Canada versus natives

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 21 17:26:18 MDT 2000

Canada vs. natives, round 500


Saturday, August 19, 2000 GLobe and Mail Book section

CITIZENS PLUS: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State
By Alan C. Cairns
UBC Press, 280 pages
FIRST NATIONS?: Second Thoughts
By Tom Flanagan
McGill-Queens University Press,
245 pages
By Bruce Clark
McGill-Queens University Press,
382 pages

In Citizens Plus, Alan C. Cairns notes that Pierre
Trudeau spent more time on Indian policy during his
first year as Prime Minister than on any other issue,
and that Jean Chrétien, the PM's Quebec lieutenant,
began his long stint in Ottawa as Trudeau's minister
of Indian affairs. The outcome of their first
collaboration was a white paper on Indian policy, a
document that introduced many key aspects of our legal
identity crisis, establishing the basis of our
national politics up to this day.

Cairns's most recent work, the product of four decades
of deep reading and reflection, advances the thesis
that he and his colleagues hit the mark more than 30
years ago, when they worked on The Hawthorne Report.
Issued in 1966, it came out only six years after
Indians were finally allowed to vote in federal
elections, and it introduced the term "citizens plus."
Not only should registered Indians be recognized as
full citizens in Canada, but there could be many
different kinds of program innovations aimed at
recognizing the special place of First Nations.

In Citizens Plus,Cairns seeks a vision of Canadian
citizenship that reflects both our pluralism and our
need for common symbols of shared identity.

Having once demonstrated the colonial nature of
Canada's assimilationist Indian policy between 1857
and 1969, Cairns now looks at subsequent developments
as the local expression of a worldwide rejection of
the white man's self-declared burden. Citizens Plus
presents a Canadian variant on the global movement for
decolonization. The liberal-conservative centre in
Canada has largely rejected assimilationist aboriginal
policy, equating it with wrongful extinguishment of
the basic right to express cultural pluralism. The
residue of support for assimilation is on the far
right, whose adherents speak with a tone Cairns
identifies as "harsher, more defensive and more
strident" than that of former proponents of the
so-called civilizing mission.

In First Nations? Second Thoughts, Calgary political
science professor Tom Flanagan illustrates the
stridency of the new assimilationists, unabashedly
celebrating Indian policy before 1969 as a valid
effort to elevate primitive savages toward
civilization. For Flanagan, the answer to the
socio-economic disaster on many reserves is not
self-government, but less government and more
assimilation into the homogenized, competitive
individualism of the globalized marketplace. He brings
to Canada's oldest and most complex human-rights
issues the neo-liberal arguments popularized in the
United States by Allan Bloom and Francis Fukuyama.
History is seen primarily as a chronicle of triumph, a
"demonstrable increase in power over nature and over
uncivilized societies." The vanquished have little
choice but to accept the inferiority of their heritage
and the necessity to remake themselves in the image of
their conquerors.

This kind of clichéd apologetics goes back at least to
1492, but there is some hard truth-telling in parts of
Flanagan's book. I especially appreciated his chapter
on the scandals about some Indian bands being
administered for the benefit of a privileged few. But
do these episodes justify the assimilationists' zeal
to discredit the whole project of self-government? I
also agree with Flanagan that the culture of welfare
dependency on most reserves is "the greatest policy
disaster in Canadian history."

Then there's Bruce Clark, the disbarred, criminalized
expert on imperial aboriginal law whose memoirs form
the basis of Justice in Paradise. The culmination of
the book's lively narrative, and of Clark's own
tumultuous legal career, took place in the B.C.
Interior in 1995. At the centre of the controversy was
the Battle of Gustafsen Lake. That confrontation over
the legal status of a sacred ceremonial site
mushroomed to become by far the largest police and
military action in the history of the province: about
20 armed native and non-native sundancers surrounded
by 400 RCMP officers and soldiers including, it seems,
a secret anti-terrorist unit.

In his unorthodox representation of his clients in the
native encampment, Clark attempted to raise the
provocative legal thesis that the international
genocide convention has been violated through failure
to develop British Columbia in conformity with
Canada's existing law of aboriginal rights. Government
officials evaded engaging Clark's arguments, and the
media replicated the campaign of ridicule and
demonization orchestrated by the B.C. attorney-general
and the RCMP, deflecting serious consideration of
Clark's thesis: that the issue of unceded Indian title
to B.C. lands has implications in international law.

The RCMP produced a training tape of their
behind-the-scenes operations during the Battle of
Gustafsen Lake, portions of which were released as
evidence at the trial of the militant sundancers. The
surprising contents included a police media liason
officer seeking journalistic assistance for what he
described as the RCMP's "disinformation and smear
campaign." Mountie Dennis Ryan calmly announced that
his superiors had decided "to kill this Clark and
smear the prick and everyone with him."

These and many other chilling snippets have been
repeatedly aired on the Aboriginal Peoples Television
Network in a full-length documentary, Above the Law,
Part 2, which corroborates some of the seemingly
incredible episodes in Clark's memoir. Readers can
judge for themselves whether Clark is a lunatic or a
courageous messenger bearing sad news about the
Canadian judiciary.

In fact, officialdom's ruthless handling of Clark and
his clients shows that the Indian wars in North
America persist. The propagandistic ruses employed by
the Crown at Gustafsen Lake in 1995 followed the same
basic tactics used at Oka in 1990 and at Wounded Knee,
South Dakota, in 1973.

The five-centuries-old conflict with First Nations for
control of lands and resources continues. The
repressiveness of the covert tactics employed to
marginalize the militant wing of the First Nations
sovereignty movement belies the academic character of
the debate between Cairns and Flanagan. Both fail to
set their sights firmly on the need for institutional
innovations at the international level. As Clark
insists, that is where we need a new regime of global
protection for the rights of indigenous people on all
continents. Domestic initiatives alone are not enough.

Anthony J. Hall is a professor in the Department of
Native American Studies at the University of
Lethbridge. His forthcoming book is The Peoples' Bowl:
The American Empire and the Fourth World.

Louis Proyect
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