SHIRI PASTERNAK INDIGENOUS POLITICS JULY 6, 2017
The late Secwepemc leader Arthur Manuel never wavered in his certainty that land restitution was the foundation for Indigenous self-determination. Without a land base and economic rights over that base, he argued, Indigenous peoples would be destined for dependency forever.
Arthur Manuel . The Secwepemc chief, long-time member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and indomitable activist and thinker played a key role in Indigenous land defence in Canada and globally.
“Resistance 150,” inspired by Manuel’s book Unsettling Canada , is a five-part series by Shiri Pasternak, an academic, writer and organizer who is active with Defenders of the Land and their new campaign, Unsettling 150. Before his passing, Manuel asked Pasternak to expand on his ideas and undertake this series for Ricochet ’s Indigenous Reporting Fund. It is intended as an educational contribution, promoting dialogue and unsettling the colonial assumptions underlying the official Canada 150 celebrations.
The late Secwepemc leader Arthur Manuel never wavered in his certainty that land restitution was the foundation for Indigenous self-determination. Without a land base and economic rights over that base, he argued, Indigenous peoples would be destined for dependency forever. In his book Unsettling Canada , he said the hardest thing about being a chief of the Neskonlith Indian Band for years was confronting the destitution of community members. There was nothing that one chief could do. “You know deep down that they are not going to get anywhere unless there is a major change in our society. Without outside change, they will never have the footing to climb out of the situation life has placed them in,” he wrote.
The kind of change Arthur advocated for was based on the fundamental fact that this country is built on Indigenous land, and Indigenous peoples have jurisdiction over their territories, land and resources.
For all the talk about First Nations’ economic development, the focus of governments and the public is only ever on what Arthur called “the 0.2 per cent economy.” That figure represents the total land base covered by Indian reserves in Canada. It is a tiny amount of space for more than 600 First Nations, especially given the enormous landmass of Canada.
The vast majority of this country is sparsely populated, so why have Indigenous peoples been denied jurisdiction over most of their lands?
According to Arthur, Indigenous people must rely on the 0.2 per cent economy because they have been denied rights to the 99.8 per cent economy, which is largely reserved for provinces to lease, permit and license forestry, mining and energy resources. Provincial governments promote resource development to accrue votes for job creation and to collect paltry revenues.
Governments also hoard the 99.8 per cent to retain control over thousands of miles of roads, highways and rail lines. To retain the right to develop more lands into transportation routes and other critical infrastructure like hydro power and pipelines. To maintain close to 400,000 square kilometres of national parks and national marine conservation areas in Canada to carve out “wilderness” for tourist consumption. Canada, the provinces, and the territories don’t want Indians interfering with this political economy.
But also — importantly — they want First Nations people reliant upon the 0.2 per cent economy.
If First Nations are reliant on the 0.2 per cent, then they may not interfere with this business-as-usual approach to settler capitalism.
A system of control
This is the context in which Arthur urged us to understand the 0.2 per cent economy: as a powerful form of control exercised over First Nations to constrain their assertions of jurisdiction to lands, territories and resources. […]