Recent calls for an Indigenous-led public inquiry into systemic racism are the only appropriate response to the Higgs government.
Blaine Higgs is the consummate colonial administrator. His fundamental commitments are to ensuring Irving’s unimpeded access to Crown land, and corporate access to natural resources in New Brunswick generally. This means he is, necessarily, committed to colonialism and its corollary, systemic racism.
Higgs intuitively understands that fostering a culture of ignorance about the legacy of settler colonialism will serve New Brunswick’s longstanding commitment to the dispossession, erasure, and exploitation of Indigenous people and their resources. Therefore, Higgs refuses to address “the injustices of the past,” and spins fantasies about “fixing the future.”
This colonial culture is pervasive and can be identified throughout the Higgs government.
Recall in 2021 when New Brunswick’s Attorney General Ted Flemming circulated a memo asking provincial employees to not refer to “unceded” or “unsurrendered” land and to only use language “approved by the provincial government’s protocol office.” The pretext for this decision was that the provincial government was “involved in a number of legal actions which have been initiated by certain First Nations against the province, including a claim to ownership and title to over 60% of the Province.”
Recall when Higgs tried to portray himself as the “Great White Saviour” in December 2021, and told the press: “I cannot stand by as premier and just let things unfold, knowing that most New Brunswickers are unaware…this [land claim] impacts jobs, land ownerships, private investments and our province’s entire economy.”
Who can forget Higgs’ ever-growing hostility towards Indigenous communities? His cancellation of the gas-tax sharing, his ignoring the duty to consult and his refusal to do an independent inquiry on the shootings of Indigenous people in the province during so-called “wellness checks.”
Higgs is one link in a chain going back to U.S. slave owner Thomas Jefferson who understood that frightening settlers about the machinations of “Merciless Indian Savages” was a reliable way to ensure the public is confused, and reactive.
Blaine Higgs cannot talk treaty, and it is time to talk treaty.
It is time to talk about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and its federal iteration, Bill C-15: An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an act passed without wide consultation of Indigenous people by the Trudeau government.
It’s time to talk about true meaning of the UNDRIP declaration that: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” It is time to talk about how “Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”
Respect of UNDRIP would mean it’s time to end New Brunswick’s longstanding commitment to the dispossession, erasure, and exploitation of Indigenous people and their resources.
People who are committed to fostering a culture of ignorance about the legacy of settler colonialism cannot talk about the pillaged resources of Wabanaki, about how New Brunswick is a thieving government, about how “Crown land” embodies a violation of the spirit of the Peace and Friendship Treaties. People like our Premier cannot have these difficult conversations.
Reconciliation entails difficult conversations. Conversations we cannot have if we are confused and reactive. When our leaders prefer to foster a culture of historical ignorance, reconciliation cannot happen. Reconciliation means looking at the past: touching grief, weeping over broken promises, and broken lives. You cannot walk the path of reconciliation if your heart is weak, and your vision limited. You must be brave, and you must speak the truth.
The time of colonial agents is over. The time of treaty is now.
Chris Walker is an MDiv. student at the Atlantic School of Theology and a candidate for ordination with the United Church of Canada