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Danielle Smith's Record of Anti-Indigenous Punditry
Smith has expressed a disdain for Indigenous Peoples dating back to her days as a newspaper columnist at the turn of the millennium.
Onion Lake Cree Nation has launched the first of what will likely be many legal challenges to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s signature Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.
Chief Harry Lewis says the legal route is the nation’s only option, since it wasn’t consulted at all in drafting the bill, echoing the concerns of other chiefs from Treaties 6, 7 and 8, who have all wholeheartedly rejected the legislation.
Announcing the lawsuit at the River Cree Resort and Casino just outside Edmonton, Lewis also laid blame at the feet of the federal government for neglecting to challenge Smith’s legislation in any meaningful capacity.
The Sovereignty Act allows the provincial government to reject federal laws it deems counter to the interests of Alberta. At issue from the perspective of First Nations is the fact that their Treaties are signed with the Crown, which is represented by the federal government, not the province, so Smith’s legislation would allow the government to run roughshod over Treaty rights in the name of sticking it to the feds.
That Smith brought forward this legislation without consulting any First Nations, who are themselves independent nations, should come as no surprise. She has a very lousy track record on Indigenous issues.
Over the past decade, the premier has claimed Cherokee heritage to deflect criticism that she and people in her orbit are racist. As Dani Paradis at APTN has reported, these ancestry claims are dubious at best.
Back in September, Smith claimed Indigenous ancestry while referring to “Canada’s Indigenous peoples.” This use of the possessive is a major red flag, as Indigneous Peoples do not belong to Canada.
Just last week in the legislature, Smith compared the plight of Indigenous Peoples to her bickering with Ottawa:
This is all about making sure that Ottawa stays out of our jurisdiction.
The way I've described it to the chiefs that I've spoken with is that they have fought a battle over the last number of years to get sovereignty respected, and to extract themselves from the paternalistic Indian Act.
We get treated the exact same way from Ottawa. They interfere in our jurisdiction all the time, and we are looking forward to pushing back and being treated exactly like Quebec.
The leadership of Treaty 6, which includes Onion Lake Cree Nation, were thoroughly unimpressed with a pre-scheduled meeting they had with Smith after her idiotic remarks.
"It was clear from our discussions that Premier Smith does not understand treaty or our inherent rights, nor does she respect them," the chiefs said in a statement.
This lack of understanding is deep-seated. As Daniel Heath Justice, a Cherokee academic at the University of British Columbia, put it in The Conservation:
These incidents are more than exasperating examples of studied ignorance or false equivalency. Smith’s grasp on Indigenous issues is untethered from actual history. It seems rooted not in genuine allyship and justice but in the appropriation of Indigenous experiences to advance white grievance politics in Alberta and beyond.
Given Smith’s bouncing between the worlds of media and politics over the past 25 years, I find it useful to look at her old Calgary Herald columns as a window into her mind.
Smith began working at the Herald in 2000 while its workers were on strike, making her one of the most dishonourable creatures known to humanity, a scab.
For all her glaring flaws, Smith has been exceptionally consistent in her beliefs.
I’ve accessed all these articles through the ProQuest newspaper database, since the Herald’s website doesn’t go back very far at all.
On May 1, 2000, Smith penned a column headlined, “Natives ultimate losers as reserves become ghettos,” responding to the Nisga’a Treaty, which would go into effect on May 11.
The column starts off with a bang, comparing constitutional protection for First Nations reserves to segregation in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa.
“It matters little that aboriginal leaders have chosen to walk this dead-end path, the destination is the same. Shutting out a group from participation in modern society creates race and class warfare that fosters lasting resentment,” she wrote.
She called the Treaty, which resulted in the creation of Bear National Park, a “victory for aboriginal advocacy and judicial activism, but a loss for individual liberty.”
Smith’s objections to the Treaty are three-fold:
It denies voting rights to settlers who live on reserve.
It “entrenches tribal dependence on federal transfers.”
It gives “almost unlimited power to aboriginal politicians while further isolating aboriginals.”
In the piece, she cites as an authority notorious anti-Indigenous academic, and child porn apologist (gotta love libertarians), Tom Flanagan, who argues that Treaty rights are unfair, because Indigenous Peoples have yet to, in Smith’s words, “develop a degree of political and economic sophistication” conducive towards “individual liberty and prosperity.”
“Flanagan’s bold assessment is unique and welcome. However, rather than receive plaudits, so far his work has been condemned,” Smith writes, adding that it’s not racist to expound on the inferiorities of Indigenous cultures, but it “would be” racist to uphold Treaty rights.
At the end of the day, she concludes, poverty on reserves is the fault of Indigenous leadership.
In a Nov. 23, 2000, piece bemoaning a “vacuum of political courage,” Smith complains that when a Conservative politician “talks about changing the relationship with aboriginal Canadians, he’s intolerant,” among other issues where she claims there’s a double standard between how Conservatives and Liberals are treated.
By contrast, she claims, Liberals can talk about Indigenous and other issues “without his opponents resorting to crass name calling.”
Naturally, Smith leaves out of the equation the views of Indigenous people themselves and the fact that they have been calling out racist anti-Indigenous policies from the Liberals forever.
One need only look to Indigenous leaders’ response to Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien’s infamous 1969 White Paper, which would have eliminated the Indian Act without any replacement, to see anti-Indigenous racism isn’t a partisan issue.
But that’s besides the point for Smith, whose goal is to talk about how oppressed conservatives are by what she would call today the “woke mob.”
In a classic piece of tobacco industry propaganda from Smith, of which there are many, she complained the Quebec government was cracking down on major tobacco company JTI-Macdonald by making it pay $1.36 billion in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.
“Meanwhile,” she wrote in the Aug. 28, 2004, column, “the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve remains the eastern centre of cigarette smuggling, which has seen a resurgence.”
Smith cited RCMP data saying tobacco seizures were up 33% in the first two-thirds of 2004, complaining that this was the real problem:
Native smokes sell for $23 for 200 cigarettes, which is one-third to one-quarter the price of legal, heavily taxed name brands. And, as it happens, tobacco companies are also reporting a 17-fold increase in the hijacking of tobacco shipments and convenience store robberies.
She suggested lowering the tax burden on tobacco companies, rather than increase it, to prevent the menace of native cigarette smuggling.
Of course, none of these views inhibited Smith’s media career in the slightest. Quite the contrary. By 2005, she was on the Herald’s editorial board.
A July 2, 2005, column, headlined “There’s a crisis at home,” is framed around the question of why then-prime minister Paul Martin committed aid to alleviating poverty in Africa when there are “Third World conditions on native reserves in his own backyard.”
This is a reasonable position in isolation, but where Smith takes the argument is extremely on brand.
After expressing alarm about the growing First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations, Smith recites stark statistics about infant mortality, suicides, water infrastructure, educational outcomes, unemployment and underfunding from the federal government.
And then, she shifts blame to Indigenous people themselves, acknowledging “legitimate grievances” but questioning why “Canadians aren’t rallying to the cause.”
Part of the reason may be that aboriginal groups seem reluctant to help themselves. It’s contradictory to demand self-government and the right to independence, while demanding even more support from Canadian taxpayers. Aboriginal leaders should be talking about creating vibrant on-reserve economies so they can tax their own citizens to bridge the [funding] gap. That’s what independent governments do.
And why should Canadian taxpayers support the construction of government-funded on-reserve housing? Shelter is a personal responsibility. The AFN would get more public support if it asked Ottawa to pay for legitimate public infrastructure such as roads, sewage, wastewater treatment, schools and hospitals.
You can draw a pretty clear line from the views Smith espoused in the early-aughts as a pundit and her condescending attitude toward Indigenous leaders today as premier.
Edited by Scott Schmidt
This is my final piece of 2022. If you liked the work I did this year and would like me to go into 2023 strong, please consider a paid Orchard subscription starting at $5 a month.