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History Table of Contents
1994 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1994
Globalism and Tribalism: The New World Disorder?

Tribalism: Recreating Community


Professor Salée, you spoke about economics and economic exclusion as a source of tribalism or ethnic affirmation. Is there not perhaps a more fundamental reason? In a modern liberal state where people suffer from alienation from institutions and often a lack of a sense of purposes to their lives, to their individual existences, could it not be argued that the ethnic group or the tribe provides a sense of belonging a sense of purpose that the modern state cannot provide?

Salée: I think you can say that, I think you are right to a certain extent, however, the whole thing that I said about economics, I think to a large extent what is happening here and the reason why we seem to be having a hard time dealing with those manifestations, because those manifestations go against the grain of what we are accustomed to live with. That is a fairly centralistic, fairly unitary, fairly homogeneous state and society. And now, suddenly – although it's been going on for a long time – we realize there are people who do not necessarily agree or do not fit, feel that they do not fit within this particular mould. And the reason that often they do not fit, it because as I said earlier, they are perhaps invited to the table, but they don't really make it to the table, there is a question of economics. That is why I talked about economics, it is a question of empowerment and because, just take a very concrete example, you can take the aboriginal nations, you can take the Quebec question, the Quebec issue. To a large extent for all that we may not agree with what is going on in Quebec, a lot of it has to do with the desire to empower;, to get the resources necessary to somehow make sure that we are all together, I think you can see the same thing with aboriginal nations. That is why I have emphasised economics. I think it is deeper than that I agree, there is also a questions of belonging a question of psychological feelings to a large extent. But I think we should not discount economics. We are talking about a struggle for power, but this power is very often in our society in the kind of socio-economic system that we live in, this power is defined by economic criteria.


Would Daniel Salée and Rosemary Kuptana characterize the argument over the land claims in Quebec?

Kuptana: As far as Inuit are concerned I can't answer for anyone else, if Quebec was to separate, I think Inuit in Canada have very great concerns; that we want to remain as a nation and we have one language, one culture, we are a homogeneous not only in Canada but in the circumpolar region. We have always maintained that we wished to remain in Canada, and this is a question that will be debatable at the right time. The Inuit in Quebec have said that they are not going to state a position until such time that this becomes a real political issue. Right now they feel, well a Quebec election is coming up, but the referendum hasn't happened, and they feel that it is an artificial question right now.

Salée: In Quebec, you have a very interesting land problem, because what you have is a nation; Quebec nation, which has claimed to distinctiveness, which has a claim to political sovereignty and things like that and the subspectrum of that particular claim is the land. Of course there are competing claims over that particular land and that is a basic issue, it is basic problem, it is a problem that is very difficult to resolve, because what you have here are two competing identities. The aboriginal identities, nations that live in Quebec, and the Quebec identity, that particular national identity, so what do you do with that? Iit would behoove Quebec to really try and find a solution if they every succeed, even if they don't actually separate from the rest of the country.

Kuptana: I have heard some of the Quebec leaders say that the indigenous peoples in Quebec do not have the right of self determination. Well I differ. We do have the right of self determination by virtue that we are human beings and we will assert our right of self determination, whether Canada or Quebec chooses to recognize that or not.


I would like to direct my question principally to Daniel Salée, but invite comments from the other panelists as well. You seem to suggest that the rise of movements of national identity, whether we want to call them nationisms or new forms of tribalism, seem to be closely associated with periods of economic stress lets call it, or insecurity. Michael Ignatieff was very eloquent last night, there is without question, no doubt that the rise of French Canadian nationalism has corresponded with a tremendous improvement in the socio- economic condition of the French Canadian and the Québécois. We could perhaps even extend this analogy to our first nations. The reality is that the socio-economic conditions of the whole group of first Nations Canadians is much improved today, versus what it was 20 -25 years ago. And we have a whole generation of new leaders among First Nations, who have shown an eloquence beyond those of so called mainstream white society. So we have this situation where movements of ethnic identity within Canada have in fact corresponded to periods of remarkable economic improvements. A counter thesis if you will. The other thing is, you seem to suggest, or I detected some sort of moral indignation at the thought that in the end there is a certain closure about liberal democracy.In other words, we will allow you to go a certain process, but in the end we will not allow you access to the resources by which you might indeed achieve some other form of self determination. However is it not a realistic assumption that on the basis of many many groups having chosen liberal democracy to achieve their fundamental cultural aspirations – and the Québécois and the First Nations have clearly done that within Canada – is it not a reasonable expectation on the part of Canada itself that you will achieve those objectives, self determination, within the political order that has in fact given you the resources to improve your condition as such.

Salée: I am not sure I can answer that very well. It is not that I have a problem with the liberal paradigm, I live in it. Of course I am all in favour of the liberal state, however what I do see is that obviously the structures, the parameters are ideological, political, institutional, with which we have lived since, lets say the Second World War, are breaking in the sea. However what is happening is that maybe this particular state is not perfect, is not fitting the bill for everyone. Michael Ignatieff was talking about building new institutional linkages yesterday, I think it also means just not a question of linkages, thinking about new institutional parameters and new paradigms to a certain extent. And those paradigms in my view, should include reciprocity, solidarity mutual understanding, tolerance, respect. We have that to a certain extent but obviously it has not been working well because there are people that do feel excluded, there are people that feel that they can not fit within that particular paradigm, they can not fit within that particular community that we have had for so long. Just look for example, from 1987 to 1992 from Meech to Charlottetown; we have tried to remodel, but it hasn't worked. We have not been able to remodel, why because there are so many voices so many tendencies, so many desires, which are legitimate desires, and which have been brought about by precisely liberal democracy, this is what is great. Actually what is happening with liberal democracy in Canada is probably that it is a victim of its own success to a certain extent. But now we have to go further. Those who have been invited to the banquet, well we have to serve them food now, I think this is what I mean, another words we have to put our money where our mouth is. When you tell someone I recognize your difference, it means also land. It may also mean different institutions, maybe it means self determination from within the parameters and the institutions that we do have. What I am saying is that the social contract with which we have been living for the past 50 years is not doing all that great and it is not also satisfactory for an increasing number of people and that we have to recognize that, and we have to be able to recognize that. If we want to recognize someone, if we want to admit their difference, well something has to be done about that and it can not be empty promises. That is the only answer I can give to that.

Maybury-Lewis: I would like to make four comments in response to your question. First on the question of uncertainty. It is not only economic uncertainty that people are feeling at the moment, it is all kinds of uncertainty, as various speakers have made clear in the course of this conference. There is political uncertainty, there are areas of the world, where people have been five different nationalities, they have stayed in the same place, but they have belonged to five different nations in their lifetime and now they don't even know which nation they belong to. There are areas of the world, where people thought they belonged to one nation and woke up the next morning and found they were in a minority in another nation. That is one point. The second is that you say that it is a counter indication that indigenous people, you know just when things are getting better, seem to want to insist on their own sovereignty. But of course there is such a thing as the revolution of rising expectations. And people who are fighting for a goal, don't give up just when something gets a little bit better. Things have got to get a very very very much better for these people to feel that they have really been listened to and really attended to. Third, you said that in Canada certain indigenous groups had somehow, they wanted the liberal state and therefore they had to abide by the rules of the liberal state. In my experience with many indigenous societies all over the world, they don't particularly want any of those things. They were not asked, they had the state forced on them. And to say when they start to negotiate with they have bought in and therefore you have to play by our rules, is of course, heads we win and tails you lose sort of situation. Finally the issue of resources. It is often said well you know we can not have indigenous people claiming their own resources because that undermines the sovereignty of the state. From that it follows then, that the state, or somebody has the right to just go in and grab what previously they regarded as theirs. Understandably indigenous people find this intolerable and they are going to do what they can to prevent it. I too happen to find that intolerable, and I think that at the very least there aught to be negotiations about the future of those resources and the indigenous people's rights to those resources should intrinsicly be recognized.

Kuptana: We have been saying that we want to join Canada as the people. We are seeking entry into Confederation. And if you look at the Inuit situation, there are four major Inuit regions in Canada, the Western Arctic, Northern Quebec, Neunuvit, and Labrador. Out of those four regions, Inuit have been able to negotiate, three major land claim, comprehensive land claim settlements. Within the confines of policy framework, that is not our own, all the rules were made by the other side, and yet we have been able to demonstrate, as Inuit that we are willing to live with other peoples, in this country, and as such we have the ability to conclude agreements with the state. So we have always had a strong attachment with this country, as you can see. With respect to the right of self determination, why should it be qualified for aboriginal peoples. Or for the people in Quebec. The right of self determination is a fundamental human right that applies to all citizens of the world. And yet at the international level, Canada played a very big role at the World Conference on Human Rights on Qualifying the right of self determination for indigenous peoples that they will only recognize the right of self determination of indigenous peoples within specific states and that is wrong.