So last post needed some heavy editing to keep the word count from ballooning out of control. As much as I’m trying to cover all the angles, it’s inevitable that stuff’s going to be missed.  However, I’m thinking this paragraph from the last post calls for a deeper dive:

He watched with growing dread the storm he could see gathering over the people.  It was a great danger, if it were allowed to grow, that might bring the whole weight of an angry, vengeful country down on the careful consensus of moderation he had constructed with Canadian politicians.  He knew that they would turn to him eventually to solve “the Molly Grace problem,” even though Alan wasn’t sure he could placate native demands this time.  Nevertheless, in the circumstances, the call from Jack Hemp’s office wasn’t unexpected. 

Now there’s a lot wrong here, and a lot of it can likely be put down to bad editing.  But I think that’s what might make this passage very instructive.  One of the things about writing is that it’s harder than it looks, and if you don’t think very carefully about each word and how it comes together, then you can’t be sure of getting your point across.  Worse is that a lot of times, when you don’t think hard about saying what you want, on a subconscious level you might end up saying what you mean, instead.  Kind of a idiomotor effect translated through a keyboard.

Douglas Bland intended Uprising to be a clear-eyed examination of the risks of a pan-Canadian Indigenous militant movement.  The problem (well, one among many) is that he doesn’t seem to have paused to seriously examine his own assumptions.  He’s absolutely certain that liberal-leaning politicians are weak-kneed, insincere cowards and that Indigenous people will all happily drop their own cultural traditions and local concerns in favour some broad, poorly defined notion like “We own the Land!”

Neither of these premises is true, and any examination of First Nations militancy that rests on such poor foundations is going to veer off into wacky land really fast.

Wacky Land
It may not have helped, but at least Porky Pig was willing to talk to the locals in Wacky Land (Warner Bros 1938).  Source

More importantly, by not thinking about exactly what he’s trying to say and the language he’s using to convey it, Bland seems to be projecting his assumptions and prejudices through the text instead.  This paragraph seems to be a particularly telling example.

It was a great danger, if it were allowed to grow, that might bring the whole weight of an angry, vengeful country down on the careful consensus of moderation he had constructed with Canadian politicians.

‘An angry, vengeful country.’  Word selection matters.

Vengeance is something you seek out when you’ve been wronged (or at least, you think you have), and you want to seek justice (or at least, get even).  The country in question is obviously Canada, so at first glance it looks as though this is Al Onanole fearing the violence that a native rebellion would bring about.  Except his concern doesn’t seem to be for the inevitable loss of life that would follow.[1]  His real concern seems to be that Molly Grace will upset the ‘careful consensus of moderation he had created.’

Instead of being worried about innocent lives.  He seems to be worried about his racket.  From a few paragraphs earlier:

He kept the money flowing, kept native concerns on the public agenda, and kept the status of his organization intact – meaning that in the minds of the non-native public the FNF was the legitimate and sole arbiter between the native community and the federal government.  Politicians listened when he demanded “a place at the table” beside the prime minister.  In return, Onanole acted as the helpful fixer, making sure native issues never became a significant political embarrassment for the major politicians and their interests.

This is the ‘consensus’ that he’s talking about.  It doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to real-life First Nations’ discourse, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.  Al Onanole’s job in the world of Uprising is to hold native issues in the public eye just enough to keep himself and the FNF in money, in exchange for not embarrassing the government.  He’s a fixer who can make those pesky native issues go away…for a price.

Do you see?  The issue here isn’t that Molly Grace’s NPA is going to kill a lot of people, kicking off a cycle of death and retribution that can only result in the First Nations getting ground into the dirt.  He’s worried that her hustle is going to cut into his hustle.

And they’re both hustles.  That’s where the word ‘vengeance’ comes in.

The idea here seems to be that both Al Onanole and Molly Grace are running a con, and that con is Indigenous rights in and of itself.  Onanole seems to be worried that if Molly Grace pushes the con too far, she’ll ruin it for the both of them.

And then Canada will take it’s revenge.  Not because the NPA will launch an ill-conceived rebellion that will kill hundreds of innocent people and possibly trigger an ethnic war, but because ‘white’ Canada will finally realize that those treacherous natives have been playing them false the whole time, and they’ll want payback.[2]

Like I said in the previous post, there’s a lot that could have been done with Al Onanole’s character.  He could have served as a critique of established leadership, of the risks that can come from getting too comfortable with the power you’re supposed to be challenging.  He could have served as a counter-point to Molly Grace’s revolution now perspective, showing how sometimes the most important battles are the quiet, behind-the-scenes ones that don’t make headlines or draw crowds.

By portraying him as out of touch with the Movement, Bland could have even reiterated the age-old army maxim that the first job of leadership is to train a replacement.  This could have make Al Onanole a tragic figure who succeeded in so much but missed the crucial task of making sure his work could be carried on by the next generation.

Instead we got an aging con artist, working a one hundred and fifty year old scam called Indigenous Affairs.  He’s not worried about bloodshed, but that the actions rival hustler might finally blow the game for everybody.

I’d like to think that I’m reading too much into this, but then I keep reading…

______________________________

[1] I would hope that any person aspiring to a post such as Grand Chief would be equally concerned for both Indigenous and ‘white’ lives, but I’d understand if he was more concerned with the likely harm to his own people rather than us honkies.

[2] Bland’s version of Canada can’t be expected to worry too much about a bunch of Fred McTavishes.

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