Book Review — Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations: Disarming Conflict

Time Bomb by Douglas L. Bland

Time Bomb: Canada and the First Nations: Disarming Conflict by Douglas L. Bland is a current account and examination of the relationship between the First Nations and the Canadian government. Douglas L. Bland served for 30 years as a senior officer in the Canadian Armed Forces and held the chair of defence studies at Queen’s University for 15 years. He is the author of six books and numerous published contributions on Canadian and international security affairs. His political novel, Uprising, was published in 2009.

I remember from my grade school studies that white settlers bought Manhattan for a handful of glass beads. Squanto saved the pilgrims in their first winter in the new world. Ministers worked to save the souls of the savage peoples. The United States protected the Indians on reservations. The United States government was a benevolent force… the same government that counted another race of people as 2/3s a person. We learn more as we get older and my grade school years were spent in that US bicentennial period, where US history heavily candy coated. All this came on the heels of the American Indian Movement seventy-one day armed standoff with federal forces at Wounded Knee and before that John Trudell and the United Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz. But, to balance, Hollywood gave us Billy Jack.

I was a bit surprised to read that this is a continuing problem in Canada. I understood that many who stayed on reserves, like those on reservations, have a hard life and the government promises of the past are mostly forgotten. Treaties are either unfulfilled or simply ignored. Assimilation, forced or voluntary, has not worked as well in Canada as in the United States. Canada seems to be following the failed US system of “separate, but equal.” Existing treaties are bad and both sides know that, but the lack of trust prevents any forward movement.

Canada’s indigenous peoples are far from unified politically and geographically. There is no large political force like AIM in America. This disorganization allows the government to delay or ignore the problem. Bland points out that there need not be a major confrontation to be effective. Canada relies on its transportation system (rail, pipeline, and road) and its raw materials and agriculture for a large part of its economy. This creates a problem. If the minerals or crops are on native claimed land, there is much the native people can do to prevent access physically or legally. There is no possible way for the government to protect all the miles of road and rail in Canada. Small groups could easily cripple the rail system in many different places. That may sound insignificant, but a 2012 Teamsters strike against the Canadian Pacific Railroad shut down the national economy. The government was forced to intervene after only five days. The estimated cost of the shutdown was $540 million per day. An attack on the rail system would keep it closed for far longer. The Canadian rail system seems to be more one dimensional than the US system and has several choke points.

Bland educates the reader with points many never really consider. Sovereignty and nation mean different things. Nation usually, in the international sense, means an autonomous state. An Indian Nation, however is not autonomous and does not meet the international definition of a nation. The Iroquois or Chippewa may not apply for membership in the UN. Sovereignty to the organization being the supreme power in its borders. Indian nations are required to abide by the constitution of Canada. A sovereign Indian nation has much different meaning than the sovereign nation of Ecuador.

Time Bomb perhaps is an accurate term for the book. There is a problem and if left unchecked could explode causing great damage. But, being a time bomb, there is time to disarm it. Bland’s examination of the problem, the players, the obstacles, and the stakes make Time Bomb an important read for all Canadians and also an educational read for others. It is an issue that demands attention on not only the human rights level, but also on a level that governments understand, economics. A very informative read.

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I have used the term Indian in this review. Although historically inaccurate, it is an accepted term of use in treaties and organizations such as AIM (American Indian Movement), the United Indians of All Tribes, and several current organizations. In 1995 US Census Bureau reported, 50% of people who identified as indigenous preferred the term American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference

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