Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

a solution for Caledonia

When the barricades are dissembled for good, a lengthy process of healing will begin. Bringing about any sort of actual resolution promises to be even lengthier still.

Thus far, my feeling – and I know it to be a feeling shared by many in the First Nations community – is that I know this country better. I’ve been surprised and disappointed by the reaction of Canadians at large, if you will humour me the obviously unfair generalization.

The response in Caledonia was predictable, if occasionally irrational and often incendiary. Faced with personal inconvenience, the Caledonians lent their weight to removing what inconvenienced them.

But beyond municipal borders, the overwhelmingly negative response made less sense. There are few Canadians outside of the University of Calgary faculty that don’t cluck their tongues at the troubled history of broken promises that First Nations have been subject to. Yet, when these arguments are posed in all their starkness, and when we are asked to consider how we might atone for these mistakes, our response is anywhere from unwilling to combative.

Our answer has been one-sided in the extreme. Read the Hamilton Spectator, for instance, and you may feel strangely compelled to light a candle for the brave martyrs of the Citizens of Caledonia. It strikes no one as odd that today’s Toronto Sun editorial seems suddenly in line with the mainstream.

Read the discussion on Steel City Grit and suddenly this left-of-centrist-constitutionalist-individual rights proponent is some tribal radical.

We are only vaguely aware that there are arguments at play at all. The contention is usually dismissed in the last two lines of the article. Scroll to the bottom of the news item website – you’ll see it: The Six Nations think the land belongs to them, the government tells us it doesn’t. Odd that this is one instance where we so readily accept the politician’s position. We forget the federal government’s certainty that there was no burial ground in Ipperwash Provincial Park – a certainty that lasted until a few weeks after the death of Dudley George, when documents to the contrary were ‘uncovered’. We ignore the obvious incentive our government has to deny the validity of the claims –anything else would create an expensive precedent.

Is this because Canadians aren’t nearly as cosmopolitan, as progressive, as empathetic as they believe themselves to be? I don’t think so. I think that our problem is twofold:

Firstly, there is a dramatic knowledge gap. We just don’t know how valid these land claims are. If the conservative cowboys paused greasing up their saddles and examined the Six Nations contention in detail, they would find some very relatable arguments. These are arguments that orbit around a demand for equitable administration of the law, a guarantee of property rights, etc.

Secondly, there is simply too much emotional capital invested. The reason for this is not difficult. European-Canadians have established their own fundamental connections to the land. We fear loss.

If these are our challenges, then we need to find a way to divorce land claims disputes from both ignorance and emotion. Inevitably, then, they cannot exist under the purview of politics.

The solution is an independent Land Claims Tribunal. It needs to be established with cooperation by First Nations and the federal government. It needs to be constituted by representatives of all communities. If it lacks legitimacy at its foundation, than it will serve no purpose. It needs to have teeth. If its conclusions can be ignored, than it will only serve to magnify the unresolved contentions. Its apparatus needs to be accessible. If the front door is maintained too strictly, it will be quickly filed amongst other solutions of unrecognized potential.

This is not a new idea – Mike Pearson campaigned on such a proposition but promptly forgot about it – but it is a good one. The extraneous elements of the discussion – invariably the violence causing elements – will be removed from the equation. In their place will be, simply, truth.

- Mike (SCG)


Blogger Zac said...


Excellent point about the Land Claims Tribunal. This is the time when we, as a party, in this period of renewal, should be calling for such changes.

Excellent post by the way.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Joanne (True Blue) said...

Yes, excellent post for sure. My problem with the whole Caledonia thing is how the natives took things into their own hands, and the government meekly allowed them to break the laws without repercussions.

However, perhaps with the Tribunal established, this type of thing wouldn't happen so often.

10:42 AM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

Thanks for the comments. Joanne, It's nice to see that though are sympathies may lie differently, we can agree that this is a solution for everyone.

5:03 PM  

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