Tuesday, April 19, 2016

History and Attawapiskat: towards a reading list

The never-ending and ever-returning scandal of northern reserve communities; Attawapiskat, Pikangikum,Natuashish, you pick 'em. The residential schools legacy. Idle No More's insistence on treaties.  Statistics on the incarceration of indigenous peoples....

Does increasing coverage, in Canada and globally, of the failures of Canadian aboriginal policy, mean that real change is becoming possible. I don't know.  But I have been looking beyond the headlines a little, at what historians and others have been thinking. The conversation is changing there.

To mark its 25th anniversary, The Literary Review of Canada (new issue out) asked readers and contributors to nominate titles for a list of 25 notable works published during its years. What they have on the site is still a preliminary list, I understand, but five of the 26 currently listed speak directly to indigenous matters or indigenous/Canadian issues, and three of those are by indigenous writers:
  • Richard Atleo, Principles of Tsawalk
  • Richard Wright, Stolen Continents
  • Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road
  • John Milloy, A National Crime
  • Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water
That is only the beginning. Focussing on fairly recent research and titles closely relevant to current crises, I come up with J.R. Miller's groundbreaking trilogy: Shingwauk's Vision ((1996, but revised since) on residential schools, Compact, Contract, Covenant (2009) on treaties and treaty-making, and Skyscapers Hide the Heavens (1989, also revised), a survey of relations. Michael Asch's On Being Here to Stay (and his earlier Home and Native Land).  John Ralston Saul's The Comeback. John Long's Treaty 9. Poelzer and Coates's Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation. Charlie Angus's Children of the Broken Treaty. 

Then there are the recent Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the older Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs.  Or consider the media attention to more specifically historical work like James Dashuk's Clearing the Plains and Ian Mosby's research on food experimentation on indigenous subjects.  And the impact of recent residential-schools survivor memoirs by such writers as Edmund Metatawabin, Augie Merasty, and Theodore Fontaine. 

One of the impressive things about Greg Poelzer and Ken Coates's Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation, which I was mentioning yesterday, is the literature review it provides, going far beyond the relatively well-known works listed above to explicate policy positions particularly of indigenous thinkers, writers, and policy-makers: Taiaiake Alfred, Patricia Monture-Angus, Sakej Youngblood Henderson, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, John Borrows, and others. Poelzer and Coates make clear the great diversity of positions advocated, from deep separatism, to "treaty federalism," to enthusiasm about education and entrepreneurialism.

Can we move from all this application of brainpower toward meaningful actions on the headline agonies?  I want to come back to some of the ideas Poelzer and Coates review, and particularly the word that appear twice in their title: treaty.
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