Wow. Okay. Took a while to get this blog back on track.

Okay, so where were we? Oh yes! First Nations Federation Grand Chief Al Onanole is having a sit down meeting with Prime Minister Jack Hemp of the Progressive Party of Canada. Their goal is to avert a Canadian civil war between the government and the shadowy Native Peoples’ Movement (preferably while keeping themselves in their respective positions of power) but somehow the conversation has devolved into a generic bar stool argument about Crown-Indigenous relations in Canada. Oh boy.

And so we continue…

“Prime minister, who said we need a social transformation? There’s nothing wrong with our traditional culture except we got robbed and run over by the Europeans and had our rights taken away. What we want now is a fair deal from the Canadian government and we’ll take care of ourselves. We’ll run our communities on our land and distribute our resources according to our social norms. That’s why we call ourselves nations. Once the economic grievances are settled, the harmful social conditions in our communities and the threats to your people will disappear.”

So…this is an argument that’s been made for years, and there’s a fair bit of truth to that: You might have your shit wired tight, but tradition and culture doesn’t pay the rent. A lot of First Nations communities never get the chance to show what they’re capable of for the simple reason that they’re mired in poverty.

And not just your basic, run-of-the-mill poverty either.  They’re lacking money that’s owed.  Money that’s supposed to be guaranteed by Treaty, but which never arrived.  Admittedly, that’s also a simplistic argument: Honour the Treaties and we’ll be fine!  But there’s definitely some truth there as well. 

That is, however, not always the case. With over six hundred and fifty native communities across Canada, there’s going to be a lot of cases where it’s more than just a matter of money. Serious damage to the social fabric takes time to heal.  Money helps, but it’s only going to be a facilitator of the painful legwork that will need to be done.  Moreover, as much as it’s an uncomfortable topic to discus, sometimes that damage is coming from local leadership that might need to be voted out by their respective Bands before the healing can begin.

So there is an argument to be made for both sides here. Generally speaking though, my personal belief tends towards the former, rather than the latter.  People want to be in charge of their own lives. If you give them a fair break, they can usually sort themselves out.

Now, in a novel about near-future Crown-Indigenous relations, this is definitely an argument worth unpacking.  I want to be completely fair here, I would have expected some kind of scene like this to happen in a novel like Uprising.  What’s bewildering is that it’s an argument that’s happening here, at this part of the novel.  This is the part of the novel where two powerful men on opposite sides of an issue (but who should otherwise be able to get along), have to try and find a way to avert a civil war. 

What the hell does the question of Native self-government have to do with the very real and tangible security crisis that is building in Québec?  The Prime Minister has just been told that there is a real threat to the power grid of eastern Canada and north-eastern America and other than a brief moment at the start of this chapter, they’ve barely even mentioned James Bay. 

Who does Al Onanole know in the Northern Cree community?  Does he know the Band Chief in Chisasibi?  The police chief?  Some of the Elders?[1]  Does he know anything about the ‘disgraced Rangers(?)’[2] that the intelligence community seems to have decided are the core of the Movement forces in the region?  These should have been the first questions out of any real Prime Minister’s mouth once they’d actually sat down. 

The problem, though, is that it seems Jack Hemp isn’t actually interested in ‘solving’ this crisis.  In fact it seems as though he’s already made a few decisions before Al Onanole even sat down:

You sound like that Molly Grace on the TV,[3] but never mind. Just tell me this: what do we do until that grand day arrives? In Canada, we have the wealth and the motivation and the education, and the native society has the brains to handle the complexities of change. But what are we going to do with the – what the politically correct thing to call them – the ‘lost generation’? And before we even get to that, what are we going to do right now? It’s a damn wicked problem, Al, and one most Canadians are content to ignore. I know what you’re going to say: that we political leaders ignore it too because of the dangers and threats to our interests in the situation – it’s just too politically incorrect, too outrageous to mention in public. I know that’s true. Well, I guess it looks like we’re not going to be allowed to ignore it for much longer, but I’m worried that it might just be too late to do much except let the bad blood flow.

Whooooboy…..

Jack’s advocating for a solution here.  A final one. 

So part of what I’m reading here is that Jack Hemp (and Douglas Bland, speaking through him?) can’t see a solution for all of the aboriginal issues across all of Canada, so the only answer is to ‘let the bad blood flow.‘ 

Because, you see, they are the ‘lost generation.’

This scene is starting to read like someone who is trying to lump all of their potential enemies into a giant pile labelled ‘lost.’  If they can’t be saved?  If there’s no reaching them? 

Well, what do you do with something that’s broken and useless?

If you’re ever having this argument in a bar, do not jump ahead to this conclusion.  This is where the argument ultimately leads, but most people making that argument haven’t thought that far ahead and you’ll basically be Godwinning the situation if you say it.  Make no mistake, if you’re arguing that a part of the population have the proverbial “Lives not worth living,” you will eventually reach the conclusion that those lives must be exterminated for the greater good.  But most people arguing this haven’t thought it through.  Your best bet for reaching them is to reveal the path that they’re on gradually.  Let them figure some of it out themselves.  Hopefully, once they see where they’re headed, they’ll change on their own.

And if they don’t, then you breath fire and call them a Nazi.[3] 

So that’s sketchy already. Declaring that a huge part of a population – that he still hasn’t confirmed are part of the Movement – are hopelessly beyond reach. Don’t even bother trying to negotiate, they’re a lost cause.

If this was a better written novel, I’d think this was a big revelation. That this was the big scene in which the Prime Minister shows himself to be deliberately pushing for a confrontation with the Movement on the grounds that he believes there’s no point in trying to do otherwise.

This is the same man who has made no effort to head off any of the Movement’s likely plans.  He hasn’t bothered to send any kind of police/military force to Radisson, which means that he’s already committed to letting Molly Grace seize the Robert Bourassa Dam.  This is going to commit him to a seriously bloody confrontation in James Bay. 

This passage seems to confirm that the PM wants a civil war with Canada’s Indigenous people, which should have Al Onanole on his feet and ready to walk out. He won’t, because he’s not even a semi-realistic character in this story and his main purpose is to confirm Bland’s thesis that there’s no solution so we might as well blow it all up.

If you think I’m reading too much into this, here’s the very next paragraph:

“So, Al, that’s the situation we’re in.  We’ve let – yes, for now let’s blame both of us and let’s both of us find a short-term answer – we’ve the let the native community situation evolve in such a way that the thugs have control and lots of restless, poorly educated native kids to recruit.  Now the mere problem of glue-sniffing kids and street gangs has morphed into a political movement that’s threatening the country, or at least threatening ‘peace, order and good government.’

For those who don’t know, the bold text seems to refer to an actual tragedy in recent Canadian history. Davis Inlet was an Inuit community on the northern coast of Newfoundland that became infamous when, in 1992, a house fire killed six unattended children while their parents were away drinking.  In 1993 a home video made the news showing several young children abusing inhalants and openly talking about suicide.  Although the rates of alcoholism and inhalant abuse in the community was already an open secret, the video drove the point home that Davis Inlet was suffering on a level far beyond even the worst case scenarios.[5] 

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that some native communities just need a hand up, while others had a lot of damage to heal before they can really have a chance to prosper.  Davis Inlet was deep in the latter category.  The revelations arising from the house fire and later video would become a major scandal that really drove home to the ‘white’ population just how desperate some reserves really were, and how intractable some of their problems could be.  The scandal would (eventually) spur the Canadian Government to act, and in 2002 the community would be moved to mainland Labrador, to a new reserve called Natuashish, although their problems persist to this day.

The point here is that this wasn’t a ‘mere problem,’ but a full-on nightmare.  There’s a lot of Reserves that have problems, but not many that are as bad as this.

This kind of puts the rest of the paragraph into perspective (and gives a major justification for the Movement’s recruiting successes).  Kids dying of inhalant abuse is a ‘mere problem.’  The street gangs Jack Hemp is talking about are a problem mostly for the native populations that birth them.[6] In other words, things don’t become serious until they’re actually an issue for ‘white’ people. 

There’s kind of a thing where prejudice tends to act like one of those two-way mirrors you see in cop shows.  The minority population can see the bigot in all their ugly glory, but all the bigot sees is their own reflection staring back at them. 

I’ve heard people talk like Jack Hemp is talking here, and yet these same people will wonder out loud why native people might call them racist.  It’s like “Dude, they can hear you talk!”  But it never seems to occur to the bigot that the natives might pay more attention to them than they do to the natives.

For a really blatant illustration of this…effect? We can do no better than listen to this clip of that bloated gas bag of hate Rush Limbaugh, as he freaks out live on his show following the 2012 re-election of a black man as President of the United States:

Now Rush is an extreme example, but he’s an example who throws the problem into more stark relief.  Here he is in an unguarded moment, literally tokenizing prominent black and Hispanic members of the Republican Party. He doesn’t cite actions that the Republican party has taken that would benefit minority communities and therefore encourage them to change parties.  He’s literally saying: We let in a person like you.  Isn’t that enough? He’s straight up admitting that people like Marco Rubio and Condoleezza Rice are only there to provide token representation to attract minority voters, and yet he can’t understand why those minorities won’t vote Republican.[7] 

Dude, they can hear you talk! 

In this case literally, since he said this on the air.[8]

But there’s no time for speculating over what Jack Hemp really means (even though it’s central to what he wants), ole Jack’s too busy taking this example of worst case scenario and applying it to the whole of the Indigenous community in Canada…

…and using that implied state of hopelessness to justify giving up on negotiation with the First Nations… 

…to the Grand Chief of the First Nations Federation.

“I need an immediate solution, an immediate strategy.  Now.  Today!  Not some long distance, dreamy, untested thesis on social re-engineering.  You and lefties[9] can go around crowing ‘we told you so.’ And we can reply that all you ever told us was you were seeing the same things we were seeing, that you had nothing useful to say about how to get out this tailspin, the social equivalent of what pilots call a death-spiral.

Not only is Jack Hemp talking like a right wing pundit here, he’s talking like Al Onanole should be agreeing with him.  This would seriously be the point I would expect the Grand Chief to erupt out of his chair and start shouting. 

Seriously, this should be the moment when security comes running in because they think a fight’s going to break out. Instead Al Onanole sits quietly as Jack Hemp, the left-wing charicature masking a right-wing cretin, declares war on all of Canada’s Indigenous people:

“To tell you the truth, Al, I don’t think there is a solution – this isn’t a puzzle, you know.  I tell you one thing, for the immediate future, John A. Macdonald’s homily is changed: it’s going to be order first, and good-government and peace later.  That’s how it always was anyway.  That’s why John A. sent the Mounties to the West: order first, then good…well at least reasonable government, and then peace.  If the world needs more Canada, then after 9/11, Jean Chrétien should have put that slogan on the table: order, good government and peace.  Remember John A. fought Riel and the Métis after they hanged that Orangeman, Thomas Scott.[10]  The prime minister settled things down by hanging Riel, and after that they worked out the other stuff.”

At this, Al finally finds his voice:

“Is that how you’re going to handle this situation, Jack, by hanging people?”

“I’ll do what’s necessary, Al.  Just watch me, as Trudeau said.”

This should be the moment that the Grand Chief walks out of the meeting and denounces the Canadian government to the media.  Far from being the spineless left-wing panderer, the Prime Minister has revealed himself to be a brutal, racist goon who has no interest in helping Canada’s First Nations and simply wants an excuse to crack down on all of them.  He doesn’t want Al Onanole to help him reach out to the Indigenous population, he just wants a token native person to stand by his side as he brings the hammer down on the rest.  

However, as we will see next time, Al doesn’t seem to be really listening. 

___________________________

[1] (Keeping in mind that I don’t personally know how normal it is for a AFN Grand Chief to regularly meet with local Band leaders…) Chisasibi’s a pretty prominent community, but it’s got a population of about 3,000 so I’d expect the odds would be 50/50 that Al Onanole would have at least met the current Band Chief, if not actually been on good terms with them.  But I would think it a pretty safe bet that he would know someone prominent in the region.  If not a current Band Council member, then a former one at least. 

[2] I’ll say it again here: An entire Ranger Patrol Group quitting at once would have made national news.  Someone like Al Onanole would have immediately made himself familiar with the situation (and in the process, discovered the finger-prints of the Movement all over it).

[3] Speaking as a guy who seen all kinds of weirdos pass through Basic Training, I’d like to go on record here. Very few people are ever completely lost. Don’t get me wrong. You can have a shit ton of baggage and bad wiring in your head that can make you very hard to reach. This baggage could put you beyond the reach of your average intervention, and maybe make you effectively lost, but most people can be reached somehow. On top of that, there’s a lot of people with a lot of damage who aren’t going to come fully back to…normal…I guess(?)…but who can still get to a place where they can function in society and get by.[4] What I’m saying is that very few people are completely beyond hope.

[4] Like, there was a guy I worked with who had literal scars from his mother.  That guy’s never going to be “fine.”  The kind of damage that was done to this guy is never going to get completely better.  But he could get by.  He had a lot of anger and hurt in him, but he could adapt and adjust.  In fact, last I heard he was holding down a job and in a long term relationship with a woman.  Dude’s never been in jail, either. 

[5] I’m not going to post any pictures or screen caps here (especially since some of them would involve minor children in crisis), but you can find more at the CBC archives here

[6] In Canada, our biggest organized crime threats are largely Mafia and bikers. Aboriginal organized crime tends to be local, and centred around their home reserves (if they’re rez-based) and the nearest city.

[7] It’s not definitive, but a good guide I try to use as to whether your minority member is a token or an actual partner in the organization is to look at what changes when they join. Is your new member changing the way you do business? Maybe even challenging you and your world view? Or are they a carbon copy of your existing members? Not raising issues or rocking the boat?

(And if the latter, do you really think it’s because you are perfectly addressing minority issues, or because they’ve already decided you don’t care?)

[8] I’m not implying here that minority Republicans like Rubio and Rice are tokens and Uncle Toms or anything like that.  I’m saying that Rush Limbaugh thinks they are.

[9] Editing is your friend, Douglas Bland

[10] I’m not going to re-hash what’s wrong with this reading of the Red River Rebellion (First Métis War).  I’ll just link to my condensed history here and say that John A was more than happy to negotiate with Riel until Thomas Scott sabotaged everything by being a supreme asshole.  Also, I think they executed Scott by firing squad. 

One thought on “56-Jack & Al have a meeting(5): “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas!”

  1. 1. You remember correctly – the asshole Thomas Scott was executed by firing squad;
    2. Claiming that Sir John “worked things out” after the 1885 wars only works if you consider “imposing British American political and social norms” to resolving the issues that lead to the conflict;
    3. Hemp is very clearly intended to be an authoritarian’s view of what a “left wing political leader” is – more concerned with appearing to cater to left wing social norms is all too ready to go all authoritarian.

    Bland’s use of caricatures fits with a lot of lazy writers – particularly ones with a political/social or religious agenda to push. It’s not really there to entertain, educate or convince new persons – the intended audience are those who already hold those views and want them confirmed. Caricatures such as these are valuable shorthand in such an environment.

    In this case, the way in which the caricature of the left wing politician interacts with the caricature of the minority politician as they react to a potential rebellion by a minority group with no legitimate reason to do so in a way that only a Great Man of History caricature can save them, and while demonstrating the fragility of the current political structure that allows these caricatures (but not the Great Man one) to exist.

    Or maybe Bland is just a lazy writer.

    Like

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