Friday, July 12, 2013

Guest post: The Reserve Paradox (Part II)

[Guest post continued ...]

Aboriginal people in Canada today suffer from much higher rates of poverty, illness, dysfunction and incarceration than non-Native Canadians. Many non-Native Canadians believe that this is due to the Indian Act and the reserve system which set Aboriginals apart from other Canadians. When these non-Natives see protest movements like the Idle No More movement and the land occupation at Caledonia in Ontario, many of them believe that Aboriginal people are simply trying to cling to backward ways of life and squeeze more cash out of the Canadian taxpayer, whether by guilt trips or threatening violence. These critics believe that Aboriginal people would be better off getting jobs and becoming “self-reliant”, in their words. 

These non-Native critics don’t know about the Reserve Paradox, the fact that the Indian Act and the reserves that are now symbols of Aboriginal peoples’ distinctiveness were in fact meant to assimilate Aboriginal people into Canadian society, stripping them of their identities in the process. The thought was that, with education and guidance from white authorities, the Aboriginal people who were their wards would eventually become part of mainstream society. Violence, racism, corruption and incompetence all meant that the assimilation efforts failed, and left an ugly legacy of dysfunction, alcoholism, corruption and crime on Aboriginal reserves that people are still trying to clean up. Part One of this essay provided an overview of the federal government’s assimilation efforts and the disastrous results for Aboriginal people, which are directly responsible for the miserable conditions many Aboriginals still face today. Part Two discusses how many of the problems caused by the Reserve Paradox still exist, how an ugly cycle of two-way racism and violence has only made the problem worse, and how we might finally be able to get beyond it.
  1. The More Things Change
Although things have improved in many ways for Aboriginal people, in other ways they have remained much the same.i The poverty and health issues described by Aboriginal activists such as Harold Cardinal and George Manuel in the 1960s and 1970s still persist in 2013. The Canadian Human Rights Commission noted that Aboriginal people continue to lag behind other Canadians in everything from income to employment to education.ii The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives further noted that half of status First Nations children live below the poverty line, a figure that increases to over 62% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.iii

One major reason these problems persist is due to the ignorance of non-native Canadians as to the reasons for Aboriginal social problems and the existence of their Treaty rights. Few non-Natives have any problem with Aboriginal cultural ceremonies as dancing or powwows, but they object to Treaty hunting and fishing rights for Aboriginals, which they view as special treatment.iv Some non-Natives also believe that Aboriginal people are rolling in cash, influenced in part by the results of land claim and resource settlements,v and likely also due to the billions of dollars spent by the federal government on providing services and funding to Aboriginal reserves.

Another major cause is the fact that many non-Native Canadians simply don’t know about the attempts to assimilate Aboriginal people and the reasons the Treaties were signed, which accounts for their opposition to recognizing Aboriginal Treaty Bob Rae notes that many non-Natives seem to be of two minds on the issue. While they might want to recognize Aboriginal rights, they also believe very strongly that Canadian citizenship should apply equally to all citizens, regardless of background.vii

This meshes with the attitudes expressed by the government of Pierre Trudeau when it issued the 1969 White Paper and believed that the Treaties were holding Aboriginals back. The Trudeau government’s thinking, in turn, was derivative of the original thinking of the federal government when it set up the Indian Act and the reserve system as a way of removing everything that differentiated Aboriginals from other Canadians.viii Thankfully, the forced coercion employed by the authorities when Aboriginals refused to assimilate is no longer a tactic either of the federal government or non-Native society at large. However, the same thinking still remains.

In most cases, this is due more to ignorance than racism. Unfortunately, that racism is still entrenched in Canadian society. Harold Cardinal wrote in the 1960s about the ghettoization and racism many Aboriginals encountered when they moved to urban centres.ix Life for urban Aboriginals in the 21st century is reportedly very mixed- On the one hand there are reports of higher education, incomes and life expectancy among urban Aboriginals, but there is also the presence of urban gangs, family instability, prostitution and violence.x More subtle racism exists in the form of “polite” bigotry, with negative stereotypes and derogatory comments.xi

Not all non-Native assumptions are based on racism, of course. Some stem more from concerns that are in fact much more understandable, like the belief that the billions of dollars spent by Ottawa on Aboriginal people has not been a worthwhile use of taxpayer money. On paper, it seems like a lot of money, but the problem is that it’s much more complicated than most people realize. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the residential schools for Aboriginals were plagued by underfunding, often using money taken out of the existing Indian Affairs budget, and reducing the amount of money available for other projects. This underfunding was one of the many reasons why the residential schools were such a disaster for Aboriginal people.xii It was the same story in the second half of the 20th century, when Harold Cardinal noted that the seemingly large amount of money spent by the federal government on supporting Aboriginal people had to divided among all the thousands of Aboriginal people and pay for all of their living expenses, in addition to anything else they might be interested in pursuing.xiii

The same problem still exists more than 35 years later. Aboriginal activist Aaron Paquette noted that Ottawa’s $10 billion a year on Aboriginal services amounts to $16,500 per person for all services, while the province of Alberta spends $18,000 per person on education funding alone. Aboriginal chief Carolyn Buffalo got just $90,000 to cover the housing costs of her band.xiv The northern Ontario reserve of Attawapiskat got a lot of coverage from the supposed mismanagement of the millions of dollars it got from Ottawa. The $90 million the reserve has received is not the amount of funding it’s gotten per year, but actually how much funding it’s gotten since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006. Attawapiskat has only received some $18 million a year since that time.xv More generally, it’s been said that the federal government provides 20-30% less funding for Aboriginal education than non-Aboriginal schools that receive provincial funding.xvi 

One might also point out the fact that Aboriginal leaders are hardly the only ones who mismanage public funds, given the “significant gaps” that Ottawa’s own internal audits have shown in how the federal government is managing over a billion dollars meant for repairing Aboriginal infrastructure. And then there’s Ottawa’s own questionable spending of public money and clashes with the Parliamentary Budget Office over access to budgetary documents.xvii

As was noted in Part One of this essay, government action regarding the Indian Act, the residential schools and various policies leading up the 1969 White Paper were all unilaterally decided on by the federal government, without much consultation with the Aboriginals. When the Aboriginals were consulted, they were generally ignored. This attitude continued in the 1970s, when Harold Cardinal wrote about how many Indian Affairs programs were unilaterally designed by the federal government and then presented to the Aboriginals without giving them much say in how the programs were designed.xviii In the 1990s, Matthew Coon Come criticized the federal and Quebec governments for cherry-picking which parts of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement they chose to implement, effectively dictating the terms to the Aboriginals.xix 

The federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been accused of continuing with its top-down, big-government approach to dealing with Aboriginal people,xx and current Assembly of First Nations leader Shawn Atleo laments the lack of progress in dealing with the Harper government and its top-down approach.xxi As Tim Querengesser writes, some individual Aboriginal reserves may in fact be very innovative, but many of their positive ideas for change are rejected by Ottawa.xxii

Many of these problems have gone on for decades, a century or more. Aboriginal people have typically tried to resolve these issues and make the governing authorities aware of their opinions, but quite often the governing officials have ignored them, driving many Aboriginals to desperation and frustration. This has led to confrontations such as those at Oka and Caledonia, problems which have much deeper roots than most people realize, and contribute to an ugly cycle of anger and racism between Aboriginal and non-Native Canadians.
  1. Standoffs and Occupations: Old Causes, New Problems
The standoffs and confrontations that have occurred in places such as Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake, Caledonia, Burnt Church and the land of the Lubicon Cree have many of the same origins. These origins generally centre around Aboriginal people protesting non-Native development of lands that the Aboriginals believe were never ceded by a Treaty (in Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia and on the Lubicon Cree’s traditional territory), or by Aboriginal attempts to make use of land and resources that were never formally ceded by Treaty (at Gustafsen Lake) or they had a Treaty right to use (at Burnt Church).xxiii Some of these disputes, most notably at Oka, are centuries old, but the pattern has generally been the same. Aboriginal Treaty and land property rights have been consistently ignored by non-Native authorities, who act unilaterally without consideration of the Aboriginals’ rights or needs, in some cases deciding what is “best” for them.xxiv

To many non-Native observers, these standoffs and confrontations have seemed like just more examples of Aboriginal people refusing to integrate with the modern world, to laze around waiting for handouts instead of getting productive jobs and using violence to extort more money from the public. The reaction in some circles to Idle No More has been no different.xxv Indeed, as noted by writers like Ojibwa man Mike Alexander, Idle No More can be seen as the latest manifestation by Aboriginal people against policies and attitudes that have harmed them and their ways of life. Citing Aboriginal singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, he notes that there is nothing new about Idle No More, and indeed he doesn’t believe much has changed since the summer of 1990. The same negative perception, without any attempt to understand the Aboriginal point of view, has marked much of the media coverage about the movement.xxvi

Other parallels exist between Idle No More and previous Aboriginal protests. In 1988, when the frustrated Lubicon Cree of Alberta mounted a blockade, other Aboriginals in Quebec and Ontario mounted blockades in solidarity.xxvii During the Oka standoff in 1990, sympathy protests, blockades and standoffs erupted across the country at the same time.xxviii As of this writing, Idle No More and other Aboriginal activists are planning a “Sovereignty Summer” full of protests and potential blockades, meant to stop “business as usual” in Canada, based on the belief that Prime Minister Harper only listens to economics. Aboriginal activist Andrea Landry expressed her concern that violence may flare up, caused by the growing frustration in many Aboriginal communities with what they see as the Harper government’s stonewalling.xxix

Landry’s comment ties into the much darker side of Aboriginal protest and activism, namely the violence that occurs during these conflicts that further poisons relationships between Aboriginals and non-Native Canadians, and the racism attached to it. Some standoffs have involved gunfire, which led to the death of Dudley George at Ipperwash in 1995 and of Corporal Marcel Lemay in 1990 at Oka. Other outbreaks of violence involved harassment and attacks of Mohawk people by white Quebecers at Okaxxx and beating of a non-Native man who building a house for his daughter near the land claimed by the Aboriginal Caledonia occupation by Aboriginal protesters.xxxi More general bigotry could be seen by the attempts by non-Native Quebecers to subtly and not-so-subtly undermine the claims, rights and even identities of the Aboriginal protesters, while some of the Aboriginals in turn demonized the non-Natives with racist statements and attacked the non-Natives’ own identities.xxxii

When non-Native Canadians don’t understand the backgrounds of these protests, and end up seeing the bigotry and the violence expressed by some Aboriginal radicals, it’s not hard to see why they wrongly conclude these protests are just a cover for Aboriginal extortion. It creates an ugly cycle that feeds on itself, as non-Natives react badly to what they think is just Aboriginal violence, particularly when they themselves are caught up in it, and in turn become opposed to any recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ distinct status. In turn, when Aboriginal people see the non-Native refusal to recognize their distinct place in Canada, it contributes to the frustration many of them feel. As previously noted, these standoffs generally start when the Aboriginals feel that they have no other choice, or when they try to assert their Treaty rights. Even then, the proceedings could be sidetracked by Aboriginal radicals that actively made things worse.xxxiii

Small wonder, then, that some Aboriginal people hope that Idle No More can be used as an opportunity to “reset” the relationship between Aboriginal Canadians and their non-Native fellow citizens. Aboriginal activist Chelsea Vowel is encouraged by the dialogue she sees going on with non-Native Canadians, and build more understanding between them and their Aboriginal kin and neighbours.xxxiv This is a hopeful development, and it is exactly what Canada needs. It will be only through that kind of dialogue that a stronger place for Aboriginals will be established in Canada, one that puts an end to the Reserve Paradox.
  1. Dialogue And Development
However, achieving that dialogue still presents a challenge in Canada. Many non-Native Canadians simply don’t know the background of the Reserve Paradox, or the real reasons why Aboriginal people have to deal with so many problems in Canada today. This essay has shown many of those reasons, and how they continue to be persistent headaches for many Aboriginals today. The Idle No More movement, and the past work of activists like Harold Cardinal, George Manuel and Ovide Mercredi have all played critical roles in making non-Native Canadians aware of these issues.

However, there are still problems with the Idle No More movement itself. Blogger Stephen Lee, who is of Mik’maq ancestry, has expressed his disgust with those non-Natives who have genuine malice and bigotry against Aboriginals, particularly when it’s of the “soft racist” type. However, he is also concerned that some of the Idle No More movement’s supporters attack all non-Natives who question it as racists, instead of actually answering their questions. Lee is also concerned that Idle No More’s goals are diffuse, and that all of the disparate groups who make it up have no clear, unified message. That, along with many non-Natives’ own unwillingness to accept that problems still exist, are major reasons why there seems to be an impasse when neither side can even seem to agree on the terms of the dialogue.xxxv Non-Native blogger Patrick Ross puts it rather more bluntly, claiming that Idle No More was able to be hijacked by “any douchebag with an axe to grind”, as he put it.xxxvi

Non-Native commentator Don Lenihan, however, provides a substantial explanation for Idle No More’s form and its protests against the Harper government’s tactics. Lenihan believes that Idle No More is a truly grassroots movement that is trying to dissociate itself from the established Aboriginal leadership and the controversy over the nepotism and corruption among some Aboriginal reserve governments. Grassroots movements are often eclectic and have sometimes conflicting views among their members.

Idle No More was also formed more specifically in response to the protests many Aboriginals made about the Harper government’s reforms to the parts of the Indian Act governing reserve lands. This essay has already highlighted the way the federal government has frequently made top-down policy for Aboriginals, without actually consulting the people the reforms are meant for. As previously noted, many Aboriginals feel that the Harper government is continuing in this way, and they have little trust for the government or its intentions. Indeed, many people are concerned that Harper’s reforms on land use will enable those in the best position to do so to put their own personal gain ahead of the needs of the reserve community. The community would be unable to stop them, and in turn they would lose their land base, the reserves would be dissolved, and the Aboriginals would ultimately be assimilated.xxxvii

These are not new concerns. In the 1970s, Aboriginal activist George Manuel wrote about how many Aboriginals were suspicious of promises of economic development that provided an uncertain number of jobs in exchange for nearly unlimited leases and amounts of pollution without local control, which would only exchange one form of stagnant poverty for another. Similarly, many Aboriginals were concerned that the selling off of reserve lands would lead to them being whittled down and disappearing.xxxviii In the 1980s, Aboriginal activist Georges Erasmus echoed the point, stating that private enterprise and investment would be very welcome in developing Aboriginal economies, but that the Aboriginal communities need the appropriate ownership of land and subsurface rights.xxxix Manuel also agreed with the positive advantages the private sector could bring for economic development.xl Jody Wilson-Raybould points out that many Aboriginals are quite happy with economic development, but they want to ensure that the primary beneficiaries are the Aboriginal citizens themselves, not just third parties or potential speculators. Many reserves are also developing their own particular land management initiatives according to their own needs.xli

Economic development and jobs are a critical part of moving beyond the Reserve Paradox, but they are not the only elements. Aboriginal Treaty rights are specifically recognized in Sections 25 and 35 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are a full part of the Canadian Constitution. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Treaties such as the 1752 treaty between the British Crown and the Mik’maq in the Maritimes were still in effect,xlii and further noted that Aboriginal land titles in Canada exist based on their long-time occupation of the land.xliii These things cannot simply be wished away-they are part of the law of the land. The question all Canadians, Aboriginals and non-Natives alike, have to answer is how we can live together.
  1. The Two Row Wampum Belt: An Alternative
Many Aboriginal people don’t trust the federal government, for the reasons noted in this essay. Some, however, go even further and don’t consider themselves Canadian at all. Aboriginal scholar Patricia Monture-Angus, for instance, isn’t sure what Canadian citizenship really has to offer her, given that most of the actions of the Canadian state have not benefited Aboriginal people.xliv She further notes that most non-Native commentary centres only on what Aboriginal people must do to solve the problems they face, without commenting on what non-Natives ought to do.

In her view, relations between Aboriginals and non-Natives should be based on the Gus-Wen-Tah, or “Two Row Wampum Belt”, which symbolizes the Treaties signed between the Aboriginals of Canada and the Canadian Crown and government. While this relationship has been defined and is part of the Canadian Constitution, Monture-Angus writes that it has yet to be fully lived by non-Native Canadian society. Reserve lines and borders have been applied with little to no consultation by the Aboriginals themselves. These rigid borders are a sense of frustration to Aboriginals who move onto and off reserves regularly, particularly since their Treaty rights apply only on one side of the border.xlv Her fellow scholar Taiaiake Alfred is more blunt, saying that Aboriginals are being assimilated by the very acceptance of Canadian citizenship. He believes that the Aboriginals should deal with non-Native Canadians on a “nation to nation” basis, rather than as fellow Canadian citizens.xlvi

Such stances are controversial, to say the least. In his review of proposals for how Aboriginal governments and people would fit into Canadian society, non-Native political scientist Alan Cairns points out that most of them stress the maximum amount of autonomy for Aboriginal people, with much less regard to how they would interact with non-Native Canadian society.xlvii He further points out the factors that complicate any effort at maximizing Aboriginal independence, such as intermarriage between Aboriginals and non-Natives, the large population of Aboriginals dwelling in urban areas, the number of people of Aboriginal ancestry who don’t identify with an Aboriginal identity and the smaller sizes and population of many reserves.xlviii

I myself would also add the questions of whether non-Canadian Aboriginal communities would mint and use their own currencies, set up their own embassies in other countries and generally set up all the practical trappings of state sovereignty, or whether they would continue to use Canada’s currency, embassies and other state creations. Similarly, how and when will Aboriginal or Canadian law apply to non-Natives who run into issues on Aboriginal territories?xlix Will Aboriginals such as Elijah Harper, who sent such a strong message to non-Native Canadians on behalf of his people when he helped derail the Meech Lake Accord, still be able to run for office in and get elected to Canadian legislatures?l

Other Aboriginals have provided a solution to these issues. Thinkers like George Manuelli and Ovide Mercredilii have invoked the Two Row Wampum Belt as a symbol for what the relations between Canadians and other Aboriginals can be like. Aboriginal law professor John Borrows also notes that, at the same time that the Two Row Wampum Belt was exchanged, a ‘Belt of Peace’ was exchanged that emphasized just how interconnected the Native and non-Aboriginal peoples were, something the Two Row Wampum Belt also symbolizes. As important as self-government is for Aboriginals, it doesn’t encompass all of the relationships Aboriginals have with the rest of society, or lands outside their own reserves. Borrows argues for an Aboriginal participation in Canadian affairs, which would enable Aboriginals to maintain those bonds with the rest of the land even as they work and thrive alongside their non-Native neighbours. The meaning of being Aboriginal grows and changes with time, and Aboriginal values can help develop and evolve Canadian culture, society and identity.liii

As with so much relating to the Reserve Paradox, these ideas are not new. In the 1970s, George Manuel wrote that the Two Row Wampum Belt isn’t necessarily just about the separation of non-Native and Aboriginal cultures, but also about straddling both of the vessels, and expressing concern when one or both runs into problems.liv In his view, the Aboriginal goal of home rule and responsible government wasn’t very different from what non-Natives were looking for. Besides, just as non-Native governing institutions have been modified to meet the changing times, so too can Aboriginal governing institutions adapt to new challenges and integrate into Canada without Even institutions such as the Two Row Wampum Belt can change and evolve as needed.lvi

Of course, some non-Natives might ask why all this is necessary. Why can’t Aboriginal people just be Canadian like all the other residents of the country? In replying to this question, Harold Cardinal pointed out that many Aboriginals feel their identities are tied up with their Treaty rights. Being told to ‘just’ be Canadian is taken by many Aboriginals to mean that they should abandon their identities, and that “white is right”. He stated that most Aboriginals are in fact quite happy to participate in mainstream Canadian society, but they don’t want to have to give up their identities in the process.lvii

Ovide Mercredi points out that Aboriginals see themselves as distinct peoples in Canada, and have a sacred responsibility to be themselves. Telling them that they should assimilate and conform to the status quo is like telling them that they should “civilize” and stop “acting like savages.”lviii As noted by Randall White, conflicts like the Caledonia standoff are about much more than just land claims. They are also about a continuing lack of recognition of Aboriginal rights, and the frustrations that come from it. Forcibly dispersing a standoff like Caledonia wouldn’t really solve anything, and would probably just lead to more standoffs in the future.lix

Cardinal further emphasizes the fact that a declaration of ‘nationhood’ by Aboriginals does not necessarily imply the forming of a separate country. What it actually means is a statement of their unique place in North America. Unfortunately, Aboriginals were never asked if they wanted to be members of more than one nation. The governing authorities apparently saw it as a black and white choice between being Aboriginal or being Canadian, which goes against some of the fundamental philosophical and even religious beliefs of the Aboriginals. They believe that the land was meant to be shared, not just occupied by one group or another.lx 

The Dene of the Northwest Territories are a classic example, having stated that they are a ‘nation’ and a distinct people in Canada, but they emphasize that they seek to be recognized within Canada.lxi
Mercredi drives the point home when he states that self-government for Aboriginals is what would make them free, not simply assimilating and abolishing the Indian Act. He notes that it is easy to support strictly individual, undifferentiated rights for all Canadians when all of the equivalents to the collective rights Aboriginals seek to have recognized (e.g., speaking the English language) are secure. Indeed, Mercredi states that recognizing Aboriginals on a “nation to nation” basis would have positive benefits for all of Canadian society, not just the Aboriginals themselves.lxii Former Northwest Territories Premier Stephen Kakfwi pointed out that, while the Aboriginals of the Northern territories felt they had to “hit back” at the federal government and the resource companies, they did so with the support of and for the benefit of their non-Native neighbours, as well as themselves.lxiii

The idea of mutual benefits for both Aboriginals and non-Natives is one that repeats itself in Aboriginal discourse. Georges Erasmus wrote about strong Aboriginal economies strengthening the economies of the larger regions they’re incorporated in,lxiv a point reinforced by the Royal Bank of Canadalxv and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.lxvi Idle No More spokespeople such as Chief Shining Turtlelxvii and Pam Palmaterlxviii emphasize that the changes to environmental regulations passed by the Harper government in 2012 endanger the quality of life for all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Native alike.
  1. Telling A New Story
Recognizing the Two Row Wampum Belt and the meaning behind it would go a long way to overcoming the Reserve Paradox and reinforcing the spirit of the Treaties. As previously noted, the Treaties are part of the fundamental laws of Canada and their recognition is long overdue. Harold Cardinal noted that there is often much more convergence between Aboriginal and non-Native conceptions of what it means to be Canadian than most people realize.lxix Kathy Brock notes that the idea of Aboriginals being interconnected with non-Natives and participating in the larger country is quite compatible with the idea of Aboriginals developing their own particular institutions and territories in Canada. Many Aboriginal people in fact travel frequently to and from reserves, maintaining strong connections between the on- and off-reserve populations.lxx

Much of this essay has been devoted to describing all of the problems and suffering caused by the Reserve Paradox, and also to discussing the weaknesses in some elements of the Idle No More movement and the larger Aboriginal movement. As it stands, the Reserve Paradox creates a self-fulfilling cycle of frustration and anger. The lack of recognition of their rights and perspectives, and the unilateral actions of non-Native society, create frustration for Aboriginals that can and does cause violence at places like Oka and Caledonia. In turn, those actions create a backlash against Aboriginal people and a refusal to recognize their rights, which starts the cycle all over again.

But that’s not all there is to it. As Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and others have pointed out, for all the frustration Aboriginal people have encountered in dealing with the federal government and non-Native society, they are also gaining educations, building businesses, and social initiatives. For them, Idle No More is a way of giving voice to their concerns.lxxi Even in the ugliest crises, reconciliation can still occur-the book Justice for Natives: Searching For Common Ground is an account of how Aboriginals and non-Natives alike tried to defuse tensions and build a better relationship after Oka. The sister of the slain Marcel Lemay found healing with the Mohawk community nearly 15 years after the crisis.lxxii

Stories have long played an important role in Aboriginal culture. Currently, the story of the Reserve Paradox is one of broken promises, racism and a long, cycle of frustration. But the story doesn’t have to end there. At the same time as all the problems of the Reserve Paradox remain with us, people have been telling new stories-stories of reconciliation and healing, of rebuilding cultures and societies, of building bridges between Canadians.

The problems we face now do not just affect Aboriginals-they affect all of us. We are all Canadians-we are simply too intertwined to be anything else. But we can tell a new story, one that revives the true spirit of the Treaties by recognizing the distinct place of Aboriginal people in Canada and the Two Row Wampum Belt. It won’t solve all of our problems, but it will go a long way towards healing old wounds and building bridges between Canadians. 

It can be a truly Canadian story, one that builds a better tomorrow for all of us. 

i Harold Cardinal, The Unjust Society. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999. Originally published in Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1969. Pages viii-xiii.

ii Canadian Human Rights Commission, Report on the Equality Rights of Aboriginal People. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2013. Available online at

iii David Macdonald and Daniel Wilson, Poverty or Prosperity: Indigenous Children in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2013. Available online at

iv David R. Newhouse, “All Singing, All Dancing, 24/7” in Centre for Research and Information on Canada, Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians. CRIC Papers, June 2004. Available online at Page 12. See also Carol Crowe’s comments in “Interview With Community Leaders On The Prairies” on page 5.

v Kelly Lendsay, “Interview With Community Leaders On The Prairies,” page 5 of Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians.

vi Kris Frederickson, Matthew Dunn and Donita Large, commentaries on David Newhouse’s article on pages 14-18 of Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians.

vii Bob Rae, “Citizens Plus: A Review”, in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, pages 5-7. The Centre for Research and Information on Canada, CRIC Papers #2, June 2001. Available online at

viii More details on the original thinking that led to the reserve system, the Indian Act and the 1969 White Paper, can be found in Part One of this essay.

ix Cardinal, The Unjust Society, pages 4-5. See also George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World: An Indian Reality. Don Mills, Ontario: Collier Macmillan Canada Ltd., 1974. Pages 123-125.

x Alan C. Cairns, First Nations and the Canadian State: In Search of Coexistence. Kingston, Ontario: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, 2005. Pages 12-13.

xi Donita Large, “Polite Racism and Lack of Mainstream Aboriginal Education in Canada,” commentary on David Newhouse’s article in Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, pages 16-17.

xii Olive Patricia Dickason and David T. McNab, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2009. Pages 307-310.

xiii Harold Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Pubilishers, 1977. Pages 152-153. See also Manuel and Posluns, pages 205-206.

xiv Kevin Ma, “Why Idle No More?” Local panel looks at gulf between Aboriginals and leaders. St. Albert Gazette, February 23, 2013.

xv Chelsea Vowel, “Attawapiskat: You want to be shown the money? Here it is.” Huffington Post Canada, December 26, 2011.

xvi J.F. Foulds, “Reflections on Idle No More.” Straight Goods News, February 11, 2013.

xvii “First Nations funds mishandled by Ottawa, audits show.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 5, 2012. See also Michael Adams, “First Nations: The media misses the point-again.” IPolitics website, January 10, 2013. See also an author with the screen name of “Sixth Estate”, “Is Theresa Spence’s alleged fiscal mismanagement serious because she’s an Indian, or because she’s not a Conservative Cabinet minister? The Sixth Estate blog, January 7, 2013. See also Sixth Estate’s “If Theresa Spence was a white politician, she could have just fired the auditor.” Sixth Estate blog, January 10, 2013.

xviii Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians, pages 47-48.

xix Matthew Coon Come, “Different Laws For Different People”, in Justice For Natives: Searching For Common Ground, edited by Andrea P. Morrison with Irwin Cotler. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. Pages 162-166, citation on pages 164-165.

xx Chris Plecash, “Federal Conservatives taking ‘big government’ approach to First Nations: Critics say the Tories are continuing to impose policies top-down on First Nations.” First Perspectives website, June 17, 2013.

xxi Tim Harper, “Shawn Atleo, Assembly of First Nations Chief, has little to show his people.” The Toronto Star, June 16, 2013. See also Gloria Galloway, ““Native leaders frustrated by lack of consultation with Ottawa on job program.” The Globe and Mail, March 22, 2013.

xxii Tim Querengeser, “Why Indigenous blockades are now Indigenous to Canada.” This Magazine, February 19, 2013.

xxiii Dickason and McNab, pages 333-334, 319-324, 413-415, 443-445.

xxiv For an account of the sorry Oka saga, including the constant and repeated peaceful attempts by the Aboriginals to get fair treatment and have their rights respected, see J.R. Miller, “Great White Father Knows Best: Oka and the Land Claims Process.” Native Studies Review 7.1 (1991), pages 23-52. See also Dickason and McNab, pages 319-321. For an account of the Lubicon Cree’s blockades, see Arthur J. Ray, I Have Lived Here Since The World Began: An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native Peoples. Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books, 1996. Pages 350-356. For an account of the Caledonia occupation from the occupiers’ point of view, see John Ahni Schertow/Ahniwanika, “To The People of Caledonia and All Canadians.”

xxv As an example, see Michael Adams, “First Nations: The media misses the point-again.”

xxvi Mike Alexander, “The failed whitewashing of Idle No More.” Divided No More website, February 23, 2013.

xxvii Ray, page 354.

xxviii Peter C. Newman, The Canadian Revolution 1985-1995: From Deference To Defiance. Toronto, Ontario: Penguin Books Canada, 1995. Page 360.

xxix Laura Beaulne-Steubing, “First Nations plan ‘Sovereignty Summer’.” IPolitics website, June 19, 2013.

xxx Will Ferguson, Bastards and Boneheads: Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present. Vancouver, B.C. and Toronto, Ontario: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999. Pages 216-217.

xxxi “Trio Sought in Caledonia Beating.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, September 20, 2007.

xxxii Pierre Trudel, De la négation de l’Autre dans les discours nationalistes des Québécois et des Autochtones, in Le nationalité autonomiste des Québécois, extrait de Les Nationalismes au Québec du XIXième au XXiième siècle, edited by Michel Sarra-Bournet with the assistance of Jocelyn Saint-Pierre. Quebec City : Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2001. Pages 203-230.

xxxiii See Dickason and McNab, pages 414-415, for an example of what happened at Ipperwash. The violence at Caledonia can in all likelihood be attributed to radicals as well.

xxxiv Duncan McCue, “The cultural importance of Idle No More.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, January 9, 2013.

xxxv Stephen Lee, “Trying To Understand Idle No More.” The Orange Tory blog, January 8, 2013. See also Lee, “Racist No More,” January 15, 2013.

xxxvi Patrick Ross, “My Personal Response to Nina Waste.” Bad Company Canada blog, March 24, 2013.

xxxvii Don Lenihan, “Building a Crown-First Nations Relationship On Trust.” IPolitics website, January 8, 2013.

xxxviii Manuel and Posluns, pages 151 and 169.

xxxix Georges Erasmus, in his contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, compiled and introduced by Mel Hurtig. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1987. Pages 78-82, citation on pages 79-80.

xl Manuel’s contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, pages 186-190. Citation on pages 188-189.

xli Jody Wilson-Raybould, “First Nations want property rights-but on their own terms.” The Globe and Mail, August 10, 2012.

xlii Ovide Mercredi and Mary Ellen Turpel, In The Rapids: Navigating The Future Of First Nations. Toronto, Ontario: Viking Press, 1993. Page 60.

xliii Newman, page 365.

xliv Patricia Monture-Angus, in a discussion between her, Alan Cairns and Kathy Brock in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, page 19.

xlv Monture-Angus, “Citizens Plus: Sensitivities vs. Solutions,” in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, pages 8-13.

xlvi Taiaiake Alfred, “Who you calling Canadian?” Windspeaker magazine, Volume 18, Issue 5, 2000. Available online at

xlvii Alan C. Cairns, Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State. Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press, 2000. Pages 177-182, 191-195 and 200-205.

xlviii Alan C. Cairns, First Nations and the Canadian State: In Search of Coexistence, pages 11-15, 36-38 and 51.

xlix One of my professors in university was Dr. Lloyd Patrick Dempsey, an Aboriginal man who was himself part of the Blood nation in southern Alberta. In a conversation with me on this issue, he observed that, if the practical trappings of sovereignty like currencies were not employed by separate Aboriginal nations, then they were not in fact truly sovereign.

l Elijah Harper, “A Time To Say No”, in Justice For Natives: Searching For Common Ground, pages 219-226. In this speech, Harper specifically notes that he did not say ‘no’ to Meech Lake because of any opposition to Quebec nationalism, but because he wanted to drive home the point that Aboriginal people and their rights could not be ignored in constitutional discussions.

li George Manuel’s contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, page 186. See also Manuel and Posluns, 8-9 and 97-98.

lii Mercredi and Mary Ellen Turpel, page 35.

liii John Borrows, “’Landed’ citizenship: Narratives of Aboriginal political participation,” in Citizenship, Diversity and Pluralism: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives. Edited by Alan C. Cairns, John C. Courtney, Peter MacKinnon, Hans J. Michelmann and David E. Smith. Montreal, Quebec and Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. Pages 72-86, particularly pages 75-81.

liv Manuel and Posluns, pages 8-9.

lv Ibid., pages 135, 203 and 215-219.

lvi Thomas Hueglin, “Constitutional Federalism vs. Treaty Federalism in Canada: Aboriginal Political Thought Beyond The State”, paper presented to the “New Federalism In North America” conference in Mexico City, CISAN-UNAM, November 1998. 26 pages, citation on pages 17-18.

lvii Cardinal, The Unjust Society, pages 12, 19 and 21.

lviii Mercredi and Turpel, pages 21 and 106-109.

lix Randall White, “Happy birthday to who? And where does the Six Nations Caledonia protest go from here?, February 28, 2007.

lx Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians, pages 140-144.

lxi Cited in Jeffrey Simpson, Faultlines: Struggling For A Canadian Vision. Toronto, Ontario: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993. Pages 201 and 232.

lxii Mercredi and Turpel, pages 46-47.

lxiii Stephen Kakfwi, in an interview given in Facing The Future: Relations Between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Canadians, pages 9-10.

lxiv Erasmus, in his contribution to If I Were Prime Minister, page 80.

lxv John McCallum, chief economist of the Royal Bank of Canada, “Aboriginal Economic Development Report”, October 1997. Available online at

lxvi Internal paper published in 2012 by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Available online at

lxvii Chief Shining Turtle, “Idle No More: An Open Letter To My Non-Aboriginal Neighbours. The Huffington Post, January 25, 2013.

lxviii Pam Palmater, “What is the Idle No More movement…really?” Indigenous Nationhood blog, January 3, 2013.

lxix Cardinal, The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians, pages 8-13.

lxx Kathy L. Brock, “Citizens Plus: Old Debates, New Understandings” in Bridging the Divide Between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State, pages 15-17.

lxxi Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, “Aboriginal youth find their voice in Idle No More.” Calgary Herald, February 1, 2013.

lxxii Loreen Pindera, “A sister’s grief bridges a cultural divide.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, July 8, 2010.