Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Friday, November 24, 2006

nationhood denied - the nation motion process

There is an element to the Harper/Dion "nation" clause that I think is being missed. Regardless of its substance, painstakingly analyzed, the process itself is inherently exclusive and denies recognition to Canada's other marginalized identities.

Yesterday, I had the fortune to discuss the development with about 10 Mohawks and Onondagas from the Six Nations of the Grand River. The consensus in the room was that waking up to "PM Recognizes Quebec as a Nation" headlines amounted to a "kick in the teeth." It's an interesting perspective coming from those who understand better than most the importance of nation and recognition. But it's not difficult to understand.

The ongoing occupation at Caledonia was engineered for two reasons, essentially. Firstly it was to assert a legal land claim. Secondly, along with all other collective action of the Six Nations, it served to demonstrate in clear and unequivocal terms the Iroquois remain nations, and that Canada has no choice but to reconcile itself with this fact.

How did Canada respond? The federal government didn't go anywhere near the Six Nations. They downloaded their responsibilities to the province, which by its nature could not conduct nation-to-nation negotitations. The province, in turn, characterized the issue as one of policing.

Canada deals with nations; Ontario polices Ontarians. The actions of both levels of government obliterated the national claim.

One women told a particularly troubling story. Her son was on the occupation site for six months. Because his role was first aid, he carried a two-way radio on him at all times. Caledonians discovered the frequency, and whispered death threats and racial epithets at him sometimes 24 hours a day. The Canadian national anthem became almost unbearable, because it was hurled at him with such hate from behind clenched teeth at every rally. He - and to this there was general agreement in the room - felt unable to enter any building that flew the Maple Leaf. In his mind, it would also fly next to signs that read "Get a Job You Dirty Indians".

He left the site for another reserve further north. The entire 5 hour train trip there he trembled. He was terrified of the White Canadians passengers.

Contrast this experience to what has transpired in Queen's Park this week. A party committed to the dissolution of the Canadian state introduced a motion that would recognize one nation at the expense of other identities. The Prime Minister himself responded with a tweaked motion that didn't necessarily pose as great a threat to individuals outside the nation. We scramble over ourselves to congratulate eachother for demonstrating yet again our tolerance for diversity. We might have our differences, all agree, but we are part of one big family.

Not only does the motion lack clarity and prudence, it reinforces a very old model under which Canada is defined by conversations between English and French. Someone will point out that nothing in the motion inherently denies the nationhood of First Nations. This is not the point. And neither have we solved the problem by adding an aboriginal footnote to sweeten the pill, as per Charlottetown. If we are to wade into such extraordinarily important and delicate discussions - because we are writing the national character of Canada, as well as Quebec - then it cannot be done ad hoc. It cannot be done simply to appease the one group that is able to make the most noise. It's offensive, and we should be beyond it.

-Mike (SCG)


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