Continued from Governments vs. Aboriginals: Breaking Families and Treaties
To sum up, in Canada we have historical injustices, false notions about “conquest” based on broken treaties, futile ideas like “assimilation”, and an awful record of what amounts to child abduction and abuse.
There is no purpose in feeling guilty for what “our” predecessors or “our” governments did in the past, but many of us should feel motivated to see the situation set right in the present day as much as possible. That’s why I think those who believe in libertarianism in Canada should be very interested in settling Indian land claims. This is because libertarianism concerns itself with matters of justice and morality. We also believe that people should be in control of their own lives and free from the dead-end of dependency.
All I am going to do is present a few libertarian ideas – for a change – and hope that people who are more expert and actually involved in these matters might someday catch on to their implications if they haven’t already. In any case I hope that land claims continue to proceed peacefully and justly and that First Nations peoples and other Canadians will develop strong bonds of peace and respect.
What policies have Canadian libertarians developed in the past on this issue? I notice that the Libertarian Party of Canada Statement of Objectives from May 1993 presents a policy which I think is on the right track:
“XI. Native Autonomy. We call for the honouring of all just claims of native people to land, property, and autonomy. Specifically, we seek:
- an end to transfer payments to native individuals, and their replacement with a lump-sum transfer of federal land;
- an end to all intervention by the Government of Canada into the use of native land, and an end to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs;
- the repeal of the Indian Act; and
- the granting of full Canadian citizenship to all willing native individuals.”
So a libertarian approach to this difficult problem would [might] be something like that. So I am going to start with my own interpretation of that particular policy, without discussing the third point about the repeal of the Indian Act which I will take for granted.
First, the federal government would transfer appropriate federal lands to First Nations communities. Also, provincial governments – if they were inclined in the same way – would independently follow suit and honour just land claims in the best way they could with provincial land. I might also suggest that non-Native property owners on claimed land might also choose – only if they so desired – to sell their land to Natives in private negotiations (1). It would be a contradiction for a libertarian-oriented society to force any land-owner to give up his property, unless of course he had stolen it personally (since we are talking about past injustices).
At the end of the first “stage” (if there are stages), most of the land in question would then be fully owned by either Native communities or Native individuals. Fully owned means that any shared rights that Canadians enjoyed in the past on that land – such as forestry, mining, hunting, fishing – would be controlled by the new property owners who may or may not choose to revive them as services in exchange for fees.
Next, we need to look at the problem of Native self-government (or sovereignty, or autonomy), which is a real obstacle for many who believe that we should all want the same thing and that we should all have the same loyalties in spite of historical realities. It is fine to be disappointed that our dreams about Canadian unity and history don’t match reality. But I also think that Canadians have a more realistic attitude than others about this subject because of our experiences with Quebec separatism. We can also look at the positive example of the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into two new nations.
Economist Ludwig Von Mises is very highly regarded by modern libertarians and those who believe in the free market. He used the term “liberalism” to describe his political ideology, but nowadays we use the terms “classical liberalism” and “libertarianism”. In his book Liberalism (1927) Mises states the following principle which is consistent with the highest ideals of Western liberalism – the progress of which was frustrated by imperialism, totalitarianism and the statist war-making ideologies we have to live with now:
“The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.
“To call this right of self-determination the “right of self-determination of nations” is to misunderstand it. It is not the right of self-determination of a delimited national unit, but the right of the inhabitants of every territory to decide on the state to which they wish to belong…”
So, the second stage begins with the land already under the control – the property – of First Nations individuals and communities. But then it would probably be legally and morally necessary to carry out plebiscites of all residents in those regions of Indian lands to determine their willingness to be part of new self-governing nations. The plebiscites could be finely tuned, possibly town by town, and possibly right down to the decisions of individual land owners.
It could become very complex as there is no way to predict what people would decide. Some non-Natives might decide to join an Indian nation if their land was adjacent. Or some towns with Indian residents may even remain part of Canada even though they were surrounded by an Indian nation – as long as they could freely travel.
It depends on what everyone is willing to live with and what they see as practical. But I think the end result could be more or less settled and it would be something very positive. I believe native self-government and independence would be a very positive event for First Nations cultures and for Canada also. That’s not to rule out the idea of partial sovereignty or a similar status as provinces. Perhaps aboriginal nations would want foreign policy or the border with the U.S. to be managed by the Canadians. And of course there would be free trade and mobility because it would be absolutely essential for everyone.
The third stage would be to just let people be, and trust different cultures to manage their own affairs.
However, residents of Indian nations could be offered Canadian citizenship and welcomed to live in Canada if that is what they preferred. Indian nations could also offer citizenship to Canadian citizens who wanted to live within the Indian nations. This would supply a safeguard for individuals and groups who were being oppressed in some way by their government – say, for example, if children were being abducted and shipped out to residential schools!
This example illustrates a reason for abandoning the false ideal of having a single global government and for retaining the idea of independent nations and borders. In a multi-national world, there are many different places to flee when faced with oppression. And the principle of self-determination – if established in practice by a peace-loving [?] nation like Canada – would provide an option for disadvantaged peoples who want to retain their identities.
For reference, please read:
Highlights: Ontario’s Approach to Aboriginal Land Claims, Jan 7 ’05
“Ontario will not expropriate private property to reach a land claim settlement. However, the province may agree to buy land from an owner on a willing seller/willing buyer basis where it will help achieve a satisfactory settlement of the land claim.”
[Note: So, classical liberal or “libertarian” concepts or natural law concepts–concepts of peaceful rationality–already exist to some degree and are already supposed to be practiced. But have they been followed?]