Is the aboriginal time bomb really ticking in Canada .. and what can the rest of us do about it?

Dec 8th, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper smiles while wearing traditional native head dress, after becoming “Chief Speaker” at a Kainai Chieftainship ceremony on the Blood Indian reserve in Stand Off, Alberta, July 11, 2011. (Todd Korol/Reuters).

This coming Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (December 9–11, 2014) “First Nation leaders from across Canada will gather in Winnipeg … for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) and election for AFN National Chief.”

Nancy Macdonald has nicely summarized the details here on the Maclean’s website. (Or not, if you don’t like what she’s saying). All three “middle-aged men … vying to become the Assembly of First Nations’ next national chief” are “vowing to tackle the AFN’s most pressing concerns: repairing divisions within the fractured organization, and improving relations between the AFN and the federal government.”

Photo : Elizabeth Littlejohn.

Ms Macdonald goes on : “It’s far from clear that either goal is attainable. It’s been a tumultuous 18 months in indigenous politics: Idle No More reshaped the national debate, giving voice to a disenchanted grassroots, and Shawn Atleo abruptly resigned—accused by supporters of being too cozy with Ottawa—thereby derailing the hard-won, $1.9-billion federal deal on First Nations education he’d championed. Indeed, some think the AFN could collapse under the weight of its myriad internal divisions and competing regional interests.”

Meanwhile, John Ralston Saul has a new book called The Comeback. He believes that “Canadians must decide whether they will take a stand, but, regardless, there will be a ‘comeback’ by Aboriginal Peoples into positions of power, influence and leadership …This is going to happen whether our governments want it, or not … The question is whether citizens are going to use our responsibility to say we feel this is the most important issue of the day.”

Protestors took to the streets in Victoria, BC in support of Idle No More movement, early in January 2013.. Image: r.a. paterson.

For a somewhat more strictly aboriginal point of view, see yesterday’s intriguing post on the CBC website, “Idle No More: Where is the movement 2 years later? …  While dances in shopping malls have ended, there is no doubt Idle No More continues to shape Canada.” It is from Niigaan Sinclair — “an associate professor at the University of Manitoba, and one of the editors of The Winter We Danced: Voices from the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More movement.”  He comments on CBC and “international media outlets like The Guardian.”

Niigaan Sinclair’s latest piece on the CBC website ends with : “While force is still a real possibility, Idle No More proved that Canada may be ready for another path too … Happy second anniversary Idle No More. Let’s continue to dance.”

Idle No More in London, Ontario, December 2012.

We confess to some initial collective scepticism about “force is still a real possibility.” (Ultimately the federal government will always command a lot more force!) But then we read about  “Time Bomb, written by Doug Bland, former chair of Defence Management Studies at Queen’s University.” Professor Bland “argues that the conditions are present for an uprising by First Nations people frustrated by decades of seeing their aspirations ignored by Canadian governments … He urges people not to minimize the risk that this frustration could turn into a rebellion, and that Canada’s critical transportation links — railways and roads — are vulnerable to protests that could shut them down and cost the economy millions.”

Idle No More on outskirts of Ottawa, mid January 2013. Photo Dave Chidley, Canadian Press.

And then again, there are further signs that the natives are restless, as we begin to leave 2014 and move on into 2015.  See, eg : “Nearly 100% spike in aboriginal women in jail” (December 3, 2014) ; and “Barricade erected on Ontario’s Ipperwash Beach amid high tensions” (December 7).

What all this finally reminds us, most immediately, is that it’s time to post another installment of Randall White’s Children of the Global Village book project — on our Long Journey to a Canadian Republic page. If you go to the page, on the bar at the top above, you will find a brief account of the project, along with the “Prologue : too much geography.” At the end of the prologue there is a link as well to  Chapter 1 of PART I : THE DEEP CANADIAN PAST, 1497–1763 —  “Misty contact : Giovanni Caboto and sponsor in Atlantic Canada , 1485–1689.”  And now another link has been added, this time to  Chapter 2 of PART I : THE DEEP CANADIAN PAST, 1497–1763 —  “How the aboriginal peoples of Canada have given more than a name to Canadian history.”

Pacific coast First Nations’ Totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

We hear, btw, the complaint that some aboriginal Canadians today are not very interested in Canada, or in being Canadian. And we asked Randall White about this, at a recent lunch at Len Duckworth’s on the Danforth in Toronto.

Here’s what he said : “To me it finally doesn’t make much sense for we non-aboriginal Canadians to complain that aboriginal Canadians aren’t taking enough interest in Canada and its future, even if ‘Canada’ itself is an aboriginal word. If we want aboriginal Canadians to take more interest we have to more faithfully reflect our real history, and the strong role that aboriginal peoples have played in it. As in Harold Innis’s still compelling conclusion to his classic book of 1930 on The Fur Trade in Canada : ‘We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.’ And that is one thing I’m at least trying to do in Children of the Global Village.”

(And again, you can judge for yourself how well he succeeds in Chapter 2 of PART I : THE DEEP CANADIAN PAST, 1497–1763 —  “How the aboriginal peoples of Canada have given more than a name to Canadian history.”)

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