the frontier follies

I thought it might be interesting to examine a document that sought to make the rounds of government offices and academic circles with the stated intent of influencing policy in Canada in regards to northern and remote communities – in particular Indian policy and reserves.

Respecting the Seventh Generation cover

"Respecting the Seventh Generation"

Its authors made the rounds to promote this product; issuing news releases, writing commentary in at least one national newspaper (Nat Post: Some reserves can’t be fixed) but reaching national readers through the CanWest chain of local dailies, appearing at conferences, seeking broadcast coverage, etc. In other words, the authors wanted this paper to make waves and sought to influence Canadians and policy decision-makers.

This paper was produced and published by the Frontier Centre on Public Policy (FCPP) which, according to its blurb, “undertakes research and education in support of economic growth and social outcomes… enhance the quality of life in our communities… explores policy innovations required to make the prairies region a winner in the open economy… and improving the performance of public expenditures in important areas like local government, education, health and social policy.”

The FCPP bills itself as a ‘think tank” but is not unbiased, has a strong right-wing slant, promotes transparency and accountability but is rather vague about its own finances; the majority coming from “foundations.” Although it’s not clear from the information provided on its web site what foundations, where these foundations are situated (U.S. or Canada, both, or other), or what these foundations do, promote or support.

Back to the report…

It’s entitled “Respecting the Seventh Generation,” authored by Joseph Quesnel; “Métis ancestry from Quebec,” although he has claimed to be Mohawk in the past and in previous FPCC publications. (cite: Quesnel, Joseph. Respecting the Seventh Generation: A voluntary plan for relocating non-viable Native reserves, FCPP Policy Series No. 81, Winnipeg. January 2010)

At the beginning of this paper, you’ll find a picture of the author and an outline of his past and present work. You’ll also find this rather curious qualification by the FPCC:

The authors of this study has (sic) worked independently and the opinions expressed are therefore their own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

I consider the above qualification “curious” because the authors are staff employees at the FPCC, not outside or contract consultants hired to produce this report. But I’ll leave it for you to decide if that’s relevant or not.

I won’t examine the full document here or provide a complete critique, since a quick look at only the first few pages should make the point.  Let’s begin with Page 4:

Throughout Canada’s history, Indian reserves were deliberately placed on marginal lands. They were intended to warehouse First Nations while they prepared for enfranchisement and settlers built the country.

It almost sounds as though the author is saying that the Canadian government set up temporary internment camps for Indians while they waited sheep-like to have their treaties (contracts between peoples) torn up by the government, their “Aboriginal” rights erased, but in the end able to vote just like white men.

Removed and relocated from their traditional lands, I suppose, “settlers” could then move in to carry out the task of national building without nagging Indians underfoot, without the need to share any bounty with them, avoiding unwanted invoices from Indians wanting to paid for the use of their lands and resources, or interference by the courts as they pursued legal means for fair treatment.

It seems to me that this statement actually strengthens the perceived fears of Status Indians so quickly dismissed by the authors elsewhere in this document. But let’s move on to another paragraph on the same page:

When discussing the issues, policy-makers should bear in mind that a land base is not enough when building a viable economy. The land must be capable of being put to productive use. The community must also be able to produce a needed good or service that can be sold competitively in a global market.

The author seems to suggest that local economy isn’t good enough. One must determine the viability of a community’s right to exist (more to the point – Indian reserves) based on its ability to compete in a “global market” as well. Or perhaps he meant only in a global market.

The author provides no evidence to show how many towns or villages in Canada could possibly meet this standard. Nor does he provide a comparison between northern and remote towns and villages with those Indian reserves (that he deems worthy of bulldozing) to use as a yardstick. In other words, the statement seems baseless, ill-conceived and rather flippant for something so drastic, dramatic and probably traumatic to those on the receiving end of things.

Furthermore, the author appears to be suggesting that there may be wealth in these lands after all, but the bounty is – and will remain – out of reach to the settler so long as those pesky Indians are in the way. If they – say – were enticed or coerced to relocate though… those settlers could move in to extract and exploit the natural resources to their hr=earts content. Maybe they’d even build new towns where those unviable reserves used to be. Do I hear the sound of heavenly horns?

Still on Page 4:

One should also remember that, historically, indigenous peoples have always moved around and reserves are not their creation. In addition, attachment to a piece of land does not make one indigenous. Moreover, Canada should look to the extreme example of Australia as to where it does not want to end up. Serious sexual abuse and chronic child neglect forced its government to take control of some indigenous communities.

In this paragraph, the author makes a leap in logic worthy of a philosophic Cirque du Soleil act. To wit: Indians have always been shoved around. They’re used to it. They don’t have a genuine geographic attachment to any piece of land. By the way – did I mention “sexual abuse” – I mean “SERIOUS sexual abuse” – and “CHRONIC child neglect.” (my all caps)

That non-sequitur could choke an elephant. But a pattern is emerging in which a “solution” is proposed, pre-determined actually, closely followed by a terrible social or living situation which needs to be remedied or eliminated. However, the author presents no evidence that conclusively ties one to the other.

People are poor because of all kinds of reasons, not just because they live in northern and remote communities. People experience all kinds of ugly social ills, not just because they live in southern cities. That leap in thought reminds me of the dogs in that animated Disney feature, “UP,” who yelp “squirrel” every now and then.

While this paper calls for voluntary solutions, constitutional protection of Aboriginal title prevents the federal government from taking over indigenous lands or reserves, so First Nations need not fear a coercive approach.

Of course, that is exactly what this paper proposes – only with a wink and a nod. Once the Federal government feels it’s been given the “green light” by Canadians to condemn and shut down entire communities because they’re in the way, because they cost too much in someone’s estimation, because they’re not white or not wanted… Where does it end?

It’s not as though this hasn’t been done before. Ipperwash Park was created after the Second World War, after an Act of Parliament “borrowed” the land from the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point. Indian Affairs relocated the community, folding them into them onto the same land. Thus the Kettle AND Stony Point. Of course, the federal government reneged on its promise to return that land after the war and we all know what happened then.

Africville in Nova Scotia was bulldozed at the behest of the City of Halifax so the province and the city could build a bridge, while simultaneously removing an unwanted community of Black Canadians from sight.

Newfoundland decided it either didn’t want to or could not afford its outport communities so it uprooted people from their homes, sometimes houses and all, and relocated them someplace more convenient – for the government.

Disasters one and all.

The author also contends, without a shred of evidence or personal experience, that Indians are somehow different from anyone else in the world when it comes to ties to the land, relationship to geography, to a territory they call home. Apply that same pretzel logic to the Middle East, to Israel and Palestine, to England or France, or any people in the world… and the insane underpinnings of this paper must become apparent to even the most ardent right-wing crank. (Okay, maybe I went a bit far on that one.)

Before I move on, however, one last item. Much of the author’s argument – in fact, central to this paper – is based upon (what he calls) “The Kashechewan Case.” That’s a Cree community that was located and built by Indian Affairs, against the advice of the Cree inhabitants, on a flood plain. Indian Affairs built the community a water treatment plant downstream from its sewage outlet, again ignoring the warnings of the Cree inhabitants.

Many homes and public buildings were in disrepair and with severe mould infestation due to the forewarned and predictable flooding that occurs every year, combined with the also inevitable lack of funding for new homes and repairs. The community was evacuated to Timmins – by the Ontario government – after news people finally listened to pleas from the member of parliament for that area. A DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) and other repair crews applied band-aids to contaminated water systems and brought living conditions up to minimal standards.

That was in 2006. Not much has been done to follow up promises to “fix” the community which, given the option to relocate, were determined to stay on their traditional and ancestral territories. The story fell off the front pages, except for this report by the FPCC.

The province (because Indian Affairs went into hiding) sent in Allan Pope following the evacuation of Kashechewan. A former environment minister, Pope’s mandate was to look, study and report back with recommendations.

Tidbit: Pope once advocated the diversion of water from Hudson’s Bay to the water parched U.S. midwest; it was called the “Grand Canal Scheme.”

The author of “Respect the Seventh Generation” refers extensively to Pope’s report. But here’s the thing: he never once cites the report directly.

Take a look for yourself. This is from the Endnotes section:

1. Tenille Bonoguore, “Report Urges moving Kashechewan to Timmins,” Globe and Mail, November 9, 2006.
2. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “Canada’s New Government signs agreement with Kashechewan First Nation to redevelop community,” July 30, 2007.
3. Allison Jones, “Kashechewan chief warned Ottawa of jail fire possibility months before deaths,” Canadian Press, April 1, 2009.
4. Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “Mr. Alan Pope submits report to Minister Jim Prentice on the Development of a Sustainable Solution for the Community of
Kashechewan,” November 9, 2006.
14. Indian and Northern Affairs, CNW Telbec, “Mr. Alan Pope submits report to Minister Jim Prentice on the Development of a sustainable solution for the community of Kashechewan,”
November 9, 2006.

Not a single reference to Pope’s report. Every reference is to a newspaper report or to a news release, which makes me wonder whether the author bothered to obtain or read Pope’s report at all.

Perhaps worse, there is not one single reference to an interview with anyone living there which makes me wonder if the author(s) had ever gone to Kashechewan, or called them by phone to get their views before or during the writing of this paper.

There was reaction afterward. Here’s what John Solomon had to say:

We have to look at how we got here in the first place,” said Kashechewan Chief Jonathan Solomon. “Legislation and policies such as the Ontario Mining Act have forced many communities from benefitting from resources and development and that’s why we are in the situation we are in. First Nations should have the opportunity to sustain themselves.

Yes, but that really makes things difficult when you already know the “solution” and you only need to re-define the problem to fit.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I could go on… and on… but it becomes too depressing. In the end, I can only conclude that this so-called policy discussion paper is nothing of the kind. Further, its author(s) have raised questions about the credibility of their work as well as that of their employer.

The authors don’t seem to be interested in honest research or debate, despite their protests to the contrary and their portrayal of Aboriginal leaders as unwilling to engage them in such. How does one engage in honest debate when faced with half-truths, bizarre interpretations of history and fact, and outright dishonesty?

Perhaps the real question is: Why would anyone want to?

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Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, racism

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