This article originally appeared in the National Post.
By Stephen Buffalo, February 13, 2024
First Nations people used to consider NDP MP Charlie Angus an ally, as he has been outspoken on issues of Indigenous poverty and government mismanagement. Canadians do not want to know what many Indigenous people are calling him these days.
Last week, Angus tabled a private member’s bill, C-372, that is one of the most contemptible pieces of legislation since the introduction of the Indian Act in 1876. Angus’ proposed fossil fuel advertising act would outlaw oil and gas advertising and the “promotion” of fossil fuels, even by some private citizens. If passed, this would be the most egregious attack on civil liberties in recent Canadian history.
It is astonishing that an experienced parliamentarian like Angus could bring such nonsense forward. All Canadians, of all political stripes, should be outraged at this attempt to stifle public discussion.
Through actions like this, Angus and his environmental supporters — like the Sierra Club, Suzuki Foundation, Earthjustice, Greenpeace, 350.org and others — have shown themselves to be no fans of Indigenous peoples. These single-minded environmentalist organizations ignore the interests of First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, except when they want to impose their will on them.
Angus has thrown his lot in with the wrong people. They are happy to tell us what to do on energy and environmental matters. But they are never around to fix our water issues, health-care problems, housing crises and rampant drug challenges. They clearly want Indigenous people to stay silent and follow their lead. No wonder many Indigenous folk describe environmentalists as the “new missionaries.”
While some of our members share the views of Angus and his ilk, most First Nations people support carefully managed resource and infrastructure development. We need our own resource revenue to break free from our dependence on government and to chart our own futures. Indigenous communities finally have prosperity and independence in sight.
People like Charlie Angus may agonize over our hardships, but they are content to maintain the Indian Act-style paternalism that created so much of the pain we endure. They must back off. First Nations, Metis and Inuit folk will not accept being shut up and will not tolerate people trying to tell us how to use our land and our resources.
Canada is likely saved by the fact that private member’s bills rarely get passed into law. But a bright light is now shining on a disturbing Canadian reality: even good-hearted social democrats who are happy to present themselves as our allies and friends, like Angus, can harbour deeply paternalistic intentions. Despite endless evidence of the destructive nature of federal policies, state authoritarianism and attempts at thought control, Angus and his environmentalist backers are clearly fellow travellers.
Indigenous people fully understand how Canada works. Reliance on government funding leaves us wallowing in state-induced poverty and despair. Economic independence is essential and is now achievable, even with all the constraints that exist on our nations through the Indian Act, the reserve system and the complex laws and regulations that constrain our freedoms. Angus and the others seem comfortable leaving us with this destructive status quo. We will not take it anymore.
Properly handled resource development is, for most of our communities, the only realistic way out of the current welfare trap. We will not allow a small number of thought-control advocates to stop us from making decisions about our economic future. And I trust First Nations, Metis and Inuit to protect our traditional lands much more than I trust governments and environmental groups.
The halls of Canada’s Parliament are filled with fine-sounding words about Indigenous peoples, but when push comes to shove, its true colours come through.
Angus has offended many Canadians with his attack on free speech, but he has mortified many Indigenous people with his intense paternalism and narrow thinking. His bill even prohibits “a person” from promoting a fossil fuel “in a manner that states or suggests that a fossil fuel or the practices of a producer or of the fossil fuel industry would lead to positive outcomes in relation to … reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
In other words, it would make it illegal for anyone with a connection to the fossil fuel industry, including First Nations involved in oil and gas development, to discuss the benefits this will bring to Indigenous communities.
Know this: we would never do to Angus and his supporters what they desire to do to us. They want to shut us up, fine and jail us for speaking our truth, and for planning our future in a way that respects and protects our lands.
We respect their right to hold different views and to argue for them forcibly. But we will not tolerate the implied paternalism and the attempt to push Indigenous peoples into the background. We will develop our lands as we wish, and we will build the prosperity we deserve and desire.
Shut up? Not a chance. Fight for our future? You had better believe it.
Stephen Buffalo, a member of the Samson Cree Nation, is president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council and a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.