Suggestions from some People who already have been flattened on stopping an economic steamroller
HALIFAX (22 April 2004) -- As part of a nationwide speaking tour during March-April, 2004, the Council of Canadians has been holding "strategy sessions" with interested groups. These delve further into matters of mutual concern affecting the rights of individuals and collectives as Canadians and how to affirm themselves.
In Fredericton NB, a delegation from First Nations in that province put forward a perspective on their struggle to affirm their right-to-be on March 15th. As their brief (which we reproduce in full below) makes plain, this struggle continues to come up against a colonialist Canadian government which usurps their sovereignty and oppresses from every direction.
As a favourite fighting slogan a few years back put it, "you cannot fight the enemy with snakes in your pockets". Similarly, when it comes to opposing the strategy of "deep integration" of Canadian business, government policy, military planning, etc., with the United States that the Council of Canadians, among others, has targeted, no-one can afford any illusion that the enemy of their enemy is suddenly their friend. Indeed, as a highly successful revolutionary organiser from the last century often pointed out: "the most dangerous enemy is the one against whom we have ceased to fight."
Canadians have never been so clear that the democracy is thoroughly unrepresentative and needs renewal. The rights of all citizens are not recognized, nor are the inalienable hereditary rights of the First Nations. This question is a component part of opposing intergration with the United States and realizizing genuine sovereignty for the nation and all peoples resident in Canada, a sovereignty which is vested in the people, and not the Royal Prerogative and the state. Similarly the new Citzienzenship and Immigration Act must also be opposed and defeated, to bring about a modern citizenship law in Canada which recognizes the rights of all citizens.
The 1867 British North America Act did not enshrine the principle of sovereignty vested in the people since it clearly stipulated that sovereignty was vested in the British monarch. In all matters not spelt out in that document, Canadians were subject to the laws of the British imperial parliament and British courts, the latter provision only reverting to Canadian courts in 1947. What is extraordinary in the refusal of the present government and official circles to modernize the Canadian constitution, is that even the Canada Act, 1982, which only added an amending formula in order to patriate the constitution, has changed not a word in terms of expressing the modern notion of sovereignty vested in the people. This also explains the difficulty faced in Canada to define the Canadian people when the very notion of a people in whom sovereignty is vested is absent from the vocabulary of its constitution.
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By a Group of Indigenous Nobodies in Particular*
We hope the irony hasn't escaped your notice that your group and like-minded individuals are organizing to resist precisely those policies visited upon US by successive Canadian governments, bureaucracies, and institutions. Here's OUR identity card, for example. And you should add "citizenship" to the immigration and refugee policies you worry are about to be overwritten by U.S. standards, since that is central to what your government is doing to us. In all events, however, indigenous peoples who continue to resist their enforced assimilation are as concerned as much as you are about the "Uncle Sam"-itization of Canada, if for no other reason than we can't see how adding another, higher level of arrogant bureaucratic indifference (and one with it's own track record of running roughshod over indigenous peoples) could possibly make our task easier.
However, this is no time to gloat that Canada is idiotically sinking itself, since we are in the same boat. But if ever one needed a refutation of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," this is it. And there is a second irony in your inviting to a strategic planning session peoples who obviously have had no success whatsoever in bargaining with the legal, political, and economic juggernaut that has been flattening them. Maybe it's meant to be "inclusive" or "sensitive" (which are themselves assimilationist maneuvers), but, frankly, what difference will it make to indigenous peoples who it is expropriating their property and forms of life?
After all, when there's a boot on your throat, the brand name of the boot isn't your main concern. In gauging whether our actions will have any effect at all today, we would find a demonstrated understanding of and commitment to our issues to be more comforting. However, that fact that we have been ineffectual in getting heard by the vast majority of Canadians, even those, like yourselves, in principle sympathetic to our situations, presages your own difficulties in overcoming the indifference and inactivity cultivated in mainstream Canadians. There may be some value in pointing this out.
Ironies aside, all we can suggest to you, here, today, is some of the strategy employed by those indigenous individuals and groups still resisting extermination (and, sad to say, this does not include the majority of "officially recognized" indigenous organizations). As ineffectual as it is, it is clear and it is principled and it is naive enough to presume Canadians can be expected to keep their promises, even if periodically they have to be reminded what those promises were.
1. Canada cannot barter away that which it does not own.
We spoke of a "sinking boat" above. We would like to call attention to whose boat it is that Canada is sinking. For "our" (as in "our water" and "our energy," in your literature) substitute "aboriginal peoples'." The resources you quite rightly regard as endangered by continental business interests are either contestably "owned" by Canada or frankly the property of different indigenous nations (whether or not they are recognized by the Canadian government). There are, for example, no surrenders at all of the land in the provinces you are standing on today and visiting tomorrow. One cannot sell someone else's property, at least without that someone else's participation and agreement. The ownership of huge swaths of Canada is precisely the issue the federal Land Claims tribunal is working so hard to evade. The status of this process notwithstanding, the Council of Canadians can work to educate the average Canadian on indigenous rights and the fundamental illegitimacy of the government's current negotiations with the United States. The Council can also work to compel federal powers to address questions of ownership before it pole-vaults into self-dissolution.
Not only would this be "social justice," it would effectively halt the political drive to harmonize North America that the Council of Canadians is trying to address.
2. Canada has preexisting, binding international agreements (treaties) that restrict their freedom to act.
In places where due process can be established for land surrenders, indigenous contractual rights to housing, education, health care, etc. require Canadian governments to supply these. If Canada wishes to back out of these deals now, as creditors, indigenous nations get the property back (just ask your bank what will happen if you default on your car loan). The transfer of these obligations, even if acceded to by indigenous nations (and they must be asked), must be accomplished through due process. The interpretation of the nature, extent, and force of these preexisting international agreements is not the exclusive business of one side of the contracting parties (i. e., Canadian governments) or its designates (i.e., Canadian courts). The federal government wishes to tie its hands with international agreements and tell its citizenry that it can't break treaties? Fine. Tell them to start with the ones already in existence, the ones that haven't been abrogated (by OUR side, anyway) and that have prior standing both legally and morally. And let there be no mistake: treaty rights are not just aboriginal rights, for the right of the average Canadian to claim a plot of land or assert a personal autonomy is founded on what was negotiated between indigenous nations and Canadian or Crown representatives. Set aside aboriginal rights and you set aside your own.
3. Canada has pre-existing liabilities that must either be addressed beforehand or assumed by the "new order."
Canada has always treated it obligations under the international law of treaties as chances to insinuate its unilateral interpretation of those obligations and craft programs that actually carry out its totalizing policies against indigenous peoples. An uncounted number of grievances have arisen out of these policies and the programs established to implement them. This is neither the time nor the place to elaborate the full range of these grievances, but their status is comparable to that of Marley's Chain (Jacob's, not Bob's). What resolution is to come out of the depredations of the residential schools? How are nations to be compensated for the property (timber, oil, nickel, etc.) stolen from them with government connivance (and will that connivance be admitted to or can we expect again the governmental tactic of infinite temporization)? We could go on. But when something is sold, one has to be truthful about the encumbrances attached, and these must either be cleared or assumed by the new owner. How attractive is a property with, at the moment, 12,000 child abuse cases pending (and courts in the United States award millions of dollars in damages in such cases, not the pittances being forced on indigenous peoples by Canadian courts)? How will Canada clear its financial obligations to the Ermineskin Band, or the Lubicon, or the Innu of Voisey's Bay, Labrador, etc. ad infinitum? Some house cleaning must be done before any thought of transfer of authority can take place; remind the government and the people of Canada what that includes.
To us it's clear that addressing, in a serious and forthright manner, the past and its presence in the lives of indigenous peoples today would require an entirely different kind of government and an entirely different kind of Canadian.
Should Canadians face their responsibilities rather than ignore or weasel out of them, you would have the Canada you want rather than the one desired by the rapacious and the covetous. It's been clear to us all along that the rapacious and covetous have control of your government, and it seems to be dawning on many more Canadians these days.
We find this encouraging, to the extent we can foresee that resisting multinational corporate tyranny leads to a recognition of and a fight against, in the words of Norman Bethune, "the fascist within." However, to the extent this remains a fight over which corporate elite vampires gets to suck us dry, we say: "A plague on both your houses."
If you consider our words today too harsh, too bad, but you did ask. Now we can see if anybody was listening.
* The Praxis Collective, Fredericton, New Brunswick
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