCMP altogether; Lecky is now the Chief of Police in Timmins, Ontario.

And despite $7.9 million in federal funding to support investigative site work at Kamloops (plus another $12.5 million for a healing centre), there has never been any physical excavation of the alleged grave sites. Neither has there been any core-sampling, which is less intrusive but could still yield important information. In the few places elsewhere in Canada, where residential school site excavations have been attempted, no human remains have been found.

Keeping Records, Hidden

The signatories to the Sacred Covenant all claim the agreement is necessary to improve what is known about children who attended residential schools run by orders of the Catholic Church (over 40 percent of the residential schools were run by Protestant denominations and about 15 percent were run by the federal or territorial governments). There is, however, no apparent shortage of this information already available. Starting with the earliest transatlantic voyages, Catholic missionary orders generated many detailed records of their historical interaction with Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.

Missionaries in what would eventually become Canada carefully recorded their firsthand knowledge of and interaction with Aboriginals over a period of five centuries in documents such as the Jesuit Relations. Beyond these readily accessible historical documents, the Catholic missionary orders that operated residential schools turned over all their unpublished school-related records to the TRC as part of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, as did all other churches involved with the residential school system.

Evidence aplenty: Since the time of first contact, Catholic missionary orders created ample records of their experiences with the Indigenous peoples of Canada; this later included detailed residential school attendance records. Depicted at left, Pere Marquette and the Indiansby Wilhelm Lamprecht, 1869; at right, a section of the original Samuel de Champlain monument in Orillia, Ontario. (Source of right photo: mahfrot, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Even more important and detailed are the voluminous federal and provincial government archives, especially those of the former Department of Indian Affairs. These contain a vast wealth of data including student applications for admission to residential schools, attendance records, letters, memoranda, investigations, medical information, birth and death certificates and numerous other details about the operation of the schools and their students. A small proportion of these records have been investigated by academics and journalists, including by C2C Journal, but the vast bulk remain largely unexplored. There are also a few private efforts dedicated to factual research in this area, including the Indian Residential School Records website, and the Indian Residential Schools Research Group, of which this author is a member.

Truth-seekers keep out: According to Raymond Frogner, head archivist at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, access to the millions of federal government documents held by his organization (and funded by Canadian taxpayers) pertaining to Indian Residential Schools and other Indigenous matters is restricted by the concept of “Indigenous Data Sovereignty”.

As part of the 2006 residential school settlement agreement, millions of federal government documents were turned over to the University of Manitoba under a trust deed signed in 2013 and are now held in the school’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). The goal was to create a single point of contact for all this important information. Unfortunately for anyone interested in searching for the truth, however, the NCTR does not offer unfettered access to non-Indigenous researchers.

As head archivist Raymond Frogner explained at an NCTR meeting in Yellowknife in 2023, access to these archives is limited by the concept of “Indigenous Data Sovereignty”. This refers to the alleged “right of Indigenous people to govern the collection, ownership and use of data about Indigenous communities.” In this way, anyone suspected of holding heterodox or opposing views about residential schools or native politics can be denied access to what were originally church or Government of Canada records (collected and archived at the Canadian taxpayers’ expense). This is contrary to the official mandate of the TRC.

In short, there is no scarcity of raw data concerning the operation of residential schools, who attended, and who might have passed away while attending such schools. What is lacking is transparent, convenient and guaranteed access to this information by anyone interested in seeing what it has to say. And the Sacred Covenant will do nothing to improve that. 

How “Fraternal Love” Became the “Evils of Colonialism”

In September 1984, Pope John Paul II touched down at the airport in Yellowknife, kissed the ground and spoke to a small crowd before addressing the people of the North by radio. It was the first papal visit to Canada and the Polish-born pontiff readily admitted to the “faults and imperfection” of his Church’s treatment of Aboriginal people. And yet his address brimmed with optimism and joy firmly supported by evidence going back to first contact between the Church and Canada’s Indigenous people in the early 1600s. His words are worth recalling at length:

“I know of the gratitude that you yourselves, the Indian and Inuit peoples, have towards the missionaries who have lived and died among you…What they have done for you is spoken of by the whole Church; it is known by the entire world. These missionaries endeavoured to live your life, to be like you in order to serve you and to bring you the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“Whatever faults and imperfections they had, whatever mistakes were made, together with whatever harm involuntarily resulted, they are now at pains to repair. But next to this entry, filed in the memory of your history, is the record, with endless proofs, of their fraternal love.”

“That marvellous rebirth of your culture and traditions which you are experiencing today owes much to the pioneering and continuing efforts of missionaries in linguistics, ethnography and anthropology…Yes, dear Indians and Inuit, the missionaries have always shared in your cultural and social life.”

Pope John Paul II’s 1984 address triggered no political backlash. At the time, there was still general agreement among Indigenous people and the Canadian public that while the residential schools were both inadequately funded and poorly attended, they did more good than harm for those who persevered in their studies. Since then, however, the narrative has shifted dramatically – in large part because of Fontaine’s 1990 allegations. This change in opinion has infected not only the Indigenous political movement, academia and news media, but the Catholic Church as well.

Compare Pope John Paul II’s words to those of Pope Francis’s “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada in July 2022:

“…the suffering endured by Indigenous children, particularly those who, unfortunately, never came back from the residential schools…It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the people of these lands. When the European colonists first arrived here, there was a great opportunity to bring about a fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and forms of spirituality. Yet for the most part that did not happen…In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”

Inventing a new narrative: In his joyful and optimistic 1984 speech in Yellowknife, NWT, Pope John Paul II (top) paid homage to the “fraternal love” between Catholic missionaries and their native congregations. Four decades later, Pope Francis (bottom) denounced this relationship as “spiritual abuse”. (Sources of photos: (top) CP Photo/Fred Chartrand; (bottom) AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

It is a papal statement full of self-recrimination and remorse. An accompanying Vatican News article added to this grim sense of self-flagellation, speaking of the “evils of colonialism” and the “attempt to erase the cultures of the indigenous peoples.” The change in tone and content is obvious. From the earlier pope’s unapologetic proclamation of Indigenous people embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to what should have been a “fruitful encounter” between (presumably equally valid and worthy) belief systems. From missionaries living as natives in “fraternal love” and providing the tools for their cultural rebirth to the “spiritual abuse” of children in the boarding schools and the “evil” of cultural (or worse) genocide. Pope Francis’s moral relativism – implying that the gospel of Jesus Christ has no higher standing than traditional Indigenous spirituality – effectively pulls the rug out from under the Roman Catholic Church’s 2,000-year-old mission of salvation.

An Argentinian who was formerly Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis is a longtime self-professed sympathizer of Latin American “liberation theology”. Like Marxism (and now wokism), liberation theology regards the world as divided between oppressors and oppressed. In this instance, we have a simplistic binary between evil, exploitative Europeans and sacred, noble Indigenous people. It is a doctrine that eventually found its way to Canada and morphed into the current narrative of murderous white priests and nuns preying upon innocent Indigenous children.

In celebrating this progressive lurch to the woke left, Pope Francis also defamed the memory of the thousands of priests, nuns, lay brothers and lowly workers – many of them Indigenous – who gave a lifetime of work teaching and caring for tens of thousands of Indigenous children with the goal of preparing them to adapt to life in a rapidly changing Canadian society. Many of the nuns kept detailed records of daily events which were periodically forwarded to the mother houses of their religious orders, and paint a very different picture than the current narrative. It is true that Catholic missionaries were, by their calling, engaged in proselytizing. Their methods, however, were neither forcible nor absolutist; there were no forced conversions or baptisms.

Claims of horrific abuse at residential schools defame the memory of the many Catholic priests and nuns who dedicated their lives to helping native children. Shown at left, Father Allan Noonan with students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, B.C.; at right, a priest-coached baseball team at the Ermineskin Indian Residential School, Alberta.

The Slow-Rolling Suicide of the Catholic Church

Despite its long history of selfless and often dangerous missionary work driven by an unswerving faith in the sanctity of its own beliefs, the Catholic Church today is mired in self-loathing and despair. In the wake of the Kamloops Band’s May 2021 press release, Miller was likely the first religious leader in Canada to apologize. “In light of the heartbreaking disclosure of the remains of 215 children,” he stated in a press release less than one week later, “I am writing to express my deep apology and profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news. Each time new evidence of a tragedy is revealed, or another victim comes forward, countless wounds are reopened.”

No need to confirm, just grovel: The Catholic Church has repeatedly apologized for its participation in the residential school system, regardless of what the evidence says. Just days after the May 2021 announcement in Kamloops, Miller wrote to express his “profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news.” Shown, a memorial at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill, June 2021. (Source of photo: Bing Wen/Shutterstock)

Rather than withholding judgment until he saw actual evidence, Miller uncritically accepted the band’s entire array of incendiary assertions, damning not only the church but Canada as a whole. To repeat: to this day, no previously unknown human remains of any sort have been found in Kamloops or anywhere else.

Still, Miller and Borkowski are intent on going even further. Not only do they align themselves with the Indigenous narrative that residential schools were a “colonialist” policy amounting to a genocide, but they also agree with attempts to shut down any further debate on the matter. “Of course, we do not back up or support those who deny the tragic events in Kamloops and at residential schools,” Miller stated in March during another formal apology. (His third in total; he also apologized to the TRC in 2013.) “There’s no question that this was a tragedy in the past and those who claim that it wasn’t I think are certainly misplaced in their judgment.”

The Sacred Covenant thus continues the Catholic Church’s decades-long repudiation of itself and what was once its essential mission of spreading the word of Jesus. But how long can an inherently self-hating institution survive after adopting such a stance? If one accepts the narrative that residential schools were engaged in a scheme of murder perpetrated by nuns and priests acting on behalf of the organization’s broader leadership, then it stands to reason the Church itself must be considered a murderous and therefore irredeemable entity.

While most of Canada’s senior Catholic clerics appear willing to march along with this slow-rolling suicide, not all are onboard. In an interview last year with The Catholic Register following reports that the federal government was considering making it a crime to say that residential schools were not genocidal, Bishop Emeritus Fred Henry, formerly the Bishop of Calgary Diocese, explained that before apologizing it should be necessary to ascertain what exactly occurred. “Why,” Henry proposed, “is the Catholic Church not asking the federal government for proof that even one residential child is actually missing in the sense that his [or] her parents didn’t know what happened to their child at the time of the child’s death?” As Henry observed, it makes no sense to apologize for something that might never have occurred.

A slow-rolling suicide. Among the few dissenting voices inside the Catholic Church is Bishop Emeritus Fred Henry, who warns of the long-term consequences of blindly accepting unverified claims that thousands of residential students “were murdered by Catholic priests and nuns and clandestinely buried in unmarked graves”. (Source of photo: Canadian Catholic News)

‘Why,’ Henry proposed, ‘is the Catholic Church not asking the federal government for proof that even one residential child is actually missing…?’ As Henry observed, it makes no sense to apologize for something that might never have occurred.

The wholesale and unquestioning acceptance of the damning Indigenous narrative about residential schools will ultimately prove catastrophic for the Church, Henry predicted. “It seems abundantly clear to me [to ask what follows] if the Catholic Church…allows the lie that there are thousands of missing residential school children to become embedded in stone?” he wrote in the email interview. “Obviously, [it means] these thousands of missing children were murdered by Catholic priests and nuns and clandestinely buried in unmarked graves.”

Through its meek acceptance of Indigenous accusations and repeated apologies, the Church has thus manoeuvred itself into the position of being unable to mount a fact-based defence, even as the narrative becomes ever-more outrageous. The Sacred Covenant is yet another step in this process of self-abasement, another suicide note. As Henry worried, there is no apparent conclusion other than the complete destruction of the Church itself.

It is a process that is mirrored in the similarly self-flagellating behaviour of Canada’s governments and other secular institutions. The country is destroying its international reputation and eroding its feelings of self-worth because no one has the nerve to tell Indigenous leaders and activists that their residential school revisionist revolution has gone too far.

Reconciliation or obliteration? Beyond the reputational damage suffered by the Catholic Church, widespread acceptance of the residential school genocide narrative undermines Canada’s international stature, distorts this country’s proud history and denigrates the many historical figures who worked for the benefit of future generations. (Sources of photos: (top) Colin Temple/Shutterstock; (bottom) Blake Elliott/Shutterstock)

According to a Maru Public Opinion online survey following the 2021 Kamloops claims, 55 percent of Canadians polled agreed that “given the context of the residential school era, what occurred was an act of genocide as opposed to an act of good intentions that had bad outcomes.” An astounding 81 percent said they agreed the International Criminal Court should investigate their own country for the worst of all imaginable crimes. To underline this point in bold, in 2022 the House of Commons unanimously voted to recognize “what happened in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools as genocide,” citing Pope Francis’s statements as evidence for such a conclusion.

Sweeping assertions about forced assimilation and physical genocide have grotesquely distorted the history of Canada’s relations with its Indigenous people, and defamed the many honourable historical figures who participated in the process. And there is no apparent corrective to this radical and destructive path. Indeed, as mentioned, the Liberal government has lately considered demands that it criminalize any contrary discussion of the entire issue, in essence outlawing any continuing search for truth.

All of which suggests that the end-point of the Sacred Covenant – and all other attempts by Canadian society to find common ground with an increasingly aggressive cadre of residential school activists – is not reconciliation. It is obliteration.

Hymie Rubenstein is a retired professor of anthropology who taught for many years at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba, the only Catholic higher education institution in Manitoba. He is currently editor of the REAL Indigenous Report.

Source of main image: Steveleeart, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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Frontier Centre for Public Policy

UNDRIP’s false promise of Indigenous Nationhood threatens individual Indigenous Canadians

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Peter Best

All societies need to make use of force, both to preserve internal order and to protect themselves from external enemies. A liberal society does this by creating a powerful state, but then constraining that power under a rule of law. The state’s power is based on a social contract between autonomous individuals who agree to give up their rights to do as they please in return for the state’s protection. It is legitimated both by the common acceptance of the law, and, if it is a liberal democracy, through popular elections. Liberal rights are meaningless if they cannot be enforced by a state, which, by Max Weber’s famous definition, is a legitimate monopoly of force over a defined territory…Ultimate power, in other words, continues to be the province of national states, which means that control of this power at this level remains critical.

-Francis Fukuyama – Liberalism and its Discontents

Our Canadian elites, led by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, continue to advance the idea that Canada should be a race-based nation. This is reflected in the Trudeau government’s enactment of the racist United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) laws and policies. (The UNDRIP Action Plan.)

These laws and policies are partly based on the premise that Indigenous peoples in Canada still have distinct cultures that give them the right to exist as separate groups within the Canadian nation, living parallel to the rest of Canadians, and only optionally being subject to the laws of Canada.

Under the heading “Cultural, religious and linguistic rights,” the UNDRIP Action Plan sets out the Trudeau government’s goal of creating a country where:

Indigenous peoples fully enjoy and exercise their distinct rights to maintain, control, develop, protect, and transmit their cultural heritage, indigenous knowledge, languages, food systems, sciences, and technologies, without discrimination…. Indigenous peoples are thriving, including through connection to culture and community, the use of their languages and the expression of their spiritual heritage.

Also, the UNDRIP Action Plan prescribes that these “distinct rights” are to be exercised and enhanced by treating “Indigenous peoples” as independent, self governing, “nations,” representing over 630 race-based nations existing within the boundaries of Canada.

The premise underlying the UNDRIP Action Plan is that authentic, pre-contact Indigenous cultures still exist, and that they have the right to be preserved at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.  In other words, these nations will be dependent on other Canadians.

The last vestiges of authentic, distinct, pre-contact Indigenous cultures disappeared about 150 years ago. As Assembly of First Nations co-founder William Wuttunee wrote in 1971 in his book Ruffled Feathers: “Real Indian culture is just about dead on the reserves.” Now, over 50 years later, native traditional cultures have been replaced by re-imagined cultures, even if a declining few Indigenous people still speak their traditional languages.

There can be no going back to any part of Indigenous pre-contact cultures, nor would Indigenous peoples want to. In this respect, Iroquois writer Sachem Ely S. Parker says:

Do you know or can you believe that sometimes the idea obtrudes…whether it has been well that I have sought civilization with its bothersome concomitants and whether it would not be better even now…to return to the darkness and most sacred wilds (if any such can be found) of our country and there to vegetate and expire silently, happily and forgotten as do the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. The thought is a happy one but perhaps impracticable.

When trade with Europeans began in the early 1600’s, Indigenous peoples began the long, irreversible process of appropriating European goods and technologies, modern economic practices, Christianity, and Western norms and values, with the consequence that, by the late 19th century, their paleolithic, pre-contact cultures had become almost extinct.

All that remained was what William Wuttunee described as “touristy” and “museum pieces of buckskin and feathers,” the ceremonial remnants justly celebrated on special occasions but, less innocently, now used by their current leaders as symbolism in their endless political campaigns for more money and power.

Indigenous peoples cannot turn back from the modern, high-tech, globalist culture that is systematically enveloping all Canadians. In this respect, Yuval Noah Harari wrote in Sapiens:

Today almost all humans share the same geopolitical system (the entire planet is divided into internationally recognized states); the same economic system (capitalist market forces shape even the remotest corners of the globe); the same legal system (human rights and international law are valid everywhere, at least theoretically); and the same scientific system (experts in Iran, Israel, Australia, and Argentina have exactly the same views about the structure of atoms or the treatment of tuberculosis…. We still talk a lot about “authentic” cultures, but if by “authentic” we mean something that developed independently, and that consists of ancient local traditions free of external influences, then there are no authentic cultures left on earth. Over the last few centuries, all cultures were changed almost beyond recognition by a flood of global influences.

But ironically, the rise of globalism has counterintuitively led to the increase of parochial, tribalist feelings.

Historian Robert Kaplan, in his latest book The Loom of Time – Between Empire and Anarchy, From the Mediterranean to China, argues that the cultural shock caused by modernism and globalism–by their annihilation of traditional tribal life–has resulted in an emotionally compensating reaction on the part of those affected to “reinvent their primordial selves in more abstract and extreme forms in order to cope with impersonal settings,” and, in addition, to achieve worldly gains.

Kaplan explains that the anonymity and the loss of pride and identity on the part of tribal societies resulting from urbanization and other globalist influences led to the psychological need for a compensating, “emotional grounding,” which now manifests itself in intense, albeit fictional, assertions of political, ethnic, religious, and racial exceptionalism, and opportunistic demands for favored treatment by the state.

Ironically, the more modern, urban, and globally integrated the former pre-contact tribe becomes, the greater its “primordial” racial sentiments become and the greater and more inherently baseless are its ethnic or race-based claims to be favored by the state.

Pre-contact tribal cultures were relatively static and fatalistic. There was little belief in “progress,” human rights, money, wealth, or job creation. There was no belief that people had a right to material things like housing, education, medical care, constitutions, courts, judges, welfare, policing, or clean water. These are all modern Western ideas and practices that were inconceivable to pre-contact tribal cultures.

Kaplan writes:

Cultural consciousness is enhanced rather than submerged by modernization, because of the ability of modern states and societies to offer jobs, status, and other spoils for which individuals of different ethnic, religious and sectarian identities compete. Through education, modernization also makes people more aware of their collective pasts and their differences with other peoples. Such phenomena have been the forerunners to the identity politics of the post-modern era.

This is what has happened to Canadian Indigenous tribes.

Modernity, urbanization, and globalism, as William Wuttunee confirmed, have destroyed their pre-contact cultures and, as an ironic consequence, have led to abstract and entirely fantasy-based claims of present Indigenous cultural authenticity and “difference.” The more obvious it is that authentic pre-contact Indigenous cultures have vanished, the more their current Indigenous leaders opportunistically claim that they are alive and thriving.

The unprecedented, radical Indigenous political and legal demands now being routinely made by Indigenous groups are, in ironic fact, completely rooted in Western political ideas and practices.

Their demands for quasi- separatist “nation-to-nation” status, for veto powers over federal and provincial laws possibly affecting their “aboriginal rights and territories,” for reparations, for ownership stakes in resource projects and for co-management with the Crown of public lands and natural resources, are all demands that would be inconceivable to pre-contact Indigenous tribal cultures.

The Western philosophical nature of these demands is proof positive of the extinguishment of pre-contact Indigenous cultures.

Canadian Indigenous groups cannot form viable nation-states, and the UNDRIP Action Plan’s attempts to do this impossible task threatens the civic well being of individual Indigenous Canadians.

In referring to the endless squabbling between the various ethnic tribes that make up the many failed states of the Middle East and Africa, Kaplan reminds us that legitimate nation-states are more than artificial communities created by politics, as were the First Nations reserves in Canada. Rather, they are natural, “practical communities…entities of geographic and historical association.”

Kaplan also says that legitimate nation-states have hierarchical, coherent governing structures, and rules-based laws developed organically over time. They are supported by “organized bureaucratic systems interacting with each other on an impersonal, secular basis.”

None of these basic requirements of nationhood are present to any sufficient degree on First Nations reserves, which, as organized groups, are mostly strangers to the civic values, practices, and traditions of modern liberal democracies.

First Nations reserves, like the “institutionally flimsy” Arab and African tribal groups referred to by Kaplan, “have imported the fruits of science without as societies ever producing them themselves… They have experienced the West only as “things.” … They have possessed the techniques of Europe without intuiting the centuries-long cultural processes that had made the West what it was…”.

In other words, Indigenous tribal groups are “modern” only in the culturally appropriated material sense, and because of the Indian Act and the reserve system, they tend to be illiberal in their political culture and governing practices. The proposed Indigenous nation-states that are envisioned by the UNDRIP Action Plan will be, in Kaplan’s words, just as institutionally-flimsy as other failed states are.

This reality is at the core of the threat posed by the UNDRIP Action Plan to the civic well-being of individual Indigenous Canadians. In this regard Kaplan reminds us that: “…where institutions are weak then personalities…who milk and misgovern…perforce dominate.”

On Canadian Indigenous reserves, governance is prone to family-based self-dealing. (Kaplan’s phrase is “republics of cousins.”) There is no reason to believe that such governments will be better under the UNDRIP Action Plan. In fact, governance will probably get worse because, as Kaplan shows, tribalism and illiberalism are worsened when politically unprepared people achieve self-rule.

Indigenous lawyer and businessman, Calvin Helin, in his seminal book Dances With Dependency: Out of Poverty Through Self- Reliance, compares illiberal First Nations reserve governance to “banana republics.” He referred to Chiefs and Band Councils as “colonizers of their own disempowered people.”

 Indigenous scholar Rob Louis adds:

What realistic chance do band members have against chief and council who control their money and resources? For many band members in Canada, the battle is not just with the Crown, it is also with their own leadership… Perhaps reconciliation within Indigenous communities needs to take place before reconciliation can happen with Canada.

Until recently, vulnerable, and powerless Indigenous Canadians had the federal and provincial governments, the courts, and human rights commissions to protect them. But that is no longer true. All these state institutions have shamefully abandoned their role of protectors of weak and vulnerable Indigenous Canadians.

The Supreme Court of Canada is just as much of a threat to the civic well-being of Indigenous Canadians as is the UNDRIP Action Plan.

In its Vuntut Gwitchin decision, purportedly to preserve Indigenous “difference,” the Court ruled that in the event of an irreconcilable conflict, a First Nations Band’s “collective rights,” resting on its right to protect “Indigenous difference,” will now prevail over an individual Indigenous Canadian’s rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As such, the Charter can now be effectively ignored by Band Councils, depriving countless Indigenous Canadians of Charter protection on their home reserves and territories.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) is described by the Supreme Court as a “self-governing nation” in the Yukon comprising of about 560 “citizens,” only about 260 of whom live in the “main community” of Old Crow, which is the so-called “seat of government.” The other 300 odd “citizens” live mostly in Whitehorse, 800 kilometres south. There are no roads into Old Crow. Students cannot graduate from high school in that community, and there no adequate medical facilities in Old Crow.

Cindy Dickson, a VGFN citizen living in Whitehorse, claimed that a VGFN law that said that a “citizen” had to live in Old Crow to qualify to run for VGFN Council violated her Canadian Charter rights not to be discriminated against based on her residency.

She lost her case.

The Supreme Court asserted the existence of “Indigenous legal orders” that prevailed over Canadian law. There was an anti-discrimination provision in the 1993 VGFN Constitution. The Court told her to rely on that and “pursue a similar claim under the VGFN Constitution.”

The problem with this is that there is no VGFN court and no VGFN judge or lawyers. In fact, there is no VGFN institutional justice system whatsoever through which Cindy Dickson could pursue her claim. How could there be? VGFN, like most First Nations, is a mere tribal village, with a population so tiny that the creation of any such state institutions is impossible.

The Supreme Court knew this, and, to its discredit, preferred giving Ms. Dickson empty words over telling her the harsh truth that while she may have rights in the abstract, in VGFN because of its lack of institutions, she could not pursue those rights. A right without institutional support is, in fact, no right at all.

Another harsh truth that the Court avoided telling Ms. Dickson is that now, VGFN, like all Canadian First Nations, have been shamefully declared Charter-free zones by the Supreme Court of Canada. The Vuntut Gwitchin decision, along with the UNDRIP Action Plan, means that victims of corrupt or discriminatory First Nations reserve leadership practices will now have no one to turn to for protection and relief.

In fact, the Vuntut Gwitchin decision illustrates the absurdity of the Indigenous nation-state pretensions of the Canadian UNDRIP Action Plan.

The joint efforts of the Supreme Court and the federal government’s UNDRIP Action Plan have made individual Indigenous Canadians, in terms of having the guaranteed protection of the rule of law, effectively unprotected on their new, UNDRIP “nation-state” reserves.

Robert Kaplan writes a great deal about the multi-ethnic, multi-racial empires, the most generic form of governance in world history, where the strong hand of the emperor kept order and protected vulnerable minorities from the depredations of majorities. He cites the example of the Ottoman empire, where, with its breakup, the strong power of the sovereign in those territories was lost. Power was then transferred to tribalistic ethnic and religious groups that have little regard for the rights of minorities. This has resulted in over a century of anarchic tribal, ethnic and religious persecution and warfare in the Middle East.

Since Confederation, Canada has protected powerless and vulnerable Indigenous people from the mainly illiberal governance systems that are typical of First Nations reserves. Now, the Canadian state is abandoning this protective role. By doing so Canada is betraying the vast majority of powerless and vulnerable Indigenous Canadians, leaving them defenceless against the power and potential injustice of their tribal leaders.

What has happened echoes Frances Fukuyama’s warning that rights are meaningless unless they are created and can be enforced by a powerful state. The UNDRIP Action Plan and the Supreme Court’s rulings like Vuntut Gwitchin will not create viable and strong Indigenous nation-states. All they will do is weaken the Canadian state, causing harm to all Canadians and depriving the vast majority of vulnerable, powerless Indigenous Canadians of the protective rule of Canadian law.

Peter Best is a retired Sudbury lawyer. He is the author of There Is No Difference – An Argument for the Abolition of the Indian Reserve System and Special Race-based Laws and Entitlements for Canada’s Indians.

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Indigenous communities await Trans Mountain pipeline share

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Tanker Dubai Angel at the Trans Mountain terminal, Burnaby
(Photo: Radio-Canada / Georgie Smyth / CBC)

From Resource Works

Ottawa’s Commitment to 30 percent Indigenous Stake in Trans Mountain Pipeline Still Awaiting Confirmation.

Indigenous leaders in Western Canada have been waiting for months for confirmation that the federal government will indeed enable Indigenous Peoples to get a 30 percent share in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline system.

That Ottawa has such a share in mind has been confirmed by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. She says Ottawa is looking at possibly offering a loan guarantee to First Nations.

“They wanted to get the Indigenous partners to own 30 per cent. . . . It’s going to be a great source of income for the Indigenous partners.”

With the pipeline system’s capacity set to almost triple through the expansion project known as TMX, the federal government first announced in 2019, its intention to explore the possibility of the economic participation of 129 affected Indigenous Peoples.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland sent Indigenous leaders a letter last August outlining a plan to sell a stake in the pipeline system to eligible communities through a special-purpose vehicle. It said they would not have to risk any of their own money to participate.

But since then Indigenous groups have been awaiting further word from federal authorities on how and when the equity promise will be kept.

All Ottawa has said publicly is this on May 1: “The federal government will launch a divestment process in due course.”

Two key groups have aired proposals for acquiring equity in the oil pipeline:

  • The Western Indigenous Pipeline Group was formed in 2018 “ to acquire a major stake in Trans Mountain for the benefit of Indigenous communities who live along the pipeline.” It’s been working behind the scenes, and, with Pembina Pipelines Corporation, developed in 2021 the Chinook Pathways operating partnership.

“Chinook Pathways is finance ready. There are no capital contributions required for Indigenous communities. We will structure the transaction so that participating communities will make zero financial contribution.”

  • Project Reconciliation, also founded in 2018, proposed a ”framework” that would give ownership of the pipeline system to 129 Indigenous Peoples.
    “We are poised to facilitate Indigenous ownership of up to 100 percent, fostering economic autonomy and environmental responsibility.”

And: “A portion of revenue generated (portion directed by each Indigenous community) will be used to establish the Indigenous Sovereign Wealth Fund, supporting investment in infrastructure, clean energy projects and renewable technologies.”

In Alberta, the pipeline system spans the territories of Treaty 6, Treaty 8, and the Métis Nation of Alberta (Zone 4). In British Columbia, the system crosses numerous traditional territories and 15 First Nation reserves.

Commentator Joseph Quesnel writes: “According to Trans Mountain, there have been 73,000 points of contact with Indigenous communities throughout Alberta and British Columbia as the expansion was developed and constructed. . . .

“Beyond formal Indigenous engagement, the project proponent conducted numerous environmental and engineering field studies. These included studies drawing on deep Indigenous input, such as traditional ecological knowledge studies, traditional land use studies, and traditional marine land use studies.”

And Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre reported: “In addition to $4.9 billion in contracts with Indigenous businesses during construction, the project leaves behind more than $650 million in benefit agreements and $1.2 billion in skills training with Indigenous communities.”

Not all First Nations have been happy with the expansion project.

In 2018, the federal appeal court ruled that Ottawa had failed to consider the concerns of several nations that challenged the project. In 2019, the project was re-approved by Ottawa, and again several nations (including the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh) appealed. That appeal was dismissed in 2020. The nations then went to the Supreme Court of Canada, but it declined to hear the case.

Private company Kinder Morgan originally proposed the expansion project, but when it threatened to back out in 2018, the federal government stepped in and bought the existing pipeline, and the expansion project, for $4.5-billion. Ottawa said it was “a necessary and serious investment in the national interest.”

Ottawa at that time estimated that the total cost of the expansion project would come in around $7.4 billion. But cost overruns have since driven the final price to some $34 billion.

On the other hand, Ernst & Young found that between 2024 and 2043, the expanded Trans Mountain system will pay $3.7 billion in wages, generate $9.2 billion in GDP, and pay $2.8 billion in government taxes.

The TMX expansion twinned the 1953 Trans Mountain pipeline from near Edmonton to Burnaby (1,150 km) and increased the system’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day from 300,000 barrels a day.

The original pipeline will carry refined products, synthetic crude oils, and light crude oils with the capability for heavy crude oils. The new pipeline will primarily carry heavier oils but can also transport lighter oils.

And the Alberta Energy Regulator says it expects oilsands production to grow by more than 17 per cent by 2033 (increasing to four million barrels a day from 3.4 million in 2023). And it expects global oil prices will continue to rise.

The TMX expansion finally opened and began to fill on May 1 this year.

And, as our CEO Stewart Muir noted, there was a quick reduction of eight cents a litre in gasoline prices for Vancouver due to completion of the project.

From Trans Mountain’s Westridge Marine Terminal at Burnaby, around three million barrels of oil have been shipped to China or India since the TMX expansion opened.

But because the port of Vancouver can handle only smaller Aframax tankers, more than half the oil has first been shipped to California, where it is then transferred to much larger VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) tankers. That makes for a longer but potentially cheaper journey.

At Westridge, because of limited tanker size, cargoes are limited to about 600,000 barrels per Aframax vessel. The largest VLCCs can carry two million barrels of oil. Westridge now can handle 34 Aframax tankers per month.

Some 20 tankers loaded oil there in June, a couple fewer than TMX had hoped for.

“This first month is just shy of the 350,000-400,000 bpd (barrels a day) we expected ahead of the startup,” said shipping analyst Matt Smith. “We are still in the discovery phase, with kinks being ironed out . . .  but in the grand scheme of things, this has been a solid start.”

The Dubai Angel became the first Aframax tanker to load at Westridge. It took on 550,000 barrels of Alberta crude in the last week of May, and headed for the port of Zhoushan, China.

Now the Dubai Angel is headed to Burnaby for another load, and is expected to arrive there on July 8.

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