So! Alex Gabriel is the recently recruited prospect to the NPA who is about to be deployed to one of the crucial fronts of the coming war. He is a Real Soldier® who always leads from the front, and the front he’s about to be transferred to is expected to get extremely hot, so naturally Bill Whitefish has prepped him by delivering a detailed overview of the entire operation of the NPA and the Movement as a whole, along with an introduction to the Movement’s supreme leader.
Clearly, the NPA is a force to be reckoned with.
But now it’s time to meet the leader of the Movement itself, the enigmatic native radical Molly Grace.
Normally, I’d give at least two cheers for Bland’s decision to make his rebel leader a woman. Especially considering the way he treats pretty much all other female characters throughout the novel.1 But with Molly Grace, there are a number of problems to prevent me from viewing her character even in a vaguely positive manner. Not coincidentally, these problems tie into our word of the day! From the title of this post, our word for the day is: Intersectionality.
In simple terms, intersectionality is a term describing the way that several social factors can combine to multiply the disadvantage/oppression of the individual who possesses them. In practice this means that Indigenous people are subject to racism, and women are subject to sexism, but Indigenous women experience both and thus (on average) have a harder time than either Indigenous men or ‘white’ women.
Now there’s a pretty complex debate over how to rate different factors when assessing the effects of intersectionality. For example, education and wealth are huge advantages in society, but do they outweigh race and gender? Is a rich, educated black man safer in America than a poor white woman? I’m not going to pretend that I can definitively answer that question, but my point here is that various identities can pile up to make a person’s life a lot harder than any one of those identities might on their own.
Molly Grace is an Indigenous woman. Right away that should provide a great deal to work with in terms of creating a character who is a convincing radical. As part of her background, Bland could cite all kinds of events as precipitating her radicalization and (as we soon learn) a near sociopathic disregard for others. Indigenous woman. Just from these two words, we could speculate that Molly Grace has experienced one or more tragedies which could serve to shape her character. Among these could be poverty, abandonment, chronic health problems, a lack of health care for said problems, substance abuse (her own or within her family/community), familial violence, sexual violence, police violence, corruption (from the local Band Council all the way up to the Federal Government) just to name a few possibilities.
And that’s just the options that we can find in the real world.
Since the Canada we find in Uprising is a Bland-created parallel world to our own Canada, we could include all kinds of additional fictional motivations. Perhaps she was part of an Ipperwash-style standoff that resulted in the death of a family member?2 Perhaps in Uprising-Canada there was a pan-Canadian version of AIM or the Mohawk Warrior Society in whose ranks she may have risen? Learning the role of the revolutionary from the old boys before beating them at their own game and using that organization as the nucleus of the NPA.
We won’t get the full background on Molly Grace until much later in the novel (I’m probably going to take a look it earlier than that since it’s crucial to what’s wrong with her character) but the reality is that none of these possibilities gets employed. Molly Grace is a woman who grew up without any significant family, got a liberal arts education that pushed her towards radicalism (as is so often the case) then spent some time in the USA with a Native American radical affiliated with the Liberation Church (uh…okay…) before returning to Canada3 to launch the Native People’s Movement.
So basically, Bland takes all the possibilities that come with making his rebel leader a native woman and goes nowhere with it.
***We’re going to have to revisit this point later on when it becomes a lot more blatant, but part of the problem here is the idea of a kind of inverse-intersectionality that Bland appears to embrace. There is a perception among more extreme right wingers that, since minorities get (allegedly) get special treatment, a person with multiple minority identities gets extra special treatment. Therefore Molly Grace’s identity as an Indigenous Woman makes her a figure gifted with extra advantages instead of burdened with extra challenges. Hence the reason why overweight black transgender lesbians with disabilities run so much of our modern world today, and there’s literally no chance for a white man to get ahead.***
Anyway, back to the story! With the briefing finished, it is now time to hear Molly Grace’s thoughts:
Molly Grace had watched Alex carefully during the briefing. She had a peculiar talent for seeing right inside people, and although she knew a great deal from the files, in the flesh he impressed her even more. She sensed the sureness with which he absorbed information and admired his poise in alien4 circumstances. Molly’s aptitude for evaluating others was accompanied, perhaps even caused, by a failure of empathy; she rarely liked those she met, even those she admired, but she had an unerring ability to know when she had found someone useful to the cause, and she had a keen sense of how best to enlist their sympathy and support.
While the PoV in Uprising is the third person omniscient, it’s a bit blunt to straight out say that Molly Grace lacks any sense of empathy. The usual way (if one actually cares about the craft of writing) is to show, rather than to tell. Instead of putting all the cards on the table, it would make far better sense dramatically to allow a character’s sociopathic tendencies to reveal themselves gradually as the plot develops.
Nevertheless, this is actually a pretty good passage, although not for the reasons Bland intended, I suspect. This passage reads like more of Bland’s instinctive need to praise the protagonist at every occasion. Instead (at least to me), it comes across as a kind of critique that slipped out of Bland’s subconscious unintentionally. Molly Grace has seen Alex Gabriel for the flawed and egotistical person that he really is, and she’s going to play him like a fiddle:
“…I’m going to take you into my confidence, mainly because we are going to give you a great deal of authority and you may find yourself in a situation where some local chief, some member of the People’s Council, might try to override what I have told you to do. I’m telling you this, Alex, because I can see what sort of man you are and because I think you appreciate the importance of discretion.”
Yeah, she can see what kind of man he is, alright.
She continues to layer equal helpings of distain for the clueless chiefs and praise for ‘the best, firmest, young men and women’ of whom Alex Gabriel is clearly the best. Then she lays out the offer:
“We may be leading a popular movement, but we can’t leave the revolution in the hands of the chiefs: it would fail if we trusted them to act.”
Molly shifted around and began to pace the room, speaking as much to the walls as to Alex. “The Central Committee never intended to trust the revolution to those co-opted, high-living sell-outs in Ottawa, the First Nations Federation leaders. That’s why the Committee is in touch with some of the best, the firmest, young men and women in the organized youth groups, community governing councils, and healing circles across the land. These special young people are our eyes and ears, and sometimes our hands, in the communities, the essential link between our strategy and our ability to act.”
Molly Grace seems to be saying that she wants Alex to be one of her main enforcers. A die hard loyalist and dispenser of rough justice who will keep the weak and the wavering in line. If Bland were writing this as a kind of temptation scene, where a young, egotistical officer was seduced into treason by a charismatic rebel, this would actually work. Kind of like The Bridge on the River Kwai except with Alec Guinnes ten years younger and a Capt. But Uprising is not the story of ‘The Fall of Capt Alex Gabriel.’ Rather than being portrayed as a weak and self-absorbed traitor, Gabriel is set up in the role of ‘good man driven to bad things,’ and that makes no sense either in the context of this scene or in the future events of the book.
Without going too far into the upcoming chapters, Alex Gabriel is about to be re-deployed out to Winnipeg, where he will be a field officer for one of the most trusted and capable NPA commanders in one of their most crucial theatres. All fine and good, and this would be an ideal place to send an ex-CF officer except that this exchange seems to imply that he is being sent out as a kind of political officer, a check and balance against a wavering subordinate who might suddenly panic at a crucial moment.5
That’s not what happens when Gabriel hits the ground in Winnipeg. The NPA commander Sam Stevenson knows exactly what he’s doing and shows no signs of panic (although there will be at least one colossal lapse in judgement later that literally boggles the mind). He employs Gabriel as one of his subordinates and the young man acts accordingly, never once turning a suspicious eye towards his boss to see if he’s about to break.
So here’s my personal reading of this scene: Capt Alex Gabriel is a traitor who is already in too far and has no way out, but his ego is such that he still entertains the notion that he is an equal partner in the uprising and can walk away if he wants to. Molly Grace can read this and when it looks like Alex is about to start confronting her actual right hand man with questions and objections, she steps forward and makes him an offer: Power.
One can imagine a sort of meta-dialogue to superimpose upon the one Bland has written: “It turns out, all those chiefs who make up our council aren’t the real power of the movement…I am! And now that I’ve taken you into my confidence, you’re powerful too! Now go do exactly what I say! Because you’re so powerful!
The Movement leadership will allow him to entertain the idea that he is a major figure in the Uprising, and let him imagine what role awaits him after the inevitable victory. In the meantime, he will shut up and do his job as a low-level field commander, for which he has shown some skill.
But our hero is no chump! In the face of all these power plays, Alex Gabriel has one more crafty trick up his sleeve.
…Molly scooped up her papers and turned to leave.
Captain Gabriel, officer and gentleman, stepped forward to open the door and put out his hand. “Molly Grace, I assume? A pleasure to meet you. I wasn’t sure you were real, but you certainly are that.”
Molly recoiled, slightly wary of the unexpected courtesy and the obvious test. His actions were gracious, but her exit was softly blocked. She looked into Alex’s eyes, and as she held out a hand, her voice lost its commanding edge. “You’ll go far in this effort, Alex. I’m depending on you to work for the people. Lead and they’ll follow you.”
Yeah, that’ll show ‘em. They may have gotten you to assault Petawawa and betray your country, but you blocked the exit and got Molly Grace herself to soften her tone of voice.
1 It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you now, but Cpl Newman is just about the only other female character to get more than a name and a vague description. And we’re not going to hear from Cpl Newman again.
2 One of the more unsettling shocks I got recently when I finally got around to studying the Ipperwash incident in detail is just how many of the major figures involved in the protests around Stoney Point shared the same last name as Anthony ‘Dudley’ George, the protestor shot dead by police. The semi-official leader of the occupiers, a local councillor who was beaten by police, the man who dragged Dudley into a car and raced him to the hospital, even a local lawyer whom the Police identified as a possible negotiator (but failed to employ) were all members of the sprawling George family.
3 There’s a bit of what I suspect is some unintentional truth in that Molly Grace moves back and forth across the border without a thought. For a lot of North American Indigenous people (including author Thomas King with whom we will touch base with later) there really isn’t a border that they care to recognize.
4 Two years back, I took a class in contemporary Indigenous studies where I used to adjective ‘alien’ to describe my personal reaction to Indigenous perspectives. The woman teaching the class (herself an Indigenous activist) was pretty understanding but nevertheless very emphatic when she pointed out how inappropriate using this term in that context really was.
5 The NPA commander that Gabriel will be serving under turns out to be an ex-CF Colonel. Reading this passage for the second time, I almost expected to hear Martin Sheen’s voice from Apocalypse Now: “Terminate the Colonel?” At which point Molly Grace would turn away while Bill Whitefish leans in intently: “Terminate, with extreme prejudice.”
6 It’s an odd side note, but Gabriel greets Molly Grace with ‘I wasn’t sure you were real’ despite the fact that he has allegedly read a file on her, and in the novel she made no real attempt to conceal her identity during the earlier organizing of the Movement. Not sure what to make of that, other than that editing is your friend.