John Ralston Saul at home: ‘Just transfer the power and money, and get on with it.’Joe Friesen | The Globe and MailIn the winter of 2012-13, John Ralston Saul watched as the Idle No More movement swept across the country, bringing thousands of aboriginal people into the streets to draw attention to a wide range of issues.When the round dances stopped and the media moved on, he decided to write something – a pamphlet or manifesto that would help explain to a non-aboriginal audience what had just happened. According to Mr. Saul, when aboriginal leaders speak, many Canadians tend to misinterpret what they are saying.The result is his new book The Comeback, the story of a movement that has been building from a low point a little more than a century ago to where it’s now poised, he says, to reclaim a central place in Canadian affairs.The author begins by dismissing sympathy, the lens through with which many Canadians view aboriginal issues. That’s just soft racism, he argues. Sympathy is fine as a point of entry, but it obscures why things are the way they are.“The actual problem is they have rights, and they’ve been removed,” he says during a conversation in his Toronto living room this week. “If they had their rights back in the full sense of the word, you wouldn’t have to feel sympathy. Sympathy is a way of not dealing with the central issues of the treaties.”The treaties are at the heart of The Comeback. The opening page is dedicated to an image of the Peace of Montreal of 1701, signed by the Iroquois, more than 30 other first nations and New France, which Mr. Saul calls the beginning of the Canadian idea of “treaty.” These agreements to share the land are what make modern Canada possible. “We are all treaty people,” Mr. Saul says. “Every Canadian is a signatory to those agreements, and those agreements have a meaning.”
With respect to my analysis of the situations of indigenous peoples in specific countries, I would like to provide some comments on my final three country reports, which were developed over the past year in connection with visits to Canada, Panama and Peru.
My report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Canada follows my visit to various locations across that country in October 2013. In my report I highlight that Canada’s relationship with the indigenous peoples within its borders is governed bya well-developed legal framework and a number of policy initiatives that in many respects are protective of indigenous peoples’ rights.
But despite these positive elements, daunting challenges remain. The numerous initiatives that have been taken at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to address the problems faced by indigenous peoples have been insufficient. The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginal claims remain persistently unresolved, indigenous women and girls remain vulnerable to abuse, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among indigenous peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels.
As I stress in my report, indigenous peoples’ concerns merit higher priority at all levels and within and branches of government. Concerted measures, based on mutual understanding and real partnership with aboriginal peoples, through their own representative institutions, are vital to establishing long-term solutions. To that end, it is necessary for Canada to arrive at a common understanding with indigenous peoples ofobjectives and goals that are based on full respect for their constitutional, treaty, and internationally-recognized rights.