Excerpt from "Peace and Good Order"

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Happening Now Thursday, September 10, 2020 View Count = 893

Excerpt from "Peace and Good Order"

Peace and Good OrderAs part of our #SamaraReads contest, we bring you excerpts from each of the five books shortlisted for the 2019 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, presented by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Today, we publish an excerpt from Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada by Harold R. Johnson.

Enter our online contest for a chance to win copies of all five books, including Peace and Good OrderTo participate, simply share your favourite recent political book on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram by September 21st, 2020. You must reside in Canada and include #SamaraReads in your social media post in order to qualify!



In Canada there is a widely held expectation that the law will be fair. Indigenous Peoples expect that when a white man kills an Indigenous person, he will be  treated  with  the  same  sternness  that  has  been  applied to us. Law is fundamental to the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and settlers. But while we might expect  fairness,  our  experience  has  been  otherwise. 

Everything that has been done to Indigenous Peoples has been legal. Law was used to deny us access to the natural resources within the territories  we  share  with  settlers. Law has been used to confine us to tiny plots that are economically unsustainable.  Under  the  pass  system,  introduced  by  law  in  1885  and  not  repealed  until 1951, Indians needed the permission of the Indian agent to leave our reserves to visit neighbouring relatives  or  to  go  hunting  or  fishing  or  gathering,  and  the  Indian agent relied upon the police to enforce his decisions to deny permission. Law gave huge tracts of our territory to foreign corporations to exploit the natural resources,  depriving  us  of  sacred  sites,  food  sources,  medicines and income. We were arrested if we entered into territory where our parents, grand parents and great-grandparents  had  lived,  hunted,  fished,  trapped  and  gathered. When the Prince Albert National Park was created in 1927, it was the RCMP who came to tell my mother’s family that the territory where they lived and found sustenance had become a park and they had to leave their houses and their gardens and the trails and the land and animals they were familiar with and move somewhere else.

Canadian law determined  who  we  were.  Under the terms of the Indian Act, if a First Nations woman married a non–First Nations man, she lost her status as an Indian. She and her children lost their right to hunt, fish and gather. If they were caught hunting or fishing, they frequently were arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced to jail—for the crime of feeding their families. I can remember when I was young and my mother’s brother Ben was arrested and sent to jail for hunting. Not only did his immediate family suffer; the entire community  suffered  because  Ben  was  an  exceptional hunter who provided meat to a lot more people than just his wife and children. I was born in a  small  northern  community  of  trappers  and  fishers to a Cree mother and a Forest-Finn Swede father. It was not until 2011 that the Indian Act was changed and Canadian law recognized me as an Indian.

Indigenous Peoples were not only the subject of laws that encircled and diminished us. We were also denied the ability to  resist  those  laws.  Any other Canadian citizen who was the subject of an unjust law could challenge that law in court. We could not. From 1927 until 1951,  it  was  against  the  law  for  Indigenous  people  or  communities to hire a lawyer, without the government’s consent,  to  bring  claims  against  the  government  to  restore lands or rights taken away by that government.

Law has been used to compel us to surrender our children  to  residential  schools,  where  horrors  were  inflicted  upon  them  in  an  attempt  to  eradicate  our  culture and language. The police were instrumental in rounding up our children. (My mother attended a residential  school  for  one  year,  in  about  1930,  and  several of my cousins were sent in the 1970s and ’80s. My siblings and I were spared that horror.)Law  was  used  again  in  the  1960s,  when  social  workers,  accompanied  by  police  officers,  removed  Indigenous children from their homes on the pretext that they were not being cared for properly. After my father died, my mother was told that if she continued to take me and my siblings out of school to go to the trapline with her, the government would take her children away. In 1967, if you told an Indigenous woman with  one  year  of  schooling  and  six  children  at  home  that you were going to take her children away from her, she would do anything she was told. My mother sur-rendered her independence. She moved us to a larger community, where she was forced to go on welfare.

And law has been used to fill the jails with Indigenous men,  women  and  children  at  rates  that  continue  to  rise. Not only are Indigenous people more likely to be sentenced to prison, but they are also subject to some of the most restrictive types of punishment, including segregation, high-security classifications and involuntary transfers. 

To  say  that  law  and  justice  have  failed  Indigenous  Peoples in Canada is a vast understatement. Law and justice appear to be the tools employed to continue the forced subjugation of an entire population. 

Back in February 2018, we were too late to hold the derby on the adhesion’s anniversary date, but we managed to hold the First Annual Our Treaty Fish Derby a couple of weeks later. The derby was endorsed by the Town of La Ronge, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, the Village of Air Ronge and the Montreal Lake Cree Nation.  A  group  of  First  Nations  people  and  settlers  came  together  to  celebrate  our  treaty  because  it belongs to everyone and is the basis of the relationship between  Indigenous  Peoples  and  settlers.  We  came  together and experienced each other as human beings on  the  land  we  share  and  learned  not  to  be  afraid  of  each other.

Then I began writing this book.

Excerpted with permission from Peace and Good Order by Harold R. Johnson, 2019, McClelland & Stewart.

About the Prize

Established in honour of the outspoken and popular MP from Windsor, Ontario, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing is awarded annually for an exceptional book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers. Sponsored by CN, the prize is awarded annually at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa. The 2019 winner will be announced on September 23rd, 2020.

2019 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize

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