Dr. Dawg

Nervous white men

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Idle No More.JPG

Chief Theresa Spence has entered her fourth week of her hunger strike, and the pundits are upset. The natural order of things is once again being threatened. The #IdleNoMore movement is blocking trains and drumming in shopping malls, and appears to be growing, and this isn’t what the Civics 101 crowd in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and elsewhere likes to see.

So we have been witness to the usual: half-hearted attempts to suppress the news, thwarted, of course, by the uncontrollable social media, and frankly poisonous pieces crafted by such corporate media luminaries as Christie Blatchford and John Ivison.

The boys—most of them are male—were all a-Twitter yesterday about the latest anti-Spence salvo. “There’s something unspeakably creepy about this whole thing,” the article begins, referring to Chief Spence’s ongoing act of non-violence on Victoria Island in Ottawa.

That would be Terry Glavin, writing yesterday of #IdleNoMore, riffing off earlier pieces of his denouncing the Occupy movement and the anti-war movement.

Terry doesn’t like movements, and he despises visionary language. We’re all quite clear on that by now. But somehow he always fails to present concrete alternatives—and when he does make the attempt, as with Afghanistan, he sounds like a failed visionary himself.

He cites easily-obtainable facts and stats about the parlous condition of Canada’s Aboriginal populations—the high suicide rates, the drug abuse, jail, the whole familiar works. What’s a hunger strike going to do to resolve that? he asks sneeringly. To which Chief Spence and her supporters would respond, rightly, I think, that something has to break the log-jam. Dialogue is a good start. Dialogue with a movement behind it. Dialogue with the organ-grinder, not his sorry succession of monkeys. Dialogue that leads directly to positive change. After all, human rights and the honour of the Crown are at stake.

But Glavin isn’t interested in dialogue, just in his self-indulgent, slightly dotty contrarian polemics. He dismisses concern about Harper’s treaty-breaking legislation as “paranoid,” for example, but constitutional scholars like Pam Palmater make more persuasive arguments. He’s really on the outside of all this looking in, with a perpetually jaundiced eye. Perhaps he imagines he is being caustic and witty, but it’s all rather sad and irresponsible.

“Wait one,” someone will object, “didn’t Glavin hand over a big chunk of his column to an Aboriginal activist?” Indeed he did: that would be Ernie Crey, a former vice-president of the United Native Nations (the BC chapter of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples). Glavin parades Crey’s credentials in a classic argument from authority. To be blunt, he uses Crey as a prop. The First Nations are no monolith: it’s fairly easy to find an activist who can shore up one’s own position on any subject imaginable. At least he didn’t seek out The Brazman.

Crey presently represents no one but himself. He holds no elected position. He and Glavin are just two old men shaking their heads about today’s youth. Nevertheless, on closer inspection, Crey—not Glavin—does offer some good sense to the discussion. Speaking of the current #IdleNoMore effervescence, he says:

“We’ve got to get past this stage,” Crey told me. “There is no magic policy bullet that’s going to come out of some meeting with the prime minister or the Indian Affairs minister. We’re dealing with issues here that have bedevilled the very best of the aboriginal leadership for years.”

“We have to get down to brass tacks here. To get anywhere, you need to be tightly organized. You have to formulate a serious program. You need a strategy that you’re following, with a concrete agenda. And you have to be able to articulate real and achievable goals. You’ve got to be very suspicious of national visions, or visions of any kind,” Crey said.

He’s right, of course. The joy of protest must eventually give way to concrete proposals for change, with the organizational muscle to make them happen. The problem is, however, that the weak and divided aboriginal leadership has proven itself incapable of providing any such thing to its collective constituency. Successive governments have, therefore, had a fairly free hand with Canada’s aboriginal peoples, seesawing them this way and that (now assimilation, now paternalism/dependency, now limited self-government, now more assimilation). Little has stood in their way.

Now the Harper government has pushed the envelope much further, as it is wont to do, gratuitously violating its Section 35 Charter obligations to consult, and its treaty obligations too. So what is to be done?

Crey’s own sense of what needs to happen smacks of the visionary in turn, although his point is sound. Where is that magic program of his, that phantasmal tight organization that has eluded the aboriginal leadership since the birth of this country? He must know that such things never, ever come into being from the top down: they always arise from spontaneous and initially incoherent popular protest—in fact they crystallize it.

The need for both program and organization is probably the subject of a good deal of internal debate about now. These can succeed or fail, but as Egypt demonstrates, there is plenty of room between the poles of victory and defeat. Move on to the next stage? Of course.

But Crey notes, acerbically:

“What’s not going to work is all this stuff about transformational change in the consciousness of white North Americans.

“You’re not going to get anywhere by throwing around big words like ‘sovereignty’ and ‘colonization’ and telling white people they need to decolonize themselves.”

Again, he is correct—Glavin’s own column ironically reflects that—but he’s wide of the mark. Changing the consciousness of the white folks is not, at least as near as I can determine, the basis of the #IdleNoMore movement. Changing the consciousness of Aboriginal peoples is the aim: allowing them hope, focusing on what is presently at stake, fostering a growing solidarity for positive change.

During this initial stage, Chief Theresa Spence, dismissed and belittled by the largely white and Harper-supporting Media Party and others, is taking a dignified, non-violent stand on sub-zero Victoria Island in Ottawa. She will shrug off the casual racism and incomprehension of the commentariat: she’s heard it all before. Glavin, for one, just doesn’t get it: Aboriginal kids kill themselves out of despair, but she is fasting out of hope and love.

An authentic hero, Chief Spence is making her historical mark. Someday she should be offered Conrad Black’s Order of Canada medal. And if and when that were ever to occur, the media, bowing to the inevitable, would fete her as though they had foreseen it all from the beginning.

UPDATE: One very nervous white woman has more to say. To think that she once supported Aboriginal insurrection!

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 3, 2013 4:00 PM.

The duty of the resolutionary was the previous entry in this blog.

Susan Delacourt, Ezra Levant, and the "new anti-Semitism," Ch. 739 is the next entry in this blog.

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