[The following is an opinion piece of my own as a First Nations person and lover of good governance and it is not necessarily the stated opinion of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations government, nor any other organization where I am a member or representative.]
Since before the time of Confederation, First Nations have struggled to find their place in British Columbia and in Canada. The journey has been difficult enough for many of our leaders to throw up their hands and focus ever inward. All too often, this is to the detriment of true and reciprocal reconciliation between the peoples and communities in Canada. Fortunately for all of us, this is beginning to change in real and unexpected ways.
The struggle for recognition and respect has been so central an aspect of First Nations’ common identity that it has come to affect how we measure every decision we make. When it comes to matters that impact a wide array of disparate interests that intersect Canadian society, the internal politics of indigenous communities can often bewilder and frustrate. This is as much a challenge for indigenous leaders as it is everyone else, and it is one that must be addressed by the former as much as, if not more than, the latter. This is the challenge facing leaders in true, mutual, and trust-building reconciliation.
The key to successful reconciliation is not only the willingness of Crown governments to publicly acknowledge our deeply troubled past, and to work in good faith with indigenous communities to meaningfully address the challenges of moving forward, but also for those same indigenous communities to publicly acknowledge that collaboration and to signal a willingness and impetus to forgive.
To some degree, this is already happening. First Nations communities everywhere are not only increasing their reach and their grasp, but also awakening to the universal challenges of peace, order and good governance. As indigenous communities increase their legal, political and economic capacities, they are coming upon the hard decisions to be made in a world of scarcity.
In the face of those decisions, First Nations leaders and their constituents are learning that they have much in common with the rest of the Canadian polity: a robust and vigorous difference of opinion.
It is in that difference of opinion where we discover both the great strength and the troubling difficulty facing indigenous leaders today. The often-combative politics of identity have penetrated so deep into the political culture of indigenous communities that certain opinions are being regarded not as mere difference of opinion but rather as traitorous to the indigenous identity.
As indigenous communities develop politically and economically, the politics of identity should rightly diminish in the hearts and minds of indigenous peoples. It comes now to whether and to what degree aboriginal communities and their leaders embrace this new vigorous democratic diversity, or quash it in a fearful defense of what is known and what is comfortable.
Success at all levels of government increasingly depends on well-functioning communication, coordination and cooperation at all levels on a global stage. In a world where a drop in the demand for timber in the markets of Shanghai can have real consequences for the culture and language budget of an indigenous community in BC, true and reciprocal reconciliation is ever more important for all Canadians everywhere. We are up to the task, so let’s get to the important and uncomfortable work of respectful political discourse.