Canada has a reputation for justice, and for looking out for the small guy. And that reputation was probably partly earned and partly deserved — but much less true than we would like it to be, and less true since the Conservatives took a majority in government. While continuing to pay lip service to the concerns of the average Canadian, the Conservatives demonstrate by their actual practices that their main concern is corporations, big business, and the wealthy.
Now this new book by John Ralston Saul adds additional fuel to the charges of colonialism, exclusivity and dishonest dealing. Saul’s thesis is this: the greatest sea change underway in Canada at the present time is the return to a position of power, respect and influence of Canada’s First Nations peoples. And this is why Harper, and others like him, may be beside the point. This aboriginal renaissance is occurring despite the systemic resistance of governments.
Saul notes that Canadian society at large has moved on. We are post-colonial. We largely want to recognize and honor the treaties. Government, however, is mired in a system that was born in colonial days, and that and parochial attitudes and alliances prevents them from changing. That bodes ill for a number of reasons: fiduciary and other. If trust continues to be eroded, we delay the inevitable but also lose the full participation of a group of people who have much to give.
Saul documents Canada’s performance with regard to treaty promises way, way back, but with particular interest in the current climate. It’s impossible to read this book without getting angry. Yet at the same time, Saul is not a pessimist and in fact is hopeful — a stance based on Supreme Court decisions in the last ten years that call the government to account. Beginning with the Guerin decision in 1984, Saul analyzes the forces at play in the increasing recognition of both treaty rights and the fiduciary responsibilities of Canada. It really burns me how our government fails to honor promises made and resorts to deceit when dealing with aboriginal citizens!