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Discover: Resistance & Resurgence (Module 76 of 8)

This section highlights some of the social justice events and movements relating to Indigenous resistance and resurgence.


White Paper (1969) and Red Paper (1970)

"Generations of Indians have grown up behind a buckskin curtain of indifference, ignorance and, all too often, plain bigotry. Now, at a time when our fellow Canadians consider the promise of the Just Society, once more the Indians of Canada are betrayed by a programme which offers nothing better than cultural genocide." - Harold Cardinal (from The Unjust Society)

In 1969, the Canadian federal government, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, released a white paper which recommended repealing the Indian Act. In its 1969 White Paper, the government advocated for abolishing "Indian status" so that First Nations peoples would be considered as other Canadians with the same rights, opportunities, and responsibilities. Trudeau and his government saw the Indian Act as a discriminatory law. Eliminating the act was in line with Prime Minister Trudeau's vision of creating a "just society."

Many First Nations peoples did not agree with the White Paper. Among those who saw the document as another way for the government to further assimilate First Nations peoples was Harold Cardinal, then head of the Indian Association of Alberta. As a rebuttal to the 1969 White Paper, Cardinal wrote Citizen Plus which became known as the Red Paper.

Source: The White Paper 1969 (University of British Columbia)

Video: Harold Cardinal | National Aboriginal History Month

Harold Cardinal was elected as leader of the Indian Association of Alberta in 1968. That year Pierre Elliott Trudeau spoke of his vision for Canada as “a just society.” In 1969, Trudeau released what is commonly called the White Paper. It abolished the rights for First Nations peoples and the elimination of reserve lands. First Nation communities across Canada were furious - including Harold Cardinal. In response he wrote a book entitled The Unjust Society. Cardinal’s book stopped the White Paper and opened a new discussion between Indigenous Peoples and Canadians.

Calder Case

In 1967, Frank Calder and Elders from Nisga'a First Nation sued the British Columbia government claiming that Indigenous Title to Nisga'a lands has never been legally extinguished through treaty or other means. Although the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Calder, the case was the first time where courts examined the existence of Indigenous land rights in Canadian law. The court acknowledged that Indigenous title continues to exist unless ended by a treaty or legislation. The Calder case also led to the federal government's creation of the Specific Claims Tribunal to help support Indigenous claims to land. (RAVEN)

Source: Calder v. British Columbia (RAVEN)

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Idle No More

"Idle No More started in November 2012, among Treaty People in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta protesting the Canadian government’s dismantling of environmental protection laws, endangering First Nations who live on the land. Born out of face-to-face organizing and popular education, but fluent in social media and new technologies, Idle No More has connected the most remote reserves to each other, to urbanized Indigenous people, and to the non-Indigenous population" (Idle No More).

Source: About the Movement (Idle No More)

Video: Idle No More

Adrienne Arsenault reports on a national First Nations protest movement that's building social media support across the country. Protesters say Bill C-45 violates First Nations' treaty rights.

Oka Crisis

The Oka Crisis, also known as the Kanesatake Resistance, was a 78-day standoff between Mohawk demonstrators, Quebec police, the RCMP, and the Canadian Army. It took place in Kanesatake close to the town of Oka between July 11 and September 1990. The crisis began due to the proposed townhouse development and expansion of a golf course on contested land in Kanesatake, which also contained a Mohawk burial ground. The death of Corporal Marcel Lemay during the standoff further raised increased tensions between demonstrators and law enforcement. The protest eventually came to an end after the army was brought in. The golf course expansion was eventually cancelled. The federal government bought the land although they didn't transform it into a reserve (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Source: Oka Crisis (Canadian Encyclopedia)

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Video: Remembering the Oka crisis, 30 years later

What started with the proposed expansion of a golf course west of Montreal, turned into a 78-day stand-off that has left a permanent mark on Canada. As Dan Spector reports, the issues that sparked crisis have still not been resolved decades later.

Ipperwash Crisis

In 1995, the Ipperwash Crisis occured within Ipperwash Provincial Park on land claimed by the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nations. The root cause of the crisis was the Canadian goverment's creation of a military camp in Stoney Point Reserve in 1942. After many requests to have the land returned to them, members of the Stoney Point First Nation occupied the camp in 1993 and 1995. Protesters also occupied the nearby Ippewash National Park on September 4, 1995. Tensions between protesters and the Ontario Provincial Police escalated, leading to the lethal police shooting of protestor Anthony “Dudley” George on September 6, 1995 (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Source: Ipperwash Crisis (Canadian Encyclopedia)

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Video: Fight over land continues 25 years after Ipperwash

Twenty five years after Dudley George was killed by police in Ipperwash Provincial Park, members of the community are still fighting for land, access to clean drinking water and adequate housing.

Land Back Movement

Land Back is an Indigenous-led movement to regain stewardship over traditional lands. Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples have been taking care of lands and ecosystems for future generations. As a result of settler colonialism, Indigenous Peoples were removed from their lands. The Land Back movement aims to restore Indigenous Peoples' rights and responsibilities over their traditional lands (David Suzuki Foundation).

Source: What is Land Back? (David Suzuki Foundation)

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Video: Land governance: Present

The second video in David Suzuki Foundation's “Land governance” series highlights the current crisis in land management in Canada, which has sparked, among other initiatives, the Indigenous-led Land Back movement.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or UNDRIP is a comprehensive human rights instrument which addresses the rights of Indigenous peoples all over the world. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. UNDRIP recognizes and lays out a variety of individual and group rights that serve as the minimum requirements for protecting Indigenous peoples' rights and to contribute to their survival, dignity, and well-being. It also states the importance of upholding Indigenous peoples' rights that have been laid out in treaties and other similar agreements (Government of Canada).

On June 16, 2021 – after decades of advocacy by First Nations  – the Parliament of Canada passed The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (formerly Bill C-15). The Act received Royal Assent June 21, 2021 (Assembly of First Nations).

Source: The Declaration explained (Government of Canada)

Video: How UNDRIP Changes Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples

Provides an overview of how the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government has changed since first contact.