Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers

Those who pay attention to the “republic of letters” in Canada will have noticed that Tanya Talaga’s book, Seven Fallen Feathers, has been cleaning up the awards for literary non-fiction, having won the RBC Taylor Prize, and now the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing (announced yesterday at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa). Since I was a member of the jury that awarded it the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize, I thought I might say a few words about why the book stands out among all others published this past year.

With the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there has been an enormous amount of discussion of the need for reconciliation (or even just normalization of the relationship) between Canada and its First Nations. A great deal of this discussion has been rather fruitless, in part because it has been confined almost entirely to the plane of symbolic politics.… Continue reading

Against the racialization of everything

Race, as I and many other academics never tire of reminding people, is a social construct. Many people who say this, however, do so in a perfunctory manner, before going on to treat it as though it were a natural kind, eternal and unchangeable. For me, the point of emphasizing the “constructedness” of race is to emphasize that is it not an inevitable social category. It is a particular way that many people have of framing certain aspects of individual identity and social interaction. It is, however, not the only, and not a necessary way, of framing things. Thus it always makes sense to ask, in any particular circumstance, whether race is the best way of framing an issue. The question is whether race, as a category, is really getting at what’s important in a given situation.

This question has particular salience at the moment, because many social justice advocates in Canada have been pushing fairly hard for a number of social problems that were traditionally framed in terms of immigration and ethnicity (and multiculturalism) to be reframed in terms of race (and anti-discrimination).… Continue reading

The Politics of Ethnic Fraud

Guest post by Avigail Eisenberg

When I was growing up, my best friend and I would play what I now recognize to be a kind of ‘Jewish identity game’. We would identify different celebrities and historical figures who were Jewish or partly Jewish. My friend was much better than I at this game. She told me that Goldie Hawn was Jewish as was Sigmund Freud, and Bob Dylan. It wasn’t all good news – she claimed Hitler was partly Jewish as was Stalin (no idea where she got this). But there was lots of compensation for these stains in people like Karl Marx and Sammy Davis Jr! She had a book about Jewish communities all over the world, with pictures of the Chinese Jewish community, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and many more that I’m forgetting. There was no winning or losing this game (no fact checking or challenging). It was about impressing ourselves about our shared identity by creating a sense that so many people (and especially celebrities like Goldie Hawn!) were part of our tribe.… Continue reading

John Ralston Saul: The Comeback

Over the next few weeks I’m reading all the books that have been selected as finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing (not including my own), and writing up my reactions — mainly to promote conversation. Today we have John Ralston Saul’s The Comeback: How Aboriginals are Reclaiming Power and Influence.

I must admit that I have always struggled with John Ralston Saul’s books. I own several. My biggest problem is that I never know what the hell he’s talking about. It could be him, or it could be me, but something tells me it’s him. I’m constantly getting pulled up short. He’ll be writing along, and he’ll say something like “you know how whenever you do blah-blah, someone will come up to you and say blah-blah,” and I’ll be like, “um, er, no actually, that never happens to me.” It’s always like that.

Reading Saul reminds me of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a transporter malfunction leaves Geordi and Ensign Ro “out of phase” with everyone else on the ship.… Continue reading

The Harper Government is not serious about fighting crime

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the damnest thing yesterday. Asked whether he would reconsider calling a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, in the wake of the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s body in Winnipeg, he again refused. The reason he gave, however, was so strange. He said that such cases should be viewed as “crimes,” rather than as a “sociological phenomenon.”

Now I happen to agree with Harper that a federal inquiry would be a bad idea. But my reason for thinking that is the exact opposite of Harper’s. It’s precisely because the problem of violence against aboriginal women is primarily “sociological,” and not primarily a law-enforcement matter, that I don’t think a federal inquiry would be very productive.

To see why, just stop for a moment and reflect upon the statistic that is constantly being repeated in the press, that there are “1,200 murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.”* This brings up images of Robert Pickton, preying on women in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, accompanied by police indifference to the case of “yet another missing aboriginal woman.” And yet if we stop for a moment and think about what we all know about violence against women, it is easy to see that this is not the typical case.… Continue reading

Un nouveau paradigme pour le droit autochtone?

Par auteur invité Martin Papillon

Ça y est, c’est fait. La Cour suprême a reconnu pour la première fois à une nation autochtone un titre ancestral sur ses terres traditionnelles. La nation Tsilhqot’in est donc en quelque sorte propriétaire de plus de 2000 km2 dans le centre de la Colombie-Britannique. Elle pourra ainsi gérer ces terres à sa guise et, surtout, en bénéficier de manière exclusive.

Cette décision de la Cour suprême a fait couler beaucoup d’encre. Plusieurs commentateurs parlent de révolution, d’autres d’une décision aux conséquences dramatiques pour l’économie du pays. Plusieurs s’interrogent en particulier sur l’impact de cette décision sur les projets d’oléoducs, en pensant au controversé projet Northern Gateway, qui vient tout juste de recevoir l’approbation du gouvernement fédéral.  Qu’en est-il au juste? Cette décision change-t-elle radicalement le rapport de force entre les peuples autochtones, l’État canadien et les principaux acteurs de l’économie extractive?

Il faut d’abord préciser que cette décision est loin d’être une surprise.… Continue reading