There were -- more than 10 years ago in Canada -- roughly 300,000 Indian people (governnmentally identified as such -- "Status" corresponding to U.S. "tribally enrolled"), and approximately 25,000 Inuit people. These numbers have probably increased by at least 80%, and as regards Bill C-31 resumption of lost status, it is over 100,000 people at the present time who have applied or qualified.
At the time of the 1986 census, there were 573 bands (now there are more than 600). Before any major land claims had been settled or even considered, bands held 2,242 separate parcels of land, with a total area of 10,021 square miles. This is a very small amount of land, and the small parcels often scattered members of a tribe on several isolated reserves many miles from one another. Less tha 30 percent of the total Native population in 1986 lived off-reserve. But that was because the Indian Act had de-Statused Indian people for a century. Only Status Indians can live on reserves.
The Indian Act maintained that Status -- which automatically meant Band enrollment -- followed the man in a marriage. Thus women who married non-Indians lost status, (as did their children) and had to leave the reserves. Frequently deserted, by those husbands, they raised their families in the urban slums. Men did not lose Status by marrying non-Indian women; instead, the woman (and her children) gained Status. Thus many ethnically non-Indian women were considered Indian. The Indian Act also caused lack of Status for those born illegitimately (out of wedlock), those who voted (became enfranchised), and those who volunteered to fight in one of Canada's wars, who gained enfranchisement, but lost their Status and home.
These genocidal principles (which appear to be a direct attack on Indian women) were challenged in the late 1960's and eventually pronounced discriminatory by the United Nations. In 1985, Bill C-31 was passed, where Canada attempted to make up for a century of genocidal discrimination -- and this has caused a great deal of trouble.
For a variety of reasons, many-- perhaps most -- bands have rejected C-31 returnees. For one obvious reason, most bands are poor, they have limited land, housing, schools, roads and other infrastructures. There are few employment opportunities, and most of those are financed by Canadian government funding of programs. Where some small progress was starting to be made in resources for better lives, those limited resources would be overwhelmed by many new members. But that's not the only reason. The Indian Act worked as well as it did for a century, because the British and the Canadians set up male dominated tribal governments to deal with their own male-dominated government, and then proposed a genocidal policy in a way intended to flatter those males., and set them against their own Nation's women. It's still the case that most band council and all important staff offices are held by men. After the passage of C-31, those band council men have cleverly played on the fears of their usually isolated and often uneducated and out of contact with a wider world populations. They paint pictures of militant or crude "city Indians" coming into the quiet resere, making trouble, taking over, and selling off the land and other assets.
The reason for this is that recent economic improvements have, on many -- perhaps most -- most reserves, created just what Okanagon writer-historian Jeanette Armstrong predicted in 1980 in her groundbreaking historical novel Slash: A 2-class structure, a few quite rich at the top of the Band rulership, educated and used to dealing with Canadian bureancracies, and a great mass of poor people at the bottom, whose lives are not much improved by the wealth that stays at the top. It's the top class that's threatened by the returnees, who include most of the college-educated Natives, who have made their difficult ways unaided within the white man's world.
C-31 returnees could form actual numeric majorities on only a few (if any) Reserves. But the chances are good that they would form a sub-majority -- a majority of those who are educated, can function in the white world, and who would challenge current well-off and educated leaders (not themselves a numeric majority of course). Presently the poor majority is usually apathetic to electoral and other political processes. Voter turnouts are typically very low; a small percentage of smart newcomers who are not part of the Top Class could make quite a difference in the internal politics of most bands. That theme, too, surfaces here and there in Slash, as Tommy/Slash continually (quite ineffectually) tries to maintain traditional communal ways, and not see a "pig culture" of a small rich and a large poor class develop within his Nation.
Thus Canada has managed to come up with a method of righting a long-standing genocidal injustice in a troublesome and nasty fashion -- one which makes Indian people look bad, and Canada look good. Top Native leaders are helping them out, a lot though. Recently the the Sawridge First Nation in northern Alberta, led by Chief Walter Twinn, the Tsuu T'ina First Nation located outside Calgary and the Ermineskin First Nation of Hobbema filed suit against the Bill C-31. The leaders said in press release it's because they're afraid returnees would self-terminate their own tribes, sell off all their assets and boogie. They also say it's a violation of sovereignty that Bands cannot say who their own members will be, but are having new members imposed upon them by mere ancestry.
I wonder if these Native leaders are now planning legal action against the Creator, for similarly failing to consult them when new human beings come into the world, babies whose parentage makes them -- without any consultations with these sovereign Native leaders! -- automatically Band members. Why, some of those undesirable new First Nation citizens are sure to grow up to be troublemakers, who won't follow those fat cat Native leaders for their little handouts like good little Indians are supposeed to.
Bill C-31 --A discussion and press release from the viewpoints of 3 First Nations who have sued to stop Bill C-31. This is followed by a number of statements from Indian C-31 people glad of getting Status (though mostly rejected by their bands), and longtime members of various bands who think C-31 returnees are good and should be accepted. Good think piece -- for classroom discussions too -- from Aboriginal Multimedia's Classroom editions.
(The next day): Somethihg about that think piece bothered and jogged at my memory so I did a bit of research. Turns out what was nagging at me was the name of Chief Walter Twinn, of the Sawridge band. What memory didn't preserve, but books and InterNet archives did, is one of the rawest, nastiest incidents in Native history, the Canadian government's creation of a fake Alberta band, the Woodland Cree. The Woodland Cree band was created by using an obscure portion of the Indian Act that allows Canada to do this, and to transfer band members here and there for its convenience. The federally-created (in 1989) band was made up of members of a variety of different bands (including a few Lubicon Cree, who were tired of being poor during this courageous small Nation's 50 year struggle for its land rights that the United Nations has taken note of several times). The Canadian government created a fake band (the Woodland Cree) -- which immediately voted to accept a Canadian land settlement offer of $55 million in a referendum where voters were paid $50 to be driven to the polls in Canadian government cars, and $1,000 per family member if they voted yes to the offer (that the Lubicons had been rejecting for many years -- that's why the fake band was created). Where C-31 enters this story is that Canada got some of these new Woodlanders from C-31's first assigned to Lubicon as Lubicon descendants then transferred to the rolls of the newly-created fake Woodland Cree band.
Here's some links, if you want to pursue this story, which is certainly interesting in its horrifying way:
July 2, 1991, a 15-part mailout from the Lubicon Cree centering on an attempt to engineer recognition of this fake new body by Treaty 8 Grand Council. Documents, statements, attachments -- but it's not that long, the division into parts was due to the limitations of thier information transmission system -- and interference with their phone lines. If you read it through, you'll learn the obscure poretions of the Indian Act that Canada used to create the fake band, to undercut the Lubicons' 50-year struggle for their land. The mailout begins with a discussion of the Treaty 8 Grand Council maneuvers to get multitribal recognition (from this body) for the government-created fake band, the Woodland Cree.. Walter Twinn's name comes up pretty fast:
Lubicon Supporters' Home Page -- here you can follow up on the Lubicon story, which is outside the scope of my little editorial here about C-31 and population.
Here's a quote from the long 1991 mail-out by the Lubicons, about maneuverings within the then newly-created Treaty 8 Grand Council, to gain inter-band recognition from Native Nations for the government-created Woodland Cree Band, which was about to vote to accept the government's land settlement offer. "Halcrow [then Grand Chief of the Treaty 8 Grand Council which had been created just a short time before] is the known protege and admirer of a man named Walter Twinn. Twinn is the Chief of a small, oil-rich northern Alberta Band called the Sawridge Band. As of a few years ago Chief Twinn was the single largest financial contributor in the country to the ruling conservative party -- bigger than Esso Oil. He is the proud holder of a highly desirable and lucrative hotel franchise granted by the Federal Government in Jasper National Park. And he's recently been appointed to the prestigious Canadian Senate by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney."
The Lubicon mail-out preserved by Big Computer in the Sky goes on to detail shifty maneuverings by various folks that are in with Twinn, aimed at gaining Treaty 8 Grand Council recognition for the federally-created fake band which the Canadian government created to sign off on the Lubicons' land claims.
So that's what was nagging at me about Twinn's role in this C-31 lawsuit, why his role in it somehow bothered me.
Sure, Twinn knows that Canada could bring in a bunch of C-31's (though they could just as well recruit by visiting people's houses with suitcases of cash), and either split them off from his rich little band (taking the band's assets with them) or do just about anything else they wanted to. Twinn knows this because they did it -- and he was helping them do it -- to the Lubicons 6 years ago. Is he running scared now, fearing the same tactics may now be aimed at him, his oil-rich band? Well, I don't know the facts here, and the above link is info from a partisan source, but when I started looking, I found plenty of confirmations that didn't come from Lubicon mail-outs. The situation was described by all (except the Canadian feds) pretty much as the Lubicon link above has it. When push came to shove, Twinn and his allies weren't able to push through the Grand Council a recognition of the Canada-created Woodland Cree band. He voted No himself, to avoid being isolated as in favor of (or part of) these government tactics, and had a hard time explaining that to the press. Recognition by other Council Nations will probably come to the Woodland Cree after some time has passed and the origins of this newly created, federal government band, newly-rich from their federal payoff, are forgotten.
A few months after the events recounted in that 1991 link occurred, the newly-created Woodland Cree Band got their federal rides to the polls, collected their $1050 per vote, approved a $60 million cash settlement for themselves, and got some worthless (no oil, no trees) land for themselves. I don't know if Grand Council Treaty 8 has recognized them yet or not, but possibly the Woodland Cree don't care. Some of the newly-rich (from payoff) band's members -- including the tribal chief at that time -- were recruited for the new fake band right off of Lubicon rolls. Some (not too many) were C-31's. Some were recruited from about a dozen other impoverished bands around the area, some not living on their reserves, but in cities, though they were band members, not C-31's. This recruitment took place after a federally-engineered attempt to electorally unseat the Lubicons' long-time elected chief had failed.
So, whatever Twinn may now be afraid of for his oil-rich Sawbridge band, the fact is that what the Canada Act and the rest of Canada's apparatus seems to allow Canada to do to any Indian Nation they can do with or without C-31's in their pockets. Because they have deep pockets, with lots of money in them, especially when the world's major oil companies, and a giant Japanese paper company (using Lubicon trees) are right behind them. That's a lot of money to buy people with. You can easily buy enough home-grown bodies, you don't have to fool around bringing in C-31's, from some distant city.
So a simple population graph can lead to many thoughts. Most of these thoughts are about numbers, but the powerful numbers in this situation, are dollars, money, not people. The pig Nations situation that Jeanette Armstrong, through Tommy/Slash, worried about in 1980, seems to be rapidly advancing.
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Text, maps and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1997
CREDITS: The graph was prepared by the Canadian national Mapping Service, as an ad for a population map sold through them. I reduced its filesize from 76K to 12K and clarified the printing on it.
Last Updated: 4/24/97