Dark Dawn: The Long Shadow of Injustice Persists

Day Two: Conference on Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

22 February 2018

Important discussions were had about the path toward human rights systems that respect the rights of Indigenous peoples at the second day of the Indigenous rights conference hosted by the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT) and organized by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and Osgoode Hall Law School.

While it is not the purpose or expectation of the conference to solve all the immense human rights issues confronting Indigenous peoples in Canada, the conference is certainly a valuable exercise in identifying the roots of the issues and defining some potential prescriptions to correct these wrongs.

But while the presentations by, and discussions with, exceptionally well-qualified and brilliant scholars, legal professionals and community leaders inspired confidence that this conference could produce some valuable results, the verdict delivered at a Winnipeg courtroom 2,000km away reminds us of the intimidating scope of this challenge.

The Raymond Cormier not guilty verdict in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine comes only two weeks after an all-white jury in Saskatchewan acquitted Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie. The failure of the criminal justice system to deliver justice for Indigenous peoples is a stark contrast to the discussions at the NCCT on the high rates of incarceration of Indigenous peoples and the need for traditional justice programs. While the criminal justice system continues to operate to undermine the unique place of Indigenous peoples in Canada, these decisions evidence the failures of the system to deliver results for Indigenous victims of crime.

We had the privilege of hearing Romeo Saganash (NDP – Abitibi-Baie James – Nunavik – Eeyou) speak about his work on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and his Private Member’s Bill C-262 which will see the full implementation of the UNDRIP domestically.

The great potential for real change inspires hope. The rhetoric from the government that a new framework to ensure Justice for Indigenous peoples incites optimism; however, the continued violence against indigenous women and girls – the unfathomable reality that little girls can be murdered without consequence – should make us shutter in disgust and shame.

This is the bipolar nature of justice for Indigenous peoples in this country. The weight of unrelenting oppression often depresses hope until a new sign of coming reconciliation and decolonization emerges. This gives rise to near-manic excitement for change, until the inevitable return of the dark shadow of systemic marginalization and overt racism sharply curb the tide of optimism.

Empty gestures and dishonest consultations pave the road of Indigenous-State relations in Canada. Unfortunately, the continued failure of the government to back up the promises of reconciliation with meaningful action will ensure our society continues to be afflicted by reprehensible racism that claims the safety and lives of Indigenous women and girls across the country.

The second day of this conference on the rights of Indigenous peoples inspired hope. Reminders of injustice persist.