Jody Wilson Raybould: the shero shaking up a political dynasty

Jeff Bear. Bear honors Jody Wilson Raybould, the first Indigenous woman to serve in the inner circle of the Canadian political ruling party. Wilson has resigned from the federal Liberal cabinet.(Photo: Jeff Bear)


Better for Jody Wilson Raybould to be centered on herself than the colonial misgivings of her colleagues, says Jeff Bear

Jeff Bear

Today I salute a new Shero. Her name is Jody. And she is shaking up a political dynasty. Her actions and determination to do what is right has made headlines for the last five days. And the drama is as it should be, titillating and scandalous.

I couldn’t believe the reaction of our Prime Minister; his first comments after Jody Wilson Raybould (Jody) dropped a political bomb on twitter that she was resigning from the federal Liberal cabinet. For those of you on vacation in Machu Pichu, Jody is the first Indigenous woman to serve in the inner circle of the Canadian political ruling party. She was the Minister of Justice and Attorney General until a month ago. She was demoted after three and a half years for allegedly being “hard to work with."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau displayed his family values of a privileged upper-class millionaire appearing clueless in front of buses, answering to the media after being accused of throwing Jody under a bus. Claiming he was surprised and disappointed, what came out of his mouth was more smooth-talking mumbo jumbo: “It was her responsibility to come forward to me this past fall and highlight that directly to me. She did not. Nobody did.”

Justin is misdirecting the public. He is now trying to make the entire affair Jody’s fault.

How did we get to this point?

Justin called his journey in politics "Sunny Ways." He campaigned on change. He said we were important, the most important in his view of the Canadian issues he would have to face once elected. He emphasized that Indigenous people were one of his priorities. We believed him. Eventually, and it was bound to happen, Jody crosses Justin’s narrative and she is suddenly thrust under tight, unmistakably colonial, scrutiny. Sunny ways are now clouded over.

Although I find it distracting this week, I am not surprised at this odd turn of events. The news and reportage all center on an ethics probe and the potential for fallout. What disturbs me the most is the optics of this episode as it affects the bigger picture. Justin’s commitment is only skin-deep, erroneously symbolized by his Haida tattoo. No, what is appalling is that all along he meant to merely paint a picture of Indigenous issues with pastels and pleasantries.

Jody began dropping hints at her dismay and apathy in 2018 in a series of profound speeches she delivered to First Nations gatherings. By last summer she had been in the portfolio of justice Minister and Attorney General for three years. She had quietly engineered amendments to existing laws while heralding completely new ones through Parliament. She is a workaholic and toiled away behind the scenes as a tireless legislator. Moreover, she is a woman held in high esteem who ranks high in the hereditary classes of the Kwagulth Nation.

But as early as September 2018 she began to drop a trail of messages that now read prophetically.

“But words are also easy/cheap. And too often we see the tendency — especially in politics — to use important words that have real meaning and importance carelessly. We see them being applied to ideas and actions that in truth do not reflect their actual meaning — even, sometimes, their opposite.

"... So, while I have been thrilled in recent years to see how Canadians — and governments — have begun to talk the talk of reconciliation. I remain constantly, incessantly, vigilant in demanding that we honour the meaning of these important words, and that words translate into real, transformative action."

There are too many connections to make here.

Justin had promised change and Jody was supposed to have been his key link back to us. But after the Parliament passed Bill C-262 into law, the Indigenous community were optimistic. The UNDRIP was to be the guide to legislative reform. We were supposed to see legislation for Child Welfare, Indigenous languages, and amendments to existing acts, such as the Indian Act, to facilitate a change in the way Ottawa does business with our communities.

But the ones fighting for rights on the inside at secret cabinet meetings, primarily Jody, were experiencing a pushback.

"Indeed in my own experience serving as the first Indigenous person to be Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, I have unfortunately had it reinforced that when addressing Indigenous issues, no matter what table one sits around, or in what position, or with what title and appearance of influence and power, the experience of marginalization can still carry with you. But this does not deter me. It only makes my resolve stronger and more determined.”

Many of Jody’s supporters see through the veneer of the Prime Minister who came to be known as “The Hairdo." He speaks in measured tones that sound carefully rehearsed. He is a slick operator who dazzled us all during his 2015 campaign to be our leader. He, the self-proclaimed feminist, hoodwinked many of us with his "Sunny Ways" platform. Many say that we elected him, the Indigenous grassroots and our supporters. But the sun stopped shining the day he openly supported bitumen production by purchasing Trans Mountain Pipeline with $4.5 billion dollars he doesn’t have. Jody was mysteriously quiet during that period.

Now we are seeing that she was not happy about many things.

"Maybe think of it through the analogy of a tree. As we all know, if the roots of a tree are dead, the tree will not grow — even if we water it. And while the trunk may stand for years, at some point it falls over and begins rotting. For too long our main strategy has been to pour water on dead roots, hoping that the tree will grow. Of course, it does not.

"… What we need to do together, Crown governments and Indigenous peoples — and this work is long overdue — is dig up the dead roots and plant something new and then properly water and fertilize it."

The public behavior of Jody Wilson is nothing less than regal and dignified. She holds her head high. I know her dad and had met with and had the privilege of chatting to her grandmother Ethel. She comes from a political lineage that is informed by a dignified and distinct history. We don’t like to see a woman held in high esteem booted around like that by a bullying drama teacher, wannabe boxer turned super hero. Yet, she is fighting the flames of political partisanship with steadfastness and dexterity.

Pundits and armchair analysts (tee hee) are having a heyday. This week and the rest of the year should be interesting as we watch a federal cabinet and its prime leaders squirming because of the ethical high ground where Jody now stands. She is looking down at all of the White privileged men who call her difficult; the men who say that she is only in it for Jody, that her approach is "Jody-centric." Freakin' cool I say. Better for her to be centered on herself than the colonial misgivings of her suited-up colleagues.

Jeff Bear is a film-maker/artist living on Haida Gwaii, Canada.