John Bird,
Lorraine Land &
Murray Macadam,
Nation to Nation:
Aboriginal Sovereignty
& the Future of Canada

(House of Anansi, 1998;
Stoddart, 1999;
revised Irwin, 2002)

As an American citizen, I have always been aware of conflicts between settlers and Native Indian tribes. This book is interesting because I have also had an ignorance to the extent of conflicts between settlers and aboriginal tribes in Canada. It was a revelation to read Nation to Nation, which provided much information and detail into the history of a legal struggle that continues today.

The book is a series of articles on the conflicts that exist between Canada's aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. Much of the book deals with legal cases and precedents that have been set. It references the Royal Proclamation of 1763, in which the Crown set down rules for land negotiations with First Nations. This is a proclamation that has never been rescinded.

The articles are written by members of various aboriginal tribes and by lawyers and members of the churches in Canada. The aim is to try to resolve the issues of native rights to land and sovereign rule. Most of the participants in this project seem to grasp the delicate complexity of the issues. Most of the writers seem to have a sincere desire to work together to find solutions.

In the introductory pages there is a poem from Rebeka Tabobondung, a member of theWaskauksing tribe, called "Reconciliation." That is the aim of this book. The editors John Bird, Diane Engelstad, Lorraine Land and Murray Macadam have done a good job of putting this book together to move toward that end.

There are four sections. The first is a historical overview, "Original Sovereignty & the Colonial Experience." The articles here deal with the beginning of the colonization of Canada. Again, this is enlightening to me as an American because the situation in Canada has many parallels to the situation in the U.S. Settlers began to take greater chunks of land and exercise control over the lives of the aboriginal peoples.

The tales of attempted assimilation are heartbreaking. The efforts of schoolchildren led to grotesques abuses, verbal, physical and sexual. It has taken awhile but the leaders of Canada's churches have finally begun to acknowledge wrongdoing. (The book includes apologies issued by church leaders.)

The second portion of the book is "The Road Back to Sovereignty" and deals with many of the legal issues involved with the situation. It explores alternatives for criminal prosecution as well as rebuilding First Nation communities. I was surprised at the variety of different tribes in Canada. They have many distinctive communities among the First Nations; members from different tribes relate their experiences and views.

The goal of this book is to seek out mutually beneficial alternatives. The third section, "Transition & Community: Community Stories," reveals some of the horrors that have occurred but also conveys hope for the future. Rod Robinson writes of the Nisga'a tribe efforts to become a viable part of Canada. There have been instances where joint efforts have been made that have been beneficial to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.

The last section is "Becoming Partners: Non-Native Reflections on Solidarity." Here many non-aboriginal people give their views on resolving the issues and offer apologies for many of the injustices that have occurred over the past 500 years.

The book provided me with an interesting glimpse into problems facing Canadian society. The authors of these articles are committed toward building a better Canada and a workable partnership between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. There is much work to be done. The history of broken treaties and stolen land is extensive. It reveals that most aboriginal people do not necessarily want to become a separate nation but rather to regain sovereignty over their own lives and communities.

The problems are very complex. I found myself pondering how to go about resolving them. I also related it to the U.S., where similar issues of land rights are fought. The book offers insight into how many people feel about the struggle and the need for education on the subject. I don't see these issues being resolved easily, but it is good to know that many people are working together to find mutually beneficial solutions.

Much of it is written like a textbook so it will be best to be read by people with a specific interest in this situation. It would serve as an invaluable book for students researching the history of relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples. It would also be good for law students with an interest in the legal aspects of the situation.

I sometimes found myself lost among all the precedents and treaties cited, but it is very important history.

- Rambles
written by George Schaefer
published 6 November 2004

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