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One of my most enduring political memories occurred during the 1995 referendum campaign. The 16,000 Cree Indians in and around James Bay illuminated their resistance to Quebec’s separation from Canada with a reminder that the fate of Quebec’s remote, undefended (and indefensible) hydro-electric facilities was theirs to command. Their not-so-veiled threat awoke me to the obvious fact that Canada’s great territorial mass, a bulwark against external menace, also makes it vulnerable to domestic insurgents.
Most of Canada’s energy and transportation hubs run through native lands. Revanchist natives sometimes taunt Canadians with merely inconvenient road and rail blockades; yet these also semaphore the real economic disaster they could inflict on us if they chose to wage an actual sustained campaign of violence and disruption. Covert, sometimes overt, intimations of an approaching crisis speckle the discourse. Recently, for example, Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said, “Canadian society must heal the damage caused by the Indian residential school system or deal with the violence that will be undoubtedly unleashed against it.”
It seems the more money that is thrown at native problems, the more resentment over past injustices grows, which in turn leads to contests over ungoverned spaces. When that happens, natives are treated with kid gloves. Former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Julian Fantino, for instance, admits that he backed off from confronting natives decisively in the Caledonia, Ont. fiasco because, otherwise, “we’ll have an uprising across the country.”
An uprising. Most Canadians would prefer not to imagine such a scenario – including those whose job it is to do so. In 2008, during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Senator Roméo Dallaire put this question to former prime minister Paul Martin: “Is the internal security risk rising as the youth see themselves more and more disenfranchised? In fact, if they ever coalesced, could they not bring this country to a standstill?” Mr. Martin’s reply: “My answer, and the only one we all have, is we would hope not.”
Hope not? Hope not?
It was out of frustration over Martin’s – and other political leaders’ – passivity on this file that Doug Bland, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Forces, now chair in defence studies at Queen’s University, wrote his recently published novel, Uprising. A riveting read, the book posits a series of loosely co-ordinated, but crippling, panic-inducing strikes by native guerrillas on Canada’s most vulnerable energy and transportation installations.
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