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Federal cabinet shuffle shakes faith in reconciliation

“No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous peoples.”

Those words, repeated ad nauseam, were issued in a 2017 statement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on National Aboriginal Day. It’s been no secret that since the Liberals’ victory in 2015, the government has committed to advancing reconciliation, vowing to uphold the sacred relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Crown like no government before them.

For me, successive actions by the government against Indigenous peoples have slowly killed this dream, with the final nail in the coffin being the demotion of Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Wilson-Raybould, who for three years was the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, was demoted during a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday. Prior to her appointment as the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, Wilson-Raybould was an accomplished lawyer and leader, having held the role of Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. Committed to advancing reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, she had no qualms calling on the government to do more. In fact, she’s stated in numerous recent speeches that the government is failing to keep its promises of reconciliation. In a speech made in September, Wilson-Raybould stated that, “the path of justice and equality is not advanced or achieved through half-measures. Hard choices, innovative actions, transformations in laws and policies… this is what is needed.”

According to political gossip, there are two possible motivations behind her demotion: (1) she was considered ineffective, some news articles suggesting borderline incompetent, in her role, and (2) she was dismissive and confrontational.

Both lines of thinking are extremely worrying. In fact, in a rare move of what can be viewed as an act of defiance, Wilson-Raybould released a statement defending her role as Justice Minister, stating that she had accomplished nearly all the tasks outlined in her mandate letter. The fact that she was forced to publicly defend her role suggests she was ‘forced out’ of the ministry.

Despite these accomplishments and a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute, which saw Wilson-Raybould receive the fourth-highest performance score out of 34 ministers, political insiders continue to disparage her as incompetent. As illustrated in an article by Star columnist Chantal Hébert, “in the eye of her political masters … her performance had not lived up to the advance billing.” Similarly, several public servants told CBC that she was difficult to work with, dismissive, and confrontational.

However, these reasons aren’t backed up by facts; they’re rooted in racialized, stereotypical notions about Indigenous peoples. Because she had the will to speak her mind about reconciliation, she was ostracized as angry, confrontational, and unfit. An incredible article in the Globe and Mail illustrates this point perfectly, stating that these attacks on her character are rooted in the racist ideas that “Indigenous peoples are not as capable, or not as responsible for the achievements and success that they have. That somehow the marginalization of Indigenous peoples, and in particular women, can be justified. And that Indigenous peoples somehow are not ready to lead and govern in today’s world.”

I am so angry that yet again an Indigenous person has been silenced for no reason other than speaking their mind. I’m also sad because I sometimes buy into the government’s rhetoric that things will improve in our country. Events like the forced removal of protesters at the Gidimt’en Camp, the dismissal of MP Romeo Saganash’s critique of the government, and the demotion of Wilson-Raybould are rude but needed awakenings, illustrations that my friends and I too can be silenced and denigrated as just ‘angry Indians’ for speaking our truths.

Wilson-Raybould’s removal from the Department of Justice challenges my faith in the Canadian government. Will we be forever relegated to these stereotypes? Either being branded angry and confrontational if we speak our minds or meek and submissive if we conform to the status quo?  I burn with anger that yet again I have been lied to, have trusted the government to respect Indigenous peoples and advance reconciliation. At what point will the lying stop?

There’s only so long a person can put their faith in others, each time being let down, until they stop believing at all.

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