Exactly 500 years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a self-help book for aspiring rulers that explains the methods whereby kingdoms are won and lost. One of the best ways to take someone else’s country, Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, is to colonize it.
Colonies, he wrote, are inexpensive to maintain while the original inhabitants “form but a small part of the community, and remaining scattered and poor can never become dangerous.”
On the subject of those original inhabitants, he adds the old Machiavellian touch: “And let it here be noted that men are either to be kindly treated, or utterly crushed, since they can revenge lighter injuries, but not graver. The injury we do to a man should be of a sort to leave no fear of reprisals.”
As much as it rankles some Canadians to hear it, Canada is a colonized country. In the West especially, where the takeover is only about four generations in, we can feel it. The rest of the world sees it, probably better than most Canadians do, and that’s why the Idle No More movement has gained so much international support.
When I returned to B.C. last summer after a quarter-century on the Prairies, I realized, really for the first time, where I came from and where I was. I did not grow up in “Vancouver” as the Dutch might say. I grew up in Squamish Nation territory.
The land is Skwxwú7mesh.
The mountains, the water, the islands, the beaches are Skwxwú7mesh.
I noticed it whenever I drove from Sechelt to Gibsons — I was back in the territory, back in the Nation.
One of the highlights of my return has been seeing the gains made by First Nations back home. It was different on the Prairies, I have to say. There’s a town of 10,000 north of Winnipeg called Selkirk. At one time, it included part of the St. Peter’s reserve, the land set aside for Chief Peguis’s people, who on more than one occasion saved the lives of the Red River settlers.
During the First World War, some of the people around Selkirk convinced the government to dissolve the reserve and ship Peguis’s people up to some barren scrubland in the Interlake. About half were resettled, but the other half either did not go or came back. They stayed on at old St. Peter’s, some retaining their land, but all of them giving up their status and treaty rights — until recently.
Betty, who worked in a barbershop in Selkirk, was one of the descendants of this group. She was cutting my hair one day when she mentioned that she didn’t like to shop in Winnipeg because the people there were “uppity.” That was a classy way of saying to a white guy that there were a lot of racist whites in Winnipeg.
Betty told me how she went to one of the big malls in the city to buy her mother a pair of shoes. For a long time the clerks simply ignored the two women; finally they were briskly told that the shoe they wanted was not in stock, even though Betty could see the boxes stacked against the wall.
It’s no wonder Idle No More started in Saskatchewan, which is just as bad as Winnipeg for that sort of thing. If Canada’s Indians are taking to the streets to fight bad federal legislation and demand a better relationship between First Nations and government, they’re being kind by omission, and Canadians should shut up and stand behind them.
Because this is, after all, their country. They can get things done that the rest of us can’t. And frankly, I would rather call Chief Gibby Jacob my leader than any of the political-party clowns we elect, including Stephen Harper with his cold eyes, empty words and faux-boyish charm.