‘Uprising’ by Douglas Bland is a Canadian novel about a race war between Indigenous people and the rest of Canada in which a combination of gratuitously evil rebels and cartoonishly incompetent government results in the destruction of the country itself.
The author Douglas Bland is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Canadian Armed Forces who has written numerous books on security issues, is a lecturer at Queens University, and has been tapped as an expert consultant by our former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
These are the two things that have to be said before I explain anything else. This is a novel about a race war in Canada, and it was written by someone who remains a respectable figure in Canadian Politics. This is a book about natives fighting whites (with little mention of any of the other ethnicities that make up the Canadian population) where the native people are the bad guys, and the country gets destroyed by us being too nice. And the author is not a random crank.
The next thing I should say is that I am myself a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. I am a Sergeant in the Primary Reserves and am coming up on seventeen years of service, and deployed to Afghanistan in the winter of 2008-09 (TF-308). I never met Douglas Bland while he was still a LtCol, but if I had, I would have been obliged to salute him and call him sir.
This bothers me on a very personal level.
What this blog is going to be is a chapter by chapter, and sometimes even page by page deconstruction of the novel Uprising. Taking inspiration from the great Fred Clark The Slacktivist, I intent to go through every last page and paragraph of this ugly piece of work and pull it to pieces. To lay out not just that it’s racist and wrong, but why it’s racist and wrong.
Some people might want to know why I would want to go into such minute detail. If the man’s a racist and the novel’s garbage, why not just say so and move on? Why spend what’s likely to be years of your life tracking down every last error and offense?
One reason for this is that Bland portrays himself as an expert, and this novel is supposed to be an expert’s view on a very real state of affairs. “You can argue all you want about how it’s not Politically Correct,” someone might say. “But there’s no arguing with the harsh realities on the ground!”
The thing is, for all his years in the service, Bland doesn’t seem know what he’s talking about. Time after time, chapter after chapter, the scenarios he describes are either laughable exaggerated or outright wrong. For all his years of service, the novel reads like he spent most of those years behind a desk.
My time in hasn’t made me an expert in all things by any stretch of the imagination, but the degree to which Douglas Bland misses the mark means I don’t have to be. And if this man is going to invoke the uniform we once shared in support of this libelous work, then I think it’s only appropriate that I bring my own experience to bear to dismantle it.
The other reason is that, while Uprising is a terrible novel, a study of how it is terrible can still be instructional. Researching some of the issues that Bland raises has led me to educate myself about a great deal of Canadian history and politics, including many events that I was previously only vaguely aware of. In Canada we have a bad habit of forgetting our history, and in the process laying ourselves open to the same mistakes we have made in the past.
Believe it or not, but I do love my country. I think our history (and history in general) is fascinating and worthy of study. I also love the people of my country – all of them – and I want to see us grow better as a nation. But, as all recruits learn in basic training, improvement cannot come without first recognizing our failings, however uncomfortable that may be. That makes this blog a kind of correction – much as a recruit who continues cow kicking on the parade square will be corrected by their drill instructor – and while it may seem unfair and obsessively critical it nevertheless is meant to be constructive. We can be better than this.
Although it’s not essential to this discussion, it’s important for me to add that I’m not Indigenous in any way. My entire background is Scandinavian, making me about as ‘white’ as you’re likely to get. I grew up in a middle class suburban neighborhood with a loving mother and father and generally didn’t experience much in the way of material hardship. I have a number of acquaintances and coworkers who are Indigenous, but nobody I’d call a close friend. I’m saying this now because inevitably whenever I – as a ‘white’ person – raise an issue of racial justice, I get some version of the same question: “Why do you care? You’re not [indigenous/black/Muslim/etc]! How is it any of your business?
I guess it’s a fair question, though it’s kind of unsettling how easily someone can dismiss an argument for racial justice on racial grounds. But I get that there’s an honest need to understand what the personal stakes are. Why do I care personally? Well as odd as it may seem, I am very concerned about the how we treated/are treating the people of Canada’s First Nations, but even if I wasn’t, I also care very deeply about the military.
The Army’s been my life for nearly two decades. It’s given me not just a job but a calling and it’s no exaggeration to say that I believe it saved my life and made me a better human being. For all its faults and shortcomings, the CAF is my world, just as it was for Douglas Bland. So when he goes and embarrasses all of us like this? When he uses our trade to put the stamp of respectability on an ugly piece of work like this?
I take that personally.
There’s a term within the Indigenous activist community, settler ally (in case you’re not familiar, the settlers are us ‘whites’). It’s not really appropriate to declare myself a settler ally since that’s up to Indigenous people themselves, but I do think I can claim the term settler co-belligerent on my own. I think a lot of what I’m going to cover in this blog will help and support Canada’s Indigenous people, but if they don’t agree with me or just don’t want to associate that’s fine. I’ve got enough personal reasons to sustain me, and if our objectives overlap then we can call that a happy coincidence.
I have enough anger to go it on my own.