Introduction to ‘The Indian Nation’
By Aaron Mercredi
When discussing the dynamics of the struggle of Native people in Canada, there are many different factors. There is the land question. There is the question of who has rights to the resources over that land. There is the question of self-determination and how that can be achieved for Indigenous people in Canada 142 years after the establishment of a colonial settler state. All of these are important factors, but one that is often overlooked is the fact that as people living within a colonial society, many Native people are members of the working class, the same working class that needs to unite itself with Native people in order to effectively fight for its rights, as well as the rights of Native people.
There are important lessons to be drawn from some of the big struggles that Native people have engaged in within Canada. The most important lesson is that Native people, as a minority, need the support of non-Natives in order to effectively fight off the attacks from the government of Canada. In 2001, Burnt Church showed us this; In 1990, Oka showed this. In the 1800s, the Red River and Northwest resistance showed us this. This is why the ruling class in Canada has done such a good job at entrenching divisions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Ray Bobb is a member of the Seabird Island Indian Band and long-time fighter for Native rights. His writing focuses on the theoretical aspects of Native people’s liberation, analyzing the dynamics of internal colonies and the strategic importance of supporting Indigenous people in their struggle for self-determination. His essay, ‘The Indian Nation,’ is an important contribution to the thoughts and actions that are coming out of the fight for justice on stolen land.
The Indian Nation
By Ray Bobb*
The purpose of this mini-essay is to present Canadian Indians as an internal colony and to indicate some aspects of a strategy for sovereignty.
An internal colony is a people subject to colonial rule within an imperialist settler-state. Possibly, six internal colonies exist: American Indians, Canadian Indians, Aborigines, Maoris and, by way of slavery and annexation, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans. These peoples are colonized within four imperialist settler-states: the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Geographically, each internal colony is composed of many communities or territories that are distributed throughout an imperialist settler-state. Demographically, with the exception of the African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, internal colonies have small populations. Due to expropriation, the members of an internal colony are also members of the working class of an imperialist settler-state.
The concept of a native internal colony is diametrically opposed to the new Canadian concept of First Nations. The concept of First Nations is a product of Canada’s ongoing effort to make circumscribed treaties with Indian tribes and bands that will, ultimately, de-legislate the existence of a colonized people and, formally, incorporate them into Canada. Treaties are, by definition, made between nations and for the purpose of piecemeal, treaty-making the federal government has designated Indian tribes and bands to be nations, i.e., First Nations. The federal government is intent upon treaties as opposed to other types of agreements because the matter on which Canada wants resolution concerns the relationship between two peoples and, therefore, two nations. The “new relationship” that Canada wants to establish is, simply, one in which Indians no longer exist. Canada’s present Indian policy is tantamount to, bureaucratic, ethnic cleansing and forced annexation.
In the federal government’s comprehensive treaty process Indians are required, tribe by tribe or band by band, to (1) renounce their nationality by agreeing to remove themselves from the jurisdiction of the Indian Act and (2) cede their right to self-determination by formally incorporating into Canada. These requirements of the treaty process contravene Article 15 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that state, respectively, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality” and “All peoples have the right of self-determination.” Insofar as the treaty process is a bottle-neck for receiving government funds and having Indian rights recognized, it is coercive.
The federal government’s present Indian policy was, for a short time, proposed as the Government White Paper Policy on Indians (1969). The White Paper proposed to, unilaterally, abolish the Indian Act, the Department of Indian Affairs, Indian reserve land, old treaty rights, and, aboriginal rights and title. This proposal was active opposed by all Native people. The federal government began, immediately, to create a Native leadership that is dependent upon government funding and that can be depended upon to carry out government policy. In 1973, the federal government reaffirmed the objectives of the White Paper in its Comprehensive Land Claims Settlement Policy, and along with its captive Native leadership, proceeded to effect the objectives of the White Paper, bilaterally.
To date, Natives on 40 percent of Canada’s land area (all of the North including Northern Quebec) have signed treaties and many tribes and bands in the South have entered the treaty process or have signed treaties.
Some Indian people accept the First Nations designation in that it appears to be a recognition of nationhood. It is true that the early treaties signed between the Indian tribes and Great Britain were made on a bona fide nation-to-nation basis. However, when the remaining British colonies in North America became the independent Dominion of Canada (1867) an imperialist settler-state came into being and within it was established an internal colony of Canadian Indians. The term “Canadian Indians” refers to the national entity created by internal colonialism, composed of formerly independent tribal peoples, and, subjected to direct-rule by Canada.
Furthermore, national entities exist in the contemporary world not only because of their moral entitlement but also because of their individual and allied power. Tribes were defeated at contact precisely because they were national entities on the level of tribes pitted, separately, against developing world empires. In the twentieth century, nations have demonstrated that, militarily, they can defeat imperialism in the global South.
The situation and condition of the internal colonies ally them to the two great social movements of modern history—the national liberation movements in the global South and the socialist movements in the imperialist countries. The national liberation movements are the principal and determining conflicts of our time. The victorious growth of these movements can only strengthen and help to define the internal colonies. In the early twentieth century, the revolutionary movements in the imperialist countries were subverted. They were subverted by reforms conceded to the domestic working classes based on imperialist superprofits derived from the colonies. The national liberation movements, inevitably, will weaken imperialism and preclude reformism in the imperialist countries. This will reawaken class struggles in the imperialist countries. The members of the internal colonies can be a part of these struggles, can demand support therein for the right of all oppressed nations to genuine self-determination, and, can negotiate therein the terms of Native self-determination.
The type of self-determination achieved by the internal colonies will be a product of national liberation in the majority world, choice in the internal colonies, and, negotiation with worker’s power in the imperialist settler-states. It may be that the settler-states and the internal colonies are so closely interrelated that complete separation is not possible. Sovereignty for the internal colonies may require economies that are integrated with those of the former settler-states and dual citizenship for those resident on the land of the other. While sovereignty cannot be the answer to all the world’s problems, unity and peace are unlikely to be achieved without the prior liberation of the oppressed nations.
*Ray Bobb is a Member of the Seabird Island Indian Band. He is a longtime fighter for social justice as well as writer and researcher on many topics related to the international struggle against injustice.
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