White paper, what paper?

If you hang around native people long enough, you’ll probably hear references to white paper, and it might have you scratching your head.  The trick is to capitalise the words.  They’re talking about THE White Paper.

Jean Chrétien was Minister of Indian Affairs under Trudeau from July 5, 1968 – August 7, 1974.

Now, that still won’t clarify much for you. A White Paper is essentially a federal government policy document, presented by a Minister.  It is intended to “state and explain the government’s policy on a certain issue.”  (there are Green papers and Blue books too btw.)  White papers are often persuasive in nature, intended to mark a shift in policy before any legislation is actually enacted.  They are put out to literally stir the waters, and to see what public reaction is likely to be, though the planning stages have already been fleshed out fairly thoroughly.

Unsurprisingly, the notorious document being discussed is a very specific one.  The White Paper of 1969, officially titled, “Statement of the Government on Indian Policy”.  It was put out by then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien.

Okay, so why the grim faces when anyone mentions the White Paper?

Well look.  There are a lot of places you can go to read a quick synopsis of what the White Paper was suggesting.  I don’t intend to rewrite all that, though I will excerpt its main points from the UBC page (good links in there too!):

…the white paper proposed to:

  • Eliminate Indian status
  • Dissolve the Department of Indian Affairs within five years
  • Abolish the Indian Act
  • Convert reserve land to private property that can be sold by the band or its members
  • Transfer responsibility for Indian affairs from the federal government to the province and integrate these services into those provided to other Canadian citizens
  • Provide funding for economic development
  • Appoint a commissioner to address outstanding land claims and gradually terminate existing treaties

Harold Cardinal giving INAC a huge headache.

It causes grim looks, because it was grim business.  Couched in terms of ‘equality’ and ‘dignity’, it proposed to pave over the colonial history of Canada and pretend none of it happened, or mattered.  It would be the final assimilationist move of a government intent on doing away once and for all what Duncan Campbell Scott called the “Indian Problem“.

In response, Harold Cardinal and the Indian Chiefs of Alberta published what was dubbed the Red Paper (ha, get it?) in opposition, also known as “Citizens Plus“.  Again, I don’t want to go into exhaustive details as to what it had to say, when there are excellent summaries and even classroom worksheets to explore these two Papers.  The White Paper was scrapped.

The reason I don’t want to get into it further than this, is that it’s ancient history, right?  That was 1969, and this is now.  Things have completely changed!  We’ve got Constitutional rights now, there’s been an apology for Residential Schools and the High Arctic Relocation, and all sorts of things.  The 60s and 70s were different times, friends.  Let bygones be bygones.

Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like you at all…

You’re right, and I’m sorry.  Sometimes I let my sarcasm get the better of me.

Okay, I’ll be up front about this.  The reason I’m talking about the White Paper right now, is because of the proposed First Nations Property Ownership Act (FNPOA) discussed recently by Pam Palmater.  I think that people need to take another look at the 1969 White Paper and ask themselves whether there has actually been change in the rhetoric being used.

Take a look at this stirring speech used to introduce the FNPOA:

To be a First Nations person is to be a human, with all a human’s needs and abilities. To be a First Nations person is also to be different. It is to speak different languages, draw different pictures, tell different tales and to rely on a set of values developed in a different world.

Canada is richer for its Aboriginal component, although there have been times when diversity seemed of little value to many Canadians.

But to be a First Nations person today is to be someone different in another way. It is to be someone apart – apart in law, apart in the provision of government services and, too often, part in social contacts.

To be a First Nations person is to lack power – the power to act as owner of your lands, the power to spend your own money and, too often, the power to change your own condition.

Not always, but too often, to be a First Nations person is to be without – without a job, a good house, or running water; without knowledge, training or technical skill and, above all, without those feelings of dignity and self-confidence that a man must have if he is to walk with his head held high.

Tom Flanagan, a former adviser to Harper, a big fan of the proposed FNPOA and author of the book, “First Nations? Second Thoughts.”

All these conditions of First Nations people are the product of history and have nothing to do with their abilities and capacities. Aboriginal relations with other Canadians began with special treatment by government and society, and special treatment has been the rule since Europeans first settled in Canada. Special treatment has made of First Nations people a community disadvantaged and apart.

Obviously, the course of history must be changed.

To be a First Nations person must be to be free – free to develop Aboriginal cultures in an environment of legal, social and economic equality with other Canadians.

Now wait a damn minute, I actually clicked on the link to the 1969 White Paper, and that quote is from the introduction to it!

Oops, caught me. You’re right, I copied and pasted the opening statement from the White Paper, changing some of the terminology from “Indian” to more politically accepted terms like “First Nations” and “Aboriginal”. I admit it.

I also apologise if it seemed as though I was suggesting Thomas Flanagan spoke those words.  What he actually said was:

Call it assimilation, call it integration, call it adaptation, call it whatever you want: it has to happen.

Much less elegant.

Now that you’ve read it though, does it sound terribly different from present-day rhetoric?  Well the White Paper dealt with much more than the privitisation of reserve land, so perhaps we should narrow the comparison somewhat.  What you should really do is compare the “Indian Lands” portion of the White Paper with what the FNPO Initiative has to say.  The two proposals are essentially the same.

Now, it’s true that just because the wording is very similar in 2012 as it was in 1969, this does not mean that the FNPOA is about full on assimilation the way that the White Paper was.  On the other hand, what lends credibility to the idea that this is exactly what it intends, is the fact that it is being championed and promoted by people who support exactly that.

Manny Jules, a big fan of Tom Flanagan and vice versa.  I wonder if he’s read Tom’s “First Nations? Second Thoughts” …

Remember Tom Flanagan?  In that lovely book, “First Nations? Second Thoughts” he tells us what he really thinks in Chapter 1:

  • indigenous peoples are just prior immigrants with no real rights (to the land or otherwise) ;
  • European colonisation was inevitable and justifiable because of the “tremendous gap in civilization” between aboriginal peoples and Europeans;
  • aboriginal peoples in Canada can’t have sovereignty because they didn’t achieve statehood recognisable to Europeans prior to contact;
  • aboriginal peoples cannot have nations because they are just tribal communities and must remain subordinate;
  • aboriginal government in practice “produces wasteful, destructive, familistic factions”;
  • aboriginal title as currently defined is impossible to use in a modern economy;
  • the historic treaties must not be re-evaluated;
  • aboriginal people can only find prosperity by integrating into the economy “which means, among other things, a willingness to move”.

There are plenty of refutations to all of these claims, but the point of this is to sketch out Flanagan’s approach to First Nations issues.  Why am I harping on Flanagan?  Well this fine fellow co-authored another book called, “Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights” that Manny Jules (Chief Commissioner of the FNPO Initiative) wrote a forward to, and both men are great supporters (and co-architects perhaps?) of the FNPOA.  That book reads a heck of a lot like both the White Paper and the discussion of the FNPOA…both of which basically assert that the only rights indigenous people should have…are private property rights.

So pardon me if I’m skeptical in the extreme of a plan that was virulently opposed by First Nations when it was first proposed in 1969, a plan couched in western liberal notions of human dignity and freedom of choice just like it is today, 43 years later.  Just because they found a First Nation face to slap on top of the FNPOA makes no difference when the attitudes are exactly the same.

So let’s call this property rights-specific proposal what it really is:  The White Paper Lite.


A shorter version of this article was published on rabble.ca and HuffPo.

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45 Responses to White paper, what paper?

  1. Capt. John Swallow says:

    “European colonisation was inevitable and justifiable because of the “tremendous gap in civilization” between aboriginal peoples and Europeans”

    Well at least someone finally admitted that The People were more civilized than the “settlers”.

    That is what he meant, right? ;]

    • Hahahaahahah…if only 😀

      • Capt. John Swallow says:

        That statement has been the bane of the existence of every civilized indigenous culture that was invaded by someone who thought they knew better.
        More cultures have been destroyed by settlers “trying to help the poor…” than anything. Well, that and the centuries of ongoing campaigns convincing everyone else that these significant cultures are, in fact, not civilized and need our help

        Thank ye for sharing Truth – may it always flourish in your garden!

        • Don’t worry, it’s already being insinuated that as an ‘academic elite’ I’m probably profiting from the billion dollar ‘Aboriginal industry’ which is why I oppose real progress, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseam.

          • Capt. John Swallow says:

            The fact that They are insinuating such things must mean you’re making them pay attention! ;]

            “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common:
            instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that need altering.”
            (Dr. Who)

            “You must acquire the trick of ignoring those who do not like you. In my experience, those who do not like you fall into two categories: The stupid and the envious. The stupid will like you in five years time. The envious, never.” (John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester)

  2. daveM says:

    My wish is that Dr.Palmater can lead our Aboriginal/FirstNations people to realize what is rightfully theirs.

    Too silent for too long has been the way.
    Canada poses many areas of opportunity to allow prosperity for First Nations, I am at a loss as to why it is being denied to these people.

    Thank you for your continued enlightenment.


  3. White paper lite indeed! Sadly it is their lite appearance that gives them weight – policies masked in neo-liberal language, dressed up to look new and innovative while achieving goals that are old and colonial. Love how you make that overt, fantastic!

  4. Susan Campbell says:

    Waiting for the day Flanagan is outed as a decades-long CIA agent. If he is, one compelling reason he wants Assange assassinated.

    Thanks, sister, for this excellent piece. Glad to see Flanagan getting a bit of the negative attention he so richy deserves.

  5. oskinapew says:

    As indigenous cultures are invaded and destroyed by industry throughout the globe, I at times ponder what is driving this bus. It seems like unmitigated greed IMHO. The reality of our time is that industry requires a far more mobile populace to serve it and having “indian lands” is a direct affront to this agenda. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old; hominids are on earth about 5 million years; the advent of domestication is about 10,000 years ago; the industrial revolution started about 262 years ago. Put things in perspective. We have used nearly half the planets natural resource in 262 years. I am not a mathematician but this seems alarming to me.
    Indigenous peoples are dangerous to industry because they carry a manner to be in the world that takes into account the desire to have a good planet to live on 7 generations from now. I think Manny Jules has forgotten this important piece of information. The land is not for us to buy, sell or conquer.
    Industry WILL fail us, hopefully before we destroy our mother (oh yes, we are very capable of this task).

    • daveM says:

      Unmitigated GREED certainly is the driver….. some people are willing to sacrifice good values without regard for humans in order to satisfy their greed.

      We need only to look at the pollution caused by Canada’s tar sands and the poisoning of people and fish downstream.

  6. Jeff Munroe says:

    This piece of Leglislation also mirrors the Bagot Commision Report as well.

  7. Nokamis says:


    “Just because they found a First Nation face to slap on top of the FNPOA makes no difference when the attitudes are exactly the same.”

    Shameful – rying to put lipstick on that old pig!

    Keep the fires burning – your hard work is much appreciated, miigwech!

  8. Mary-Jo says:

    I am fairly new to this issue; but after reading over this and other papers it seems to me that First Nations Peoples are gaining power and momentum in the debates and outcomes. Perhaps the proponents of the White Papers are concerned and wish to ‘stop the snowball’ of awareness, involvement and legal representation of First Nations because we are becoming too knowledgeable, empowered and powerful to suppress.

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  10. daveM says:

    It is mid September and across the country the children are back at school. Winter is not far away.
    I recall last winter when the crisis was declared at Attawapiskat and the horrors of inadequate housing and lack of water were disclosed….

    Here we are a year later and the same situations exist across this country with so many resources to give away.

    White Paper or no White Paper, for some reason the conditions experienced by our founding societies are being deliberately ignored and allowed to fester.

    I am appalled that so many governments have done so little to alleviate these terrible conditions while we actively solicit immigrants from all over the world and roll out the red carpet of benefits.


  11. Ted Harlson says:

    I came across this site by accident, but will say, Canadian Indians never should have been offered “self-government” in the first place. Its an achievement as a collective never earned.

    The political problem and mess today is due to the evasion of individual rights. Individual rights today is ignored, most especially by young, educated tribalists today. The conflict is individual rights vs. collective “rights.” Individual rights is the solution to the rotted structure of Indian Act life.

    A culture does not have dignity. Human people do. Its a personal, individual trait to be earned by individual effort and only freedom allows this to flourish. Most of Canadian Indians already have left the reserve system and earned virtues and values in the Canadian workplace of honest competition and careers. Only in this arena of development is there a future, not just for Indians, but for everybody. I wish you the best in figuring this out.

    • Your opinions come from a particular worldview that is not an indigenous one. You proclaim the supremacy of your worldview, without understanding ours. That is essentially the colonialist mindset. We do not to be ‘offered’ anything. Indigenous peoples governed themselves for thousands of years and need no permission to continue doing so.

      No, I am not going to take the time to explain to you where your assumptions fail. Please do not bother posting here again.

      • My $0.02 says:

        I feel very compelled to comment on this following response, as I found it in very poor taste.

        First, I would like to be clear that it has nothing to do with the opinions shared regarding this topic. (In fact, if I were pressed to say, I would find myself agreeing mostly with the points you’ve presented in your rebuttal)

        My issue is in the attitude that has been presented. Here you have someone who has taken their time to express their opinion in a reasoned and non-confrontational way…not intending to directly attack an individual, they are merely posting their opinion.

        Now, if this Ted Harlson had been spouting inane comments and racial slurs (which unfortunatley people tend to do often becuase of the anonymity of online posting) then I think you would have been well within your rights to ask him to leave.

        But as far as I can gather, you have taken offense to their comment, because their opinion differs vastly from your own. There is nothing wrong with having different ideas on different subjects, but to proclaim that their idea is stupid, not even worth acknowledging, and that they are not welcome, I feel is wrong and verging on bigotry.

        What is the point of even having comment sections if you’re not willing to engage in dialogue with another person with different views. How do you expect Ted Harlson to understand and appreciate how you stand, without explaining how his assumptions differ from yours.Wouldn’t sharing dialogue be more productuve, or would you rather him remain ignorant?

        If that’s the case, then what point is there of posting any sort of story? Wasn’t this story posted so others may get informed to create a well-reasoned opinion? Sometimes it may be necessary to follow through further to achieve that goal at times. Unless the only intent of this story to rally those sharing the same viewpoint under one united banner.

        Once again, I would like to stress I am not referring to the actual opinions expressed and am not choosing a side. It is just that I think this sort of stance is very counter-productive and it is frustrating to also see it being played out there in the world when it comes to this issue.

        • I am not here to entertain the absolutist statements of those who, contrary to your characterisation of the post in question, make it clear the only response they will find acceptable, is full agreement with their premise (i.e. collective rights are garbage and only individual rights matter). Further, though you seem not to see how arrogant, aggressive and patronising Ted’s statements are, you rush to find fault with my refusal to engage.

          In essence, you feel that BECAUSE I spent hours putting together a well researched and sourced post, I am now obligated to further educate people on the issue, or else I am ‘verging on bigotry’. Extend that further, as you have, and I am also responsible if people continue to be ignorant. If I had remained silent, of course, you wouldn’t be admonishing me at all.

          I am most certainly not the only source on this issue, and education is a process that all people must engage in themselves. I would very much include you in this, and I highly suggest that you learn a little about the dynamics of these kinds of conversations between those who benefit from colonialism and those who are oppressed by colonialism. Yes. You. Doing work, to learn.

        • daveM says:

          Many people, myself being one of them, have a lot to learn to assess what is happening. I feel that we have to listen, learn and say little, reason being that we have not walked in your shoes

          What we can do, and do assertively, is to help the voices to be louder, to encourage expression, to show tolerance and attempt to have empathy. And when we feel that we may disagree, ask for clarification……. that instead of subjective opinions.

          Issues being confronted By First Nations peoples and communities are unique and not easily grasped by we outsiders……. we have a lot to learn.

          What we can do is listen and support and encourage, at the same time study for understanding. One we have good understanding, then we can participate.

          What I see, in this situation is a huge opportunity for Canada and Canadians to grow and benefit by learning to share and join together and ensure that our freedoms and democracy and environment are protected. And that makes this current development most important and rewarding.

      • candice says:

        yes, therein lies the problem, people who see their own viewpoint as the one and only obvious truth. That’s been the problem all along.

    • daveM says:

      Mr Harlson your subjectivity is clearly reflecting your lack of understanding.

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  13. kedresmom says:

    Not getting off the subject but have any of you heard of the One Peoples Public Trust that has effectively gone back and proven that what we have called nations have been corporations and the trust has foreclosed on all the corporations. So the “Canadian”government, as if it were, does not exist. There are two cases in your area of the world that should interest you: one against the Central Bank of Canada and yhe other to foreclose on Ottawa. I may have the last one wrong, it could be another locality. Check it out. Also all corporations are bankrupt and have been put into nonexistance because they are no longer legal. Check it out.

  14. C.C. says:

    I come from an “assimilated” family. My fore-father was a French Voyageur who married a Native woman. My family was made to feel ashamed of their Native heritage and the knowledge of it was lost in the passing generations. What people don’t seem to understand is that it remains in the blood. We continue to have a strong bond with the earth and all life on it. It is part of who we are no matter what is done to us. We found our way home despite what the government had planned and are proud to voice that we are Aboriginal and I am saddened that we have lost our language, our history and the Native ways.

    I am always saddened when I look at different cultures, like the Eskimo or the Native of Africa, etc., who were once self sufficient and are now totaly dependent on $ and this all happened in my life time. How many are left on this planet that still are self sufficient? And why is it so important that it be taken away from them? Why does $ always have to rule?


    I just. That’s impressive. British-style colonialism at its bloody fucking best. I’d know; I’m Indian (of the subcontinental variety). And the fact that they found a Suitable Face, well, there’s never any lack of Suitable Faces, is there? But holy shit. I can’t believe this shit is still being peddled with a straight face. And I’m so, so sorry that it has even the slightest chance of success. D:

  16. some native guy says:

    I think what Harlson might have been partly referring to is the fact that there are native youth, who use and abuse their rights, know nothing of their culture, but use it as a personal excuse to behave in ways and aggressively write off non indigenous people who live in canada* as all being collectively anti native, and it sometimes leads to self destruction, which is sad and unnecessary. Yes, there are many people who don’t understand natives, and how can we blame them??? it’s not like theres some obvious place to go learn about them, so they try to open dialogue to understand it more, so you think his views reflect colonialism??? wow your smart, he lives in a colonial society, what a surprise his behaviour reflects that. So insteadof telling him where he can learn about natives, you act like a jerk and tell him he lacks understanding and should go learn…thats what he’s trying to do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! you know what you just did?? you made a person who will now think of natives as being aggressively defensive in the face of trying to learn. You just added to the problem you are so angry about, thanks.

    • Riiight. When a guy comes and rants about how collective rights are garbage and only individual rights are worth anything, I should feel sorry for his ignorance and arrogance and gently explain to him how his assumptions are flawed and based on a lifetime of learning of the inferiority of native cultures. When I say, “fuck that” because I already spend an inordinate amount of time providing resources with which people can educate themselves, I am suddenly made responsible for the perpetuation of colonialism and racism in Canada. Yes, that makes total sense. Unless I individually tutor every brazen asshole who comes along demanding my time and attention (and on this blog alone there have been dozens at least), racism will never die. It’s. All. Up. To. Me.

      Oh wait. I don’t accept that at all. I put in the effort I can afford to put in, and I fully expect others to put in effort of their own. If they come here with their minds made up, they can leave. I am not here to cajole them to attempt to dialogue in a honest way.

      Feel free to do some of the work yourself, by the way.

  17. We fed the europeans once, we don’t have to do it a second time. Great answer. Tired of feeding the white pwople.

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  20. SamanthaK says:

    Thank you for showing that their are others who will not stop the fight to keep the little bit of rights we have left.

  21. Joli says:

    I was surprised that you have a Bachelor of Education and teach youth, education does not stop because you don’t agree with someone’s views or find them ignorant, it doesn’t stop with one article. Your reactions have added to my frustrations to learn about indigenous culture, as typically is the reaction from indigenous individuals a defensive one aimed with anger. Understanding is two sided, since when does anyone else not entitled to another view. Also you defend your opinion speaking for native people, you can not speak for a whole race of people, please don’t, I know plenty that do not agree with your approach or views.

    • If you’d like to cut me a cheque to personally tutor you on the issues, please feel free. I am not here to hold your hand any more than I already have by very clearly breaking down the issues for you. You’re a grown adult. Act like it.

      Please go cry about your treatment somewhere else. Perhaps you can find a support group for people “Who Really Want To Be Allies And Learn The Issues Except Those Indigenous People Are So Mean And Don’t Bake Us Cookies!”

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  23. adamgaudry says:

    Hey, would you have any objection to me using this post as part of an online course in Indigenous politics? I’d like to link to it when discussing the pervasiveness of white paper logic.

  24. nehikat says:

    well, to be fair, there IS a thriving community of western scholars who contend that a real civilization has to check-mark a specific set of criteria…..professor kenneth harl (tulane) for example, is recognized as a brilliant historical scholar and defines civilization as “urban based, literate, engages in intensive agriculture, depends heavily on trade systems” (2005)….he habitually conflates “organized life” with “civilized life”.

    is it surprising that his definition privileges colonial realities (since every “great civilization” he focuses on in his research is a colonial society) as the only legitimate forms of civilization? that essentially he and others like him co-opt the term?

    no, and we all know it’s not true. outside of a purely colonialist definition of what qualifies as “civilization” it isnt much of an observation to say that all societies are civilized (if civilized means socially organized) whether nor not they are urban, agriculturalist, literate or involved in a trade system.

    civilization from a sociological perspective (im a sociology/indigenous studies/western studies student) really includes any society that has some kind of social organization. tulane’s (and others like him) perspective is actually referring to colonial civilization, which has to be able to check mark the little boxes before it qualifies as a colonial civilization. he also conveniently leaves out the necessity of social stratification but perhaps takes it on assumption that this is understood when he refers to “organized life”.

    anyway, just a new version of the old rhetoric around notions of cultural superiority which are quickly falling apart at the seams as we see the old template that was in place in europe at the time of contact coming quickly back into place today (most evident in the increasing gap bw the global wealthy and impoverished and environmental degredation).

  25. bhildebrand5 says:

    I simply want to state I really like your final statement, “The White Paper Lite”. I’m in the midst of getting a history major and my research brings me to your blog. Yes, there is much to learn and understand. This, I find, takes time and conversations, many conversations. 😉

  26. Joan Mac Donald says:

    I wish I knew more. I am a white nurse. I knew nothing about residential schools and the cultural colonization and assimilaton practices until recently. This made me feel ahamed.
    I was privileged to work with some First Nations persons to develop some community health tools together. I found a People with great diversity, tremendous humour, a great respect for their ancestry.
    I learned about the importance of not giving advice but sharing stories so that a person can follow their own path. I appreciated the reverence to Elders and the spirituality shown. I learned about politeness where people listen to each other and don’t interrupt like we do in Western culture and really hear what another is saying. I was very honored to be able to share some work together with some amazing people.

    I am saddened by the issues of drugs and alcohol that seem to exist in many of the communities and perhaps have a small understanding of some of the possible root causes.

    How do I answer people who say that assimilating more into western culture could benefit communities with more economic prosperity..etc? This may be an ignorant question but is there some way to keep cultural identity but still benefit from some integration? I ask this respectfully. ..I really AM trying to better understand.

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