Canada’s first Day of Truth and Reconciliation was commemorated by the Prime Minister vacationing in Tofino and the RCMP attacking land defenders of the Wet’suwet’en nation. While many hoped this day would mark an improvement in the relationship between the capitalist state and Indigenous communities, it has only proven that reconciliation is dead. To end Indigenous oppression, we must fight for revolution.
In the past few years, there has been a growing movement of solidarity with Indigenous struggles. From the rail blockades in 2020 to the recent toppling of colonial statues, there has been a historical turning point in the sentiment of the Canadian working class towards the Indigenous struggle. Following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children, a poll conducted by Abacus showed that “ninety percent of (Canadians) believe that the federal government is liable for the damage caused by residential schools, followed by the Catholic Church (81 percent) and the RCMP (80 percent).” Faced with the pressure of a united class struggle against oppression, the capitalist politicians have offered a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Even this token gesture has been weakly implemented. Despite the name, the day was not nationally recognized. Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario refused to instate it as a statutory holiday. By way of explanation, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said truth and reconciliation needs to happen “each and every day”—except apparently Sept. 30. This is the very definition of crocodile tears. Others have been less camouflaged in their total disinterest in reconciliation. The Premier of Quebec, François Legault, refused to recognize the day, stating that “we need more productivity.” He seemed blissfully unaware of the irony of his statements, given that “productivity” is the exact justification for the centuries of oppression against Indigenous people that makes truth and reconciliation necessary. Scandalously, the ex-mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre decided to use the day to announce that he would resurrect the toppled statue of John A. Macdonald.
Justin Trudeau announced the national holiday by promising it would be the beginning of a “positive, fair, and better future”. Many working class people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, believed him. After all, we had seen Trudeau moved to tears while delivering a public apology to survivors of the residential school system. Ahead of the National Day, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation sent two invitations to Trudeau to join their ceremony by the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the first unmarked graves were discovered. The Prime Minister’s Office never responded to their invitations but the community held out hope that he would make it out to British Columbia. And he certainly did. Trudeau flew straight to B.C., right over the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation and settled into a multi-million dollar oceanfront vacation home in Tofino.
However, Trudeau did not completely forget about Indigenous people. His three-level, four-bedroom, six-bath, multiple-patio, quartz-covered-kitchen vacation home included West Coast Indigenous art, featuring two Haida Orcas. Perhaps this is what Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc was referring to when he came to Trudeau’s defense and said, “his personal commitment to reconciliation is significant.”
Trudeau ignoring Indigenous people on the day meant to remember their suffering is entirely symbolic of the broader policy of the Liberals. After facing mass public condemnation, Trudeau apologized and stated he “regretted” his vacation to Tofino. He’s promised that he will “continue to do even more on the path of reconciliation”, which begs the question, what has he done so far? As of Sept. 20, there are 45 First Nations communities without clean drinking water. It would cost an estimated $3.2 billion to end the boil water advisories in all Indigenous communities. After campaigning on a promise to end the advisories during his term, Trudeau announced that his government would not be able to make that deadline. Instead, the Liberal government has given $700 billion in corporate bailouts during the pandemic and spent $12.6 billion on pipelines.
On this first Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Trudeau has made it crystal clear what reconciliation means under capitalism. At the same time as he was vacationing in Tofino, north of his oceanfront home the RCMP was violently arresting land defenders of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
Coastal Gaslink (CGL) has been attempting to drill into the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en since 2019, without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who represent numerous First Nations clans. On Sept. 25, RCMP tasered and arrested an unarmed land defender at Gidimt’en Checkpoint. On Truth and Reconciliation Day, an activist underneath a bus blocking a road to the drilling site was violently assaulted by the RCMP. Using “pain compliance”, they tugged on the activist’s legs while he screamed in pain. They continued to assault him until the bus was removed.
The CGL pipeline poses a serious threat to the livelihood of Indigenous people who depend on the land for survival, and a threat to the climate in general. However, the pipeline is the largest private investment in Canadian history—amounting to $40 billion. This is why the RCMP are sent in. They are there to protect the interests of private property and profit. Unfortunately for them, Indigenous people continue to defend their right to the land and to have a say in how it is used. This is the contradiction of reconciliation. How can Indigenous people’s demand to meet their basic social needs be reconciled with the pursuit of profit?
Reconciliation is Dead, Revolution is Alive
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 recommendations in 2015. The 80th, creating the new holiday, was certainly one of the easiest and cheapest for the Trudeau Liberals to fulfil.
What about the other recommendations? The Commission called for Canadian governments at all levels to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as the “framework for reconciliation”. UNDRIP recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, autonomy and self-government and emphasizes the concept of “free, prior and informed consent” for activity on Indigenous territory. UNDRIP has been adopted by the provincial government of British Columbia, where we have continued to witness brutal attacks by the RCMP against the Wet’suwet’en. The Commission also called for “the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care.”
Instead, the Liberal government has spent years and billions of dollars on overturning the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling that stated, “The government had ‘willfully’ and ‘recklessly’ discriminated against Indigenous children by knowingly underfunding child and family services on reserve.” The ruling also ordered the government to fund First Nations child welfare agencies. During the election campaign, Trudeau denied that his government was fighting Indigenous children in court and yet, mere days before Sept. 30, the Liberals made their third attempt to appeal the ruling.
Following the RCMP attacks, Gidimt’en spokesperson Sleydo made a statement saying, “We are united in the struggle to defend our lands, our waters, our homes.” This is a struggle that has united all working class people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. At the beginning of 2020, the RCMP raided Wet’suwet’en nation and launched a vicious attack on land defenders with snipers and police dogs. They expected an easy victory against unarmed Indigenous people. Instead, the very opposite happened. Solidarity demonstrations and occupations erupted across Canada. Railways were blockaded in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Ports were shut down in Vancouver. MPs were unable to enter the provincial legislature in Victoria. Roads and bridges, including the Confederation Bridge to PEI, were blocked around the country.
This eruption of solidarity did not come out of thin air. The Canadian working class did not just wake up suddenly more enlightened about the issues facing Indigenous communities. The solidarity efforts came on the back of years of austerity, declining wages, rising unemployment and police brutality. More and more people are coming to the conclusion that the oppression of Indigenous peoples and the exploitation of working people are linked and have the same root cause: the capitalist system.
Decades of accumulated discontent burst to the surface. It has become clearer than ever that the corporations and capitalist politicians trying to crush Indigenous communities are the same ones who are degrading everyone’s working and living conditions. Instead of relying on the same capitalist state that carried out the genocide of Indigenous peoples, we can only rely on the power of the working class to end Indigenous oppression.
Changing names of universities, removing statues and establishing a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation are victories but are still largely symbolic. The attacks on the Wet’suwet’en on Sept. 30 show that while the capitalists may concede here and there, they will not allow any fundamental undermining of private property and their pursuit of profit.
There is almost $2 trillion currently collecting nothing but dust in the vaults of the banks. This wealth could be used to immediately end the boil water advisories and kick-start a national social housing program to provide safe, quality homes on and off reserves as well as provide funding for education and health services. Indigenous people cannot be left to fight on their own for these demands. The united action of working-class people around the country effectively shut down the rail system in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. Now this unity must be forged to shut down the system that puts profit ahead of Indigenous people.
As Fightback previously said: “Under capitalism, the question of Indigenous rights is entirely subservient to the interests of the ruling class. The rights of Indigenous people are sacrificed time and time again in order to secure the profits of the capitalists. Under socialism, with a democratically planned economy under workers’ control, production would be based on need and not profit. On this basis, we could immediately begin to work in harmony to resolve the problems of Indigenous rights, title, and autonomy and bring an end to centuries of exploitation, oppression and colonial subjugation.”
“Reconciliation is dead, revolution is alive” is a powerful slogan from the struggle of the Wet’suwet’en. This is the way forward in order to end Indigenous oppression: a united struggle not for reconciliation with the oppressors but to overthrow the capitalist system that oppresses and exploits us all.