Working in political Ottawa as an Indigenous person can be frustrating and hard at times. Let’s face it, the system that exists here in Ottawa wasn’t created for Indigenous people, and it surely wasn’t made with taking the opinions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples into account. Over time though, that has started to change for the better. Being Métis and having worked on Parliament Hill for closer to a decade, I saw that bit of improvement before my eyes. But despite that, there is still a long way to go.
It’s through that lens I try to look when I take in various commentary and opinions that I read, especially from the growing list of Indigenous writers who are taking part in the discussion. One such writer whose pieces I look forward to reading is Robert Jago, a member of the Nooksack Tribe and Kwantlen First Nation in BC who now lives in Montreal. He’s taken on many big topics from the Indigenous perspective and has brought a lot of light to big issues.
So it was with great interest that I came across his newest piece last week, which was printed in The Tyee. With the rise of the Green Party in Canada, many people are looking at them and their policies, asking questions and seeing what is there. That is what Mr. Jago did, looking specifically at the Greens policies around Indigenous peoples, and came away with some interesting observations. That brought on attacks on him, followed by a weird rebuttal piece from the Greens, followed by another rebuttal from Jago himself, which further laid the Greens bare. Here is the Twitter blow-by-blow:
I am personally surprised by the Greens response here, because really, in theory, they have the easiest excuse in the book; they’re a small party and need to work on their policy books. Despite policy towards Indigenous peoples that’s got as many holes as swiss cheese, admitting to that and promising to get it right would be a decent thing to do. But instead, Jago’s observations received indignation. Not very promising.
But of all the things that Jago raised in his piece, one thing really jumped out at me and surprised me. Jago quoted a question from Question Period that Green Leader Elizabeth May asked, using language and comparisons that stunned me. It stunned me so much that I had to go and find it for myself, because I almost didn’t believe it. I thought maybe I was misreading it or there was a typo of some sort. Then I found it, the question in Hansard, along with the video of said question, and it was just as bad as when I read it:
Yes folks, that’s Elizabeth May using Residential Schools to try to score some rhetorical points on pipelines. Seriously, what in the Hell? Now I’m not surprised this went mostly unnoticed at the time, September 25th, 2018 to be precise; it was the last question of the day to be asked and usually by then most of the Press Gallery has move onto writing their stories for the day. But still, hearing those words and that comparison is just so amazingly offensive to me. Why in the Hell drag Residential Schools into an answer on pipelines and why try to use that horrible crime of an experience that still affects families across the country to this day to score a cheap political point? Not only is that offense, that’s a serious lack of judgement on Ms. May’s part.
And for me, that really ties back to the Green policy document, the mistakes there, some of the attitudes in there, the responses from their supporters that Jago shared on Twitter and the bigger problem here. It’s one thing to make mistakes, we are human and we all make them. But it’s another thing all together to wilfully ignore those mistakes and then turn on those who dare to point them out. Furthermore, I would argue that using the genocide perpetrated against Indigenous peoples as a rhetorical device to bolster your point on pipelines is just disgusting and wrong on a whole level of its own. I would call on Ms. May to apologize for those words, but they did happen nine months ago and if it hasn’t occurred to her to apologize for them now, I don’t feel so hopeful this piece will do it today.
Now I don’t hide my biases here, as you’ve seen in my writing. And I don’t hold myself out to be some paragon of virtue and perfection. But I do my best to call a spade a spade when I see it. The fact is that I know Elizabeth May and have spoken with her on numerous occasions. Her office was literally across the hall from mine for my last two and a half years on Parliament Hill and I’ve had many nice, friendly discussions with her and her staff, who are good people. But despite that, those words that she said back in September are just wrong, wrong, wrong.
The crimes against Indigenous peoples and the pain it’s caused are not some tool to be used to score points for others, let alone anyone who leads a national political party. I hope that Ms. May sees the wisdom in apologizing and vows to learn from this horrible mistake. In this time of their rise in the polls, the Greens should look at correcting these mistakes in their Indigenous policy, in their statements, in their other policies and do so with some humility. It’s never too late to do the right thing.