John Ralston Saul – Canada as a Metis nation

I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid ide…

I hadn’t read John Ralston Saul’s book “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”, so I was happy that Patrick brought this talk from TVO’s Big Ideas to my attention. Ralston Saul’s thinking resonated in me. In particular the idea of hybrid identity resonates with me as a German-Canadian making sense of post-modernity.

To Ralston Saul, Canada was upon arrival of Europeans an aboriginal civilization of minorities, 2 million people coexisting in this land with many cultures and languages while contemporary Canada continues to exist as a country of 30 million as a mixed set of cultures and languages. This coherent sense of a polyglot civilization of complexity that Ralston Saul describes makes Canada not a new country, but a very old country. He claims that contrary to our mythology, we are not a child of Europe in the Americas, we are in our philosophy the most American country in North America while the United States is the largest experiment of European ideas that happens to be taking place outside Europe.

He claims that what works in the Canadian civilization can’t be traced back to Europe.  It is a country of aboriginal inspiration, where complexity and mixedness is more interesting than clarity and homogeneity. Newcomers, in order to survive in this harsh environment, had to aboriginize themselves. They mixed with aboriginals and created a new people, the Metis. It is the only place Europeans colonized where they abandoned European modes of transportation and adopted local modes, in this case the canoe. Champlain said “our sons will marry your daughters and we will make one people”. Hudson’s Bay Company employees were under instructions to arrange marriages with the daughters of local chiefs to create military and trade alliances.

Today, we live with complexity, with multiple levels of government, with accepting differences among us. We’re a nonmonolithic nation-state. We adore negotiating, living comfortably with unresolved questions of clarity, we are in a constant state of negotiation and renegotiation. We are constantly thinking about how we can comingle individual and group rights in our Charter of Rights and constitution. Our approach to belonging, our approach to immigration and our capacity to adapt. We have taken the idea of the aboriginal Great Circle and worked through how to bring people into it. The oral traditions of aboriginal treaty rights are integrated into our legal foundations.

Ralston Saul argues for an urgent need for the incorporation of true Canadian philosophy and mythology into our sociology and political science. Harold Innis and Marshall Mcluhan and theories of communication came from here but we think they’re less important than Rousseau.

4 thoughts on “John Ralston Saul – Canada as a Metis nation”

  1. I’m finally posting this thanks to the inspiration of the #150Canada conference I attended this week. I’m fascinated by this idea, and it won’t go away. It gnaws at me.

  2. this was brilliant, helped me understand many things I have been considering and debating about our current culture.Thanks for posting

  3. In the late 60’s, the map on the wall of my public school was coloured mostly pink to show the extent of the British empire around the world. The Canadian history I learned about focused on the British desire to keep Canada’s colour on that map solidly pink. Later in life when I found myself working with a First Nation with its treaty and land claim negotiations my worldview got nicely thumped. I’m looking forward to Canada’s collective mental grapple with the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. As we re-assess that bit of history, John Ralston Saul’s ideas will help us understand how Canada has moved from solid pink to a quartz-like prism of shape shifting colours.

  4. This was a big theme for the 150!Canada planning conference, thinking about 2017 as a possible turning point in our history. A gentleman at the conference was doing a PhD in constitutional history with a particular focus on aboriginal impacts. He suggested that both aboriginal and settler peoples could start thinking of ourselves as "treaty peoples", in that the treaties are the source of legitimacy to live upon the lands of Canada.I’m thinking of starting in my own way by recognizing the traditional territorial rights of the aboriginal people where we hold gatherings and events. A few simple words at the beginning of a major gathering of people could have a profound impact in our thinking.

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