Book Review

The Comeback

How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power And Influence
By John Ralston Saul
Viking, 2014

Taking back the power

By Jeanette Stanfield

The Comeback refers to the journey of the Aboriginal people in Canada over the last 100 years as seen from this moment of the Idle No More Movement and the issue of treaty rights.

Treaties were established between indigenous nations and Britain before Canada became a country. There have been ongoing disputes and court cases focused on these treaties. In 2012, the Canadian government began passing bills that removed protection for many waterways and weakened environmental laws. These new laws could violate the land management rights granted to indigenous peoples.

Four young women, three of them indigenous, decided to do a teach-in in Saskatchewan in November 2012. The Idle No More Movement was born. Soon teach-ins were taking place all across Canada. Round dances became a symbol of the movement. Led mainly by young women, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people participated. Today this movement is particularly active in local communities. Founders talk about their purpose: empowering the voice of the grassroots because the environment affects us all.

Author John Ralston Saul is a prominent Canadian political philosopher and writer.  He and his wife, Adrienne Clarkson, a former Governor-General of Canada, founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a not-for-profit that encourages active citizenship of all people.

Saul makes several strong statements in Comeback relative to the relationship of non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people in Canada.

Aboriginal people do not need or want sympathy, guilt or empathy.  They want their rights - of treaty, culture, language and respect.

Canada has a great gift in being a multi-cultural country. This gift has been created on the foundations of Aboriginal values in dialogue with the French and British. The complex Aboriginal ideas of belonging and identity allow the respect for diversity found here today. They work because they are not based on population, financial numbers, race or power.

There is a difference between ethical authority and power. The Supreme Court of Canada is currently upholding Aboriginal land claim and treaty rights agreed to in the 18th and 19th centuries. The government is appealing against some of those rulings. Canadian taxpayers end up paying for those appeals.

Saul shares the ways Aboriginal peoples across Canada are coming back to a position of power, influence and civilizational creativity. I will share a few lines from his chapter, History is Upon Us - a reflection on the Idle No More Movement and treaty rights.

“The whole country seemed to be hypnotized by the seemingly abrupt arrival of indigenous people at the very centre of national consciousness. I say “seemingly” because the Canadian people and our government have not been paying attention. This was not just a rough patch in Aboriginal relations with the rest of Canada… Aboriginal people were at the very centre of national affairs because that is where they belong. They were at the centre of the national consciousness, as they should be, but in a way that reminded anyone willing to listen of what was and is at stake. This is the great issue of our time, the great unresolved Canadian question upon which history will judge us all.”

This book helped clarify for me the history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. In his last section, Saul shares letters that Aboriginal leaders wrote over the last 100 years or more to government representatives. I am in wonder about the consistent messages Aboriginal leaders sent about their treaties and rights. I am in deep pain over the manipulative responses they received from our governments and us. I am glad that young people are daring to confront this situation in thoughtful ways through the Idle No More Movement.
I am grateful for the role Aboriginal values have played in forging a multi-cultural society in Canada. I am aware that Aboriginal people have more legal rights over care of land, water, animals and plants than the rest of us do and much more wisdom about sustainable care of the earth. Their wisdom and that of other Aboriginal peoples around the world are vital for creating sustainable societies. This wisdom is nestled in Aboriginal languages and cultures.   

Respect and encouragement of Aboriginal people to speak their languages and rediscover their cultures are a crucial aspect of their own healing and the healing of our planet. This book is a classic and needs to be read by every Canadian.


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