Canadians and their political leaders are ignoring all the signs of a looming aboriginal insurrection in their midst, warns a prominent military analyst.
Douglas Bland, a former lieutenant-colonel in Canada’s Armed Forces who chairs defence management studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., says conditions are ripe for a major uprising by first nations people.
He told a luncheon audience of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg last week that "the typical federal or provincial politician in Canada has no idea what to do with this matter. They only see it as a difficulty for themselves."
In turn, aboriginals are "emboldened by the prevailing political reluctance to act."
In a speech titled, "Where Are Aboriginal Affairs in Canada Headed?," Bland answers the question by noting that Canada is particularly "vulnerable to a national disturbance, given its economic dependence on the export of oil, gas, natural gas, hydro power and other commodities to the U.S.
"Aboriginal communities are sitting on those supply chains. At any moment they can turn that system off, which would pose a danger to the economy and to Canadian sovereignty."
Canada has witnessed several instances of the sort of aboriginal unrest Bland is talking about.
First nations groups have staged roadblocks on Highway 401 near Kingston and put up barricades on major railways. A crisis over disputed land occurred in Oka, Que., in 1990, and in Caledonia, Ont., in 2006. Another standoff took place in 2009 near Cornwall, Ont., between Mohawks and border services personnel who had planned to start carrying firearms.
Bland says he began studying the feasibility of an aboriginal uprising after the 9/11 debacle in the U.S. He recently wrote a fictional account of an aboriginal insurrection, titled Uprising.
Aboriginals make up the largest and fastest growing group of young people in the country.
Their median age — 25, compared to 40 for nonaboriginals.
Incredibly, more than half of on-reserve aboriginals are 24 and younger. Too many of them are not being educated. Fewer than 24 percent finish high school, even as 80 percent of non-aboriginals graduate.
Another problem, says Bland, is that the aboriginals who graduate from universities most often don’t return to reserves where they could improve governance and economic prospects.
And so, on-reserve unemployment stands at 28 percent. Youth unemployment is more than 40 percent.
A disproportionate number of young first nations men are being incarcerated in jails which tend to serve as "community colleges for the gangs."
For example, 71 percent of those who are held in custody in Manitoba are aboriginals, despite the fact they make up only 15 percent of the population.
Of course, aboriginals often experience deplorable living conditions characterized by rural isolation and housing that’s dilapidated and overcrowded.
A community with a sense of grievance needs only a particular economic or political condition to aggravate it, along with a unifying leader able to mobilize the group to trigger an insurrection.
Because aboriginals reside in areas adjacent to Canada’s resource bounty and these sometimes remote and expansive tracts of land are largely undefendable, the feasibility of a major conflict is that much greater.
Bland is a student of war and his soundings are worrisome. While past Liberal governments in Ottawa have deployed a strategy of big spending to alleviate unacceptable on-reserve living conditions, the Harper government has taken a different approach.
Conservatives have focused more on urban-dwelling aboriginals and, of course, given a formal apology and financial redress for historic injustices at first nations schools.
In any event, no political action will be as helpful as getting young on-reserve aboriginals educated.
With only five of 308 sitting MPs (and six senators) reflecting Metis, Inuit or first nations ethnicity, Parliament would be better equipped to respond to aboriginal challenges if more first nations people were to become engaged in national political processes.