Why does Harper balk at the TRC? White backlash is one reason.

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Photo: flickr/Stephen Harper

The outpouring of anguish, remorse and guilt brought on by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is remarkable.

We see it across the political spectrum -- from Sun News' David Akin, to the National Post's Michael Den Tandt and John Ivison, to former Mulroney apparatchik L. Ian MacDonald, to the more predictable voices on the more progressive side, such as the Toronto Star's Chantal Hébert.

There is near unanimous agreement that the story the TRC tells is one of utter horror for First Nations people and profound shame for Canada.

It would seem that the entire country is experiencing a prise de conscience.

The Canadian non-Aboriginal majority appears to be heeding Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde's invitation to respond with the heart as well as the head.

Harper takes the grin-and-bear-it approach

Why then has the Harper government remained so stoically passive in response?

When NDP and Official Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair joined the standing ovation for TRC Chair Murray Sinclair's call for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt remained seated.

When asked in the House about the TRC recommendation that Canada adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Harper and his colleagues almost condescendingly called the Declaration an "aspirational document."

When Mulcair invites the prime minister to express concurrence with Sinclair that the residential school system was an act of cultural genocide, Harper demurs.

And as for the TRC's 94 concrete "calls to action" -- the Harper government has barely even acknowledged them.

Harper says his government will wait for the full report before responding.

At the same time the prime minister argues that his government has already done a great deal to improve the lives of Indigenous Canadians.

The reason Harper and his government have adopted this grin-and-bear-it attitude toward the TRC is that they hear other voices than those that have flooded the media this week.

The Conservative leader is acutely aware that many of his party's "base" have views quite at variance with the "politically correct" consensus.

'Back to the tee-pee and out of sight'

To get a sense of that, one only need read some of the comments posted to this week's media stories on the TRC.

"Good grief," writes one commenter on a SUN News website, "Maybe non-natives should have left the Indians alone on their reserves with bows and arrows, with stone tools and without the wheel. Would that have been better?"

"Money fixes everything," opines another. "Give the First Nations a huge wad... watch as all First Nations problems will be fixed forever. Guaranteed!"

In a similar vein, another expostulates: "You don't think the taxpayer pours enough tax money into Indian Affairs? Geez. Time for them to go back to the tee-pee, out of our sight!!"

That money angle informs a great many comments, such as this one: "How much more real taxpayers cash will government shower these non contributors with?"

Or this one:

"Stop being a blood sucking parasite. The world does not owe you a living because you were here first... and there is some question about that …"

Or this one, also quite typical:

"Just blame 'da white man' and demand money from him. Forget about thousands of years of history whereby native tribes would go to war with each other over hunting lands etc. But when the civilized white man wins the war, financial restitution must be made for an unspecified amount of time."

Equally frequent are comments to the effect that we "white men" -- no effort at gender equity in commenters' world -- are "civilized," while the "natives" are, well, not.

"NONE of your tribes ever built a permanent city or even village, roads or bridges," shouts one angry commenter. "They hadn't even discovered the wheel…" 

Another, more sophisticated, uses the argument of moral equivalency.

"Natives" were as "genocidal" in their treatment of other "natives," he writes, ergo why blame us white folks? In support of his view, he provides a long lesson in revisionist First Nations history:

"During the 1650s, the Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois fought with and annihilated the Erie, the Neutral and the Petun (tobacco) Indians around what is now Lake Erie and displaced the Huron and took their land," the self-anointed scholar writes. "The Five (later Six) Nations Iroquois also burned missionaries at the stake, cannibalized their enemies... The Six Nations Iroquois committed genocide. Should the Iroquois apologize to and compensate other Indians?"

He then moves to other examples:

"In the 1690s, the Ojibwa killed and pushed the Five (later Six) Nation Iroquois from what is now southern Ontario... Should the Ojibwa apologize to and compensate other Indians?"

"The Haida in British Columbia... fought with other tribes. They beheaded enemies and they took captives from defeated enemies... The Coastal Salish Indians in B.C. held slaves as simple property and not as members of the tribe... Should the Haida and Salish Indians in B.C. apologize to and compensate other Indians?"

The moral of this pseudo-historical exposition is -- well there isn't really a moral. The writer just seems to feel the need to show off his erudition in history, or, more accurately, pseudo-history. He implies that the conclusion should be obvious to all, namely that we don't owe these "murderous savages" a thing.

Harper can't help but hear the backlash

There is no officially sanctioned mainstream media commentary expressing this sort of angry, bitter, openly racist backlash -- not even on SUN News.

Person-in-the-street interviews on television -- where people have to show their faces -- do not feature any of this sort of hateful stuff.

But the fact that there is so much openly anti-First Nations blather out there, shielded by the cloak of Internet anonymity, suggests that a significant measure of white backlash does, in fact, exist.

The prime minister will never openly acknowledge the backlash.

But in assuming the detached pose he has, and making no commitment to fulfill even a single one of the TRC's calls to action, the Conservative leader is signalling to all the white backlashers out there that he hears them.


Photo: flickr/Stephen Harper

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