As you are aware, my political leanings tend towards Attila the Hun, slightly right of centre. Moreover, during my working life I have spent time working with Aboriginal leadership, as well as devoting some energies to writing (including books). So it was with interest that I acquired two books recently: Rez Rules (by Chief Clarence Louie) and Indian in the Cabinet (by Jody Wilson-Raybould). I have read them both cover to cover, though not at one sitting and not without some very diverse reactions. Nevertheless I wholeheartedly encourage you to buy the books, read them and share them… here’s why.
Neither book is a fun read. Neither book will be enjoyed by any political leader or serious political groupie for that matter. Both books are uncomfortable and not without their biases. Each comes with its own style, its own message and its own impact.
Chief Louie’s book reads like he speaks (I have had several conversations with him over the years and he was a guest on a ZOOM conference I moderated year ago). In fact as one reads it, one is immediately transported into the on-reserve world wherein he primarily works. Some will find his style off-putting – they will want him to have it re-written by a graduate of some prominent English department at a Canadian university. Too bad, so sad – that would not be Chief Louie and furthermore you would not get the visceral yet cerebral insights into what makes one of Canada’s best Indian leaders tick. (And by the way, both these individuals are not afraid to call themselves Indian and they are in the truest sense what Christopher Columbus called them In Deo – children of God!)
There are things that he says that I don’t agree with. There are things he posits that I take issue with. There are even places where I’m not so sure he isn’t off-centre if not wrong. But by the time I got to the end of the book, those places paled in comparison to the overall message that he is conveying. He is telling a story, a story that needs to be heard by every municipal government, provincial government and federal government that have any dealings at all with Aboriginal peoples. Read this book and you will better understand why life is still not going well for many reserves.
As importantly every Band Chief, every Tribal Councilor, every regional or national Aboriginal leader needs to read this book and then I dare those individuals to try to offer up a critique of it. If we had one hundred Chief Louie’s across the country, there would be no Indian problem. But we also would have a much different relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal governments. Unfortunately the federal government would be stymied, because it would have to get off the socialist agenda and try to understand the business mind. Then it would have to quit caving to every Aboriginal demand and start framing the question: How do we partner? I’m not sure the national Aboriginal leadership (whether Indian, Inuit or Métis) is ready for that, but it is 2022 after all and it is about time we all started acting accordingly. Focusing on graveyards is not nearly as helpful in the long-term as building new economies. And for many Aboriginal communities that means partnering on resource development & building infrastructure. If anybody has any doubt about this, re-read the book. There are some Bands, there are some Aboriginal communities that will struggle and even stagnate – sorry but that is a short term price to be paid. Invest in those that are wanting and willing to work, and we will soon have them ready and able.
Chief Louie should be seconded to lead a small group of business, faith and Aboriginal leaders to start mapping out real project opportunities such as a resource corridor to Churchill, another one across Ontario & Quebec and through the Maritimes, Keystone XL, and perhaps another from the prairies to Prince Rupert. Oil, gas, electricity all should be part of it. Maybe even nuclear plants alongside wind & solar ventures. Unleash the latent power that resides within the Aboriginal community – get them working, let them become wealthy, provide them the avenues to be themselves, as they once were.
And that brings me to the other book. I am not sure I have ever met Jody, but I have met her father. Back when I was part of the leadership of the Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) I conducted a series of sessions as part of a public inquiry into the state of the resource. One of the people I was warned about was Bill Wilson. When I finally met him, I actually found him to be quite sane and his focus was simply on making sure that the Aboriginal interests in the fishery were not ignored but enhanced and strengthened. He was one of the forces behind the inspiration to develop an educational program package (eventually this resulted in Salmonids in the Classroom which in a somewhat edited and transformed way continues to this day). Knowing her father, did give me some insight into where she gets her passion for seeing that the right things are done.
But Jody’s book is also not for the faint of heart. If you are interested in the governance of this intriguing and somewhat disparate nation called Canada, you have to be tough to get through her writing. She is a lawyer and writes more like one than a leader on a reserve. She has kept meticulous notes of her journey in the federal government so I have no doubt that her book is her view of things. Even if you are not a Liberal, you will be uncomfortable reading this book (for I am convinced her critique falls equally as hard on the Harper Conservatives, and would be as scathing on the BC government’s NDP or the Alberta UCP). She really had uncovered what most of us have likely suspected but did not have the access necessary to put pen to paper. We have let our governments become less responsible and consequently less responsive.
What do I mean by this? Well, in 2015 I told more than one Liberal insider that the best thing that the young Trudeau could do to bring this country back together would be to re-establish Cabinet Government. Give ministers their mandates, let them loose to carry these directives out, and hold them responsible for their successes and miscues. Moreover, give regular MP’s a real opportunity to participate in government – worry not about re-election, focus on accomplishment, on putting good policy together – policy that evolves from the entire House of Commons, and then turning that over to the public service to implement. If the government was to act fairly, openly and responsibly, great things would result and Canada would be truly more likely to achieve greatness in the coming decades.
Jody’s book starts from almost the same premise. More importantly she was part of the Cabinet and so was in a position to help make this new world a reality. As well, she was coming from an Aboriginal context, so there was a real opportunity to cross that divide as well. I hate to say it, but her book clearly outlines why we are a nation more divided than ever. That the Trudeau government has operated almost in parallel to the Trump-styled administration to the south – and as the PM has said on more than one occasion, he admires those totalitarian governments that can get things done. Ironically with all the power he has amassed in the PMO he actually has only accomplished a few things, including getting re-elected. (And, by the way, I will not rant against the LibDipper deal – I said right after the election that if parties really wanted to try out proportional representation a coalition could be the route to go: I just wanted the three opposition parties to do it – at least Singh would have been in the cabinet!!)
There are parts of Jody’s book that make me cringe because in some ways Trudeau has out-harpered Harper. (Sidebar: Harper at least understood economics!) Her description of the challenges a Cabinet Minister had to try to have a conversation with the Prime Minister are sad. That the PMO was so paranoid is aggravating. That competence was only acknowledged if one parroted what the PM wanted, is dangerous. As I say, her book is one tough read – I’m glad she has written it but I think every federal leader should have to respond to how they would do things differently. And then the same probing interviews should be held with every Premier and every Leader of the Opposition in every Province as well as each of the Territories. And the interviews should be recorded and shown on CPAC, Knowledge Network and every private broadcasting network. I am appalled that there hasn’t been more coverage and more challenging of the political leadership as to why they are facilitating this decay of responsibility in our governing systems.
Of course, I think the same thing is true about Chief Louie’s book. Where are the tough journalists – at a time when reconciliation is such a woke term, why aren’t we being inundated with interviews with our leadership peoples and parties asking how they are going to respond? If we ignore these two books, as uncomfortable as they are, we place democracy in peril in this country and we also take an unnecessarily longer time to get through reconciliation to a place where we really do treat each other equally and responsibly. I frankly don’t care what your political stripe is, we need to recognize that we, as a nation, are in serious need of listening to voices that make us uncomfortable by facing up to the twin realities: we aren’t very good at making sure Aboriginal peoples have a real ownership in the land/resources beneath their feet, and we are even worse at listening to them, even when we have invited them into our more inner most circles.
As an old sage once said: Read ‘em and weep!!