First Published: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 24, June 19, 1981
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.
Two stunning incidents this week illustrated the consequences of Native People’s lack of effective control over their lives and territory.
In one case, 250 riot police converged on Micmac territory in eastern Quebec and seized their fishing nets to stop them from salmon fishing in their own waters.
The same week, Ottawa proposed an amendment to the Oil and Gas Act which waives the need to seek Native approval for the Norman Wells pipeline project in the Northwest Territories.
Federal and provincial governments think nothing of trampling on Native people’s right to control their own territories, and even their social, cultural and family affairs.
Situations like these bring home the urgency of Native people’s growing fight for effective self-government, a demand which has come to the fore lately with the Constitutional debates.
The right to self-government is a basic democratic right of Canada’s Native nationalities, which constitute distinct peoples living on common territories, sharing a common history, language and culture.
The WCP has always upheld this right to self-government, or regional autonomy: the right of oppressed nationalities to economic, social and cultural control over their lives on the territories where they are concentrated, and to their own government with the power to make laws and enforce them.
How would regional autonomy work?
Can it be achieved in a capitalist society like Canada? What would it be like under socialism? We will attempt to answer these and other questions in the following article.
The points of view expressed below are only the result of preliminary work on this question. We are open to debating and improving these proposals and would welcome any comments and criticisms, especially from our Native readers.
Regional autonomy means self-government over a defined territory. Native government must be linked to a Native territory to be effective. Control over land and Native resources are essential to building economic structures that will allow Native people to have effective control over other aspects of their lives.
Government that is not based on a defined territory, but rather on culture or nationality, would give Native people no real control over their own destinies. It could only be limited to cultural projects, or at best be a structure for dispensing subsidies.
Native government based on culture or nationality would also serve to divide Native people from the white people living in the same region or neighbourhood.
A clear definition of Native territorial boundaries has yet to be made, and must be done in accordance with the demands of the Indians, Metis, and Inuit who live in those regions. Obviously these Native self-government regions would likely include the northern parts of most provinces, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, is well as districts in urban centres where Native people are concentrated.
Each self-governing region could either include a number of different Native nationalities, or be limited to one, such as Cree, Ojibway, Inuit, etc. This would be for Native people to decide.
White people who live on these territories on a permanent basis would be allowed to stay, and have equal rights within the autonomous regions. However, the policy of encouraging whites to come and take jobs in northern communities would be reversed. Native people would be trained to do all jobs in the mining centers, for example, from administrative jobs to miners’ jobs.
Native governments in the autonomous regions would have full powers concerning:
1) Administration of justice – judges, police and an armed militia would be appointed from among Native residents.
2) Economic policy – Native governments would have control over resource development on their territory just as the provinces do today. This would offer some protection from the pillage of the multinationals. But to ensure full Native control over economic development, it is necessary to dispossess the multinationals and ensure that Native people own and control all companies and industries operating on their territories. This can only be achieved under socialism.
3) Education, culture and social policy. Schools from the primary to the university level would be built and education provided in Native languages. These schools, cultural activities, social services and health care would all be run by the Native government. Native radio, television and newspapers would be established.
Funding for Native government would come from: A) per capita allocations, the same as provinces get today; B) taxes and royalties collected on the produce and resources of the region; C) special grants from the central government to allow Native communities to catch up with the standard of living of other nationalities.
Government administration would, of course, function in Native languages.
Under regional autonomy, each defined Native region would have a democratic government elected by the population of the territory. The institutions would have their own Native characteristics based on Native traditions.
Native government in autonomous regions is a just demand even in the present context of capitalism. It would represent a big step forward if Native governments, rather than the Department of Indian Affairs or the RCMP, controlled the funding and administration of justice, for example.
But in a capitalist Canada, any rights acquired will still be subject to the laws of the existing Canadian state and the profit system it defends.
Certain people both within the Native movement and without have raised questions about the rights of Native people under socialism. Isn’t it inevitable that Native people would get a raw deal under any form of white man’s government? they ask.
There will be a fundamental difference between a capitalist Canada and a socialist Canada because the wealth, resources and labour of our society will not be run for the profit of a tiny handful of parasites but for the well-being of all.
Under capitalism, the oppression of Native people and other nationalities is necessary to the ruling class, allowing it to pillage land and resources and providing it with a constant source of cheap labour. The ruling class needs racism, written into the laws and the very functioning of society, in order to divide Native people from white people.
In a socialist Canada, all the institutions, from the government to the courts and the factories, will be run by the working class, the other working people and the nationalities.
People’s needs, not profit, will be the criteria for all government policies and actions. Monopolies will be nationalized and their wealth distributed to raise the standard of living of all the people. Democratic rights of working people and the nationalities will reign supreme.
The constitution will not only guarantee Native rights, but will also outlaw all discrimination. Racism and anti-Native attitudes that continue too exist among white people will be fought at every turn through educational programs in the schools, in the media, and through the system of justice.
Also, the central government provided for in the country’s constitution will include important guarantees.
1) The lower house, the equivalent to todays House of Commons, would be expanded to ensure true representation by population. Canada’s one million Native people have only two out of the 285 seats in Parliament today, although they make up over four per cent of the population.
2) The Senate would be abolished and replaced with a House of Nationalities. This house would have powers, equal to the lower house, to pass laws and to veto all bills.
Approval of both Houses would be necessary before any piece of legislation became law.
All nationalities would have elected representatives from their territories in the House of Nationalities. A certain number of seats would be reserved for the English Canadian nationality, for the Quebec people, for the Inuit. Acadians, Dene, etc.
The exact number of representatives for each nationality would have to be worked out, but most important, the formerly oppressed nationalities would have a majority to pass legislation as well as to veto laws.
3) A socialist Canada would set up autonomous Native regions immediately. Depending on the concentration of Native people and the geographical size of the area, these regions could range from autonomous republics to autonomous municipalities.
Native people would have power over economic development and could ensure that any mining or oil development did not destroy the Native way of life, and that Native workers participated as the work force on all jobs.
It is our contention that the vast majority of Native people are not opposed to technology, nor to resource development as such. The question is, who controls this development and who benefits from it, the big monopolies or Native people, and will it be done in a way so as to ensure the protection of the ecology and traditional Native livelihood?
While disagreement between the central government and the regional government may arise over specific policies, all decisions would have to be approved by the House of Nationalities. The constitutional rights guaranteed for Native people could never be overruled.
Also, Native people would be armed to defend themselves from abuses.
Regional autonomy under socialism will secure equal individual and collective rights for Native people for the first time, It will allow them to control their destinies as Native nations and participate fully in the process of Canadian development.