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  • Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson
  • Emma Feltes
Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call by, Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson. Toronto, Between the Lines, 2015. xvii, 266 pp. $29.95 Cdn (paper).

Anytime would be a good time to read Arthur Manuel's masterful work, Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call, written with Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson. This just happens to be a particularly good time.

While Canada spent 2017 celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Indigenous peoples made shrewd interventions into its birthday blowout, questioning, at every turn, just what was being celebrated. The dispossession of Indigenous peoples' lands and resources? The erasure of Indigenous jurisdiction from the British North America Act 1867? The breaking of historic treaties that made Confederation possible in the first place? A century-and-a-half of policy aimed at cultural genocide?

Manuel's book provided much fodder for this counter-celebration. Chronicling five decades that he fought for Aboriginal title (land rights) and self-determination, the book is a damning history of Canadian policy made profoundly personal through Manuel's life story. A renowned leader from the Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia who passed away unexpectedly in January, Manuel was a pillar in the Indigenous resistance movement and one of its leading strategic thinkers. His life's work — documented chronologically in the book — is striking in its breadth, from [End Page 584] local struggles to international advocacy. The book is not just a condemnation of colonialism, but following his life's trajectory, it is a celebration of Indigenous resistance.

It is fitting then, that Canada's 150th anniversary prompted a campaign for all Canadians to read his book, under the banner "Canada Must Read: The Unsettling Canada Edition." Taking up this call, it is worth exploring why this book demands to be read, by whom, and why now.

Here I must also situate myself as a close friend to Manuel, mentioned briefly in the book as a non-Indigenous supporter and solidarity activist. As one of those mentored by Manuel, for me this book is a deeply meaningful document — a stunning archive of his life's work and vision that I am thankful to have going forward. But, as a scholar of Indigenous-state relations, I also rely on this book as one of few published grassroots analyses of the insidious inner workings of Canadian policy, law, and economics. Manuel's work tracks so many topics yet unexamined in political theory and historical scholarship: the Constitution Express (chapter six); Indigenous land defense at Sun Peaks ski resort (chapter eleven); the macroeconomic drivers of so-called modern treaty negotiations (chapter fifteen). It is no wonder the Canadian Historical Association awarded it the Canadian Aboriginal History Book Prize in 2016. His story signals to so many scholarly questions, making it essential reading for undergraduate, graduate, and established scholars alike.

But the book cannot be treated simply as a primary source for scholarly interpretation (as many Indigenous life stories are). Manuel's own analyses demand a deeper level of intellectual and political engagement. For example, his argument that Canada's failure to recognize Aboriginal title functions as an international trade subsidy to Canadian softwood lumber (chapter ten). Or that the outstanding debt owed to Indigenous Peoples is a contingent liability that should factor into Canada's credit rating (chapter twelve). Manuel presented these respective positions, successfully, at the World Trade Organization and Standard & Poor's (a feat featured in Naomi Klein's book, This Changes Everything {New York, 2014}). If taken seriously, his arguments not only change the fiscal landscape in Canada, but the very basis of Canadian sovereignty. They deserve to be taken up, critiqued, and expanded upon by economic, political, historical, and critical Indigenous scholars in a much more vigorous way.

Indeed, Unsettling Canada is a testament to Manuel's remarkable ability to outwit the economic structures of colonialism from within. There are, of course, critics of this approach, rejecting the idea that Indigenous peoples should engage with such systems whatsoever. However, the book is also steeped in its own intellectual tradition, rooted in Secwepemc relationships with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2292-8502
Print ISSN
0008-4107
Pages
pp. 584-586
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-23
Open Access
No
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