POLITICS
02/28/2019 17:16 EST | Updated 03/01/2019 10:41 EST

'The Deepest Of Pride': Indigenous Peoples United Behind Wilson-Raybould

Former Attorney General gets outpouring of Indigenous support following her testimony about the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Jody Wilson-Raybould appears before the Justice Committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019.
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Jody Wilson-Raybould appears before the Justice Committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019.

When Jody Wilson-Raybould began her testimony at the justice committee by acknowledging the ancestral lands of the Algonquin people, an Indigenous woman watching on the West Coast stopped what she was doing, took a deep breath, and let out a big sigh.

"I wanted to raise my hands to her with the deepest of respect and say, 'Thank you. Thank you for reminding everyone in Canada we are on traditional territory and for coming into this office with really, really strong beliefs and teachings,'" said Robina Thomas from Lyackson First Nation in B.C., and executive director of University of Victoria's Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement.

"I watched her testify with the deepest of pride. She made me feel proud to be an Indigenous woman."

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Cameras follow Jody Wilson Raybould as she waits to appear in front of the Justice committee in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019.

Across Canada, Indigenous leaders and advocates expressed their support on social media for the Liberal B.C. MP (a sister "West-Coaster" Thomas pointed out), as she told her side of the SNC-Lavalin scandal on Wednesday.

"Despite our diversity, she does stand up for us all," Thomas said.

Wilson-Raybould detailed a "consistent and sustained effort" by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and top political staff to "inappropriately" interfere in her role as Justice Minister and Attorney General to secure a deferred prosecution agreement and avoid a trial on corruption charges for the Quebec-based engineering company.

"The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country, includes a history of the rule of law not being respected. And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality, and a just society this can have first-hand," Wilson-Raybould said, who was moved to veterans affairs in January.

"I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House — this is who I am and who I will always be."

Watch: Liberal MP Asks Wilson-Raybould If She Has Confidence In Trudeau. Story continues below

Wilson-Raybould's identity as an Indigenous woman is clearly what drives her, said Gina Starblanket, a University of Calgary Indigenous politics professor.

"Indigenous people who work within mainstream systems are regularly critiqued as suffering from some sort of cultural alienation or deficiency, and I think her strong grounding in her own experience and knowledge as an Indigenous person made it very clear that this is not the case," Starblanket said.

The SNC-Lavalin scandal and Trudeau's apparent pressuring of an Indigenous woman demonstrates the disconnect between the Liberal government's words and actions, said Starblanket.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Montreal on Feb. 27, 2019.

"Trudeau's treatment of Wilson-Raybould is extremely consistent with his selective willingness to only work with Indigenous peoples towards objectives that align with this government's political will," Starblanket said.

"Also familiar to many Indigenous peoples is the hypocrisy in his relentless claims of respect for Wilson-Raybould's authority and autonomy as Attorney General, proclaimed as he simultaneously works to divest her of said authority and decision-making powers and to publicly discredit her knowledge and experience."

After Wilson-Raybould left cabinet in mid-February, eight senators stated in a letter that reconciliation efforts between the federal government and Indigenous Peoples will continue.

More from HuffPost Canada:


Thomas, however, thinks the SNC-Lavalin scandal, especially after Wilson-Raybould's testimony, will have an impact.

"If we as Indigenous people can't trust that the Attorney General of Canada, one of the most powerful portfolios in Canada, will be treated with respect and dignity, it makes us question how we will be treated," Thomas said. "In our communities this is the big hurt in our hearts — the government sees her as another Indigenous woman who is disposable."

She said Indigenous Peoples will now question how they'll be able to move forward in truth with the federal government.

"And without truth, there won't be reconciliation," Thomas said.