So with Bill Whitefish’s flashback to Molly Grace now over, we flash forward to…well before we get to the present day we still have a condensed history of Bill’s career with the Movement. After his rapturous meeting with Molly Grace, he is recruited and put to work in the Financial Unit, giving Bland another chance to “explain” the entire process of money moving through the First Nations’ system. A lot of this is a rehash of our Org chart lecture from two chapters ago, but there’s a few new details to add to what we already know.
Security was paramount, discipline tight, and the leaders looked for RCMP moles under every bed and inside every mattress. People were followed even after they were cleared. Those who followed them were followed, and everyone was interrogated time and again. “Need to know” was the watchword – only those who absolutely needed information were given it, and then they were only given as much as they needed to do their jobs. Careful attention to other revolutionary organizations in other countries and in other times had persuaded the leaders that strict compartmentalization plus strong-arm methods were the keys to keeping the Movement and its secrets safe. So far it had worked.
Bill had been placed initially in the Financial Unit, a logical choice given his education, but it was also a training position from which he could get a deeper sense of the Movement. “Follow the money” is a venerable investigator’s adage for a reason. In the Financial Unit, Bill learned the nuts and bolts of irregular financing and, in the process, came to understand the Movement’s broad reach.
The Movement was extremely adept at getting money from governments. Of course grants and subsidies were solicited by legal, bureaucratic means, but these funds were then cleverly redirected. Elections offered prime opportunities for more aggressive tactics: politicians keen to be photographed making grants and frantic for campaign money presented a natural coming together of interest and opportunity. It was dead simple – get a grant, kick part of it back as a political donation, minus a “commission” for a Movement and the helpful fixer.
So…a few things about Government grants. First of all, they don’t just get handed out ‘to the natives’ like throwing feed to barnyard animals. They are applied for by specific groups and individuals, who are interviewed and vetted before any funds are released. And there’s always somebody signing the paperwork.
Whether it’s the Band finance manager or a single student-artist, somebody’s name is going onto the grant paperwork to take responsibility for that money. That is because grants do get tracked. While there’s often a fair bit of leeway as to how the money can be spent (to use the student-artist example: paying the rent on the apartment where they do their work could qualify) but there will always be some kind of tracking of funds, if only so that the appropriate Minister can show up for a photo op at the art gallery or the ground breaking ceremony for the new Band Hall.
The other thing that’s really strange here is that Bland seems to think that a successful program to skim government money would be enough to pay for a rebellion, especially one as extravagant as the NPA. Even if we allow for a program like this to work on a national level (let’s assume a staggering degree of corruption and bureaucratic incompetence) there’s not going to be that much money left over after all the bribes and kickbacks have been paid.
Bill Whitefish has worked for the Movement for four years. Was he paid? At the very least, what about his room and board? In his case, he doesn’t have a spouse or children, so maybe he’s willing to live like a monk to serve the cause. What about those members who do have families? Bills need to be paid, children need to be fed. A million dollars of ‘untraceable’ government money may sound like a lot, but it runs out quickly when there’s payroll to be met.
And from the looks of it there’s a lot of people on this payroll. People to follow people, who are in turn followed by other people, and are regularly debriefed by additional people. That’s a lot of people. Money goes fast, even if nothing really goes wrong. People cost money. Facilities cost money. Record keeping and secure communications cost money. Hell, just running the Complex at Akwesasne probably costs thousands of dollars a day in food and electricity alone.
It’s also interesting to see elections mentioned again. As we’ll see in the next chapter, it appears that Canada has just gone through one, re-electing the party of Jack Hemp (this is never confirmed, but it’s my read on the text). While it’s meant to be clear that the ruling PPC party is utterly and completely corrupt, there’s no specific mention that they were the only Party taking money, or that there’s any politician out there who might not feel beholden to the Movement.
But that leads to the question: If everybody’s been bribed, why doesn’t the Movement use this to their advantage?
We’ll be seeing this shortly, but the NPA has some excellent sources in the PMO and other government bodies which they are able to use to their advantage. However it’s always a staffer or a secretary who feeds them the information. Never a politician. As near as I can tell, throughout the novel there isn’t a single PPC Member of Parliament who seems to have been personally compromised.
Then there’s the question: Who’s the opposition party in Parliament? If the PPCs were in power four years ago, then by now they must be champing at the bit to tear them down. No matter how strong a governing Party may be, they all come with a shelf life. Two terms in office is usually the point where most PMs will start hearing the wolves at the door. They might hold out longer, but it’s going to be with diminishing returns. Even if Jack Hemp was a master of political survival like Pierre Trudeau or McKenzie-King (spoiler: he’s not), a second term is around the time that he’s going to have to do some serious reinforcing of his support.
Corruption is a powerful weapon for an insurgency, but it’s also a powerful weapon in the hands of an opposition party. Let’s say it’s some version of our current Conservative Party as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. No matter how popular the ruling party may be, there’s real outrage to be stoked by a good old fashioned corruption scandal. They wouldn’t even need the whole picture either. Trying to piece together a complex web of bribery and kickbacks is difficult (see this very brief article on the Charbonneau Commission), but simple petty greed (like David Dingwall’s entitlements) is something that can strike a cord with people everywhere.
I suspect that, if asked, Bland might say something about how Hemp’s re-election was a forgone conclusion – what with all the minorities he had sewn up in his pocket – so there would be no need to go after any opposition party. Of course, you can’t trust those minorities to get angry over the notion of government corruption. They’re barely even Canadian after all.
And don’t get me started on how much more complicated things get once you get down to the provincial level…
So politics is complicated, and Grants get tracked. I’d like to say that this was the most blatant issue I had with this section. But we’re only just getting started.
You might need to pour yourself a drink:
For the same reason, there wasn’t much scrutiny of how grant money was spent. And in an emergency there was always bribery, or blackmail, of government officials manoeuvred into compromising situations over money or women, especially with native women conscripted for that particular duty. Bill had learned such tactics and had learned them well.
Words matter. Word choices matter
Native women conscripted for that particular duty. These words matter.
They pimped out Indigenous women. Bill Whitefish pimped out Indigenous women.
They did this against their will (that’s what conscripted means Bland!), and after the fact they used them for blackmail. I suppose that, in some cases this could be a question of turning the screws on a married man who wouldn’t want his adultery to be revealed, and to be fair Bland doesn’t seem to imply anything specific here. But the first place my mind flashed to, the one thing that can utterly ruin any government official no matter what the circumstances.
Were they pimping out underage girls?
Bland never says for sure, but getting caught with an underage girl (or boy) is about the only sort of scandal that’s guaranteed to be an instant kiss of death for a politician’s career.
Bill Whitefish is described (in spite of his educational handicap) as a social worker. He would have seen prostitution and exploitation up close. Bland tells us that this sight of a young man just rescued from jail, literally walking back into the arms of his gang put Bill Whitefish on the verge of despair. What did he think about girls getting abused, exploited and turned out on the streets? What did he feel when he saw them return to their pimps when the bonds of abuse proved to be too strong for him to break? Yet here he is, conscripting women(girls?) for precisely the same purpose, and all we can see is that he had learned such tactics and learned them well?
Losing a young man to gangs is a tragedy, but trafficking women and girls is what? I can’t tell from the text. I don’t think Douglas Bland has even thought about it.
A darker reading of this scene might lead one to suspect that it’s meant to reassuring the ‘white’ reader that the natives themselves are to blame for their own miseries. ‘I didn’t rape that underage native girl officer! Her people set me up to be seduced!’ Never mind that the man involved can consent whereas an underage girl, by law, cannot.
We’ve seen Bland’s tendency to minimize women’s existences to the point that several of his female characters (like Maggie the Intense Blonde) don’t even have last names. Here we got the women not only being sidelined, but their abuse is made abstract as well. It gets detached from any human agency. Bill conscripted the women, they did their duty, and the politicians who preyed on them may be the most innocent of all.
Things happened. Decisions had to be made. Collateral damage was unavoidable.
As far as I can tell, Douglas Bland wrote Uprising in 2007-8, which pre-dates the coining of the phrase ‘Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ in the popular mindset. Still, this is years after the full details of the Robert Picton murders came to light, and the disgraceful reality that potentially one of North America’s worst serial killers was basically able to operate with impunity because most of his victims were homeless Indigenous women and/or sex workers.
Exploitation is a real thing. People die from it. Native women especially and despite recent news and raised awareness, they’re dying today in uncomfortably high numbers. Yet here we have an Indigenous social worker who’s spent years on the mean streets of Winnipeg, pimping women and girls out for political power.
Yeah, yeah, I know. He was seduced by the charismatic Molly Grace. I don’t buy it.
I’m not seeing a whole lot of charisma so far, and if he was that eager to sell off his principles I would expect him to be portrayed more as a sociopath rather than a confused idealist we see here.
I’m going to have more to say about this soon, but for now let’s bash on:
Within a year, he was transferred into, and soon directed, the Information and Intelligence Authority, where with an accountant’s mentality he carefully reorganized operations based on a cost-benefit basis, ruthlessly assessing intelligence needs and information sources. Systematic targeting of native people in the Canadian Forces and the militia as ready sources of important information was his major coup. His network spread quite rapidly through all branches of the armed forces and rank levels, though, of course, there were few native officers in the regular forces. The militia also became a vital way to train Movement members in the basics of soldiering and a key source of military-style weapons, especially thanks to the government’s hurriedly re-engineered Equality and Diversity Program for bringing more native people into the military. Rooting out government informers was an unpleasant but necessary part of his job, and Bill was as ruthlessly efficient in this duty as he was in all the others.
Just like an economist wouldn’t make much of a Social Worker, I’m also not sure he’d be that good of a Spy Master. I’m not an expert, but I think it’s safe to say that a person who turned out to be a shit Social Worker will probably be a shit Spy Master. Spying and social work are fields of expertise that require some pretty deep insight into human nature, and we’ve already seen that Bill Whitefish doesn’t have this.
And how is ‘cost benefit basis’ any way to run a spy ring? Like waging war, spying is a notoriously expensive and inefficient process. Take the recent case of Maria Butina. Although technically more of an influencer than a spy, it took her years of work and the founding of her own lobby group in order to forge her connections with American gun advocates.
Gah. Enough of this. I got one last observation to make before this flashback finally catches up with the present day in Uprising.
‘…Systematic targeting of native people in the Canadian Forces and the militia…’
This isn’t the first hint that we’ve had of Bland’s opinion of First Nations serving in the CAF, or of the Militia. This is the first time it’s been blatantly spelled out. Simply put, in Bland’s opinion, Native soldiers represent a deadly fifth column in the CF of his fictional world, and the Equality and Diversity Programs used to welcome them and encourage their acceptance and promotion are tantamount to treason. Within the CAF, the Primary Reserves is the most careless and vulnerable, making them into virtual training camps for NPA recruits.
Never mind that Indigenous people have been in the CAF since before it was called ‘the Permanent Militia,’ never mind that latent racism is potentially a serious problem in a multi-ethnic society, regardless of whether multiculturalism is officially government policy. Never mind that General Rene Lepine is Indigenous and was never approached, nor is there ever any attempt made to discredit him so he’ll be fired.
Never mind that in the real world, just a few weeks ago, we have this story about an Indigenous soldier committing suicide due to bullying and harassment within his Winnipeg Reserve Unit.
According to Bland, we’re supposed to be afraid of Indigenous soldiers in our midst. They can’t be trusted. This isn’t some kind of parody reality like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ this book is supposed to be researched and based on real life. The native kids who I’ve taught on recruit courses, the soldiers I’ve served alongside, the NCOs I’ve served under. All those people are just traitors waiting to happen, and I’m a fool if I don’t believe it.
At a later point they mention that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is a Sikh, so I can only assume that Bland is one of those Forces members who still holds a grudge over the Sikhs winning the right to wear their turbans in uniform.
As an NCO who has had the privilege of instructing recruits and leading Indigenous soldiers (and Sikhs too, for that matter) I would cordially invite the retired Lt-Col Bland to roll the paperback version of his book into a tube, sit on it, and spin vigorously.
Like seriously. Get some friction going.
***This post’s Featured Image is of the REDress project, by Metis artist and activist Jaime Black. It is one of the more unsettling artistic responses to the missing & murdered Indigenous women and girls. It gets even more disturbing when you hear that angry racists have frequently vandalized installations of this project.***
 It’s also worth noting that the people conducting the interrogations become a potential security risk themselves. In order to determine if a person’s loyal, you’ll need to know something about their job and their expected activities. Which means this one class of people in the organization (the interrogators) will have a disproportionate amount of knowledge about its activities.
 Robert Picton was eventually convicted of six murders, and had charges relating to twenty others stayed. He himself confessed to forty nine killings.
 I’ve known of a couple of Indigenous officers in the military, but technically I’ve never served under them.
7 thoughts on “37-Bill Whitefish Learns the Ropes”
Leaving aside the very disturbing views on the pimping out of First Nations women (and boys from a previous chapter), the ridiculously stupid concept so prevalent as a right wing talking point that government grants are distributed like chicken feed with no oversight, I’ll look at the idea of the First Nations in the CAF as a dangerous fifth column.
Oddly, on the surface, this is a really sound idea. Historically, this is actually why ethnic and culturally different soldiers were often placed in separate units – the Romans used to take units raised in one part of the Empire and have them serve in another. The idea was to prevent the troops from being susceptible to manipulation by local politicians out to secure their personal power at the expense of Imperial power. In theory, a good idea, in practice after a couple of years the former foreigners were now thoroughly integrated into the local scene, and the officers and centurions were all properly entwined in the local and possibly Imperial political machinations – and there just wasn’t enough money to keep the legions constantly moving about to prevent this. Flash forward to 1857 and the Indian Rebellion – formerly either the Indian Mutiny or the Sepoy Mutiny – where some Indian soldiers (known as Sepoys) mutinied against British rule in parts of India. This was a very dangerous rebellion for the British because the mutineers were:
a. as well armed as the loyal soldiers trying to put down the rebellion;
b. very familiar with how the loyal soldiers would be fighting (given that they were trained in the same manner);
c. well disciplined;
d. motivated by a number of well known grievances; and
e. well financed by some of the nearby Indian states that weren’t yet part of the Raj.
The analogy falls apart after anything more than a superficial look for an number of reasons:
a. The sepoys were able to rebel in nearly complete units, with a well established command structure and that had actively trained and often conducted operations together as complete units, vice the idea that Bland has put forth that the untrained fighters of the NPA will magically be able to work together with little to no work up training because of the presence of a few ex-CAF officers and NCOs;
b. Weapons and equipment. The sepoys had the complete package – from swords to cannon – were well trained in their use and had the advantage of interoperability with the forces they were fighting. From Bland’s narrative they have a some of the current CAF weapons, minimal heavy weapons, and a mishmash of civilian weapons. Here’s the thing about the use of weapons like rocket launchers and machine guns – their use is REALLY noticeable, good use of them requires practice and their ammo can’t be purchased at the local Canadian Tire or Cabela’s;
c. Intelligence. The British weren’t unaware that there were problems that might erupt into violence prior to the rebellion starting and had spies for lack of a better term within units known to be dissatisfied to keep tabs on the situation. There were people in those neighbouring states getting information; and
d. Individual and group variation within the larger group. It’s called the Indian Rebellion/Indian Mutiny/Sepoy Mutiny and the well published bits of propaganda is that a small force of brave British soldiers defeated the mutinous Indian rebels. The reality is that this narrative ignores the reality that the loyal forces actually outnumbered the rebels when you factored in the Indian regiments that didn’t rebel. Essentially, Bland is subscribing to the idea that nearly every first Nations soldier, sailor or airman is going to fight for the NPA out of ethnic/cultural loyalty. Reality – there were about 2,300 self-identified First Nations members in 2015 (http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/news/article.page?doc=aboriginal-peoples-in-the-canadian-armed-forces/hie8w98n). There’s a wide variety of backgrounds for those members. The idea that you could get even a majority of them to go the same way on any issue without anyone outside that group catching wind of it and reporting it are about the same as getting all Quebecois to suddenly agree to rise up and throw out les maudites Anglais with no one outside of that group becoming aware.
Flash forward to WWI and you’ve got issues in multi-ethnic empires like Austria -Hungary, Ottoman Turkey and Russia. Units from one part of the empire often have to serve in other parts of the empire because their perceived unreliability if they serve against their ethnic peers on the other side of the line (for example, Austria Hungary found that ethnic Czech units were more reliable if they were employed against the Italians than against the ethnically Slavic Russians and that units raised in Hungarian Transylvania should not be employed fighting the Romanians).
Or you can look at the US Civil War and what happened to the pre-conflict US Army – most southern US born soldiers stayed loyal, and others felt the call to side with their particular state and become unsuccessful traitors. Some Northern born citizens actively sided with the Confederates, others politically supported them, some just didn’t like Abe Lincoln. And yes, there ended up being black soldiers on both sides of that war.
During the American Indian Wars the US Army had large numbers of First Nations soldiers who fought with the US Army. Conflict is complicated, because people are complicated. Bland makes everything too simplistic to be anything other than propaganda. Which in this case seems to be “don’t trust the Other.”
All good examples, although with the older Imperial armies (British and others) there was the basic expectation that one potential job for the army was to defend the government against their own people. Hence the idea that the less sympathy the troops had for the locals, the better. While this was somewhat the case when the Canadian Militia was originally conceived, these days the emphasis is on obedience to “Lawful Commands,” so in theory not so much anymore. As far as localization goes, the Militia runs completely opposite to older Imperial systems, where each Regiment recruits locally. That could still make for some alienation if a unit from a relatively homogenous region got deployed somewhere else in the country, except that few Regiments are big enough to deploy on their own.
These days, the only real “ethnic” separation in the CAF is along language, so those 2,300 Indigenous troops would be scattered across the country and across all trades and elements. Even if they were concentrated into some kind of First Nations Regiment, it would be even money as to whether they might embrace something like the Movement or else reject it for their own CAF identity. Kind of like the Highland regiments: They wholeheartedly embrace the culture and traditions of Scotland while rejecting a lot of the old-world grudges and rivalries. These days, you’d have no trouble at all finding Canadian Highlanders named Campbell and MacDonald in the same outfit, with no idea that they’re ‘supposed’ to hate each other.