The other week – as virtually everybody is now aware – Obama gave his much celebrated speech on the racial stalemate in America.
Here in Canada we have a stalemate as well. It is discussed less frequently (if at all) then the American stalemate Obama spoke of, and it does not fall along clearly delineated racial lines. I am speaking of the stalemate between First Nations and the rest of Canada. On page 157 0f his book “Dances with Dependency: Indigenous Success through Self-Reliance” (if you don’t have a copy I highly recommend picking one up), aboriginal rights activist Calvin Helin writes a paragraph that parallels the sentiment of Obama’s speech.
When chronicling and discussing the very real problem of abuses of power, mismanagement, nepotism and corruption found on some First Nation band councils, Helin notes:
Aboriginal people are reluctant to speak publicly about these issues because they do not wish to provide grist for the political right in Canada who many feel are racist, and have no real interest in actually trying to make the situation better (though often there is a sizable, but silent contingent that supports the publication of such issues in what might be considered right-of-centre publications, because they are regarded as only telling the truth and trying to make things better for the ordinary Aboriginal folks). Generally, non-aboriginal observers have been reluctant to raise this issue as well because, in the current climate of political correctness, they might automatically be labelled as racists. Even the many Chiefs and Councils that are running honest governments in the best interests of their members feel compelled to defend against such reported abuses, because they fear their activities may become tarred with a brush that does not apply in their particular circumstances. Usually when this matter is raised publicly, there are entrenched positions on both sides of the debate and little communications as to how to solve these problems. (my own italics)
While this hardly captures the entire dynamic, it highlights an important dimension of Canada’s racial stalemate. That anger and guilt in both communities – aboriginals and non-aboriginals – can sometime build narratives about the other that reinforce their mutual distrust and preventing us from reaching out and finding a way to address what is our country’s most important challenges.
I suspect this stalemate will not last. A new force could be about to completely alter this debate. A new generation – a demographic tsunami in fact – of smart, educated, and motivated young First Nation is about to crest over this country (While Calvin Helin is an excellent example, he is much older than the cohort I’m thinking of). I’m not sure that non-aboriginal leaders – and, to be frank, current aboriginal leaders – are even aware of what is about to hit them. Gauging from those I have met and befriended, this cohort is frustrated, but motivated, organized and very pragmatic. But perhaps, most importantly, they increasingly urban and, not as tied to the power structures of the reserves or chiefs. In this regard they transcend the discussion, living in, and comfortable in, both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal domain. One way or another they are will redefine this debate.