People's War Digest №4
End the Indian Act, Once and for All!

Can “Red Power” exist in Canada?

– This essay was first published in Arsenal magazine, No. 8, Summer 2008. –

It’s strange in an advanced capitalist society for one piece of legislation to have as much influence on a person—or rather, on a whole people—as the Indian Act does on the First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in Canada. Concentrating various aspects of the national oppression these peoples are subject to, the Indian Act lays out the legal foundations of the ‘colonized’ status imposed upon the indigenous nations. Here, a ministry which is part of a foreign nation-state—in this case, the Canadian Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development—determines the resources to be allocated to each of the “Indian Bands” in their turn. This is the same foreign state that determines the systems of governance of these nations and prevents them from organizing themselves as they wish.

The Canadian State prevents indigenous nations from using their territories as they wish. In most of the northern regions, the majority of the population is composed of Indigenous people, but they still have little say over their own development. Those who have the “Indian status” and live in these areas are confined to reserves, which can be abolished at the whim of the state. In addition, an Indigenous individual who lives on a reserve cannot legally acquire the land on which they live. Such a situation, in a bourgeois regime, makes it very difficult for an Indigenous person to start an economic activity on a reserve unless they have connections with the band council and federal government.

Relations between Indigenous people and the federal government could almost be described as feudal in nature. Just as the lord of the Middle Ages owed his serfs a duty of protection, the federal government is bound by its “fiduciary duty” to its indigenous ‘subjects’. In exchange for this “protection,” though they are not required to cultivate the land, to hunt or to trap, the indigenous people are forced to stay on a piece of land which is not their property; and to exile themselves if they want to become owners. Just as the serf-peasant owed his lord a pension, this had been exacted by the Canadian state from the First Nations in the form of their loss of use of their territories, and those territories ceded in “negotiations.”

European settlers (especially those from England) signed treaties with some indigenous nations, which showed some level of recognition of the existence of these people as nations. Some of these treaties recognized the rights of indigenous peoples over vast territories. No legislation which followed these treaties abolished aboriginal rights. The Constitution Act of 1982 stated in Section 35 that “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.” [1]

Nowadays, many indigenous nations attempt, by political and legal negotiations, to gain recognition of Aboriginal rights and to achieve some form of “self-government.” There seems to be a consensus that the Indian Act is an unfair and unjust law. It is clear that as long as they do not have the control of their territories, Aboriginal peoples cannot enact economic development that meets the needs of their communities.

The Indian Act still provides a few rights to Aboriginals, and they very legitimately do not want to lose them. According to the current law, those minimal rights are recognized only if First Nations, Inuit and Metis people accept the status of dependence, generated by the law itself. If the Indian Act were abolished, what would happen to these rights? In the current context of the development of capitalism in Canada, the abolition of reserves and the repeal of the Indian Act, separated from a movement of revolutionary struggle that would claim it, could mean the complete disappearance of indigenous peoples, at least as political entities.

In 2002, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) proclaimed that it was against an amendment to the Indian Act that the federal government was considering, which would have opened the door for members to be granted ownership over reserves. According to the individual who was then the chief of FSIN, Perry Bellegarde, this change could have enabled each Indigenous person to become owner of their own small plot of land. However, nothing would have prevented them from selling it to foreign interests, which would compromise the inheritance of future generations. [2]

Could a process of “self-government”, more or less effective, conceded by the Canadian State (which is what the white settler reformist left in Canada argues for) really allow Native people to control their territories in a way that prevents shady dealers and other money-hungry capitalists from robbing them? We can only imagine when we know that right-wing think-tanks are campaigning for such “autonomy” and demand the abolition of the Indian Act.

We should also remember that a small number of Aboriginal individuals have taken advantage of this law. The political and administrative authorities that apply it (Department of Indian Affairs, local band councils, etc.) hired a number of them. Aboriginal businesspeople trade with the federal government. Could these entrepreneurs succeed in maintaining their privileges if the Indian Act were abolished? At a basic level, among communities, many expressed doubts as to whether such a solution would be in their favor. Without a revolutionary struggle, there is no guarantee that the abolition of the Indian Act would result in significant gains for the indigenous masses.

With such uncertainty and the lack of a rallying project, moderate indigenous leaders are tempted to take their time in negotiations. Lacking a better alternative, they prefer to live with the Indian Act. In the late 1960’s, the Trudeau government tried to abolish the law, noting its retrograde character. But what he proposed was tantamount to the assimilation of indigenous peoples. Aboriginal peoples objected to this attempt to deteriorate the already-narrow legal framework within which the Canadian government contained them. A reformist leader, Harold Cardinal, explained the reasons for the objection: “It is not because of its intrinsic value that we want the Indian Act to be kept. It did not have any. It is discriminatory in all its stipulations. But it serves as a lever when the government is embarrassed of it and it is fair that this is so. Any fair society, any society that claims to be fair, cannot tolerate such a law for a long time, but as far as we are concerned, we still prefer to live under the yoke of the unjust Indian Act, rather than give up rights that are sacred to us. As soon as the government will fulfill its obligations towards us, we will definitely be ready to work on a new Indian act.” [3] Today, many Aboriginal leaders are still suspicious of federal government in its negotiations with First Nations.

In 1996, always with the goal to abolish the Indian Act, minister Jane Stewart tried to pass a bill about the optional modification of the application of the Indian Act, which proposed important “interim” changes in several areas: election of band councils, band capacity and bylaws and management of reserve land and resources. First Nations were opposed to this bill from the beginning. If the Indian Act should be abolished, it should be done in a comprehensive process of political and legal changes. However, this bill would apply only to First Nations who chose to adhere to it, and not all aboriginal communities.

This project was contrary to the spirit of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (chaired by René Dussault and Georges Erasmus, whose report was published the same year, 1996), which proposed a self-government approach based on the recognition of Aboriginal governments as one of three levels of government in Canada. The commission recommendations included:

  • Enactment of a new “Royal Proclamation” to set out the principles of a new relationship and outline the proposed new laws and institutions;
  • Adoption of a law on the government and the recognition of indigenous nations;
  • Elimination of the Department and the job of Minister of Indian Affairs;
  • Creation of a new position in the Cabinet, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and a new department responsible for negotiating and managing agreements with Aboriginal nations. A Department of Indian and Inuit services would be responsible of the services at the federal level;
  • Adoption of a Law on Aboriginal Parliament to establish a representative body of indigenous peoples that would become a House of First Nations and become a part of Parliament.

What is Self-Government and what does it make?

Far from leading to the establishment of an Aboriginal parliament, towards the elimination of the Department of Indian Affairs and its replacement by a Department of Relations with Indigenous Nations (that would put an end to the paternalist relation between the Canadian State and Aboriginals and would recognize some form of self-determination), the current process of negotiations over self-government agreements raises a further fragmentation of indigenous communities, which significantly jeopardizes the possibility of building a real political unity between them. This means that the recommendations of the Royal Commission were not followed by the government that created it.

Instead, we got a series of fragmented negotiations with different communities, bands or groups of indigenous communities. There are officially 615 Inuit and aboriginal communities. At the moment, less than 10% of these communities have concluded such an agreement for self-government.

In its document called The Government of Canada’s Approach to Implementation of the Inherent Right and the Negotiation of Aboriginal Self-Government, published in 1995, the Canadian government explained the framework within which negotiations with communities were to take place. [4]

On one hand,

“The Government of Canada recognizes the inherent right of self-government as an existing Aboriginal right under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. It recognizes, as well, that the inherent right may find expression in treaties, and in the context of the Crown’s relationship with treaty First Nations. Recognition of the inherent right is based on the view that the Aboriginal peoples of Canada have the right to govern themselves in relation to matters that are internal to their communities, integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions, and with respect to their special relationship to their land and their resources.”

But on the other hand, the right to self-government must exist within the framework of the Canadian Constitution: “Aboriginal jurisdictions and authorities should, therefore, work in harmony with jurisdictions that are exercised by other governments.”

The various provinces are therefore involved in the process of negotiations. In principle, if these were true nation-to-nation relations, only the federal government would participate in the negotiations: but relationships with Aboriginal nations are of a particular order.

The document is really precise about it:

“The inherent right of self-government does not include a right of sovereignty in the international law sense, and will not result in sovereign independent Aboriginal nation states. On the contrary, implementation of self-government should enhance the participation of Aboriginal peoples in the Canadian federation, and ensure that Aboriginal peoples and their governments do not exist in isolation, separate and apart from the rest of Canadian society.”

It is therefore clear that this is a trick to integrate Aboriginals to the Canadian political process and maintain the same structure of national oppression, except with a modernized approach.

The federal government insists that situations are highly varied and that any agreement on self-government should consider this: “The Government proposes to negotiate self-government arrangements that are tailored to meet the unique needs of Aboriginal groups and are responsive to their particular political, economic, legal, historical, cultural and social circumstances.”

One can understand that between Native First Nations peoples living under the yoke of the Indian Act, Inuit communities that do not know the system of reserves and Métis groups with no defined territories, particular agreements could be possible. But when it comes to the situation of First nations that have all known the Indian Act, the argument leaves us skeptical.

By looking at some definitive agreements that have been concluded, we can see that some of them are recreations of the mechanisms of the Indian Act but with community management, while others are considerably different from it. Some communities are becoming the equivalent of municipalities while others are acquiring the status of quasi-self-governing reserves.

The government’s approach includes fields where autonomy may be exercised:

“Broadly stated, the Government views the scope of Aboriginal jurisdiction or authority as likely extending to matters that are internal to the group, integral to its distinct Aboriginal culture, and essential to its operation as a government or institution.” (see below)It is specified that this autonomy could be applied in whole or in part: depending on the negotiations of the concerned group. This approach of privileging fragmented negotiations with each Indigenous community individually does not take into account the smallest communities, whose balance of power or actual capacity to practice any form of autonomy are limited.

In appearance, property rights appear to be part of the areas where agreements may apply. Should we see a waiver of the seigniorial role of the federal government within the framework of the Indian Act? It seems that it depends of situations. Prima facie, we need to know that the organization in charge of treaties on self-government within the Indian Affairs Department depends of Lands and Trust Services:

“The General Management of the Lands and Trust Services is responsible for leading the transition of governance based on the Indian Act to a governance insured by First Nations and for supporting the creation of First Nations institutions and the development of their governance capacities. During this transition, constitutional and statutory obligations in Canada towards First Nations will be strictly observed. The General Management will also be responsible of the elaboration and the implementation of policies and legislative frameworks for new mechanisms of governance for the First Nations and tools for their institutions. Simultaneously, it ensures that the Department fulfills its obligations concerning the supervision of elections, bylaws and other governance processes under the Indian Act.” [5]

This approach explains how the fiduciary relationship between the Crown and Indigenous communities will evolve:

“In Canada, the Crown has unique and historical fiduciary relationships with Indigenous peoples. Even if the government recognizes the inherent right to self government does not mean the end of these historical relations; Indigenous self-governments could however result in a change in their nature.”

“As Indigenous governments and institutions will exercise competencies and authorities, as they will control the decisions affecting their collectivities, they will assume a greater responsibility concerning the exercise of its powers, and consequently, responsibilities of the Crown will decrease. In this sense, historical relations between Indigenous peoples and the Crown will not cease to exist, but will be naturally appeal to change because of the evolution of the role of Indigenous peoples in decisions concerning their lives and collectivities and the decrease of powers exercised by the Crown in regards to them.”

“If Indigenous groups wish to maintain some obligations of the Crown towards them, their competencies and authorities in self government will therefore be limited. In such cases, the obligations retained by the Crown must be clearly defined. Nothing will justify the fact that the government must keep any fiduciary obligations relative to issues in which the government already ceased its power control, a power that would henceforth be exercised by Indigenous institution or any referred government.”

If the federal government could have successfully transformed reserves into municipalities, it would have done so a long time ago. However, historical treaties that place limitations on this possibility still exist. Communities where a small local capital exists in relation with some non-indigenous capitalists could be tempted to accept some form of municipalization of their reserves. It is clear that the current ownership relations limit their prosperity. Abandonment of the Indian Act and the seigniorial fiduciary obligation of the federal government could be seen as a good thing. But when the small capital of a reserve depends mainly on the Band Council and the federal government, these communities could fear the abandonment of the old regime, or at least, they could be willing to accept treaties that perpetuate the regime of the Indian Act, but now managed by local authorities.

With the small number of negotiated treaties, it is difficult to have a clear idea of what the dominant tendency will become. Will it be to municipalize the reserve and go directly for capitalist relations? Renew the Indian Act but accept a devolution of management? Maintain the status quo? Access to lands rich in natural resources could be another factor that would entice a Band Council to adopt one approach over another during negotiations. In some negotiations that were dedicated to lands and resources, agreements were made allowing the band to benefit from a certain percentage of profits in an area defined by negotiation (identified as ancestral territory). But in other cases, because the coveted territories are not rich in resources, possibilities for royalties are lower: the temptation to integrate further into capitalist relations appears to be greatly reduced.

The Nisga’a Final Agreement in British Columbia is often presented as the more advanced model of self-government. It is not restricted to self-government alone, but also land and forest property rights as well as fishing rights. What constituted the territory of the former reserves became the property of the Nisga’a nation. On other surrounding territories, the nation gained some resource exploitation rights. Another negotiation, with Innus based in Québec, led to a similar agreement. In this case, a 3% royalty has been fixed for the exploitation of resources on surrounding territories that are not a proper part of the lands now owned by the nation.

Some reactionaries argue that these agreements mean a reduction of provincial powers over these territories. However, the role of provinces is now increased because, on the one hand, properly-Indigenous territories are now excluded from the Crown property, and on the other hand, because of the lack of modern state infrastructures controlled by Indigenous communities, Nisga’a and Innu Nations must negotiate different agreements with provincial powers in order to obtain these services.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975 is viewed by many observers as a precursor to the current agreements on self-government. It is true that the property system of reserves had been abolished. A Cree capitalist class is emerging. But at the same time, the Cree had to abandon their ancestral rights to a large part of Northern Quebec, where a number of highly profitable hydroelectric projects are in operation. Nevertheless, Indigenous people are still forming the majority in these areas.

Whereas before there was only one interlocutor (the Federal government), now, there will also be provincial governments. What used to unite the various Indigenous peoples was this relationship, definitely oppressive, that was existing between a Lord State and vassal band councils. The community of interests between various Indigenous nations seemed obvious.

Now, the introduction of new interlocutors risks diluting this feeling of belonging to the same community of interest. Quebec-based Indigenous people and Saskatchewan-based Indigenous people, for example, concerned by their own negotiations, may lose sight of the basis of their unity.

Self-government: emancipation or reorganization of colonialism?

Clearly, various negotiations that took place on the issue of self-government did not result in the implementation of solutions that were true to the spirit of the recommendations of the Dussault-Erasmus Commission. There have been partial negotiations with some Indigenous bands, creation of the Nunavut and some additional investments in education, health and social programmes for Indigenous peoples.

How is the Indian Act the source of all the problems experienced by Indigenous people? Are these problems only caused by the characteristics of the land tenure system that prohibits Indigenous people from become owners of their land, to use it as a warranty claim and use it to obtain venture capital? Is it because this Act created a ruling Indigenous class subservient to White settler power? Is it because this Act ruined relations and alliances that existed between some Indigenous tribes before the arrival of White settlers (as was the case with the Iroquois Confederation of Six Nations, established before the arrival of Europeans)? Is it because this act perpetuates a colonial regime? Is it because this act forbids the establishment of a political structure of power that could support a wholly Indigenous development project?

To understand the source of the national oppression of Indigenous peoples, it is difficult to separate all these issues. The feudal system of tenure, vassal band councils, lack of political and economical unity of Indigenous nations, colonialism and non-existence of an Indigenous “Red Power” all unite to perpetuate the situation.

Negotiations on self-government and lands could eventually lead to a transfer of ownership in favor of the Indigenous Nation (or band). In some cases, a minor Indigenous capitalism will be able to develop itself. But considering that there are no economic networks between various Indigenous nations, this minor capitalism will necessarily be subservient to the major White-settler capital. Will there be new instances resulting from a popular will to replace the existing power structures (i.e. Band councils)? Probably not. Certainly, the quasi-monopolistic power to own financial resources now held by the band council could, in some cases, be altered and an Indigenous bourgeoisie could find a place to develop itself. But partial negotiations have a pernicious tendency to delay the implementation of a common political project.

This being said, it is not clear at this point whether band councils really want to contribute to a project like the one proposed by the Erasmus-Dussault Commission. Nevertheless, the Royal commission proposed the establishment of an Indigenous Parliament. In the current situation, people from local political administrations (band chiefs) would have been in this Parliament. One could think that the Assembly of First Nations would have been the core of such Parliament.

The establishment of such a parliament would likely have been accompanied by the elimination of the Department of Indian Affairs and its replacement by a Ministry of Aboriginal Relations. Management of financial resources now allocated to Indigenous peoples might have been transferred to this Parliament.

So, why have the negotiations been partial rather than total? The blame falls largely to the Government of Canada and the Indian Act, whose strategy is precisely to ‘divide and conquer’. But band chiefs, whose political vision is often very limited, also share in the responsibility. If small Indigenous capitalists see opportunities for growth with their white neighbours, they will ask the band chiefs to create conditions that are favourable to this goal. If there are natural resources on a claimed land, band chiefs could look only to the possibility of increasing their financial resources, forgetting that there are many Indigenous communities in Canada that are living in dire poverty.

Historically, because of the Indian Act, Indigenous people had very limited choice: either they could keep their Indian identity by accepting permanent attachment to a reserve with status as a ward of the state, or be assimilated. Some stronger Indigenous communities may have seen an advantage in abandoning the reserve system that considerably restrains economic development. Those communities have a small, but growing capital. They have access to exploitable natural resources or could obtain that access via negotiations, through treaties or ancestral rights (even if they need to bargain for it). They could also maintain a relatively dynamic cultural life. Those communities will probably be interested in the negotiations processes for self-government, as it is defined by the Federal government’s approach.

However, there are also some communities that are far more demoralized and destitute. Perspectives for economic growth are effectively non-existent. Access to natural resources is limited and unemployment is a major issue. For these communities, the reserve system, combined with a dependence on the federal government fiduciary duty, could still serve as a bulwark against complete assimilation. Generally smaller, they tend not to be inclined to negotiate.

This being said, even if the stronger communities are experiencing an increased cultural vitality, the fact that they develop some exchange networks with White-settler capitalism and not with other Indigenous communities could become a strong driver for assimilation—just like the misery faced by weaker communities. This means that economic development by itself is not a guarantee of the vitality of Indigenous populations. A strong will and a common political project as well as common institutions could help to build a stronger solidarity on all levels (including economic level) giving the chance to the various Indigenous nations to lead their own self-development.

Such a project would not only allow the development of the social productive forces of the various Indigenous nations (a preliminary condition to a subsequent communist society) but it would also open up the possibility for them to fully develop themselves. Historically, the creation and disappearance of peoples, languages and nations is a reality. But to give them equal chances to develop themselves even if they may not exist in a few centuries is something that we should fight for. For Lenin, “Just as mankind can achieve the abolition of classes only by passing through the transition period of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, so mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all the oppressed nations, i.e., their freedom to secede.” [6]

From the simple point of view of the socialization of productive forces, the complete assimilation of Indigenous and the elimination of their quasi-minor legal status would have ‘simplified’ the social issue by turning this into a class struggle between a proletariat and a bourgeoisie. But this would also mean that large human communities would have been attacked or wiped out entirely (actually, this already happened, except that the Canadian state never succeed in their total assimilation). Nevertheless, to build a new economy and a new society, a political mobilization is necessary. This means putting politics in command to transform social relations.

Revolutionary Path in Canada

What is the connection between the revolutionary Indigenous struggle and the socialist revolution? The Indian Act maintains a feudal type of relation between the Canadian State and those who are subject to it. This law maintains Indigenous people in a minor legal situation and perpetuates the national oppression they experience. Even from a basic democratic point of view, the Indigenous national struggle is a necessity.

From a class perspective, the reserve system maintained by the Indian Act resulted in the creation of a bureaucratic bourgeoisie that derives its power not from the internal economic activity of Indigenous nations but rather from transfer payments that are made by federal government. This bureaucratic bourgeoisie, made up of band chiefs, cadres and functionaries of administrative apparels on reserves and some businesspeople who trade essentially with band councils and/or the federal government, is for the most part dependant of its relation with the Canadian state. This being said, in some communities where small capital is stronger, there could be some emancipation from the federal government. However, local political authorities keep a very strong domination over their community. The funding from the federal government is still important, including for communities that have negotiated some treaties for self-government and lands.

This bureaucratic bourgeoisie adopts a pro-imperialist and pro-colonialist position. It has developed a network of alliances among the various Indigenous communities that are for the most part used in a simple negation of their dependence to the federal power. The Assembly of First Nations is a lobby group that puts pressure on the federal government; it does not seek to build new economic and political Indigenous institutions, and even less to develop a revolutionary path towards the complete liberation of Indigenous peoples.

Among the Indigenous bureaucratic bourgeoisie, there are some elements that are stronger and more independent of the federal power. Those elements could even support struggles that are essentially revolutionary, like what happened in 1990 when the band council of Kahnawake rallied itself to the armed resistance led by the Warriors. This being said, in the case of the Mohawk nation, it is important to know that they are part of an alliance composed of six Iroquois nations and that they participate in some power structures (Haudenosaunee) that go well beyond and against structures imposed by the Canadian State, which is already a break with the conservatism that exists among many Indigenous communities.

This example of an alliance between Indigenous nations and the creation of common political institutions should be extended to all Indigenous nations in Canada and North America. However, band councils from various Iroquois nations are still profiting from federal government funding and they may use those financial resources to maintain their political power. If among the various Iroquois nations, people recognize some power and legitimacy to the Iroquois confederation Haudenosaunee, band councils, because of their resources, maintain a certain influence. This dual structure of power does not exist without conflicts.

What should guide us revolutionaries is the perspective of building a communist society. Socialization and development of the productive forces are certainly preliminary to the construction of a communist society. However, at the same time, we need to keep in mind that the task of communists is to transform social relations to achieve communism.

White settler societies in North America experience a level of development and socialization of the productive forces totally different than the level experienced by Indigenous communities who live under the colonial domination and the feudal relation of vassalage maintained between themselves and the Canadian State. These two societies’ class structures are therefore very different. To transform social relations, communists promote class struggle and put proletarian politics in command. However, when class structures are not the same as those in “advanced” capitalist nations, when semi-feudal relations remain and when colonial or semi-colonial relations prevail, the character of class struggle cannot be the same. Class alliances must be considered in a different manner.

In the case of white settler nations, because productive forces are socialized (though appropriation remains private), the class struggle is between the proletariat and the whole bourgeoisie. When productive forces are not yet socialized, class alliances are not the same. One of these social productive forces is the proletariat in itself. It is a productive social force as long as it is active. Because of the Indian Act and the economic dependence on the Canadian state, large Indigenous proletarian strata exist but they are not all participating in economic activity.

It is obvious that the Indigenous proletariat, active and inactive, has an interest in the development of Indigenous social productive forces. But it must be said that other classes and social strata have the same interest. These strata are not aspiring to socialism as a transition towards a communist society, but they would like the constitution of a modern society with an endogenous political, economic, and social development. They aspire to put a final end to the colonial relation and feudal laws, as well as developing Indigenous culture and identity. Those strata could be part, at least for a moment, of the revolutionary camp.

Certainly, these forces will be satisfied with a single step of the new democratic revolution, that they may call the “Indigenous path to socialism,” in order to rub out the class struggle which makes up its essential character. This step is essential because it will minimally fix a democratic issue—free development and future for Indigenous nations—but also because it is going to open great perspectives for the struggle of the proletarian class, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Knowing the great magnitude that various Indigenous struggles and uprisings have taken in the political affairs of Canada, a coordinated and conscious revolutionary struggle would considerably destabilize the Canadian State apparatus. Let’s remember how the defeats faced by the French State against Indochinese and Algerians destabilized the ruling class of that country and resulted in the emergence of a substantial revolutionary movement at the end of the 1960’s. A defeated bourgeoisie, whether by a colonized people or by another imperialist State, will always represent a weakened force now collapsible by popular masses of the defeated country. The masses hate the stinking corpses of dead states.

Concretely, what would be the content of such a project of New Democracy? Certainly, it is up to Indigenous peoples to define it. We could nevertheless consider that Indigenous people must control territory sufficiently rich to permit the growth and maintenance of common economic and political institutions and to maintain viable commercial exchanges in a way that permits the construction of a socio-political entity able to truly exercise their right to self-determination (including the right of secession) from the Canadian state apparatus.

In the current situation, various Indigenous nations could aspire to the right of self-determination and seek to exercise it. We could struggle for the establishment of casinos and bingos on Indigenous land and undermine provincial jurisdiction, or even obtain recognition for actual situations of self-governance, but the exercise of the right to self-determination must go far beyond that. The exercise of this right on the tiny lands legally ceded to Indigenous peoples (reserves) seems unrealistic. Now, we know that in the Canadian North, just like in the northern parts of most provinces, in addition to reserves, there are major concentrations of Indigenous peoples. These territories must fully belong to Indigenous peoples. Concerning other areas conquered by white settlers where people of European descent make up a majority of the population, it is necessary to admit that there is an historical litigation and that white capitalist power could never be able to solve this problem correctly, that is to fully recognize the rights of indigenous peoples.

If northern territories do not have the strategic importance they currently have for Canadian imperialism, the creation of an Indigenous province made up of the Yukon and Northwest Territories as well as different reserves located in the northern part of various provinces could be something the existing regime may consider. [7] Its population would be more than 350,000 people. There is already a micro-province with a population of 139,000 individuals, Prince Edward Island. But considering all the resources that could be found there, such a proposal is certainly not possible within the framework of Canadian capitalism.

There could otherwise emerge something similar to Nunavut, some kind of mega-reserve with a lot of autonomy, but for which the exercise of the right to self-determination would be significantly curtailed. One only has to look at the Nunavut Act to see that this territory fully belongs to federal government. Just like at the time of the rebellion of 1837-1838, a commissioner named by the federal government exercises the same power as the governor named by the British crown at the time there was no responsible government. Section 11 defines executive power: “There is hereby established an Executive Council of Nunavut, the members of which are appointed by the Commissioner on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut.” [8] [Under Section 49, the management of Nunavut’s land is handled by the Commissioner named by the federal government. This shows how from a legal point of view, Nunavut doesn’t have the right to self-determination. Nunavut does not even benefit from the equivalent of the Clarity Act, which actually recognized the right to self-determination for a secessionist province is some rules are respected.]

No matter what, all territorial demands that can lead to the building of a revolutionary project of New Democracy or that can surpass this false choice of having to choose between assimilation or conservation of Indian status must be supported. The collective intelligence of the Indigenous people will certainly know how to formulate just demands. Certainly, this collective intelligence would require a proper framework and proper political organizations to solicit and invigorate it. This is the problem of the gathering of Indigenous revolutionary forces and the setting up of an organization that investigates the needs of Indigenous masses, provides a synthesis of knowledge, formulates a strategy for social transformation and contributes concretely to change.

Maoism is certainly the strongest theoretical weapon to bring the Indigenous revolution forwards. It is able to provide a critical synthesis of the history of the Indigenous resistance movement, to show its strengths and weaknesses and to formulate a perspective that goes beyond the state of resistance to the constant aggressions of the white settler power. Unity between the national democratic revolution of Indigenous peoples and the revolution of the white proletariat lets us imagine that the power of the Imperialist Canadian bourgeoisie may be destroyed and replaced by a genuinely red power.

  • 1. One should note however that the Supreme Court of Canada construed this provision in a very limited manner. According to the Court, ancestral rights are not universal: they are only related to the “concrete practices, traditions and customs” that existed prior to the arrival of White-settlers. For the SCC, the goal of Section 35 is to “reconcile that prior presence with the assertion of Crown sovereignty.”
  • 2. “La FSIN veut qu’Ottawa garde le contrôle des terres des Autochtones”, Radio-Canada, February 27, 2002. Online at
  • 3. Quoted in Bolshevik’s Union “Génocide ou la formation d’une nation”, July 1978 (our translation).
  • 4.
  • 5. The document from which these quotes are taken seems to have been removed from the Web by the now Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Canada Department. We have translated them from the original French version.
  • 6. Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,
  • 7. See “The Aboriginal Peoples and the North: We Must Overthrow Imperialist Domination!”, People’s War Digest, No. 2,
  • 8.
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