Posted by: Dan | September 16, 2016

A Blog Commentary on Luke’s Gospel, written for Settlers in the Occupied Territories called Canada (Part 3)

Luke 1.5a: Of National Chiefs and Client Kings

In the time of Herod, King of Judaea…

Senate

Wîhtikow II. By Neal Mcleod.  The inscription reads: “Progress, a new light on the land, ate our souls.”  A Wîhtikow (ᐄᐧᐦᑎᑯᐤ) is a Cree version of a Windigo.

Atleo. Herod.

On May 2nd, 2014, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo stepped down from his position as the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Canada.  He had held the position for five years and his resignation came as a surprise to many.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement that he was “saddened” by Atleo’s decision and appreciated all the work they had accomplished together over the last number of years.  However, it was Atleo’s support of many of Harper’s policies directed at assimilation and extermination of First Nation’s people as First Nation’s peoples that brought him down.  Eventually, after Idle No More, the fast of Theresa Spence (and his betrayal of both), and ultimately after he tried to help Harper push through Bill C-33 via secret closed door meetings, Atleo’s allegiances became all too clear and he could no longer even appear to represent the nations he claimed to represent.  Atleo had become in his own words, “a lightning rod of controversy” and his usefulness to the Canadian government had been seriously undermined.

Bill C-33, also called The First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (a fantastic bit of colonial doublespeak — because it’s actually about the Federal government controlling First Nations education — usually shortened to just the First Nations Education Act) played a well-tuned colonial money game for funding on-reserve education.  Despite multiple commitments and treaty obligations and despite plundering Indigenous lands and communities, the Government of Canada has never following through on its commitment and obligation to ensure Indigenous folks receive a good education (residential schools being only the most well-known and disastrous example of that failed commitment – but, less well known are other factors, like how the Government of Canada withholds Indigenous monies from Indigenous peoples and robs First Nations to subsidize Canada and international Resource Development Companies that want to plunder the land).  Bill C-33 promised a still inadequate amount of money for on-reserve education across the country, but the amount of money offered ($1.9B) was enough to be sorely tempting to those who have next to nothing or less than that.  The condition on granting the money, though, was that Bill C-33 had to be passed.  No Bill, no money for Indigenous education.

The Federal Government, whether facing lawsuits (say for sterilizing women or for placing healthy children next to people sick with TB in Indian Hospitals (one Indian Hospital primarily took people sick with TB and pregnant women, so you can guess how that turned out), or for legally requiring that Indigenous children be taken from their family homes and placed in residential schools where they often died and suffered horrible abuse), or in modern treaties (which are all about extinguishing treaty rights), or in business deals, has consistently offered Indigenous people much, much less than is adequate to meet their needs, to say nothing of offering what is right or just.  Because the Canadian Government knows that people who are in extreme poverty, people who are starving, people who have loved ones who need food and adequate housing, and a safe place to be, and who would also be able to have their children returned to them if they had adequate money, well, yeah they know that people in these kinds of situations will often agree to settle for much less than what is needed or what is just.  It’s a process as old as contact and not much different than negotiating treaties at the end of a gun (treaties recorded by the people with the guns, in their own language, which end up omitting a lot of what was promised in the treaty process).  Bill C-33 is a continuation of this and of standard Canadian practices.

So why was the Harper Government playing this financial game at that time, and holding out $1.9B for on-reserve education on the condition that Bill C-33 passed? Because of the other elements of the Bill.  Bill C-33 also subjected on-reserve primary and secondary schools to provincial education criteria.  This was part and parcel with the government of Canada’s never-ending efforts to download Indigenous communities to the Provinces thereby terminating treaty relations (that require Federal involvement and so must take place Nation-to-Nation).  Further provincial integration would help remove the Feds from the picture and tie Reserve communities deeper into provincial networks.  This is also a key component of so-called Modern Treaties that the government is trying to push individually onto each First Nation is that the reserves basically accept municipality status within a province.  Thus, already back in 2912, the Government of Canada was engaging in 93 different negotiations of what are called “Comprehensive Claims and Self Government Tables” with 100s of different Indian bands.  Significant (but still inadequate) financial incentives are provided in these treaties-that-aren’t-really-treaties and the hope is that this will ultimately extinguish First Nations as Nations within Canada and will make Indigenous people a minority population within Canada’s melting pot, rather than recognizing them as possessing their own citizenships and sovereignties.  Offering the ability to collect taxes and get rich selling or leasing Reserve lands is all part of trying to get Indigenous folks to oversee their own colonization.  Furthermore, these negotiations are being offered with the implication that “it’s this or nothing else” and though everyone knows that this is like negotiating a treaty (that isn’t a treaty) at the end of a gun, the Government also knows that many Nations don’t have the money to fight them in court.

However, Bill C-33 does not hand everything over to the provinces.  The Feds retain control in a critical way as the Bill gives the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs near total dictatorial control over the scope and criteria of almost everything related to Indigenous education.  Indigenous communities would have no real sway or say regarding what would be taught in their communities.  That would be up to the Government of Canada (Residential Schools 2.0, anybody?) and if I’ve learned anything from studying Canadian history within Canadian schools it’s that this history is anything but honest or accurate or forthcoming when it comes to Canada’s history of settler colonialism.  In short – Harper wanted to bribe Indigenous communities to allow him to determine everything their kids are taught.  Indigenous communities refused — to the surprise of nobody, except Settlers who think Natives should stop being so ungrateful and take their refusal of money – money which those Settlers worship and so they are filled with resentment any time any kind of offer of money is made to others – as proof of the backwardness and uncivilized, stupidly savage nature of Indigenous peoples.

However, Shawn Atleo had very strongly supported this Bill and, as with other Bills that Harper’s government pushed to extinguish Indigenous sovereignty and identity, worked closely with Harper to get it approved.  He was, essentially, Harper’s best token Indian.

Patrick Brazeau, whom Harper had elected to the Senate for his willingness to betray his own people was a hopeful at first.  Brazeau was the leader of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, an advocacy group for off-reserve, non-status Indians and Métis people, that quickly turned reactionary and anti-First Nations after Brazeau took over and affiliated it with Harper.  However, he became too much of a wildcard and had been expelled from the Conservative caucus the previous year when he was charged with domestic and sexual assault (Brazeau later made a plea deal where he pled guilty and was then acquitted without a record, so although Harper ditched him when he became too hot to handle, he also made sure he was looked after).

So Atleo became Harper’s main squeeze, but Bill C-33 was too much and Atleo’s support for it was a stretch, even for him, especially at a time of Indigenous resurgence with rail blockades, hunger strikes, mass marches, highway shutdowns, and renewed attention to the poverty, exploitation and oppression experienced by Indigenous communities.  I myself wept like Simeon must have wept in Luke 2 when he held the baby Jesus and declared my eyes have seen your salvation… a light like an apocalypse, a revelation to the nations, when my spirit jumped within me and I saw the marchers coming off the highway with the flags and eagle staffs and when I saw the Idle No More marchers come up Wellington Road, when they showed the wampum at the forks of the Askunessippi, and when I heard the healers speak the language of the land and share their teachings with us.  Yes, there were glimpses of salvation all around and Atleo had to go.  He resigned and Bill C-33 never passed into Law.

He was replaced by Perry Bellegarde and a mere two hours after Bellegarde’s successful nomination to National Chief was announced, Atleo announced that he had been hired as a consultant for major oil companies who were wanting to expand the tar sands and push a pipeline through unceded Indigenous lands in what Canada calls Northern British Columbia.  Pacific Future Energy hired Atleo along with another former AFN National Chief, Ovide Mercredi,  to push for a heavy oil plant to be built on some of the most untouched, sacred land on Turtle Island.  Atleo and Mercredi were also to push for the pipelines transporting tar sands bitumen through Indigenous lands on the way there.  Mark Marissen, a former lead strategist for the Liberal Party of Canada, and the husband of BC Premier Christy Clarke was Executive Vice President of the project and had previously done a lot of work for  the oil pipeline company, Enbridge – a serious investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline which is currently facing considerable resistance from unified Indigenous nations colonized by the USofA.  Stockwell Day, the uber-conservative predecessor to Stephen Harper, was also on the Executive and so we see how bipartisan Resource Development is in Canada.  Atleo and Mercredi, however, were crucial to the process.  They were there to be able to guarantee that the corporations can show they have fulfilled their legal “duty to consult” First Nations before ripping up the land and polluting the water and poisoning the air and cutting down the trees and killing the fish and the birds and the animals and the creeping things.  And they were also there to find ways to buy off the local chiefs in order to ensure that nobody accuse them of acting against the will of the people.  More than consent, hiring Atleo and Mercredi can be offered as proof that Indigenous people were full partners in the project from the very beginning.

Atleo and Mercredi are not alone in transitioning from being National Chiefs of the AFN to being very well paid employees of oil and other energy companies.  Another former National Chief, Phil Fontaine (who held the position for nine years) was hired by TransCanada in 2013 to push their “Energy East” project.  This project is seeking to pipe tar sands bitumen east to Montreal and St. John.  Fontaine is there to ensure Indigenous partnership, consultation, and compliance with the project (that’s not going so well for him and currently the Chippewas of the Thames are appealing matters related to this with the Supreme Court of Canada, while others have done things like erect a Totem Pole directly on the path proposed for the pipeline).  Fontaine also works for the Royal Bank of Canada (a major investor in the tar sands), and sits on at least three Boards: the Board of New Brunswick Power, which is a provincially owned utility, The Board of Chieftain Metal Group, which is developing mining in northwestern BC, the Board of Avalon Rare Metals Inc.

Atleo has also diversified.  In 2015, SNC-Lavalin Inc. partnered with his A-in-Chut Business Group to continue to perform studies for Pacific Future Energies in order to try and get their project through in light of ongoing Indigenous resistance (notably in Madii ‘Lii territory within the Gitxsan Nation, and Unist’ot’en territory within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, but also elsewhere).  He has also partnered with Mercredi, a regional AFN Chief for New Brunswick named Roger Augustine, and another former AFN National Chief, Matthew Coon Come, in a company called GITPO Storm Corporation.  GITPO focuses upon Resource Development. Coon Come, by the way, has made millions brokering hydroelectric, logging, and mining deals in the land of the James Bay Cree Iiyuuschee Nation (what Canada calls Northern Quebec) and signed a Modern Treaty with Canada in 1975, which, amongst other things, extinguished any claims to the land made by other Indigenous Nations.  He is currently trying to steal land from other Nations (notably the Moose Cree in what Canada calls Northern Ontario) and claim it as Iiyuuschee land in order to expand his profits.

So, just as military officers often leverage their experience and connections to get much higher paying positions with private militias (like whatever manifestation of Blackwater we’re on now), and just like the Jim Chu, the former Chief of Police in Vancouver – who used the police as the shock troops of gentrification time after time – can transfer to a much higher paying job as a Vice President with Aquilini Investment Group (a major Real Estate owner and developer), and just as Harper’s political cronies can all go work for millions doing nothing for energy companies after they get out of politics, AFN National Chiefs can all join the logging, and oil, and gas, and mining, and damming, and whatever other life-destroying industries we have under the name of Resource Development.  It’s a reward for a job well done.

Now I mention all of this because, apart from Theophilus (whom we already discussed in our last post), the first character Luke mentions is Herod.  And if you want to understand Herod you’ve got to understand Atleo (and Brazeau, and Mercredi, and Fontaine, and Augustine, and Coon Come).  Because Herod, it needs to be remembered, was an Indian, too.  Like Atleo, he was a client ruler, serving a foreign master, while claiming to have the best interests of his people at heart (and, who knows, perhaps both Atleo and Herod did have good intentions but, as the saying goes, hell is paved with good intentions).  However, regardless of intentions there are many benefits to being the kind of client ruler, be that a King or an AFN National Chief, who knows how to make and keep his (yes, his – that’s important as we’ll see later on) patron happy.  Those perks include the kind of wealth that will allow you to purchase anything you desire, the power to ensure all your loved ones and family members are well cared for, and basically anything you want as long as you only think about you and biological family and not anybody else (settler colonialism and capitalism go hand-in-hand with the prioritizing of individualism over communalism).  If you’re willing to betray your own people, there is a lot of money to be made.  Because, yeah, sometimes even the most well-intentioned client has to betray some land defenders or behead a prophet or get a person’s whose voice and actions have been a catalyst for the formation of a movement dedicated to life-giving change and liberation from oppression executed by the State as a terrorist.  It probably doesn’t feel all that great, but that’s the world of realpolitik, and thankfully wealth brings plenty of comforts that can help the feeling to pass soon enough.

The question we are faced with is how these kinds of client rulers can become possible.  What makes them happen?  How does a colonial power go about sectioning off a group of colonized people and make them serve the interests of colonialism rather than the interests of their own people?  To understand that, we have to look at the Indian Act because Atleo, like Herod, is first and foremost and Indian Act Chief.

The Indian Act: Divide et Impera

Although he was not the first to come up with the practice (the practice is as old as Empire), Julius Caesar is famous for advocating for and refining the “divide and rule” model of governance within nations vanquished and colonized by Rome.  Augustus further perfected this approach.  As Rome built its empire, it tended to work with local elites in order to ensure that the newly vanquished territories sent the necessary taxes and goods back to the heart of the empire.  In the East, local territorial and city-based elites already existed.  These elites were already exploiting the land and the masses of people living at or near the subsistence level.  They simply had to be shown the benefit of ensuring that Rome also got what it wanted out of that system of exploitation (and if they couldn’t be convinced there were usually rival members of the elites who were happy to replace them with the assistance of Roman power).  And, make no mistake about it–there were very real benefits to being considered a client or even a friend of Caesar.  Granted, not all of the elites would benefit from conquest – many of them would not benefit at all and would die or become impoverished – but those who came out on top gained a lot.  So, while rivalries for Caesar’s favour existed in the upper echelon of society, whole cities and territories would be roped into this, as various factions competed for the rewards that came with honouring Caesar the most.  This is one form of divide and rule.

A similar approach was utilized in the West and the North but in some of these areas it took longer to implement because some of the societies conquered were more egalitarian, less given to urban life, held more communal approaches to property, and weren’t give to wealth accumulation or the large scale exploitation of one’s neighbours.  Hence, members of these groups had to be convinced to urbanize and coaxed into enjoying the luxurious forms of living that a select few can enjoy if they are willing to sell out the many.  Eventually this took place and the Romans joked to each other that the colonized people thought they were improving (civilizing) when really they were just getting more deeply enmeshed into slavery.

This has essentially been the same approach utilized by European powers since then.  Divide and rule.  Which is why the language of the oppressed who resist is so marked by themes like solidarity and slogans like, “the people united will never be defeated.”  However, once these divisions have been implemented and entrenched they are very hard to overcome.  The Indian Act is one example of how colonial powers go about dividing and ruling and so I want to spend some time breaking that down so that we can better understand not only our own context but also characters like Herod and the Sadducees (who, apart from Herod and the Herodians, were the Jerusalem-based elite who controlled the Temple cult which was really the hub of politics, economics, and exploitation in Judaea during the time of Luke’s proclamation of good news).

In 1867, England stepped back from its colony on Turtle Island and the settler colonial nation of Canada was created.  As a part of the succession of power, Section 91:24 of the British North American Act assigned to Canada responsibility for all “Indians and lands reserved for Indians.”  The British legally recognized the sovereignty of Indigenous nations as treaty partners, but had also tried to assimilate them into colonial existence.  The Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 was an example of this and it tried to encourage Indigenous people to give up their sovereignty and Indigenous identity in return for certain perks and rewards.  This Act was created because the British recognized their failure to transform Indigenous communities into mirror images of settler communities.  They then thought they would try to assimilate Indigenous people on an individual one-at-a-time basis.  After Canada took over, the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 presented a slightly modified version of the Gradual Civilization Act.  The problem with both these Acts was that Indigenous people didn’t seem to want to stop being Indigenous people no matter how poorly they were treated and no matter what perks they were offered (I believe people were enfranchising at the rate of about one person every six years).  Therefore, in 1867 the Liberal government of Alexander MacKenzie passed the Indian Act into law.  Amongst other things, the Indian Act takes away the ability of Indigenous nations to rule themselves within the territories recognized as their own.  All of their affairs would now be governed by the Federal government of Canada through the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs (which replaced the British Indian Department which was formed in 1755 as a part of the British military in North America, and whose original membership was mostly British military officers).  The Department of Indian Affairs was represented on the ground in various communities by the Indian Agent.  It is helpful to think of the Indian Agent along the same lines as we think of Roman Governors or Magistrates in conquered territories like Judaea.  Client rulers had power, sure, but ultimately power remained with the Romans.

The Indian Act is a sustained and multi-pronged attack on Indigenous sovereignty, freedom, and identity.  It is designed to divide, disempower, and ultimately eliminate Indigenous people (as Indigenous people) within Canada.  Canada’s first Prime Minister (Like Caesar, the Prime Minister is the Princeps – the first amongst equals), John A. MacDonald, very clearly understood the responsibility assigned to him in the British North American Act in this way.  He stated that it was Canada’s duteyto “do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian peoples in all respects to the inhabitants of the Dominion.”  Duncan Campbell Scott, head of Indian Affairs for many years, echoes this and says: “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question and no Indian Department.”  Hence, what Scott said of the residential schools he built and expanded across the Dominion of Canada (they exist “to kill the Indian in the child”) is what the Indian Act was to do on the large scale.  I will look at three ways that the Indian Act goes about doing this: first, through the destruction of traditional governance models and the creation of band councils, or what are sometimes referred to as “Indian Act Chiefs,” or “INAC Chiefs” since the Department of Indian Affairs has been rebranded the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, because it’s important that Canadians don’t use offensive words in relation to the people we are actively working to exterminate; second, through the Reserve system; and, third, through government imposed criteria on who counts as a “status Indian” and who doesn’t get to count as an Indian at all.

Creating a New Elite and Internal Divisions

The creation of band councils, overturning traditional governance models within Indigenous communities was fundamental to the Canadian approach to divide and rule.  I will have more to say about those traditional models, and especially about the role of women and those who performed duties in relation to religious rites, in the next post when I talk about Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary, but a few remarks are necessary here.  Prior to colonization, many Indigenous nations, like the Haudenosaunee, were matrilineal and Clan Mothers were the senior leading members of the community.  Their status was inherited.  The chiefs, who made up the council, were selected by the Clan Mothers and that position was not hereditary but was made on a case-by-case basis based upon the moral character, proven commitments, and knowledge of the men selected.  This was a very well nuanced, democratic, and egalitarian form of government (not that there were not abuses present in the system but the system itself was much less open to abuse than many other forms of government – including our own representative democracy).  For colonization to work, this had to be destroyed.  Amongst other things, destroying this meant that it was necessary to engage in a sustained assault on Indigenous women, whom Canada, as we shall see, has been murdering and disappearing from 1867 to the present day.

Therefore, instead of engaging in Nation-to-Nation relationships with the already existing leadership of First Nations, the Government of Canada classified the Nations as “bands” (tribes is the language preferred in the USofA, I believe, and, in both cases, the language doesn’t do a good job of communicating national sovereignty – which is kind of the point) and then created “band councils” that were organized like political parties or corporations.  The chief was the top member and then the other band counselors worked with him to control the band and all of its funds, lands, housing, infrastructure, education, and so on.  Significantly, only men were permitted to be elected as chiefs or counselors.  As elsewhere, the imposition of an patriarchy went hand-in-hand with colonization.  Furthermore, many traditional chiefs – those who had been elected by Clan Mothers and who were often very actively resisting Canadian colonialism – were barred from being elected.

The Indian Agent, representative of the Department of Indian Affairs, responsible for implementing and following the Indian Act, oversaw elections and tried to ensure that people who could be influenced more by money than by communal responsibilities would become counselors and chiefs.  Further, even with the chief and council having authority over the band, the authority of the chief and council was subservient to the authority of the Indian agent.  The Department of Indian Affairs actually held total power over everything, and any decisions or laws passed had to be vetted by the Indian agent, who also acted as the Justice of the Peace.  Self-governance of any kind ceased to formally exist under the Indian Act.  The Canadian government justified this in the language of a benevolent paternalism.  Indians were like kids.  There were “persons underage, incapable of the management of their own affairs” and so the government had to take on “the onerous duty of… guardianship” (moving outside of the Luke one sees the paidagogos of the Law mentioned in Gal 3 fully on display here).

The creation of these band councils also ended up producing a local elite who could get rich through making business deals with the Canadian government or various corporations, while the rest of the community remained impoverished.  Ensuring leaders like this were entrenched in communities became increasingly important in the 1960s when Indian agents were phased out and elected chiefs gained more authority.  When this happened, wealth and luxury became more readily handed out in exchange for collaboration.

The creation of this elite, and set apart group of men is the first successful step of dividing and ruling a people.  The second step, following immediately upon the first, is that this produces conflict, not between Indigenous peoples and their colonizers, but conflict that is internal to Indigenous communities.  The traditional leaders and the grassroots of resistance to colonization can often get caught up in fighting against corrupt chiefs or councils.  The Canadian government can then play both sides against each other and try to keep the focus of attention off of Canada itself working to exploit the situation to Canada’s advantage (the rise of Patrick Brazeau and his conflict with the elected chiefs is a good example of Canada doing exactly this).  Furthermore, Canada also continues to maintain Indigenous communities – Reserves – in deplorable states of poverty, thereby ensuring that these local internal conflicts actually can be matters of life or death, thereby making it even harder to ever address the big picture.

However, it’s worth noting that, as with any colonial act that requires the complicity of some of the colonized, there will always been some pushback and a mix in terms of actual chiefs and band councils.  For a people whose very existence is resistance, resistance is also bound to show up even in a leadership structure designed, as much as possible, to support colonialism and the disappearance of all these inconvenient Indians.  Hence, for all the Atleos out there, there are also folks like Derek Nepinak and Theresa Spence who have been willing to use their status as chiefs to fight for decolonization and to draw attention to the great violence their people experience.  This history of the Assembly of First Nations itself illustrates this well.  The AFN arose out of a coalition that took place between previously existing Indigenous advocacy and resistance groups (The National Indian Council and the National Indian Brotherhood — which had their roots in the older National American Indian Brotherhood and the League of Indians, which were actually considered illegal groups by the Canadian Government).  Originally very strong on advocacy with deep ties in communities, the AFN in general has lost credibility with the grassroots.  What began as a radical movement for decolonization has, in many ways, been co-opted by the status quo of settler colonialism.

Furthering Isolation and Dependence: Indian Reserves

A further element of the division and rule of First Nations was taking steps to ensure that the Nations were isolated from one another and could not unite to resist colonial rule.  In part the Indian Act does this by making it illegal for Indigenous peoples to form political groups (like the League of Indians), while also making it illegal for Indigenous people to hire lawyers to fight the government on legal or political matters.  Additionally, the Act created requirements that were to make Indians invisible, banning Indigenous languages and religious practices, as well as forbidding Western First Nations from participating in public shows, dances, exhibitions, or stampedes while wearing their regalia.  Furthermore, some communal and transnational gatherings like the Sundance or the Potlatch – where solidarity, liberation, and resistance could be fostered – were made illegal.  However, the Reserve system was perhaps the central tool to ensure the isolation of various Indigenous nations from both one another and from much of their historical territories and traditional ways of life (as well as from settler Canadians who tended to both hate and fear Indigenous peoples).

Indian Reserves are areas of land that are, according to the Law of Canada, owned and controlled by the Federal government (technically, the Crown – i.e. the Queen of England – which is part of the ongoing legacy of British colonialism in Canada, and which is also why people from Idle No More were pushing for a meeting not just with the Prime Minister but also the Governor General [the Queen’s representative in Canada] because the Crown is included in much of the treaty language and, in the Constitution of Canada, never quite bows out completely).  These Reserve lands are then given to various Indian bands as a part of what the Canadian government sees as the fulfillment of its treaty responsibilities.  Generally the lands selected are: (a) land unwanted by settlers at that time – and so fairly uninhabitable; (b) not overly close to white settlements – and so fairly isolated; (c)  way smaller than traditional territories of the Nations being moved onto the Reserve; and (d) often away from territories that were necessary for the ongoing existence of that Nation according to its own ways of life (thus, for example, Cree who were accustomed to cycling between buffalo hunts and harvesting wild rice are removed from territories where they can engage in these things and then stuck in a swamp that no white people wanted to live in or near).  Not a lot of Indigenous people were excited about this arrangement but the government of Canada pursued it aggressively from the very beginning.  For example, John A. MacDonald engaged in a war of starvation with the Plains Indians in order to force them to move onto Reserves.  However, the small, foreign, and uninhabitable nature of these Reserves created great poverty and made the residents dependent upon the government for food supplies – thereby increasing dependence on the very institution bent on their annihilation (and the distribution of food on reserves by the Indian Agent was used as a weapon to work towards compliance).  Consequently, Indigenous people weren’t necessarily inclined to remain on Reserves – they wanted to hunt or trade or speak with folks from other Nations – and so the government made it illegal for Indians to go off the Reserve without a Pass from the Indian Agent.  This Pass system lasted from 1885 until the 1940s.  If an Indian was off the Reserve without a Pass the RCMP would arrest that Indian (and possibly engage in physical or sexual violence against him or her) and then bring him or her back.  Jail might be a stop along the way.  Hence, Nations were imprisoned on Reserves where they were isolated from one another, unable to pursue their traditional forms of subsistence, impoverished, and forced to rely upon the colonial government. Both the Apartheid government of South Africa and the Nazi Government of Germany took interest in it and used it as a source of inspiration in their own genocidal actions.

This forced reliance upon the Government has continued up to the present day.  For example, after Indians were transformed into Canadians in the Citizenship Act of 1956, people on Reserves became eligible for social assistance.  But before I comment about that, I want to digress to comment on the Citizenship Act.  The citizenship was granted retroactively so that it was recognized as being in effect from 1947 onward. Why was this done?

Well, in 1948 the UN passed its convention on genocide. Canada had opposed this convention (managing to get significant portions of prior drafts removed — with the aid of the UK and the USA — and Canada would go on to create its own still even narrower definition of genocide and what was a prosecutable offense in relation to it in Canada) but the convention passed. However, only nations could charge other nations with genocide. Yet the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 had recognized the Indigenous nations as independent nations and treaty partners and, as we’ve seen, Canada took on this relationship via the British North American Act of 1867. Consequently, the Canadian government became worried that Indigenous nations would bring a charge of genocide against the settler state of Canada. Consequently, Indigenous peoples were turned into Canadians to prevent this from happening. And, just to be sure that no charge could be brought from any time that the Genocide Convention existed, Indigenous folks were turned into Canadians retroactively as far back as 1947. Thus, all Indigenous folks were said to be Canadians before the UN Genocide Convention was passed thereby preventing Indigenous peoples from being able to charge Canada with genocide.

Now then, back to Social Assistance and force reliance.  Poverty on Reserves actually increases after Citizenship comes along.  For example, in 1964 approximately 30% of people on Reserves were receiving Social Assistance.  By the end of the 1970s this number goes up to 70%.  Why?  Because while other federal social programs have received a 128% per capita increase in funding over the ‘70s, funding for Reserves only increased 14% per capita.  At the same time, even though the Pass system ended in the ‘40s, the federal government refused to provide any funding for Indigenous people living off Reserves – and all of these financial matters have been steadily offloaded to the Provinces thereby whittling away at Nation-to-Nation treaty relationships.  Poverty persists and worsens.  Suicide epidemics amongst youth constantly surface, from Davis Inlet in the early ‘90s to Attawapiskat earlier this year.  Many of these communities don’t even have drinkable water and, as of the start of 2016, boil water advisories were in place on 161 reserves, impacting (on my estimate) about 75,000 people.  When people don’t have clean water to drink, adequate disposal of sewage or garbage, or sufficient heat in the winter – let alone the kind of faith or hope needed to continue to live – it’s hard to even consider finding the energy to try and fight colonization.

Now, of course, it turns out that a lot of the Reserve lands nobody else wanted might be sources of wealth in terms of oil, bitumen, lumber, hydroelectric power, diamonds, and so on.  This realization lies behind the push for the modern treaties, the extinguishment of Indigenous sovereignty, the incorporation of former AFN Nation Chiefs into energy company consultants, and the final closing of the Indian Act.  Hence, amongst the other Bills Atleo helped the Harper government to pass, Omnibus Bill C-45 alters the Indian Act to make it easier for lands designated as Indian Reserves to be used for economic development by the government or by government designated corporations.  Previously, in order for this “development” (since we insist on calling it that) to take place, the majority of band members had to approve it in a referendum and the majority of the Cabinet members of the Government had to approve as well.  C-45 alters this to needing only the approval of the majority of band members who attend a single meeting that is posted in advance (how the meeting is posted doesn’t matter all that much so it would be easy to quickly call a meeting where only a few pre-selected people show up and quickly pass the changes).  And instead of needing Cabinet approval, all that is needed is approval from the Minister.  Along the same lines, C-45 changes the Navigable Waters Protection Act, thereby lifting environmental protections from thousands (yes, thousands) of protected lakes and rivers and opening them up for exploitation in Resource development (to help gauge the scale of this, know that this changed the status of 99% of the lakes and rivers in Canada).  No regard is given to Indigenous claims to the territories or to the hunting and fishing treaty rights granted to First Nations in these territories (or to the water and land, for that matter).

Status: You’re Only An Indian If We Say So… and You Won’t Be For Much Longer

Despite all these efforts, Indians continued to persist as Indians.  Despite the settlers’ best efforts to kill them or assimilate them (another kind of murder), Indians continued to exist.  Despite the common expectations that Indigenous people were “going extinct” because they simply lacked the genetic makeup to survive in a civilized world, Indians continued to not go extinct.  We have been told for the last five hundred years that the Indians are disappearing… but they still haven’t disappeared.

Realizing some of this, the Government of Canada decided one way to get rid of Indians was to find ways to say that Indians were no longer Indians.  Residential schools weren’t able to accomplish this anymore than offers of enfranchisement and so eugenics and race science came to the rescue.  The government came up with the idea of blood quantum and the need for people to have a certain percentage of “Indian blood” in order to be truly recognized as an Indian.

This conflicts with how Indigenous peoples had marked membership within their nations.  Previously, Indigenous nations could adopt people from outside of their nation into the nation.  This could be done for various reasons – to replace lost family members, to include someone who had shown a commitment to and understanding of the nation – but there were ceremonies in place to help mark the transition of a person into membership.  Hence, the primary sign that you were a member of, say, the Kanien’kehá:ka (The People of the Flint, also known as the Mohawk) was that the Kanien’kehá:ka, and particularly the traditional leaders thereof, recognized and treated you as such.  This has nothing to do with blood.

Here the way the Canadian government blurs ethnicity with nationality is particularly insidious.  Looking at blood quantum makes people think of Indigneous people as an ethnic group rather than as nationalities – for there is no blood quantum test of Canadian-ness – you are Canadian if Canadians, and the traditional leaders of Canada (the government) recognize you as such.

Blood quantum takes away the ability of First Nations to determine their own membership and gives that authority to the Canadian government.  Furthermore, blood quantum is measured in such a way as to be always decreasing. How quickly it decreases in order to cause a person to lose status has changed over the years due to Indigenous resistance and legal challenges.  Tracking status also allowed the Canadian government to create a national registrar wherein everyone is assigned a number and a card.  This allowed a great deal of surveillance over the colonized people of Turtle Island.

Furthermore, as a part of the ongoing Canadian assault on Indigenous women, men become the means by which status is won or lost.  Children born out of wedlock, or without a father name’s registered at their birth, automatically lose status.  Women who marry non-Indigenous men lose status.  When some women won back the right to have their status back, the status was not granted to their children.  When some women went back to court to fight that decision, their children were granted status but not their grandchildren.  These court battles didn’t resolve until 1985 (thanks to Sandra Lovelace) and 2011 (thanks to Sharon McIvor) respectively.  In the meantime, innumerable numbers of Indigenous folks had lost status that they would not be able to or know how to regain.  And even after these victories, status is still designed to steadily decrease.

For most of Canada’s history, not having status meant that you couldn’t be a band member, you could not live on Reserve (and if the Indian Agent found you there, you could be charged with trespassing and forcibly removed), you couldn’t vote or run for council, and you couldn’t access funds for education, health care, and social services.  In the mid-80s the government started giving bands more control over who could be members (regardless of status — although the Government did not also grant members of bands recognized as such by the bands with the same rights that it granted Status Indians) but, given the ongoing budget cuts related to financial support for Reserves, this created pressure on band councils to not welcome back non-status Indians as the funds to support the people living on Reserve were already vastly inadequate.  Consequently, some bands and Indingeous organizations also started adopting blood quantum models.  The exclusion of a Haitian-born teenager who had been adopted into the Heiltsuk Nation and who had been recognized as Heiltsuk in a ceremony led by the Hemas (traditional chiefs) was an example of this that hit the news this summer.  This is the successful outworking of a very sustained divide and rule campaign.

Beware, Roman, How You Judge a Herodian

I wanted to take some time to explore how the colonial policy of divide and rule has been playing out in the occupied territories of Canada because I think this not only helps us to understand Herod better – it also helps us to make better general sense of many of the divisions and conflicts we see amongst the Judaean factions described by Luke and that we are aware of from other sources like Josephus.

It is important to understand Herod better because the Canadian settler needs to take extra care when thinking about characters like him.  Herod, after all, is still a member of a colonized people – as are the Sadducees, and various other elite or oppressive characters, apart from the Romans.  The true “bad guys,” the ones likened to a legion of demons possessing a man and forcing him to live in chains amongst tombs (coming up in Luke 8 — is there any more vivid a picture of colonization?), are the Romans.  That is to say, the Canadians.  We’re the only ones who are bad guys through and through in the story.  And it is not for Romans or Canadians to stand in judgment over Indigenous people who have been co-opted by colonial forces.  No colonizer should feel superior to any Atleo or Herod.  Rather, they should feel responsible for the worst of their actions.  And instead of throwing stones at them (or punches, like the ones Canada’s current Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau, threw at Patrick Brazeau), the colonizers should work to end the colonization of not only Indigenous lands but also of Indigenous subjectivities.  Jesus, the Indian, it should be remembered came to seek and save other Indians from oppression and colonization.  He didn’t come for the Romans or the Canadians.  He came despite them, in opposition to them, and was crucified by them.  So, while I present a narrative that is critical of Atleo and Fontaine and Brazeau, and while I respect those grassroots Indigenous elders, traditional leaders and community members, who have fought against the changes pursued by Atleo et al., I still think they are closer to salvation than I am.

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Responses

  1. […] Increasingly I can only understand the Gospel story, to the extent that I can understand it all, as the story of the Indigenous people that surround me. For a more general survey of what this can mean see Dan Oudshoorn’s blog posts A Blog Commentary on Luke’s Gospel, written for Settlers in the Occupied Territories called Canada (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). […]


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