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First Nations politics in Canada

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1 First Nations politics in Canada
Response to Taiaiake Alfred, John Borrows, Alan Cairns, Deborah McGregor, Patrick Macklem, and Fiona MacDonald Prepared by Milan Ilnyckyj – 11 October 2012 Week Five – October 11: Identity Politics II: Aboriginal Politics Guest: Graham White Taiaiake Alfred, Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto Second edition (Toronto: Oxford, 2008), 1-63, John Borrows, “Seven Generations, Seven Teachings: Ending the Indian Act,” Research Paper for the National Centre for First Nations Governance, May 2008. -----, Drawing Out Law: A Spirit’s Guide (Toronto: UTP, 2010), preface, scroll one and scroll two. Alan Cairns, Citizens Plus: Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2001), chapters 4, 5. Deborah McGregor, “Coming Full Circle: Indigenous Knowledge, Environment, and Our Future,” American Indian Quarterly 28: 3/4 (Summer, 2004), Patrick Macklem, Indigenous Difference and the Constitution of Canada (Toronto: UTP, 2001), chapters 2 and 9. Fiona MacDonald, “Indigenous Peoples and Neoliberal ‘Privatization’ in Canada: Opportunities, Cautions and Constraints,” CJPS 42 2 (June, 2011),

2 Two challenges How to address the historical fact of colonialism and severe injustice directed toward First Nations people by the Canadian state How to reconcile First Nations political philosophy and political claims with the liberal assumptions at the foundation of the modern Canadian state

3 Reading FN politics as liberals
To a large degree, the Canadian system of government is based on liberal assumptions: Individuals are bearers of rights Insofar as group rights are important, it is because individuals choose to make them important The state should treat all individuals equally under the law The state exists to enforce cooperation, but should not infringe on the legitimate freedoms of individuals Many of the assigned readings take a much more communitarian view What is meant by ‘culture’? And who decides what it involves or requires? –Macklem discusses this, Taiaiake asserts importance of ‘traditional values’ but largely doesn’t define them How do you decide who is part of the community?

4 1 - Injustices Injustice in the initial form of contact between Europeans and First Nations peoples, including the unjust seizure of land Unjust treatment of First Nations people by the state Enduring structures that embody discrimination and cause harm

5 Taiaiake Alfred “All land claims in Canada, including those at issue in the BC treaty process, arise from the mistaken premise that Canada owns the land it is situated on. In fact, where indigenous people have not surrendered ownership, legal title to “Crown” land does not exist – it is a fiction of Canadian (colonial) law. To assert the validity of Crown title to land that the indigenous population has not surrendered by treaty is to accept the racist assumptions of earlier centuries.”

6 Subsequent injustices
Cairns on some special topics considered by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Residential schools Relocation of Aboriginal communities Inequitable treatment of veterans Cultural aggression of the Indian Act To this we could add: breach of promises, perpetuation of cycles of poverty and dependence, and more

7 Enduring structures that embody discrimination and cause harm
Arguably includes the Indian Act, reservation system, division of responsibility for First Nations people between levels of government, court decisions, etc Royal Commission: “Aboriginal people are over-represented among clients of remedial services such as health care, social services and the justice system (policing, courts and jails)” “High and rising rates of poverty and unemployment increase the need for welfare, housing subsidies and other payments to individuals”

8 Summary: injustice What is the contemporary relevance of the injustices that occurred during the initial period of contact between First Nations people and European colonialists? Likewise, of subsequent harmful policies and programs that have since been discontinued Finally, of contemporary institutions and practices that are arguably harmful or otherwise inappropriate What needs to be changed now to end ongoing injustice, and what ought to be done about the injustices of the past?

9 2 - Political philosophy
Questions raised Basis for the authority of First Nations governments First Nations governance in the Canadian and global context

10 These readings raise major issues of political philosophy
On what basis is land legitimately owned? On what legitimate basis can a body exercise power and control over individuals, or over subsidiary groups? To what degree and in what way must reparation be made for past injustices? What is the nature of the good life, and what political structures help to bring it about?

11 Authority of First Nations governments
A question of both source and justification Utilitarian? –First Nations governments would do a better job Alternative – historically based legitimacy How do we reconcile a state structure predicated on the power of the provincial and federal governments over individuals with claims about group rights?

12 Canadian and global context
How should the state legislate in relations to groups that it has historically oppressed? Be interventionist and try to right historical wrongs? Be non-interventionist in recognition of past incompetence and colonialism If so, who governs? Viability of First Nation governments in a globalized world Cairns: largely groups of 5,000 to 7,000 people Capable of effectively addressing issues of interdependence on larger scales: trade, migration, environment, etc?

13 Summary: political philosophy
First Nations political philosophy – insofar as it can be considered unified – cannot easily be made compatible with an order based around liberal states Similarly, the appropriate response to past injustices is not clear – particularly given how efforts at correcting past errors may themselves perpetuate colonialism

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