Friday, 10 January 2014

"First Nations? Second Toughts": What this Book has to Say about Six Nations Issues

The heading to this posting is the title of a controversial book by Tom Flanagan, First Nations?  Second Thoughts, McGill - Queen's University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 2nd Edition, 2008.  Flanagan is (or was) a Professor of Political Science at the University of Calagary.  I have previously declared that many Political Science departments at Canadian universities have become hotbeds of Marxist - based orthodoxy about Native peoples - however there are some in this field who have risked their careers to offer a dissenting opinion based on the mass of data that they have assembled. Hence at the very least, I think that we must give a listen to these bold iconoclasts.

While I have read Flanagan's book two years ago, I recently took time to read it again since I recalled that he included a lot of information germane to the topics considered in my blog.  It became apparent that my experience, research and perceptions are largely in agreement with what he has written on Native issues, or perhaps I have been strongly influenced by his writing but have just forgotten the source.

In order to obtain a broader background of Flanagan, see here.  I will say from the git go that I find the comments he made in 2013 about viewing child pornography as disturbing and repugnant.  I have no intention of defending the indefensible.  Indeed the comments on this topic have the potential of removing some of the persuasiveness of what he has written on other topics, but if one confines oneself to only the 2008 book, he clearly has made some valuable contributions to the literature on this subject.  To some extent I can justify not summarily dismissing him because he has been certified as an expert witness in Manitoba, Alberta and Canada in Court cases involving Native issues.

I will summarize key points in this book by chapter in the order in the way Flanagan presents them, and comment on how what he says may apply to Six Nations.

1)  Aboriginal Orthodoxy:  According to Flanagan, this term, is an emergent consensus on fundamental issues.  It is widely shared among aboriginal leaders, government officials, and academic experts.  It weaves together threads from historical revisionism, critical legal studies, and the aboriginal political activism of the last thirty years (p.4).  Hence aboriginal policy makers tend to adhere to this orthodoxy if only for the self - serving reality that rocking the boat could result in a backward career move.  Going against the grain of accepted wisdom is difficult, even when you have strong evidence on your side.  There are always terms such as "racist" lurking nearby that some will be willing to send your way because there is only one way to view the matter, and a lesson will need to be learned.  Flanagan gives the example of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples of 1996 as a document widely accepted by the aboriginal orthodoxy, but if implemented could result in a pot pouri of aboriginal self governing groups, owning a third of Canada's land base, paying no taxes, supported by transfer payments (from the taxpayers of Canada), and be positioned to engage in nation to nation diplomacy with Canada.  Since there are about 665 Native Bands, this would obviously be a chaotic disaster.  In fact this would just further set the stage for the wealthy well - connected families on the Reserves to consolidate their hold, enhance their position, give the plum jobs to their kin, while the rest of the Reserve population is no better off and lives in abject poverty.

2)  We Were Here First:  Flanagan makes the point that when the first Europeans set foot in what is today Canada, they were met by very few and widely dispersed people who were often constantly on the move.  That may have been true in parts of Canada with certain tribes, but the Five Nations were sedentary and claimed a territory beyond their settlements for hunting and resource exploitation.  The problem here is that this was in what is today New York State, and the Five (Six) Nations had no settlements in Canada at the time. 

Flanagan sees the Europeans as just another tribe, with more advantages to exploit (not in the negative sense) the environment to carve out new settlements in the wilderness.  He brings up one of the "bones of contention" between Status Indians and other Canadians.  A concept of "priority" gives one group a great number of benefits (e.g., eyeglasses, medications), and perks such as freedom from taxation (e.g., no sales tax, income tax if earned on Reserve) based on priority - who was here first, and they don't have to "do" anything to obtain these benefits other than be born.  However in reality some of the earlier Native American groups pushed through those who were here and usurped them of their "rights", and did not grant them special considerations because of some concept of being first in the region.  In more recent times, the Five Nations committed horrible acts of genocide against all groups in the region (e.g., Huron / Wendat, Erie) completely wiping their presence and whatever rights they "should have" had off the map.  They made particular "clean work" of the Attiwandaronk / Neutral peoples of what became the Haldimand Tract.  It is ironic that the Six Nations "Territory" is basically ill gotten gains made available because their ancestors committed genocide (not war, but the methodical complete annihilation) against the previous occupants.  The British (excepting some of their American colonists) have never committed anything remotely similar - yet Six Nations activists never acknowledge that their ancestors committed "the final solution" in their desire to remove any competition for resources in the area they would later claim as their own for the purposes of the Nanfan Treaty of 1701. 

The British had the power to exterminate any Natives who challenged them, but chose not to exercise this option but instead to negotiate treaties and land surrenders - yet are still described by Natives as "colonialist".  If the British had not chosen to develop new settlements in North American, the Spanish or other European power certainly would.  In addition to murdering thousands of Native people in their expansionist sweep across the Americans, the Spanish also "introduced" Christianity in such a way that it was "accept conversion or die".  The result is that today all of Latin America is Catholic.  Never did the British practise any forced religious conversions, and today Six Nations can enjoy the option of following the Longhouse practises without any interference by any Chrisitian group including the Church of England.  The facts are quite irrelevant to many at Six Nations, the British were labelled "colonialist" in the same way that Spain was labelled "colonialist" without the realization of how very different the British were in their actions.  So somehow post - modern thinkers or our time conceive that the Natives have the "inherent right of self government", a concept that does not take into account history or reality - just an idealized and romanticized view of the "rights" of those who were among those muscling their way into the territory of others, and committing acts of genocide, before the British arrived to become merely another group jockeying around for lands to settle their people.

3)  What Ever Happened to Civilization?:  The aboriginal orthodoxy would have you believe that the level of civilization between aboriginal groups and the new waves of Europeans was equal but different.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Europeans possessed a civilization thousands of years ahead of the stone age people they met.  They arrived with a sophisticated technology, which the aboriginal peoples were quick to recognize and utilize.  The gap in civilization was so great that one or the other of the European civilizations was bound sooner or later to seek out opportunities in the Americas - in the natural course of events.

Hunting and gathering can support only a relatively few and over a huge land mass.  Agriculturalists can support large populations by intensely using farming techniques applied across smaller tracts of land.  The Iroquoian slash and burn and move every 20 years methods were wasteful, and only partly met the litmus test for a horticulturalist (but not an animal husbandry) society.  Hence, farmers are justified in taking land from hunters and defending it as long as they make the arts of civilization available to the hunters (p.43).  This is precisely what the British did, and they constantly encouraged the Six Nations to focus on becoming more productive agriculturalists in order to feed their own people and perhaps have a surplus to sell to purchase other goods and services.  A clash of cultrual values made this plan only show limited success anywhere in North America.  In some areas such as Northern Ontario there was no viable agricultural option - only to move to where there was.  Among Iroquois males, agriculture was largely "women's work" and their insistence on maintaining a hunting lifestyle beyond the time when it was even remotely feasible led directly or indirectly to escalating social problems, fuelled by alcohol, and a lack of forward momentum that is still seen today as many still cling to long outmoded ways of subsistence and dependence on the transfer payments from the Federal Government.  This failure to adapt is counter productive and can never lead anywhere but toward despair.

4)  The Fiction of Aboriginal Sovereignty:  The aboriginal peoples were not sovereign once the French and the British had planted their flags in North America.  Each claimed sovereignty and could back up their claims with force, although both were very "light handed and eminently fair" in that department compared to for example the Spanish who committed acts of genocide and enslaved the local population.  The new buz words, "inherent right to self - government" is little less than a declaration of sovereignty and all that entails (e.g., nation to nation relationships).  This concept cannot be defended from the arrival of the first Europeans to the British Proclamation of 1763 when sovereign rights to Canada were formally acknowledged after the defeat of the French.

In reality, when the British arrived in what was to become Canada, the concept of "terra nullius" (no one's land) applied.  There were wandering groups of Anishinabe peoples, and to the south Iroquoian peoples who practiced some agriculture, but still participated in a hunting culture little different from their neighbours (who also practiced some agriculture on a small scale).  The actual taking possession by a State of a territory which is 'terra nullius', i.e., not under the sovereignty of another subject of international law - either because it is uninhabited or because its native inhabitants are not organized in the form of a State subject of international law, with the intention of acquiring sovereignty over it (p.56).  The British acquired Australia on this basis (there was no "aboriginal State"), but legal cases had concluded that, the acquisition of sovereignty had not in itself extinguished aboriginal property rights (p.57).  The British have always recognized this aspect in North America where the legal title to the land was meticulously purchased and compensation provided.  However property rights do not usurp sovereignty.  British law has always claimed sovereignty, but recognized property rights.  There is nothing at all in this that would years later be a basis for claiming Native sovereignty rights - they did not exist once the Crown representatives arrived on the scene.  There was no "Native State" with which to negotiate.  North America was de facto "terra nullius". 

The sovereignty of Canada (the inheritor of British sovereignty) is recognized the world over - there are no lingering questions about this.  The British Crown and now Canada are the only sovereign powers having any valid claim to the possession of the land we know as Canada.  Various challenges submitted to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (St. Catherine's Milling Company), and the Supreme Court of Canada (Delgamuukw) came down as decisions in support of British and Canadian sovereignty that stem directly from the Proclamation of 1763.

Flanagan sums this up saying, the claim to possess an inherent right of self-government, as the phrase is understood in Canada today, is an assertion of sovereignty contrary to the history, jurisprudence, and national interest of Canada (p.66).

5)  Bands, Tribes, or Nations?:  While for years there was a recognition of les deux nations, two founding peoples (France and Britain), in recent times, after promotion by groups such as the National Indian Brotherhood, a new concept entered the scene - the "First Nations".  The fact is that none of the groups composing this entity met the litmus test for a "nation", and were actually bands according to the Indian Act of 1876.  The obvious fact that there were actually 665 bands in 1999 with a median size of about 1000 members, was apparently irrelevant.  The fact is that these "nations", are viable only through the massive and continuing financial support of the federal government (p.86).  So now there were three founding groups in Canada.  Flanagan says that unless Canada wishes to become a modern version of the Ottoman Empire, it needs to realize that the aboriginal peoples were a series of tribes and none had in any way reached the status of nationhood.  There must only be one nation - Canada.

6)  The Inherent Problems of Aboriginal Self-Government:  The small size of the vast majority of the 665 bands means that self - government or some abbreviated form of nationhood is not practical, only a romantic ideal that is not grounded in reality.  What would result if these notions were converted into law would be more transfer payments (more taxpayer dollars - endless or without and end in sight), and petty factionalism of the "self - governing" entities which would be controlled by power groups of kin that would worsen the already appalling differences between rich and poor on the Reserves.  Even if something of this nature were implemented, practical difficulties of resourcing and competence at the ground level will be enormous, no matter what deals are struck at the symbolic level of constitutional politics (p.101).  In other words problems such as the chronic shortage of competent educated Native people to fill necessary roles under this conceptualisation make anything of this nature unviable. 

All bands depend on Federal Government transfer payments - none are self - sufficient or even close.  Even those with huge resource windfalls (e.g., oil), which are not earned, but are just an accident of geography, have seen the money pi##ed away on pickup trucks and the like without developing any infrastructure that could justify "self - government".  Meanwhile there is no accountability, and "ordinary" band members watch as the homes of the chief and their kin grow, and the first class travel to "conferences" of a questionable nature is justified by a "mind your own business" attitude.  A sense of entitlement pervades.  At the more macro level it is much the same.  "You owe us", and we are still sovereign if we rely on government funding because it is owed to us as rent (p.105), and that Federal transfers are "owed" are "reparations for past wrongs". 

Massive amounts of money were spent to "compensate" those who attended Residential Schools, even though no individual analysis of the supposed "damage" was ever provided.  A massive handout to keep the restless Natives quiet, and ignore the good some of these schools did in bringing Natives into the modern age, and keeping them from the social dysfunction that infected so many Reserves.  Since Canadian taxpayers are funding all of this, one might wonder what their tolerance level will be when they realize that those who don't work will be supported by those who do work - forever.  Only when self taxation is instituted will any true progress occur, and only then will residents have any true stake in what is being done with the money.  Right now for lack of a better word, only government "handouts" keep things going on all 665 Reserves.  This has resulted in odd situations where with huge sums of money being funnelled into Northern Reserves in particular, there is lots of new housing being built (more than the Canadian average) yet ironically the houses soon become eyesores and substandard - because they are not maintained.  There is no more pride of ownership here than there has been in the mega housing projects in American cities where the buildings are soon turned into cockroach infested graffiti coated slums (ghettos).  The solution is to "wind down" the chronically dysfunctional Reserve system and ensure that residents are equal in every way to Canadians in general.  No one is willing to touch that political hot potato, whatever the realities may be - they are not politically correct and so no matter how logical and rational, they will never fly.  Just the way it is.

7)  In Search of Property:  Various Supreme Court rulings make it possible that the concept of aboriginal property could change, and land claims would magnify many fold impoverishing Canada.  It is also possible that if Natives are not careful, the land will be given in fee simple and in a generation be lost to their children, the Reserves dismantled, and the community dispersed.

8)  Treaties, Agreements, and Land Surrenders:  The proposal to re-open treaties and "modernize" them makes no sense. What was done was done. This would open a can of worms. It would mean that more "modernization" could occur at any time, with a consequent lack of stability resulting in a series of fractured "nation to nation" relationships which could only have highly adverse effects on Canada, and see our taxes skyrocket to support these politically correct schemes.

In this chapter, Flanagan speaks specifically about the aboriginal "claims industry" of lawyers and bureaucrats and academics which, encourages First Nations to focus on the past rather than on the future, to see themselves as victims, and to put their best efforts into proving victimization and reinforces the primary goal being, to get money from the government through negotiation and litigation.  Such strategies may succeed in their immediate objective of obtaining money, but they are unlikely to create the skills and attitudes associated with more permanent forms of prosperity (p.150).

9)  Making a Living:  Continued heavy subsidies to keep the population on the Reserves may just be entrenching poverty.  What is needed is a work force ready to move to where the jobs are - as was needed in Newfoundland when the cod fishing ban destroyed the viability of the out ports.  In reality it simply means more welfare, with the addition of a very few and very wealthy Native entrepreneurs who will not necessarily create many on Reserve jobs for Native people (although non-Native professionals may benefit).

Flanagan gives an excellent background to, the staggering level of welfare dependency where, on-Reserve welfare has become a way of life, passed on from generation to generation, and often rationalized by recipients as a treaty right (p.175).  As in the Maritimes, most Indians will be financially better off if they draw welfare on the reserve than if they enter the labour market at the bottom and try to work their way up the ladder (p.175).  There are also a series of affirmative action buzz words that academics and others like to use to justify the inflated tax flow in one direction - from the taxpayers of Canada to the Reserves.  One is "citizens plus", emphasizing special expenditures on Indians to overcome decades of neglect (p.179).

10)  The Octagon is a Stop Sign:  If Reserves are to remain intact, in other words retained by the Crown for the use of the Indians, but not given in fee simple which would mean that in a generation all the land that now composes the Reserve could be in the hands of non-Natives, certain things need to happen - and the status quo is not one of them.  To accomplish this, the transfer payments will need to continue from the Federal Government, and individual Indians will need to get off welfare and the total dependency relationship funded by Canadians who work, and integrate into the wider economy.  This means self sufficiency, a broad education enabling Indians to compete, and a willingness to go where the jobs are.

Flanagan notes how people who are subjugated and oppressed and even the victims of true genocide often succeed at the highest levels in Canada.  This is true of Japanese - Canadians who bounced back from the relocation of WWII to become one of the most prosperous of ethnic groups.  This is particularly true of Jewish - Canadians who have ended up at the top of just about every category of employment and enterprise despite surviving the horrors of the Holocaust.  Neither wish to be left behind and have no "tradition" of welfare.  They have the cultural push to succeed in the majority culture, and develop the skills to make it happen.  Hence the only likely solution to aboriginal poverty and unemployment is to acquire the skills and attitudes that will foster success.  Trying to extract more and more money from Canadian taxpayers for perceived wrongs does not fit with this model.  On page 197 Flanagan offers a prescription to rectify the present ills of the Reserve system.  For example, full accountability to the people (which is something unheard of by the hereditary councillors at Six Nations - that has to change).  Flanagan proposes that the $6.3 billion now spent by the federal government on aboriginal programs be divided up as individual cash grants to each of the 610,000 Status Indians.  At that point they could decide what to do with their own money, including giving some of it as taxes for infrastructure or programmes on the Reserve, and voting on whether the money should be spent to "revive extinct languages" or to provide better English instruction in reading, and physics and whatever it takes to make a success of ones life.  As it stands, everything is handed on a platter by increasingly annoyed Canadian taxpayers who see only whining and demands for more and more.  His whole prescription is worth reading in full.

11)  Update 2008:  Since the original edition was written in 2000 the science of genetics has advanced light years, and can now pinpoint specific origins of the probable earliest wave of those who first set foot in North America.  Flanagan does an excellent job of summarizing the evidence from the various disciplines (e.g., linguistics, archaeology), all saying pretty much the same thing.  The earliest wave was probably about 16,000 years ago and progressed along the coastal route to Monte Verde in Chile, and sometime later to Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania where people were living along the margin of the retreating ice.  Successive waves from Siberia arrived, with the most recent being the ancestors of the Dene (e.g., Chipewayans) about 9,000 years ago, and much later beginning about 5,000 years ago and continuing to modern times, the Inuit who replaced the Dorset peoples of the Arctic.  Immigration from the east was the norm, and the English were simply a later wave to reach the shores of America, and via a western approach.  It does no one any good to believe in creation myths (unsupported by any evidence at all) at the expense of what the facts say.  The average Norwegian is well aware of their ancestor's creation myths, but none take it literally, and as a people they are only going to accept what the evidence shows to be correct.  Most Norwegians speak (excellent) English, and none would aspire to welfare.

The most recent evidence (published after Flanagan's book) suggests that about one third of the modern (unadmixed by post-Columbian admixture) Native American genome is Northern European.  The original study can be accessed here.  This is based on the study of the autosomal structure of ancient DNA (about 26,000 years old) of a child from the Lake Baikal (the most probable "home", or point of origin, of most Native Americans) area shows clear affinity to modern Native Americans such as the Karitiana from South America, as well as Northern Europeans, but no affiliation with ancient or modern East Asians.  Hence the observations of physical anthropologists of "Europeanoid" or "Caucasoid" features in the earliest Native Americans such as the 9,600 year old Kennwick Man from Washington State, are rooted in the apparent early genetics of the "first Americans". 

Thus we may as well accept the fact that the Europeans (French and British) have been here for hundreds of years and are not going anywhere.  Their ancestors built this country, and their descendants are paying the extraordinary transfer payments to "settle old scores".  This is an outdated outmoded concept.  All Canadians must be treated equal for their to be any true equality of opportunity and for all groups to have an equal chance for success in the modern world.  There is some encouraging news from those bands who have accepted that on Reserve taxation is preferable.  Here there has been positive feedback, about the effect of self-taxation had in enabling bands to pay for services, increasing members' interest in band government, and promoting transparency and accountability (pp.207-208).  Flanagan further states that there is, little doubt about the economic advantages.  The Canadian commercial economy is based on ownership in fee simple, and it will obviously be easier for First Nations to participate in that economy if their land is held in the same way (p.210).

The land claims issue is not going to go away.  In June 2007 Prime Minister Harper announced a, "Specific Claims Action Plan" including an impartial tribunal of judges to make final decisions when negotiations fail.  The Claims Commission can also suggest a settlement, but it is the Courts that would make the final pronouncement.  The number of individual claims is staggering, and would completely defy any reasonable attempt to provide a settlement without billions tendered just for the process alone. Flanagan (as I have done many times) has questioned why the Statute of Limitations does not seem to apply in these land claims cases.  As it stands there will be claims for "issues" from 200 years ago, and amendments to the claim and appeals and the Canadian taxpayer in the process will be bankrupted.  So, The specific-claims process may become not a one-time way of dealing with past grievances but an ongoing method of shaking the money tree (p.213). 

On page 214 Flanagan addresses the events at Caledonia in 2006, including a description of the HDI and their "mandate" to press development charges in the Haldimand Tract (they have expanded their horizons since then).  He says that it is really a statement of political jurisdiction, and that, It will ultimately have to be settled by force in Six Nations activists continue to violate Canadian law, claiming it does not apply to them because they are part of a sovereign Iroquois nation (p.214).  Humm, that is a pretty bold statement.  I can't really disagree.  Flanagan expresses concern that if things keep heading in the same direction, all Indian bands, including those who long ago surrendered their aboriginal title in return for clearly defined land reserves and other benefits, will soon be able to claim a right to be consulted on development proposals across vaguely defined 'traditional territories' that extend far beyond their own reserves with the result that no government or private individual will have secure property rights that enable them to make decisions about their own land without what could be either a lot of acrimony, or a lot of extortion money.  Well, that sounds familiar.

DeYo.

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