Grim report warns Canada vulnerable to an aboriginal insurrection – by John Ivison (National Post – May 2, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Mankind is at a crossroads, Woody Allen once quipped: “One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Canada’s relations with its aboriginal people are also at a crossroads but, fortunately, one of the potential paths forward promises a more auspicious outcome than Mr. Allen’s doomsday scenario.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute think-tank laid out the options in two important essays released Wednesday. One paper, by Ken Coates and Brian Lee Crowley, outlines an optimistic vision where aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians find ways to collaborate on natural resource development, to the benefit of all.

A more pessimistic report, by Douglas Bland, suggests that Canada has all the necessary “feasibility” conditions for a violent native uprising — social fault lines; a large “warrior cohort”; an economy vulnerable to sabotage; a reluctance on the part of governments and security forces to confront aboriginal protests; and a sparsely populated country reliant on poorly defended key infrastructure like rail and electricity lines.

Mr. Coates and Mr. Lee Crowley suggested that aboriginal people are in a “sweet spot” when it comes to natural resource development — the result of treaty agreements, court settlements and Supreme Court decisions.

Mr. Coates said many First Nations have made it clear they want to work within the structure of Canada by taking their grievances to court, a process that culminated with a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2004 that said companies who want to develop resources on traditional native land have a “duty to consult and accommodate.” This gives aboriginal people substantial influence over resource decisions, if not a legal veto, and has led to the emergence of well-funded community development corporations, impact-benefit agreements, indigenous collaboration and resource revenue sharing. (British Columbia has led the way with a new mineral tax.)

The authors point out these kinds of deals are not a panacea — the troubled Attawapiskat reserve has a royalty-sharing agreement with De Beers over its Victor diamond mine, yet has recently seen a state of emergency declared again.

But their conclusion is that even such movements as Idle No More —“overwhelmingly peaceful and culturally rich” — suggest accommodation is possible, if native Canadians receive a “fair” share of the country’s wealth.

That’s the good news. There’s precious little sunshine in Douglas Bland’s paper, Co-operation or Conflict?

He took the accepted “feasibility” hypothesis, developed by researchers at Oxford University, as the basis for predicting civil unrest and applied it to Canada. The findings are scary enough to make you stock up on canned food and start digging your bunker.

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