On this Day in our History: Crown worse than talking to a dumb dog

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 11:38am



Oct. 19, 2001

At the annual meeting of the Indigenous Bar Association (IBA) on Oct. 19, 2001, Elmer Derrick, a respected Gitxsan negotiator, said the Crown was “incshasw”. More “incshasw”, in fact, than the dumbest dog around.

“Incshasw is the term we apply to beings that cannot learn."

Derrick, who played a role in the Delgamuukw case for his people, said "the Crown continues to be smug with its mandates on treaty matters," Derrick said.

The forum discussion was focused on Canada's Comprehensive Claims Policy, which members of the IBA believed was out of date and which was ignoring the past 15 years of the law's evolution.

Dave Nahwegahbow, the president of the Indigenous Bar Association, said the government was intentionally ignoring the law to further its political agenda and continue the exclusion of Native people from the mainstream.

"You need to look at what the interests are," he said. "You know the old saying, 'Follow the money.' Until you understand what the interests are, you're not going to persuade the government to change the policy."

Nahwegahbow said old "ethnocentric" attitudes towards Native people, based on outdated and discredited ideas, still persist in the minds of people who work for the establishment. Those attitudes allow sound legal and political arguments put forward by Native people to be ignored, something that wouldn't be tolerated in any other area of Canadian society.

"I say ethnocentric but I really mean racist. Nobody wants to use that word in Canada. But the fact is that's what it is. And it's linked to the old notion of terra nullius and it's ingrained and institutionalized. You just can't change it that easily," he said.

Terra nullius is a Latin term that means, "empty land." It represents a doctrine used as legal justification for colonial powers to claim occupied land. In modern times it is seen as a fiction or false doctrine by most legal scholars.

Nahwegahbow seemed to like the Gitxsan term.

"In Australia, with the Mabo decision, the court explicitly rejected the concept of terra nullius. In the Delgamuukw decision they came up with this notion of reconciliation, all as a way of trying intellectually to address this fabrication.

“In the Mabo case, it wasn't completely effective because the public didn't buy it; politics didn't buy it. And it's the same thing with Delgamuukw. The court said we all live together here. We've got to find a way of reconciling. Yet the federal government is still not attempting to reconcile. You just can't … I'm trying to talk some sense to them and ... it's even worse than talking to a dumb dog. You may as well be talking to a piece of wood. It's so frustrating," he said.

For more on this story, see our AMMSA archives here: http://ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/feds-worse-talking-dumb-dog-lawyer-0