Lawyer, Ryerson professor and member of the Mi’kmaq community Dr. Pamela Palmater has been one of the key organizers of the Idle No More movement in Toronto. On Jan. 17, 2013 she spoke to a packed room at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. Presenting material from her book Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity, she discussed the importance of identity, how it relates to Indigenous rights and culture, and the challenges First Nations people face under the membership provisions of the Indian Act. In particular, she addressed how the Canadian government and court system have kept the concept of Indigenous culture frozen in time, and the role this outdated thinking plays in misrepresenting Indigenous peoples as cultural groups instead of as distinct and sovereign nations.
Palmater believes that the membership provisions of the Indian Act are problematic because they “limi[t] what First Nations can do as peoples and as sovereign nations and plac[e] a legal burden on First Nations peoples as always having to prove how Indian they are, through blood quantum.” Citing such landmark Supreme Court cases as R. v. Vanderpeet (1996), R. v. Sparrow (1990) and R. v. Powley (1982), Palmater explains that “there is a Eurocentric bias when the Supreme Court sees First Nations people’s land and treaty rights before them, because it is never assumed that what First Nations are bringing to courts are part of our rights under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, of 1982.”
Speaking briefly about the Idle No More movement, Palmater said that “it is for everyone’s best interest. It is more than just about the environment, it is about sustainability and the future survival of our kids.”
Please stay tuned for an upcoming review of Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity.