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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review-The Comeback

Review: The Comeback
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)

The Comeback is a timely book in the sense that it is written at a time in which the political landscape of Canada is changing in both the non-Aboriginal world and the Aboriginal world.

John Ralston Saul delves into many theories and explanations of why Canada is shaped the way that it is in his new book The Comeback. He also calls upon all Canadians to rebuild their relationship with Aboriginal people because it is the centrality of Aboriginal issues and peoples that has the potential to open up a more creative way of imagining ourselves and a more honest narrative for Canada.

In The Comeback, he writes “for the last hundred years Aboriginal peoples have been making a comeback- a remarkable comeback from a terrifyingly low point of population, of legal respect, of civilizational stability, a comeback to a position of power, influence and civilizational creativity” but I beg to differ on this statement and find it to be misleading.

I find it to be misleading because as a First Nations woman, I believe that the current state of affairs in Canada is not about a comeback. First Nations people have always been present and we have always had our rights and have known where they come from. Furthermore, a comeback from a terrifyingly low population is not a result of our own actions, but a result of the dominant takeover of European peoples-colonization.

Our ways of life, our economic well being, social well- being and food sources were jeopardized. European diseases that were brought through contact were particularly destructive and Aboriginal peoples lives were lost. I have always understood that there is a deep contradiction in the reality and the mythology of Canadian life. Saul backs this up by stating “it was in the forty years before the European civil war began that Canadians of European origin decided that “Indians,” “Half-breeds” and “Esquimaux” were among the destined losers when faced by our superiority-our Darwinian destiny.”

Our Canadian history can also be viewed through a racialized lens. Saul writes “The structures within which Aboriginals must work have been artificially put in place by governments, largely by London and Ottawa, actively supported by provincial governments. He goes on to say “And what are these structures?  Treaty versus non-Treaty Indians. Status versus non-Status Indians based on what are effectively complex calculations of blood.”

When looking at history and the definition of who is Aboriginal and who is not, I find it interesting that Saul states in his book A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada that Canada is a Metis civilization heavily influenced and shaped by Aboriginal ideas, but then in The Comeback he states “Canadians who do not think of themselves as Aboriginal will go on misleading themselves as to what is now happening.” This leads me to think that he believes everyone is Aboriginal or maybe I am just misunderstanding this viewpoint, because we (First Nations) are the original peoples of this land, and it is not those who have come and settled in what we now call Canada.

He goes onto to say that “our standard national history portrays the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century as an era of creativity and nation building,” but it was also at the exact time, in the same country, Indigenous peoples were dying or suffering or not reproducing because of the terrible conditions to which they had been reduced, and doing most of this in small communities, out of the sight and mind of the largely European Canadian population.”

Another commentary I am uncomfortable with is the idea that Indigenous peoples have made a comeback due to the events of 2012 and the Idle No More Movement. I believe that everything began a lot sooner than that. There are several pivotal moments in Aboriginal history that paved the way for us to be where we are today. You just need to think of the example of OKA and the voices of solidarity then.

John Ralston Saul writes a wide narrative that may seem pivotal when it comes to speaking of citizens rights and the rebuilding of relationships that were central to the creation of Canada, but I believe it will take a lot more work for the general Canadian public to reach a point where they will understand First Nations peoples and the issues at hand. It’s more than just getting the narrative right, and it is more than just being informed and conscious. We do not see ourselves as victims and it is not sympathy that we want. Taiaike Alfred argued that “reconciliation can mean something if it starts from the position of restitution. And I believe that is something to begin with.

Lastly, the whole term 'comeback' rings false because it is the Euro-Canadian opinion of First Nations people where they see us in society.

The Comeback by John Ralston Saul is published by the Peguin Group, Penguin Books Canada and is 294 pages.

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