This week the Harper regime announced that they would be changing the name of "Indian Affairs" to "Aboriginal Affairs", seemingly the politically correct thing to do.
Immediately, several First Nations' leaders spoke out against the change, because it lumps all such nations into one. A legitimate argument.
On the other hand, aboriginal advocacy groups, believe that it will mean broader qualifications for government services. And indeed as part of the press release, Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Stephen Harper, said that “Changing the term used in the minister’s title from ‘Indian’ to ‘aboriginal’ better reflects the scope of the minister’s responsibilities" as they would now include Inuit and Métis.
However, to me, the name change means nothing, because it still fails to address the special relationship between the modern Canadian state and our indigenous people. The term "responsibilities" has the familiar paternal tone.
In his 2000 Massey lecture: the Rights Revolution, Michael Ignatieff wrote of us:
We are British North Americans, a colonial people in refuge from the republican experiment to the south. We are a community forged by the primal experience of negotiating terms of settlement among three peoples: the English, the French, and the aboriginal First Nations. This gives us a particular rights culture and it is this rights culture that makes us different. (1)Those terms of settlement have been breached, and what we have created instead is a form of colonialism, where many First Nations people are subjugated.
Todd Gordon in his book Imperialist Canada, rightfully states that Canadian Imperialism begins with our Empire at Home.
The Canadian state's relationship with indigenous people provides a sharp example of the policy of accumulation by dispossession, and serves as a potent reminder of Canada's imperialist history. Any discussion of Canadian imperialism really must begin at home. Indigenous nations are Canada's very own Third World colonies, created and managed as part of an intensive, ongoing colonial project ... (2)So while we can look at the living conditions on many reserves, with disgust, we can't make any significant changes until we understand the severity of the crimes against the people living there.
As Gordon reminds us.
There were hundreds of indigenous nations living across present-day Canada on land rich in resources, that did not wish to participate in the state and big business's plans for them and their land. But it was precisely the natural wealth of indigenous land and the labour of indigenous peoples (and poor immigrants) that provided the necessary basis for Canadian capital to grow and prosper in the first place, and to eventually move abroad to become a globally competitive force. It was on indigenous lands that mines were developed, oil discovered, private farms to feed the growing urban centres established, railways connecting the vast Canadian market laid, roads to transport goods carved out of the landscape and tourist resorts built. The whole foundation of Canadian capitalism rests upon indigenous land and resources. (2)So this nation's prosperity was only possible because of negotiated terms of settlement. Terms of settlement that we are constantly abusing.
And that abuse is justified through a sense of racial superiority. A notion that will be accelerated with Fox News North reducing land claim issues to a struggle between "Indians and White People".
In Jack Layton's book, Speaking Out, he says:
I've learned from my years in municipal government that healthy public policy should shift resources to communities themselves, empowering those who live there to implement their ideas rather than live under the dictates of others. In the case of Aboriginals and Metis in Canada, the principle of social justice demands it. (3)A good baby step, but then throughout the book he speaks more of the horrible living conditions and resulting community advocacy from non-aboriginals, but it doesn't address the big issue.
Any policy must start from a place of respect, and that means making First Nations equal partners in the development of our country.
Self government is essential, but it also means recognizing the validity of those governments.
A Unique Opportunity
Jack Layton has been given a rare opportunity to separate himself from Stephen Harper. And it comes with the election of Romeo Saganash.
A James Bay Cree, Saganash has experience in government, having served as director of governmental relations and international affairs for the Grand Council of Crees, for 30 years, and has advised parliamentary committees in Quebec and Ottawa.
And he worked very hard to get his seat, vigorously campaigning, in an attempt to garner the needed 9,000 votes. He earned 14,000.
He's intelligent, well liked and has the kind of face you instantly warm to.
Layton needs to appoint him as the "Aboriginal Affairs" critic. The Conservatives love their tokenism, keeping count, as if on a scorecard. But Saganash is no token anything. Another new MP that I just know I'm going to like.
Let's hope Layton recognizes the importance of his experience and capabilities. We are sorely in need of a change in direction.
A Harper Majority and Native rights
The “Coup D’etat at Barriere Lake and Why it Matters
1. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2, Pg. 14
2. Imperialist Canada, By Todd Gordon, Arbeiter Publishing, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-894037-4507, Pg. 66-68
3. Speaking Out: Ideas That Work for Canadians, By Jack Layton, Key Porter Books, 2004 ISBN: 1-55263-577-5, Pg. 143