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  • A Common Hunger: Land Rights in Canada and South Africa
  • Peter Russell
Joan G. Fairweather . A Common Hunger: Land Rights in Canada and South Africa. University of Calgary Press. xxi, 260. $39.95

In a very broad sense the encounters of indigenous peoples in Canada and Black South Africans with European imperialism follow similar storylines: centuries of domination and dispossession motivated by racism and greed until, in the late twentieth century, recovery begins. That is the kernel of what is 'common' to the hunger of the two sets of peoples who are the subject of Joan Fairweather's book. But, of course, it is the differences within that picture that are most interesting and instructive. The difference of crucial importance is that between a group of long-established nations becoming a marginalized minority and trying to survive in a state dominated by descendants of their colonial oppressors, and an oppressed people who are now the majority trying to use the instruments of constitutional democracy to redress injustices of the recent past.

Although Joan Fairweather is well aware of this fundamental difference, her account of the past and of the possibilities for the future, too often fails to take its implications into account. Part of the difficulty stems from lack of clarity in her treatment of 'indigenous peoples.' In her preface, she explains, 'The indigenous peoples of both countries are referred to generically as "first peoples" or "aboriginal peoples." ' These terms apply clearly enough to the Canadian situation. But in applying them to South Africa, she says that 'African' refers to 'South Africa's indigenous Bantu-speaking inhabitants.' As the book [End Page 341] proceeds, too often her analysis fails to distinguish the situation of peoples like the Khoe-San, who as small marginalized peoples are struggling to retain their culture and a measure of autonomy within contemporary South Africa and are considered 'indigenous peoples' in the United Nations definition of that term, from the circumstances and aspirations of South Africa's Black majority.

Greater sensitivity to the differences between the position of indigenous peoples in Canada and that of Bantu-speaking South Africans is essential to understanding why critics of Aboriginal self-government in Canada are so mistaken in referring to it as a form of apartheid. Under apartheid Black South Africans were forcibly removed to Bantustans, whereas for Aboriginal peoples the 'self-government' movement is the manifestation of their aspiration to gain recognition of their responsibility for their societies and their traditional lands. Fairweather, a South African writer and historian who is now working as an archivist in Ottawa, has a much stronger grasp of apartheid and efforts to overcome its legacy than she does of North America's indigenous peoples and their struggle for recognition and justice.

The author does not have a firm enough grasp of legal material to provide a good comparative analysis of land rights in the two countries. She does not seem to know about the historical and jurisprudential underpinnings of common law Aboriginal title. For her it is simply 'the English case method.' This means that we cannot learn much from her book on how the implementation of land rights in South Africa's constitution compares with the recognition of Aboriginal title elsewhere in the common law world.

The strength of Fairweather's book is its well-written narrative account of the injustices and hardship suffered by indigenous peoples in Canada and Black South Africa and her sympathetic but shrewd assessment of their prospects of recovery from this experience.

Peter Russell
Department of Political Science, University of Toronto


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pp. 341-342
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