Aboriginal Communities in Canada Sabrina Zuniga Denis Tsarev for Truth and Consequences

Do environmental activists respect the rights of aboriginal communities?

In Canada, as rail disruptions continue across our country, let’s not forget that these actions started with protestors who think they are helping and are speaking for aboriginal communities, but who are only imposing their constructed stereotypes of how they think First Nations should live. They think they know better what each community needs.

The protestors and their sympathizers, many of whom have little connection to First Nations groups, seem to believe that business and industry development do not belong in aboriginal communities. Their conception of aboriginal communities appears to be that of a segregated homogeneous group that should live isolated from the economic and political institutions of the rest of society and should conform to some other and different way of life.

However, as we have seen with the agreements in place in over 20 band councils in British Columbia, with the aboriginal business groups across Canada, and with the individuals speaking out for their communities, many First Nations communities in Canada do not agree with this view of ‘other’.

These rail and road blockades also reveal in the protestors a much bigger misunderstanding, as they claim to be standing up for human rights and fighting against oppression.

The concept of human rights is based on respect for one’s autonomy and self-determination, and freedom from compulsion and discrimination.

Hence, to respect human rights of any people, including the aboriginal peoples, is to respect their self-determination and autonomy and treat them like you would treat yourself. To make them conform to a certain way of living and demand that they should be barred from the economic opportunities available to others, is exactly what oppression and disrespect for human rights look like. We are all free to work at a business, get training in one profession or another, or run a business ourselves. Why should anyone dare to think that some communities should be excluded from this?

Canada is a democracy where we honour and respect people’s self-determination, their elected representatives, and their pursuit of economic opportunities and different careers. Let’s honour this for the First Nations by cheering them on as they make business deals for their communities – just like every other city and community in North America routinely does to bring industry and jobs into their regions.

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Denis Tsarev for the Toronto Sun, March 11, 2022