So this will be the second post on Molly Grace’s brilliant speaking abilities, and…it’s going to get dense. For the next two to three pages it’s going to be like walking against a blast from a firehose of wrong, so prepare yourselves.
On a more serious note, this next section is going to involve a pretty deep dive into the subjects of racism and it’s particular incarnations in recent Canadian history. As I have said before, I’m not an Indigenous person, and while I’ve learned a fair bit, I am by no means an expert. I am doing the best I can here, but everything I write should be taken with a grain of salt.
So I want to start with Molly Grace’s issues with what she calls “academics.”
“White academics provide new shackles, new reason to dismiss our people…They say we’re trapped in dependency, unable to escape because we are too weak. We are doomed to indignity because we are too few. Our so-called native leader join this self-serving white non-sense, repeating their humiliating words: ‘You are too weak…you cannot replace the alien community…you cannot free yourselves.’
“We are trapped, the white academics declare, between being ourselves-unattainable because the traditional ways are gone-and being members of the community-unattainable because the white settlers won’t accept us. But it gets worse…they say we can’t even follow the example of the blacks in old British African colonies who destroyed white imperialism long ago. We’re too weak, too few, too disconnected from the ‘modern’ economy, so we’re stuck in soul-destroying dependence on the settlers’ welfare cheques.
I was originally going to say that this didn’t sound like any academic type I’ve ever met. Except then I remembered that Douglas Bland holds a position at Queen’s University, making him one of ‘the academics’ he is talking about. So maybe I just got lucky.
All of that having been said, the specific language here “soul-destroying dependence on the settlers’ welfare cheques” sounds a bit off for academia. On the other hand, if you’re tuning into conservative talk radio or anything by Sun Media, you’ll find phrases like this passing as ‘intellectual discourse.’
So this is an awkward couple of paragraphs here. Molly seems to be complaining about ‘the academics’ calling native people weak and dependent upon welfare, yet she also seems to be agreeing with them. In a moment we’ll see her calling it ‘self-imposed destructive life of the reserves.‘ It seems like she’s mad that the ‘white’ academics are saying they can’t escape? If so, she’s a bit late to this particular revolution.
***Full Disclosure. I’ve taken a few classes on Research and Statistical Analysis which included units on working with Indigenous peoples. I am by no means an expert on the subject, which is why I’m confining myself to a 101-level explanation here.***
One of the really big issues in the last few decades of Aboriginal/Indigenous Studies is the question of who’s doing the research, and who’s talking. For decades the First Nations of Canada have been the most studied people on earth yet it’s only since the 1990s that they started to have any real say about how they were being studied, or what conclusions were being drawn.
This was (and is) a huge deal since the conclusions being drawn by these researchers was being used to direct Government policy, and in many cases was having a very direct negative impact on First Nations reserves and communities.
Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, government sponsored researchers and social workers were sent to study life on the reserves. They brought them what we today call a settler-colonial perspective, which didn’t incline them to learn about the communities they were studying. This led to thousands of children being declared at risk and their parents being considered unfit. It would eventually lead to what became known as the Sixties Scoop where literally hundreds of thousands of Indigenous kids would be taken from their families.
Today, the idea of a ‘white’ academic (or at least, a liberal one) pontificating upon First Nations issues is anathema. Anyone wanting to study Indigenous people must do so in cooperation with those people.
It’s also odd that while Molly Grace is denouncing the academics for saying it, she seems to be agreeing with them that the Indigenous people of Canada are trapped in dependence and must pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This doesn’t entirely make sense from the point of view of a radical leader looking to inspire her people to reject all aspects of the white culture, but makes a fair bit of sense from a right wing ‘victim blaming’ perspective. The kind of perspective where the Natives would be fine if they’d just go out and get a job.
It would also explain the cries of ‘Shame on us!’ we’ve been hearing from the audience.
Why can’t we be ourselves and rule ourselves? Size doesn’t matter-the white government gave half the North to a few of our Inuit cousins. We don’t seek a share in the white man’s booty and we don’t seek to become their mirror image. We seek to become ourselves! So we’ll recreate our fathers’ space and be ourselves when the time comes. And that time is soon, my people. Soon!
And how is the creation of Nunavut an example of a call to arms?
Nunavut wasn’t born of rebellion and violence, it came about as the result of an incredibly long and laborious negotiation and treaty process between the Federal government and the Inuit. Furthermore Nunavut’s not an independent state or even a Province, it’s a Federal Territory. As in, it’s still a part of Canada.
Seriously. I can travel there right now without a passport.
If anything, Nunavut would appear to be the vindication of the old system, of painstaking negotiation with the Government through the established system of councils and chiefs.
I’m not trying to be pedantic here. Speaking in Winnipeg means Molly Grace is addressing an audience that could very well contain Inuit people. She should know this. Saying something so blatantly and verifiably false is the kind of thing that could lead to a fight in the audience. It’s the kind of rookie mistake a real popular agitator would never make.
“And just last July these same chiefs travelled first class to Calgary to stay in a fine hotel and play golf. Imitation settlers, that’s what they are, golfing, dining, and enjoying whisky and cigars in the lounge while deploring dependency among the savages. All of them bought for a green fee and a dinner tab. Our kids don’t have clean water and these fat-assed chiefs play golf with your money. No more, my people, no more.” The crowd erupted in hoots and cries, jeers and whistles.
Molly rode the wave, picking up the rhythm and raising her voice with every sentence. “We want freedom from the self-imposed destructive life of the reserves. We must help each other. You are the people. You own the land. Chase away the devils of booze and drugs. Educate yourselves. Care for your children. Provide for the poor and the sick. Respect the elders. Remember dignity is earned, not given to you by governments, white or native.”
So after inadvertently praising the painstaking negotiation that created Nunavut, Molly Grace now denounces the leadership that brought it about. Well done.
Given the venom she directs their way, it’s surprising that she hasn’t been denounced by the ‘corrupt’ First Nations’ Leadership. ‘White Indian sell-outs’ they may be, but you don’t sleaze your way to the top without knowing a few things about back stabbing. I suspect Bland is making the basic mistake of assuming that corruption means the entire structure is rotten and irredeemable. That the wicked are also the weak. In the real world (as we saw with Dick Wilson, for example) the crooked politician is often the most ruthlessly effective, at least when it comes to maintaining their own power.
It’s also worth noting that while Molly Grace is talking about having the power to help themselves, her Movement doesn’t seem to actually be doing any helping. We still haven’t heard of the NPA operating a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a rehab centre. These would be real, tangible things that could go a long way towards building trust with the community Molly is trying to recruit from. It would also serve as a way to build confidence within a previously marginalized population who have been powerless for a long time.
This is followed by fifteen minutes of Bland not writing what Molly is saying so much as describing what she’s saying. I understand that this might be a necessary economy of writing, although it might be nice to read what Bland considers ‘free and funny’ rhetoric.
Molly Grace then lowers her voice for dramatic effect.
“Recently,” she said, dropping in cadence and pitch again, as a priest might to alert the pews that an almighty message was forthcoming. “Recently, the settlers’ courts condemned one of our great leaders and humiliated him in public, saying his words were ‘intemperate.’ The words he spoke, the white judge said, ‘were racist.’ The judge was forced to take back these lies and yet the whites missed the message. But we didn’t.
“My friends, the message is this: it’s not words that define racists. It’s what the white courts and white politicians do to us that define racists.”
This sounds like a reference to disgraced First Nations Leader David Ahenakew. A former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), in 12 Dec 2002 Ahenakew came under massive criticism for comments that were racist (specifically he stated that Hitler actually had good reason to gas the Jews). This led to a huge public outcry and (among other things) calls for him to be expelled from his then position as a First Nations Senator and the stripping of his Order of Canada (all of which eventually happened). He was later charged with promoting hatred and fined $1,000. That conviction was later overturned.
There’s a kernel of a good idea here, in that Ahenakew was a highly respected leader and fiery advocate for Indigenous issues throughout his lifetime. There was the sense that the ‘white’ majority was using this one event to overturn a lifetime of work, and to delegitimize the issues he championed. On the other hand, there’s no getting around the fact that what Ahenakew said was massively ignorant and wrong. This was not a one -word slur accidentally blurted out in the heat of the moment, but a detailed and specific rant against the Jewish people. Furthermore, when he was interviewed several months later he did not walk his remarks back.
***My personal feelings are that, if you’re an oppressed minority, it’s a really dumb idea to lash out at other oppressed minorities. Every time minorities start fighting each other, a rich ‘white’ guy kicks back his feet and smiles. That having been said, there’s a case to be made that ‘white’ society acted with unseemly haste to throw Ahennakew under a bus.***
So does this passage mean that Molly Grace is racist? Or that Douglas Bland thinks all native people are? I’m not sure, but having assigned a broad spectrum of traditionally right wing views to his radical leader, Bland now sets out to tie them to typical left wing complaints:
“I will tell you what’s ‘racist’ in this country. Racist is a home without hot water or electricity. Racist is cold food, poisoned water, and hungry children. Racist is crapping in an outhouse in February.”
“Racist is Third World schools for us and every advantage for their spoiled brats. Racist is an abundance of beds for us in their prisons, but none in their hospitals. Racist is unemployment, drugs, and alcohol. Racist is the white man’s sicknesses-TB, measles, flu, syphilis, whooping cough, and AIDS.
“Racist is the white man’s lust for our young women, as toys for sex and murder. Racist is violence and buggery disguised as religion. Racist is suicide for our kids and our nation.”
Take a moment and look at this list of problems. Then compare it to the paragraph above where Molly Grace talks about respect being something you earn. All of these are real, and can be found in varying scales on many reserves as well as in many urban Indigenous communities. All of them have a real effect in holding back Indigenous people, and adding to generational trauma.
And none of them are problems that can be dealt by yourself.
Unsafe drinking water on the reserve? Exactly how is your average native family supposed to deal with that? How can the community as a whole deal with that? Are they going to single-handedly lay hundreds of kilometres of pipeline to the nearest incorporated town, hook into their water supply and carry on? No. Even if the reserve has the money to do that, odds are they’re going to have to make some kind of arrangement with the Provincial and Federal governments to make it work.
Tuberculosis? That’s a nasty and complex disease. Do you have doctors on reserve? If not, where are they going to come from? If so, where did they do their training? Where are the medications coming from? Again, even if the reserve has the money, the expertise (at least in the short term) is coming from outside.
The notion of single handedly overcoming hardship through sheer force of will is, quite frankly, a very ‘white’ delusion. In this day and age of interconnectivity, it’s an increasingly inexcusable one. We build communities, societies and even nations because, in the real world, there’s only so much we can get done on our own.
Believe it or not, now things really take a turn:
“Racism is an unexpected slap in the face. The settlers’ top politician gets to choose a deserving Canadian to represent us all to the world. So who does he pick as the English queen’s governor general? A black foreigner, a person so unsuited to the position that even the white settlers notice. And then he declares, ‘This person is what Canada is all about.’ Well he got that part right.” The crowd gasped, but Molly raised a finger. “Both he and this lady do represent what Canada is all about. Never a thought for a native, not even a white Indian. Well, Jack Hemp, you can start thinking about us. We are the people and WE…OWN…THE…LAND.” Silence, then wild cheering. Bill noticed that he had joined in.
A black foreigner. Those are the words that Douglas Bland puts into Molly Grace’s mouth: A black foreigner.
Previously, I’ve been willing to extend to Bland the benefit of the doubt, but his is obviously a swipe aimed at the current (as of the time of the novel) Governor General of Canada, Madame Michaëlle Jean, who came to Canada as a Haitian refugee. This is how Bland thinks Indigenous people see (or should see) Canada’s immigrant population. White Canadians may be oppressors and exploiters, but the black Canadians are foreigners.
WHY THE FUCK AREN’T ‘WHITE’ PEOPLE CALLED FOREIGNERS TOO?!
Like the use of quotation marks around white guilt and legitimate there’s a lot here to unpack in this choice of words. I’m not going to call myself an expert on First Nations racism, but I’m fairly sure that most natives who sees black people as foreigners also see white people as a much worse class of foreigners.
To paraphrase Mohammed Ali: “Ain’t no Haitian refugee ever broke a Treaty!”
I may be a middle-class Honky, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb with this.
***This post’s Featured Image is Madame Michaëlle Jean’s Coat of Arms, with its motto ‘Break the Solitudes.’ Seemed appropriate enough.***
 And there’s going to be a lot more rookie mistakes to come. Bland doesn’t seem to have a very clear idea what makes a good radical speaker.
 I know there was a reference earlier to the NPA working with the Liberation Church in Winnipeg, but in the brief period where we see them, all they seem to be doing is hanging out at a church. No mention is made of any good works these Liberation Priests might be doing.
 And there is some truth to that. Typing in ‘David Ahenakew’ as a search term on YouTube brings up a number of outrage videos, where various ignorant assholes accuse ‘natives‘ of being hypocrites when they accuse ‘white’ people of racism. For those who can’t remember being seven, let me remind you: The fact that another kid did something bad does not excuse your own shit behaviour!
 Unless it’s a case of their ground water being contaminated by polluting industry, in which case I suppose it’s technically fair to say that they could help themselves by waging a Ludwig-style war of sabotage against said industry. I wouldn’t like their chances, though.
 It seems like an error here to have Jack Hemp as PM four years ago. Everything presented in later chapters seem to imply that he had come to power in a recent election. Most crucially, having him as PM four years prior to the events of the novel mean that he would have been the one who promoted Gen Bishop to CDS. I’m going to extend Bland some benefit of the doubt and speculate that while the double-PC Party may have been in power at this time, Hemp himself was Minister of Indigenous Affairs instead of Prime Minister, making him a worthy target for the Movement without actually being in charge.