Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Judge Harry LaForme resigns from Truth and Reconciliation Commission

It was reported today that Justice Harry LaForme has resigned as Chief Commissioner of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. LaForme cited conflict with government appointed commissioners as his reason for the resignation.

The federal government launched the Commission the same month that it apologized for its complicity in the genocidal policy. It was launched as part of a solution to a court-ordered settlement to settle outstanding legal claims brought against the federal government and churches for abuses from within the schools.

Harry LaForme is a member of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, the Nation that has claim over most of the City of Toronto, including Ryerson University. He is also a judge with the Ontario Superior Court of Appeal.

The Commission was supposed to be a forum where victims can heal from the abuse they endured while at residential schools. The intention of the commission was not to lay blame upon any individuals or institutions and, unsurprisingly, it has been widely criticized.

One of the criticisms leveled against the Commission was triggered by the appointment of lawyer Owen Young to the Commission. Earlier this year, Young urged a judge to impose a "financial penalty that hurts," against the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug 6 (the KI6) for protecting their traditional lands from Platinex Corp., a platinum mining company. As reported by the Globe and Mail, Young was the Crown prosecutor in the case.

There were also calls for the Commission to be independent. Rather than independence, however, the Commission reports to the Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl. This is a position of power, as defined by the Indian Act, that today remains a paternal figure who can exercise control over First Nations peoples in a variety of ways through the Act.

The root of the problem is simply the Indian Act. It was the piece of legislation that first allowed residential schools to be established (the jurisdiction to set up residential schools still exists today).

The Act has within it a formula that will essentially reduce the number of status Indians as generations pass and people marry with non-status people, a clever assimilation policy to say the least. It also places a myriad of restrictions upon status Indians that Canadians do not have to contend with (and would likely riot over had they these restrictions imposed upon them).

Until the Indian Act is repealed and self-government is recognized in a real way, no amount of apologies, commissions or government [in]action is going to address the hurt inflicted by colonization.

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