Literary Review of Canada Letter

In the April 2010 edition of the Literary Review of Canada, Christopher Moore wrote a piece entitled “The Calamity of Caledonia.” In response, I wrote a letter which appeared in part in the June 2010 edition and in full on the Literary Review of Canada’s website.

The original piece by Moore can be found here: The Calamity of Caledonia

The following is my reply, which can also be found in the letters section of the LRC website:

Re: “The Calamity of Caledonia” by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore’s piece in the April LRC, “The Calamity of Caledonia,” with the subhead advising “What B.C. can teach Ontario about Native Land claims” and including a small reference to a 1998 Vancouver Sun column of mine, is an amusing caricature that flatters the Liberal government in Victoria.

A small matter, but that column dealt in part with Australia’s approach—legislation—to the aborigines’ problems with the whites. I made sympathetic noises but didn’t specifically advise something similar for Canada. More important, and allowing that Moore deals in a small space with a gargantuan and in my view intractable issue, his thesis bristles with errors of omission if not commission, and is a classic example of the winking lure of the chimera of Nowism: Our forefathers’ treatment of native Indians (and much else) was bigoted, exploitative, and plain stupid, but, by George, now we the enlightened of this day are getting it right!

If only. But space is short. Moore claims Premier Gordon Campbell had a revelation on the Damascan road, made a volte-face on B.C.’s historical opposition to Indian land claims, and began serious negotiations. (New Democratic Premier Mike Harcourt and his NDP successors had earlier refused to take yes for an answer in court and undermined the government’s own case. In sports they ban you forever for throwing games.) I believe it’s déjà vu all over again: The hard-eyed Liberals and harder-eyed big business concluded that, whiskey and trinkets having a bad name, it was better to make deals with essentially free taxpayer money and Crown land, of which B.C. has a plenitude, than have projects blockaded and the economy held hostage. Violence, terrorism and the threat thereof worked, as they do elsewhere.

A new era? A model for Queen’s Park? As I write, the Musqueam Indian Band and Nation sued, in April, the city of Richmond, for a $59 million land deal it signed, in March. That’s right, the previous month. The band claims it was pressured and cheated. White man still speaks with forked tongue. In olden times at least a decent interval of years intervened before such complaints were made.

Moore cites the 2010 Winter Olympics “partnership” with bands and its implied peace.  He ignores that the Canadian Press news agency reported in 2008 that the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh were each paid $17 million—which used to be a lot of money—for  use of their traditional territory. Evidently you can buy a fair amount of peace for that, plus dancing and music.

The following caused more Main Street fury than any abstraction: perfectly timed for the Olympics, in February the Squamish nation raised big billboards on pockets of band land in Vancouver, including adjacent to the cherished Burrard and Lions Gate bridges. That raised virtually unanimous citizen anger (a North Shore  newspaper poll recorded 100 per cent opposition) muted by white guilt, political correctness, fear of hate speech charges and the Star Chamber hammer of the “human rights” commission. Any positive lessons for Ontario there?

The fact is that—still—B.C.’s 200-odd bands claim over 100 per cent of the province. Overlaps abound, especially in the choicest areas. Politicians humbly give thanks to bands for allowing public events to take place on their traditional territory, in my view  dangerous rhetoric with potential real consequences. Since it was created in 1993 the B.C. Treaty Commission has reached no major treaties, its costs approach $1 billion, and like all other aspects of what I rudely call Canada’s “affirmative apartheid” policy (glaringly concerning B.C.’s fishery), it’s enriched lawyers, consultants and Indian leaders.

Moore favourably cites the Nisga’a treaty—signed, after long negotiations outside of the commission process, in 2000. The treaty denies full voting rights to non-Nisga’a on Nisga’a territory. Mired in procedural blockades, its constitutional legality has been doggedly challenged by Nisga’a Chief Mountain (James Robinson) and Mercy Thomas and is finally scheduled to come to trial this summer. The B.C. government and media have elaborately, dare I say suspiciously, ignored its existence.

From Toronto, where Moore lives, all this and much more (notably the unresolved issue of women’s rights, also band governance, nepotism, favouritism, accountability and all those familiar characteristics that infect non-Indian governance too, but more so) doesn’t diminish B.C. as an admirable template for Ontario, apparently with application to the Six Nations conundrum centered in Caledonia.

The stark certainty is that the zeitgeist, as I believe learned persons call it, insures that Canada’s White Problem and the Indian Problem will persist as long as the sun will shine and the grass will grow. All “solutions” including Moore’s are not just doomed but designed to fail.  The aboriginal industry is simply too attractive and too lucrative to be wound up. And the truth is that most if not all Indians, like all entities harbouring a grievance, and with much justification, will never forget.

Trevor Lautens
West Vancouver, British Columbia

© Trevor Lautens 2010