My Canada includes rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

This native land: Our debt to the first nations Writer and thinker John Ralston Saul feels Canada can't understand its true nature until it reconnects with its aboriginal roots. He discusses his vision with The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy MICHAEL VALPY AND JOHN RALSTON SAUL

This is John Ralston Saul at work, thinking big. If you've got only one life to lead, why not spend it retelling your country's history, recasting its mythologies, completely reframing the society to which Canadians belong?

His new book, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, says our multiculturalism did not begin with the French and English trying to figure out how to live with each other. It began with illiterate, impoverished Europeans coming into contact with superior aboriginal societies and being accepted by them.

Canada's political culture of egalitarianism, and Canadians' constitutional genius for balancing collective and individual rights, did not begin with Confederation or Pierre Trudeau's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They began with the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701 when 39 first nations signed an extraordinary treaty with the governor of New France that brought years of economic harmony and wealth, mutual respect and a commitment by the French - alone among the European colonists of North America - not to exterminate or enslave indigenous peoples.

There has never been a monolithic society on the northern half of the continent, which is why the imperial British rulers of the late 18th century treated Canada differently from their other possessions - promulgating the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that guaranteed cultural and economic rights for aboriginal people, and the Quebec Act of 1774 that guaranteed language and legal rights for French Canadians.

That, Mr. Saul says, was Canada's true history until it was hijacked by empire supremacists in the 19th century and rewritten, resulting in a shredding of our unique social cohesion that has lasted to today.

But he finds hope. The old narrative is resurfacing, which is what his book is about: a rediscovery of the true Canada.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said trying to fix a broken myth is like trying to repair a broken spider web. I'm wondering if that's what you're trying to do.

I don't think that we have a broken myth. I think we have something much more interesting and actually fun in a way. We've got a 400-year-old history, which is a long time, and the first 250 years are more or less - I'm not being romantic - about how we're going to live in this country, how we're going to do things, the collective unconscious put in place.

And then in the late 19th century, after Confederation, in the 1880s, the 1890s, you get this kidnapping of Canada by the [British] empire myth, the massive arrival of the northern Irish Protestants and the big arrival of the English, who probably wouldn't have caused much of a change if the northern Irish hadn't pushed so hard. And, of course, why wouldn't you want to be on the winning side, when the empire was going to live forever? So, in a way, they rewrote the surface mythology of Canada. You and I are still struggling with the leftover of that.

I read your thesis kind of doubtfully until I got to the part where you present the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774 side by side. And for the first time I realized, my god, the British imperial rulers really were dealing with three peoples, not just two - the aboriginals as well as the French and British.

And remember that astonishing thing which is never talked about, the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701. ... And you know the rewriting of our history in the late 19th century was so complete that all of this stuff was evacuated because the aboriginals were dying of our diseases and the people with power wanted them to die. Even if they weren't doing it on purpose, they wanted them to die, [which introduced] the whole mythology that this was a weak people. All that stuff is a very clear, very self-serving mythology because they plummeted from two million to 200,000 by the early 20th century.

Was our history really rewritten?

1 comment:

  1. Hi There, I just spent a little time reading through your posts, which I found entirely by mistake whilst researching one of my projects. Please continue to write more because it’s unusual that someone has something interesting to say about this. Will be waiting for more!


My Canada includes rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Two Row Wampum Treaty

Two Row Wampum Treaty
"It is said that, each nation shall stay in their own vessels, and travel the river side by side. Further, it is said, that neither nation will try to steer the vessel of the other." This is a treaty among Indigenous Nations, and with Canada. This is the true nature of our relationships with Indigenous Nations of 'Kanata'.