Who Owns Canada?
I often hear a phrase like this at the beginning of an event:
This performance is taking place on land never ceded by the (Indigenous Nation name).
What does this mean? What is it intended to mean?
Strictly speaking it means no more than it says. That the land on which the event takes place once belonged to the Indigenous Nation.
However, the statement seems to have the intent to suggest that the current occupants of the land do not have the moral right to occupy the land – that somehow their occupancy of the land is illegitimate and should be a source of guilt and apology.
Frankly, I find that implication to be absurd and offensive.
Lately, there have been arguments which extend further to suggest that the moral legitimacy of the Canadian political system should be in doubt. For example, it has been argued that the current Prime Minister is morally responsible for past deaths of aboriginal peoples, the theft of their ancestral lands, damage to their cultures: these are the historical responsibilities of the Government of Canada. It has been further argued that this moral responsibility extends to all the citizens of this country.
This is the same moral responsibility of all conquerors and colonizers. It has been such for millennia: the Huns in Eastern Europe, the Romans and Saxons in Britain, various Goths in Italy, the English in Scotland and Wales, the French in Indochina, the Japanese in Korea, etc. The colonization of Canada is not an unprecedented experience in world history; neither are the objections of those colonized.
Indigenous peoples may forever have moral rights to their ancestral lands and cultures, but the fact is that the lands have been conquered and colonized. It’s done. Eminent domain applies. Our Supreme Court has recognized that holders of traditional rights to land have certain contemporary legal rights, but these rights exist within the context of the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights.
The Constitution, Rights and Laws of Canada are supreme within Canada. That fact may overlay an historical moral injustice, but it is a fact, nonetheless.
Lands within Canada belong to those to whom the laws and the courts say that they belong. If you wish to feel guilty about that, go ahead, beat yourself up.
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”