Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

The Native peoples and the right to self-determination

First Published: In Struggle! No. 157, May 8, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

In March, the Dene Nation organization and the Native peoples of the Yukon conducted a country-wide tour. They visited many different cities to publicize, as broadly as possible, their demands and to develop stronger links with other regions of the country. The Dene people have in fact been proclaiming their existence as a nation since 1975. They have forcefully put forward their right to self-determination on their own territory within the framework of the Canadian federal State.

After the Dene Declaration, a number of other Native groups have done the same. The British Columbia Union of Indian Chiefs did so, followed by, the Nishges in the same year. In July, 1977, the Ojibway Cree produced their declaration in favour of self-government on their own territory.

The protest movement of Native peoples has grown continuously since the early sixties. Many different organizations have sprung up on both a provincial and national level. In 1968, the American Indian Movement and the National Indian Brotherhood were created. All through this period, Native struggles have been waged around the question of territorial rights more than any other. At the same time, the demand has been raised for better housing on the reserves, better compensation for the use of their resources, opposition to the pollution of their rivers and their forests. In the Native lands in the south of Canada,where the majority of Native peoples live and are by and large proletarianized, many struggles have developed against the various forms of discrimination which Native peoples are subjected to.

In 1974, the Ojibway occupied Anishinabwe Park in Kenora, Ontario, with guns in hand. Two months later, In September,Indians mounted barricades across Highway Number 12 near Cache Creek in British Columbia. As you can see, Native peoples are right at stage centre when it comes to political struggles in this country. We think that it should be stated quite bluntly that up to now Canadian communists have in practice underestimated the oppression of the Native peoples and their resistance movement. The Canadian capitalist class, in fact, is trying to scramble out of the capitalist crisis by intensifying its exploitation of the North and the systematic expropriation of the Native populations who are “in the way”. The resistance of the Native peoples is thus one of the most important mass movements in the country.

The recently held Third Congress of the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Canada IN STRUGGLE! recognized this error and took steps to rectify this situation with a communist position. It did so by recognizing that the rights of those Native peoples who declare themselves to be nations and demand autonomy, sovereignty, or even secession should be respected and fully recognized insofar as particular Native peoples actually take such a stand.

Up until now, the question of the national rights of Native peoples has been posed as follows: do the Native peoples form a nation or not? Does this or that particular community of Inuit, Dene, or Montagnais form a nation or not? Our political line flowed from the answers given to those questions.

But the rights of Native peoples cannot be determined solely from the narrow and academic use of the five characteristics of a nation as advanced by Stalin. The fact is that when a community or people raise the demand for the right to self-determination, then that movement is already a reflection of the objective reality that the people in question consider themselves to be a nation. Our position stemmed from a narrow nationalist view-point which insisted on using Quebec as the reference point for determining what other nations exist in our country. In many instances, the five characteristics are present in an embryonic state.

Furthermore, the old method prevented us from taking into proper consideration all the other factors which are of equal importance in analyzing the Native question. We must start from the perspective of making the proletarian revolution in order to correctly take up the national question, whether it is the question of Quebec or any one of the Native peoples, and whether those peoples are Indians, Inuit, or Metis. In other words, the perspective we must bring to bear is that of the unity of peoples in the struggle for socialism, the immediate aim of the revolution in Canada. There is no way that we will ever arrive at a correct position on the national question if we cling to a university-type analysis which forgets about or covers up the protest movement and the actual struggles those peoples are engaged in. In the specific case of the Native peoples we are dealing with a movement which already has many of the characteristics of a nation.

The proletariat can only get united on the basis of respect for equality. And that equality involves the recognition of the same rights for all nations, including the right to self-determination in the form of separation if need be.

Saying that does not imply, as we have frequently stated with regard to the question of Quebec, that we support the independence of all the nations in the country. On this question, as on all others, the solution is not to be found in the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism for some sort of pragmatic short-term perspective. That would simply lead to opportunist strategy and tactics. On the contrary, the recognition of the right of self-determination is a question of principle. It follows logically and necessarily from our position that all languages and nations are equal and should be treated equally. This is the perspective, and the only perspective, that we base ourselves on, when we recognize the right of Quebec to self-determination. We do not adopt this position with a view to encouraging nationalism, or to promote the secession of any of the nations in this country. We do so because we want to accomplish unity.

This position is fundamentally different from the position taken by Bolshevik Union. BU not only considers all the different Native communities to be part of a single nation, thereby covering up the significant national differences which exist among Native peoples [1]. It also calls for Native peoples to conduct a separate struggle from the Canadian proletariat for its liberation. The rationale for this is that, In BU’s eyes. Canadian workers benefit from the oppression of the Native peoples [2]. Such completely reactionary positions as BU’s can only lead to division and ultimately to defeat.

The communist programme calls for unity. It stands for a unity which is based on the principle of the equality of languages and nations, the struggle against all forms of discrimination and the recognition of the right to self-determination. That kind of unity is what is essential if we are going to wipe out all forms of national oppression and to build a socialist society which alone can bring about the absolute equality of languages and nations.


[1] See Lines of Demarcation no 3-4, p. 43.

[2] “The question of ’one party, one state’ at this stage is pure diversion” Lines of Demarcation, no. 3-4, p. 85. “In the case of a colony (like the Native peoples according to BU ’ Editor), it can be progressive for the oppressed people to resist being absorbed into the proletariat of the oppressor nation”, Nationhood or Genocide, Canadian Revolution, no 4, p. 52.