On “Louis: The Heretic Poems”, by Gregory Scofield

In Louis: The Heretic Poems Gregory Scofield has created a moving and troubling poetic biography of Louis Riel. Combining his own imaginings of Riel’s (and others’) poetic musings — in English, Cree and a little French — with found poetry from such sources as Canadian Government immigration propaganda and House of Commons debate records.  Throughout is a dense net of Biblical allusion, as small portion of which I mention below.  The result is a fascinating portrait of a brilliant man thrust through his life by sensuality and Messianic drive.  Whether a madman or a prophet, the Riel Scofield brings us is wonderfully heretical.

Scofield has divided his cycle of poems into four parts: Le Garçon covers Riel’s life up to the end of his schooling; Le Président deals with his part in the Red River Rebellion and Provisional Government, his exile and his time in the Beauport Assylum; Le Porte-Parole deals in a fascinatingly oblique way with the Northwest Rebellion; and L’Homme d’État takes us through Riel’s last days.

The cycle begins in the voice of Riel’s Chipewyan Great Grandmother Marie Joseph leBlanc reciting a geneology parallel to those that open the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but the recitation is distinctly oral in texture rather than literary, and the diction while using English vocabulary, has an odd hybrid syntax — the sounds of Marie Joseph’s Dene Suline and French come through to those who heed her repeated injunction to “Open your ears . . .”  From these opening lines, Riel is a Christ figure.

Young Louis Riel then describes the long journey through the U.S. (the Canadian Pacific Railroad was still unbuilt) to school in Montreal before his two “Contrition” poems, “#7” asking forgiveness in the voice of a budding Messiah and “#3″ singing the emotional torrent of physical love in echoes of the Song of Solomon.  These two forces, Messiahhood and sensuality, will come to be in constant tension through Riel’s life and leadership as related in Scofield’s poems.  In” The Interview” and “Communion with David”, from Riel’s time in Beauport Assylum after the Red River Rebellion, Riel sings Old Testament style Psalms (cf. Psalms 89: 19ff. and 23:5ff.) identifying himself with King David and later, in “Dear Sir, To You I Say”, Riel stands up to Sir John A. MacDonald in Messianic terms, concluding with the ominous statement, again linking Riel to Christ through Matthew 10:34, that

I am only a poor poet
A lamb with a gun.

In contrast to the Messianic passages,  echoes of the Song of Solomon reverberate through, for example, “The Sacrament of Marie-Julie” and “The Confession of Evelina”.  In “I am a Poet”, Riel is at his most sensual, describing himself like a Métis Dionysus (with particular emphasis on his hair and moustache), but in Solomonic images rather than Classical.  And it is in “I am a poet” that the important image of the Orange first appears, here as a gift from Montreal, a city he describes as his lover. And the eating of the orange is described lovingly in parallel to poetic creation:

My mouth ran sweet. My pen
Never ceased. I am a poet.

When the Oranges reappear it is in the Red River Colony: the crate of rotten fruit who are, in fact, English Protestant settlers, Orangemen, who come to divide up Métis land amongst themselves, and who will ultimately cost Riel his life. Here, also in the context of the orange image, Riel recast’s the Lord’s Prayer as his own:

â-haw kisê-manitow
mâmaw-ôhtawîmaw
give us this day our daily oranges;
and forgive them their trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into war
but deliver us from theft.

For the land is our Kingdom,
and the power of our children,
forever and ever,
â-haw!

In contrast to the deep feeling, the deep oral history and geneology and the full blooded physicality of the poems of Riel and Dumont, of Marie Joseph, Evelina and the women of “The Sewing Circle”, the words of the Government in the found poems are cold, the shallow jargon of marketing, the formality of Sir John’s political debate polka, and the drunk, sad misogeny of “Sir John’s Reel”.  The fall of Louis Riel and the Métis Nation becomes clearly a tragedy of Biblical scale in Scofield’s hands, King David is hanged, his general in exile and his people scattered, the women weeping.

Primed by Scofield’s clear echoes of the Psalms and the Song of Solomon, I had open beside me as I read The Heretic Poems Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

But the deep tragedy (heresy?) of The Heretic Poems is that the Métis (and other aboriginal nations) are exiles not in a strange land, but in their own.  I, for one, am grateful that poets such as Scofield have found the voice to sing their songs in this, their own land, that they remember, and their tongues do not cleave to the rooves of their mouths, and that their writing hands have not forgot their cunning.  And all, whether rulers in Babylon or just trying to get by, must be grateful that the Old Testament sentiment of the last two verses of Psalm 137 have not been Scooped up by the heirs of Louis and Gabriel, of Big Bear and Poundmaker.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield is published by Nightwood Editions in collaboration with the Gabriel Dumont Institute.

End with a song:

A highly personal and idiosyncratic response to “Where the Blood Mixes” by Kevin Loring

This afternoon I had one of the most powerful theatrical experiences of my life in a converted movie theatre at a matinee performance of Kevin Loring’s Where the Blood Mixes.  This isn’t really a review of the play, the production or the performances.  This is more of a gushing forth of the complicated background of my personal response to a powerful, challenging, painful piece of theatre.

My first encounter with Where the Blood Mixes was reading the play in early April, 2011.  I was reading it because it had won the Governor General’s Literary Award and for some years I’ve made it a point to read as many GG winners as I can lay my hands on.  In that Spring of 2011 I was also immersed in some obscure and not so obscure bits of Fraser Valley history and literature.  I was planning a road trip with my daughter down the Valley to retrace as well as possible the walking journey of British Novelist Morley Roberts in the 1880s, shortly before the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  The setting of Loring’s play – Lytton, B.C., where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet – was a pleasant surprise, as Lytton was also the jumping off point for one of the most surreal episodes of Roberts’ trek, an episode which I was to learn sends out historical and literary tendrils which deeply inform Loring’s play for me.

Morley Roberts arrived in Lytton after walking away from his temporary employment laying track in the Kicking Horse Pass.  His plan, which he completed, was to walk to the coast, following what would soon be the Canadian Pacific Railway and what would much later become the Trans-Canada Highway.  I’ll skip over the vast majority of Roberts’s adventure.  If you can find a copy of his The Western Avernus, it’s a fascinating travelogue of a large part of Western North America in the 1880s, well worth discovering.  For the purposes of this reflection on Where the Blood Mixes I’ll just talk about Roberts’s walk from Lytton to what is now Boston Bar.

Roberts set out in the morning along the rough path which eventually would become, in large part, Highway 1, hugging the east slope of the Fraser Canyon.  His description are of a sublimely wild and untamed wilderness.  Throughout this section of his narrative, one has the distinct impression that he is travelling in a sort of mystic solitude.  As I read it I was put in mind of parts of Basho’s Narrow Road into the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi).  Roberts seems to be stumbling along in a timeless and endless primeval forest, forgetting himself whatever reason he might have come here or any goal he may have once had in mind.

But suddenly, Roberts is on the front porch of a nicely kept hotel!  Inside he finds that the house is kept by a clergyman and his assistant with the help of what Roberts describes as “a boy”.  Roberts spends the late afternoon and evening teaching the threesome how to make bread, enjoys a dinner with the two men, and then retires to the drawing room for cigars, fine liquor and a discussion of Latin poetry.  Then, fed, watered, intellectually stimulated, and rested, Roberts bids farewell to the hotel in the woods and walks off into the gather night.  In the utter darkness Roberts finally stumbles into a stopping house at Boston Bar.  The rest of his journey has none of the strangeness of that walk south from Lytton.

In fact, the “Hotel”  was Forty Mile House, now long disappeared, one of the many stopping houses left over from the Caribou Gold Rush.  After a good deal of research, I learned that the clergyman Roberts encountered was Richard Small, the head of the Anglican Mission at Lytton and the subject of a hagiographic little biography called Archdeacon on Horseback. Forty Mile House had recently been taken over by the Mission as a resting place on the Archdeacon’s circuit of his charges over the surrounding area.  Small was also responsible for the establishment of St. George’s Residential School, an act for which he is much praised by the authors of Archdeacon on Horseback.  What a wonderful gift he brought to the poor benighted native children!  Frankly, I gag when I read Archdeacon on Horseback.  St. George’s is the dark evil in the background of Where the Blood Mixes.  As Loring writes in his afterword, when the Band finally got control of the Residential School, they immediately tore it down it was such a painful wound on their community.

Another tendril, this one literary, runs from Roberts’ strange journey through Ethel Wilson’s great Canadian novel Swamp Angel.  Wilson’s protagonist, Maggie, leaves here marriage and flees by bus to Lytton from the south, the opposite direction from Roberts.  And her journey through the area is also a little surreal.  As she travels north, Maggie notices very carefully the changes in the landscape, a landscape eerily devoid of humanity.  But suddenly she sees an old overgrown cemetery with three decaying crosses in it.  When investigating the area on our road trip, at first I thought Wilson might have been describing the recently renovated Lytton Cemetery, but her description seemed to place the three crosses farther from the town.  As my daughter and I drove south, suddenly a small cemetery flashed past us.  At the first opportunity I returned to take a few photos.  I’d been keeping careful note of our odometer reading and later was able to work out that this cemetery, the one most likely described by Maggie in Wilson’s novel, is very near to the location of Forty Mile House, where Roberts spent his nice evening with the founder of the Residential School which is the reason for the generational agony in Where the Blood Mixes.

Do all these details surrounding Forty Mile House have any meaning or, indeed, anything to do with the play? I don’t know about for anyone else, but they add a new, personal depth to the play for me. For me. This is a highly personal (and idiosyncratic) response.

Earlier, as my daughter and I were approaching Lytton from the east, I noticed two aboriginal gentlemen climbing up over the grey boulders from the direction of the Thompson River bank, and I couldn’t help but think with fondness “they could be Floyd and Mooch!”  And it is here that I will come to the production I saw this afternoon.

I found the set to be brilliant.  Not minimalist but efficient.  Everything is of the river: the grey stones such as I noticed “Floyd and Mooch” climbing over as we approached Lytton; the riverworn logs which serve as bridge and bar; the crushed oil drum and old tire, the detritus of the Shum’mas, and the bit of railroad that brought the Shum’mas to the Place in the Heart Where the Blood Mixes.  The stage is lit before the play starts with a submarine blue: from the moment one enters the theatre, it is clear that this play is about what lies beneath the surface.  The sound design is all water and wind and the sounds of nature with at least one train whistle reminding us whence comes the pain.  And, of course, the skeletal sturgeon and eagle, water and wind,  which preside over the play must be mentioned in their ominousness.

Something that really caught my eye was the subtle detail of George (Robert Benz) mopping the floor as the cast sang Ashe’ Mashe’. The stage directions simply read: “GEORGE mops up the mess of the evening throughout”.  Read, it’s a detail easy to miss.  But in performance, as the five characters sing their individual songs of – of what? Regret? Redemption? Transformation? George’s mopping tells us, whether we know N’laka’pamuxtsn or not, that they each are singing a song of mopping up the mess.

The performances were all impressive.  I found it interesting to watch Lorne Cardinal, whom I remember from his time at the University of Alberta, now the almost-elder Canadian actor he has become.  His Floyd is at the opposite end of the dramatic spectrum from his Davis on Corner Gas.  Cardinal pulls off amazing work with emotionally difficult material.  “Emotionally difficult material” is an absurd understatement: Cardinal has dedicated his performance to his parents, both survivors of the Residential Schools genocide. Years ago I met Cardinal’s late father briefly at a wedding.  It was eerily startling to watch Cardinal fils becoming on stage the damaged man is own father so easily could have become.  For a moment I saw the father on stage, the father who had been peaceful and happy on the one occasion I ever saw him, for a moment I saw that calm man tormented and twisted in the trauma of survival and memory.

Craig Lauzon as Mooch also achieves the transition from the comic to the tragic between the beginning and end of the play with painful conviction.  There was just one brief moment near the beginning where I thought Lauzon might have zoned out and just recited a line or two rather than being Mooch, but then, maybe I zoned out.  Sera-Lys McArthur as Christine (and Anna) was beautifully ethereal in the dream sequences and beautifully urban in the real world. Her solo singing was dreamy and her “spoken word artist” Christine stuck in the Lytton Hotel bar was spot on.  Michaela Washburn as June was suitably terrifying in rage and achingly tender in vulnerability.  And Robert Benz as the Shum’ma barkeep, George was perfect as the jolly friend to all these damaged characters – as long as they kept their damage out of his bar unless it was being drowned.

But it feels a little stupid to be talking about the quality of the performances: I can’t imagine acting this painful material a single time, let alone night after night. This cast not only gets through it, they make it look, if not easy — it could never be easy — absolutely real.  That in itself is a theatrical miracle.

The facts of the Residential Schools catastrophe must be made known to all Canadians, of that I am firmly convinced.  Where the Blood Mixes in a production such as the one I saw this afternoon, makes the experience of the Residential Schools catastrophe just almost tangible to a Shum’ma like me.  And that touch is terrifying and unforgettable.

See Where the Blood Mixes. And buy the play: it’s published by Talon Books. And lobby your local school board to have it placed on the English curriculum in high school.  And the Social Studies curriculum.

Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring is being presented by Theatre Network at the Roxy Theatre until March 3, 2013.

Please see it, for the children who were taken, and that none will ever be taken again.

Reflections on the Senate in Ottawa

“A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”
– Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

For all of my adult life (and, I realize, pretty much since Confederation) the question of what to do with Canada’s Senate has been tossed about in our country’s public discourse.  For readers who don’t know about our particular bicameral Parliament: Our Upper House, The Red Chamber, The Senate, is a body whose members are appointed by the Governor General to near lifetime terms, unlike the House of Commons, whose members are elected by the people for limited terms.

Apart from the regular news stories about this or that scandal involving some sort of parasitism on the part of a Senator, much of the question surrounding the Senate concerns the very fact that, like Supreme Court Judges, Senators are appointed (through the Governor General) by the Government of the Day and remain in their positions, virtually immovable, long after the Government which appointed them has been replaced.  Is there a place in a modern democracy for un-elected legislators? Should the Senate be reformed to require fixed, short terms for Senators? Should Senators be elected? Should there be a division of legislative authority between elected houses? Or should the Senate simply be eliminated, leaving Canada with a unicameral Parliament such as the Provinces have and some notorious historical systems have had?

Upfront I will confess that I see absolutely no reason to do anything more than tinker carefully with the Senate. As I ramble on I will try to explain why I swim so perversely against the current current of political thinking in my country.  Despite the occasional abuses of individual Senators and despite the astonishing lack of wisdom displayed by some Prime Ministers in their appointments, I contend that the Senate continues to provide invaluable services and protections to Canadian democracy, to our Constitution, and to the citizens of our country.  And I don’t for a moment believe that these services and protections would be provided by either an elected or an abolished Senate or by any substitute I’ve heard imagined.

Wait! What about democracy?

Some might ask how a person so supportive of #IdleNoMore’s call for the honouring of Treaty Rights could be so in favour of an “undemocratic” body such as the Senate.  How could I, a long time supporter (but no more) of the New Democrats, Canada’s defenders of civil rights, argue in favour of this unelected bunch?  The Senate is, after all, just the sort of institution so condemned by Tom Paine in The Rights of Man. How can someone like me not cry out for the reform or abolition of the Senate? Well, the simple truth is that I think Tom Paine was a hopelessly Utopian idealist with absolutely no understanding of the implications of his imaginings if they were to actually be put into practice. Unlike Paine, I do not at all imagine that Rights depend on the sort of libertarian democracy he hoped would manifest itself in the French Revolution.  Indeed, Paine’s arch-rival, Edmund Burke criticized Paine’s sort thus:

The French faction considers as an usurpation, as an atrocious violation of the indefeasible rights of man, every other description of government.  Take it or leave it: there is no medium.
An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs

The real world is more messy than Paine pretended, and his beloved French Revolution proved that messiness amply.  Burke, the pragmatist mistaken for a waffler because he supported the American Revolution but dreaded and condemned the French, was supported by history.  There must be a medium, and it is Burke’s pragmatic ideas about the middle grounds of government which helped to solidify my support for a Canadian Senate in which Senators are appointed for terms stretching over the tenures of a great many elected Governments, even if some appointees, due to the foolishness or malice of Prime Ministers appointing them, will inevitably be useless parasites.  Every human institution is, I think we can all agree, doomed to host its share of parasites, whether that institution is elected or not.

But, don’t we have a right to elect our government?

I have myself alluded to Apartheid in South Africa. I’ve suggested that the argument that “those people can’t govern themselves” is specious (and racist, of course, wherever applied) as, regardless of ability or education, “those people”, whoever they are, always have the Right to govern themselves.  The fact is, however, that any people will inevitably make democratic blunders, some of them catastrophic.  I quite happily argue that “pure” democracy is no more a panacea than is any other form of government.  Burke wrote:

It is said that twenty-four millions ought to prevail over two hundred thousand. True; if the constitution of a kingdom be a problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does well enough with the lamp-post for its second; to men who may reason calmly, it is ridiculous. The will of the many and their interest must very often differ, and great will be the difference when they make an evil choice. A government of five hundred country attornies and obscure curates is not good for twenty-four millions of men, though it were chosen by eight and forty millions, nor is it the better for being guided by a dozen of persons of quality who have betrayed their trust in order to obtain that power.

—  Reflections on the Revolution in France

Abolition, Election, What?

Certainly at times – perhaps often as Burke suggests – the stated wishes of the electorate may differ from what is best for them, individually and/or collectively.   A democracy must have some mechanism of stability to act as a check on the whimsy of the electorate, the ideology of the representatives, and, most importantly, on the ambition of the Executive.  If Canada were to eliminate the Senate, such checking mechanisms would be reduced to: 1) appeal to the appointed courts; 2) the conflicting interests of the ten Provincial Legislatures, and; 3) the symbolism of the Governor General.  Indeed, the abolition of the Senate would give Canada a Parliament very similarly constituted to that of Weimar Germany.

We all, I hope, remember how that system worked out.

An elected Senate, if it were made up simply of members elected in a general election every five or so years, would be little other than a second House of Commons.  Does anyone really want to duplicate that?  What would be the point?  Would Parliament really be bicameral then? or would it not just be another Weimar Parliament which happened to occupy two rooms instead of one?

I’ve also heard the suggestion of modelling a Senate on the U.S. version, with a division of legislative powers between Senate and House.  Apart from the constant deadlock we see to the south, do we really want to abandon the Canadian experiment begun by those who rejected the rebellion against Britain? And I, for one, am not interested in having our Parliament reduced completely to what Burke calls “an auction of popularity”:

 . . . when the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators, the instruments, not the guides, of the people. If any of them should happen to propose a scheme of liberty, soberly limited and defined with proper qualifications, he will be immediately outbid by his competitors who will produce something more splendidly popular. Suspicions will be raised of his fidelity to his cause. Moderation will be stigmatized as the virtue of cowards, and compromise as the prudence of traitors, until, in hopes of preserving the credit which may enable him to temper and moderate, on some occasions, the popular leader is obliged to become active in propagating doctrines and establishing powers that will afterwards defeat any sober purpose at which he ultimately might have aimed.

—  Reflections on the Revolution in France

Indeed, much of the best and highest work of our Parliament is done by Senators who no longer have to win the auction of popularity.  The late Senator Eugene Forsey wrote:

The Senate’s main work is done in its committees, where it goes over bills clause by clause and hears evidence, often voluminous, from groups and individuals who would be affected by the particular bill under review. This committee work is especially effective because the Senate has many members with specialized knowledge and long years of legal, business or administrative experience. Their ranks include ex-ministers, ex-premiers of provinces, ex-mayors, eminent lawyers and experienced farmers.

In recent decades, the Senate has taken on the task of investigating important public concerns such as health care, national security and defence, aboriginal affairs, fisheries, and human rights. These investigations have produced valuable reports, which have often led to changes in legislation or government policy. The Senate usually does this kind of work far more cheaply than Royal Commissions or task forces because its members are paid already and it has a permanent staff at its disposal.

How Canadians Govern Themselves, pp. 34-5

Do we really want to discard the research and information gathering — the wisdom, in fact — that the Senate provides, at a more modest expense than it could be had any other way, to the Government of our country?

Term Length

I read somewhere that the great British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was once questioned (with an undertone of ridicule) about his weekly meeting over tea with Queen Victoria. The Right Honourable gentleman replied to his interlocutor that Her Majesty had been in daily contact with the governance of the Empire through the administrations of six Prime Ministers before him: he would be an utter fool not to seek Her Majesty’s advice on the affairs of the Realm.  Disraeli’s reply, whether apocryphal or not, is, I think, the single most compellingly cogent argument for the retention of Canada’s Senate as a body with virtual life membership. The Senate is our Parliament’s living history. Senators are the lingering voice of past governments, of past generations of electors, continuing to speak to the issues of today. They provide vital historical context to the government of the day and they bring a deeper memory, a longer view to the consideration of new legislation and the amendment of old laws.

Tom Paine wrote in The Rights of Man that no generation has “the right or power of binding and controlling posterity to the end of time.”  I certainly agree.  Oddly, when Paine wrote those words, he was claiming to be criticizing Burke’s position on such matters.  But Burke actually argued, like Paine, that Constitutional change definitely should be made when necessary, but, unlike Paine that such change should be made cautiously, with great deliberation, and with a desire to preserve rather than simply to innovate.  I would argue that dread of unanticipated consequences, concern for future generations of Canadians, and knowledge of and respect for our history should spur us all to have a sober second thought about radical change to the institutions of our venerable Parliament.

(The above was written in some haste with frequent interruptions this afternoon during brief moments of calm in the storm of a fairly messy bout of my daughter’s chronic illness.  Please forgive me for its sketchiness.  Someday I hope to have long, idyllic stretches of time in which to compose carefully crafted philosophical and historical arguments about all manner of things.  Today, alas, was not fated to be one of those idylls)

Update, November 16, 2013:  A few days ago,  squeezed between breathless coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and shocked coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the Toronto Star published an opinion piece by Carol Goar titled “Let Canadian Senate die of attrition”.  Ms. Goar makes the apparently obvious suggestion that Prime Ministers simply stop appointing Senators and Voila! the Senate will disappear in a decade or two with no need of Constitutional amendment or messy conversations with the Provinces.  My eventual reaction to this suggestion was “do you really think Mr. Harper hadn’t thought of this?”  My immediate reaction was “No. That won’t work.” And here is precisely why it wouldn’t work:

91. It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces; and for greater Certainty, but not so as to restrict the Generality of the foregoing Terms of this Section, it is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is “to say, —

Never mind the rest.  The important part is “With the Advice and Consent of the Senate”.  That’s it, right there in Section 91 of the Constitution Act 1867.  No Senate to give consent, no legislation by Parliament.  Sure, I guess one could leave the Red Chamber empty, but without a Constitutional Amendment, every Member of the House might as well go home as well. 

Last one out, turn off the lights of Canada’s experiment.

Update, June 12, 2015:  Now Michael Den Tandt, a political columnist with the National Post, has made a truly creative and absurd proposal to reform the Senate by simply having the Prime Minister appoint sitting Members of the House of Commons to the Senate, having them hold seats in both chambers.  “there is no explicit rule, that I am aware of, that prevents the prime minister from appointing an MP to the Senate, should he choose” Den Tandt writes. The obvious reason that Den Tandt is unaware of any such explicit rule is that he has never bothered to read Canada’s Constitution, specifically Section 39 of the Constitution Act 1867: “A Senator shall not be capable of being elected or of sitting or voting as a Member of the House of Commons”.  That a “political columnist” in a rag that bills itself as a national newspaper can get away with commenting on Constitutional issues with such evident ignorance of the Constitution is, frankly, disgusting.

Something else that’s really been bugging me (Yes, it’s another #IdleNoMore post – but it’s short – sort of)

I’ve heard some “debate” about whether some/all/any of the various numbered and named Treaties between the Crown and those peoples named “Nations” by the Crown in the Royal Proclamation which is part of the Constitution of Canada — whether any of those Nation-to-Nation treaties actually constitute the perpetual ceding of all/some/any aboriginal land rights to the Crown.

What has been bugging me is that, if the Crown has failed to fulfil any single tiny item of what the Crown promised to fulfil for the aboriginal states-signatory and their people,  it doesn’t matter what the aboriginal Nations agreed to say, do, give up or paint on the mountains with a blood-dipped Q-tip – none of that matters.  If the Crown has not done it’s part, the aboriginal nations are under no obligation to do their parts, including any land cessions promised by the Treaties.

Seriously, these are agreements in which each party promises to perform certain services for the other. The Crown promises to provide the people of the aboriginal nation with certain services and/or concessions in return for certain concessions and/or services from the people of the aboriginal nation.  Like when you take your car to a mechanic: you agree to give up in perpetuity a certain amount of you net worth and all future increase in value of that bit of your net worth in return for the repair of your clutch. If the mechanic repairs your clutch, you pay him the agreed amount. If the mechanic replaces your clutch with three used coffee filters and a tomato juice can painted black, you really shouldn’t pay the guy.  If you’re really patient, you might let him have another crack at the repair for a reduced price. I can’t imagine waiting centuries and generations for the mechanic and his descendants to actually get the clutch fixed, particularly not if they’d been paid in advance.

But, that’s exactly what’s happened with the Treaties. The Crown came to the aboriginal nations and said “We’ll fix your clutch if you pay us a hundred bucks” and the aboriginal people said “okay, sounds good.” But the aboriginal people are still waiting to get their truck back. If the Queen Victoria had tried to pull that on Kaiser Wilhelm within 30 days the Kaiser would have demanded a full refund, his truck returned (for repair by another country) and punitive damages the size of Wales.

So, to those who say “the Indians have no claim on Canada: they ceded their land claims in the Treaties” I say, be careful what you argue. If the Crown has failed in fulfilling a single clause of a Treaty, the aboriginal Nation signatory has a claim to void the Treaty, including any land rights cession.

Do you really want to go there?

There’s a whole big, huge, educated, proud, empowered generation of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis out there saying that they’re Idle No More. Do you really want to argue that the Crown has upheld in full it’s side of the Treaty relationship?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to finally just fix the bloody clutch?

After all, you’ve been paid in advance!

(For the record, I use a very polite, pleasant and reliable mechanic and he did recently replace the clutch in my truck and I happily paid him the agreed upon amount.  All treaty obligations were fulfilled, and a few jokes were exchanged at no extra charge on either side.)