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Insurgency In Occupied Alberta

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Issue: 30 Section: Original Peoples Geography: West Alberta Topics: Indigenous

August 16, 2005

Insurgency In Occupied Alberta

A Voice From The Coffin

by Stewart Steinhauer

bigbear_web.jpg
In the late 1800s, on the northern prairies, Cree leader Mistiyamaskwa (the Big Bear) warned Cree Peoples about the advance of western civilization, which he likened to a "rope around the neck". The Cree syllabics on the glacial till granite boulder base say: "I am the big bear. There never will be anyone who can put a halter, snare or noose around my neck." The surface of the grey basalt stone bear has been fluted to represent the original fur trade gun barrels. A naturally-occurring fault line runs through the neck of the basalt bear, echoing the Big Bear's warning. Sculpture and photograph by Stewart Steinhauer
At the 2005 commencement ceremony held at the University of British Columbia, all of the indigenous students receiving degrees refused to shake hands with UBC's Chancellor, former BC Supreme Court Justice MacEachern. They refused because of MacEachern's use of a quote from Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan", in reference to the case known as "Delgamuuk", saying that before the "civilizing mission" from Europe entered the Americas, "aboriginal" peoples' lives were "nasty, short, and brutish".

The description "nasty, short and brutish" is fairly accurate, but MacEachern got the sequence of events wrong. After 513 years of invasion and occupation, my Peoples' lives have become nasty, short and brutish, as a direct result of Europe's "civilizing mission". Life on the rez, circa 2005, is not just random mayhem, although non-indigenous Canadians may think it so at a glance. On-reserve mayhem is carefully micro-managed by Her Majesty's loyal government servants, including Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Justice Department, Health Canada, HRDC, and a host of other federal and provincial departments all making their best effort to contribute to the civilizing mission.

One need only look at Canada's Indian Act to see the process in action. Here is legislation enacted over Peoples not its citizens, which destroys all of the social institutions which make Peoples what they are, and imposes a Euro-centric system designed to achieve total control over the lives of these target Peoples -- at least those who physically survive the destruction of their way of life.

Does the average Canadian have a problem with this? When Canadian Prime Minister Chrétien criticized Indonesian President Suharto's human rights record at an APEC Summit meeting, Suharto's rejoinder was: "You've got your Red Indian problem".

Canada's Indian problem. I've been hearing about this problem all of my life. W.E.B. Debois, the first African-American to graduate from Harvard, asked the question, "What does it feel like to be born a problem?"

Naming the problem is problematic. Is there a problem? Whose problem is it? What does this problem look like, and how does it operate?

After the "Delgamuuk" decision came down – tying the legal definition of Aboriginal Title directly to a right to land, and declaring formal consultation with Aboriginal peoples to be the minimum requirement of development on disputed land -- Canada began scrambling to cover its suddenly exposed backside. The Canadian government now has a huge team working feverishly to develop what Her Majesty's servants call "the Aboriginal Doctrine".

In 2000, indigenous legal scholar John Borrows published, on the Law Commission of Canada's website, under the Treaty Forum section, a paper titled "Questioning Canada's Title To Land". This paper carefully detailed how Canada's Indian Act violates the Canadian Constitution, international law, and the concept of "the rule of law". Borrows also demonstrated that the Canada state did not have legal title to land, nor legal sovereignty within the borders of the territory known as Canada.

We're getting down to the heart of the problem, the heartbeat of our Great Mother. Land. The indigenous insurgency in Alberta comes down to a call for Canada to adhere to international law, and recognize Indigenous title to land. The major shareholders and their corporate managers of energy corporations like Exxon Mobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, to name a few, have other ideas, for oily reasons; powerful forces are keeping Canada from following the rule of law.

This distain for the rule of law, when it does not suit the interests of the powerful, is not a new phase in the history of Canada, or of western civilization. I came across a petition signed by my great-great grandfather, Henry Bird Steinhauer, and his son, Arthur, my great grandfather, among others, addressed to Canada's Lieutenant-Governor Archibald, calling for recognition of Indian title to land. The petition, dated 9 January, 1871, reads:

"We as loyal subjects of our Great Mother the Queen whom your Excellency represents, wish that our privileges and claims of the land of our fathers be recognized by Commissioners whom your Excellency may hereafter appoint to treat with the different tribes of the Saskatchewan…our friends the plains Crees, who have not been taught as we have, think that their lands and hunting grounds shall be taken from them without remuneration. As loyal subjects of our Great Mother the Queen, we pray that all the privileges and advantages of such subjects may be granted to us as a People by your Excellency's Government."

In 1871 the Canadian state had something else in mind. Ward Churchill, the American Indian Movement historian, calls it "a little matter of genocide". In Churchill's book of the same name, he quotes from Polish jurist, Raphael Lemkin, speaking in the pages of Lemkin's seminal work, "Axis Rule In Occupied Europe", published in 1944. Lemkin had this to say about genocide:

"Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group, the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and colonization of the area by the oppressor's nationals."

So, what's the problem?

Canada has joined the "trillion dollar club", a group of nations whose annual GDP is over one trillion dollars; in 2004, the latest year available on the StatsCan website, Canada's GDP is listed at 1.3 trillion dollars. In the same year, Canadian consolidated government revenues were about 459 billion dollars. Canada sits with the G-7 nations, although, because Canada's Head of State is a queen from England, a country apparently famous for its queens, Canada can't sit right up at the G-7 table.

In Canada, the question of who owns the land, and who exercises sovereignty over that land, is no small matter. The illegally appropriated land and resource acquired by the Canadian state are essential to its membership in the trillion dollar club. The problem, for Canada, is that Indigenous Peoples with claims to the land stand in the way of the continued massive accumulation of wealth. For Canada, the solution has been what Ward Churchill called "a little matter of genocide".

In Canada, genocide does not follow the pattern set in Nazi Germany, where Fordism met Taylorism, in places like Auschwitz. "Work will make you free" said the sign over the gates at Nazi death camps. As Dean Nue, Professor of Public Accounting, at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary has argued, in his Accounting For Genocide, Canada's bureaucrats have been hard at work.

Professor Nue goes so far as to call these bureaucrats "desk killers", whose policy decisions, taken in far-off Ottawa, have a lethal effect when they hit the Rez. When Sir John A MacDonald ordered a ten year cessation of rations to reserve-bound Indigenous Peoples, in 1885, as collective punishment for what Canadians call "the Frog Lake Massacre", western reserves experienced death tolls of up to 56%. Article II, subsection c, of the UN's Convention on Genocide says: "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

What if your conditions of life make suicide appear to be an attractive option? Suicide is epidemic on reserves across Canada. Last week, on my "Rez", a twenty-something man hung himself in his bathroom; he was the third in his family to commit suicide. Was that the third or was that the fourth suicide at Saddle Lake Cree Nation this year? Ah, but who's counting, anyway? Just one more "good Indian"; you know, the dead ones.

As far as solutions go, I hate to sound like a broken record, reiterating what my great-great grandfather, and on down through the generations to me, have been saying all along, but as long as Canada deals in broken promises, I'll have to be a broken record.

As one "bad Indian" (not dead yet) I say to Canada, and to the Canadians who -- actively or passively -- give the Canadian state its legitimacy: Adhere to international law, recognize Indigenous title to land, recognize Indigenous sovereignty over the land, and cease and desist with the social engineering project known as "Indian Policy". I've been studying the situation for over half a century now, and the only other option I can see is for Canada to continue with its little matter of genocide.

Next: Down At The Intersection Of Racism, Patriarchy, Capitalism, and Imperialism: Drilling For Oil And Gas.

Nicknamed 'Apisicikakakis' (the Magpie) because of his irksome behaviour, Stewart Steinhauer enjoys dragging out the garbage, and scattering it around in public for all to see.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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