I have just finished reading the book “The Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King. Let me begin with a variation of my usual disclaimer. Reading a book written by a Native North American about his perspective on Native North Americans does not make me an expert on Native North Americans. Having said that, here are a few of the things I learned from the book.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was formed in 1991. The final report was the most comprehensive and complete study of Aboriginal people, Aboriginal history, and Aboriginal policy that has ever been done in North America.
The last volume of the report contained 440 recommendations, which included recognizing that “Aboriginal people are nations vested with the right of self-determination,” that Aboriginal people in Canada enjoy “a unique form of dual citizenship,” that the government abolish the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and replace it with “two new departments: a Department of Aboriginal Relations and a Department of Indian and Inuit Services,” that the government of Canada meet with First Nations governments and people to “meet the need of First Nations people for adequate housing within ten years,” and that “Representatives of Aboriginal peoples be included in all planning and preparations for any future constitutional conference convened by the government of Canada.”
So, a pretty good list. If all of those terms actually were realized, would that be the basis of a good policy? Should more be added? Some deleted?
“The Inconvenient Indian” is an important book in the same way that “Twelve Years a Slave” is an important film as are numerous films about the Holocaust.
It is vital that we know about the past. I am reminded that each generation needs to refresh their collective memories around these aspects of our society, around the historical backdrop of how our western society came to be. What assumptions were involved throughout history that allowed us to make the kinds of decisions that we made?
But, at a certain point, we need to get to the place where we say “now what?” Now that we have a firm understanding of the past and the belief systems that lay the basis for our policies, “now what?”
How do we move from the anger, the blaming and the victimization? What would we do in the absence of an adversary, a bad guy? What could and should be the policy?
More specifically, in an ideal world, how would aboriginal people be living in this country, in the United States, in Australia, in ...
Can we imagine a different future?
As we delve into the morass that is this question, what are some overriding principles that we can declare and be aware of that can act as guiding lights in this exploration?
(like choice, diversity, …)
In Thomas King’s book, the question comes up, “What do Indians want?”? Now, he would say that it’s the wrong question. He would say that it’s the wrong question first of all because it presupposes that all Native groups should be lumped together and come up with a single answer. Then, he goes on to say that a better question to ask is “What do Whites want?” The answer to that question, according to him, is land.
Having said that and reflecting on what all of that means, I still think the first question is a good one, in a modified form.
What do these individual groups want? The Lubicon Cree of Alberta, the Brantford Mohawk of Ontario, the Zuni of New Mexico, the Aborigine of Australia, the Inuit of the North, the Hupa of northern California or the Tlingit of Alaska.
If each group draws upon its collective wisdom, how would each group/tribe/band answer these questions?
What do you want? What is your vision of a peaceful, vibrant, purposeful, creative future? What structural changes need to be brought about for this to happen?
And let’s imagine that at least one of the answers to this question “What do Indians want” is land.
Which brings us to the next part. Does it matter what one does on this land? Should there be a double standard for whites and Native people as to what are acceptable practices on this land?
How would you answer these questions?
My answer next time...