[Counts remaining pages in Chapter]…fuck.
So a personal note before we begin. This chapter has been one of the longest ones in Uprising, and not just in terms of sheer page count. I mentioned in the last post that I would have expected some kind of scene like this in a novel like this? Under the right conditions this could have made this chapter both tense and fascinating. The kind of writing that you devour greedily, but find yourself thinking about days later. Even when it’s not done well, if it’s a sincere attempt then you should at least be able to engage with it as kind of exposition.
Douglas Bland did not write this scene well. It’s not even sincerely bad. Rather, the way it’s been written is genuinely exhausting to deconstruct.
People make fun of writer/director Aaron Sorkin for writing characters who speak in essay style monologues, but no one ever accused the man of not being able to make a point.
***The Newsroom, Season 3. Skip to 1:50 for the punchline.***
Instead of a nice, tightly edited scene with punchy dialogue, the meeting between Prime Minister Jack Hemp and FNF Grand Chief Al Onanole has been the literary equivalent of arguing with a drunken loudmouth in a bar. The kind of discussion where you thought you could win with facts and reasoning, only to realize with mounting dread that, by the time that asshole reaches the conclusion of his long winded and offensive argument, he will have forgotten where he started and will be repeating himself for the next hour at least.
With just as much confidence as the first time around.
Regardless of what you might have to say about the subject.
But you got him started…
…and now you’re trapped.
This is basically my way of saying that I desperately need to get this chapter done and over with. And since
drunken loudmouth fictional Prime Minister of Canada is going to repeat himself a bunch of times in the next half dozen pages without actually adding anything, I’m going to summarize and skip as needed to end things with this post.
Okay! Let’s get back to our tense negotiation!
Al sensed an impasse building that wouldn’t save either of their skins. “Jack, we’re grown-ups. Let’s get a grip on ourselves. These radicals are renegades and I don’t support them. In truth, I have little control over their actions. We do have some of our people trying to get at the leaders, but this thing isn’t originating in Radisson. There are others involved and I bet your intelligence snoops have told you that already.
Al seems to be suggesting that the local government in Chisasibi (part of the Grand Council of the Crees – Eeyou Istchee) has been subverted by the Movement. He also seems to be implying that these subversives are from outside the region. This would suggest that the Movement wasn’t necessarily rising up organically within every region in Canada but might be centred around one or more Nations that are dominating and driving it. If the uprising in Radisson is the result of outside forces who came into the region and recruited locals like Joe Neetha’s Ranger Patrol, that would suggest there were locals in the Grand Council of the Crees who opposed the Movement and might help kick them out.
It would also mean that the James Bay Cree were a divided community, and not everyone could be assumed hostile.
In theory, Jack Hemp should be jumping on this as the vital hint that it is, but I’m not too bothered that he doesn’t. Bland has made it clear that the Prime Minister in his novel has little to no military understanding, so it’s not unrealistic for him miss this. This is why (as we’ve seen in Harry Swain’s memoirs of Oka), this sort of meeting is typically conducted with teams of experts on both sides. One person can’t be expected to have all the facts and all fields of knowledge at their fingertips.
This would have also been a good thing to reveal earlier on in this conversation. It’s definitely a good that Al Onanole has been reaching out to people in Radisson, but if he wanted some kind of action out of the PM, he needed to push this information early and hard.
“Anyway, here’s what I propose. The media is on to this meeting. We should make a joint statement to the effect that the government recognizes that some grievances have not been handled well – blame the civil service if you want, previous administrations, failure to communicate, I don’t care. Then tell them that we’re working to resolve the issues, we’ll settle some major issues with the community. I’ll stand beside you and support the notion. On the condition, prime minister, that you clearly acknowledge me and the Federation as the rightful spokespersons for the native community, now and in the future. Oh, and also that you keep secret, to the grave and beyond, the source of any information on radical leaders and so on you get from us.”
That’s…an interesting proposal. As Molly Grace seizes control of the eastern power grid, Jack and Al will retaliate by announcing that the FNF is really in charge! And they’re going to fix a bunch of stuff…that the bureaucrats screwed up…not the politicians…and they’re going to sort out some of those grievances…while the lights go out in Québec…
The obvious problem here being that Jack and Al can announce any damned thing they want, but all of that will be a fart in high wind next to a pan-Canadian native uprising.
The other condition that Al insists upon makes sense, though. Just by siding with the Government of Canada, Al Onanole will likely be seen as traitor, regardless of what grievances get settled or how much bloodshed is avoided. Even Indigenous people who don’t support the Movement will probably see him as a Narc. Hell, one of his conditions should include a permanent close-protection detail for himself and his family.
Hemp moved cautiously toward possibly accepting the formula but his guard was fully raised. “I like the idea, Al, but first explain this. What am I getting into if I say you and you alone speak for the native community? I’ve got half a dozen other people who tell me that they speak for the native community or big parts of it, and some damn reporter will certainly point that out.”
“That’s a strange question, prime minister. It’s obvious I do, I mean we do; the FNF speaks for the native community and we have for years. We’re the responsible voices and we’re the elected ones. What do you mean, what are you getting into?”
So the Prime Minister, facing an First Nations uprising, is sitting down with the Grand Chief of the First Nations Federation and asking him: ‘What exactly can you do for me?’ This question would be more a power move if Jack hadn’t been the one to request the meeting in the first place.
And rather than focusing on their burgeoning plan, we’re off to the races again…
“There’re natives, meaning Indians, and natives, meaning Inuit, and natives, meaning Métis, and natives, meaning on-reserve and natives, meaning off-reserve, and natives, meaning women, who are disenfranchised by all the other natives, and natives, meaning people organized under the so-called ‘friendship centres.’
So the Prime Minister of Canada in this story is complaining about basic Indigenous terminology? The Prime Minister. Of Canada. In a novel that’s set in the early 21st century.
This stuff isn’t complicated, and there are literally government (and non-government) online guides explaining how this works. More importantly, understanding this terminology and how it works makes it easier to understand Indigenous people and their issues.
For example: Something basic like understanding the formerly common usage of the word ‘métis‘ (a term that used to refer to a person of mixed Aboriginal and European descent) versus Métis (a reference to a specific nation of people of such descent, primarily located in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, of whom Louis Riel was a member). Knowing the different definitions is key to understanding Crown/Métis Nation history, as well as how popular language and understanding has evolved over the last few decades.
Remember the federal government, supposedly out of cultural sensitivity but really to avoid a squabble with the natives, caved in to the ‘traditional chiefs,’ as they call themselves, of the Mohawk nations…”
“That’s the Six Nations Confederacy, prime minister.”
“Yeah, whatever. It’s just another example of the native leaders arguing with each other.
So let’s talk about oil pipelines!
In this passage, we do see a real issue being raised, although Bland isn’t really adding anything to the conversation here. He’s just pointing it out and remarking how impossible everything is. But there is a real issue with who exactly represents the Indigenous community in Canada.
***Okay quick note here: I’m summarizing a subject that is VERY complex and that varies from region to region within the country. This is not an exhaustive explanation by any means whatsoever.***
Of the over six hundred a fifty Indigenous communities in Canada (often called a Band), most have some form of elected government. These elected leaders are typically referred to as a Band Council, and led by a Band Chief. Multiple Bands of the same Nation will often unite, electing a Regional or National Chief to represent this larger group. The Grand Council of the Crees in northern Québec is an example of this. Now, depending on the particular Nation or Band, you often have what are (usually) called ‘Traditional Chiefs’ or ‘Hereditary Chiefs.‘ These positions are often (not always) hereditary and often (not always) ceremonial.
For example, our friend Wab Kinew is a hereditary chief in the Ojibwe Nation. He doesn’t hold any formal position in any Band Council within the Nation (although he is now an elected member of the Manitoba Legislature), and while he commands a great deal of respect within the community, his voice doesn’t (officially) doesn’t carry any more weight than that of any other member. His duties (outside of ceremonial ones) mostly consist of being a kind of unofficial representative and spokesperson for his people, as well as working to preserve Ojibwe heritage and generally setting a good example for others.
So far, so good. You got two types of Chiefs; one that’s elected and handles the tangible day-to-day affairs of their Band, and one that’s hereditary and embodies the tradition and custom. De facto power and symbolic power, much like Canada’s elected Parliament and the Monarchy. The issue is that, while this is common for many (if not most) First Nations, it’s not always the case. In some instances, the Traditional Chief might also be the Band Chief through inheritance rather than election. In others, the Traditional Chief might occupy a mostly ceremonial position but one that still has a couple of real, tangible powers attached to it.
Starting about a year ago, a crisis was unfolding out west with the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia with regards to an oil pipeline being build through their traditional lands. The Federal Government had negotiated with the elected Band Council and reached an agreement to build the pipeline, only to have a group of Traditional Chiefs (usually called the Hereditary Chiefs by the media) to oppose the plan and organize a protest to block the construction. The situation became even more complicated given that, by Treaty, the Hereditary Chiefs did have a degree of power with regards to certain parts of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s land, which included the part where pipeline was meant to go.
This has led to a seriously uncomfortable situation, with a deal was reached with the elected leadership getting rejected by the hereditary leadership, as well as a large number of protesters who joined the blockade or held sympathy demonstrations elsewhere. Although it seemed as though the elected Band Council weren’t happy with the Traditional Chiefs, they’re nevertheless maintaining a certain amount of solidarity.
Historically, this was the place where the government (whether Canadian or Colonial British) would divide and conquer, choosing for themselves the most pliable leader from the Nation, declaring them the ‘true legitimate chief’ (or something like that) then using this individual’s acquiescence as an excuse to literally bulldoze the remaining opposition. That doesn’t seem to have happened here (not counting one serious misstep), so that’s a relief. But the situation’s still a very tense one.
There’s no easy answer here, and whatever solution does emerge is likely to come from within the Wet’suwet’en Nation (see here for an example of the discussion being held within Indigenous circles). That’s because…you know…Indigenous people aren’t a monolith. In the meantime, the only real option for the Government is to hold back, negotiate in good faith, and do their best to keep things from becoming violent.
Jack Hemp doesn’t seem to be so concerned about violence, though:
“…So I should let the army have a go at these people [Traditional Chiefs] and you’ll back the move?
Because there’s no way for a modern Nations to exist with multiple, overlapping governing authorities sometimes working in concert, sometimes at odds with each other (you know, like say…Federal, Provincial, Regional and Municipal). No, the only solution will be for the Elected Chiefs to fight the Traditional Chiefs for the privilege of negotiating with the Government of Canada.
“I’m going to negotiate with someone who can bring this situation back to normal. In fact, I’m inclined to suggest to Parliament that we bypass all the community lobbies, including yours, and go directly to the native people – one-on-one, the federal government and the natives themselves, no intermediaries, and just cut a deal for all times. Now might be the time to do it, seeing how your leaders have overstepped the boundaries by a very long margin.”
No seriously, how is this going to work? How is Jack Hemp, a figure likely to be universally despised among the Canadian Indigenous community, going to negotiate directly with this very same population? Especially if he’s deliberately bypassing the elected Chiefs as well as the Movement leadership?
This is not a serious threat. Any Band not already onboard with the Movement is likely to have a fair bit of respect for their Council and their Chief. A ‘white’ politician trying to do an end-run around them would be instantly suspect. Meanwhile, the natives already supporting the Movement will (correctly) see this as proof of the inherent dishonesty of the Canadian Government. A move like this would drive them further into the radical camp.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, Jack. We will fight tooth and nail. Besides, if we don’t represent the community, who will? I speak for the band chiefs and you can’t do anything without them. And are you really going to negotiate with Molly Grace? I don’t think so. She’s not exactly the negotiating type, and you haven’t got time to find new friends.”
“No so sure, Al. Seems Ms. Grace has by-passed the chiefs and gone straight to the people, and you’ve got to admire her political savvy. At least, I do. Anyway, remember, when we fix Grace and her bunch, we can still go around you guys – there are lawyers out there who’d sell their mothers into a brothel to get a cut of the aboriginal file – the grievance file of the century.”
Yeah. Molly Grace seems to have bypassed a large number of the Chiefs and Councils, and co-opted the rest into her Native People’s Movement. Even by Uprising’s improbable timeline, this still took her over four years to do. Safe to say that Prime Minister Honky McPander is going to have some trouble matching her performance.
Especially after she…you know…seizes the Robert Bourassa Dam!
“You’ve got four hundred thousand people, more or less, living on reserves. Why in God’s name can’t we create an internal immigration policy to bring all those people who want to come into the economy into it over the next five years? And don’t tell me they don’t want to come in off the land. Because I’ll say that’s because you and the other chiefs refuse to provide the leadership to inspire the people to give up the ancient ways for a more prosperous, sustainable way of life.”
Okay, I’m not going to re-hash a whole lot of Canadian history in a post that has already gone on pretty long. But…this was kind of literally the exact basic plan of the Confederation-era Canadian government.
No really. The central idea behind the 1876 Indian Act and related legislation was to create Reserves to house ‘the Indians,’ and over the next few generations the populations of these Reserves would gradually choose to give up their ‘Indian Status’ in order to pursue better lives in the dominant white culture. The whole intent was for the Indigenous culture and nationality to gradually die out as the ‘superior’ culture triumphed.
And when those communities failed to fade away? Well, as the 1950s & 1960s rolled around, the government launched or expanded on programs to hurry the process along. Things like the Residential School program, and the forced adoption program known as the Sixties Scoop.
That process also failed. But not before they hurt a lot of innocent people.
Asking the Indigenous Peoples of Canada to give up the Reserves? It’s been done.
This argument goes back and forth a couple of times with various examples (both real and made up) getting tossed out, before finally the two men decided to just give up and join forces. Al Onanole agrees to support the Government of Canada without any clear notion of what this will mean for the First Nations people, and Jack Hemp agrees to non-specified concessions to the FNF that will give him carte blanche to bring the hammer down on Molly Grace and the Movement.
You might be wondering how this new development will impact the progress of the story you’re reading. The answer is, it won’t. Al Onanole will barely get a mention in the rest of Uprising and the blood thirsty racist Jack Hemp that we see here will revert to his liberal straw man origins for the rest of the novel.
At least we got through it all.
 In a counter-insurgency, information like this is vital. Who are the dominant voices in your enemy’s command structure? Do they have an agenda that’s particularly beneficial for them (as opposed to the Movement as a whole)? If so, is there a way you can play that agenda to your advantage?
 Information like this is potentially even more important. The quickest way to radicalize a population is to treat that population like it’s already radicalized. You go into a community assuming anyone who looks different is one of them, and you can kiss any chance of cooperation (or even just neutrality) goodbye.
 So there hasn’t been any mention of Al Onanole being married, or having any family at all. Given Bland’s sketchy insinuations about Al’s ‘strikingly beautiful assistant Matha Kokohopenace’, you’d think it would be worth mentioning if he was just a creepy old man, or if he was cheating on his wife as well.
 And of course Canada’s most cringe-worthy Senator Lynne Beyak manages to illustrate what ignorance on this score looks like. _sigh_ Well, everyone’s good for something. Even if it’s just setting a bad example.
 One of his lifelong projects has been the preservation and teaching of the Ojibwe language, which has long been in danger of being completely lost.
 One of the more touching passages in Wab’s memoir ‘The Reason You Walk’ comes when he discusses his early career as a musician and hip hop artist, in which he talks in a frank manner about some of the more misogynistic lyrics he wrote. Even though this was decades ago (and few people think of Manitoba MLA Wab Kinew as a rapper anymore) he still felt it was important to emphasize how wrong and hurtful some of his words were, and apologize for them.
 It’s also worth pointing out here that the decision to block the pipeline construction isn’t even universally popular among the Traditional Chiefs, with some taking the side of the Band Council against the rest.
 One of the more awkward decisions made a few months ago came when Federal and Provincial negotiators issued a declaration suggesting that the Traditional Chiefs were the only body with whom the government would negotiate. And not the Elected Band Council. This..was not a good call.