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I started to read Doug Bland’s novel Uprising in 2009, shortly after it was first published.
I didn’t finish only because I was then embroiled in my own non-fiction account of the native occupation in Caledonia, Ont., three years earlier. As always for me, this is a time of great writerly insecurity, and I was afraid both of distraction and of being intimidated unto paralysis by the excellence of someone else’s book.
I still haven’t quite made my way through Uprising’s almost 500 pages, despite an all-day effort, but reading it now is considerably creepy-crawlier than it was before, amid the widespread protests, hunger strikes, flash mobs and assorted other actions of the aboriginal Idle No More movement.
Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Bland, until 2011 the Chair of Defence Management Studies at Queen’s in Kingston, was already a respected author when Uprising was released, but not of fiction.
In fact, he says, he wrote the first draft “as a typical academic book,” realized afterwards that the only people who would read it were other academics, and did it again as fiction.
It is fiction too, but barely reads or feels like it. What it feels like is possible.
The story is one of armed revolution, or insurrection, by aboriginal young people trained and led by a disciplined core of native veterans of the Canadian army, all of them brought together by a charismatic aboriginal leader named Molly Grace.
Almost equally fed up with and disdainful of the “white settlers” and the “white Indian” chiefs who have played footsie with Canadian governments for decades, Grace harnesses all the disaffection that has been simmering for so long, both on reserves and within the lonely hearts of many of those who leave them and succeed.
As one of the book’s characters, ex-warrant officer Will Boucanier, once says, “The white man’s economy took away the reasons, the rhythms of the old ways, turning tradition into inertia, ignorance and stale custom. But it didn’t bring [native] people into its rhythms either; it left them wandering like vagrants between a world that no longer existed and one they couldn’t enter.”
Grace’s solution — her “third way,” neither to remain on reserves, in too many instances scratching out an existence, nor assimilation into the Canadian mainstream — is to take back the land by force.
Lt.-Col. Bland’s three decades in the Canadian Forces — his intimate knowledge of how the army establishment works and how the political one often doesn’t — render this scenario plausible.
What really makes it so is that the fictional conditions underlying the uprising in the book so mirror the reality of modern Canada.
For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/01/03/christie-blatchford-when-aboriginal-conflicts-arent-stranger-than-fiction/