One of the leading experts on treaty rights and First Nations governance in Canada says the queen’s passing marks an opportunity to improve the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people in Canada.
Sol Sanderson, 80, is the former chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and has spent nearly 65 years fighting to dismantle what he calls the colonial suppression of Indigenous self governance in Canada.
“We need to exercise our own form of government based on our own worldview, philosophies, traditions and values of the nations.”
He was also born in James Smith Cree Nation and claims the knife attack that resulted in one of the worst mass killings in Canada’s history is partly rooted in the British royal family’s colonizing powers, making the vicious and senseless acts of violence, entirely predictable.
“There’s still a lot of shock in the families and a lot of people there who are hurt… the sad thing for me is, I’ve been warning about this type of thing going to happen for years,” Sanderson told Global News when returning to his Saskatoon home after spending time this week supporting grieving members of the community.
The horrific mass stabbings that left 10 people murdered and another 18 injured, shocked people around the world.
“Suicides, mental, physical and emotional abuse, all kinds of addictions… there’s about 4.5 pages of symptoms that you can identify today that are affecting us as a result of losing total control, losing our way of life,
because we’ve been under suppression of the empire and colonial policies for 500 years,” he said.
Sanderson points to foundational precedents like a papal bull decreed in 1493 that enabled land inhabited by non-Christian people “discovered” by European explorers to be vanquished and the peoples to be subdued. He says it was used to validate the theft of Indigenous lands and resources, and set the stage for more than 500 years of systemic racism and cultural genocide.
“No one even knows there was a law of dominance that made it legal to kill ‘Indians’ and we’re still doing it today without it being corrected and proper steps being taken internally and externally,” he said.
Sanderson condemns the senseless murders of First Nations family members. The two men charged were members of the same nation, which like many across the country, struggles with high rates of suicide, mental health issues, substance abuse, violence and addictions, all problems that he believes are a product of colonial issues, centuries in the making.
“That’s what it was all about, taking away our way of life so we’d destroy ourselves… the violence will turn internally, that’s what’s happening today like in James Smith Cree Nation,” he said.
Sanderson calls the widespread denial of the impact of the papal bull, known as the Doctrine of Discovery, and ongoing assimilation efforts still being adopted today a ‘code of silence.’
“De-tribalization policies were created with ‘Christianization’ to make us like them, then the residential schools, integration, assimilation, civilization, these were the goals,” he said.
Now with the queen’s passing, Sanderson says he does not believe the monarchy should be abolished or that Canada should cut its ties with it, but he is renewing calls for action from the royal institution.
“There has to be a new arrangement looked at in terms of agreement, a reconciliation-implementation agreement which provides for recognition of everything they denied in 1493 under that papal bull,” he said, adding he believes King Charles supports Indigenous people in Canada and is hopeful for a better future.
Dr. Kisha Supernant, who has Métis lineage on her father’s side and British on her mother’s side, says she understands the impact generational trauma can have. She’s directly involved in ongoing investigations at former residential schools as a specialist in Indigenous archaeology.
“To me, it is unfortunate the death of the monarch has taken some of the necessary attention away from those events and the families at James Smith Cree Nation,” Supernant told Global News.
She said the queen’s passing leaves a complicated legacy for Indigenous people that needs to be acknowledged right now.
“I think we’re at a very important moment to bring fourth this conversation and if we have any hope of reconciliation, we have to remember that truth comes first and that includes any truth about the British monarchy and the British Empire… if there’s a moment to talk about legacy, it’s when someone passes,” Supernant said.
Sanderson agrees and is remaining optimistic a major shift is possible, ensuring unfulfilled promises and the perpetuation of abuse against Indigenous people will one day become history.
In the meantime, he’s working to bring ideas for Indigenous self-governance to the attention of political and religious leaders around the world, including pitching the idea of Indigenous equity stakes in major resource projects and the telecom industry as well as improved federal funding models to ensure First Nations can better support their own communities.
“It’s time we moved the field to occupy our own lands and jurisdiction,” Sanderson said.