School board plan unhelpful

The Lheidli Tenneh First Nation and the McLeod Lake Indian Band have requested two permanent School District 57 Trustee positions for band members. This school board is continuing its efforts with reconciliation and has forwarded the request to the Minister of Education. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Report is cited as a reason to have two designated, separate trustees for two local First Nations. However, no part of the TRC report or calls to action call for forced integration of Aboriginal people into the rest of society. We should be moving away from hyphenated Canadians, not adding more groups. Indigenous people should be free to participate, or not, in all aspects of society. 

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In fact, in the introduction for the TRC report, it says “Canada denied the right to participate fully in Canadian political, economic, and social life to those Aboriginal people who refused to abandon their Aboriginal identity.” By restricting the rights of Indigenous people who chose to keep and celebrate their heritage, Canada caused harm. Why would the Province of BC want to repeat this offence with a slight twist? Why would anyone think they had the right to define what it means to be a modern Indigenous person? Why would anyone tell them they must vote for a band member to represent them? This proposal would not result in the opportunity to participate fully in Canadian life. 

The details aren’t known yet but can you imagine what it would be like to go to the ballot box, be asked if you held a status card and, if you did, be given a choice of candidates that is different than your neighbours? Or if the designated trustee seats were only voted for by band members, you would no longer have the opportunity to vote for any candidate that wasn’t a member? 

This proposal is simply segregation with lipstick. The purpose may be to ensure Indigenous representation on the board, signal the importance of preserving indigenous culture, history, and community, but the result will be restriction of Band members’ rights.

In the 1990s, Canada supported South Africa’s elimination of apartheid. In fact, we brag about how we were one of the first countries to invite Nelson Mandela to speak in our House of Commons. Why would we want to subject Indigenous people to that kind of system?

Take a look at the three laws of South African Apartheid: 

1.The Race Classification Act. Every citizen suspected of not being European was classified according to race.

2. The Mixed Marriages Act. It prohibited marriage between people of different races.

3. The Group Areas Act. It forced people of certain races into living in designated areas.

Does any of it sound familiar? We already have #1: status cards for Indigenous people. 

If local bands are given a race-based position on the school board, it is only a matter of time before Indigenous will feel community pressure for #2, to marry only from a list of “approved Status Indians” so that their community and their power will grow. This rule was only recently struck from the Indian Act, but this proposal sets up that policy for a return. 

Sadly, we still have #3 in the Indian Act. (It’s the Act that everyone says they hate, but no one wants to get rid of.) 

We should be moving in the direction of less race-based identification, not more. Less hyphenations and toward a united Canada. Indigenous people deserve equal opportunity participation, not equity mandates like the one the NDP has, (ie: Nathan Cullen) which mean nothing because it is in the control of party headquarters. Is it 2020 or 1867? Have we learned nothing? 

We are in the middle of a provincial election. Ask your candidates how they plan to deal with this school board request. 

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