Aboriginal Futures - Awakening Our Imaginations
Hall, Tony, Canadian Dimension
Unprecedented tensions are developing in this country as many interests and peoples compete to control the agenda of government decision making.
Although Aboriginal people have a major stake in this struggle, there are very few means for them to defend their rapidly dwindling interests.
When peoples have for so long been denied access to the tools of power, self-dignity demands that they somehow find a means to break the cycle of their oppression. The events of the summer of 1990 suggest an important threshold of this process has already been reached.
The designation of seats in the federal parliament for representatives of distinct aboriginal constituencies would be one of the ways of addressing the marginalization of aboriginal people in the political process.
The reform would involve the superimposition of large Aboriginal ridings on top of Canada's regular electoral map. In federal elections, every Native voter would have the option of using his or her franchise to choose a parliamentarian who represents some sort of regionally-based Aboriginal constituency. The number of Aboriginal ridings would be calculated according to the regular Canadian formula of representation by population.
Native people would not be voting twice, nor would they be getting a mathematically larger say than any other voter in the selection of parliamentarians. But they would henceforth be acknowledged not only as individuals but also as members of larger Aboriginal collectives with distinct political personalities. The political map of Canada would finally include the institutional capacity for the effective expression of Aboriginal political will within this country's principal forum of democracy.
The entrenchment of permanent Aboriginal seats in parliament would signify acknowledgement of Aboriginality as a feature of Canada's identity for as long as the sun shines and the waters flow.
This reform would also symbolically acknowledge that there is a distinct layer of Aboriginal jurisdiction covering the whole country. No longer would Indian reserves be treated as almost the only preserve of Indian identity and Indian decision making. Rather a new electoral vehicle would be put in place for the expression of Aboriginal self-determination everywhere in Canada.
Parliamentarians representing Aboriginal constituencies would not be leaders of Aboriginal governments. The task of choosing those leaders must take place within an institutional framework of Aboriginal people's own making. But parliamentarians representing federal Aboriginal ridings would be well placed to act as intermediaries that could help smooth the relationship between Aboriginal governments and the federal government. Certainly they would be in a better position to perform that function than the individual who presently holds that responsibility, namely the Minister of Indian Affairs.
The news that representatives of the Surete de Quebec were shopping for tanks to fight Indians was a startling example of the growing influence of those who would crush rather than cultivate the Aboriginal will to survive. Is this move part of the emergence of an independent Quebec with an army of its own? Are the sovereign attributes of an independent Quebec state to be linked with a symbolic conquest of indigenous people?
The pattern is hardly new in the Americas, where the taking of Aboriginal title by force or treaty has been one of the recurring techniques used by distinct groups of colonizers to carve out their own distinct grounds of sovereign jurisdiction.
The future status of Quebec is, of course, of crucial importance to determining how the new political map of Canada will be drawn. Major portions of Quebec remain uncovered by Indian treaties. Many Aboriginal groups, who remain the majority population of huge areas of the province, have never entered into any formal land agreements with a non-Aboriginal sovereign. …