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Few would think of Christmas break as the ideal time to organize a new political movement, but that’s precisely what a group of Canadians did this December.

An aboriginal protest drive known as Idle No More has been steadily gaining steam across the country over the last couple of weeks, in both meatspace and cyber. Large demonstrations have been held in all of Canada’s major cities, including flash mobs in shopping mallsbarricades on railroad tracksblockades on highways, and dozens of good ol’-fashioned street rallies. The crowds often number in the hundreds. The hashtag has been trending for weeks.

The movement supposedly arose in opposition to the Harper government’s Bill C-45, one of the so-called “omnibus bills” his administration’s become known for, which rejigger dozens of unrelated regulations in a one swift sweep. Among other things, this one made a couple changes to the system through which Canada’s tribal governments can financially leverage their reserve lands.

From the Idlers’ perspective, said changes make it easier for Natives to “surrender” their treaty lands to government and industry, and “ultimately make room for oil, nuclear and gas industries to tear up the land for profit” — the latest grim development in the centuries-long saga of aboriginal displacement and dispossession.

Supporters of the government, in turn, say no, all the legislation does is give Ottawa the power to approve native land leases in a more bureaucratically streamlined fashion. And since leasing tribal land to developers and business is already a popular source of revenue for aboriginal governments, what’s the problem?

But any arguments over the substance of C-45 (which, in any case, passed into law several weeks ago) seem fairly irrelevant now; like many movements of this sort, the trendy nature of Idle No More has seen it swell far beyond its original mandate, evolving into a broader cause of general grievance for anything and everything related to the plight of the Canadian Indian. We want nothing less than a “revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty,” declares their website, amid other generalities.

On December 11, Chef Theresa Spence of the Cree Attawapiskat reserve upped the ante by going on a solidarity hunger strike with the Idlers, which continues to this day and will evidently continue to continue until the Prime Minister (and weirdly, the Governor General) agree to some manner of multi-week summit with her, and various other aboriginal leaders. On Thursday, she raised the blackmail stakes even further, demanding that if there’s no summit agreement within 72 hours, there’s gonna be friggin’ “mass demonstrations” everywhere, man. The Prime Minister responded that  he was already planning to host an aboriginal summit anyway, as he does every year.

Reporters have noted the striking resemblance between Idle No More and Occupy Wall Street, in the sense that both are supposedly impromptu, leaderless movements, devoted to fairly amorphous “causes” that can’t be easily condensed into a single talking point or demand. Cynics have noted that both are also overwhelmingly dominated by the fringiest fringe of the far-left avante-garde, with a shrill and uncompromising extremism that makes meaningful dialogue nearly impossible.

No sane human denies the suffering of Canada’s aboriginal population. As I note in my Canada Guide, Canadian Indians are disproportionately affected by just about every social dysfunction imaginable, from suicide to drug addiction to domestic abuse, and the slum conditions on reservations like Chef Spence’s are both embarrassing and inexcusable in a G7 nation.

But again, everyone knows this. When aboriginal pundits like Chelsea Vowel imagine otherwise, and patronizingly insist that “the vast majority of Canadians” think the Indian status quo is A-OK, they’re obviously being extraordinarily disingenuous, as are more extreme voices like activist Daniel Wilson, who declare straight-faced that “indigenous death and despair serve the government’s purpose.”

This is exactly the sort of thing Idlers are protesting, however; the idea that the Canadian state, and the Harper administration in particular, are at their core racist and hateful enterprises, motivated by a cartoonish “colonialist” mindset sitting somewhere between a 16th century Jesuit missionary and the fat purple governor from Pocahontas.

The less sensationalistic reality, alas, is that the plight of Canadian aboriginals is simply very, very hard — perhaps impossible — for the Harper government (or any Canadian government) to improve thanks to the onerous preconditions of those presently making the most noise.

As I discussed in an earlier essay, the space to craft useful aboriginal policy in Canada — as set by the Indian Act, the number treaties, Supreme Court rulings, agreements-in-principle, etc — is severely restrained by a monstrous straitjacket of flawed assumptions and irrational, uncompromisable demands that eliminate any possibility to pursue the sort of common-sense solutions one would ordinarily use to solve a human rights crisis. Far from being polarized, the Canadian and aboriginal political class are largely united in championing the same wrong answers to most of the big questions:

Aboriginals have to live on their “traditional lands” in remote and isolated portions of the country, no matter how economically irrational it is to do so in the 21st century.

Aboriginal governments must be funded by treaty payments and reparations from Ottawa, no matter how much this discourages economic development and self-sufficiency.

Aboriginal citizens shall never join the diverse ethnic medley that is mainstream Canadian society, no matter how many other races, religions, and nationalities have proven it is possible to do so without succumbing to “cultural genocide.”

Aboriginal leaders need to make the pursuit of new treaties and greater self-government powers their primary political priority, no matter how little any of this actually improves any Indian’s day-to-day life.

Aboriginals require “justice” more than life, liberty, safety, comfort, or peace.

When you read the literature of the Idle No More people, you see all these assumptions repeated again and again, and furious opposition to the supposed “colonial” and “settler” mythologies that offer common-sense proposals to the contrary. Theirs is a stridently false dichotomy between aboriginal empowerment and self-confidence on the one hand, and racism, genocide and residential schools on the other. So they embrace what they believe to be the lesser evil, though it’s actually the greater one.

The Idle movement will obviously fail, because there are simply too many inherent flaws in the impossibly utopian model of native living they desire — a model that by its very design will never allow the sort of independence, prosperity, health, and happiness the professional native lobby supposedly seeks — just as Occupy failed because it chased similarly naive and contorted goals.

The only difference is that our government is trying to fulfill the Idlers’ fantasies anyway.


  1. MJA

    'Aboriginal citizens shall never join the diverse ethnic medley that is mainstream Canadian society, no matter how many other races, religions, and nationalities have proven it is possible to do so without succumbing to “cultural genocide.”'

    Fifty years ago, Italians were considered downright exotic in most of Canada, to such a degree that serious questions were being raised: would these "ethnic" types ever be able to fully integrate into our society? After all, they all seem to live in ghettos and speak the same language and go to the same churches… how are they supposed to integrate? Are we going to end up having to give the Italians their own province, just like those Pepsis in Quebec? Where does it end?!

    These questions seem absurd to us today, but come to Toronto, walk through the old Italian neighbourhoods, and you can still find evidence of just how insular these communities once were. These people didn't just get together for weddings and funerals: there were entire hunks of the city (dozens of blocks at a time) with businesses in their own language, offering services which simply weren't of interest to anglo-Canadians. (Confirmation dresses, Catholic knicknacks, Italian bakeries, Italian-language driving schools… the sort of places a good Protestant 1950s Torontonian wouldn't have been caught dead, but which earned big money with a supportive Italian-Catholic community.)

    You'll also notice the big, empty institutions. The church halls, full of photographs of constant use, now empty. The private clubs with only 2-3 regular attendees, down from 200-300 just decades ago. The community centres where thousands of people used to gather, but which now have more mice than clients.

    And you'll notice how few of these shops and institutions remain. Even the ones left standing tend to have yellowing stock, cracked windows, signs covered in tape.

    It's not that there are no Italo-Canadians left, it's that year-2013 Italo-Canadians, being 2-3 generations removed from that first wave, have assimilated. They might still speak traces of Italian, but only around family and friends. They no longer live in majority-Italian neighbourhoods. (Or even neighbourhoods where Italian is a significant minority language.) They don't eat Italian pastries, they don't buy confirmation dresses, and they certainly don't need two dozen madonna candles and other assorted tchotchkes to sit on top of the television.

    These contemporary Italo-Canadians are for most intents and purposes indistinguishable from "ordinary" Canadians. And that cuts both ways.

    Would it be accurate to describe this process of assimilation as "cultural genocide"?


    On the one hand, yes. Italo-Canadians have by and large abandoned the things that made them distinct and assimilated into a standard-issue whitebread Canadian lifestyle. Very few traces of a unique Italo-Canadian sensibility or way of life remain, and these are primarily maintained for the sake of maintaining them: it requires conscious and deliberate effort to do so, and involves only a minority share of the broader community. For the rest, the culture has been washed away.

    On the other hand…. well.

  2. MJA

    The demise of Italo-Canadian identities and lifestyles is less worrying in light of the fact that Italy still exists. There's still a wonderful touchstone for Italo-Canadians, detached as they may be from their ancestry. They can "go home" any time they like and be surrounded by the lifestyle, culture, foods, beliefs, communities and norms that they've left behind in Canada.

    It's also the case that Italo-Canadians never needed special spaces, communities or environments to carry out their business. (Catholic churches and church halls, yes. So that's, what, every town of population >5000 anywhere in the country? Quite a selection.)

    Aboriginals aren't in the same boat.

    If they assimilate as the Italians did, they *will* lose their culture. It's happened (or is slowly but surely happening) to every other group (Ukranians, Irish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Welsh, German… did you know that Diefenbaker was actually controversial in his day because of his German ancestry? Can you imagine?) and there's no reason to think they'd be different.

    But unlike the Italians, they can't just "do" urban life and leave it at that. Many aboriginals are spiritually or emotionally tied to the land: they can't substitute one community for another.

    And unlike the Italians, they can't go home for a refresher course. Once they're assimilated (or their descendants are assimilated), that's it. They're done. (Even if some aboriginals choose to resist assimilation, losing a significant chunk of the already-disparate population would rip the bottom off these preservation efforts.)

    In short, once we let aboriginal culture assimilate (and we will), that's the end of it. There's no going back.

    Don't be fooled by the fact that we still have identifiable Japanese-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Pakistani-Canadian and other cultural institutions: we definitely, 100% do. But we used to have Ukranian-Canadian, Irish-Canadian, Welsh-Canadian, Italian-Canadian and Greek-Canadian institutions which served the exact same cultural needs–until they died off as people assimilated. It takes 50-70 years, but it does happen. It will happen. It is happening.

    "Genocide" is a strong word for that process, but the basic argument you're making here (that assimilation ever involves a process of cultural erasure) seems incorrect. It does. It has. It will.

  3. JonasB

    Wouldn't it be possible for aboriginal groups who wish to preserve their heritage/culture to creature institutions to do so?

  4. MJA

    If history is any guide, not successfully, no.

    Aside from the reasons I outlined above–cultural assimilation usually means the end of that culture, regardless of whatever we might convince ourselves about "multiculturalism" (or how unlikely assimilation might appear)–consider that many aboriginal cultures demand practices that are completely incompatible with modern Canadian lifestyles.

    Like, consider the modern practice of moving across the country for a job, then somewhere else for another job, then somewhere else… this is shockingly common, especially for people who live in parts of the country we associate with aboriginal cultures, but is completely destructive to the ideals of family, community and unity that many aboriginal cultures prioritize. (That's not to say it's easy for non-aboriginals, but, like… okay, so you're moving. So you'll get a phone hooked up and you'll join the local United Church, and you can basically keep living the same lifestyle as you would elsewhere. Conversely, it's not like a Cree woman can just hook herself up with a Blackfoot band because she happens to be in the area.)

  5. Hentgen

    You're right: the Jewish people didn't manage to preserve their identity for thousands of years without a proper homeland.

  6. MJA

    It's shockingly easy to preserve an identity when you aren't *allowed* to integrate.

  7. Jake_Ackers

    What about the mestizos and natives in Central and South America? Yes, they still face discrimination. But they have preserved their culture. They integrated without losing their identity. Advantaged in Latin America is that natives are a bigger part of the population. And even so large they make up either own countries.

    However, again, you can integrate while still preserving your identity. It's a balance.. Japan managed it and the natives in Latin America have. A culture can grow without completely rejecting their old culture. Yes Japan had to let go of the samurai warrior class but it didn't completely go away. Heck, its embraced by the Japanese and Westerns alike.

    I think if the Natives integrated (again more so economically) without a tsunami style assimilation, they would add to their own and add to other cultures. Native culture would become stronger and added to popular culture.

  8. Chris

    Some natives of Latin America have preserved their culture. You can still hear Nahautl on the streets on Mexico City. You'll hear a lot more people speaking Spanish, though. Though there were very few actual Spaniards in Mexico, compared to a mass of natives, most of the latter were absorbed into the dominant culture, blending in little bits of their own into an amorphous Mestizism, which is generally Catholic and Spanish speaking. That doesn't bode well for Canadian natives, who have most of the disadvantages that the Mexican natives did and are demographic minorities to boot.

    Japan was not integrating into another larger state – it was able to keep the West at arms length, picking and choosing which aspects of the Western system to adopt, in a way that Native cultures cannot. Even so, it took Japan something like a hundred years (1868-c1960s) and caused a World War along the way.

    That said, cultures can't exist in (not so) splendid isolation. It is possible to maintain a minority culture for long periods of time – if you sacralise it. Jewish culture is actually a good example. MJA's point is entirely correct for the Medieval and Early Modern period, but they've thrived as a distinct but integrated group in America for the last century or so, and show no sign of disappearing.

  9. MJA

    I'm not sure that's true about Jews.

    Yes, the Orthodox Jews have maintained a distinct culture and cultural identity (language, etc.), but there are now probably more secular jews than there are observant ones. (In both North America *and* Israel.)

  10. Jake_Ackers

    Even if the "white man" didn't go into North America, Natives still would have had to adapt and integrate into the global economy. Yes the Native culture would of been strong but they would of had to follow a Japanese or South Korean style of adaptation. Or even the Jewish one you proposed. By keeping their own but adding and taking in. Cultures have to grow and adapt to survive.

    Now the Native situation is different as they have almost been wiped out. So Natives still need institutions and the sort to preserve. But you cannot expect to preserve the culture 100%. Natives still need housing, plumbing and electricity. Unless you want to live in a longhouse or teepee, you need to trade goods as well as ideas to survive. You can achieve a stronger and well preserved culture without having the old one wiped out due to trade. Trade will spread the Native culture as well.

  11. Etc.

    Well, what do you define as disappearing? For all intents and purposes, the Jews where I live are just like everyone else except that they go to their temple (occasionally, anyway) on their holy day instead of a church or the football game. That seems pretty integrated to me.

  12. MJA

    "Yes, they still face discrimination. But they have preserved their culture."

    For now. As I said in my comment, give it 40-50 years of active assimilation and then we'll talk.

  13. Jake_Ackers

    They have. How long do you think the Spaniards have been in Latin and South America? Hundreds of years.

  14. MJA

    How long have they had access to the same resources, financial and vocational opportunities, levels of education, opportunities to integrate culturally, and the other accoutrements of integrated life?

    You can't assimilate into a culture which refuses to have you.

  15. Jake_Ackers

    Again you prove my point. In South America and Central America there have been great strides toward equal rights. It's easier there as they are a majority of the population. "You can't assimilate into a culture which refuses to have you." Yah but you can't also grow as a culture and survive if you don't have some form of economic integration. Institutions, and economic integration which has helped grow the native culture and preserve it.

    There needs to be a balance. You can't demand equal rights and then not integrate. You can't want to preserve a culture and completely allow yourself to be enveloped. You need to actively work toward preserving part of the culture and also take in things to grow and spread your own culture.

  16. Hentgen

    I could easily list a half dozen peoples who have survived in the face of CENTURIES of active and explicit assimilation attempts. You're far from an expert on this.

  17. @RicardoB

    As noted, the proportions do not reflect Canada's but make a difference. Look at how integration worked in SA countries with proportions more similar to Canada's: Argentina & Uruguay. There Aboriginal cultures have largely not been retained. Bolivia and hugely disparate on Aboriginal issues.

  18. Hentgen

    OK, but I could have named one of a dozen other European peoples who were denied self-rule and actively targeted for assimilation for literally centuries and only recently acheived any kind of right to self-rule.

    But way to speak in generalities about history. There aren't literally DOZENS of counterexamples to your claim.

  19. Guest

    Hang on, this is survivor bias. We know the most about the ethnic groups that were able to maintain a distinct cultural identity because that culture survived. How many other groups have we forgotten about because that group just ended up assimilating?

    And actually, Jewish culture springs to mind so readily because it's pretty well suited to this sort of existence. Day-to-day, it's not so dependant upon the land but around the household*. Perhaps in part shaped by the material conditions of the Diaspora and earlier Jewish experiences, of course. But also because very early on it developed practices for non-assimilation – a lot of Leviticus is really just a guide to not doing things like the Gentiles do.

    * The land is an important theme in Judaism but typically it's about the promise of land, which many feel is really just metaphorical, there's not so much on what you actually do when you have land, other than the odd bit about how to build a proper tabernacle.

  20. Hentgen

    Maybe there is survivor bias, but the Jewish people are only one example. There are dozens of cultures that have withstood centuries of attempts to be assimilated by their overlords. There are examples of the ruling class being assimilated by the people they ruled over.

    So, yes, *some* don't survive, but many do. I was replying to a poster whose clear expertise in history says that all cultures that are actively subjected to assimiliation pressures are assimilated. Through all of history.

  21. Jake_Ackers

    You have a point. But JonasB also has a point.

    Primarily this. When a native marries into another culture, the native culture, due to the lack of heritage institutions, tend to disappear. Also due to the limited numbers of natives still around. I'm about 1/16 native and I don't know anything about the culture. However, if both my parents or some of my grandparents were I probably would know something. Or if there were institutions I might of known something.

    However, cultures do grow and adapt. No culture can be stagnate and expect to survive. But no culture can survive if it does not grow it's own culture. Growth is about adding your culture to another and accepting things from another. Just look at the Silk Road and Middle Eastern trading routes centuries ago. Western societies adapted so much from the Middle East and Asia. And vice versa.

    Native culture is a bit different because so few of them remain. Nonetheless, I do believe that popularizing native culture, making institutions, even if few natives are around them, can help. The Japan don't have samurais but they are still popular as heck in both the Eastern and Western world. Now I'm not saying lets go around having chieftain and eskimo fashion shows, nor am I saying lets name sports teams after native groups. Although that would help if done respectfully. IE: The Sioux versus the Redskins.

    Assimilation doesn't always mean annihilation. With natives it is a greater risk but if done through institutions like JonasB suggested, I could work. It has to be a directed effort by the community. For example, Windows 8 (IIRC) now will be available in Cherokee. Not really necessary, as I am sure most Natives if not all speech English, but it helps those that wish to still learn the language and preserve it.

    Another key example, is the Navajo windtalkers. That kind of integration clearly help preserve the culture, the language and even grew and made it stronger.

  22. Paulthesane

    "But unlike the Italians, they can't just "do" urban life and leave it at that. Many aboriginals are spiritually or emotionally tied to the land: they can't substitute one community for another. "

    Really? They can't do something just becasue they are aboriginal? They certainly CAN adapt to urban life. They CAN substitute one community for another. Many just don't WANT to. Not to mention "The Land" and "The Community" are not the same thing.

  23. Yannick

    Maybe they don't want to, but we certainly shouldn't *force* them.

  24. Paulthesane

    It isn't us that is forcing them to do anything, it is the push of the realities of living in the modern world that is doing so. They need to be integrated into the fabric of canadian society, rather than treated like a bunch of children we are all obligated to care for.
    Give them their reserve land in free hold with each member of the band given share in the corporation / co-op owning it. If it just isn't economically viable for them to live there, then they should bloody well move.
    Here in Manitoba we have been dealing with the displaced members of the Lake St Martin community that have been unable to return to their homes for 2 years due to flooding. The government stepped in a built a bunch of new homes for them in a former rader base nearby and the band refuses to move into them because they weren't consulted on HOW they were built. Meanwhile they continue to bitch about not having homes to live in!

  25. Yannick

    Does that mean we will finally give them control over their own lands? No federal oversight? No audits? No holding hands?

    Does it mean they will be able to negotiate with corporations for the use of their lands, rather than the federal government as is currently the case?

  26. Yannick

    Not to mention the French-Canadian communities outside Quebec and New-Brunswick which have slowly been assimilated as well. To be sure, the absolute number of French Canadians in the RoC has increased in the past decades, but the number of French communities has decreased. They do not congregate in certain areas of the city but blend in just like the italians and the germans.

    And those few areas that remain have very little cultural ties that differentiate them from the anglo-Canadians other than language. Quebec and New Brunswick still have critical mass, but even in New Brunswick the communities are slowly receding.

  27. Hentgen

    You're talking about a different thing, though. There's a lot of factors in assimilation of French communities, one of them is the huge decrease in birth rates as French communities abandoned the Catholic Church in droves.

    People who WANT to maintain their community clearly can do it. Others assimilate because they prefer mainstream culture. Assimilation is not necessarily a bad thing; it's just a thing.

  28. Yannick

    The OP was talking about Italian communities assimilating, I don't think I'm being off-topic.

    I think you're naive in your second sentence though. Unless you know better. Have *you* "maintained your community"? If so, I'd love to hear your pointers, strategies, and tips.

    Or are you just telling people that the erasure of their culture is their own fault?

  29. Hentgen

    How is naive, exactly? Are you claiming that there are, in today's Canada, really active attempts by the government, or any organization really, to assimilate diaspora communities in Canada?

    I really, truly challenge you to explain how there is some kind of active attempt to assimilate diaspora communities that have occurred in the last twenty years. And no, programs to help new Canadians learn English or French don't count.

    As someone who's lived in a number of Canada's most diverse communities, I can tell you diaspora communities are alive and well.

    And, actually, I'm a first generation Canadian and my family has chosen to assimilate into mainstream culture and not participate in our diaspora community, because it was really nonsensical to do so. Members of that community lived in Canada for decades without managing to learn English well enough to interact with mainstream society. Since my parents came to Canada to be Canadian, and not part of some rural, bible-clutching, backward culture stuck in a pre-war era and unable to interact with the rest of Canadian society, they rejected it.

    And that's precisely the problem with many declining diaspora communities: they are little snapshots of a time period when the bulk of the migrants they left their home countries and they don't change, not with Canadian society or the one they left behind.

    They can't keep their youth interested because the leaders don't want to evolve or change with the times. Their children will often meet and marry people from outside of their community, and that creates a huge problem when dealing with diaspora communities: if the core membership disapproves of such cross-cultural marriages, then they'll lose people to being just "Canadian."

    The ethnic communities that manage to retain membership through the ages are dynamic and open to change. Those that are not will not outlive their oldest members.

    In the end, in the communities that fall, often what is lost is not "culture," but backward, ignorant and racist beliefs held by the early migrants that they unsuccessfully tried to pass onto a more enlightened generation. After all, while Italian diaspora are shrinking, Italian culture has achieved a prominent place in the Canadian mosaic: Italian food, wine, opera, and art are appreciated by many Canadians, not just those of Italian descent.

  30. John

    Come on folks, stop dancing around the obvious. This has nothing to do with culture, but is all about money. Unless living in a shit hole like Attawapiskat is native culture. Chief Spends in her teepee isn't concerned about maintaining native culture, she just wants to lay blame on the white man and has lots of naive people following her. Plus she wants to soak us for more of our hard earned cash. Relying on lemmings to open their pocketbooks to relieve the white guilt. You can count me out. Fine, maintain your culture, Thief Spence, the only problem is you'll be doing it in wooden shacks in nowhere Ontario while you freeze in the cold. Of course the Chief and all the other Chiefs have an option to make real change and end that culture of dependancy mentioned in the article above. They'll choose the easy way out… again… and expect Stephen Harper to write another big cheque. Which will be consumed and wasted by people who like to call themselves… Chief.

  31. @RicardoB

    There's a lot of evidence that Attawapiskat has been run incompetently but there's lots of places where there are other issues. Nunavut has been severely underfunded since inception. Granted things are super expensive there but the federal gov't has always made a point to retain population in far flung parts of Canada eg. tax subsidies for living in northern latitudes.

    Unfortunately just like Occupy, serious issues are getting lost in the verbal diarrhea from people like Chief Spence.

  32. Zach

    Firstly, I am largely ignorant in this arena.
    Have you watched "8th Fire", and have you read "A Fair Country" by John Ralston Saul?
    I would be interested in your take on those two.

  33. Jake_Ackers

    Balance. You can kept and even add your culture to another one. But in this era of globalization if you want all the goods to survive and grow, you need economic integration. If they want to live like they did a thousand years ago. Then go ahead. Cut yourself off from the world. No electricity, no running water, no cable tv, no modem medicine, etc. etc.

    Otherwise, you can to integrate. Can you still have your own culture and language and books and buildings and styles? Sure. But you better integrate into the electrical grid, you better have some kind of roads and plumbing and government structure to tax and regulate.

    I suppose you can just be completely independent from the Canadian government and form your own country within a country without any contact with the outside world. Even make your own power plants and water treatment facilities and create your own medical companies. But then that isn't defending your own culture. That is just being isolationist. Or if any other race did that, it would be called just being xenophobic.

    Point is, you want to live like you did a thousand years ago. Go for it. If they want to modernize, they can without losing their culture. But in order to do that you have to integrate into Canada at least somewhat. Can't expect to modernize and live like North Korea. Again, balance.

  34. MJA

    "[you make your own] water treatment facilities and create your own medical companies"

    That's a little cruel, considering they aren't the ones who've polluted the water to a point where such facilities are necessary. (And aboriginals were, in general, a healthier and more robust population before colonization.) That's sort of the point that's being made here: we can't turn back colonization, and that isn't really being requested. But colonization created an incredible number of problems for this community, and we've done a profoundly shitty job in addressing them.

  35. Jake_Ackers

    So you read my entire comment, seize on that point and ignore the rest. I was making the same point you were making. The "water facilities" was an exaggeration to make a point.

    Btw any water anywhere needs water treatment facilities. How do you recycle human waste? How do you filter out bacteria and animal waste from the water? Water facilities are sanitation facilities. They can build their own or integrate. You have to integrate to use Canadian facilities or integrate to get the materials to build your own like steel, carbon filters, w/e else. Still a form of integration. And I use integrate in a economic sense not social.

    In order to keep their culture alive, they need to integrate economically. Look at North Korea. They are completely isolated but dying. You need to have trade in order to grow. Doesn't mean you have to give up your culture to do it. Japan had the fear that trade would destroy their culture. It actually has made their culture stronger and even exported their culture.

    And again I use integrate in a economic sense not social. IE: More Trade. Trade of ideas and goods. I spreads your culture and you make your own stronger.

  36. Etc.

    How is North Korea 'dying' in a cultural sense? They have actually preserved traditional Korean culture much better than South Korea has in addition to their crazy mass culture and personality cult additions. South Korea has created its very own modern culture, as has Japan; that's great, but don't confuse it with keeping the old one alive. See, when there's a trade of ideas, that's exchanging the ideas of the old culture for something new. That's nice, but what's the point where so much exchange has occurred that the old is totally unrecognizable? This inevitably causes the old culture to die off aside from little particular remnants, as has already occurred in much of the modern world. Whether or not one sees this as a good thing is up for debate, but the native community is really far too small to survive such a full integration as something truly distinct from the whole.

    My grandmother had a Creek ancestor who managed to escape the Indian Removal by marrying a white Alabama man willing to protect her from the authorities. Her entire village was removed, but they entrusted what remained of the site that they couldn't take to her future family until the point that they hoped that they could return.

    Coming to the modern day, I know nothing about the Creek beyond what I can read about in history texts and all traces of that village are buried under a man-made lake aside from a huge chest of arrow heads and knick-knacks collected by the family from the lake's shores. This sort of story is extremely common; you end up with a ton of people claiming that they're 1/32nd Indian or whatever, but without knowing much at all about the culture.

  37. Jake_Ackers

    Actually I make many of the points you made, in another post. I'm 1/16 Native myself. However, let me clear up the North Korea thing. JJ posted about economic as well as cultural issues. My point is that North Korea is LITERALLY dying due to lack of economic integration. South Korea and Japan have managed to preserve old things as well as add new.

    Plus moreover, all cultures have to adapt and grow to survive. Natives need a coordinated effort with institutions and the sort to keep their culture alive. Full isolation is not possible from an economic and social sense.

  38. rmjones13

    Ennnngggg. I just, I'm not sure how different the USA native situation is from the Canadian one, but J.J.- gotta say that if it bears any similarity in terms of culture and cultural appropriation, and etc, you… kinda aren't very read up on the subject. I echo what MJA said in terms of losing their culture. Also- there ARE Natives who choose to live in the city and work there. They still (usually) keep ties to their home and culture and seem (for the most part) appreciative that their culture is kept, even when they also criticize elements of it.

    Now, do I totally agree with the more extreme notions of Native Sovereignty? Not really, no. I think it's just not practical in the extremist version. But at the same time, it's actually on the rare side that I hear the extremists speak out. And it concerns me that when there is a movement so full of meaning going on for these people, you focus more on vague gestures to extremist talk rather than highlight the complexity of the issue. Of course, I also hear too much from Americans who are so keen to talk about lazy indians and have a culture of ignoring their issues (that we caused) except when they get loud and scream about it, so I gotta say my bias is to go "Oh? Good for them for blocking the road! Maybe someone will actually listen and stop being so damn racist now". So like I said, my bias is totally American on this and I'm not sure about the common dialogue about Natives in Canada and how reactions tend to be with them.

    IDK man. Sometimes I feel like we demand these movements to be perfect and completely clean and sane, which to me is like expecting a trauma patient to be completely put together when demanding a doctor. Just because they might be messy and rude doesn't mean we should dismiss them, because they kinda have good reason.

  39. Jake_Ackers

    All around good points. However, I point to MLK Jr. He had a peaceful movement and blacks didn't even have a legal pathway to gain more rights. There was but they were barred from participation. The natives have way more of a legal pathway. Plus you are demanding something from a country who has a way to recognize your voice. Yet protesting like this isn't following the best avenue to voice your opinion.

    Just put it this way, which way do you think the public would be more sympathetic? Blocking traffic and making people late for work? Or having an organized and planned march?

  40. MJA

    You have no idea what you're talking about. MLK was a lot of things, but he was extremely disruptive when it suited him. His movement went on strike, blocked entrances to buildings, boycotted industries, broke the law on numerous occasions…

    There's a reason one of his most famous intellectual works is his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. (Not Letter from a Birmingham Juice Bar, or Letter from a Birmingham Centre for Well-Behaved Young Ladies and Gentlemen.)

    And let's not even get into Rosa Parks…

  41. Jake_Ackers

    That's because they couldn't vote. I made it clear in my post. Natives have a legal voice in Canada. Blacks didn't have a legal voice in the USA. So Blacks HAD to do those things.

    And I never said the Native movement was violent. What the Natives and the Blacks did wasn't violent. (Well eventually the Civil Rights movement got violent after MLK got assassinated but not when he was leading it.) It was disruptive though but not violent.

  42. Guest

    So they need to learn to be independent and self-sufficient. Except politically, they must politely and patiently foster other people's sympathy.

    Seriously I'm more than a little uncomfortable when there's an expectation that grassroots movements never make bad decisions or get in anyone's way when every other part of the political establishment is riddled with all kinds of dodgy goings-on. But then I don't agree with the liberal solution of "ask the powerful men in the other room, and if that doesn't work, you didn't make a good enough argument".

  43. Guest

    The Welsh had their culture and language outlawed by the English, but managed to hold on to it and have even been rebuilding it lately, having children learn traditional Welsh along with English. It's not like it's some impossible to task to integrate and still retain your culture; even when integrating at the end of a sword.

  44. MJA

    "having children learn traditional welsh"

    By which you mean, of course, forcing children to learn traditional Welsh. And the fact that a language survives when preserved by linguists and actively promoted by government entities is neither surprising nor exceptional.

  45. Guest

    Sure. We also force them to learn arithmetic. It's called compulsory education, it's not really a libertarian thing, but I'd be interested to know what alternatives you've come across. In that context, though, why would you not teach them Welsh (never mind teaching in Welsh), especially when for at least some kids that's their preferred language?

    If you are concerned about petty tyrrany in the education system, I'd encourage you first to concern yourself with religious instruction in schools.

    "And the fact that a language survives when preserved by linguists and actively promoted by government entities is neither surprising nor exceptional."
    If that's true, it's only because promotion by government entities generally means the language has some sort of support. Linguists and government. For a language to survive, people must actively want and choose to speak it.

  46. Jake_Ackers

    And that is what everyone else has been saying. The Natives need institutions too. Whether is the Canadian gov't or the more local Canadian gov't (where natives can realistically become part of the gov't) or even the Native people themselves. There has to be an effort in order to survive.

  47. JonasB

    I'd find it really helpful if someone could throw up a copy of a treaty, point to a specific line and say "There, that's the part the government isn't upholding."

  48. Ozius

    I think the shortcoming of this, and most of the recent mass movements we've seen, is a lack of specific purpose. "We want things to be better," and, "How dare you," are pretty good rallying cries, but without meaningful alternatives suggested, what do you have other than pageantry? And if all you offer is pageantry, then all you're likely to get is more of it. A flash mob is a fine and good thing if you want to get on the news, but once you get past the slogans into the need for fundamental change, there's no real viable alternative that's being put on the table.
    Extreme positions are great for generating news coverage. That's a fact of life. The question is: How do you use it? The Tea Party is generally agreed to be extreme (whether or not that's a compliment is up to you), and it alone, of the western popular movements of recent years, seems to be successful to some degree. The difference is that they have specific things they want, and they're prepared to explain their positions, discuss the benefits, and (in some occasions) discuss some potential problems. As shocking as this may be, the Tea Party has succeeded to the extent that it has because it has specific achievable (if unlikely to be achieved) goals, and it has the pragmatism to stay extreme, yet within the comprehension of most people. The gold standard may be wacky, but Teddy Roosevelt backed it, after all. And direct Senatorial elections may be popular at the moment, but there are quite a few people who are frustrated enough with the legislature to be ready for any change.
    Native movements, or Occupy, or the Anti Globalists, or any of the causes like that have always confused me because I could never quite figure out what it was that they wanted. If I disagree with the Tea Party, I can argue with them. I don't know whether or not I agreed with Occupy or the Anti Globalists because I could never quite figure out what it is that they wanted. The more I heard, the less I understood. Native rights seems to be in the same boat. Until there are specific goals presented with measurable successes and failures, what is there to discuss? Again, it seems that many of these various movements (at least nowadays) consist of having a pageant to express your worldview and culture, and then hoping somebody tosses you money and air time…but then what?
    I was part of the first anonymous protests. The very first ones against Scientology. The protests were specific. Scientology was doing bad things. We wanted people to be aware of it. We believed that Scientology had committed specific acts, which we could explain, and we believed that it would continue to do these things in the future. Not having the legal resources to go after an organization famous for its rabid lawyers, we decided to do what we could to raise awareness. However, this was in concert with the guidance of Wisebeard who made the point that our focus should be on getting the tax exempt status of Scientology revoked. Specific goal, where theatrics were used to popularize a cause that didn't (and really couldn't) get adequate resources. It hasn't worked, yet it gained more attention (and arguably did as much if not more good) than the protests that followed.

  49. Ozius

    All across the western hemisphere, we see difficulties with indigenous peoples. I don't know if there's any solution, let alone an easy one. If native people are capable of solving their own problems, they should do so with support from the national government. If they aren't, they should let the problems be resolved for them. If not, they should maintain the status quo as a whole and allow each to do as he sees best. However, without a real message, without actual options and choices, what possible solution is there? The national government can't act without it being colonialism, and the tribes seem unwilling, or unable, to remedy their problems on their own.
    I don't think that anyone would rather live in an Igloo than a prefab. I don't think many people would like to trade in their Mustang for a mustang. I can't imagine many hunters prefer sinew to lead or bone to steel. I can't imagine many people would prefer a long house to an apartment building. Native cultures have no choice but to adapt, and it's up to them to determine how to face those challenges. Injustices have certainly been committed, yet what group can say it's never faced challenges? Being Jewish means listening to a man blow a ram's horn from time to time and speaking an ancient language, but you're more likely to write memos in English at the office the next day than you are to scream death threats in Hebrew to an Amorite. The Japanese modernized and defined their own modernization. As did the Jews. As have other groups, with more or less success. The Celts are even experiencing a revival of sorts. Yet, they define themselves by the continuation of their cultures in the modern world.
    Tribes need to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to best achieve it. This won't happen by theatrics and hunger strikes. This can only be brought about by a genuine movement of people nurtured by truly understanding leaders.
    However, it's much easier to be a drama queen until you get a bigger piece of the pie.

  50. Jake_Ackers

    I think we all agree on two things. I'll try to sum it up as it seems we are all talking past each other.

    1) You live as natives did hundreds of years ago. Or
    2) You actively preserve the culture through a coordinated effort of institutions, events, museums, language and passing it on to family. Whether this be the Canadian government and/or the native themselves. Again a balance.

  51. Ozius

    I think it all comes down to choice. People have to choose. Whether from inside or outside, whether top down or bottom up, whether gradually or rapidly, things have to change. Otherwise…people need to stop complaining that everything's the same. Once a decision has been made, then there's something to do. However, there seems to be no consensus for internal change within the tribes, nor is there the will to enforce change externally from the Canadian people at large.

  52. JonasB

    In developing news: audit's come back and Attawapiskat has no record of aproximately 81% (~400 of 505 ) of transactions since 2005, so they can't account for the 105 million that's been recieved since then. Chief Spence has questioned the timing of the released report and called it a distraction.

    relevant article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/01/07/

  53. Guest

    Ok, so there's a lot of discussion on cultural survival, but that's hard to measure. Let's take something that's easier to measure, and very often correlates closely with and is deeply embedded with culture: language.

    Now more than ever, languages are facing extinction. The pressure on endagered languages is clear: if only a few people speak your language, you're going to need to know and work in another one. Whereas this process was once slower, perhaps not much different from the rate of diversification, both colonialism and globalisation have meant that a relatively small number of languages operate as trade languages, languages of instruction, and languages of government. The vast majority of languages are dying, either because they have very few or very old speakers, or very little instruction or transmission.

    If you want to argue it's a good thing, fair enough. But it's hard to argue it's not happening. And when your language goes, so do the ideas that don't have equivalents in other languages, or the different names for different types of natural features or implements, or ways of doing things. Even the grammar can have an effect. It's easy to overlook that if you speak English – our most used words have equivalents in most other major languages, because we share a lot of material, religious, and ideological culture.

    I don't know what the solution is, or even if one is possible for most cases. Maybe a one foot in, one foot out approach where there's active promotion of indigenous language workplaces and events so that people who've "moved out" don't have to lose all bearings, and the opportunity to visit and contribute to the non-assimilated communities, so that eventually the communities become self-sustaining. But that would require a lot of work, and a very long-term and stable commitment, from Government, from the non-assimilated community and the assimilated community.

  54. Yannick

    The real joke of the comic is how Harper appears willing to talk.

  55. JonasB

    I just saw a news bullet today saying that "Several chiefs will refuse to attend meeting unless Governor General is also present."

    For the life of me I can't understand the reason behind this. Someone able to explain this?

  56. Yannick

    The argument is that the First Nations are Nations in the sovereign sense of the word, and so any meeting between sovereign nations that will involve negotiations must include the head of states of the relevant sovereign Nations.

    Of course the Federal argument is that the First Nations are Nations in the symbolic term of the use, that what is being discussed is an internal policy change and that the GG should not alter his schedule for such a thing.

    Myself I'm kind of scratching my head.