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(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Nov. 22, 2004)

Supreme Court Serves Up More Waffles

John Pifer

It should come as no surprise to Canadians that the never-ending song and dance over aboriginal land claims is bound to continue to drag on, seemingly forever, in the wake of the latest half-assed decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada.

It was bad enough that years of negotiations and agreements and non-treaties, mostly in British Columbia, have resulted in an Indian Industry that wastes billions of Canadian taxpayers dollars every year, year in, year out, with no end in sight. Thousands of lawyers, activists and bureaucratic paper pushers keep pocketing the tax dollars, then adopting a serious expression for the TV cameras, while muttering about good faith and agreements-in-principle; but little if any progress is made.

It was bad enough that a handful of native groups, all claiming to be distinct nations within Canada, were repeatedly demanding their share on the harvesting of our country's resources, through some misguided belief that they somehow either owned them, or were owed them. Threats and intimidation have been the order of the day in the province when a development or resource company has sought to do its work.

It was bad enough that billions of dollars poured into native reserves, never to be audited or accounted for, or that Canadian taxpayers pay for everything the few hundred members of one Indian band or another receive  from education to prescription drugs to their trendy SUVs.

It was bad enough when the incidence of poverty, crime, alcoholism, lethargy and abuse continued to grow on reserves despite the flood of dollars, which somehow only ever seem to reach the upper echelon of the bands leadership. (See SUVs, Hawaiian holidays, aforementioned lawyers, etceteras).

Now, in a supposed landmark decision, Canadas top court has brought down land-claim rulings that appear designed to add to the confusion rather than to bring clarity. Having muddied the waters of aboriginal claims more than seven years ago with the flawed Delgamuukw decision over extinguishments of native rights, the Supreme Court justices now have used mealy-mouthed phrases that just make matters ever more murky as to how land-use decisions should be pursued.

The court urges consultation and accommodation between the government and native groups, to get the consent of the aboriginals on any land-use plan. It suggests that the province may even make binding decisions without obtaining the consent of the Indian bands affected in any given plan.

It may sound good on paper, and is even being heralded by the likes of the Vancouver Sun as lifting the uncertainty on native land claims; but it avoids dealing with the experience of armed militant natives, dressed in camouflage and brandishing weapons, such as has been seen everywhere from Oka to the Okanagan. All of the on one hand, and on the other hand psychobabble from the court appears likely to do is to deepen the divisions between both sides, perhaps until we learn whether or not the weapon-wielding young braves are running a bluff.

The Supreme Court wants governments dealings with the native groups to be matters of honour, generosity and integrity  taken in good faith. If that had been ordered to be the line to be taken on both sides of the bargaining, we all might feel more hopeful of a fair resolution.

Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at


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