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Book Review: Uprising by Douglas L. Bland

This is not your typical Canadian novel, full of sensitively deconstructed angst and lapidary, workshopped prose. This is an action- packed "issues" novel, a one-man crusade to awaken Canadians from their complacency about the possibility of a paralyzing native insurrection.
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In the latest Dorchester Review, journalist Barbara Kay revisits Douglas Bland's 2009 book Uprising: A Novel -- a political thriller about aboriginal strikes on Canada's energy resources that one critic has called "the most dangerous book in Canada. Her piece is reprinted here.

In February 2012, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews released Canada's first comprehensive anti-terrorism assessment report. From 2005 to 2009, the RCMP and CSIS analyzed threats of terrorism and extremism by different groups. Of foremost concern were radical Islamists. Also cited were terrorist threats by radical environmentalist organizations such as Greenpeace, PETA and the Sierra Club, and -- almost in the same breath -- aboriginal groups.

A November 2008 assessment prepared by CSIS states: "Multi-issue extremists and aboriginal extremists may pursue common causes, and both groups have demonstrated the intent and the capability to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure." From this carefully worded sentence, one might easily conclude that the threats posed by environmental groups and by native groups are of a roughly common nature and gravity.

In reality, apart from the fact that both groups disrupt economic activity, cause property damage and sow local panic, environmental activists and native militants represent quite disparate kinds of threats. Environmentalist mayhem is ideologically inspired, coolly and rationally planned by well-funded, business-model organizations, whose (mainly white, educated) personnel have an ideological, not a personal stake in their adventures.

Environmental projects are closed-ended. The eco-warriors make their more or less dramatic point; then move on to the next target. Even if they wanted to, the logistics of on-site protests in remote areas are too complex to allow for eco-saboteurs to settle in for long-term occupation. Although prevention may be difficult, saboteurs are easily apprehended by conventional enforcement. And because they do not fall into our present culture's hierarchy of politically correct "identity" victimhood, as natives do, the perpetrators can be and usually are prosecuted to heartfelt public applause, just like post-hockey-game rioters and vandals. Most important, while environmental incidents are a huge local concern, nationally even quite dramatic strikes are but a nuisance.

Aboriginal activism is quite different. There are some 180,000 warrior-aged Indians living on Canada's critical infrastructure and resource lines. They bestride the east-west lines of communication and transportation on which the economy depends. Their reserves also hug the oil, natural gas and hydro lines that fuel southern Canada and a good part of the US. Native activists are well aware of the usefulness of these installations as a trump card.

As activist Shawn Brant, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), said in 2010 (quoted by Al Jazeera, no less): "The government ran its infrastructure through our land ... it serves as an incredibly powerful tool of influence that allows us now as a society to engage government in a dialogue, a relationship based on us having the power."

Not only are these sites undefended, they are all but indefensible. In the run-up to the 1995 sovereignty referendum, the Cree warned the government that they would not sit idly by and see Quebec separate from Canada. They made pointed references to hydro line vulnerabilities. It was a major turning point in the campaign, as nobody doubted their sincerity and the calamity such an attack would entail.

Native populations are growing faster than those of the non-aboriginal population: By 2017 natives will account for 30% of Saskatchewan's population of twenty- to thirty-year-olds. Unlike environmentalists, natives' cultural identity is bound up in the rarely-seen territories that other Canadians regard as precious for economic, not emotional, reasons. Natives' identification with their lands predates our economic exploitation and would postdate a breakdown or evacuation of infrastructure.

Therefore, unlike environmentalists, natives have nowhere else to go and nowhere else they want to go. Most important, their aggressions are a symbol of historical grievances -- so not ends in themselves, but a harbinger of worse to come.

Seen in that light, we should be taking native blockades and disruptions more seriously than we do. Militant natives have the capacity to foment domestic terrorism of a far more consequential order of magnitude than environmentalists or even Islamic jihadists, whose strategy nowadays seems oriented more to the stealth jihad of institutional infiltration than to outright terrorism.

It wouldn't take an army of thousands for guerrilla natives to wreak havoc. About 500 hard-core IRA members ensnared 25,000 British troops and the entire Royal Ulster Constabulary for more than twenty years. In the 2010-11 Arab Spring a group of leaderless ragtag guerrilla groups stood up to the entire Libyan army. The Northern Gateway pipeline to Prince Rupert, presently in contention, runs through more than ten first nation communities. How many full-time troops would be required to guard it, if push came to shove?

There are 1,172,790 aboriginals in Canada -- 4% of the population. Of them 700,000 are first nations, with 389,785 Métis and 50,485 Inuit. Of the first nations, there are 180,000 males in the "warrior cohort" age 15-34, of whom less than 24% complete high school, and 40% are unemployed. Many have chosen lawlessness as a conduit for their frustration.

When thuggery becomes a way of life for significant numbers of youth in any minority culture, it can easily metastasize into politicized criminality, as we saw in the case of the Black Panthers in the U.S. in the 1970s. Native gang culture is intensifying -- nurtured, ironically, by the federal prisons, veritable hothouses for gang recruitment and organization, in which natives are disproportionately represented.

In Ontario and Quebec, native gangs resemble conventional organized crime units. The danger of politicized criminality is greater out west amongst growing gangs like Red Alert, Indian Posse, the Alberta Warriors, the Manitoba Warriors, and the Native Syndicate. Authorities have little idea how much amassed illegal weaponry they have at their disposal, knowing only that it is significant.

These tough, disciplined, macho gang members could in fairly short order become the foot soldiers of an insurgency. Their restlessness can only by encouraged by the constant veiled and not so veiled threats of violence issued in their name. In May 2007, Phil Fontaine, chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said:

"We have a right to be frustrated, concerned, angry ... an anger that's growing, building and building." The same day Terrance Nelson, chief of the Manitoba Roseau River First Nations said: "There are only two ways of dealing with the white man. Either you pick up a gun or you stand between him and his money." The AFN website flaunts a quote from Tecumseh: "... and together we will win our country back from the whites." Last fall Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, declared that "Canadian society must heal the damage caused by the residential school system or deal with the violence that will be undoubtedly unleashed against it."


Idle No More: In Photos

Our sophisticated urban elites may dismiss these provocations as empty rhetorical bombast, but to simpler minds controlling itchy trigger- fingers these words, even if not taken at face value, can become part of a rhetorical arsenal. Something that looks very much like a powder keg is sitting in our midst. But a native insurrection is virtually a taboo subject. Politicians, the media and the general public tacitly agree to ignore it. Most Canadians are geographically distant from reserves, and the little we know of what attitudes, ideas and even plans are brewing in those far-flung crucibles of despair and resentment comes to us secondhand from a naive and reflexively breast-beating media culture preoccupied with tragic legacies, not their implications.

Willed ignorance serves our psychological interests as well. Vicariously mortified by the residential school debacle, reinforced by an education system that inculcates the notion that Canada is a "racialized" society no amount of penance can wash away, Canadians are all catechized in white guilt.

But after so many years of heartfelt apologies, conferences without end, the flow of billions into aboriginal communities, all making no discernible dent in on-reserve immiseration, there is no positive story of national benefits aboriginal leaders are willing to tell, or Canadians any longer willing to believe. Constrained by political correctness from criticizing what many perceive as extortionate native demands, a certain apathy about native dysfunction has taken root in us, while a smoldering need to externalize their inchoate anger has taken root in them.

The two latest shots across the bow: If they don't get $5 billion instead of the "ridiculous" offer of $350 million, members of the Innu community of Pessamit, 250 miles (400 km) northeast of Quebec City, led by chief Raphael Picard, say they will wage war against the province's new $80 billion resource-development Plan Nord by mounting an international campaign -- meetings with politicians, potential investors and media, and blocking Route 389, vital to hydro transmission lines. The southern Manitoba First Nations, led by Chief Clearsky and Terry Nelson, are openly threatening to shut down transnational oil pipelines this June to protest the dismal conditions in some reserves.

Are such provocations mere posturing or a warning that we should heed? In 2008, during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Sen. Roméo Dallaire put this question to former prime minister and first nations' issues champion Paul Martin: "We have heard about the Aboriginal Day of Action. Is the internal security risk rising as the youth see themselves more and more disenfranchised? In fact, if they ever coalesced, could they not bring this country to a standstill?" Mr. Martin's reply: "My answer, and the only one we all have, is we would hope not."

Mr. Martin's unsettling response reflects the ostrich- like attitude of even well-informed political observers who are banking on an old, comforting cultural paradigm of passive, stoic natives, a bit childlike, and too politically fragmented to unify under a single leader. They are relying on a rapidly superannuating model of shellshocked, deracinated, culturally demoralized people whose grievances reflexively turn inward.

Those days are over. The passivity associated with demoralized alumni of residential schools -- the "lost generation" -- has been superseded by politicized and activist legatees whose emergent leaders know how to exploit the reigning rights culture and new technologies to air their grievances.

The young turks, like the previous generation, are resentful of Canadians' multicultural fetish with other ethnicities as the natural future of Canada, while natives are treated like interlopers. They have observed the lie of the global political land. They have learned how to externalize and manipulate their grievances to political advantage. They have internalized a new narrative, one that won't settle for compromises.

In fact three aboriginal narratives are being plaited into a neat single braid. The first strand is about conquest: the theft of the land, the false treaties and the myriad crimes committed by the white settlers. The second strand is one of shame and poverty and "cultural genocide" that continues to this day, centred on the totemic schools policy of former governments. The latest strand is that aboriginal people are an independent, sovereign people and always were, who carelessly permitted themselves to be exploited, and who prostituted their independence for federal lucre.

The idea of an ancient, unified, fully-realized nation that never existed has a name: apophrades, "the return of the dead." It reaches back to an imagined, idealized past in order to validate claims for a future "restoration." As with the Palestinians, between the apocryphal memory and the utopian future a sustainable and peaceful co-existence with its neighbours is lost in the gap.

Natives' story of perpetual victimhood and dispossession is nourished, narratively and tactically, by a global anti-"imperialist" zeitgeist that privileges the claims of any historical losing ethnic team over white winners of European provenance. They will never go back to the old colonial paradigm. The implication of the new narrative is that they will never consider themselves to be citizens of Canada. The seed of defiance has been implanted.

Of course none of this is news to CSIS or the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, a think tank made up of former chiefs of defence staff, senior police and military, ex-politicians, and academics; or the Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit, a little-known group within the military that between January 2010 and July 2011 assembled at least eight reports on the activities of native groups.

These organizations are all too aware of a potential gathering storm, and have done their best to share their concerns with governments. During the Chrétien years, no less than fifteen reports were written outlining all the relevant facts and dangers. Nothing was done. If Canada has a federal policy and a plan for dealing with a native insurrection, it would be news to Canadians. That is, if the media had any interest in finding out what it is.

The media's virtual silence is puzzling, in spite of pointed openings for commentary. As then Police Commissioner Julian Fantino (now -- coincidence? -- the Associate Minister of National Defence) said with discouraging candour when criticized for refusing to enforce the law at Caledonia, even when non-natives were threatened with physical violence, "If I were to do something at Caledonia, [we'd] have an uprising across the country."

You might think that such a leading remark would arouse a flurry of commentary and intense pressure on the government to endorse or refute Mr Fantino's statement; and if the former, to share the government's plan for containing it. But you would be wrong. Even though the implications of Fantino's explanation for his inaction were troubling, his words were passed over in silence. And the Caledonia situation remains unresolved to this day, which suggests that his fears are shared by his political masters.

Can a native insurrection happen in Canada? That is not the question, according to Douglas Bland, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Army who teaches defence studies at Queen's University and is the author of the 2010 political thriller, Uprising. There will be an uprising, Bland believes. The real question is, how will it go down? Uprising, a novel that one critic calls "the most dangerous book in Canada," a how-to manual for insurrectionists, is Bland's extended answer to that question.

In Bland's fictional scenario, a charismatic young native, Molly Grace, a beautiful young woman imbued with spiritual passion for the land and a romanticized Louis Riel as her muse, seizes leadership of the "Movement" after the failed Days of Protest in 2007. Molly inspires, plans and co-ordinates a successful, month-long, east-to-west series of crippling strikes on critical installations and transport hubs that brings Canada to its economic knees and Canadians to a state of panic.

A woman as charismatic leader is not a bow to political correctness. Women have traditionally played a leadership role in native society and politics. Molly's genius is in her apophradic vision. She brings a new and galvanizing logic to the impasse between natives and white Canadians. No more handouts, no more islands of autonomy in a sea of white power. In Molly's view, "The aim is not to negotiate with Canada, but to destroy it. It's an artificial nation ... a multicultural blob held together by little self-interested mobs of foreigners."

Molly persuades a small, but determined band of apostles that Canada -- when it is sovereign, it will be known as Assiniboia -- can be subdued through the seizure of vulnerable key installations. Canada's armed forces are tough and effective, but they are few in relation to the vast reaches of the country. A handful of motivated leaders who know their own territories intimately -- one has been schooled in warfare in Canada's Armed Forces -- have no trouble building small teams of fiercely loyal local natives who can pull off effective strikes and melt seamlessly into the landscape, where they become untraceable by conventional forces.

Bland, a first-time novelist, is no Tolstoy, nor does he aspire to be. Uprising was originally conceived as a straightforward report. But, all too aware of the waiting oubliette that had swallowed so many other academic assessments of the situation, Bland opted for the widespread general readership and the media buzz a shock-and- awe novel might attract. Which is to say this is not your typical Canadian novel, full of sensitively deconstructed angst and lapidary, workshopped prose. This is an action- packed "issues" novel, a one-man crusade to awaken Canadians from their complacency.

Readers expecting three-dimensional characters or a love story will be disappointed. Every character is political or represents a historical point of view. The dialogue is heavy on exhortation, exposition, or didacticism, and short on inner conflict or psychological nuance.

Uprising was inspired by an interview on CBC radio several years ago, in which Bland heard an elder from a first nations community north of Kenora sorrowfully describing the disaffected, hostile and increasingly militant young natives -- "the stepping stones to our future" -- who were abandoning their families, their villages and their sense of themselves as a people. The elder said, "I don't think we elders can control the young ones much longer ... They're listening to outsiders and those ones are bad people."

At that moment everything -- the scattered symptoms of a growing national crisis, dysfunctional aboriginal policies, failing social and educational programs, "days of protest," and occasional confrontations -- fell into a pattern for Bland.

The novel's narratives detailing the actual strikes on hydro installations and military bases and other critical targets across the country are riveting in their meticulously detailed and sure-footed descriptions. This is one of the author's two comfort zones. The realism of the attacks is persuasive and therefore rather frightening. In one scenario, simply putting two bridges and a highway out of commission literally divides Canada in two economically, bringing all transnational movement of goods to a screeching halt. Bland isn't giving away any secrets here; he claims there isn't a single insurgent scenario in the book that hasn't been openly discussed amongst native activists.

Bland's other sphere of confident authority, springing from decades of specialization in native affairs, is his profound knowledge of the contested moral terrain: between reformers and radicals; between native leaders and white politicians; between white politicians and military advisors; between natives and new immigrant cultures. Long, fact-dense arguments between those representing the various perspectives don't do much to advance the plot, but they lay out the social and political facts, the emotional hot buttons, the tangled matrix of shifting alliances, and the apparently unbridgeable cultural gaps between even the best-intentioned. In short every dialogue is a valuable history lesson.

Here, for example, are a few outtakes from a native Council meeting, where Molly is meeting resistance to her radicalism from fearful representatives who are reluctant to take the fateful step to insurrection.

One chief representing the old, collaborative strategy, says, "Look, the Quebec government has asked to parley, to call an inquiry into native grievances and to consider land claims and self-government in the north ... We might get what we want without any conflict ...."

Another says,

"It's really a dangerous gamble. The government is powerful and it's not going to lose -- there's the army and everything ... We'll become the Palestinians of North America, despised, rioting without aim against an unbeatable force ... split into little factions of self-hate, and for what -- a few acres of snow and bush?... [Insurrection] won't get us to the table, it'll smash the table and we'll end up with nothing. Never doubt the whites' ferocity ... They hanged Riel, remember? They'll do it again. The Sioux got Custer, but the U.S. Army got Montana."

Molly rips into them contemptuously.

"Look at yourselves. Leaders?... Canada still treats our people as the churches treated them for so long. Today, the system is like a giant, modern version of the residential school, where now the bishops are politicians and civil servants are their priests ... The so-called minister of aboriginal affairs is a Sikh, for Christ's sake. Here we are on the lands the Creator gave us; he got here ten years ago and he's in charge. Do you want to go back home and explain that to your kids?"

She is just as tough on natives who collaborate with whites:

"Think about this: 600 chiefs representing 900,000 people. ... That's like having 21,000 members of Parliament. And just last July these same chiefs travelled first class to Calgary to stay in a fine hotel and play golf. Imitation settlers, that's what they are ... All of them bought for a green fee and a dinner tab. Our kids don't have clean water and these fat-assed chiefs play golf with your money ... We must help each other. You are the people. You own the land. Chase away the devils of booze and drugs. Educate yourselves ... Remember, dignity is earned, not given to you by governments, white or native."

In the gathering panic of the rolling crisis, the following dialogue takes place between Jack Hemp, the prime minister, and his native counterpart, First Nations Federation (i.e., Assembly of First Nations) Grand Chief Al Onanole. We're told that, "For Jack Hemp, every evil in the world was a social problem to be fixed by reasonableness, dialogue and handouts." Onanole is what Molly Grace would call a "white" Indian, because he is committed to working through problems in a normative political process, however long it takes. He is a suave political player, who knows when to wear his buckskin jacket and when to wear his Harry Rosen suit. He has profited personally from the never-ending palaver, and projects more authority than he knows he has.

At this point, there have been successful native assaults in Petawawa, James Bay and Halifax. The chief is torn. He needs to save Hemp's political skin to oil the wheels of his own career, but he can't risk his own status by getting into a fight with his band chiefs. Their dialogue about how to resolve the crisis turns into the kind of frustrated visceral clash that exposes the familiar insoluble enmities of the relationship.

Unhealed wound meets perplexed pragmatist: They are talking past each other.

Al: "End the oppression of the people. Not just in Quebec, but across Canada. Do it and I'll deliver the people."

Hemp: "Don't give me that crap, Al. That's just barricade rhetoric. ... I can't go out and tell Canadian taxpayers that the people to whom we give eight billion dollars a year are oppressed ... 'The Oppressed': That's just a handy label for an assumed collective you guys trot out when you're at the table with us. But the really oppressed natives aren't in that room and you know it."

Al: "You think the symptoms of oppression -- listlessness, irresponsibility, depression, drunkenness, suicide -- that stalk native reserves are just things I made up?"

Hemp: "No, of course not. But real, head-busting oppression is about cruel treatment, fear of authority, prohibition of choice, murder and mayhem. Where are they in your people's case? As likely as not, I'd say its oppression arises from your traditions or from the culture on the reserves. Al, you can't convince me that unsatisfied want is oppression."

Hemp knows he can secure Onanone's co-operation, but also acknowledges that even with Al on board, his power is limited. "I don't think there is a 'native community.' There are just bunches of natives of all shades who say they belong to one group, and then they say they also belong to another group, or belong to several. There's natives, meaning Indians, and natives, meaning Inuit, and natives meaning Métis, and natives, meaning on-reserve and natives off-reserve, and natives, meaning women, who are disenfranchised by all the other natives, and natives, meaning people organized under the so-called 'friendship centres.' ... who are we Canadians supposed to deal with and how do we know which community and which leaders are legitimate?"

And finally there is the stalwart, unflappable General Bishop (I am pretty sure this is Bland's alter ego), rather pedantically briefing the Minister of Defence (and us): Minister, an examination of the statistics for the native population reveals two general trends.

First, there is an unprecedented growth in population on reserves. Second, despite this fact, and contrary to some media reports and public opinion, social conditions and health and welfare on some reserves are stable and even improving. ... As you may know, Minister, scholars warn us that revolutions often occur when conditions are improving and people's expectations of a better future are suddenly dashed.

During these long discussions and sometimes painfully wooden monologues, the reader gets a sense of the magnitude of the problem. There's only so much money to go around. Should it go to the 400,000 natives on-reserve or off-reserve? Does the government deal with hereditary chiefs or elected band councils? The FNF is the accepted representative, but it has no control over individual radicals or the natives that gravitate to them. When natives speak about "inherent rights," what does it mean? What are Canadians meant to give up?

The argument becomes more and more heated. Hemp threatens Onanone: "There's an iron rule in political conflict, Al, 'radicals beget radicals.' ... We absolutely don't want to get ourselves into a situation where we can't make peace or defeat one another, an interminable, unwinnable warfare on the Israeli/Palestinian model. I'm really afraid that's where we're heading."

Note how the Palestinian motif crops up, both amongst the natives and amongst politicians. The success of the Intifadas in normalizing the idea of a Palestinian state, now within their grasp solely on the basis of violence and manipulated public opinion, weighs heavily on both sides. As it turns out, Bland's fictional scenario turns out to be worse, because while Israel's superior military can be counted on to suppress any serious individual uprising, even if it can't end the general stalemate, Canada's Armed Forces cannot cover all the bases.

Not to give away the ending, but contagion happens. All order breaks down. The finale is rather apocalyptic. Suffice to say that the U.S., its own oil and gas and electric needs threatened, does not sit back and await a made-in-Canada solution.

It would be easy for the reader to treat Bland's thriller as the lurid emanations of an overheated imagination, but for the following sobering factors.

Bland's opinions are the product of a long military career, during which he travelled and conducted research in strife-torn corners of the world. He enjoys a reputation as one of Canada's most respected experts on national and international defence and security affairs. During his postings at home, he amassed considerable experience with many aboriginal communities, collaborating with many aboriginal leaders. He considered them fine comrades. He has shared many a podium with aboriginal leaders and had candid "and even at times blunt" conversations.

Another important consideration is his intellectual apprenticeship to a theory of why insurrections happen that no reasonable individual can dismiss out of hand.

Bland is a disciple of Oxford scholar Paul Collier. In his 2007 book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, Collier describes in economic terms the "traps" that entangle nations and that give rise to insurrections or totalitarian governments. At the crux of his analysis is "feasibility."

Insurrections, Collier argues, do not occur because of poverty, despite the frequency with which poverty is adduced as a root cause. Rather an insurgency happens -- indeed, is "inevitable" -- when an aggrieved minority believes an attack on the extant authority will succeed. Feasibility rests on three basic factors. First, the nation must consist of a diverse population, in which a significant, homogeneous group becomes disaffected. Second, the state's economy is largely dependent on the movement of resources like oil, gas and hydro power over sparsely populated, inhospitable -- and therefore difficult to defend -- terrain that runs through the territory of the disaffected group.

Third, this fast-growing population, relative to the national norm, includes a relatively high number -- 100% above the norm -- of its warrior cohort, males aged 15 to 34.

The insurgency itself is set off by an accident (think of the self-immolating street vendor in Tunisia who set off the Arab Spring) or a policy error (Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's provocative walk on the Temple Mount set off the Second Intifada).

Does the situation in Canada meet Collier's three feasibility standards? Yes, yes and yes. In the event of a rolling or multiple-strike insurrection, our military forces are not sufficiently numerous to vanquish even small but determined guerrilla bands operating amongst sympathetic populations. There are presently 40,000 troops in Eastern Canada, 30,000 in Western Canada and 10,000 abroad. In the North West Region -- Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta -- there are a total of 4,100 RCMP police patrol officers. Bland reckons that in an emergency, there might be available "about 600, if we're lucky." In Flin Flon, for example, 400 miles (650 km) northwest of Winnipeg, and surrounded by native reserves, a staff sergeant plus eight constables serve a population of 10,000. If the thirty-three reserves in northern Manitoba collaborated in blockading the single highway to Flin Flon in order to paralyze the nearby mining industry, they initially would have to deal with only forty RCMP.

Bland is convinced that a native uprising is inevitable if its feasibility is not reduced. Since our natural resources cannot be relocated, our transportation routes cannot be altered, and our military cannot be stretched to the point of absolute control, hope lies in reducing native alienation. How that is to be accomplished, Uprising's author does not know.

Nor should he be faulted for his failure to produce prescriptions as well as descriptions. Whistleblowers blow whistles; it is the responsibility of politicians and the media to at least hear and acknowledge them. If Uprising overstates the case for alarm, as many readers are bound to believe, that doesn't mean there is no case for alarm at all.

There are no heroes and no villains in Uprising. The dismal history is what it is. But there is one truly wise man in the story, the shaman Martin Fisher, who tried to tell those at Molly's Council meeting about a dream brought to him by the spirits of the land, warning against the path of violence. But his microphone was deliberately cut off and nobody heard his warning. The novel ends with Martin lamenting the tragic events of the past month. "It's sad how such things just happen. How sad it is too that no one -- no Indian or white man, no chief or politician -- can tell us how all this destruction just happened. How could they not have seen the future that the elders saw so clearly?"

Just so.

Also in the Dorchester Review, Ken Coates on the role of Aboriginal elders.

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