Grim report warns Canada vulnerable to an aboriginal insurrection

John Ivison, National Post, May 1, 2013

Masked warrior on guard at burning car barricade, Burnt Church, NS.

Masked warrior on guard at burning car barricade, Burnt Church, New Brunswick.

Mankind is at a crossroads, Woody Allen once quipped: “One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Canada’s relations with its aboriginal people are also at a crossroads but, fortunately, one of the potential paths forward promises a more auspicious outcome than Mr. Allen’s doomsday scenario.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute think-tank laid out the options in two important essays released Wednesday. One paper, by Ken Coates and Brian Lee Crowley, outlines an optimistic vision where aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians find ways to collaborate on natural resource development, to the benefit of all.

A more pessimistic report, by Douglas Bland, suggests that Canada has all the necessary “feasibility” conditions for a violent native uprising — social fault lines; a large “warrior cohort”; an economy vulnerable to sabotage; a reluctance on the part of governments and security forces to confront aboriginal protests; and a sparsely populated country reliant on poorly defended key infrastructure like rail and electricity lines.

Mr. Coates and Mr. Lee Crowley suggested that aboriginal people are in a “sweet spot” when it comes to natural resource development — the result of treaty agreements, court settlements and Supreme Court decisions.

Mr. Coates said many First Nations have made it clear they want to work within the structure of Canada by taking their grievances to court, a process that culminated with a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2004 that said companies who want to develop resources on traditional native land have a “duty to consult and accommodate.” This gives aboriginal people substantial influence over resource decisions, if not a legal veto, and has led to the emergence of well-funded community development corporations, impact-benefit agreements, indigenous collaboration and resource revenue sharing. (British Columbia has led the way with a new mineral tax.)

The authors point out these kinds of deals are not a panacea — the troubled Attawapiskat reserve has a royalty-sharing agreement with De Beers over its Victor diamond mine, yet has recently seen a state of emergency declared again.

But their conclusion is that even such movements as Idle No More —“overwhelmingly peaceful and culturally rich” — suggest accommodation is possible, if native Canadians receive a “fair” share of the country’s wealth.

That’s the good news. There’s precious little sunshine in Douglas Bland’s paper, Co-operation or Conflict?

He took the accepted “feasibility” hypothesis, developed by researchers at Oxford University, as the basis for predicting civil unrest and applied it to Canada. The findings are scary enough to make you stock up on canned food and start digging your bunker.

The Oxford research suggests that “feasibility,” rather than root causes, is the foundation for challenging civil authority. In Canada, it seems, unrest is very feasibile. “Social fractionalization” along native and non-native fault lines is obvious. There is a growing warrior cohort — by 2017, 42% of First Nations population on the Prairies will be under 30 — many disadvantaged, poorly educated, unemployed and angry. The economy is dependent on moving resources over long, hard-to-defend transportation routes. Finally, the security forces are limited by capacity and the will of their leaders to confront aboriginal protesters who break the law.

While the Oxford hypothesis suggests feasibility is the determinant and predictor of insurgency, it does not dismiss that grievances do provide motive. And Mr. Bland’s paper reels off some particularly damning statistics: a homicide rate of 8.8/100,000 compared with 1.3/100,000 in the non-aboriginal population; a stratospheric incarceration rate that means 80% of prisoners in Alberta are aboriginal (out of 11% of the population); a high school graduation rate of 24% of 15 to 24-year-olds, compared with 84% in the non-native population; a 40% youth unemployment rate and on and on.

Mr. Bland argues that, in some respects, an uprising has and is occurring, “as a quick head count of the Warrior Cohort inside our penal colonies will demonstrate.”

In the event of an insurgency, the Canadian economy could be shut down in weeks. The 2012 CP Rail strike cost an estimated $540-million a week, as it hit industries including coal, grain, potash, nickel, lumber and autos. Some First Nations leaders like Terry Nelson in Manitoba have already concluded that a covert operation involving burning cars on every railway line would be impossible to stop.

Mr. Bland cites Manitoba, with its vulnerable transportation hub, as a province with a large native population and a relatively small police presence that would be unable to guarantee security in the event of even a modest protest. “The reality is that the security of Manitoba now and in the future is whatever the First Nations allow it to be,” he quotes one security specialist as saying. “[And] as the security guarantee drifts lower, the feasibility of confrontation climbs higher.”

It makes for grim reading, but Mr. Bland suggests there are ways to diminish the feasibility factor and create conditions for the happier outcome put forward by Messrs. Coates and Lee Crowley.

He suggested resource revenue-sharing; a Marshall Plan style reconstruction package that acknowledges some sort of native sovereignty; programs aimed at dealing with aboriginal incarceration; comprehensive resettlement of remote communities; and a well-funded First Nations leadership institution as ways to address some of the frustrations felt by natives on reserves.

But the logic of the feasibility hypothesis means the most effective way to prevent an insurrection is to make one less feasible. Hence, he concludes Ottawa must reinforce the security guarantee in and near First Nations by safeguarding critical transportation infrastructure, beefing up policing on reserves and cracking down on illegal drugs.

In his conclusion, Mr. Lee Crowley said that, on balance, there are strong reasons for optimism. “The feeling that this is an intractable problem where progress can never be made is not true,” he said.

But, having read both papers, I tend to side with Mr. Allen’s (and perhaps Mr. Bland’s) more gloomy world view.

Posted on May 7, 2013, in Counter-Insurgency and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It is all just “Rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. ” It would seem that we as Indians have been completely assimilated into the system of belief that we have a right to have dominion over Creation and all our
    relations. Conform for fear. What happened to Idle No More.?.. Are we not supposed to be standing up for the land and water for future generations… It would seem that all we are really fighting for is our share in the resources, our right as assimilated Indians to have their turn at destroying our land and waters… all for future Generations…There are better ways.. spiritual and wholistic decisions for our people to thrive and survive… Not to buy into a system that is a Corporate Based heartless entity whose only objective is the bottom line… It would seem the Traditional Teachings of the Ancestors have only become a politically correct springboard for aspiring assimilated Indian Elite… Maybe its time to jump ship… It would seem the true Indian Uprising is in the building of our own life rafts…

    • May I make a suggestion to First Nations all acroos this land…??

      All tribes and nations must block access to ALL resource developments and blockade all access to and from any industry currently dictating policy to the federal government….

      That means all oil wells, pumping stations, mines and pipelines going anywhere….

      Shut it all down….to the white imperialistic society that will strangle their hold on First Nations sovereignty…

      Think about it….there aren’t enough law enforcement officials or armed forces to police or reopen any roads….

      One week…..that’s all it will take….you will bring them to their knees….corporate board rooms will go ballistic….

      Stop pussy footing around….this is simple, effective and crippling to corporate America (which our sick federal government bows to)…

      I guarantee First Nations will gain the upper hand and bring Harper and his evil self righteous government to ruin….

  2. sikak iskwew

    FN people won’t choose the path of destruction, and never have. They have always been willing to sit at the table and negotiate as free, autonomous peoples with the colonials. If anyone creates destruction, it will be the racist, arrogant, greedy, dishonest and dishonorable colonials who are deluded by their capitalist-racist perspectives into behaving like parasites and wanting everything without sharing whats fair and just.

  3. Reblogged this on Democracy Lives in the Streets and commented:
    Here is a reblogged post for your consideration.

  4. While I don’t know much about this situation, it seems obvious that the law is being used to protect the economic interests of Canada. This is the sorry state of Canada’s legal apparatus.
    Native women are abducted, violated and murdered on their own reserves (by non-natives who know that they’ll get away with it) and the government has done nothing substantial about this. But as soon as even the possibility of Aboriginal “insurgence” comes up, they want to throw human rights out the window and wrap their iron fist around the “threat”. It happened to the Iraqis after 9/11; everything to do with Islam and the Arab world was deemed a threat to “democracy”.

    We know the truth though, when governments speak of protecting “democracy” the main freedom that they’re protecting is the freedom of corporations to exploit that which is deemed as rightfully theirs. Land and people included.
    The West still speaks the Language of Savagery (dehumanizing people by labeling them as savages, radical environmentalists, terrorists, anarchists) to justify its conquest over them. This is the way of Empires.

    @Casey: some still remember the old Cree proverb: “When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money”.

    The Unis’tot’en of the Wet’suwet’en and their hereditary chief are amongst those who openly oppose the capitalists that move upon their territory. They know that no amount of money will compensate them for the loss of their autonomy: the ability to live off the resources of their own land without dependance on the Canadian market. The ability to live healthily, not drinking the polluted waters produced by hydraulic fracturing, open-pit mines and oil spills.

    It is only certain others, Band Councillors who think that money and promises of expanded territories is the key to their future, who sell out to this destruction. While I can see that many of them aren’t greedy at heart, they do believe the twisted lies of energy corporations and governments that tell them “the old ways are dying, protect your people from poverty and hunger. Become our partners and we can both benefit.” But these are only words, they are cheap. And when they prove wrong, who will lose? Not the corporations, for it is not their land. It’s always easier to gamble away that which does not belong to you when it is not your future that depends on it.

    Do not lose hope, we live in an era where so many forces stand against us and the might of an empire seeks to snuff out distinct cultures and turn their lands and people into instruments of profit – part of a capitalist economy that only knows how to grow, not how to sustain life.

    Remember, the treaties and laws of Canada are mainly used to protect consumer rights and the rights of capitalists. Don’t trust in them. Trust in those who still remember the importance of mutual respect and their duty to protect the land for future generations.

    Find people who are honest with you. Find people who inspire hope – not false hope – and inspire you to be a good person and make you feel glad to be alive. It takes wisdom to see these things in people, but it’s important.

    There’s nothing more important right now than preserving autonomy – the right to keep one’s distinct culture alive and preserve life for ALL connected living beings. This is the antithesis (opponent) of economic imperialism (neo-liberalism)/capitalism/colonialism – it stands in direct opposition to it. But we can’t do it alone, we have to do it together.

    Alright, well that post ended up a lot longer than I first intended. There must be some Capitalist blood in me after all. Talk about perpetual growth!

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