The officer handling the briefing, Col Conway, doesn’t seem to respect his democratically elected leadership. Before launching into his part of the briefing, he pauses in for a moment to revel in his natural superiority over the mere civilian before him:
‘Conway smiled to himself. He very much doubted that Riley knew any such thing, even though it was a concept particularly germane to Canada’s present situation. But then, Canadian ministers of national defence tend not to know much about warfare, international relations, or history. But it didn’t help to embarrass them – thus Bishop’s tactful attempt to guide the minister through the fundamentals of revolutionary warfare.’
This open contempt for civilian leadership is deeply unsettling, and frankly, coming from a former LtCol, I would go so far as to call it grossly inappropriate.
I am not being hyperbolic here. Getting down to brass tacks, the army is the part of society with the guns. I hate to be quoting Chairman Mao, but he was correct when he said that “Power flows from the barrel of a gun.” Ultimately, the people with the firepower hold the last word in any conversation where the rule of law doesn’t hold sway. And the only reason rule of law and the rule of democracy can flourish is if the people with guns respect that. Around the world and throughout history we can see examples of military men deciding to ignore the rule of law or their democratically elected leaders and seize power for themselves.
To be clear, every man and woman in uniform has a right to political opinions and to cast a vote in every election for which they are eligible. But as a CAF member we are officially neutral. We serve the government of the day, and we will obey all lawful commands, period.
As much as I hate to admit it, this kind of smirking contempt is something I do see with some of my younger colleagues. Every once in a while I’ve had to take one of the kids aside and explain to him that posting insulting memes aimed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is bad enough, but when your profile pic features you in uniform brandishing a rifle…well they usually get the picture and smarten up at that point.
These are usually young troops, Pte and Cpls. Douglas Bland is a retired LtCol who lived through the 70s, 80s and 90s. He lectures at Queens and at least claims to have a strong knowledge of history. I can understand a nineteen year old hot head fresh off his DP 1 expressing himself in the first election he’s old enough to vote in. Bland’s behaviour is utterly unacceptable.
But enough about my many axes to grind, let’s get into the briefing.
***In the interest of laying Bland’s argument out in a more logical format, I’m going to skip back and forth between Col Conway’s recitation of the facts, and Bishop’s summary of the overall threat. So the quotes won’t be entirely in chronological order.***
“The aboriginal population of Canada – North American Indian, Inuit, and Metis – numbers nearly 1.2 million people – four per cent of the Canadian population. And it’s growing very rapidly. Between 1996 and 2006 the aboriginal community grew by forty-seven per cent, six times faster than the non-aboriginal Canadian population.
“According to the 2006 census, approximately 700,000 people identify themselves as North American Indians and most identify themselves with one of 615 First Nations. This Indian community is expected to increase to 730,000 individuals by 2021….
“…Approximately forty per cent of the population live on one of the 2,720 reserves of vastly different sizes that are scattered across Canada. The strongest concentrations, more than forty-eight per cent of the total Indian population, live on reserves in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“In 2006, the median age in the national Indian population was twenty-five…The norm in the general Canadian population is forty….
***I’m going to take this moment to re-iterate that, although it’s considered inappropriate in casual conversation, ‘Indian’ is still a legal term in Canada. The Indian Act is still the law of the land, and Status: Indian is a legal status a person of Indigenous heritage can legally hold (you get a card and everything).***
I’m not 100% sure about the numbers, but given how specific Bland is being, I’m going to assume they’re accurate enough, at least as far as the 2006 census is concerned. The problem is that census data only covers a few issues with regards to the First Nations population, mainly how many, what age, and where? A lot of added information which can directly impact the quality of life of a given population (and thereby influence whether they would rebel or not) is not covered.
Take for example, this screenshot of an interactive map where you can track internet access on reserves:
That Col Conway’s info dump begins and ends with the 2006 census serves to highlight exactly who is missing from this vital briefing about a pan-Canadian Indigenous rebellion: A representative from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Where is the Deputy Minister for INAC?
I’ve already mentioned it before, but it’s worth re-emphasizing here that while Ministers are elected officials who may or may not be experts in the Ministries they head, the Deputy Ministers are career public servants who have worked, lived and breathed in the world of their Ministries for most of their careers. The INAC Deputy Minister (literally the highest public servant in Indigenous affairs) is not only going to be extremely knowledgeable in the field, but will have probably dealt directly with many of the Chiefs and band leaders, and would have likely lived through many of the major recent events that would have shaped the NPA’s uprising.
Seriously, while the Generals at NDHQ have been staring blankly at Molly Grace’s al-Quaeda style video, I would have expected the DM of INAC to recognize Molly Grace instantly. Likely, any DM worth their salt would have had a working familiarity with her speeches and basic ideology. It’s not much an exaggeration that for the longest time the best and most senior of the DMs were actually nicknamed ‘Mandarins.’
The next thing that needs to be pointed out here is the fact that, while he’s not going particularly in depth with regards to the state of Canada’s First Nations, Col Conway is spending quite a bit of time comparing said First Nations to the rest of Canada.
They’re breeding faster…they’re younger on average…so many…and they’re everywhere!
This is an old tactic for racist propaganda and one that has been trotted out for multiple ethnic groups over the centuries like the Chinese (‘yellow peril’) and the Irish. Hell, one of the major reasons for the creation of local government in the Upper and Lower Canadas was dilute the French Catholic population by tying them to the local Anglo population which it was hoped would grow faster.
Think I’m reading too much into this? Read on!
“…Although there are exceptions…the majority of the natives on reserves live in miserable conditions, are poorly educated, and have few employment opportunities on and near the reserves. The 55,000 young people between fifteen and twenty-four years of age…present a looming problem for education and health and employment planners everywhere, but it’s greatest in the Prairie provinces…
“…[Switching to the subject of off-reserve natives] Winnipeg, for example, contains more that 26,000 First Nations people and Vancouver and Edmonton each have more than 20,000 within their boundaries. In the smaller cities on the Prairies, the concentrations are even greater. In Thompson, Manitoba, and in Prince Albert and North Battleford, Saskatchewan, for example, fifteen to thirty per cent of the total population in Indian.”
Look at how they’re seeping into our communities! You might think they’re your neighbours and co-workers, but they’re actually the enemy! You might think some of them are homeless or drug-addicted, and need help…they’re actually just biding their time!
Keep in mind, up until this point there has been no effort to differentiate between NPA, NPA sympathizers, and the native population as a whole. That 26,000 Indigenous people in Winnipeg? Be afraid of them all!
Now, to be completely fair (and we do need to be fair, even though right now I’m mad enough to breath fire) Col Conway is sort of describing something which is a real problem: After a long period of stagnation and decline, Indigenous populations are on the rise and in the last couple of decades have experienced a population boom. Furthermore, while there has been some major improvements in social conditions, these improvements have not been shared evenly across the population. This is actually a problem: The First Nations have been on the short end of almost every stick in Canadian history but now some parts of the population finally starting to recover and get ahead. Which means the people still getting screwed are going to be increasingly aware of the contrast. This is in fact a situation that could breed radicalization.
Personally my feelings, when looking at numbers like these, is to think that addressing these problems should be an urgent issue for every level of government. Bland of course, wants us to think in terms of vulnerability rather than threats. People angry over an injustice shouldn’t be treated like a call for better justice. They should be treated as a threat.
Now, a population of disenfranchised young men could prove to be a fertile recruiting ground for extremism. The next logical question should be how much of this population is being recruited. This is the moment for hard information about the NPA and its recruiting efforts. But we have yet to see any such hard data. So Thompson Manitoba has 15-30% Indigenous population? Okay, fine. Is the NPA in town?
Are they recruiting? Are those recruits training in the area or are they moving somewhere else? What do we actually know?
Then there’s the question that these numbers suggest but never gets raised: Why were the populations in decline for so long?
The answer is that, for decades the First Nations of Canada (and the United States) have been in decline due to the concerted efforts of both countries to ‘deal with’ the ‘Indian Question.’ Military conquest and starvation in the late-19th century, active suppression of Indigenous autonomy and identity during the first half of the 20th followed by active measures to disperse and assimilate the population through the Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop.
Slowly, bit by bit, the First Nations have clawed their way out from under these measures, meaning that (finally) in the last few decades there has, indeed, been a population boom. What’s unsettling is that Bland seems almost chastising the last thirty plus years of Canadian Governments for removing the boot from the First Nations’ throats.
[Riley objects to Bishop] “Well I don’t sympathize with these attitudes. Our government provides billions in cash and support to the First Nations and their chiefs every year.”
[Bishop replies] “Indeed you do, minister. And that brings me to something else very serious, plausible, and immediate. Over the years, Canadian governments have deliberately created something approaching a parallel government within Canada run by native leaders. True, it is a reasonable way to work with the more responsible and moderate elements to improve conditions without provoking accusations of paternalism and trampling of the right to self-government.”
“The problem is that, if these leaders fail to deliver or are found wanting, as seems the case in some regions, then this organization, this parallel government, is ripe for a coup staged by any well-organized native leader. Put simply, the official native leaders, the ones who get invited to Rideau Hall and to federal provincial meetings, are extremely vulnerable, and the radicals wouldn’t have to create a governing structure from scratch under difficult conditions, just take over the one we’ve built for them.”
“Sure, yes, you’re right,” Riley acknowledged. “But the dilemma for the federal government is that it has to support someone, even ineffective leaders, even one compromised in the eyes of the residents on reserves, or risk the collapse of years of policy built with these leaders. We can’t just throw out the whole framework for national policy.”
“I understand the situation, minister, but the entire hollow structure that governments have created is highly vulnerable to an internal radical takeover.” Bishop raised a hand to fend off an interruption from Riley. “If such a thing were to occur, it would likely come from someone within the middle ranks of the community, from some generally unknown radical chief, for instance.”
In case you missed that, he describes the governing bodies of the First Nations, the Band Councils, the Chiefs, the Grand Chiefs and so forth, as a hollow organization, ripe for overthrow by radicals, as created by the Canadian Government!
Full disclosure, while I have some background in history, I am in no way an expert in Indigenous/First Nations History. One of the really rewarding things about doing this blog is that it has motivated me to look more closely at the history of my country.
That having been said, that passage quoted above was a steaming pile of bullshit. We’ll do a micro history of Indigenous Affairs later on when we meet the Grand Chief Onanole, but the short version is that the treaties negotiated by the British and later Canadian governments were negotiated with existing Bands, Tribes, and Nations, all of whom were autonomous entities unto themselves, and all of whom had some form of leadership. This leadership persists today. In most cases it is a matter of elected councils and chiefs, in some cases it is hereditary, but in all cases Native Self-Government is Self-Created!
Are these First Nations government perfect? No, of course not! No government is. Some have been ineffective, others corrupt. Some have been well meaning but missed the mark. As an example, consider this article here where Noel Starblanket (former National Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood, a precursor to the Assembly of First Nations) worries that the AFN is in danger of losing relevance. He is particularly concerned that the AFN failed to connect with and support the Idle No More movement.
Historically, there has been one form of First Nations governing body created by the Government. With the passage of the Indian Act in 1876, Canada’s reserves came under the jurisdiction of officials called Indian Agents, who had power over movement, communication, distribution of Treaty payments and rations, and in some cases could even decide who was an Indigenous Person and who wasn’t. A good part of the early 20th century struggle was to get out from underneath the Indian Agent system.
Then there’s the part where Jim Riley raises the objection that “our government provides billions in cash and support to the First Nations and their chiefs every year.” First of all, it’s worth noting that a lot of this money isn’t as much support as it is legal obligations under Treaties. The Canadian Government legally owes this money to the First Nations they signed Treaties with. Some of these may be 150+ year old treaties, but last time I checked we’re still sitting on the land that Treaty claimed, so I don’t see how we’re allowed to ignore the price we agreed to pay for it.
Here’s an interesting little bit of modern Indigenous culture: Treaty Day Payments! Basically, some of the Treaties signed 150+ years ago included stipulations that the anniversary of the signing would be marked by cash payments of…Five Dollars!
Now, many of the exact provisions of these Treaties are often still up for debate. What lands are granted, what rights are guaranteed, what support is required, all of these are the subject of ongoing negotiations even today. But since these cash payments of five dollars (!!!) is one of the few things that is absolutely unambiguous, numerous First Nations will insist on holding the government to it. And they will hold elaborate ceremonies to mark the occasion every year.
(In case you’re wondering, yes, the Mounties have to bust out the scarlets for the occasion. It’s official business, after all.)
While the overall portrayal of Jim Riley as a character (as well as the rest of the PPC party) is negative, his complaint about Treaty payments is one of the few assertions made by them that will never be contradicted by the Real Soldiers® in the story. While the First Nations leaders receiving this money are derided as corrupt and out of touch, the resentment of having to pay them seems to focus largely on the dollar amount rather than the fact that the money is being ‘wasted’ on this supposed kleptocracy.
They resent the idea of having to pay at all, not that the money’s being wasted.
Gen Bishop then suggests launching into the next part of the briefing without pause. I would like to think that this is an attempt to quash a more profound discussion with the Minister which might yield a more productive understanding of the exact meaning of this demographic ‘lost generation’ and maybe an actual assessment of threat rather than a focus on vulnerability. But instead I suspect it is a case that Bland has a bad ear for action or dialogue, whereas briefing notes are his bread and butter.
MND Riley takes a nervous sip of water and agrees, making the observation that “for soldiers, nothing is ever safe enough.” It’s an odd sentiment, given that Riley is supposed to represent a cowardly, risk adverse politician, yet Bland expresses his distain for his character by having Bishop clench his jaw disapprovingly. Which is kind of weird since Bishop already dropped this lovely gem earlier on:
“The chiefs and grand chiefs aren’t likely to be the leaders – they’ve got too much going for them to take such risks. As you may know, minister, rebellions and revolutions are rarely directed from the comfortable bunch at the top of the hierarchy.” In a flicker of the wit familiar only to his close associates, Bishop added, gesturing around the room, “That’s why I always have to watch the colonels.”
Riley smiled. “You should see it in my profession.”
“Indeed, minister. Actually, I have.”
The closer you look, the less subtle it gets.
 While once in a rare while these strongmen have been overthrown by mass demonstrations and labour stoppages, most of the times the only remedy has been other men with guns. Whether these other men have served the cause of democracy or simply been another faction in the power play, the end state usually isn’t an improvement.
 This Ministry has gone through several re-organizations and re-branding over the last few decades. Starting in 1966 it was DIAND (Dept of Indian Affairs and Northern Development), it was later re-named INAC (Indigenous & Northern Development Canada), and in 2011 AANDC (Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development Canada). A few months prior to this post, it was split into two departments: Crown-Indigenous Relations & Northern Affairs (which handles Treaty issues) and Indigenous Services Canada (which deals with quality of life issues). Since INAC was the name for the organization at the time Bland was writing, I’m going to use it as a way to reduce confusion.
 It’s unlikely that the DM would have met her in person, since it’s made clear later that Molly Grace never held any official leadership position in any of the First Nations governments. But it will later be made clear that she was well known to the native leadership (including Grand Chief Al Onanole) so the chances of the DM not knowing about her is basically zero.
 Which regions? They’re still talking about the First Nations as though they were some giant, amorphous whole!
 Among other things Mr Starblanket speculates that the AFN should be re-built based on Treaty Lines rather than the colonial government’s Provincial Lines. This actually makes a fair bit of sense, although it’s not clear whether this would reinvigorate the AFN.
And this doesn’t even begin to address the fact that a lot of land in Canada is un-ceded and not actually secured by a Treaty of any kind.