So last time, we looked at the idea of the Prime Minister of Canada having a secret meeting with the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, here represented by the fictional First Nations Federation (FNF)’s leader Al Onanole.

Such a meeting would not be totally unprecedented, although in the past such meeting were usually carried on through proxies who wouldn’t as much in the public eye.  At this point in the novel, although the Movement’s actions have largely been limited to public statements and demonstrations, it would nevertheless be logical for the larger news organizations to keep a journalist on permanent vigil outside of the Langevin Block and 24 Sussex.

So the idea is plausible, and properly written this scene could go a long way towards advancing the plot line and exploring the story’s themes.  In Uprising, it’s heavy handed, and preachy.

“Chief,” Hemp began, “you saw the Molly Grace thing on television, I assume?”
Onanole nodded. “Of course.”

“Well, it looks like she’s not kidding. I’m going to level with you, Al. We’ve also had serious raids on our military bases and it seems now we’ve got a difficult problem developing in James Bay that I’m sure you’re aware of. The Quebec government is going wild. The media is in full indignation mood. The opposition is on the warpath – ah, poor choice of words, I guess. Anyway, I thought you might have some ideas, suggestions really, about how to resolve the matter before it gets out of hand.”

So a little while back in the CAF – as in three years ago – they passed on a set of updated directives about inappropriate comments regarding aboriginal people. ‘Going off reserve,’ and ‘hold down the fort,’ and so forth. Even though this was only a couple of years ago (long after Uprising was written) most of the terms didn’t come as a surprise.  Even for dumbasses like us, it wasn’t too hard to figure out what constituted an inappropriate remark.  Given that Jack Hemp is a hard-left Double-PC leader, you’d think he’d be better at this.

The opening to this conversation is another failure of world-building.  Specifically with regards to the history of Molly Grace.

Who exactly is Molly Grace, and what has she been doing in the lead up to the NPA’s war?  So far we’ve seen Alex Gabriel reacting with surprise that she actually exists, implying she was some shadowy figure.  Spoken of by many, but seldom seen in person.  Bill Whitefish, on the other hand, seems to have seen her before on TV, implying that she was a public figure and political firebrand who was openly building an alternative First Nations government from the FNF.  When Al Onanole is first introduced as a character, Molly Grace seems to be a well-known character within Canada’s Indigenous community, but (apparently?) not known to the rest of Canada.

So who is she?

This is also a huge failure of economy of writing.  Typically in fiction you want the text to flow.  As Kurt Vonegut said, every sentence should either develop character or advance the plot.  But here we get a re-hash of plot elements we already knew of from before.

Consider how much more could have been accomplished with a better opening paragraph.  Suppose that Molly Grace is totally unknown within the greater Canadian society and Jack Hemp has no clue how to deal with the NPA:

“Al, I’m going to level with you.  I just came from a Cabinet meeting with some of the top people in my party and government…half of them I had to beat to get this job and who would stab me in the back in a heartbeat…and nobody had half a clue who this Molly Grace is.  Al…I know we’ve had our differences, but people are already getting hurt.  I need to know.  Who is Molly Grace?”

Or maybe Jack and Al are old colleagues who thought Molly Grace was just another hothead that would soon burn out:

“Well Al…it’s looking like we seriously underestimated one Molly Grace.  I got Mohawks rioting in Quebec, and a Premier eager to fight.  I got reports coming out of James Bay that are making my Ministers panic, and a couple of Aboriginal army deserters have turned up together in Winnipeg for some reason none of us can figure out just yet.  I’m assuming you’ve something similar happening in your back yard as well?”

Or hey, if you want drama and anger:

“Dammit Al!  That ‘little girl throwing her temper tantrum‘ seems to have attracted a few followers.  Don’t you think, Al?  Looks like maybe her message caught on with more than just ‘the bums and alkies,’ didn’t it?  You know what else, Al?  Do you know what the ‘little girl’ has managed to pick up?  Fucking anti-aircraft missiles!  She’s got the power to shoot down planes now, and there’s reports saying she might be looking to blow up the dam at James Bay as well!  You think maybe it’s time we start taking her seriously, Al?”[1]

Each of these opening lines would go a long way towards establishing how much each man already knew about Molly Grace, as well as laying out some basic outlines as to their recent history together.  Because these two men would have had a lot of history together, especially if this is Jack Hemp’s second term as PM.

Instead, we get sterile language and no character:

Al shifted in his chair. “Well, prime minister, I’m going to level with you, too. It seems to me the matter is already out of hand. I suggest that you open negotiations right away. Perhaps over the grievances we’ve discussed over many years. The Federation will do what it can to help, but this is a matter for the local nations to discuss with you and perhaps the premier of Quebec.”

“Come on, Al. You know I can’t negotiate with a gun to my head. We need a return to civilized behaviour and then we can call a meeting with all the players. You could co-chair the conference with me. That’d give you the lead…show Canadians you’re in charge…put these radicals in their place. I’m sure the government would appreciate the gesture…in the future, I mean.”

Again, editing is your friend.

Al’s response in the first paragraph should have hit the table like an anvil.  ‘[O]pen negotiations right away…over the grievances we’ve discussed…’  This makes it sound like Al is declaring that he holds a leadership role in the uprising.  At the very least, he’s offering himself as an established representative with whom the PM can negotiate.  Jack’s immediate response should have been something to the effect of ‘wait…what?’

His actual response in the text is even more loaded than Bland thinks.  He’s made a show of having Hemp correct himself on the ‘warpath’ comment, and in a second Al will take him to task for talk of ‘civilized behaviour.’  But the suggestion that Al ‘put these radicals in their place’ should have put the Grand Chief’s back up instantly.

There’s a long and really unfortunate history with settler society essentially shopping around for the native leadership that they want.  Essentially, the ‘white’ government would find a leader amenable to their desires, and declare that person ‘Chief.’ They would then sign a treaty with ‘the Chief,’ and insist that this ‘Chief’s’ agreement is binding upon all other Bands and Nations in the region regardless of whether they’d even heard of this guy.

This is a trend that has been actively reversed in recent years.  These days, modern government representatives have been met with the declaration “We’ll choose who you negotiate with, not you!” a state that, while healthier for Indigenous people, can also lead to confusion.[1]

Having Jack effectively say to Al “You can be our good Indian.  We’ll make you chief afterwards!” should have earned the Prime Minister an instant rebuke.  Instead, we get another paragraph of sterile exposition.

Al knew exactly what Hemp meant and how the PM expected the minuet to develop. But he had a problem the white man opposite didn’t fully appreciate. Al and the Federation didn’t have as much influence outside Ottawa as they pretended to have, and the current crisis had revealed that they had even less influence that they’d thought. As a matter of fact, Al Onanole didn’t really understand what was happening. The James Bay bands had long ago stopped acting on his direction, and the band leaders had been getting damn well uppity and disrespectful at Federation meetings. Lately, he wasn’t even getting information from his usual sources in the area, and he wasn’t about to risk his status by getting into a fight with band chiefs just to save Hemp’s political skin.

So this is an interesting development.  Right here, Al Onanole appears to be in possession of a vital piece of information that (on its own) could make a huge difference in Gen Lepine’s airborne invasion of James Bay.

In the world of Uprising, the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) has joined the Movement in their entirety.[2]

This is devastating news that would massively change the entire risk calculation of the CSSR’s jump onto the Dam.  Until now they’d been working under the assumption of ‘about a hundred young men and some women, lightly armed and poorly trained’  This means there would probably be a lot more than a hundred warriors, plus the Band Police Force, plus the support of the entire population.  This is a very different beast than what young Col Rusty Campbell is expecting to face.

Bland is portraying this meeting like some kind of high stakes poker game.  Every move has a counter, and even a losing hand could still win if your opponent falls for your bluff. Never having been present for such a high-level meeting, I’m in no position to dispute this.  But if this meeting is a poker game, then this single piece of information is like a Ace in Al Onanole’s hand.  It’s worth something.  Especially if Jack Hemp doesn’t know about it.

But neither man seems to realize this.

Still, a smart man keeps his options open, so Al decided to rag the puck. “Civilized behaviour, prime minister? Who’s civilized in these matters? If Canada and Quebec had carried through on the fair deal the FNF negotiated at Kelowna, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Most of the chiefs were happy with that outcome and there wouldn’t be this trouble if we’d gotten the increased benefits, reasonable land claim settlements, and freedom to hunt and fish without interference from your game wardens that we were promised. But no. Instead, as you may recall, the meetings I put together broke down because a few rednecks from out west and the Ontario Hunter’s Association didn’t like a few of the bits about hunting, and you didn’t have the guts to face them down. Now you’ve got a real armed rebellion on your hands and you want me to walk into the middle of it. No thanks!”

…And we’re off!

So the Kelowna Accords were a massive, 18-month effort by the Government of PM Paul Martin to – in their own words – to bridge the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous populations and the rest of Canada. It included commitments to greater funding for education, health care and housing over a ten year period (starting with over 5 billion). It was concluded in late November 2005.

Four days later, the minority Liberal government of Paul Martin fell, to be replaced by the Conservative Stephen Harper.  As Parliament had not passed the official legislation to make Kelowna into law before the change in government, it fell to PM Harper to make it happen. Which he did. With some revisions…

In most areas, those revisions amounted to a more than 75% cut in the promised funding.

I think it was Churchill who said that compromise is is the worst option, since it’s the outcome that will leave everyone unhappy. There were a lot of reasons why the original Kelowna Accord was imperfect, and a lot of things that could have led to its failure. But the massive cuts to funding in the revised Accord? That really honked people off.

More importantly, what’s this crap about hunting and fishing rights?  Some of the key aspects of Kelowna had to do with health issues.  For example, Tuberculosis rates in northern First Nations and Inuit communities.  Yes, you read that right.  Tuberculosis.  We’re talking about fucking the consumption here!  As in, there are communities in North America where I’d be at equal risk of getting TB as I was when I went to fucking Afghanistan![3]

And this is just one issue that Kelowna was supposed to address.

No agreement is perfect.  But Kelowna was created (in part) to address the fact that a bunch of native communities are still plagued by a disease from the 19th century.

Hemp took the hit. He didn’t like being hustled, but he’d done enough hustling of his own to know when a man had to eat a little dirt. “Okay. What’s the deal? What do I need to do to get this thing off dead-centre?”

The opening came faster and more directly that Onanole was anticipating, but he was ready to explore it seriously. Hemp’s position was weak, but Al knew his wasn’t very strong either. He was up against the NPC and Molly Grace, and if things escalated too far too fast he’d never get back his authority or at least his reputation for authority in the native community. He knew also that Hemp was as ready to throw him overboard as he was to chuck Hemp, namely in two puffs on a peace-pipe. But if they could find a way out of this together, Al would take that too. He was an unsentimental man, but Hemp was going to have to give him quite a bit to pull the trick off this time. So it was time to throw the guilt card on the table and then offer to make peace on “reasonable grounds.”

Al’s internal calculations again raises the question of exactly what sort of movement The Movement really is.  Is it a radical overthrow of the established First Nations governments?  A deadly power play within the First Nations governments, with a few larger groups (the Northern Cree, the Mohawks) trying to seize a bigger piece of the pie?

The best I can figure based on Bill Whitefish’s recollections is that the Movement is a massive personality cult centred around Molly Grace, but even that doesn’t fully jive with what we’ve seen.  Molly has openly condemned traditional Band leadership, even as she invokes traditional authorities (such as the Shaman Martin Fisher) and partnered with certain loyal Chiefs.  Parts of it look like the early stages of a classic Fascist movement, where conservative authorities might still be inclined to support it,[4] but even then it’s still a mess.

Al played his trump. “End the oppression of the people. Not just in Quebec, but across Canada. Do it and I’ll deliver the people.”

Jack Hemp stood up, leaned over his great desk, and glared into Al’s black eyes, his voice rising. “Don’t give me that crap, Al. That’s just barricade rhetoric. I can’t ‘end the oppression of the people’ and I can’t go out and tell Canadian taxpayers that the people to whom we give eight billion dollars a year are oppressed. Bullshit, Al. Give me something better.”

Okay so…bear with me for a second here…

Jack Hemp is right.  This is barricade rhetoric.

So just hang on and hear me out…That whole part about Canadian taxpayers giving eight billion a year is crap.  Not just because it shouldn’t matter what they’re paying if they’re supposed to pay it,[5] or because it’s not that much in the grand scheme of things.[6]  It’s crap because paying for stuff that doesn’t directly benefit you is a part of living in a modern nation state.  You are not going to see a perfect return on every dollar you pay in taxes.  Grow the fuck up and deal with it!

(Sorry, getting distracted here.)

What I’m talking about is the whole generic ‘end the oppression of the people’ thing.  That’s the part that’s crap.  How is this not more specific?  How is Al Onanole – of all people – not able to summon up a real life example to throw into the face of the Prime Minister of Canada himself?

This is the kind of talk I’d expect from some random ‘white’ hippy (with blonde dreadlocks of course), who’d joined the protest yesterday, only to push his way to the front once the news cameras were rolling.  It’s clueless, but it’s coming from a person who should definitely have a clue.

Go back and re-read Bland’s description of Al Onanole’s personal history.  There’s no word as to whether he went to a Residential School, but he was right in the middle of that time period when Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop.  He was a young man when the American Indian Movement emerged from the chaos of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements in the United States.

He should be able to remember the occupation of Alcatraz, and the Siege of Wounded Knee.  Where was he during Oka?  During Ipperwash and Caledonia?

The subtext of his introduction implies that he was groomed for his position, almost against his will.  There’s some really good possibilities here.  A guy grows up with potential and the basic education needed to do a job.  In desperate times he steps forward (or gets gently pushed) and fills a role, only to discover that the need never stops, and he’ll never get the chance to follow his own path because he’s always helping others.

So where’s the anger?  Where’s the passion?  What is driving this man who sits across from the Prime Minister at this time of crisis?  It’s like this guys stepped out of a hermetically sealed tube a couple of days before the novel began.[7]

“Oppression is a lot more obvious to the victim than the perpetrator,” Al snapped back. “You try putting on my skin and walking around Winnipeg, or Ottawa, or Regina or live on a reserve for a year and see how you like it. Jack, I’ve been warning you for years that things were very bad. You want my help now, the first thing you do is listen.”

‘Never judge a man, until you walk a mile in his moccasins.’  That’s one of those clichée Indian sayings that was everywhere when I was growing up.  That’s all that Grand Chief Al Onanole has to offer at this crucial moment in history.  He can’t name a single real-life casualty of that history.  All he seems to have are the same bland platitudes that I (a middle class ‘white’ kid) was raised on.

***Today’s featured image is of one of the signing ceremonies for the Kelowna Accord.  Prime Minister Paul Martin is on the left in a buckskin jacket.  Photo by government of Canada photographer Dave Chan.***


[1] We touched on the problem of sexism with the last post.  One of the things that isn’t even on the radar in this novel is the idea that Molly Grace’s revolution might get rejected before it even begins…simply because it’s leader had a vagina.

[2] The obvious recent example is with the Wet’suwet’en nation and the oil pipeline, where a deal with the elected Band Council was opposed by the traditional Hereditary Chiefs.  Going back to the Oka Crisis, Harry Swain described how one of the major obstacles to negotiating with the Mohawks was that the overall nation was in a state of flux with several different entities claiming the authority to speak for the people.

[3] At the time that Bland was writing Uprising, this would have been the Cree Regional Authority, representing roughly 20,000 people across Northern Québec.  The Grand Council of the Cree was (effectively) established in 2013 with the passage of Bill 42 which abolished the (Québec Provincial) municipality of James Bay, leaving the Cree Regional Authority as the governing body of the region.  In military terms, it’s not too formidable.  But given their geographic isolation, that could easily become disproportionate to their hard numbers.

[4] As part of our post-deployment processing, every Canadian soldier needs to go in for a G6PD Test, to make sure we haven’t been exposed to TB while overseas.  I was especially concerned about these results after one occasion when I’d been liaising with a group of Afghan construction workers.  My first lunch with these guys introduced me to the concept of fresh (as in, that morning) goat milk, served from a communal jug.  There were no cups.  We shared a ladle.

[5] One of the characteristics of fascist philosophy (according to Umberto Eco) is the condemnation of traditional enemies, and invoking of a mythical past of prior greatness.  As a result, traditional conservative authority figures often mistake the nascent fascist movement for a more conventional force.  This often results in said authorities turning a blind eye or even supporting the fascists as a way of reinforcing their own status quo.  What the authorities often don’t realize is that the fascists are very radical, and have no love for their former social betters.

[6] Because Treaties are still a thing.  Deal with it.

[7] The current budget for the CAF is about 18 Billion, for a force of about 100,000.  Compare that to an Indigenous population that might be as high as 1.2 million and 8 Billion a year isn’t a lot.

[8] For that matter, where was Jack Hemp?  If you look at the history of career politicians (like Jean Chretien or Joe Clarke) you can trace where they were at various important moments in Canadian history.  Since Jack Hemp doesn’t appear to have had a career outside of politics, where was he back in the day?

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