Tuesday, November 3, 2009

War on First Nations??

I receive periodic policy updates from a First Nation individual named Russell Diabo. He publishes a regular update on recent news that pertain to Aboriginal peoples. I have also debated with Diabo on an APTN public affairs panel I am involved with. Diabo seems to advocate a hardcore sovereigntist position within indigenous discourse.
Just recently, I received an update from that worried me somewhat. It was a .pdf document containing presentation notes and it was entitled "Canada's War on First Nations."
Now those who have read this blog or my other writings know I have never tried to deny Canada's shameful history when it came to dealing with indigenous peoples. However, this kind of rhetoric attempts to bring some of the old struggles into the present and even the future. In other words, it wants to make this metaphorical war with the Canadian state the dominant paradigm of indigenous-newcomer relations.
I would have loved to have post it here, but apparently posting pdf documents is an issue on this blog format, so I will just invite you to Google (or your choice of search engine) "Canada's war on First Nations" + "Russell Diabo." I am sure something will come up eventually..
The problem is the choice of words. I find this strategy or way of thinking to be at best counter-productive and at worst, highly dangerous and inflammatory.
While saying First Nations should continue on land and treaty land entitlement claims that they believe they are entitled to, I think adopting a martial rhetoric prevents finding common ground.
Diabo assumes in his writing that because successive governments have not accepted a "third order of government" type way of viewing Aboriginal self-governent, they must be about co-opting and eventually secluding FNs into "ethnic municipalities" as it put it.
First of all, adopting this model of a new order of government is not the only way forward for First Nations. There are many First Nations who I'm sure in the end would not prefer this model. Some First Nations don't want to re-constitute themselves and join other communities to form contiguous nations. This is the reality out there.
The government opposes this because it is a fundamental paradigm shift and would change the way government works completely. More importantly, it would mean changes and complications in how money is collected and re-distributed.
I think this objection on their part is more about state survival logic, rather than a deep-seated prejudice against First Nations or a colonial-like desire to assimilate all First Nations. Diabo is also convinced this means "emptying of Section 35 rights."
In particular, he asserts that all modern treaty arrangements are about surrending Section 35 rights and giving into colonialism.
I think for these self-governing communities is not about giving in. These agreements allow them to maintain their governing structures and continue to live as Indians, while receiving funding to continue.
For them, it is a good bargain.
Why do some of these indigenous writers assume that negotiating or making deals with the government is capitulation? Weren't the historic treaties about engaging the state? Finally, and most controversially for some, why is there this eternal fear of becoming involved within the Canadian state? I mean, why is the "Two-wampum"model of governance the eternal default model for all First Nations, where one can never be both an Indian and a Canadian at the same time?? The Two Wampum model is one model among many and does not have to be the model for all.
In his paper, Diabo mentions the important role of indigenous youth. This is one area I agree with him. But, I worry that if youth read Diabo or other like-minded indigenous writers like Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, they will assume the only model available for First Nations is permanent antagonism. You stay on your side and I'll stay on mine. Already, this model falls apart given that indigenous communities are financially dependent on the colonial federal government.
I am not arguing that all First Nations should jump onto USS Canada and forget their grievances over legitimate policy areas. Engaging Canada must mean it is done on just terms. But, just terms does not mean that any engagement with Canada is somehow seen as treasonous, or an act of capitulation, or whatever. It is just logical to accept that we are all in this together and need to work together..

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