It’s about time we wrapped up the Winnipeg Map Recce. Alex Gabriel feels he’s ready to return to Stevenson’s HQ, and finally meet his subordinates. He’ll tell them exactly how they’re going to take and hold down town Winnipeg against all comers, and they will no doubt feel privileged to hear it, since he spent all afternoon planning.

What I’m going to look at for this final segment is that intangible field called morale. We’ve already discussed how, in Uprising, the native people of Canada will spontaneously rise up like an Ork WAAAGH!!! and instinctively fight as a mindless, perfectly unified whole. In real life though, rebel movements live or die based on the commitment of individual members and how they can maintain it in the face of adversity. So I figured taking some time to examine this would be worthwhile.

The problem is that we’re not actually going to meet any of Alex Gabriel’s subordinates until the very end of the novel (and then only briefly), nor are we going to get any insight into the ground level warriors and what’s driving them as the bullets start to fly. Stevenson is going to remain a cypher for the most part, with no real backstory and behaviour that is going to utterly contradict Bland’s assertion that he’s a military genius[1]. This leave Alex Gabriel himself.

We’ve already talked about how the sole motivating moment for the young Captain seems to be a one time meeting with some nameless Elders, but there hasn’t been a whole lot else since then. Even his inspirational meeting with the charismatic leader Molly Grace (and Bill Whitefish’s breathless description of the Movement org chart) seems to leave him staring vacantly. But we do get a few hints of his thought process during the Map Recce (which, now that I think about it, is the second and final time that we get to see inside Alex’s head) so this will have to do.

As he stands at Portage & Main, studying the entrance to the Bank of Montreal (one of his two key strongpoints for his defence), he notices a particular bronze statue standing at its entrance. Let’s start our analysis here:

A tough-looking bronze army officer stood guard in honour of the warriors of the 1914-18 war. Alex stopped to admire the statue and the idea it represented: liberty [through] strength and sacrifice. That’s our creed too, he thought. I’m still a soldier, he found himself silently assuring the bronze officer. [original text contained a typo ‘though’ instead of ‘through’]

BMO Memorial
Source: Heritage Winnipeg.

So the statue in question is this one here.  It was dedicated in 1923 to memorialize the two hundred and thirty former bank employees (from across the entire country) who lost their lives during the Great War.  Please note: that’s not the number who volunteered, but the ones who never came back[2].  The figure depicted is Capt Wynn Bagnall MC, himself a bank employee who survived the war,

This little vignette is weird. There were a lot of Indigenous people who volunteered for service during that war.  The generally accepted number is approximately 4,000 Indigenous men would serve, representing (according to some estimates) nearly one third of the total population of males aged 18-45[3].  Around five hundred would be killed in action. Their courage and their sacrifice is certainly worth remembering and I could imagine a real life native radical experiencing a moment of pause upon seeing such a monument.[4]

I would also expect such a moment to be tinged with with qualifiers.

As we’ve briefly discussed, the First Nations of the Great War-era lived under some of the most extreme restrictions that have ever been imposed upon them. Indigenous people were confined to Reserves that were under the exclusive management of their respective Indian Agents. They were not allowed to travel, work off-reserve, and in some cases even marry without the Indian Agent’s permission and while they were officially wards of the Crown they had virtually none of the rights of Canadian Citizens (or British Subjects, as would have been he term at the time). Indigenous soldiers serving overseas did receive the right to vote in the 1917 election (in part because then Prime Minister Robert Borden was counting on the army vote to win re-election) but they lost this right once the war was over.

So the individual experiences of WW I native soldiers was a bit of a mixed bag.

Then there was the question of the Great War itself.

While the Second World War could be viewed as the struggle against fascism, where a soldier of a disenfranchised minority might seek to justify their rights by defending the rights of the colonial nation, the First World War offered no such consolation. The Great War was an Imperial affair, with Canada joining in support of Mother Britain and her various Dominions and colonial possessions. Now as for me (a middle class honky who’s family at the time were recent immigrants and new citizens), this war for King & Empire was a fight for our adopted country’s survival (as Canada likely wouldn’t have survived as a nation without the Empire) and therefore could be seen as justified.

But for a lot of First Nations people, Canada was the country that was actively hurting them.

At the start of the War there still would have been people alive who’d witnessed the North West and even Red River Rebellions. Many more would remember the periods of starvation and violence that followed.  Hell, there were still a number of Bands and Nations that hadn’t formally been brought under the Treaty System yet.

So whatever I personally might think about the Great War, I can totally see Indigenous people might disagree. And I can totally see how an Indigenous radical might have mixed feelings looking at such a memorial.

Who were the natives that volunteered for the ‘white’ man’s war? Were they heroes? Were they suckers? Seriously, were they suckers who bought in to Imperial lies? If not, why not?

I’m not throwing this question out there just to be contrary. What does Alex Gabriel think about soldiers like Francis Pegahmagabow? All we get is some weird notion of ‘liberty through strength and sacrifice.’ Other than the fascist subtext here that seems to imply the weak might not deserve liberty, these men who served during the Wars did not win liberty for themselves or their people. Peggy, despite receiving the Military Medal with two bars, was largely a forgotten figure for nearly a century before being re-discovered two decades ago. While it was the returning veterans of the Great War who provided the impetus to begin establishing a Canadian welfare state, the First Nations would not only be left out of these reforms, but it was after the Second World War that the Indian Act was revised leading to the residential school system and the sixties scoop.

Aboriginal Veterans
The Aboriginal Veterans Memorial in Ottawa (author’s own photo).

As a matter of fact, the more I write about it, the more I think I understand the creative decisions behind the Aboriginal War Memorial and why it doesn’t include any recognizable First or Second World War figures.

…But that would be comparatively easy. Block the streets with buses again, and the Bay would provide a ready-made fort-a Hollywood Western cliche, Alex smiled, but this time the Indians would be on the inside.

As he turned towards the government offices a few blocks down the Memorial Boulevard, he saw in the distance the “Golden Boy” shining in the sunlight atop the big prize, the Legislative Building.

The Legislative Building and its surrounding grounds insulted the native community every day that they remained. It hurt Alex even to look at them. They fouled the traditional grounds where for centuries the people had walked, talked, traded, travelled and lived. Government House, set off to the side of the Legislative Building, housed the defining human symbol of the people’s defeat, the lieutenant governor, the “white mother” personified. The Legislative Building, constructed of massive Tyndall stones taken from the people’s land, sat on sacred land, and was sited there purposefully to taunt the people and to remind them every day of their defeat. Tourists marvelled at the fossils captured in the stone, symbols of the ancient land. But where were the true symbols of the land, the natives? Nowhere.

The building, designed by a French architect, was a majestic monument to Western mythology and prejudice, and was decorated with the white man’s superstitions, including, as with the Union Tower downtown, scores of weird Masonic symbols.

Even the one nod to the New World was, for natives, filled with bitter irony. Two giant bison guarded the grand inside staircase. Two giant bison, designed by Europeans and built in the United States, emblematic of the mindless greed and destruction Europeans brought to the prairies. Did these treasonous metal beasts now guard the settlers against the ghosts of their kin, slaughtered without reason or mercy? Were they here to guard the whites against the return of the native? Or were they secretly waiting for us to come and right the wrongs done to them as well as us? Alex wondered. And then there were the sphinxes. What were symbols of Egypt’s ancient culture doing here? Were they put there deliberately to offend us?

His eyes drifted upward to the Golden Boy, the crowning insult. Another European disgrace, designed and forged in France, the pride of the local worthies, it depicted an idealized white man who gazed serenely over the grasslands and the meeting place of the peoples, dismissive of their spirits and traditions. Gold, Alex thought. What more telling symbol of white settler values could one imagine? The people had not scraped away the fertile land for shiny metal of no value except that given to it by Western money-lenders and, today, advertising moguls. This statue was the perfect symbol of the three C’s of European conquest-Commerce, Civilization, and Christianity-cast in metal, coated in gold, imported from a bastard foreign culture, raised up high, alone, dominating the skyline. Nothing bragged so loudly of the white settlers’ pride and values. Nothing stood so high out of reach, a striking symbol of the people’s unending defeat everywhere. But we’re coming for you, Golden Boy, warned Alex.

Okay so I talked a bit about historical grudges earlier on, and how rebel movements tend to have long memories for them. The thing about a lot of them is that these grudges tend to revolve around real-life tragedies and human losses. People getting killed.
I’ve already talked about some of these. The Starlight Tours in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the Thunder Bay drowning deaths, the shooting of Dudley George at Ipperwash and the mob violence at Oka. These are things that known and remembered, and the people involved are mourned. Over the past year, a kind of north of the border version of Black Lives Matter has begun to emerge among First Nations activists.  A couple of the more recent tragedies centring (disturbingly) around incidents in which Native youths were killed by private citizens rather than police! (I know that may not be so much of a shock for American readers, but in Canada this kind of stand your ground stuff is not normal.[5])

Why is Alex Gabriel getting mad about statues?  Would he be less mad if the Manitoba Legislature included more Indigenous artwork?  Does he even know the name of the Manitoba Premier who might be in the Legislature when the attack begins?

Did he feel this way when he first visited Winnipeg, or is this something new?  This last question in particular would go a long way towards rounding out Alex’s character by hinting at whether he was a with long-running grievances who nevertheless managed to serve loyally for years in the army of his enemy.  Or whether he late comer, jumping on the bandwagon and looking for a focus for his anger; settling on symbols rather than people as a target for his emotions.

Neither portrayal is flattering, but they would at least say something about the man.

But we don’t even need to get into real life examples to find a motivation for Alex Gabriel. Bland has already (allegedly) established one for him right back in Chapter 1! Remember?  Let’s take a look:

That day rushed at Alex after what the government called “an unfortunate incident,” a sloppily violent police reaction to the June Days of Protest across the country.
An incident involving pushing and shoving along some train tracks in southern Manitoba turned nasty, and caused a riot between enraged natives and an outnumbered, frightened, and poorly trained RCMP detachment. Constables Thomas Scott and Susan Lachapelle had panicked, and in a flash four native “warriors” and two teenagers they were using as shields were dead. When on-site CBC reports, inaccurately as it turned out, suggested government complicity in the police shooting, riots and violent incidents erupted elsewhere.
The escalating native protests that followed were brutally attacked by local police and army militia units. But when the Special Service Regiment was called up in mid-July, “in aid of the civil powers,” to maintain good order on the railway system between Toronto and Montreal, it was clear to Alex from his commanding officer’s orders that the army was “headed for a final showdown with native protesters and whether they were armed on unarmed didn’t matter.” Alex knew then that he had no choices left.

Yeah. This happened. The Railway Massacre happened. Bland doesn’t seem to have remembered it, didn’t even bother to give it a name even though he gave names to both RCMP Constables. There was an in-story massacre by police leading to weeks of violence and protests. Bland never got around to giving any further details about the Massacre, but the fact that it happened in southern Manitoba suggests it’s not that far away from Winnipeg. Where’s the local outrage? Where’s the police paranoia and overreaction? Bland doesn’t even give us the bare minimum effort of having some graffiti art tribute on the side of a building.

More importantly we have the further in-story fact that, at least somewhere in the CF there were senior officers actively planning further confrontations and death. Supposedly, this was the reason why Alex Gabriel went AWOL in the first place. The cops have killed protestors and the army is gearing up to kill a lot more. And Alex is getting mad about buildings? Appropriative architecture? Why isn’t he worried that his former Special Forces colleagues might start kicking the NPA’s ass before Operation Middleton even has a chance to step off[6]?

He walked up the staircase, pushed open the tall glass door, and stepped into the deserted foyer. The whole building seemed quit, nearly empty. A bored custodian glanced up from behind his curved, polished desk. “Is the legislature open for tourists?” asked Alex, wishing he’d thought to bring wide-rimmed glasses. “Actually I’m a history student, not a tourist, and I’d like to take a look at the architecture and decoration.”
The little grey-haired man behind the desk mechanically thrust a clipboard at Alex. “Sign here There’s no tours till later, but you can walk about if you want. Just don’t touch anything.”
Alex signed in as “Dagwood Bumstead” and walked through the open door to the base of the main staircase. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, he thought. No time to get cute. But the custodian returned to the sports page of the Free Press without a further look at the form or the man who’d signed it.

I’m just going to pause here for a second to point out that what Bland thinks is a critical lapse in security isn’t nearly as earth-shattering as he thinks. Pretty much all the public legislature buildings in Canada are open to some extent or another to the public, students especially. And where you get students, you get smart asses. I’m willing to bet that, in real life, there’s at least a couple of self-satisfied little shits who sign in as Louis Riel every month. I’m sure that there’s some student with a bit of Indigenous heritage who thinks he’s being counter-cultural by signing in as Sir John A. MacDonald[7].

The fact that Alex Gabriel is signing in under the pseudonym of a dated newspaper comic strip probably just marked him as a clueless grad student who’s not as retro cool as he thinks he is. Probably likes to buy drinks for the first year girls.

He walked up the grand staircase past the great bronze bison-a security measure at least as effective as the old man at the desk-and right up to the doors of the legislative chamber, unchallenged. The massive doors were locked now. But someday soon, he mused, one of my people will stride through those doors and take control of the ornate blue room beyond them.
As he walked back to the main entrance, Alex measured the distance from the desk to the chamber again just to be sure. A mere skip and a jump, he thought; a good warrior could make it through the outside door, up the stairs, rake the chamber with fire, and withdraw in literally a matter of seconds, before the guard could make a phone call for help. So much for increased security against terrorism after 9/11, he thought. As a soldier I used to worry about that. Now I’m glad of it.
“Thanks for the visit,” he said as he passed the guard. “Beautiful place. You can be sure I’ll be back someday soon.” No answer. This guy wasn’t even going through the motions.

So…let’s make a few things clear here. I’m a Sergeant in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserves. I am nothing special. I know a few things and I can research a few things more, but I’m mid-level leadership in a small militia unit in Ottawa, and I’m not rising much further in my foreseeable future. In the event something like Douglas Bland’s Uprising ever happens in real life…well, I won’t officially be a Star Trek redshirt, but there’s a good chance that I’ll be the guy organizing them. Sorting out sentry shifts and patrols schedules. Stuff like that.

I got no illusions. In the grand swath of history, I’d be lucky to be a footnote, and then only if something goes horribly wrong. Guys like me fill the ranks, do the crap work, take the hits and sometimes die.  And if there’s a lot of dying going on that week we’re not likely to get more than a line or two in the newspaper.  Maybe an engraved name on a memorial.

What I’m saying is, it’s likely to be one of my guys who’ll be guarding the door to a place like the Legislature, and I’m likely to be somewhere nearby in overall command of the shift. So when Alex is thinking gleefully about raking things with fire, that’s my guys (and me) who are going to be on the receiving end.

As a character, Alex Gabriel is a man created with a pedigree. Served in a cool Regiment, got marked early for greatness, joined the special forces. Same thing with Will Boucanier, same thing with General Bishop. The closest thing we’re going to get to a recurring everyman character is Col Dobson, and even there he’s going to betray that role by a) being an absolutely devoted sycophant to the pedigreed Real Soldiers® in the story and b) not recurring that much anyway.

Reading through Uprising, we get protagonists who are supposed to be larger than life.  Idealized heroes who cannot fail, only be failed.  Arrayed against them will be villains of perfect debasement.  There won’t be room for honourable disagreement or honest confusion.  Just heroes and villains, good and evil, and a whole lot of little people who’ll be swept aside.

This is the fundamental lie at the heart of fascism: Liberty through strength and sacrifice? Yeah. Who’s sacrifice? Sure there’s important leaders at the head of the movement for us to look up to.  If we devote ourselves to them, we might even share in their triumphs!  The thing is, as much as we may be the heroes of our own personal stories, in the grand scheme of things we are all the little people. The extras. The nobodies.

Strength & sacrifice? Fuck it.  Give me the dignity of all people.

***Today’s Featured Image is the title card from 1945’s US War Department Educational Film.  Although sporting an all-white cast, it presents a passionate argument against racism and fascism that is still surprisingly compelling today.***

Part 28 here!

[1] Seriously, there is going to be a colossal lapse of judgement once Operation Middleton is underway that is going to defy understanding. It’s going to be something, let me tell you.

[2] Over a thousand bank employees would volunteer over the course of the war, and there is another statue (in Montreal) to commemorate them.  The Winnipeg statue is unique for its time in that, unlike other memorials, the figure depicted in not striking one of the traditional ‘Victory’ poses but a more simple one of quietly being ‘Ready.’

[3] These are the numbers the government had for Status Indians.  That is, officially recognized members of First Nations as per the government records.  They do not include numbers for Metis, who were not formally recognized at the time, or Indigenous people who were not formally assigned Indian Status.

[4] It’s not clear how many (if any) Indigenous soldiers are commemorated on this particular memorial since Anglo/European names were even more common among the First Nations of that time than they are today.

[5] I’ll be getting more into these cases later on, but for now I do want to say to any would-be home defenders: If the entirety of your entire home defence plan consists of ‘I got a gun,’ then you’ve basically committed yourself to shooting someone. Whether that person actually deserves it will be a matter of luck.  Think harder.

[6] This is actually a pretty serious plot hole, by the way. In the first few pages Bland hints that the army is gearing up for a race war and is already on high alert. But in the coming pages we’re going to see that nobody in the government has any plan whatsoever and will be one step behind the NPA the whole way through. Editing is your friend.

[7] There’s also probably a bunch of racist dicks who sign in as Thomas Scott, but this game’s getting old now.

3 thoughts on “27-Winnipeg Map Recce (3): Morale & Motivation!

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