Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Aboriginal Self Government and the Indian Industry

After the exchange between myself and Peter somebody and Balbulican at Saskboy's place, I went looking for some good sources that address the bankruptcy of the modern Indian Industry. There's a whole bunch of meaningless crap out there on the net that amounts to just so much brainless bombast and bluster, like this little gem. Created by the false constructs of the past thirty or so years of the said Industry, it's going to take a long time to dismantle it. Even some of the more serious attempts at history, like this site, contain some questionable statements. I ask you, do the first two paragraphs on that website lead you to believe that Treaty 6 was signed before the Indian Act was passed? That's the impression it gives me. If you get that impression, too, be sure to read on, because I intend to set it straight.

I take heart, though, in the fact that folks like Balbulican and Peter whatever his name is, go ballistic and start spraying the tired old "racism" scatter shot all over the place whenever someone stands up to it. That suggests to me that The Industry has seen the writing on the wall and they understand that their livelihoods, as captains of The Industry, are increasingly under threat. The accusation of racism is more and more becoming a silly joke, being, as it is, a pathetically transparent attempt to intimidate those who challenge the orthodoxy upon which The Industry rests.

One of my favourite places to go for reliable information and for perspectives from people who are not afraid to stand up to The Industry is the Winnipeg think tank, the Frontier Centre of for Public Policy. Since Balbulican finds fault with Frances Widdowson, I thought I would give her a plug by pointing out this audio file of a speech she delivered at a Frontier Centre event. In it she describes the Indian Industry. When asked where you find who is in the Indian Industry, Widdowson answers:
"Follow the money. That's where you can find them. You know, the law firms and the residential schools dispute. One law firm from Saskatchewan made $100,000,000 out of that dispute. That is just outrageous."
That's these guys, in case you're wondering. The legal profession is one of the kingpins of The Industry. There's money to be made in grievance huckstering, and by God, they'll make sure no one's grievances are ever completely settled or forgotten because they are always ready to manufacture more.

You have to wonder about Peter's work, too. Ten years in research and teaching on themes such as the "nationhood" of Treaty 6 Indians. Sounds to me like he's priming the grievance industry pump. Either that or counting the number of angels on the head of a pin. There's also money to be made in historical revisionism. The academic wing of The Industry has been working on this task for several decades. A favourite plank in the platform of the academic revisionist's wing of The Industry would have us believe that the negotiations of the prairie numbered treaties, Treaty 6 in particular, was conducted between two parties of equal stature - the "nation to nation" meme. However, there is no shortage of documentation from eyewitnesses and, from the negotiators themselves, that put the lie to that myth. However nice it may have been for the Cree, the plains Indians in the 1870s were not negotiating from a position of equal power. The quotation at the top of this page is from the principal interpreter at the Treaty 6 negotiations, Peter Erasmus, a Halfbreed. (That's what they were know as then, guys. The Metis were French, not English. Save your accusations of racism for someone who will be intimidated by it.) Erasmus was fluent in Cree and English. Chief Ahtahkakoop, whose words Erasmus recalled, are quoted there. Ahtahkakoop was a strong proponent of accepting the terms of the treaty. Erasmus' recollections of that event and many others in his life were gathered together and published in the early 1970s in a book known as Buffalo Days and Nights. It is interesting that in that memoir, Erasmus ponders whether the Indians misunderstood the intent of the treaties.

Indian Act of 1876 received Royal Assent on April 12th of the same year that Erasmus acted as interpreter for the negotiations of Treaty 6. In other words, that is the date on which the Indian Act became law. Upon passage on that date, it was made applicable to the North West Territories, which any half baked Canadian student should know, was the territory covered by most of what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta. All of the territory of what was to become the Treaty 6 region later that year, came under the Indian Act on that date, a full four and a half months before the negotiations of Treaty 6 began. This hardly supports the contention that the Treaty negotiated at Fort Carlton in the fall of 1876 was an act of two "nations" negotiating an international treaty - the old Nations make treaties - Treaties don't make nations meme that the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian "Nations" is so fond of regurgitating over and over. Although the Indians may very well have thought they were negotiating nation to nation, that meme is wrong for a whole bunch of reasons, not just because it mis-characterizes the nature of the negotiations that took place at Fort Carlton, but because, in fact, treaties do "make nations" just as much as they make nations disappear. Perry Bellegarde should dust off a world history book once in a while, instead of just listening to his crony echo chamber.

In any case, as far as the Canadian government was concerned, they were extinguishing Indian title to a portion of the British Empire, the way a proper government would do if they were expropriating any subject's land. How else do you explain the imposition of the rule of an Act receiving Royal Assent on territory several months before treaty negotiations even began.

Back to the Frontier Centre of Public Policy. Another great piece is this interview with Calvin Helin. His words are very wise. He prefers Glasnost and Perestroika rather than knee-jerk accusations of racism and his ideas have a far better chance of creating a real opportunity for self government. There are more and more people like Helin emerging who are going to push the Indian Industry aside. More power to them.


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