I know that Bill Whitefish is laying out the organization of the NPA using a white board and a hand drawn chart, but it really does feel like a Power Point presentation. The way we just move from one topic to another is too much like a clicking over to the next slide in the presentation. In this case, our next slide is the intelligence gathering unit. Not much is said about this other than the fact that they gather lots of information, and that they have stretched their tentacles even in to the ranks of the political parties themselves:
“…The Movement’s intelligence unit, our second major unit, collects, analyses, collates, and disseminates intelligence within our organization. It employs a score of analysts-mostly former soldiers and police officers loyal to the cause-housed in a couple of innocuous-looking offices in Ottawa and Winnipeg, hidden within legitimate establishments operated by the native community. Its counter-intelligence wing works to prevent federal investigations of native governments and funding programs or any intrusive inquiries of any kind. It also develops ‘sources’ within the federal and provincial governments and within all the federal political parties.”
“Within the political parties? Isn’t that risky?”
“Well, it can be except when individuals and parties need money, if you see what I mean.”
The weird thing that’s going to come out of this is that for once, Bland is describing something that could actually be a plausible and realistic threat, only to do nothing with it anywhere in the novel. For a rebel organization, compromising even one high ranking politician or bureaucrat could provide devastating leverage during their rebellion. Even an unwitting pawn, properly manipulated could cause real harm. Whether in the form of classified information or (in the case of a compromised Politician) say, delaying a crucial action or vote for a few hours/days to let the rebels get a head start. This is one of the reasons why security clearance is no joke.
But nothing’s going to come out of this. If James Riley had been turned…hell, if his secretary had been compromised this could be a game changer. Those secret meetings that Gen Bishop refuses to take notes for could be delivered to the Movement before he could realize he’d forgotten something important! But as it turns out, this is little more than a blanket assertion that politicians are all dirty, so nothing more to see here.
But I want to go further! So fuggit. How far does the corruption go?
In the quote above, Bill Whitefish said parties, plural. So has the Movement has corrupted Canadian politicians across the board? Does this include the Conservative Party? Or some version of the Reform Party? Hell, on the Provincial level we used to have something called the Wild Rose Alliance (which recently imploded in Alberta) that could have nevertheless swung a few opinions on the Federal level…Are they corrupted too? Were Preston Manning and Stockwell Day (and their fictional successors) all dancing to Molly Grace’s tune? What about that ambitious policy wonk (and later Prime Minister) Stephen Harper?
We’ll get further into this issue once we meet our straw man of a Prime Minister, but there’s a distinct lack of opposition in this Canadian Political scene, almost as if they were swept aside by some politically correct Rapture that purged a fallen world of all it’s righteous right wingers…
In a few chapters we’ll be meeting the ruling party of Canada and it’s Prime Minister – both left wing caricatures of Bland’s vision of the current Canadian Liberals – but there’s no specificity in this claim that the political system is compromised. Bill doesn’t laugh about how they’ve managed to co-opt the bleeding hearts of the current regime, he’s talking about all the parties in general.
So! A Canadian Politics Lesson!1
Canada’s officially a Constitutional Monarchy, in that the Queen of Canada (and England) officially runs the show but laws are written and enacted by an elected legislature (Parliament). In reality the Crown is a symbolic authority only. The Governor General (the Queen’s Viceroy in Canada) is a ceremonial office only and the real power lies with the leader of the political party with the most seats in Parliament – the Prime Minister. The second-largest party forms what is called ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’ who’s job it is to confront the dominant party and force them to defend and justify whatever law or policy they want to pass.
In real life, at the time that Uprising was written there were four major Federal Parties, and a fifth that was (and still is) trying to break into the national scene.
Starting from the top left, there was the NDP (New Democratic Party-left wing and pro-union), the Liberal Party (centre-left, generally seen as the ‘get along with everyone’ party) and the Conservative Party (centre right party formed from the amalgamation of centre-right Progressive Conservative and the further-right Reform Party). Added to this was the Bloc Quebecois (a regional French Canadian separatist party that is left wing but also nationalist) and the Green Party (left wing environmentalist party that has broad appeal but so far has only elected one Member – from Vancouver – to Parliament).
So overall the politics of the time were skewing left, but the fact that there were a lot of options on the left had the effect of splitting the vote and allowing our previous Conservative PM Stephen Harper to last as long as he did. Our most recent Federal election saw the Conservatives voted out in favour of the Liberals, with the NDP falling out of opposition status but still maintaining an impressive number of seats. The Bloc lost badly, and the Greens held on with their one seat in Vancouver.
In the world of Uprising, there is (apparently) only one giant left wing party, and no evidence of anything regional or right wing at all. They’re called the Progressive Party of Canada. The PPCs or as I’m going to call them, the Double-PCs2. As for opposition…there’s nothing. Nothing at all. Nobody on the right wing demanding the Double-PCs take a harder line with the NPA, nobody from further left who might…
…Actually that part gets weird, and it’s going to produce some interesting discussions when we get there but basically the far far left of the Canadian political scene turn out to be so cowardly and selfish that they…kneecap the government’s efforts to fight the NPA in order to hasten the collapse of the country?3….
So…yeah. That’s going to take some parsing. Anyway…So all Canadian politicians are corrupt, but not so corrupt as to be compromised. And there’s no honourable people left in Parliament, no regional parties and the only Provincial Parties we later hear about are some non-specified Quebec ones, who are presumably separatist. Got it? Okay cool.
Anyway there’s little time to dwell upon the Movement’s intelligence gathering operations, next up is the Reconciliation Authority!
“Our third main unit, Alex, is the Reconciliation Authority-the RA. Its public aim is to prompt reconciliation between native and non-native Canadians. Its real duty is to maintain and track the maze of legal battles and challenges to land and other claims made by the native community against Canada. It also clandestinely collects information, including records of ownership of farmland across the country, especially on the Prairies. We’re building up a record of all the rulings involving native people, and who made them, in municipal, provincial, and federal courts and tribunals. We’re in effect building a reconciliation invoice of the price to be extracted from Canadians in the future for their decisions and actions in the past.”
I’m not going to harp on it too much here (because I’m not an expert), but part of the reason South Africa never saw an ethnic cleansing war similar to that of the former Yugoslavia is that, after the fall of the Apartheid system the ANC government established the Truth & Reconciliation commission. Essentially, members of the old Apartheid regime could come forward, confess their actions and be forgiven. The fact that the ANC was mentioned by name a few paragraphs earlier makes this a very interesting choice of words.
Canada itself launched its own version of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in 2008 in a similar attempt to finally lay out the realities of the Residential School System and the Sixties Scoop. While there is a fair bit of residual frustration over how issues were covered, it remained a vital step in the process.
If Uprising were a darker novel, I’d expect to see something like the RA lurking in the shadows, waiting for the chance to strike. A movement based on ethnicity, nationalism and land rights would have a hard time not drifting towards this kind of vicious ethnic cleansing direction. Especially once the casualties start rolling in, and things become personal.
With a setup like this, I’d expect some later chapter in the book to include a Srebernica-style massacre where NPA militants drag innocent white people from their homes and shooting them for the crime of owning land they never knew wasn’t theirs.
The problem is, this isn’t that kind of novel.
In Uprising, the RA is just one more department on a corporate org chart. Just like the Railway Massacre goes unnoticed while the rebels are invoking four hundred year old grievances, the Reconciliation Authority is another wasted opportunity to examine the perils of ethno-nationalism. A better author could have used this as an opportunity to illustrate the tension between broad, high minded ideals and the ugly nitty gritty business of land claims and personal property. This could have led to the tragic moment when the idealism turns ugly, and the heroes turn to villains.
But Douglas Bland doesn’t write those kinds of novels.
In his novel, the hero never gets his hands dirty, and the rebel leadership sees nothing suspicious about this whatsoever. Simply put, if Gabriel had shot Cpl Newman, loaded her corpse into her car then pushed that car into a swamp, I would read the passage about the RA and feel chills down my spine. Instead it’s just another Meh moment.
With the way Bland portrays them, it comes across more as a white panic sort of rumour. They’re coming for your land! It’s been in your family for hundreds of years and you never did anything to them but they’ve got a list and they’ll take everything you hold dear if ever they get the chance!
***I had actually planned to do a ‘Film Studies’ article on the documentary Kanehsetake: 270 Years of Resistance before now, but due to issues with work and internet connectivity, it’s been delayed. I will have a lot to say about this excellent documentary as it illustrates several themes that are important and real life and that Bland utterly fails to grasp in his novel. Hopefully I will be able to post more later this week.***
This isn’t just my own opinion. Consider the following scene from the award winning documentary ‘Kanehsetake: 270 Years of Resistance’ where, at a press conference, a mayor rants about Native land claims.
“If we negotiate 75 percent of Quebec territory, how should we approach this question? We have to examine it with a clear head. We have to examine it in a way that doesn’t provoke things. But they’re questions we have to ask ourselves:
“Would you agree that we should negotiate for our land? Negotiate for 75 percent of Quebec?”
I especially like how he calls for clear headedness so as not to provoke anyone, only to warn that 75% of Quebec is at risk in the very next breath.
That number isn’t just conjured up at random. In the Province of Quebec approximately 75% of the land was not covered under one treaty or another. Which technically meant that, in the absence of any law saying otherwise, it was all ‘Indian Land.’ Now the idea that the Quebec Indigenous population would somehow take over 75% of the Province and kick out all the white people (as well as all the black, brown, and other later immigrants) is ludicrous. But listen to this man rant, and tell me if that fear isn’t front and centre in his mind.4
As dumb as it sounds, a significant portion of the Canadian population actually thinks that Indigenous People (making up approximately 1/30th of the population) are going to literally take three quarters of the country away from the rest of us. That’s a thing we need to consider. Especially since Bland never bother to try.
Well now it’s time for our next
slide topic: Money! Take it away Mr Gabriel!:
“All very costly, obviously. How can you raise such money without the RCMP seeing it?” [asked Alex Gabriel]
“Well, we do it mostly in the open. Our Financial Unit5 manages three distinct streams of revenue. The first is public money. Government grants of all sorts, available in surprisingly large quantities, flow into the native community every year under incredibly lax controls. Most of the money is spent as intended, but we ‘tax’ a portion of it.”
“Don’t chiefs and others complain when your taxman shows up?”
“Some do from time to time, but they all eventually listen to reason after a visit or two.”
So some of the non-Movement chiefs object to paying their taxes to the Movement? I’m not sure if this is meant to be a ‘they don’t even pay taxes’ sort of libel, but we can let that cook for a moment. The Movement is taking money from band chiefs who object to them and presumably their cause…and yet none of them have tried to blow the whistle on this? Even if these chiefs were the worst caricatures of corrupt band politicos, it’s a very dangerous thing to get between a crook and their money. How has the NPA not shown up on someone’s radar before now?
“The second, and indirect, source of funding comes from smuggling. Drug and cigarette smugglers, native and otherwise, might not be sympathetic to the Movement. But they are willing and able to pay for our sophisticated intelligence information; if that doesn’t interest them, our threats to betray them to the authorities always help us to reach a settlement with them. They would rather do business than fight us. The payout, though dirty, is highly lucrative.
In the case of criminals, things make a bit more sense. The idea of paying protection money would at least be on the radar of most organized crime types. With the right emissaries I could imagine a working relationship evolving between say, the NPA and the local Hell’s Angels chapter that would be profitable for everyone involved. The real issue would be where these drugs were going.
For your consideration:
So the guy in the middle of this pic is Dick Wilson, the President of the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation in the early 1970s. Although he was legitimately elected, he quickly began implementing a system of corruption and patronage. When the Tribal Council moved to impeach him, he responded by founding a personal militia that literally came to be called the GOONs (Guardians Of the Oglala Nation) to suppress his opponents. The conflicts resulting from this eventually drew AIM (the American Indian Movement) into the conflict when they teamed up with dozens of local residents to occupy the village of Wounded Knee, triggering a standoff with Federal authorities. In the aftermath of the standoff, it’s claimed that the GOONs were responsible for as many as fifty deaths over the next three years.
Now Wilson was about as extreme as it got in terms of corrupt Native politicians. It’s not for me to say if Dick Wilson would have fallen into the NPA’s category of ‘white Indian traitor’ given that he wasn’t specifically a tool of the white federal government. But he was definitely a tool. A cruel, petty bully who was happy to keep his own people down just so long as he could sit on top of the pile and be lord and master. I don’t personally know if we have (or ever had) anybody in Canada quite as vicious as him, but if you want an example of just how cruel and vicious these things can get, then leaders like Dick Wilson have to be accounted for.
As far as I know, Canada doesn’t currently have a version of Dick Wilson. Still, with six hundred a fifty reserves, bands, and other organizations across the country, I’m willing to be there’s someone out there who’s still pretty fucked up.
So what are the risks and how has the Movement prepared for it? As we’ve already seen, the Akwesasne HQ is a massive sprawling affair with dozens – if not a hundred or more – people directly involved at any given time. And the NPA is funding itself through the smuggling of drugs? Word about something like this will eventually get out. So what’s going on in the minds of the inhabitants of Akwesasne residents who are dealing with alcohol and drug addiction? What about the relatives of those addicts? How are NPA loyalists across the country going to feel about a rebel movement that’s profiting off of the sale of the very drugs that are killing their friends and family?
And if a certain corrupt band chief (angry about his lost revenue) should happen to whisper in their ear….?
It’s strange, but as ugly as the novel Uprising is, in some ways it’s just not ugly enough.
***Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance can be found here at the National Film Board website, and here on the NFB’s Youtube channel. Due to Internet connectivity issues, I had to work off the Youtube feed to get the still image.***
1 I can’t find a Canadian History & Politics Nerd gif, but if there was, it would be here.
2 I recently re-read George Orwell’s 1984. So sue me.
3 I’m not kidding, that’s what actually happens.
4 I was in elementary school when Oka happened, and I remember all of us discussing this fact gleefully. Among other things, this was a time when the separatist Bloc Quebecois/Parti Quebecois were really starting to make noise on the national scene, and to our young minds the fact that most of Quebec was un-ceded land was the ultimate Achilles heel: The Quebeckers will separate, only to lose their Province to the natives! The fools! I was twelve at the time.
5 Interesting how the Financial Unit is not one of the three pillars supporting the council. Given how time and resource-intensive revolutions tend to be, you’d think the money men would have a seat a the table.