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  • Vermilion Voice

Bunner, Notley, And "True Reconciliation"

Recently, our community has undergone many discussions and debates regarding racism. Let’s add some politics into the mix, shall we? In all seriousness, I am not looking to cause more division, rather, I am attempting to study and consider the relationship between Canadian politicians and how they approach Indigenous rights and issues. Jason Kenny’s speechwriter Paul Bunner has come under fire as of late -as I’m sure you know-for racist, homophobic, and sexist comments he has made throughout his career in essays and articles. The most recent article I believe being published in 2013, in which Bunner called residential school history a “bogus genocide story”, and said the operations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission “nurture shame across the country”. To nobody’s surprise, numerous Indigenous groups and leaders then began pressuring Kenney to fire Bunner. In response, Kenney refused to fire Bunner, claiming his perspective has “evolved”; a claim that hasn’t been proven by Bunner’s actions. As of July 6, we see a new player join in. Chief Wilton Littlechild of Maskwacis Cree Nation, who is also one of the leaders in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, sat down with Bunner to discuss residential school history and exchange perspectives. The three-hour meeting was productive according to Chief Littlechild, however, Bunner made no apology, and they didn’t come to an “overwhelming consensus” as reported by Elise von Scheel, CBC. While Chief Littlechild’s attempt to introduce Bunner to the journey of Truth and Reconciliation is commendable, it seems the Chief may simply be a gateway to good PR; what better way is there to defend one’s racism than to befriend an Indigenous leader and activist? Though the Chief states that receiving an apology from Bunner was not the goal of the meeting, should there be an apology? For Bunner’s 2013 article, you can visit As we always see from an opposing party, Rachel Notley decided to weigh in on the issue. On July 7, Notley posted a video to twitter in which she claims that Kenney’s refusal to fire Bunner shows he has “no interest in true reconciliation”. The comments politicians make about opposing parties make my eyes roll no matter the topic (and no matter the parties involved), but a politician’s commentary on an opposition’s relationship with issues relating to Indigenous people is even more questionable to me. There is no issue for ousting an individual for racism, sexism, or homophobia- and I’ll allow you to form your own opinion on Bunner in consideration of his numerous controversial comments (and lack of apology). It is however, only reasonable for Kenney to fire Bunner if that is the general consensus among Canadians or Indigenous groups. Despite the fact that Bunner’s gross comments do not reflect the perspective of the conservative party, it doesn’t make sense for the conservative party to keep an uninformed (and dare I say ignorant) individual on the payroll. Nor does it make sense for such an individual to have any form of influence over the Premier. Another issue I intend to address is that Notley’s comments suggest that any politician desires the Truth and Reconciliation of Indigenous people-which I disagree with. Allow me to explain. Ever since 1867 (and even years before), First Nations people have been considered an issue for the Canadian Government to absolve. We see that in residential school history, enfranchisement, establishment of reservations, and much more. Have government officials ever stopped seeing their relationship with Indigenous groups as an issue? I don’t believe so. Despite improvements in First Nations communities, and racism against Indigenous people being (mostly) absolved in government and legislation, the trust is still broken; it’s hard for me to believe that Indigenous issues aren’t largely considered an inconvenience or obstacle to government leaders and candidates. I say that racism in government and legislation is “mostly” absolved due to the fact that some clauses in the Indian Act still in effect today cause loose ends in land disputes, dependency on the system in both a governmental and individual sense, and much more. That’s right, the Indian Act was not created to help Indigenous people, but to hinder them, and it continues to hinder them to this day. This is not to say politicians don’t want peace between the government and Indigenous people. In fact, I imagine peace is something most, if not all leaders, hope to preserve in relation to Indigenous groups. However, reconciliation and peace are two different things; peace can manifest in silence or compliance, but reconciliation for Indigenous people would mean the acknowledgement of truth, the guarantee of a voice, and the allowance and validation of rights. There aren’t many examples that suggest a commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people in our government or in political candidates. Indigenous groups aren’t treated by the government as negotiation partners, they’re treated as problems. For proof, there is history. An example would be the incident regarding Wet’suwet’en, as I’ve discussed in a previous editorial. The event was scandalized, and resulted in the drafting of a bill which now threatens the operation of activist groups and lowers the voices of activists and Indigenous people. Indigenous groups may be treated by the government with diplomacy, but that’s simply a basic application of politics. We observe world leaders handle tensions between nations with diplomacy as well, despite how much of a problem that tension may be. The difference is, tension between Indigenous people and the government only rises when there is an obstruction of rights, a discrimination issue, or something to that effect. Why are Indigenous issues approached so passively by the government, then? I’m not entirely sure, and if I was, it would be a lot to unpack in a single editorial. My best guess is, after centuries of oppression and issues arising, Indigenous issues have become much more complex than simply “giving the land back”, “giving the money back”, or “giving the independence back”. On paper, there are trillions of dollars in the Canadian Consolidated Trust Fund much of which are funds created upon agreements in Treaties. As a nation, we are billions of dollars in debt. So, where will the land and money come from? Misappropriation of governmental funds is not a new concept to reserves. It has occurred in the past on local reserves such as Kehewin and Onion Lake. Due to Trudeau allowing reserves to close their books to the provincial and federal government, there is now a much higher risk of the misuse of funds. So, how can independence be granted in a way that doesn’t have potential to harm the economics of Indigenous communities? In a discussion with my father, he explained that the dependency of Indigenous people on the system is the same dependence that was created by the government due to the establishment of reserves and residential schools. This is also the same dependence Indigenous people are judged for on a governmental level right down to casual civilian conversations. The dependence created by the government is generational and began before confederation. Dependence was fostered and manipulated through the Fur Trade and around that era, where instead of trading useful items and tools, Europeans began trading alcohol, which promoted addiction in Indigenous peoples. This, followed by the creation of reserves, withholding rations, dispensing spoiled rations, and creating the past system for travelling off reserves further solidified governmental power and control of Indigenous peoples. There are numerous Indigenous issues that are yet to be addressed, and there is a lot more sociological work to be done in order for certain demands to be met sustainably. This is why I find it hard to trust political mentions of Truth and Reconciliation. Candidates only throw the term around, not truly understanding or realizing the weight and responsibility of what they claim to support- which some have the full right to feel disrespected by. In consideration of the relationship between Indigenous groups and the government as it exists today, I question whether any candidate had interest in “true reconciliation”. To me, Bunner’s comments originally read as ignorance or misinformation. However, the lack of “overwhelming consensus” (as stated by CBC’s Elise von Scheel) in his meeting with Chief Littlechild raises more concerns. Despite the fact that the meeting was likely to deter any further backlash, the lack of understanding is beginning to look more like intentional racism or lack of care- a lack of care much greater than the lack of care demonstrated by politicians using the “reconciliation” topic as a smokescreen to cover alternative intentions. The fact of the matter is, the European leaders that founded the Indian Act of 1876 and the British North America Act of 1867 paved the way to place Indigenous groups and their territories under the direct control of the Canadian Government. These Acts have caused complexities with effects throughout the generations on both sides of the treaties; complexities far greater than the modern politician can comprehend and shoulder. This especially becomes harder when a writer who has spoken on a “bogus genocide story” is on your payroll.

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