a not so clever colonial strategy to disenfranchise First Nations

Last week I spoke about John Ibbitson's misdirection about the need for FN chiefs to settle claims while ignoring the Cdn State's purposeful  legal and political delays in settling claims in order to rape the disputed and unceded land of resources before finally settling with FNs on what would be worthless or near worthless land.  A part of Ibbitson's argument focused on the small numbers of reserve FNs as part of the unspoken strategy to avoid living up to the treaty and fiduciary responsibilities of the Cdn state to FNs. If there are few people how can we hold the many at ransom to the FN few, they ask.

In the article below Simpson continues and expands upon this idea.  While, rightly saying there are more Aboriginal peoples living in cities than on reserves and also wondering, again rightly, how any monies that reserve FNs get will be shared with those FN reserve members now living in cities, Simpson goes on to imply that the small populations of some reserves go against democratic representation and resource allocation. Of course he ignores the very real history of the  purposeful genocide by Settlers of FNs on reserve whether through inattention or through conscious policies whereby FNs were relegated to tiny, isolated and unproductive reserves so Settlers could have the good lands. He ignores how lack of economic initiatives  and resource rape by corporations and successive governments has made most of the youth move from reserves. He ignores the plague of suicide resulting from continuing Settler colonialism. Then, to add insult to injury, he says that the small numbers of FNs who want soveriegnty returned to them are in some rhetorical, tradition-ridden dream world and, therefore, they should give up their rights to have some sort of "constructive" conversation. So this new "small numbers" argument coupled with the usual stereotype of primitive "spiritual" people who can't manage their own affairs, is now increasingly being mobilized preparing the ground so that the valuable lands and resources on and under them can be taken without negotiation.

Ibbitson and Simpson are some of the people whom the Settler middle-classes read and get their info on FNs. They appear reasonable but they are simply presenting the same evil in a relatively new package. Don't be fooled! Read histories by Aboriginal peoples and read some anthropology so you won't be taken in. Flex

Jeffrey Simpson

Small numbers are a hard reality for first nations

More than 500 chiefs just re-elected Shawn Atleo as national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Mr. Atleo easily saw off a number of challengers, winning a convincing victory on the third ballot.

Some chiefs apparently did not turn up, since more than 600 first nations are registered as organized groups under the Indian Act. Still, 540 chiefs made it to Toronto for the vote.

Statistics Canada tells us that as of 2006, there were about 785,000 Indians, or members of first nations, in Canada. Even if that number has grown, it would mean that each chief voting in Toronto represented, on average, only about 1,500 people.

Obviously, some chiefs represent much larger groups, including some numbering in the tens of thousands of people. Others, however, represent groups of only a few hundred. More than half of Canada’s aboriginal people (that would include Métis and Inuit) live in cities, so the numbers living on reserves where the chiefs really do govern is often depressingly small.

By contrast, the House of Commons has 308 members representing 34.5 million people. On average, each MP represents approximately 112,000 people. Some MPs, such as those in tiny Prince Edward Island, represent far fewer than the average; others, such as in suburban ridings, represent many tens of thousands above the average. But the MP with the fewest number of constituents still represents more people than all but a couple of chiefs within the AFN.

Sheer math would suggest that aboriginals are over-governed, with too many chiefs for very small populations. But then that is part of the Indian reality: very small populations on scattered reserves, with different cultural traditions, struggling to keep native languages alive (less than a quarter of Indians can converse in their historic tongues) on land bases that range in size and quality.

No matter the rhetoric of self-affirmation, populations of a few hundred people, or a few thousand for that matter, will struggle to provide even some of the services of a modern state, which is what the word “sovereignty” is all about, in practical if not rhetorical terms.

So a certain amount of self-kidding goes on in aboriginal Canada about the gap between what is demanded as historic rights and the capacity of small groups to deliver the programs in a modern society and industrial/service economy that flow from those rights.

It is now the common coin of discourse to demand that more revenues from natural resource exploitation be shared with the first occupants of the lands in question. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has just reiterated this important point. These kinds of arrangements are already in place and working rather well in various parts of Canada: northern Saskatchewan and the uranium industry, some bitumen companies around Fort McMurray, Alta., various forestry projects.

Some Indian groups are remarkably entrepreneurial; others want little to do with the rest of society. And there is every attitude in between. Some groups want the jobs and money that resource exploitation can bring; others fear environmental degradation and the disruption of their “traditional” ways of life – ways that usually leave practitioners economically poor, although perhaps spiritually satisfied. You can see this split in northern British Columbia along the path of the proposed Enbridge pipeline from the bitumen deposits of northern Alberta to the Pacific Coast.

The sharing of resources is alluring and useful for those near resource exploitation projects. Sharing does nothing for those groups situated far from this action. What such sharing might do for band members who have left for the cities remains unclear; it would all depend on how the band itself shared the money.

Mr. Atleo, in his concluding remarks, asserted that the time had come for “indigenous people” to take their “rightful place” in our respective territories. Defining “rightful place” at a high level of rhetoric and legal rights is often much easier than finding that “place” in practical terms for diverse peoples, small in numbers, ever mindful of past indignities, proud of tradition but impossible to generalize about constructively.

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About flexosaurus

I am an anthropologist and Associate Professor who loves to play guitar and comment on social injustice in whatever form it may take
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