The Fractured Nation Interviews

Boom-Boom Singh

My Brother's Keeper

Canada - The Fractured Nation Interviews Boom-Boom: Yes, yes you got it. You get the gold star. In 1880 something, mostly native women packed twenty-nine million one-pound cans of sockeye salmon. That is the equivalent of six million salmon in one year.

Johnny: That’s a lot of salmon!

Boom-Boom: Yes and what happened when salmon stock started to decline?

Johnny: They instituted conservation measures???

Boom-Boom: Yeah, sure boss. They looked for somebody to blame, silly.

Johnny: Who could they blame except the commercial fishermen?

Boom-Boom: Yes, but not the white commercial fishermen. They blamed the same people, the same people they blamed a hundred and twenty years later when irresponsible commercial fishing and pollution brought the stocks of wild salmon to the brink of extinction.

Johnny: You are not saying that they blamed…

Boom-Boom: ... the women’s husbands.

Johnny: You’re kidding?

Boom-Boom: In 1880 something, with the salmon in decline, the canners and the white commercial fishermen wasted no time blaming the Indians – hate that name – for the declining salmon stock. The government of British Columbia urged on by the companies and the white commercial fishermen convinced the government in Ottawa to severely curtail Native fishing rights. They would again blame the Natives – actually they never stopped blaming the Natives.

Johnny: They started blaming Canada’s first inhabitants for the decline in salmon fish stocks all the way back then. That’s unbelievable, especially when you consider that Natives had been occupying the west coast of Canada for over forty thousands years with no recorded decline in fish and animal species and, within a few decades of the white man’s arrival, the salmon is in decline and the fur trade close to collapse. That is quite unbelievable.

Boom-Boom: If you don’t believe me, look it up in a wonderful old book about the history of Canada’s native people called I Have Lived Here Since the World Began by a fellow called Arthur Ray.

Johnny: I will. You know, your story about the near extinction of the West coast salmon brings to mind the fishing to extinction of the cod, the haddock, the capelin and just about every other species of fish on the Canadian East coast.

Boom-Boom: Not to mention the near extinction of the lobster fisheries.

Johnny: Thank goodness the United Nations took over management of that fishery before Canada managed that fishery into extinction as well.

Boom-Boom: Here’s an easy question.

Johnny: Not another question [laughing], our viewers will think you are trying to take over my show.

Boom-Boom: It’s the last one. I promise. Who did those fishermen blame for that near extinction of the lobster?

Johnny: The natives?

Boom-Boom: Congratulation. You’re a fast learner. Of course it was the Natives, in this case the Micmacs of New Brunswick.

Johnny: I guest the Beothuks of the former province of Newfoundland were fortunate in some ways – they were not around to be blamed for the collapse of the East cost fisheries, having preceded the fish into oblivion.

Boom-Boom: Yes, and they didn’t live to witness the disappearance of countless of their brothers and sisters. How many tribes were there before the Fracture and how many are left?

Johnny: I’m not sure. Before The Fracture there were, I believe, six hundred and thirty-three tribes. Now the number is probably half that. Except for a handful of anthropologists, there is not that much interest in the plight of Canada’s first inhabitants, which brings up my reason for quoting chief Shinguacouse of the Ojibwa at the beginning of the show...

Boom-Boom: It’s too bad that the Natives did not have the strong community ties and organization that allowed members of ACNA to survive intact and prosper once order was reestablished.

Johnny: Yes, the power struggle was in the cities and towns, not on Native reserves. Once the central government of Canada was no more, they had no champion in the struggle for territory that followed the Fracture. And, if I may be allowed a small criticism of ACNA; it was not overly concerned that the land it claimed for its members was not already the property of the first inhabitants.

Boom-Boom: Those property rights claimed by Natives were based on treaties which were negotiated with the old British Crown and the former Government of Canada. The obligations of the British Crown were assumed by the government of Canada, at Confederation I believe. It may have been later. But all this is irrelevant today. Ten years ago this week, the country of Canada disappeared and with it any treaty obligations.

Johnny: Perhaps the treaties were no longer enforceable, with no central authority to enforce them, but wasn’t there a moral obligation?

Boom-Boom: What moral obligation? The money and land that was granted under those treaties was in large part, as far as most ACNA members are concerned – especially the money – guilt payments, white Anglo-Saxon guilt payments for stealing the land and mistreating the Native population. The citizens of the member states of ACNA were not here, at least not in any great number when this robbery of Native lands took place. In fact, many ancestors of citizens of ACNA when they first came to Canada were subjected to some of the same discriminatory practices and thievery, the best known being the seizure of Japanese Canadian’s property and their interment during the Second World War.

Johnny: Yes. I’m familiar with those events but…

Boom-Boom: Not only are they responsible for what happened to them then, but they are also responsible for what is happening to them now.

Johnny: How’s that? I mean, why are they responsible for what’s happening to Natives now?

Boom-Boom: Who created the system that led to the Fracture in the first place? It was the white Anglo-Saxon and French majority in the Canadian Parliament. The Fracture as Dr. Diane makes clear can be traced back to the Neanderthal politics of that fellow Mulruney [sic] and his Conservatives and the Liberal governments that followed. All these governments tried to return the country to the 19th century economic system that exploited immigrants and it back-fired, back-fired badly. Let them, let the white Anglo-Saxon and French continue their guilt payments and look after them – the Natives.

Johnny: You know that is not possible. The Québec government couldn’t care less, after all, the Natives in every referendum voted overwhelmingly against separation. It’s payback time in le beau pays. The remaining, what you called the white Anglo-Saxons communities are deeply divided, their attention is now taken up with dealing with the Asian Commonwealth of North America, the Holly Alliance of Muslim Municipalities, the North American African-Caribbean League, and their economy is in such a bad shape that it…

Boom-Boom: And whose fault is that? Look it’s not that I am not sympathetic to the plight of Canada’s first inhabitants but, you must understand, we don’t have a past.

Johnny: What do you mean?

Boom-Boom: There is no substantive shared history between Canada’s first inhabitants and Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Sikhs and Tamils, therefore, convincing members of the Commonwealth to provide more help than you would a stranger in distress is very difficult, if not impossible. Also, it’s no secret that before The Fracture many of the minorities that are now under the ACNA umbrella considered the first inhabitants a pampered minority – that lack of shared history again – that they should not have had anymore rights than any other minority and definitely not the billions of dollars that were given to them every year under the now obsolete treaties. This is a view that is still shared by a majority of the members of ACNA, the North American African-Caribbean League and of course the Holly Alliance of Muslim Municipalities.

Johnny: To be fair, it’s not only members of ACNA, H.A.M.M. and NAACL that feel no moral or fiduciary responsibilities to Canada’s first inhabitants. As just mentioned, after The Fracture, the new country of Québec is not exactly respectful of those treaty rights.

Boom-Boom: I feel a tremendous sadness for Canada’s first inhabitants; sadness for the tribes that are no longer with us; sadness because they lost their country, not once but twice; sadness that they now find themselves in a no man’s land, in disputed territories of the new alliances that don’t recognized their ancestral claims; sadness for the many that are being killed in scenes reminiscent of the hunting of the Beothuks; sadness for those who are slowing starving to death. To me, it would be like if my ancestral lands became the property of my enemy. I really feel for them, but they lost their country and it was not because of anything citizens of ACNA did. They mostly did it to themselves with a little help from their friends. Their new country, Canada became, after The Fracture, just scattered pieces of real estate; we are just picking up the pieces and trying to create a new country out of them.

Johnny: What do you think of the words spoken by chief Shinguacouse of the Ojibwa, almost two-hundred years ago which I quoted at the beginning of tonight’s show?

Boom-Boom: To me it’s a warning to choose your friends very carefully.

Johnny: That’s all?

Boom-Boom: Look, [showing signs of frustration] ACNA will do anything, is doing everything that can be done and more. There is even a resolution before the Commonwealth Council of Ministers to integrate those tribes willing to give up their claims to some of the Commonwealth’s lands into our own societies.

Johnny: I don’t think they will do that. Not even in the face of starvation and losing the few remaining sanctuaries south of the 60th parallel.

Boom-Boom: You’re probably right. It is really too bad; if only they had shown the same resolve when the Europeans first set foot on their land. But their fate was sealed when they welcomed the Europeans and for what: to trade, believing that they, the Europeans had attractive stuff to trade and would be fair free-traders. In exchange for a few trinkets and baubles they gave up a continent.

Johnny: It’s interesting how the fate of alleged primitive cultures and the fate of more advance nations like Canada is decided by economics or more specifically the value some economic systems place on acquisition, trade and greed. Both, you could say, were the victims of bad economics, of bad trade deals.

Boom-Boom: Dr. Diane would definitely agree and as mentioned previously so do I, to a large extent.

Johnny: So getting back to the central question that this series is trying to answer. What, in your opinion, was the key decision or event that made The Fracture inevitable? I realize you have already partly answered this question by telling us that you are largely in agreement with Dr. Diane Frances Smith’s theory. What would you add to that theory to make it complete?

Boom-Boom: The Fracture, love that term, so easy to pronounce, so full of meaning. Yes, I agree with Dr. Diane that the import of cheap labour, which was part of an exploitive economic system harking back to the economics of the late 19th century, contributed to The Fracture. The new or should I say the old economic model the Mulroney Conservatives put in place might have worked back then, but it would not work again with a more educated class of immigrants who knew a scam when they saw it.

Johnny: What scam?

Boom-Boom: That the promise of a better life in Canada was on the condition that at least one generation of immigrants wipe the arses and empty the bedpans of its aging white population and the next generation pay the pensions of this same population of idle old people who could not or would not look after themselves. Freedom fifty-five required a steady flow of this cheap almost slave labour from poor countries. That was the scam.

Johnny: I must admit, the descendants of the early resourceful, self-reliant Canadian settlers, in the years leading to The Fracture, were somewhat of a disappointment.