APTN National News
OTTAWA--Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said Canada “was not an empty” land as he responded to Wednesday’s Throne Speech that claimed pioneers forged a country “where none would have otherwise existed.”
The Harper government set its agenda for the coming Parliamentary session through the Throne Speech which was read by Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
While the speech also mentioned the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation as a foundational document that acknowledged the “rights of Indigenous peoples” and laid the basis “of their relationship with the Crown,” it also painted an image of a country hewed from an unorganized landscape and fashioned into a nation-state.
Referring to coming 150th anniversary of Confederation, the speech described a country founded by “leaders or courage and audacity” that faced down “geographic, military and economic” challenges to create the country.
“They were undaunted. They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then, few in number, reached across a vast continent,” read Johnston. “They forged an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.”
Atleo said the statement echoed the legal theory of terra nullius and the related doctrine of discovery used by European powers to claim lands inhabited by Indigenous peoples.
“It was not, as they say terra nullius, the doctrine of discovery that says there was no one here,” said Atleo. “The Indigenous nations pre-existed the establishment of Canada.”
Atleo, however, did make an effort to find positive morsels in a speech that was thin gruel on First Nation issues.
The national chief said he was glad to see a nod to the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation which he saw linked to the speech’s mention of continued dialogue on treaties and comprehensive claims.
“(It) must be based on the recognition we have title and the path of economic prosperity…must be based on our right of free, prior and informed consent,” said Atleo.
Atleo said he was also pleased to note the speech mentioned the need to deal with the high rates of murdered and missing Indigenous women, adding he would continue to press for a full public inquiry.
The speech said that the Harper government would “renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”
AFN regional chief Morley Googoo, who is in charge of the education file, said he wanted to hear stronger language from the speech on the need to improve First Nation education.
“I found the talk was very soft,” he said. “We have to see how the government is going to proceed.”
The speech made no mention of the federal government’s plan to introduce the controversial First Nation Education Act to govern on-reserve education.
Instead, the speech made vague reference to continuing work with First Nations leaders on the issue.
“Our government recognizes the tremendous potential of Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations to strengthen the growing Canadian economy,” read Johnston. “It will continue working with First Nations to develop stronger, more effective and more accountable on-reserve education systems.”
Atleo said the government has a choice to make.
“It is a moment of either collaboration or collision,” said Atleo. “It has everything to do with the words that were spoken being followed up with real action, in full partnership, which is the words that they used, with First Nations.”