June 13. Regina, Saskatchewan: Colonizing Decolonization
"The Queen of England just visited Regina last week, and was quoted as saying about a hunk of rock presented as a gift: "It symbolizes the rights of First Nations peoples, reflected in treaties signed with the Crown during her reign," as well as being a "reminder of the special relationship between the sovereign and all First Nations peoples." In perhaps one of the grandest perversions, she spoke it while standing in the First Nations University of Canada. The CBC had nothing negative to say about this visit, instead uncritically quoting the remarks of a sovereign whose history and present includes the attempted legislation of Indians out of existence, one nation at a time, in particularly British fashion."
Regina: Colonizing Decolonization
The Queen of England just visited Regina last week, and was quoted as saying about a hunk of rock presented as a gift: "It symbolizes the rights of First Nations peoples, reflected in treaties signed with the Crown during her reign," as well as being a "reminder of the special relationship between the sovereign and all First Nations peoples.(1)" In perhaps one of the grandest perversions, she spoke it while standing in the First Nations University of Canada. The CBC had nothing negative to say about this visit, instead uncritically quoting the remarks of a sovereign whose history and present includes the attempted legislation of Indians out of existence, one nation at a time, in particularly British fashion.
That the living symbol of the policies of land-confiscations, ethnic cleansing, sterilizations, residential schools of cultural and physical genocide and of course, the referred to “treaties” that attempt to legislate the disappearance of the right to exist would be lauded by the CBC sadly conforms to the CBC’s historic role. That the current sovereign, in the continuing language of “civilization” would be treated as a special visitor to the “first aboriginal run University in North America” is an indication of how well the CBC and other institutions of “Canadian nation building” can serve the cause of indigenous self-determination and liberation.
On a general visit to the university to see what could be learned from a visit to the First Nations University, I immediately came across the CBC doing a story and learned something else. While the Crown that has done more to cause harm to nations living under what is now Canadian Colonialism can be given a free ride and the red carpet treatment from loyal subjects in the Crown broadcaster, this same broadcaster has been roaming around the First Nations University trying to “break a story” for sometime—a story that promises to reinforce several Canadian notions of Indians, Métis and Inuit as incapable of self-administration.
The CBC has led the charge into a mystery story, one that promises to look ugly— regardless of actual details. And since appearances will be one of the most important aspects to maintaining colonial relations, this story will not go away for awhile. At a school of 1,200 students, it nonetheless warrants high scrutiny— the attitude subliminally on display obvious enough: “Are they capable of running their own school?”
The story, pieced together by the CBC and others, has been one of possible embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, for lavish travel expenses and other luxurious items befitting a typical middle-level management scandal, and it would warrant job action apparently. This has, in fact, been taken with the dismissal of the accused, a former Veep. But the CBC reporter assigned to one of several stories on this revelatory situation could barely conceal his glee at watching some form of Indian imperfection, titling an article on the matter: “Brother vs. brother in First Nations University scrap(2)” only last week. This comes from the same news outlet that lauded the “traditional” dances performed, on cue, by Indians dressed up by the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan without comment as a method of displaying the “special relationship” with the Queen. Even the normally compliant Indian Act chiefs noted the problems of the presentation as basically racist: "They asked us to be there in our buckskins and feathers," Tsuu T'ina Chief Sandford Big Plume said. "Our contribution should be more than symbolic.(3)"
While I was visiting the University, there was a CBC reporter running around trying to find students from the school to interview, with no luck. The reactions, from the few students who were there on this June Thursday, were noticeably hostile to the sensationalistic approach of the CBC reporter. Several students brushed off his advances, not bothering to go through pleasantries. During the time of watching him wander back and forth, all around and up and down the campus, I never saw him get his “quote”. The reasons should hopefully be fairly obvious from the point of basic dignity: this is when the people at the school would expect the CBC to come along looking for dirt. The school, while massively compromised, is still a small step at least towards cultural independence for many of the students—and this inherently creates a desire to protect such a space. The CBC is easily recognized as trying to make political and paternalistic attacks on something perceived as “First Nations” space to the partially educated, middle class consciousness of the settler nation—one that cannot be separated from the white-supremacy that is at the heart of Canada.
This particularly Canadian variant of colonialism has been to create the impression that everything that is part of a decolonization process is available at the local Indian Affairs office, and comes through the on-going evolution of the Indian Act that permanently tied “official” indigenous governments to a system of financial dependency and the creation of a red-bureaucracy. The process of colonizing decolonization has been the over-arching goal and has as its aims not the change in indigenous consciousness, but the dual goal of disguising colonization to the settler and non-indigenous population, while pitting Indians as the guardians against the deviancy of other Indians. Dr Howard Adams, in the very lucid “Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View”, writes of this strategy:
“It is in the interests of the colonizer to continuously weaken the oppressed, to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them. This is done by various means, from repressive methods of police action to forms of cultural imperialism and community action programs. The colonizer manipulates the people by giving them the impression they are being helped [….]
One of the characteristics of oppressive cultural action that is almost never recognized is the emphasis on a local view of problems rather than on viewing them as pats of a larger whole.(4)”
The creation of the University—and more importantly, the rechristening of the school in 2003—served the obscurantist aims of the settler state in this manner. While nations such as the Anishinabe in Grassy Narrows struggle against “Treaties” so gently pushed forward today by the Queen, the dedication of the school involved the following dignitaries as the ceremony on this podium. The dedication of the school was dutifully recorded and reported by the CBC, taking direct cues and script-writing releases from the Crown, the Federal government, DIAND and the Saskatchewan government, alongside their Indian Act accomplices in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
While the basic tone and entire interaction that goes on between Canada and the indigenous nations still colonized by Canada is one of infantilizing the Nations, the University can serve individual purposes and much like a reserve, serve to allow maintaining a consciousness that is distinct from Canada even if the segregation is ordered to protect the status quo in the same vein as a Reserve does. Defending indigenous space while also resenting the condescending attitudes of the settler states broadcaster is indicated in the defiance of students to be put on display, debating the merits of the “scandal” at what is perceived as “their” University.
However, leaving aside even the simple dedication from the Royal Crown, Jean Chrétien, Ralph Goodale, and the clearcutter of Anishinabe lands himself, Bob Nault—leaving all that on the by and by, we still come across the Universities “major contributors”. This list involves Can West-Global, who have recently been running articles in support of Phil Fontaine continuing ahead with a plan to privatize collective land on Reserves, writing attacks on traditionalists in Tahltan Territory, promoting Kanehsatake Indian Act chief James Gabriel, and the list goes on. In other words, a corporation that has an editorial policy clearly against anything that smells of indigenous sovereignty also bankrolls the “only Aboriginal run University in North America”.
Who else do we have on the list of notables? We have the Bank of Montreal, the Royal Bank of Canada, Conoco-Philips, even “Paul Martin Communications”—but any truly independent school by and for victims of Canadian genocide could never accept funds from the Hudson’s Bay Company, Northwest Company, as well as Imperial Oil, Husky Energy and even the Department of Indian Affairs. Instead of having a school who can be built on a proper understanding of the role of these early corporo-state entities, we have a school financed by The Bay.
The CBC, first and foremost, has the promotion of “Canada” as a mandate. As such, any report which calls into question Canada’s absolute right to get nations to “cede, surrender and extinguish” their rights will never be run unless politically impossible to ignore it. The presence of the Queen, why corporations head the founders lists, the very process and implicit direction of any “independent university” are not topics to be discussed unless in a “how do we fix the country?” vein. You are, however, very likely to see a celebration of any land claim deal signed with an Indian Act bureaucracy anywhere in the geographical territory of the Dominion. Even though these treaties are illegal and attempt do the impossible, “extinguishment” of national claims remains Canada’s official policy, these are “historic moments”, that help “healing”.
In such portrayals, the CBC renders several of their duties to the settler state at the same time: They continue the ideological erasure of either resistance past or resistance present, by establishing a virtual blackout of any discussion among Indians, Métis or Inuit about the inactivity or even betrayals of the Indian Act structures and bureaucrats. No one is noted as existing other than these collaborators, described by Adams: “All-in-all, these native organizations are for the most part opportunistic and elitist, serving to keep the native masses oppressed and at the same time giving the governments a liberal, democratic image, as if they were seriously concerned about the situation of the Indian and Métis people.(5)” Within this, the CBC is to unfailingly talk about these leaders and legal institutions as the ones who are “legitimate”. By not even acknowledging the existence of other voices, history is rewritten by the settler state even as it is still being lived.
Another duty is to portray the interests of indigenous nations as converging directly with the settler state. Therefore, the royals and all the corporations, Canadian officials and perhaps most important—the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development—all receive both a free ride from penetrating questions about what is being attempted and major billing, giving the smiling face of the bureaucrats who work in structures designed to maintain colonialism a decidedly (and wholly undeserved) “decolonialist” appearance.
What is an end for one is not even yet a beginning for another. Struggling against the importation of disease, ongoing land theft and resource appropriation, the defining out-of-existence of nations as nations and with living standards that still sit disastrously lower than average Canadians, some indigenous people who would defend the existence of the First Nations University would do so from the point of referring to indigenous directed education a necessity for survival. Indeed, "Education, we say, is our buffalo of the year 2003 and beyond," said Perry Bellegarde, the chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. "That's how we are to survive as indigenous peoples.(6)" Yet the analogy couldn’t be more apt. It is already known to most observers that the buffalo herds were exterminated in the US in order to facilitate the annihilation of resisting Indian Nations. What is less known is Canadian complicity and collaboration in the matter. Canada was busy clearing Indians and Métis from the “frontier”, herding them onto reserves while herding buffalo south where they were to face American slaughter. For Canada, this had a rational capitalist goal: the creation of Indian and Métis as a dependent people, no longer able to survive on buffalo independently, and instead becoming a virtual slave caste across the west for the advance of the fur trade. The level of capitalist exploitation of this supra-labour pool may never be known. The results of this—total dependency creation in an alien economic structure of private property and capital accumulation—reduced nations to a level of surplus extraction cheaper and more exploitable than slavery.
If education today is as the buffalo yesterday, the Canadian equivalent of herding buffalo south is herding corporations and royal sovereigns into universities, painting over the past and the present to ensure colonial domination for the future. The same creation of dependency is being promoted with the Assembly of First Nations seriously contemplating attempts to privatize what remains of Indian Country. Education, they want to put out to the highest bidder, alongside the architects of the current situation. Private property? The wave of the future. The Indian Act? Building the structures for Indian liberation, or at least independence. The Queen? Has a special relationship with indigenous nations. The AFN? The legitimate and sole voice for collective action among indigenous nations.
The Canadian process of colonizing decolonization has reached the greatest expression that a settler state can give it: Absolutely everything that doesn’t really reflect sovereignty can now be offered to a nation to appear sovereign to those who live outside Indian Country. The CBC maintains the same role as accomplice to modern day land and resource theft, in triumphal tones extolling each and every Indian Act land claim that “cedes and extinguishes” self-determination. In areas where the colonization of a decolonizing project needs to be cemented, they appear vulture like to prey at “scandal”. And, as always, the history of genocide (that continues) from confederation is left unassailed, replaced with euphemisms uncritically quoted about “relationships”.
Writing of the role of the AFN, the CBC and similar organizations, Howard Adams also remarked:
"Liberation will not take place through the present native leaders and organizations. The native masses must come to understand that these native elites are working together with the colonizing rulers who hold all of the power and decide on the rules of the game. We know all too well the shocking results of working together with our colonizer through his legitimate channels; from 50-80% of inmates in Canada’s jails are Indians and Métis [figures 1989]"(7).
Meanwhile, with a bit of clear time, I went for a walk through downtown Regina. Saskatchewan, I have been told several times, is among the worst places to be an Indian in Canada. The reason for this makes immediate sense. The population is almost half the province, and as such constitutes a real demographic threat. The realities of the settler state are clear in ways that we even hear about in urban centres such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. In the province of Saskatchewan, where RCMP could murder Neil Stonechild last year and walk free, one knows instinctively that how they fit into Saskatchewan has to do with where your ancestors are from. But the quiet duality of assimilation through the Indian Act as well as constant ideological reminders of their “place” as conquered peoples makes Regina and Saskatchewan as a whole give off the sensation of occupation. No pow wow with the police, sensitivity training or other “exchange program” between Saskatchewan and the Indian Nations can change this.
Trivia time. Who was quoted as saying “The Indians of the northwest will be held down with an iron fist until they are completely overrun by white settlers”? Click this link to find out— a statue on display in a park named after Queen Victoria, in downtown Regina across from the building still displaying the name “land and treaty building”, no doubt left as a part of “our heritage”. And it most certainly is: a shared heritage, as well as a shared struggle for liberation today.
3 Globe and Mail. “Natives decry token presence…” P.A8. May 11, 2005. Article written by Judy Monchuk.
4 Adams, Howard. Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View. Fifth House Publishers: Toronto. 1989. p154.
5 Adams, Howard. Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View. Fifth House Publishers: Toronto. 1989. p179.
7 Adams, Howard. Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View. Fifth House Publishers: Toronto. 1989. p162