Every step in the history of political liberty is a sally of the human mind into the untried Future, and has the interest of genius, and is fruitful in heroic anecdotes. – Ralph Waldo Emerson1
One solution is for all people of all ethnicities to start thinking less about our differences and more about the fabric that binds us together as a human species. To often we forget that we must all answer to the same laws of nature regardless of the colour of our skin or the language that we speak; that we share a commonality of cultural wisdom and ancient learning. -aboriginal writer Calvin Helin 2
So many discouraging thoughts and images come to mind when ones tries to imagine fundamentally changing the present situation in this profound and emotionally-driven part of Canadian social and political life.
The dishonourable, harmful and quasi-segregationist reserve system, and the essentially unchecked, self-seeking and harmful Haida Nation and Tsilhcot’in-fuelled Indian industry, is like a huge, cranky, aggressively expanding country of entitlements and expectations. And this is the case, to the silent, amygdala lighting-up, chagrin of most ordinary Canadians, even though it’s almost one hundred percent dependent for its existence on the money, civility and goodwill of the Canadian taxpayer.
The non-Indian part of the Indian industry, despite being comprised of highly educated, ostensibly liberal-minded individuals and organizations, will basically duck and hide in the unlikely event of any serious debate arising about the issues raised in this essay. They will feel conflicted, with too much to lose. (But, as I suggest later, they will have much to gain i.e. as much Indian industry work as before and for many years to come. And it will be work, because it will be nation-building work – of a much higher moral and civic value.)
In fear and panic Indian elites will fight back hard and aggressively. Character assassination will be the order of the day for anyone who dares to challenge their official orthodoxy and their comfortable and easy status quo – for anyone who dares to threaten the only world they’ve ever known.
These elites constantly complain about the so-called humiliating and dependency-creating shackles of the Indian Act (called legislative racism by Ontario’s former Ontario Regional Chief, Isadore Day- see The Separate but Equal Doctrine, above). Some of them say that this symbol of “colonialism” should be abolished. But in doing so they’re always careful to hedge their remarks. They don’t say: “abolish it and then give us total equality with other Canadians.”
No, just as when pressed to give particulars of present-day, distinct, aboriginal culture, when pressed, (rarely if ever), to say exactly what it is they want, they descend into ambiguity and generalities, and assert that, in any event, what is to replace the Indian Act in this supposed new, politically and morally corrected world, will be Indian “self-government.” And until then, strangely, these Indian elites seem quite content to tolerate and continue on under this umbrella of “legislative racism”.
As William Wuttunee wrote in Ruffled Feathers:
It is ironic indeed that a statute which was intended to protect the Indians of this country has been the cause of so much criticism of the federal government and the civil service, and that when the government wishes to abolish the Act the very Indian people who have been criticizing the government should now suddenly state that they want the Act to continue.
But this Indian New Jerusalem, if it ever came about, would be nothing substantively new or different. It would be exactly the same as today’s status quo, except Indian elites would have even more free and easy “independent” possession and control of Canadian taxpayers money to fund it all! As William Wuttunee said in Ruffled Feathers;
Replacing the Indian Affairs Branch with an administration operated by Indian associations means only the continued segregation of Indians from the rest of the Canadian population.
This prospect should be unacceptable to all right-thinking persons.
Indian elites fear true freedom and equality, so habituated are they to their state of “voluntary servitude”. Montaigne aptly wrote, in a similar context:
Mesmerized by their voluntary servitude and by the power of habit, since they have known nothing else. 3
Indian elites will fight to stay in that state of voluntary servitude- their mental prison. They will fight to defend and keep their golden chains.4
(Montaigne had channeled Edward Gibbon:
(Their) tender minds…unable to expand themselves…fettered by the prejudices and habits of a just servitude.
From Decline and Fall, (above), referring to the passivity, decay and “the languid indifference of private life”, into which the formerly activist and robust Roman citizenry had sunk as the result of living fat and lazy for too long under an imperial, bread and circuses despotism. Such listless living had “debased their sentiments, enervated their courage and depressed their talents.”)
On the more prosaic level there are of course billions of dollars of assets, undertakings and jobs that would be affected by any major change in this area of Canadian life, the loss of control over which is of course also what Indian elites fear. (Certainly a main reason why they are willing to tolerate and continue on under the umbrella of the racist Indian Act.) Reserve schools, police forces, child welfare agencies, land lease operations (thousands of non-Indians lease recreational property on Indian reserves – it’s a big money maker for Indian bands) – all the different transfer payments, grants and subsidies to Indian bands that the Canadian taxpayer makes in order to supposedly uphold the honour of the Crown – all the power, money and ego-satisfaction enjoyed by band elites who control those billions of dollars – the emerging economic colossus of the consult and accommodate industry – all that and countless other perks and benefits would be affected – would all eventually disappear.
Ending the reserve system and special race-based laws and entitlements for Indians would be like Canada taking over that aggressively expanding country of entitlements, rendering it legally non-existent and then absorbing it – somewhat like West Germany re-uniting with and absorbing East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall or the United States re-absorbing the rebellious South after the American Civil War.
But this wouldn’t be the first time in history something like that happened, nor will it be the last. In fact, in historical terms, such an event can only be described as normal and commonplace. Keeping in mind that change is the only constant in history, and, just thinking historically a little, we become mindful of countless similar examples of empires, countries, kingdoms, states, tribes – countless other societies generally – undergoing fundamental change – basically ending, one way or another, for one reason or another – and, as part of that, morphing or assimilating into something else. This has always been and always will be the way of life and history.
Of course loud and apocalyptic howls of protest and cries of “racism” and “genocide” will emanate from Indian elites and other parts of the Indian industry, all of whom refuse to think historically, and discourage all others from so doing.
But hopefully authoritative voices would forcefully reply that this particular assimilative, integrationist change in our status quo would not be like any of those catastrophic, negative examples of forced change and assimilation written about above – that this would be a positive, nation-building undertaking that would deserve to be set, compared to those other examples, at the very opposite end of the change and assimilation moral spectrum.
Because this undertaking in essence would be the gradual and orderly replacement of one very harmful and dysfunctional constitutional and political governance regime with a much better one.
The cries about the sky falling would be empty cries. Nobody below the elites would notice much change. Nobody would miss a meal. Nobody would suddenly end up without a roof over their head. To the extent that our Canadian welfare system provides, it would continue to provide. Nobody would have to move. The sun would still come up in the morning and go down at night. There would be little physical change in the day to day life of most Canadian Indians.
Canada and most provincial governments already have mandated affirmative action programs for Indians. The present harmful, divisive and dysfunctional consult and accommodate court-imposed regime constitutes an already-existing but wildly unpredictable and coercive, de facto, affirmative action program, affecting most private companies wanting to engage in undertakings on Canada’s rural and wilderness lands.
Under the proposed new regime, with legitimate and necessary Crown sovereignty restored, that chaotic mafia-style regime would be ended and, taking its place, these existing government affirmative action programs would be expanded and better codified.
Most importantly, for affected businesses, these valid costs of doing business would be spelled out in advance, thus restoring rational business planning and the rule of law. Economic development would become feasible again.
For the vast majority of ordinary, vulnerable, powerless Indians the situation would improve. Government affirmative action programs would benefit them far more than the present de facto favoritism and corruption-prone system controlled by band elites. More jobs would result for them, not fewer.
And those band elites? Most of them, in the early transition years, would keep their jobs and positions. They’re all smart people with a lot to offer. Only their work orientation would change.
The immediate changes would be, firstly on the political/constitutional level, with sole sovereignty restored to the Crowns of Canada, and secondly, on the moral level. Indian and non-Indian elites, for the first time, would be working towards the positive and inspiring goal of integrating Indian peoples with the rest of Canada – rather than, as now, working in effect to preserve quasi-segregation and “legislative racism.”
The attainment of full racial integration – bringing about a Canadian world where Indians will more likely live in our residential neighbourhoods than on reserves – which the better angels of our collective, civic conscience should compel us towards – is worth the multitude of short-term minor troubles, disruptions and inconveniences Canadians will experience on our way towards it.
- From The Emancipation Proclamation, reprinted in The Atlantic Magazine, November, 2012.
- fromDances With Dependency, (above)
- From Sarah Bakewell, How to Live: A life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer, Chatto & Windus, 2010.)
- You rattle your chains,
And tell yourself it’s music.-Goethe- From Goethe, Life As a Work of Art, by Rudiger Safranski, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017