John Ralston Saul’s meditation on Canada’s aboriginal communities regaining an authentic political voice proves – among other things – that the line between popular culture and hard-nosed philosophy is not especially blurred. The book presents its fighting-adversity narrative with digestibility of content (and scattered attention spans) in mind, via short chapters and numerous photographs. One chapter lands somewhere between a political manifesto and Distractify clickbait by featuring “[s]ix simple, almost simplistic ideas” to address native concerns.
If going the Upworthy route is what it takes to ensure the moment that started in 2012 with Idle No More isn’t sideswiped by history or political manipulation, so be it. The passion of Saul’s argument loses none of its intellectual weight or political significance with occasional oversimplifying or retreading of ground covered in his previous books.
A compassionate but increasingly angry Saul begins by suggesting that most non-native Canadians have been conditioned to see indigenous peoples in terms of failures and problems. Sympathy, he argues, is just another form of racism and a manifestation of colonial supremacy. He urges readers to create a new national narrative “built upon the centrality of the Aboriginal peoples’ past, present, and future,” and goes on to show how the first step is respecting the spirit of the treaties on which this country is built.
Successive federal and provincial governments have wasted our time and money fighting treaty laws despite several decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada that have unambiguously sided with native interpretations. Saul singles out the current prime minister and his cohorts in the Department of Indian Affairs for cultivating a democratic deficit – not just regarding native issues – that goes against the honour of the crown, a central concept here.
The second half of The Comeback compiles documents from native leaders and white politicians spanning three centuries of hope, despair, and failed communication. It’s the equivalent of DVD extras transplanted to print – but this bonus material gives the ideas in the main feature more resonance, and reinforces that they are long overdue.