Big Bear's Treaty: the road to freedom.

Author:Allard, Jean
Position:First Nations
 
FREE EXCERPT

with research by Sheilla Jones

Foreword by Gordon Gibson 110 I: Broken dreams 114 II: The "thunderclap" of 1969 120 III: A distorted system 132 IV: Escaping the system 137 V: The fallout from the system 142 VI: Challenging the system 152 VII: The treaties--empowering Indians 161 Postscript, May 2002 166 Foreword

I ENVY YOU, THE READER, the experience you are about to have. And I am honoured to have been asked to write a foreword to this major excerpt from Big Bear's Treaty.

I first met Jean Allard about four years ago. He phoned me out of the blue about work I had been doing on aboriginal issues at the Fraser Institute. I have since learned he does this with many people, and is very effective at it. At the beginning of the conversation I said to myself, "Who is this guy? and at the end of the call I wanted to meet him.

A year or so later we were talking, sitting on a curb in South Vancouver in front of a house owned by one of his relatives. He made a lot of sense. Because he could give his ideas the credibility that came from personal experience, I expressed the hope he would write a book. He said he had already started, and I got a look at the first draft a few months later. What follows here has been considerably refined and to a certain extent abridged by the editorial work of John Richards and Henry Milner, but the original ideas survive strong and clear.

Jean Allard's manuscript has two great strengths. He is a clear and original thinker, and he has personally lived with the people and events that have shaped the past fifty years of Indian policy. A Metis himself, he has been with, but not of, the Indian Industry as it has evolved. He has been close enough to know where the bodies are buried, but has avoided personal burial in the stultifying conventional ideas dominating Indian affairs.

A man of great personal presence and dignity--as is obvious should you have the chance to meet him--he has been able to command the respect and confidence of his peers. A man with no personal entanglements in the Indian system, he is able to see it for what it is.

In what follows he sets out the central determinants of Indian policy as it is and could be. He starts with a compassionate portrait of a people overwhelmed by an immigrant society, a people afforded nothing like the transitional assistance we routinely offer new immigrants to Canada today.

He describes how the rules of location and governance imposed on Indians over the 20th century effectively undermined patterns of traditional governance. The rules of Indian Affairs substituted first appointed elites (as agents) and then elected elites (as Chiefs and councils)--for the traditional consensual system. That suppression of ordinary Indians from influence even within their own communities constituted a second wave of interventions by the immigrant settler society. The psychological damage has been large, particularly for Indian men, already relieved of much of their raison d'etre by the operation of an insidious welfare system and a new industrial economy.

Allard's first chapter constitutes a very personal precis of Indian experience with the white man, especially for Plains Indians, the communities he knows best.

His second chapter deals with the birth of Indian nationalism in the 1960s, with its growth and subsequent corruption. This is a history written by a man who watched it unfold, whose campaign manager in his first election--when he ran and won for the NDP in the 1969 Manitoba election--was Phil Fontaine. Woven into this history is the civil rights movement in the United States, the withdrawal of political Ottawa from responsibility after the debacle of the 1970 "White Paper," and the filling of the ensuing vacuum by an unholy alliance of bureaucratic Ottawa and Indian elites.

"The demands of Indian organizations," writes Allard, "provided opportunities to expand the bureaucracy of both Indian Affairs and of the Indian organizations." Nothing surprising here in human conduct, but this is not the usually told tale.

The new system of governance had a fatal flaw. There was, Allard writes, "no real separation between politics and administration on reserves." This separation is of course one of the central requirements identified by Cornell and Kalb in their Harvard Project research into successful Indian governments in the United States.

Thus his third chapter discusses the flawed foundations of bureaucrats, consultants, chiefs and councils where the "client is less a person in need, than a person who is needed." And more money will not save a flawed system.

Chapter four is particularly powerful. Indian Affairs reports that two out of five status Indians have left reserve lands under Indian governments for the harsh challenge of off-reserve life, which usually means life in the city. (Unofficially, the proportion having moved off-reserve is probably about one in two; there are incentives for bands to over-report the numbers living on-reserve.) Of course urbanization has been a trend strongly impacting all Canadians, but it has been particularly strong and rapid for Indians in recent decades. This has happened in the face of opposition by both Indian and other governments. Municipal and provincial governments see their costs rising as Indians move to town.

More importantly, Indians are undergoing this urban migration in the face of very high personal costs in terms of leaving relatives and community, and mainstream society does little to facilitate this migration, which, despite the costs, holds out great opportunities for individual Indians.

The new reality of increasing off-reserve Indian populations will have huge political consequences for on-reserve Indian government as the effects of the Corbiere decision work their way through the system. This decision requires bands to allow off-reserve, as well as on-reserve, members to vote in band elections. The impacts will not be merely the obvious ones, as Allard's insights show.

Chapter five is an extended account of the perverse effects of the current system of Indian governance. The Department of Indian Affairs does not enforce accountability. "Reserves are, in effect, lawless societies," Allard concludes. He recounts some of the more famous examples of documented corruption (Samson and Stoney reserves in Alberta) and the relative inability of the RCMP to pursue outrageous behaviour when it occurs. Allard explains this on the basis that, in this world of Indian Affairs non-accountability, activity that would land your average municipal councillor in the dock is simply not illegal.

What does it boil down to? Non-accountability is a reward for compliance--compliance with Indian Affairs' objectives. Non-accountability is a cornerstone of the existing system.

In effect, Indian Act authority has displaced traditional Indian checks and balances on their leaders. And modern checks and balances applied to Indian leaders, while they appear to be in place, do not operate.

Chapter six investigates some of the vehicles for reform. One of the most hopeful is the recent ascendancy in various parts of the country of women's accountability organizations, such as the First Nations Accountability Coalition, challenging the traditional male-dominated establishment.

Allard believes that Indian Affairs and the Assembly of First Nations are already engaged in a potential undermining of the Corbiere decision. I personally believe he writes off too quickly some of the current reform initiatives. Nonetheless, the argument that the proposed Robert Nault reforms for improved band accountability--the details of which we do not yet know of course--may do no more than prop up a rotten system is a serious one.

In Chapter seven we get back to Big Bear. I will not spoil your enjoyment of Allard's imaginative scheme for shifting power from the Chiefs back to Indian people by canvassing the details here. I will say only that fine-tuning, financing and intergovernmental implications of his "updated treaty money" proposal need more work. The central idea is clear and persuasive.

In its essence, this book is about empowerment of the individual vis-a-vis the collective. It is hard to think of a more revolutionary concept in traditional bureaucratic thought, nor a concept more potentially subversive of the Indian Industry. But it will be extremely difficult for the Industry to use its usual epithet of dismissal--to accuse the author of being "racist"--given the provenance of the ideas.

The empowerment of the individual would in fact help to restore the old balance of power in Indian government before arrival of Europeans, when powers of the leaders relied heavily on consensus. After all, when families could vote with their feet and leave an unsuccessful band for a better one, leaders paid attention to their followers. Under the Indian Act, things are totally reversed. Mobility is suppressed because benefits are mostly available on-reserve only, and the ordinary Indian is dependent upon the largesse of the leaders who control the Indian Affairs money. Send some of that money to Indians as individuals instead, says Allard.

If you believe, as I do, that Canadian Indians are ordinary human beings like any other human beings, then you will find Allard's book very helpful in thinking about Canada's deepest moral issue. You will be assisted in understanding how the current system fails utterly to apply best governance and incentive practice as learned over the centuries, all over the world, to that part of humanity who are Indians, and instead substitutes a perverse system which is an extension of colonialism under new masters.

On the other hand, if you believe that Canadian Indians are a breed apart from the rest of humanity, responding differently to history and social cues and incentives, people who really need the current system in its new and improved elaborations, then perhaps you should consider a career in Indian Affairs or on the...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP