I recently completed an enjoyable reading of Uprising, a 2010 novel by Douglas Bland. It’s a fictional portrayal of modern day Canada amidst a resilient Native insurgent uprising. The new paperback edition was recently published by the Toronto-based Dundurn Press.
Flipping through the contents, I saw how many times Akwesasne and Kahnawake (Mohawk reserves) were mentioned as locations in the book. I have family in both communities. The fictional headquarters for the Native People’s Army (NPA) was based in Akwesasne in the plotline, so out of vanity I had to keep reading it.
The pacing of the book moved right along. I was introduced to Native military veterans of the Canadian defense force now fighting against their former comrades. The storyline covered much of inland Canada. These rebels were determined as well as committed. And they got lucky as much as they were good within the success of their early victories.
I really like the premise of this book. The female lead character of the “Uprising” revolution reminded me of a similar work of fiction called “Phantom Ship”, published in 2013 by the Canadian author Michael Vickers. Before any other leader roles existed in the Americas, we always had our clan mothers here on Turtle Island. Bland and Vickers each creatively tapped into that understanding.
The sad testimony of “Uprising” is that the realistic backstory is supported by social statistics. Bland, a professor at Queens University in Ontario, also published a 2013 special report with the MacDonald – Laurier Institute. Entitled “Canada and the First Nations: Cooperation or Conflict?,” the document generated widespread discussion. One finding was the possibility of a national insurrection taking place in part due to ensuing generations of disaffected Native youth with little chance of economic upward mobility.
The specter of comingled North American energy resources plays out in “Uprising”. The inability of Canada to safeguard the vulnerable pipelines and power lines which feed into the United States is a relevant geopolitical factor. Once Canada became a utility provider to America, it was inevitable that the U.S. would seek to sustain that service. By any means necessary, according to Bland.
This book was published prior to the Idle No More Movement of late 2012. Anti-fracking demonstrations against shale gas extraction were ramped up by grass roots protesters in 2013. The Elsipogtog Nation in New Brunswick was the center of attention in October 2013 due to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police raid on a Mi’kmaq protest camp. Simmering resentment against this action remains evident in activist groups.
Still, none of these factors have been enough to offset the middle class development that has taken root on many Native territories and reservations alike. Called indifferent by some activists as a result of social inaction, a silent Native majority has been effectively sidelined. No longer exercising communal land rights, this group appears satisfied to fend for themselves individually through their careers and education. It does not quite amount to a political stand, but for many it is enough.
The political pressure to conform exists mightily, even for the most historic of Native governments. This was in evidence during a recent discussion held by the Grand Council of the Iroquois Confederacy in its longhouse at Onondaga. The redevelopment of the documentation that has become known as the Haudenosaunee Passport has been ongoing for some time there. The original ornate passport was once called “the most beautiful passport in the world” by European customs officials. Now the mandate is to make the international credential look just like all of the other accepted world passports. Exceptionalism as a virtue clearly has a price, especially in the shadow of world power.
The economic upper class in Native communities remains so marginalized that it has had no choice but to rely on elected government protection for its continued development. So the onus of political action squarely rests on the sunken shoulders of those who have the least to lose – those free minds living closest to the political grass roots.
Social networking in these communities also is in its infancy. The reliance on the aging and compromised Facebook to be there during demonstrations is hopeful at best. It is used to track protesters as much as it coordinates them. More likely, the disruption of some wireless networks in protest areas will have to be anticipated in the future.
It would be big news if an incident such as the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee were to be repeated by a modern group of Native activists. Yet, the act of demonstration is not enough to see that political exercise attempted. It would be unlikely that such an event would serve to inspire many more than the radical fringe population already in play. It was not as if a North American Indian rescue force relieved the surrounded members of the American Indian Movement when they were at the center of that storm. Instead, U.S. President Nixon sent in the armored vehicles to display federal power at that time.
So what is the likelihood of a large-scale uprising taking place somewhere in Canada or the United States? I guess the possibility will remain in the hands of those who choose to display their social conscience despite the ramifications. I doubt that many will come from the Bury Your Head in the Sand Tribe. The Three Monkey Band Council membership also will come up short of what is needed. No, it will not come from institutionally-compromised American Indian Congresses or from bucket-footed Assemblies.
But those people who do act will have to make the most of their opportunities, where they find them. The alienation of dormant and listless Native populations is just not productive. Calling people out only substitutes vinegar with honey in the grander scheme of things. There will always be room for the washed next to the unwashed at that moment of solidarity. An army is only an army because it can concentrate numbers, not because it can divide them.
Revolutions happen because people subscribe to change. The present lack of desire for many living along the Red Road to alter their paths leaves the spark less likely to find kindling. Even as the overall Native population grows, the capitalized core of it also increases. Those who are just trying to make car and student loan payments rarely have enough free time to ponder their existence while deliberately locked up in jail as social demonstrators.
Perhaps the school systems must change what they teach to douse the fires of dissent before they start. They presently seem to show young people how to avoid controversy and responsibility rather than confronting it. The sustainability of civil order begins when everyone finds a reason to pitch in for the common good. The courage to identify that common good empowers everyone who eventually comes to recognize it. Addressing the theft of Native lands is where I see it must begin.
Sovereignty is not having to ask.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.