Surviving as Indians:|
The Challenge of Self-Government
by Menno Boldt,
People of Terra Nullius
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by John Ayre
IT", A DISMAYING fact that theaverage Canadian will likely meet more Natives in a week`s vacation in SouthernMexico than in an entire lifetime in Canada. The reasons are obvious. OurNative population is small and lives in areas that, with a few exceptions, suchas northern Winnipeg, are largely inaccessible. As a result, even today we seeNatives almost entirely in polarized TV images. We know the Grim Militants ofOka and the Lost Souls of Davis Inlet but have little sense of anyone betweenthose crude categories. While we see many of the leaders who are good at 15-secondsound bites, we rarely get a sense of what the general Nativepopulation thinks, feels, and does.
In Peopleof Terra Nullius, theveteran journalist Boyce Richardson attempts to open up the actual Nativecommunity for the average Canadian. He`s a good man to attempt this dauntingtask. Working the Native beat for more than a quarter century, Richardson hascompleted newspaper series, films, two books on the James Bay Cree, and a 1991series for Readers Digest that took him across thecountry to Native and Metis communities from Eskasoni on Cape Breton Island toHazelton, British Columbia. He`s essentially expanded
this series to book length and strippedin relevant legal and political considerations. He`s very knowledgeable and adeptat moving back and forth between reportage and analysis of arcane but damagingpolicy and law. To show the farcical rules determining racial identity set outin the Indian Act, for instance, he takes the case of the artist Claude Latour.Oddly enough, Latour had to prove his identity to other Natives to
have his work shown in Native exhibits. Richardsonhimself estimates that Latour is 37.5 per cent Native, appar ently enough toqualify as a "genuine" Native artist. What is a somewhat droll exercisefor Latour, however, can be a major headache for the average Native.
Richardson obviously likes the people aspeople, and there tends to be an upbeat quality to his descriptions of leadersthat belies the images of helplessness from Davis Inlet. Because he focuses onsuch personable and dynamic individuals as the activist Isaac Beaulieu or thecollege director Oliver Brass, however, he tends to be optimistic about theeventual success of self-generated Native projects. He repeatedly pointsto how a century of welfare paternalism crushed and replaced most previousNative initiative. It seems we`ve always wantedthedependent Native. Now if we let them alone, he implies, they can succeed.Richardson is a strong enough journalist to balance this with a darker view. Henotes, for example, that while a Native-run education system in SandyBay, Manitoba, has had enormous success in reducing the number of drop-outs,the social-welfare system in the same community proved at the same timeto be a disaster of sex abuse and corruption.
in Survivingas Indians: The Challenge of Self-Government, the Alberta sociologistMenno Boldt is more hard-headed. An academic, he grimly chooses to starthis book with a heavy-going chapter on how the law has always workedagainst the Natives since the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which defined a force majeure of the civilized over"savages." Certainly no apologist for the old judicial andpaternalistic Indian Affairs system, he points to very serious problems in theconcept of Native self-government. He correctly notes that Nativeleadership is often hardly more receptive to their own band members than arethe distant white bureaucrats in Ottawa. Without providing a specific example,he points to ugly leadership problems that have already arisen in the UnitedStates.
Boldt`s overriding concern is themaintenance of Native identity and culture inside modern Canadian society. Bypointing to Jews and Hutterites, he makes it clear that cultural integrity canexist without a hermetically scaled reservation system. Boldt in fact has agenius for shaking every boot to see if there`s a scorpion inside. This is notonly refreshing, but crucial at a time when Canadians are so baffled by Nativeproblems that we may cause further problems by hastily replacing the currentsystem with damaging new poticies designed to keep Natives hidden --yet again -- from our guilty eyes.