Testimony Brings Out ‘Big House Rules’

Canadian Political Opinion

Wilson-Raybould stays true to Indigenous roots

WINNIPEG – OPINION – At the end of her unprecedented 30-minute statement to the House of Commons justice committee regarding the “inappropriate pressure” she experienced for months by the prime minister and nearly a dozen government officials to have federal prosecutors drop criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould made it crystal clear why she was there.

She said: “I will conclude by saying this — I was taught to always be careful of what you say — because you cannot take it back — and I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity — these are the teachings of my parents, grandparents and community. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House — this is who I am and who I will always be.”

In case anyone has questions remaining, the issue between Jody Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is an Indigenous issue.

It is a Canadian issue, yes.

It is a political issue, yes.

But it is undeniably an issue of an Indigenous person taking a principled stand against a Trudeau-led government, an issue of a Kwakwaka’wakw refusing to give up being Kwakwaka’wakw, and an issue of what Canada looks like through Indigenous eyes.

Just like her father, the Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief Bill Wilson, spoke to Pierre Trudeau during the 1983 constitutional talks — telling him that Indigenous peoples will always be Indigenous, and Canada would be better spent reconciling that fact in law and practice — Wilson-Raybould brought the “laws and traditions of our Big House” to Canada’s biggest house.

She spoke the truth.

She spoke about ethics and responsibility, and was masterful during cross-examination, making the committee’s Liberal party MPs and their pre-written directions from the Prime Minister’s Office look silly, nit-picky, and ultimately irrelevant.

She directly responded to the prime minister’s accusation that “Jody didn’t bring any concerns to my attention”, by citing with incredible detail a four-month long “sustained effort” involving meetings, inappropriate requests and veiled threats from the PMO and his staff.

She brought the Liberal government — in which she is still very much a part — to its knees, leading endless pundits to wonder: what is her endgame?

I can tell you what it is: to show Canada what actual reconciliation looks like with Indigenous peoples.

For too long, Canadian political parties have used mostly Patrick Brazeau-like Indigenous puppets for their policies and photo opps. Indigenous peoples in Canada’s government are fine as long as they smile, don’t speak out, or rock the boat — especially when it comes to the economy.

For too long, Canadian political parties have used mostly Patrick Brazeau-like Indigenous puppets for their policies and photo opps. Indigenous peoples in Canada’s government are fine as long as they smile, don’t speak out, or rock the boat — especially when it comes to the economy.

Whether it be in 19th-century fights over the train line on the prairies, hydro dams in the north, or pipelines in B.C., Indigenous peoples are fine as long as they let Canada do what it wants, when it wants, and get out of the way.

If Indigenous peoples interrupt the flow of money by talking about rights, marching for land claims or offering “radical ideas” like the Earth and water matters, they are marginalized, arrested or erased.

If there is anything Canada has proven time and time again is that when it comes to economy, everything else comes second — especially if you’re Indigenous.

Some Indigenous politicians still believe in the system, and power to them. Occasionally, an ethical one can survive in the Canadian political system and even propose ideas with Indigenous values — Romeo Saganash comes to mind — but these never have much impact in policy and practice.

Money, power and profit are what matters in Canada, and Indigenous peoples better not stop this.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, by saying “this is who I am and who I will always be,” literally interrupted it all at once.

She didn’t refuse to intervene in the charges against SNC-Lavalin because of guilt, fear over being caught or even an altruistic “do the right thing” story.

She acted because she is Kwakwaka’wakw. She acted because she comes from an ethical and responsible people, committed to the hard work of building relationships via ceremony and tradition. She acted because she has people to answer to — some of them Kwakwaka’wakw.

Look up the Kwakwaka’wakw. They are potlatch people who perform a ceremony about sharing all of their wealth, embodying a commitment to community first, individuals second.

To be Kwakwaka’wakw means relationships first, personal gain second.

Relationships are easy when people think and act the same. When they get along and “get over” their differences.

Relationships are hardest when people actually show who they are. When they’re responsible, disagree, and show their truest selves.

What’s at the end of this hard road are real relationships — not just people who smile, stay silent and get over things.

Real relationships are when people look across the table at one another, share the gifts of who they are and then figure it out.

Real relationships are about commitment.

Jody Wilson-Raybould did exactly that. She even refused to lose her temper when asked questions that insulted her integrity and judgement. She even refused to resign as attorney general and even being a Liberal MP.

And, in the end, she never gave up being Kwakwaka’wakw.

Jody Wilson-Raybould started and ended with the same word, Gilakas’la, which means “thank you” but also means “welcome.”

Welcome, Canada, to what it means to actually have a meaningful relationship with Indigenous peoples.

It’s uncomfortable and challenging, I know, but it’s too late to go back now. Too many words have been spoken.

The days of only money, power and profit mattering might even change if we keep going. I don’t know.

The path of actual reconciliation — where integrity, responsibility and truth aren’t just buzz words but mean something — is difficult, I know, but it’s the path to the Big House.

A better house.

A real house.

Niigaan SinclairNiigaan Sinclair

Originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on February 28, 2019. Republished with the permission of the author