Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens

By Pamela Palmater
Fernwood Publishing, November 30, 2014, $19.95

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Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens is an interesting read because it is a collection of the best blog posts written by Indigenous activist, lawyer and academic Dr. Pamela Palmater from her acclaimed blog Indigenous Nationhood.

Palmater offers a critical analysis on a variety of topics that are crucial to First Nations peoples including legislation, Aboriginal rights, Canadian politics, missing and murdered Indigenous women, poverty, economics, identity and culture.

For example, in “No Natives Allowed: How Canada Breeds Racism and Fear” Palmater writes about a restaurant in Lakefield Ontario that allegedly posted a sign on their door saying “No Natives.” She approaches this subject with great tactfulness and does not point blame at the supposed restaurant owners but at how this kind of incident can happen because of how Indigenous people are portrayed generally in society.

She states that the portrayal of Indigenous people does not just happen in isolated incidents, and goes into great depth to explain the various ways in which Indigenous people are represented in Canadian schools, the media and by federal and provincial governments.

Palmater further illustrates this using former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology on behalf of all Canadians for the abuses committed in residential schools, and how, on the same day of the apology, conservative MP Pierre Poilievre had the “nerve to question the compensation being given to survivors” and asked whether it was “value for money.”

She goes onto compare how the Canadian government compensated Japanese families for ripping them from their homes during the war and how the Chinese were also compensated for the head tax that was imposed on them to prevent them from immigrating to Canada.

The “Supreme Court of Canada has specifically said that discrimination is ‘not a race to the bottom’ [ie. who is more discriminated against]” they have said that “often times Indigenous peoples have a unique experience and are dually disadvantaged on multiple levels not necessarily experienced by other groups.”

She notes that “scripted apologies forced by legal decisions, litigation or threats of job loss are hardly sincere and even effective at undoing the damage caused,” and how could residential school compensation, which came from lengthy litigation based negotiations, be considered less “value for money,” and therefore states somehow Conservatives and others find a way to insert doubt and blame into the conversation when it is about Indigenous peoples.

Blaming the victim is easier than accepting responsibility for wrongs done in the past and which continue today.

In “Urgent Situation Report on Humanitarian Crisis in Canada” Palamter states “This blog post is not an official report, but is modelled off situation reports from international groups and organizations about specific crises in other countries.” She argues that “Canada portrays itself as a model nation but always hides the darker side of the historic genocide perpetrated on Indigenous peoples and the aggressive assimilatory actions it is taking currently — which only serve to make poverty in First Nations much worse.”

To academics and those who represent First Nations people in Canada, the statistics presented about First Nations people and their living conditions are no surprise. But, to those who do not often look at Indigenous peoples’ issues, this post highlights a very different picture than what the Canadian government likes to project to other countries around the world.

It takes note of several disturbing factors and issues: the crisis of Aboriginal children in care, the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples, the water crisis on many reserves, the housing crisis, the issue of the over 1,200 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, the health crisis that predicts life expectancy is 8-20 years less for Indigenous peoples due to extreme poverty and a cultural crisis that shows 94 per cent of Indigenous languages in Canada (47/50) are at a high risk for extinction,

Palmater discusses that “although the Government of Canada has been presenting a picture of stable relations with and improved living conditions for Indigenous Nations,” the reality is quite different because it shows many Indigenous individuals, families, communities and Nations suffering from multiple, overlapping crises. She also notes that “although federal, provincial, Indigenous and independent researchers have all verified the crises, Canada has refused to act.”

It is sad to see these statistics but it is a truth that Palmater is not afraid to address.

Palmater brings that truth to many other issues in Indigenous Nationhood including the Idle No More movement and how it began; dual citizenship and what it means as an Indigenous person; the Conservative’s Fear Budget 2015: Canada’s Future Not High on Harper’s Radar; the elimination of First Nation Treaty Rights; Canada’s War with the Mi’kmaw Nation at Elsipogtog and a myriad of other issues not normally so straightforwardly discussed in mainstream media.

Those who are unfamiliar Palmater’s work may perceive Indigenous Nationhood as just a diatribe against the Canadian government — and in some ways, maybe it is — but I see it as bringing truth to Indigenous issues that people are afraid to really look at and discuss. It is a great read for those interested in political and social issues.

Palmater tackles myths and stereotypes about Indigenous peoples and provides an accessible, critical analysis of the laws and government policies being imposed on Indigenous peoples like no other writer of her time.

And for that Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens is a must read!


Christine Smith (McFarlane) is a Saulteaux First Nations woman, who hails from Peguis First Nation. She is a published writer and freelance writer for Anishinabek News on a regular basis. She has also contributed to other newspapers such as the Native Canadian,The Native Journal, Windspeaker, New Tribe Magazine, and FNH Magazine. She is a contributing editor with Shameless Magazine, and a contributing writer for the Toronto Review of Books.