Okay enough talk about offices and ID cards. It’s time for the big meeting!
“The room was arranged as usual for morning prayers. Name cards ranked in a never-changing order sat with parade-ground precision down each side of the long, dark, rectangular table. This odd habit always amused Ian-these people know each other, he thought. But the staff was simply doing what the staff had always done. A pad of paper and two sharpened pencils sat ready for each principal, although these pads were never used. No one took notes so access-to-information prowlers couldn’t demand them.”
This is the first reference that we’ll see to Bland’s general contempt for the media, but it won’t be the last. It also speaks rather plainly to his general ignorance of how these things actually work. Sure, refusing to take notes at a briefing means that there are no paper copies for a journalist to demand. And if you can’t remember every last detail of that briefing? I guess that’s something that only matters to junior officers on course, not the big wigs at the top of the pyramid. Meanwhile, Bland seems to overlook the fact that the notes from the staff officers who delivered the briefing would still exist and be fair game.
It may seem that I’m harping on minor details here, but as the story progresses it will become clear that Bland has nothing but contempt for the media. He will actively portray them as useful idiots, hampering the efforts of his heroic Generals and directly harming the efforts of Canadian soldiers. Hence the emphasis on concealing their activities from prying journalists’ eyes.
It’s worth noting, though, that in the real world the CAF has been rocked by numerous scandals relating to senior officers failing to record or even actively concealing or destroying such records. One of the more infamous examples comes from the 1993 Croatian mission spearheaded by 2 PPCLI. During the course of the mission, one of their companies had to dig in at a location where the soil was contaminated by runoff from a factory. Concerned about long-term health risks, a Medical Officer had notes placed on the files of every man involved in case the exposure led to long term health problems. When several of the soldiers did indeed start developing health problems, it was found that the letters had all been systematically removed.
What I’m saying is that I get a bit twitchy at the thought of someone high up on the food chain trying to hide information from prying eyes.
A few hours have passed and it’s time for ‘Morning Prayers.’ Col Dobson is preparing to brief the usual clagg of officers as well as the Deputy Minister, but one person is missing. Where is the Chief of the Defence Staff?
“The CDS was late. That, Ian reflected, was rare, and meant bad news.
A few minutes later, General Andrew “Andy” Bishop marched through the door with Deputy Defence Minister Stephen Pope and, unexpectedly, the minister of defence himself, James Riley, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South. General Bishop motioned the minister into his own chair while a staff officer hurriedly brought another to the head of the table for the CDS as the attendees quickly took their places.”
It’s worth mentioning now, because it will come up again and again later. The capitalized words in the quote above are the same as in the original novel. That means that the Deputy Defence Minister has a capitalized title, while the Minister of Defence himself is lower case. It’s also interesting to note that this Minister of Defence is actually the Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South.
Actually, let me back things up and explain how these things work. In Canada, the Minister of Defence (or any other cabinet minister) is an elected member of Parliament, who has been awarded the portfolio by the Prime Minister. The Deputy Minister, however, is a career public servant who has worked their way up the ranks of the public service within that ministry. They often tend to be highly knowledgeable and experienced senior members of their departments. In the case of DND, the Deputy Minister is a civilian, but he would have worked with the military for all of his career. It’s a shame (both from a practical and story based point of view) that this particular DM doesn’t get any mention after this briefing.
This here is our current triumvirate of the CDS, MND, and DM.
Okay hang on a sec….
So there doesn’t seem to be any trace of a CFCWO in this novel either. To explain, the CFCWO is the Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer. Basically he’s the boss Non-Commissioned Member of the whole military and he acts as a kind of representative/advisor/advocate on behalf of the enlisted ranks of the service. Now, Bland’s free to make his CFCWO into any kind of character he wants, but I recently had the chance to hear the real life (as of this date) CFCWO speak and…yeah he’s a pretty formidable guy. I’m willing to be his replacement’s going to be pretty impressive too.
But anyway, getting back to the story, it’s an interesting point for us to note that the Minister of Defence is the elected representative for Winnipeg South. Especially since Bland never does. Winnipeg will eventually become one of the main battle fields of the Uprising, and Winnipeg south will become its epicentre. Yet even as the fighting breaks out we are going to hear less and less from the Honourable Member of Parliament James Riley. You’d think a man who could win an election in a Riding that was now a war zone would have something to say when blood literally flows in the streets of his home town. Yet strangely his most prominent moments will come here, when the uprising is still theoretical, and the only person to have died is our unfortunate Commissionaire Fred MacTavish.
It’s also worth noting that-in real life-the current Member of Parliament representing Winnipeg Centre, just north of James Riley’s riding, is one Robert-Falcon Oullette. A man of Cree descent and an ex-Navy NCO (and Reservist), as well as a highly articulate advocate on Indigenous People’s issues.
We’ll come back to him later. It’ll be important.
The CDS is Gen Andrew Bishop. As we will later learn, he is a Real Soldier® and a manly man. So when he bursts into a room late and acts curtly towards the people who’ve been up all night and worked all morning to prepare the briefing, we’re supposed to assume that he’s a no-nonsense take charge kind of guy and not a dick.
As Gen Gervais steps up to officially open the briefing, we learn that there has been a new development since the raids last night. The NPA has released a video! Apparently, they managed to hack the FNT (First Nations Television) network to put the word out (although why Bland didn’t have them upload it onto the internet is beyond me). I suppose we can forgive them for calling it ‘a tape’ (I make that mistake too sometimes) and perhaps NDHQ still has briefing rooms that include a ‘projection room.’ I know at least in the Reserves, 2005/2006 was around the time that power point was finally becoming dominant, so at the time of Bland’s retirement he might not have been fully up to speed on the latest techniques of administrative death dealing.
So they kill the lights and run the tape. Then things get really weird.
“The scene that appeared had an al-Qaeda ambiance, despite the mixture of modern camouflage gear and traditional native costumes and the giant Warriors’ Brotherhood flag backdrop. A woman, simply masked, flacked by two men dressed in traditional native costume but carrying M16 rifles, sat at a desk. She glanced down occasionally at a handful of papers as she spoke quickly and forcefully.”
The video is described as ‘al-Qaeda ambiance’ which I suppose is code for something poorly made, featuring a couple of guys standing in front of a flag while the boss reads off a statement. Apparently, the NPA can hack a TV network but never bothered to recruit anyone from the local AV club to do some basic editing and camera work. While this kind of thing was pretty common back in the 70s through to the 90s, the last few decades has seen an increasingly tech savvy generation taking up various causes around the world. While many of these activists have embraced righteous causes (the Arab Spring, Tahir Square and the Maidan, the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong), there is no denying that many others have embraced some of the world’s uglier movements, such as ISIS and the Alt Right.
When we later see the NPA up close, it’s portrayed primarily as a young person’s movement. An uprising against the established First Nations power structures as much as it is against those of the white man. This actually makes a certain amount of sense, given that revolutions have historically be a young person’s calling. Yet Bland, as an older, white man, can’t seem to fathom what this might mean in terms of tactics and flexibility. This is disturbing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that his prescription for dealing with such an uprising (as well as any other displays of Indigenous nationalism) seems to be a lot of old school military might.
More on this later.
I’m also not sure what Bland means by military gear and traditional native costumes (are these guys wearing feathered war bonnets with camouflage or something? actually, don’t ask; there’ll be more on this later as well…) but the Warrior’s Brotherhood flag is an actual flag that came out of the 1970s and has shown up with various protest movements ever since. Most famously at the Oka Crisis. Back in the late 80s and early 90s it could probably be seen as a predominantly militant symbol. Twenty years later, it can just as legitimately be viewed as a much more ambiguous symbol.
The woman sitting between the two men is the leader of the NPA, Molly Grace. Like so much else in this video, we’ll have to save the formal introductions for later, but for now all we learn is that she is ‘simply masked’ (huh?) and refers to a handful of notes only periodically. She’s described as having several sheets of paper in front of her, which is odd since her declaration is just over two hundred and fifty words long.
It’s a pretty uninspiring piece of work. I’m not saying that these kinds of videos are usually masterful pieces of orations and propaganda, but the fact that Bland seems to think that this is what’s going to inspire Indigenous people everywhere to revolt (or strike fear into the hearts of ‘white’ people), it’s a pretty sad effort on his part:
“The native people of North America were violated more than 400 years ago by European slave traders and invaders. Since that time, we have been assaulted by racists bearing weapons of mass destruction, germ warfare and firearms. They poisoned our people with their drugs and alcohol and religions. Genocide from coast to coast has been visited on our nations across the Western hemisphere. Our forefathers tried to negotiate peace and understanding with the whites, but they simply played into the hands of the invaders. We remained “les sauvages” and nowhere were we so humiliated and cheated than in what you call Quebec – it our native land, not theirs.
The lap-dog leaders of the First Nations, “white Indians” all of them, are totally discredited. They fill their pockets with bribes and tokens. They negotiate without our authority to give the whites our lands and future. We, the People of the Land, the true First Nations, will not negotiate. We already have what we need, sovereignty and liberty, and now we will use them. We will take what belongs to us from the ruling cliques in Quebec and, supported by the brave warriors of the Native People’s Army, we will restore to our people their rightful heritage. Remember the genocide of the villain Champlain and the heroic defence of our land by the Iroquois Confederacy. Remember all our heroes and early resisters and today the brothers and sisters killed and wounded in the same fight for our land. A new day has arisen and the native people in the occupied lands you call Quebec will rise with it.”
No, there’s no editing there. That’s the whole thing. _Sigh_
I thought about putting this speech up for a side by side comparison to Cyrus’ speech in the opening scenes of ‘The Warriors.’ As problematic as that movie was (it is. Really problematic. Really.), they could at least work a speech that sounds like it might be plausibly inspiring.
Where to begin? Right off the bat, there’s no mention of the Railway Massacre, at all. I mentioned how Bland never bothered to name the six protestors who died in the confrontation? Well neither does Molly Grace. In fact, the entire statement contains no recent grievances whatsoever. They talk about Samuel Champlain (the 17th Century French explorer) and guns, germs and steel, but they don’t mention the Railway Massacre, the ‘Summer of Rage’ or any of the other violence that followed. They go on about being called ‘les sauvages’ (French for the savages) but make no mention of the Army’s plan to force a final confrontation with the Native protestors (which, you will remember, they would have known about once Gabriel had joined up). They denounce the government of Quebec, but don’t bother mentioning the Oka crisis. Hell, they could have shown that picture of Waneek Horn-Miller getting bayonetted outside the Treatment Centre.
This smacks of poor research. You read any serious rebel literature and you will find that, regardless of culture or time period, the one thing a rebel has is a good memory for grievances. They remember the time and date that the shots were fired. Hell, there’s entire movements named after specific dates of prominent massacres. In any real life radical Native movement I would expect a video to include a montage of pictures of the recently killed, or at least a reading of names.
***Then there’s the added problem of the Warrior Flag itself. I’m going to take a quick aside to talk about the flag and its significance.
Short version, the original version of the Mohawk Warrior’s Society Flag was created by Karoniaktajeh (Louis Hall) in 1972 as the Iroquois Confederacy embraced the renascent Indigenous rights movement. In the US, this manifested as the American Indian Movement and included such famous actions as the occupation of Alcatraz and the stand off at Wounded Knee. In Canada, there was a bit more of a slow burn, but the flag that was designed in 1972 would (after a few revisions) become iconic as a symbol of the Mohawk Warriors during the Oka Crisis. It would later come to be adopted as a symbol for multiple Indigenous rights movements across the country (a brief history of the Mohawk Warrior Society can be found here).
The problem here is that while, to an outsider, this seems like a handy symbol since shows up at every protest, it’s potentially a very loaded one in real life. For one thing, as much as it was intended to be a pan-Canadian Indigenous banner, it’s still heavily associated with the Mohawk Warriors (including some of their more unpopular actions such as Caledonia) and the Six Nations, whereas the Native People’s Army is supposed to be a Canada-wide movement. So for their first official communique, the NPA have directly associated themselves with a very specific First Nation and (by extent) their Band government.
Now the NPA is supposed to be a radical militant movement that is intent on the violent overthrow of the existing order (both First Nations and Colonial). This despite the fact that, in real life the Mohawk Warriors was at least partially meant to be a cultural re-awakening, and members were expected to support their communities, learn their traditional language, and otherwise help their people in peaceful ways.
So who runs the show? This is going to be a real question once the bullets start flying and people start dying. Is the NPA a national Indigenous movement or is it a case of central Canadian Mohawks driving the conversation for everyone else? Is it an exclusively violent movement or do the leaders calling for language lessons get a place at the table. This is a question that we might want to ponder, since Douglas Bland never bothers. Even though there will be an in-story Mohawk Chief as one of the members of the NPA, it’s never made clear who has influence over what, and who answers to whom.***
Now getting back to the video’s manifesto, the existence of the Railway Massacre is a problem for Bland, I think. Which is why I think he opts for the ‘centuries old grievances’ approach when he wrote the speech for his rebel broadcast: Any realistic portrayal of rebel grievances would force the reader to consider whether those grievances were valid. And that’s a problem if you want to portray such a movement as the bad guys. I mean, Bland has already tried to dismiss the Railway Massacre as having been instigated by four Native Warriors, but there was still two innocent people killed in the line of fire. Don’t they deserve some consideration? The solution then, is to portray the grievances as old and out dated. Petty gripes like you might hear from a racist grandparent who can’t leave the old country behind and therefor feels the need to lecture you about your choice of friends at school.
Personally, while I’ve heard plenty of Indigenous speakers start with colonial history as a way of setting the tone, any discussion of grievances quickly races forward to the present day where some very real issues (reserves without drinkable water, police violence, missing and murdered Indigenous women, etc…) that need some very real attention. Having the NPA’s declaration of war focus on issues that are four hundred years out of date seems to be a way to further de-legitimize the complaints of modern day Indigenous peoples everywhere. At various points later on different liberal white characters will whine ‘but we give them money!’ as a way of further reinforcing the idea of real life Natives as a bunch of ingrates.
The real life problems of the reservation system will be discussed (briefly) by the white characters present in the room about forty pages down the road, before being forgotten until the end of the novel when they will be resolved by a single hilariously disastrous sentence. Draw whatever conclusions you will about the author, but I do think it’s telling that this is all the time he’s willing to spend on current Indigenous affairs in his novel about a race war.
One of the things that really strikes home, though, is the fact that the NPA video makes no mention of the raids on CF military bases. Seriously, what the fuck?
Bland seems to be directing his book as an attack on the weak willed, small-L liberals of Canada’s Sheeple class. These are people who are supposed to run in fear at the very thought of being politically incorrect and hate the very idea of guns and violence being used to protect your country. Presumably these are the same people who allegedly wear white poppies and participate in campaigns to ban Remembrance Day because it promotes violence (because those are so widespread they can naturally be taken as a barometer for all of Canada’s left). So why not mention their raids on CFBs? Why not emphasize that they have breeched the highest security buildings of the CF (not really, but how will the Sheeple know?) and plundered them of their weapons and ammo. Given the fact that real life rebellions and terrorists usually go out of their way to ensure that their victories are confirmed in the eyes of the population, you’d think at least a bare minimum mention would be in order. I’m not sure if this speaks towards a general laziness on the part of Bland’s research, or if this might be what he imagines to be a clever stratagem (don’t reveal what they already know!). Either way, it’s a jarring observation that wraps up an already bewildering scene.
The video ends and the rest of the briefing is taken up with a summary of the previous chapters. The CDS declares that this is an emergency, and the Minister of National Defence declares that he is taking matters straight to the Prime Minister. No doubt, the next time we meet our heroes, they’ll be even further up the chain of command, and some really important types will be hearing them speak!
 For an detailed history on the 1993 mission in Croatia, I highly recommend Caroll Off’s excellent ‘The Ghosts of Medak Pocket.’ For a more heavy handed and outraged treatment, there is also Scott Taylor’s ‘Tested Metal.’
 Before that Power Point still vied for power against overhead transparencies. By the time I’d returned from tour in 2009, Power Point ruled the roost. As I’m writing this, I have just witnessed my first Prezi presentation in a military context. Pray for us.
 Waneek Horn-Miller was the 14 year old daughter of Kahn-Tineta Horn-Miller (a protestor at Oka) and was present at Oka during the major events of the standoff. When the Warriors and Protestors in the Treatment Centre finally walked out, she was caught up in the resulting brawl between them and the Canadian Soldiers on the perimeter and got stabbed with a CF bayonet. She later went on to win a gold medal in Water Polo at the 1999 Pan-Am Games, in case you were wondering.