First Nations? Second Thoughts

By Tom Flanagan

Controversial and thought-provoking, Tom Flanagan’s First Nations? Second Thoughts dissects the prevailing orthodoxy that determines public policy towards Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Flanagan argues that this orthodoxy enriches and empowers a small elite of activists, politicians, administrators, middlemen, and well connected entrepreneurs, while bringing further misery to the very people it is supposed to help.

Over the last thirty years Canadian policy on aboriginal issues has come to be dominated by an ideology that sees aboriginal peoples as “nations” entitled to specific rights. Indians and Inuit now enjoy a cornucopia of legal privileges, including rights to self-government beyond federal and provincial jurisdiction, immunity from taxation, court decisions reopening treaty issues settled long ago, the right to hunt and fish beyond legal limits, and free housing, education, and medical care as well as other economic benefits. Underpinning these privileges is what Flanagan describes as aboriginal orthodoxy – a set of beliefs that hold that prior residence in North America is an entitlement to special treatment; that aboriginal peoples are part of sovereign nations endowed with an inherent right to self-government; that aboriginals must have collective rather than individual property rights; that all treaties must be renegotiated on a “nation-to-nation” basis; and that native people should he encouraged to build prosperous “aboriginal economies” through money, land, and natural resources transferred from other Canadians.

In First Nations? Second Thoughts Flanagan combines conceptual analysis with historical and empirical information to show that the aboriginal orthodoxy is both unworkable and ultimately destructive to the people it is supposed to help.

Tom Flanagan is professor of political science at the University of Calgary. He writes a monthly column in the Globe and Mail and has published three previous books on Louis Riel and Metis land claims.

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